The second edition (1830-1831) of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s major work is quite different from the first (1821-1822). The first edition, except for occasional small excerpts, has never appeared in English. The only English translation of the second edition has been reedited and reissued several times, but remains mostly the same as when it appeared in 1926. It was the first edition, however, that had the greatest impact during Schleiermacher’s lifetime.
In 1821 The Christian Faith caused a stir in German universities, seminaries, and churches by proclaiming that true religion is nothing more than piety grounded in a simple feeling of dependence on an infinite, eternal, unknown, and unknowable power. This feeling is essential, primal, and unavoidable. Piety is neither a kind of knowledge nor a way of behaving, but only this sincere, basic feeling. The feeling of absolute dependence requires no further sophistication as it develops into an intense devotion through the absorption of church doctrine and the regular practice of meekness and worship.
In 1822 Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, who was then Schleiermacher’s colleague at the University of Berlin and the most famous philosopher in Germany, launched a sarcastic attack against the first edition. In the foreword to Die Religion im inneren Verhältnisse zur Wissenschaft (Religion in Its Internal Relationship to Systematic Knowledge, 1987) by his student Hermann Hinrichs, Hegel wrote that if Schleiermacher were correct that feeling is the essence of religion and that piety is the highest expression of that feeling, then “the dog would be the best Christian.” Hegel’s point was that to reduce religion to emotion and to disown its cognitive and intellectual content would be to deny the full humanity of religious individuals as rational beings. Schleiermacher’s Romanticism, insofar as it valued faith over reason and piety over philosophical inquiry, was anathema to Idealists such as Hegel who held that God was ultimately knowable and that faith must be subordinate to the God-given reason that is the essence of human spirit.
(The entire section is 887 words.)