Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher

The German theologian and philosopher Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher (1768-1834) held that man's consciousness of being springs from the presence of God within him. He believed that all morality is an attempt to unite man's physical nature with his mind.

Born on Nov. 21, 1768, Friedrich Schleiermacher was educated at Moravian Church schools and destined to be a pastor. Doubting religion, he studied at the University of Halle, becoming absorbed first in Kantian philosophy and then in Plato, Baruch Spinoza, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He became one of the early Berlin romantics and associated particularly with Friedrich von Schlegel. In 1799 he published his famous Reden über die Religion, in which he claimed that religion was separate and apart from morality and knowledge. His Monologen (1800) outlined his ethical system. His Grundlinien einer Kritik der bisherigen Sittenlehre (1803) was a philosophical work, and his Die Weihnachtsfeier (1806) outlined his views on Jesus. He was pastor at Stolp from 1802 to 1804 and then became a professor at Halle until 1809, when he moved to Berlin, where he remained until his death on Feb. 12, 1834.

Schleiermacher was the most influential thinker of 19th-century Protestantism. In philosophy, however, he was overshadowed by G. W. F. Hegel. Schleiermacher was an idealist, holding that human knowledge was at best a mere approximation to reality and that man arrives at this knowledge by a conflict (the Dialektik). All German idealism was somehow saddled with the a priori conviction that reality was either very difficult to reach or totally unreachable in itself. Schleiermacher labored with this a priori in his attempt to establish his religious beliefs on a solid foundation. In this he was a child of the Enlightenment and a victim of the romantic illusion that in the final analysis it was only the ego or the individual who counted. This illusion cohered with his Protestant persuasion that the individual conscience was the ultimate criterion of what was correct in belief and good in morality.

Religion, Schleiermacher held, results from the feeling man has that he is absolutely dependent. He derived the structure of his theology from this basic notion. He considered Christianity to be the highest stage of the monotheistic urge in man. To Christ, Schleiermacher assigned a role of mediator, thereby leaving great doubts as to the divinity of Jesus and his identity with God. He reinterpreted the traditional Christian doctrines of sin, justification, Christology, Last Judgment, hell, and heaven.

Schleiermacher foreshadowed the later religious thought of the 19th and early 20th centuries. His doctrine concerning the rise of natural and supernatural religions is a foretaste of the later evolutionary theories. His attempt to bridge rationalism and supernaturalism invoked the theories and the principles which animated Ethical Culture movements of the 20th century.

Further Reading on Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher

Terence N. Tice, Schleiermacher Bibliography (1966), is highly recommended as an extensive guide to the literature by and about Schleiermacher. Aspects of his life and thought are discussed in Richard B. Brandt, Philosophy of Schleiermacher (1941), and Jerry F. Dawson, Friedrich Schleiermacher: The Evolution of a Nationalist (1966).

Additional Biography Sources

Christian, C. W., Friedrich Schleiermacher, Peabody, Mass.:Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, 1979.

Clements, K. W. (Keith W.), Friedrich Schleiermacher: pioneer of modern theology, London; San Francisco, CA: Collins, 1987.