Germany was awash with grief. Popular professor Friedrich David Schleiermacher, a cofounder of the University of Berlin, was dead. He had slipped out of the world on this day, February 12, 1834. A common cold, neglected as Schleiermacher went about his teaching and administrative duties, developed into pneumonia. Lying in bed, surrounded by family members, his last major action was to celebrate the Lord's supper. Over 20,000 people attended the funeral of the man who has been called "the founder of modern Protestant theology."
What Schleiermacher did was to synthesize elements of Kant's philosophy and Romanticism (a literary and artistic movement that emphasized feelings and emotions) with Christianity. Born in 1768, young Schleiermacher was trained by Moravians who had guided his father, a Reform pastor, to deeper faith. But Schleiermacher could not accept orthodox Christianity. His admission of this led to a break with his father, who disowned him for a time.
Feeling and emotion are important to many Protestant groups, especially Pentecostals and denominations which call for a definite salvation experience. This was true long before Schleiermacher began writing theology. The Pietists, Moravians, Methodists and others were sometimes accused of emotional excess by more traditional believers. However, Schleiermacher wrote such experiences into his theology. His theology was centered not on God but on man, because he believed we can never know God as He is in Himself; rather we can only know God as He is in relation to us. In Schleiermacher's view, religious feeling arose from a sense of absolute dependence. To be a Christian, one had to have a self-consciousness of faith in Christ as redeemer. Christianity to Schleiermacher was the highest truth but not the only truth. We need Christ because are not able to produce perfection by our own minds since our religious self-consciousness is infected by sin.
However, Jesus was not the same person to Schleiermacher that he is to orthodox Christians. To the German thinker, Christ was not so much a member of the Godhead as a human with a perfect consciousness of God. That was all that his "divinity" consisted of. No wonder Schleiermacher's superiors doubted if he was a Christian at all and accused him of heresy. This did not stop his ideas becoming widely accepted among those who were looking for teachings to replace traditional Christianity.
Schleiermacher's popularity was not necessarily the result of his religious theories. During Napoleon's invasions, he was an ardent nationalist and preached popular sermons in behalf of Prussia. Later he reorganized Germany's school system on a new model. It was for these national activities rather than his liberal theology that so many thousands turned out to his funeral.
- Brastow, Lewis Orsmond. Representative Modern Preachers. New York; London: Macmillan, 1904.
- "Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher." (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/schleiermacher/).
- "Schleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel Ernst" and other articles in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954.
- "Schleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel Ernst." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- "Schleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel Ernst." Encyclopedia Americana. Chicago: Americana Corp., 1956.
- "Schleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel Ernst." Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1967.
- Various internet articles.
Last updated May, 2007.