Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§1-45)


Dogmatic. I imagine a heavy, convincing voice issuing the word in a large room of which the perfect level of reverb emerges. The word itself has a strong presence, a force to be reckoned with. My connotations are mostly negative, based in that authorities (both past and present) have used their power to quash the voices of truth and justice (however opposed to the status quo) when they arise from the margins. Such is the weight and force of the dogmatic.

However, in spite of this, we are precisely concerned with the dogmatic work of Friedrich Schleiermacher in The Christian Faith (Ed. by Mackintosh, H. R., and Stewart, J. S., T. & T. Clark, 1928). Schleiermacher’s study of Christian dogmatics initiates with its definition, for we cannot rightly say anything useful about dogmatics before first knowing where it originates (§1). Continuing, Schleiermacher wishes, alongside a definition, to point out the ‘method’ of dogmatics; for we wish to know how Dogmatics will affect the Christian life, as evidenced by the title of this work. (While I do not have the space to hash out every aspect of Schleiermacher’s comprehensive propositions, my interest in ecclesiological matters led to the author’s focus on the Church in regards to Dogmatics.)

Schleiermacher, from the outset, contends that Dogmatics can only happen in the wake of religious communion (§1). First, he discusses modes of consciousness which lead to a religious self-consciousness. Piety as “a state in which Knowing, Feeling, and Doing are combined,” (11) is consummated in the self-awareness of absolute dependence–forming a relationship with God (§4). The maturation of consciousness (to absolute-dependence) is the context which necessitates communal development and allows for the religious self-consciousness to open up and embrace the self-consciousness of others–forming community (27).

From Church–as a community of religious self-conscious individuals–there is preaching (drawing on the original preaching of the gospels). Preaching is the “self-renewing circulation” (29) of the religious self-consciousness within communion. Schleiermacher asserts dogmatics can only be considered a complete system when dogmatic expression of preaching is brought into a coherent relationship with dogmatic propositions (87). In other words, the work of dogmatic theologians ensues the expression of church life; Schleiermacher establishes an interdependency between communion and dogmatic theology. Because of this interdependency, dogmatics is situated in the historical realm: “Each presentation confines itself to the doctrine existing at a certain time… Text-books of the seventeenth century can no longer serve the same purpose as they did then… and the same fate will one day befall the present ones too” (87).

I should also note, that in regard to particularity and method, he also emphasized that dogmatics is focused on the person of Jesus and the effect of his redemption. Essentially, no dogmatic proposition can fit in without adhering to these two presuppositions (§11).

After composing a pertinent definition and methodology for dogmatics, Schleiermacher opens with his doctrine of creation; one must begin with defining our absolute dependence on the world we find ourselves. He claims absolute-dependence can only remain pre-eminent so long as we claim that nothing could have come into existence unless it is from the work of God (§§40-41). Schleiermacher affirms the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (153), creation from nothing, to belay the absolute-dependence of man in relationship to God. Admitting that God did not create, from nothing, everything would erode the foundations of humanity’s relationship with God (153). In doing so, he highlights an inconsistency with classical rabbinical work on creation. In my personal exegesis of the creation story, I found the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo to be largely un-biblical. The Hebrew text closes off the experience of the reader to the primordial event of creation–the moment, the divine fiat, of creation is unknown to us. Schleiermacher seems to admit a problem in the relationship between creation and time, but quickly dismisses its relevance to the feeling of absolute-dependence–critical to his doctrine of creation (155).


13 Responses to “Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§1-45)”

  1. Troy Polidori Says:

    I’m really interested in the significance of the ex nihilo doctrine here. I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that its entirely unbiblical, and my work with Barth and election has me headed towards a complete reformulation of the doctrine of creation along his supralapsarianism. Its funny though, S says that denying ex nihilo would erode the foundations of mankind’s relation to God, but shouldn’t we hold God’s actual redemption in Christ is the foundation?

    • Wes Says:

      Troy– thanks for the comment. I responded to John below, and part of the response addresses why I chose to highlight Schleiermacher’s support of creatio ex nihilo. While I’m not as familiar with Barth as I would like to be, I don’t think we’ll find S to be in line with Supralapsarianism (this will become evident when we get to his doctrine of God re: omniscience).

      Regarding absolute-dependence in the creative act versus the salvific act, that remains to be seen. Schleiermacher recognizes the redemptive act of the Christ to be of utmost importance to Dogmatics, so I imagine we’ll hear more about that as we reach 476ff.

  2. John Anngeister Says:

    Thanks for putting up something to chew on, Wes.

    I worry though that you may have misled Troy (for example) into believing that S affirmed ex nihilo as the central feature of his doctrine of creation.

    The treatment in Sec. 41 p.153 is an aside only I believe which in effect offers a brief look at ex nihilo as ‘a corollary accepted by dogmatics’ which, however, he indicates as achieving nothing to alleviate the problems which have already surfaced in his primary treatment at Sec. 40 p. 150.

    In Sec. 40 he dismisses the Mosaic account as unuseable (for good reasons I think), but only after citing three NT texts – Acts 17:24, Rom 1:19-20, and Heb 11:3 – saying he rejects any conception which attempts to be more definite than those. In the second paragraph he turns the job of further elaboration over to the natural sciences with the proviso that science loses its right to the job if it starts equating the world with God.

    Certainly his central aim (similar to the ex nihilo) is to reject concepts of creation which allow matter to exist independently of God. And yes he believes any such independence for matter would disable the controlling concept of religious consciousness.

    (this material is fresh in mind only because I’m 2 days behind in the reading and only finished your chunk this morniing) 🙂

    • John Anngeister Says:

      I didn’t articulate ‘the job of science’ well enough to reflect Schleiermacher’s view in Sec 40 – he was willing to turn it over to science because he assumed a natural science that had not abandoned a concept of God overall.

      He would not to have required scientists to be dependent on Christian doctrine in their work. Nor did he want to introduce alot of scientific evidence into dogmatics (for one thing, nothing gets obsolete faster than ‘scientific’ findings – especially in 1820s, as Hegel’s attempts at natural science show). But he expected scientists would respect the limitations of human knowledge in the God department.

      So he would have rejected current science wherever it asserts the absolute reality of matter-energy and no God.

      I think he might have thought the only place where science could be reconciled with religion was within individual consciousnesses, i.e. believing scientists and scientific believers. I agree.

  3. Wes Says:

    First, I would like to say: thanks for the responses. Second, I’m very sorry for the delay of my reply.

    John, thanks for doing some clarification work re: particulars of Schleiermacher’s Doctrine of Creation. He in fact does disregard the narrative of Genesis as at all useful in determining a theology of creation. (Possibly this has to do with his commitment to confessions as opposed to scripture, especially non-distinctively Christian scripture. This disregard itself, I would contend, brings up a whole different set of questions, reserved for another discussion perhaps.) I think his passing off the particulars of creation to the natural science is interesting for his time, but of not much use to us today (because of advances in science, as you mentioned with Hegel in the 1820s.) The intertwining of science and religion is an odd topic for me; I find the jewish narrative to be compelling and I think the idea of creation is relevant to Christian theology, however, I worry that if we base too much of our doctrine on creation we run the risk of science being able to explain the natural universe and totally refute the realm of the phenomenal (or spiritual, chose your word).

    However, I would contend that Schleiermacher’s affirmation of creatio ex nihilo (or at least an affirmation of the concept behind it) is crucial to his propositions regarding creation. Surely he admits that the temporal-ness of creation, ie defining the exact moment and its events, are mysterious and outside the realm of Dogmatics, but nevertheless he founds his doctrine on the relationship between the religious feeling and absolute-dependence to God. Additionally, the world (as created) must retain this dependence; and only can it retain this dependence if the world is created by nothing other than God (thus creatio ex nihilo). The reason I mentioned an inconsistency is in their conclusions regarding creation. Schleiermacher seems to support the idea that we can’t say anything definite about creation, but concludes that God must have created everything, not mere formation. Jewish creation states the same mysterious apprehension, but a thoughtful doctrine of creation following a thoughtful exegesis of Genesis 1-2 can make no dogmatic conclusion regarding the event of creation: there is too much left out.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    OK, sorry I’ve just now got around to commenting. A couple of thoughts:

    1) Was anyone else confused by his discussion about the superiority of the Christian religion. Christianity is the supreme monotheistic religion because, unlike Judaism, it is not obsessed with particularity, and because, unlike Islam, it is not sensuous and passionate. It just seems like bullshit. Also, his whole suspension of discussing the Trinity also compromises this argument significantly. Islam has always argued (in the Qur’an) that Christianity is, in fact, a reversion to paganism, by arguing that Jesus is divine (since this would be a humiliation of God).

    2) I was wondering what others thought about his statement that the “Old Testament [sic] appears simply a superfluous authority for Dogmatics.” (§27). Basically his argument is that the content in the Hebrew Bible is not distinctively “Christian”, hence if not is likewise found in the Greek Bible, then dogmatics has no use for it.

    3) What I have found most interesting thus far is what he considers to be of no concern to dogmatics. On the one hand, he rejects laudable aspects like proofs for God’s existence, however, he also tosses out the importance of Satan (an important figure in Christian theology, imo) because it compromises God’s absolute causality.

    4) I love how he was able to reject literal creationism so easily. From his perspective since the Hebrew weren’t stupid enough to accept the saga (Barth) as actual history, then neither should we.

    5) One thing I appreciated about Barth’s dogmatics is the lack of emphasis on piety and spirituality. Of course, this was a conscious decision of Barth’s to de-emphasize the importance of Christian piety since theology is primarily about God not man. Thinking more about the idea of Christian piety as “immediate self-consciousness”, I wonder if it has some relation to Freud’s discussion of the “ocean feeling”, which he discusses in Civilizations and Its Discontents.

    Wes, could you say more about this: “The intertwining of science and religion is an odd topic for me; I find the jewish narrative to be compelling and I think the idea of creation is relevant to Christian theology, however, I worry that if we base too much of our doctrine on creation we run the risk of science being able to explain the natural universe and totally refute the realm of the phenomenal (or spiritual, chose your word). “

  5. Wes Says:

    Jeremy, thanks for taking the time to comment. (And I don’t mean this sarcastically, I know you’re a very busy person.)

    1) I too found the lack of Trinitarian distinctiveness unsettling in Schleiermacher’s assessment of Christianity among world religions. When I took a class on Judaism at Westmont we spent a week or so talking about the history of religions (the progress of religion from animistic to monotheism). The professor teaching the class purported Trinitarianism to be the ultimate form of religion and the natural progress forward from monotheism. Thus, the distinguishing trademark of religion as Christianity relates to Judaism and Islam is the Trinity. Why Schleiermacher doesn’t hammer this out is puzzling to say the least.

    2) I’m not a fan of ignoring the Old Testament for theological purposes. Is it well known the S expressed anti-Semitic tendencies? Is it impossible to suppose that his denunciation of Judaism and the Old Testament isn’t from an emerging anti-Semitic sentiment arising in Germany? I might be jumping the gun on my history here, though.

    3) His rejection of Satan has been on my mind. I wonder though, if we embrace a theology that includes Satan, how do we not border on dualism? ie. Good vs. Evil?

    4) While I agree with S in that we should not read the hebrew narrative literally, there is still much to gain theologically in Gen 1-2.

    5) Interesting, I wonder if S sees dogmatic theology as inherently more communal (something I think he continues to emphasize, even in his discussion of corporate sin). Though I’m not familiar enough with Barth to make this assumption.

    What I meant by my confusion between science and religion is in regards to the moment of creation. I recognize the role of science in discovering and exploring how our world came to be and attempting to understand the basic building blocks of life. I also recognize the importance of religion in saying something about creation because origin is a fundamental concern of existentialism (that is, in the way I’m envisioning it, the individual experience of the divine in relation to our life). The beginning sets the bearing for the compass, it gives us direction and orientation. In this, however, my worry is that if religion says too much about the physical world and life (biology, etc…) then it runs an incredible risk. What is to happen of religion when our science is able to explain things commonly believed to be held in the realm of religion. (We’ve already seen this happen in history, and I wonder if we should just concede the ground to science and get over with it, but its hard to let go of that ground.) Hope that helps a little.

  6. Jeremy Says:

    1) I don’t understand how Trinitarianism is the culmination of religious evolution. On the face of it, it just seems absurd. Also, the whole idea that one could chart the progress of religious based on doctrinal developments seems somewhat stupid. I remember the time I was celebrating Ramadan with some friends in college..This Catholic guy was there being interviewed by someone from the UT newspaper. She asked him what he thought Christianity and islam had in common. The guy said we all believe in one God. I had to laugh, considering that is the EXACT claim Muslims would dispute.

    2) I don’t know anything about Schleiermacher and anti-Judaism. Considering he was an apologist, I took his argument to be typical Christian posturing, much like the early apologists in Christianity (Tertullian, Justin Martyr, etc).

    3) That is a standard anxiety. However, Paul was able to discuss the powers and principalities without endorsing some good vs evil or light vs darkness. Similarly, Christ’s apocalyptic worldview includes the demonic/satanic forces without falling into some Manichean heresy.

    4) I suppose. However, I’m often very uncomfortable with Christian theological exegesis of Genesis. For instance, Augustine could read back the Trinity into the Genesis narrative. I mean I recognize it has some theological merit, but it’s just historically irresponsible.

    5) You’re right about the communal aspects. Autobiographically, as you know, I’ve never been one who has been very pious or conscious of some sort of religious impulse. Freud chalked up this supposed oceanic feeling in our consciousness (although he claimed to have no such experience) to some primordial Oedipal wish for an almighty father. I’m just trying to get a better grasp of what he means by absolute dependence existentially.

    Finally, your anxiety is similar to Bonhoeffer’s discussion of the God of the gaps. My interest in religion and science is very slim, which is probably why I find process theology so uninteresting. If I read another article on HuffPo saying religion and science need each other, I might slit my wrists. If we demythologized God’s role in creation, I suppose the only thing important that it tells us is that God is related to all things, not just man. This is something that I find very important, and something that the book of Job touches on at the very end. Here’s the ending of that book: Job, “God, why did you let this happen”, God, “Job, I made ostriches, too. Get over yourself!” I’ve written some on here about animal theology, and I also believe I posted a link for a book coming out this summer that is a systematic theology of animal theology. Derrida’s book The Animal that Therefore I Am is also a brilliant discussion of the role animals have played in different philosophers’ systems.

  7. John Anngeister Says:

    Jeremy and Wes, I think you are taking us miles away from what Schleiermacher is most intent on doing, but I will add this to what seems to be ‘topical’

    I would argue that the Trinity is a concept involving the absolute in some kind of absolute relationship – and I think that strange-sounding paradox has a greater likelihood of approximating the truth than a bare isolated and alien monotheism, which has that kind of unified, logical, single-mindedness that makes it appear as real only because it is a pure creation of highest reason (without aid of revelation).

    Monotheism is an improvement on polytheism, but is not the last word in religion, and trinitarianism seems to have the credentials of a ‘revelation’ simply by virtue of the fact that the mind on its own hook could never get there on its own power, and would never ‘find’ on its own anything sweeter than its own vaunted monism (a logical and hyper-unified concept – having the look of what Kant called transcendental illusion).

  8. Jeremy Says:

    I don’t really know what to make of your comment about being miles away. I hope we’re not misrepresenting his work and have no intention of doing so. I also am not interested in Schleiermacher for the sake of Schleiermacher. I’m interested in what he can say to us doing theology in the 21st century. Of course, please point of if we’ve gone astray, but I have no intention of making these discussions stay entirely inside his thought.

    I guess I still don’t buy this trope that Trinitarianism is somehow perfected monotheism. It’s just different.

    “the mind on its own hook could never get there on its own power”.

    Why not? What about makes Trinitarianism so remarkable?

  9. John Anngeister Says:

    I’ve already said all I want to say about the trinity.

    But Jeremy, I was hoping to benefit from a quick compare/contrast of the role of the ‘other’ in Schleiermacher’s analsis of self and God-consciousness with say Lacan’s idea of the ‘big Other’. Two completely different things?

    I don’t know Lacan but only wanted to benefit from your knowledge of him in case it is valuable for the 21st century discussion. I don’t mean to give you a review assignment but only to see if anything clicked with respect to the two views while you were reading secs 4-6 pp 12-27? Does Lacan’s view of God-consciousness as ‘big Other’ go beyond Schleiermacher or is it just a projection from some other formulation (Hegel maybe?)

    Different subject, at page 27 it looks like Schleiermacher offers a view of self-consciousness which seems to include consciousness-of-kind in a way that is quite different from the existentialist formula (Sartre I think, maybe Heidegger) which places other selves in the category of ‘not-self’.

    When Schleiermacher speaks of ‘race consciousness’ he means the human race, don’t you think?

  10. Jeremy Says:

    Noted about the Trinity.

    I don’t remember thinking there was much resonance between the Big Other and Schleiermacher’s Other. I remember thinking of it more being something like Augustine’s “our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. There is the sense that God can be one manifestation of the Big Other (or transcendence generally). This was actually a recent debate whether a transcendent God over at DET could not take the form of a Big Other.

    I think you’re right about the race-consciousness being restricted to the human race. Although I didn’t find that term particularly helpful.

    This is the exact kind of dialogue I hope to have. Reading Schleiermacher as a bridge for other conversation, and we can rely on each other’s expertise.

  11. Jeremy Says:

    Thinking a bit more about Lacan and Schleiermacher, I definitely think that Schleiermacher’s omnipotent, eternal causality God certainly qualifies as a master signifier, i.e. Big Other. Whenever a structure in society is necessary to ground meaning and purpose, chances are its functioning as a Big Other in Lacan’s theory.

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