Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§46-85)

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I want to focus the majority of my comments on this section of The Christian Faith on the attributes of God, which I found it be the most interesting part of this section.

1) God’s eternality suggests that God’s timeless causality conditions all that is temporal, including time itself. Man’s religious self-consciousness is contingent on the idea of God’s eternality and omnipotence. According to Schleiermacher, “religious consciousness…becomes actual only as consciousness of His eternal power” (§52). The feeling of absolute dependence demands that no change in God is posited. The doctrine of divine immutability has of course been challenged more and more by twentieth century theologians. Interestingly enough, Schleiermacher has to ignore a significant amount of biblical material to maintain this doctrine, which seems more beholden to his romantic philosophy than to the biblical narrative.

2) Schleiermacher refuses to acknowledge a distinction in God’s omnipotence between the possible and actual, or between God’s power and God’s will. The omnipotent causality of God is absolute and undifferentiated. It is worthless and confusing to try and posit any distinctions in God’s omnicausality.

3) As I mentioned in a comment in the previous post, it is very interesting to notice what Schleiermacher excludes from his dogmatics. In §59 he discusses Leibniz’s idea of the best world. Schleiermacher dismisses this as a product of speculative rational (natural) theology. Although he endorses the original perfection of the world, he is skeptical of Leibniz’s doctrine of the best world. Instead he prefers to think of this world as good (which of course is faithful to the creation myths in Genesis). The reason he rejects this speculative doctrine is because it is not a product of religious consciousness and because it attributes to God anthropomorphic ideas such as mediate knowledge (which would imply an imperfection in God) and alternative choice.

4) In an attempt to maintain God’s unlimited omnipotence we must come to terms with the idea that sin “is ordained by God as that which makes redemption necessary” (§81). From Schleiermacher’s perspective, redemption can only be ordained by God if sin is likewise is ordained by God. However, Schleiermacher refuses to think of God as the author of sin apart from God as the author of grace (in Barthian terms, God’s No is always in service of God’s Yes). Although this is difficult to accept, it is mandatory lest we fall into two heresies: Manicheanism (which argues that sin has an independent existence from God) or Pelagianism (which waters down the stark opposition between grace and sin)

5) In §85 Schleiermacher rejects mercy as an attribute of God. He believes this cannot be attributed to God because it introduces a sensuous sympathy in God’s character. This is not befitting of God because, like kindness, it posits that God can experience events or circumstances as agreeable or disagreeable. I was curious what others thoughts of this passage. Although his logic is impeccable, the fact that something as important as the mercy of God would be excluded from his dogmatics might suggest some inherent issues in the system. He will allow the mercy of God to have a place in preaching but not in dogmatics. I was especially thinking of Islam, and the fact that the mercy of God is actually the most used attribute in the Qur’an to describe God’s character.

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One Response to “Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§46-85)”

  1. A.J. Smith Says:

    I found this to be one of the most interesting parts of the section. I didn’t think Sch. was saying that God does not act in a way we could consider as merciful per se, but rather that mercy as a concept is too anthropomorphic to apply to God in dogmatic theology, although one can use it in poetry and preaching, which are less precise and are more free to use anthropomorphic terminology. Can this lead to problems? For example, we usually think of mercy as being supererogatory. Can any of God’s actions be thought of as supererogatory?

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