(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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.

Despite significant...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Clements, Keith W. Friedrich Schleiermacher: Pioneer of Modern Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991. A good general introduction to Schleiermacher, interspersed with selections from several of his works.

Crouter, Richard. Friedrich Schleiermacher: Between Enlightenment and Romanticism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. An indispensable addition to Schleiermacher studies by the dean of anglophone Schleiermacher scholars. Discusses most major topics, including Schleiermacher’s revisions of the first edition of The Christian Faith.

Curran, Thomas H. Doctrine and Speculation in Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1994. A clear, detailed, and bold exegesis of both editions of The Christian Faith.

Luft, Eric v. d. Hegel, Hinrichs, and Schleiermacher on Feeling and Reason in Religion: The Texts of Their 1821-1822 Debate. Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1987. Contains selections from the first edition of The Christian Faith, as well as analysis of the philosophical issues that motivated Hegel’s attack on Schleiermacher’s theology.

Mariña, Jacqueline, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Friedrich Schleiermacher. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. A useful anthology of new essays by Robert Merrihew Adams, Frederick C. Beiser, Andrew Bowie, Richard Crouter, Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Terrence N. Tice, and many other prominent scholars.

Williams, Robert R. Schleiermacher the Theologian: The Construction of the Doctrine of God. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978. A vigorous defense of Schleiermacher against critics such as Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Barth.