Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (November 21, 1768 – February 12, 1834) was a German theologian and philosopher known for his impressive attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant orthodoxy. He was also influential in the evolution of Higher Criticism. Because of his profound impact on subsequent Christian thought, he is often called the "Father of Modern Protestant Theology." The Neo-Orthodoxy movement of the twentieth century, represented most prominently by Karl Barth, was in many ways an attempt to overturn his influence.
Schleiermacher developed a deep-rooted skepticism as a student, and soon he rejected orthodox Christianity.
Brian Gerrish, a scholar in the works of Schleiermacher writes: "In a letter to his father, Schleiermacher drops the mild hint that his teachers fail to deal with those widespread doubts that trouble so many young people of the present day. His father misses the hint. He has himself read some of the skeptical literature, he says, and can assure Schleiermacher that it is not worth wasting time on. For six whole months there is no further word from his son. Then comes the bombshell. In a moving letter of 21 January 1787, Schleiermacher admits that the doubts alluded to are his own. His father has said that faith is the "regalia of the Godhead," that is, God’s royal due.
Here is Schleiermacher’s anguished confession: "Faith is the regalia of the Godhead, you say. Alas! dearest father, if you believe that without this faith no one can attain to salvation in the next world, nor to tranquility in this - and such, I know, is your belief - oh! then pray to God to grant it to me, for to me it is now lost. I cannot believe that he who called himself the Son of Man was the true, eternal God; I cannot believe that his death was a vicarious atonement.
Though his ultimate principles were unchanged, this impetus led Schleiermacher to place more emphasis on human emotion and the imagination. Meanwhile he studied Spinoza and Plato, both of whom were important influences. He became more indebted to Kant, though they differed on fundamental points, and finally remodelled his philosophy. He sympathised with some of Jacobi's positions, and took some ideas from Fichte and Schelling. The literary product of this period of rapid development was his influential book, Reden über die Religion (On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers) (1799, ed. Göttingen, 1906; Eng. trans., 1893) and his "new year's gift" to the new century, the Monologen (Soliloquies) (1800; ed. 1902).
In the first book Schleiermacher gave religion an unchanging place among the divine mysteries of human nature, distinguished it from what he regarded as current caricatures of religion, and described the perennial forms of its manifestation, thus giving the programme of his subsequent theological system. In the Monologen he revealed his ethical manifesto, in which he proclaimed his ideas on the freedom and independence of the spirit, and on the relationship of the mind to the sensual world, and sketched his ideal of the future of the individual and society.
At the foundation of the University of Berlin (1810), in which he took a prominent part, Schleiermacher obtained a theological chair, and soon became secretary to the Prussian Academy of Sciences. He took a prominent part in the reorganization of the Prussian church, and became the most powerful advocate of the union of the Lutheran and Reformed divisions of German Protestantism, paving the way for the Prussian Union of Churches (1817). The twenty-four years of his professional career in Berlin were opened with his short outline of theological study (Kurze Darstellung des theologischen Studiums, 1811), in which he sought to do for theology what he had done for religion in his Reden.
While he preached every Sunday, Schleiermacher also gradually took up in his lectures in the university almost every branch of theology and philosophy — New Testament exegesis, introduction to and interpretation of the New Testament, ethics (both philosophic and Christian), dogmatic and practical theology, church history, history of philosophy, psychology, dialectics (logic and metaphysics), politics, pedagogy, translation and aesthetics. His own materials for these lectures and his students' notes and reports of them are the only form in which the larger proportion of his works exist — a circumstance which has greatly increased the difficulty of getting a clear and harmonious view of fundamental portions of his philosophical and ethical system, while it has effectually deterred all but the most courageous and patient students from reading these posthumous collections.
In politics Schleiermacher supported liberty and progress, and in the period of reaction which followed the overthrow of Napoleon he was charged by the Prussian government with "demagogic agitation" in conjunction with the patriot Ernst Moritz Arndt.
At the same time Schleiermacher prepared his chief theological work Der christliche Glaube nach den Grundsätzen der evangelischen Kirche (1821–1822; 2nd ed., greatly altered, 1830–1831; 6th ed., 1884). The fundamental principle is that religious feeling, the sense of absolute dependence on God as communicated by Jesus through the church, and not the creeds or the letter of Scripture or the rationalistic understanding, is the source and law of dogmatic theology. The work is therefore simply a description of the facts of religious feeling, or of the inner life of the soul in its relations to God, and these inward facts are looked at in the various stages of their development and presented in their systematic connection. The aim of the work was to reform Protestant theology by means of the fundamental ideas of the Reden, to put an end to the unreason and superficiality of both supernaturalism and rationalism, and to deliver religion and theology from a relation of dependence on perpetually changing systems of philosophy.
Though the work added to the reputation of its author, it aroused the increased opposition of the theological schools it was intended to overthrow, and at the same time Schleiermacher's defence of the right of the church to frame its own liturgy in opposition to the arbitrary dictation of the monarch or his ministers brought upon him fresh troubles. He felt isolated, although his church and his lecture-room continued to be crowded.
Schleiermacher progressed with his translation of Plato and prepared a new and greatly altered edition of his Christlicher Glaube, anticipating the latter in two letters to his friend Lucke (in the Studien und Kritiken, 1829), in which he defended his theological position generally and his book in particular against opponents on the right and the left.
The same year Schleiermacher lost his only son — a blow which, he said, "drove the nails into his own coffin." But he continued to defend his theological position against Hengstenberg's party on the one hand and the rationalists von Cölln and D. Schulz on the other, protesting against both subscription to the ancient creeds and the imposition of a new rationalistic formulary.
Schleiermacher's doctrine of knowledge accepts the fundamental principle of Kant that knowledge is bounded by experience, but it seeks to remove Kant's scepticism as to knowledge of the Ding an sich or Sein, as Schleiermacher's term is. The idea of knowledge or scientific thought as distinguished from the passive form of thought — of aesthetics and religion — is thought which is produced by all thinkers in the same form and which corresponds to being. All knowledge takes the form of the concept (Begriff) or the judgment (Urteil), the former conceiving the variety of being as a definite unity and plurality, and the latter simply connecting the concept with certain individual objects. In the concept therefore the intellectual and in the judgment the organic or sense element predominates. The universal uniformity of the production of judgments presupposes the uniformity of our relations to the outward world, and the uniformity of concepts rests similarly on the likeness of our inward nature. This uniformity is not based on the sameness of either the intellectual or the organic functions alone, but on the correspondence of the forms of thought and sensation with the forms of being. The essential nature of the concept is that it combines the general and the special, and the same combination recurs in being; in being the system of substantial or permanent forms answers to the system of concepts and the relation of cause and effect to the system of judgments, the higher concept answering to "force" and the lower to the phenomena of force, and the judgment to the contingent interaction of things. The sum of being consists of the two systems of substantial forms and interactional relations, and it reappears in the form of concept and judgment, the concept representing being and the judgment being in action. Knowledge has under both forms the same object, the relative difference of the two being that when the conceptual form predominates we have speculative science and when the form of judgment prevails we have empirical or historical science. Throughout the domain of knowledge the two forms are found in constant mutual relations, another proof of the fundamental unity of thought and being or of the objectivity of knowledge. It is obvious that Plato, Spinoza and Kant had contributed characteristic elements of their thought to this system, and directly or indirectly it was largely indebted to Schelling for fundamental conceptions.
Schleiermacher's work has had a profound impact upon the philosophical field of Hermeneutics. His influence on the philosophical hermeneutics rests on the way in which he generalized hermeneutics. For Schleiermacher, sacred scripture was a special case of the more general problem of interpretation. The task of hermeneutics, then, was to avoid misunderstanding and to discover the author's intent. While Schleiermacher did not publish extensively on hermeneutics during his lifetime, he lectured widely on the field. His published and unpublished writings on hermeneutics were collected together after his death, albeit with some disagreement over ordering and placement of individual texts and lecture notes.
Schleiermacher's own moral system is an attempt to supply these deficiencies. It connects the moral world by a deductive process with the fundamental idea of knowledge and being; it offers a view of the entire world of human action which at all events aims at being exhaustive; it presents an arrangement of the matter of the science which tabulates its constituents after the model of the physical sciences; and it supplies a sharply defined treatment of specific moral phenomena in their relation to the fundamental idea of human life as a whole. Schleiermacher defines ethics as the theory of the nature of the reason, or as the scientific treatment of the effects produced by human reason in the world of nature and man.
As a theoretical or speculative science it is purely descriptive and not practical, being correlated on the one hand to physical science and on the other to history. Its method is the same as that of physical science, being distinguished from the latter only by its matter. The ontological basis of ethics is the unity of the real and the ideal, and the psychological and actual basis of the ethical process is the tendency of reason and nature to unite in the form of the complete organization of the latter by the former. The end of the ethical process is that nature (i.e. all that is not mind, the human body as well as external nature) may become the perfect symbol and organ of mind. Conscience, as the subjective expression of the presupposed identity of reason and nature in their bases, guarantees the practicability of our moral vocation. Nature is preordained or constituted to become the symbol and organ of mind, just as mind is endowed with the impulse to realize this end. But the moral law must not be conceived under the form of an "imperative" or a "Sollen"; it differs from a law of nature only as being descriptive of the fact that it ranks the mind as conscious will, or Zweckdenken, above nature. Strictly speaking, the antitheses of good and bad and of free and necessary have no place in an ethical system, but simply in history, which is obliged to compare the actual with the ideal, but as far as the terms "good" and "bad" are used in morals they express the rule or the contrary of reason, or the harmony or the contrary of the particular and the general. The idea of free as opposed to necessary expresses simply the fact that the mind can propose to itself ends, though a man cannot alter his own nature.
In contrast to Kant and Fichte and modern moral philosophers, Schleiermacher reintroduced and assigned pre-eminent importance to the doctrine of the summum bonum, or highest good. It represents in his system the ideal and aim of the entire life of man, supplying the ethical view of the conduct of individuals in relation to society and the universe, and therewith constituting a philosophy of history at the same time. Starting with the idea of the highest good and of its constituent elements (Güter), or the chief forms of the union of mind and nature, Schleiermacher's system divides itself into the doctrine of moral ends, the doctrine of virtue and the doctrine of duties; in other words, as a development of the idea of the subjection of nature to reason it becomes a description of the actual forms of the triumphs of reason, of the moral power manifested therein and of the specific methods employed. Every moral good or product has a fourfold character: it is individual and' universal; it is an organ and symbol of the reason, that is, it is the product of the individual with relation to the community, and represents or manifests as well as classifies and rules nature.
The first two characteristics provide for the functions and rights of the individual as well as those of the community or race. Though a moral action may have these four characteristics at various degrees of strength, it ceases to be moral if one of them is quite absent. All moral products may be classified according to the predominance of one or the other of these characteristics. Universal organizing action produces the forms of intercourse, and universal symbolizing action produces the various forms of science; individual organizing action yields the forms of property and individual symbolizing action the various representations of feeling, all these constituting the relations, the productive spheres, or the social conditions of moral action. Moral functions cannot be performed by the individual in isolation but only in his relation to the family, the state, the school, the church, and society — all forms of human life which ethical science finds to its hand and leaves to the science of natural history to account for. The moral process is accomplished by the various sections of humanity in their individual spheres, and the doctrine of virtue deals with the reason as the moral power in each individual by which the totality of moral products is obtained.
Schleiermacher classifies the virtues under the two forms of Gesinnung and Fertigkeit, the first consisting of the pure ideal element in action and the second the form it assumes in relation to circumstances, each of the two classes falling respectively into the two divisions of wisdom and love and of intelligence and application. In his system the doctrine of duty is the description of the method of the attainment of ethical ends, the conception of duty as an imperative, or obligation, being excluded, as we have seen. No action fulfills the conditions of duty except as it combines the three following antitheses: reference to the moral idea in its whole extent and likewise to a definite moral sphere; connexion with existing conditions and at the same time absolute personal production; the fulfillment of the entire moral vocation every moment though it can only be done in a definite sphere. Duties are divided with reference to the principle that every man make his own the entire moral problem and act at the same time in an existing moral society. This condition gives four general classes of duty: duties of general association or duties with reference to the community (Rechtspflicht), and duties of vocation (Berufspflicht) — both with a universal reference, duties of the conscience (in which the individual is sole judge), and duties of love or of personal association.
It was only the first of the three sections of the science of ethics — the doctrine of moral ends — that Schleiermacher handled with approximate completeness; the other two sections were treated very summarily. In his Christian Ethics he dealt with the subject from the basis of the Christian consciousness instead of from that of reason generally; the ethical phenomena dealt with are the same in both systems, and they throw light on each other, while the Christian system treats more at length and less aphoristically the principal ethical realities — church, state, family, art, science and society. Rothe, amongst other moral philosophers, bases his system substantially, with important departures, on Schleiermacher's. In Beneke's moral system his fundamental idea was worked out in its psychological relations.
Schleiermacher, like John Hick, held that an eternal hell was not compatible with the love of God. Divine punishment was rehabilative, not penal, and designed to reform the person. He was one of the first major theologians of modern times to teach Christian Universalism.
The ego, the person, is an individualization of universal reason; and the primary act of self-consciousness is the first conjunction of universal and individual life, the immediate union or marriage of the universe with incarnated reason. Thus every person becomes a specific and original representation of the universe and a compendium of humanity, a microcosmos in which the world is immediately reflected. While therefore we cannot, as we have seen, attain the idea of the supreme unity of thought and being by either cognition or volition, we can find it in our own personality, in immediate self-consciousness or (which is the same in Schleiermacher's terminology) feeling. Feeling in this higher sense (as distinguished from "organic" sensibility, Empfindung), which is the minimum of distinct antithetic consciousness, the cessation of the antithesis of subject and object, constitutes likewise the unity of our being, in which the opposite functions of cognition and volition have their fundamental and permanent background of personality and their transitional link. Having its seat in this central point of our being, or indeed consisting in the essential fact of self-consciousness, religion lies at the basis of all thought and action.
At various periods of his life Schleiermacher used different terms to represent the character and relation of religious feeling. In his earlier days he called it a feeling or intuition of the universe, consciousness of the unity of reason and nature, of the infinite and the eternal within the finite and the temporal. In later life he described it as the feeling of absolute dependence, or, as meaning the same thing, the consciousness of being in relation to God. In his Addresses on Religion (1799), he wrote:
Other works include: