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Modernism and the Teaching of Schleiermacher

by John L. Murphy

Descriptive Title

Modernism and the Teaching of Schleiermacher - Part I


This article traces the source of Modernism back to Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), philosopher/theologian. Schleiermacher has come to be called the father of modern liberal theology. He extended the immanentist qualities of Kant's thought to the entire field of religion. Part one of a two part series.

Larger Work

The American Ecclesiastical Review



Publisher & Date

The Catholic University of America Press, June 1961

Vision Book Cover Prints


The year 1907 brought to a head the difficulty that had been growing within the Catholic Church for a number of decades, a theological approach that came to be described as Modernism. On July 8th of that year, the Holy Office issued the decree Lamentabili, condemning these errors. This was followed by the encyclical of Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi dominici gregis, of September 8, 1907. The encyclical was a far more detailed statement of the basis upon which Modernism was built. In its many facets, this theological approach involved not only philosophical and theological principles opposed to Catholic faith, but also faulty historical and scriptural theories, and a dangerous application of this entire system to the liturgical and parochial life of the Church. So far-reaching was it in its error that Pius X was moved to describe Modernism as the "synthesis of all heresies."1

The chief foundation for all of these errors, however, was the philosophical position adopted. This became the norm for interpreting all the other matters, which came under consideration. There were admittedly many important findings made in the field of historical and scriptural studies during the last century, many of them now accepted by the highest authority of the Church today.2 The precise error of the Modernist view of history and scripture, however, stemmed from the philosophical suppositions which became the norm for all such interpretation. Scientific data in the field of history, archaeology, biblical criticism, and the like remain nothing but inert data until an interpretation is given to these facts, and there are many different, even diametrically opposed, ways of interpreting the evidence on hand. For the Modernist the sole backdrop against which all data could be set was nothing but the philosophical system endorsed at the very start.

Failure to realize this fact still raises confusion in the minds of some who view Modernism as a condemned system, and yet see certain historical or scriptural data used by the Modernists now being accepted by Catholics; they immediately conclude that the Catholic Church is making concessions to Modernism. Nothing of this sort happens at all. The use of the findings of historical and scriptural study by Catholic theologians today does not imply at all the prior acceptance of this all-pervading philosophical approach, which was the foundation and guiding norm of all Modernist interpretations. This makes all the difference in the world. The data in itself is rather neutral; it was the Modernist interpretation of it that made the conclusions wrong and brought about the strong condemnation of the Modernist system under Pius X. At that time the philosophical assumptions and the data were so closely joined together in the Modernist interpretation that the condemnation of the entire system might seem to imply the condemnation of the data itself or of the valid work of scholarship. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Modernist interpretation of the data is what was condemned, along with the false philosophical system that determined that interpretation; the Church was not condemning the scientifically and historically proved data itself.

As Pius X points out, everything in Modernism was guided by its philosophical norms; it was an a priori system from start to finish. Thus when the Modernists came to deal with history this soon became apparent:

Some Modernists, devoted to historical studies, seem to be deeply anxious not to be taken for philosophers. About philosophy they profess to know nothing whatever, and in this they display remarkable astuteness, for they are particularly desirous not to be suspected of any prepossession in favor of philosophical theories which would lay them open to the charge of not being, as they call it, objective. And yet the truth is that their history and their criticism are saturated with their philosophy, and that their historic-critical conclusions are the natural outcome of their philosophical principles.3

The same thing is true of the Modernist approach to Scripture: "As history takes its conclusions from philosophy, so too [biblical] criticism takes its conclusions from history."4 Accordingly, the biblical critic will presuppose a distinction between "real history" and the "history of faith," and the resulting distinction between the "Christ of history" and the "Christ of faith." Thus "the critic, on the data furnished him by the historian, makes two parts of all his documents."5

Even here, however, philosophy has a more direct influence on the biblical critic, for "the dominion of philosophy over history does not end here. Given that division, of which we have spoken, of the documents into two parts, the philosopher steps in again with his dogma of vital immanence, and shows how everything in the history of the Church is to be explained by vital emanation."6 There is a constant harking back to the basic philosophical positions that serve as the constant guide of all Modernist thought. The end result is described by Pius X in these words:

This done, he finishes his work by drawing up a history of the development in its broad lines. The critic follows and fits in the rest of the documents. He sets himself to write. The history is finished. Now we ask here: Who is the author of this history? The historian? The critic? Assuredly neither of these, but the philosopher. From beginning to end everything in it is a priori and an apriorism that reeks of heresy.7

To complete the picture, we must note that, "the Modernist apologist depends in two ways on the philosopher."8 He begins by working with history as "dictated . . . by the philosopher," and he adopts as his own the immanentist and purely psychological methods of the philosopher.9 The entire scheme of apologetics is to be built on these principles which are, in fact, nothing more than "an a priori assumption of agnostic and evolutionist philosophy. . ."10

What Is This Philosophy?

In the opening paragraphs of Pascendi the type of philosophy of which Pius X is speaking is sketched in clear and definable lines. The starting point is the Kantian philosophy, which so dominated the philosophical thought of Europe in the nineteenth century; it is designated by the name of Agnosticism in the encyclical:

We begin, then, with the philosopher. Modernists place the foundation of religious philosophy in that doctrine which is commonly called Agnosticism. According to this teaching human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that appear, and in the manner in which they appear: it has neither the right nor the power to overstep these limits. Hence it is incapable of lifting itself up to God, and of recognizing His existence, even by means of visible things.11

This is the basic position of Kantian philosophy of Modernism. Added to this, however, was a positive element, introduced more by his disciples than by Kant himself, although he certainly laid the seed for such a further development: namely, the concept of "vital immanence." As Pius X explains, once the negative aspects of this system have been admitted the explanation of religion, whether natural or supernatural, "will be sought in vain outside of man himself. It must, therefore, be looked for in man; and since religion is a form of life, the explanation must certainly be found in the life of man. In this way is formulated the principle of religious immanence."12 Religion is portrayed as an "inner sense," originating in a deeply rooted "need of the divine" in man.

It is in this inner sense that the Modernist finds revelation; all creeds and religious formulas are, accordingly, nothing but further reflections on this inner experience of the individual (or community), and the expression of these reflections in various formulas. The purpose of these creeds and formulas is "to furnish the believer with a means of giving to himself an account of his faith."13 As a result of this, these creeds have only a relative value; "it is quite impossible to maintain that they absolutely contain the truth."14 Since the religious experience of individuals and communities can change, it is obvious that creeds and "the formulas which we call dogma must be subject to these vicissitudes, and are, therefore, liable to change. Thus the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma."15 The formulas "in order to be living, should be, and should remain, adapted to the faith and to him who believes. Wherefore, if for any reason this adaptation should cease to exist, [these formulas] lose their first meaning and accordingly need to be changed."16

All of this remains equally true of the work of the Modernist as a theologian, for in this realm "the Modernist theologian takes exactly the same principles which we have seen employed by the Modernist philosopher--the principles of immanence and symbolism--and applies them to the believer."17 The Catholic Modernist was interested in applying this philosophical system to Catholic doctrine, so that his efforts involve something more than a mere repetition of a philosophical position; but the philosophy remains his fundamental norm and guide throughout. It is in the light of these principles that the Modernist goes on to evaluate the Church, the sacraments, Scripture and tradition. Modernism within the Catholic Church was not identical with Liberal Protestantism of the late nineteenth century, since it included this added attempt to combine in some fashion both the principles of Liberal Protestantism and the traditional notions of Catholic faith. Modernism, however, very obviously derived its inspiration from the teaching of Liberal Protestantism, in which its own position was deeply rooted.

What the Modernist attempted to do was doomed to failure from the start; it was an attempt to do the impossible. The ultimate reason for this was the philosophy upon which the entire movement was based and which served as a guide throughout. It is a philosophy opposed on almost every point to the undying principles associated with Catholic faith. It replaces objectivity with subjectivity and unchanging truth with temporary verities. Once this philosophical position was accepted as the norm for discussing Catholic faith, everything was to be uprooted, and even the data resulting from valid historical and scriptural research was to be falsely interpreted. Thus it was not against scientific research as such that Pascendi spoke out, but rather this faulty interpretation of it brought about by the ruinous philosophy, which pervaded the entire Modernist system.

Source Of This Philosophy

The sources of Modernism are so varied that it is difficult to single out one isolated example as the basis of everything, but in regard to the philosophical starting-point, there can be little doubt that it ought to be traced back to Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834). It has been said, and with good reason, that "Schleiermacher and Darwin were probably the two persons most directly responsible for the shaping of modern Protestant religious thought."18 Schleiermacher contributed above all the notion of vital immanence in religion, and Darwin added the concept of evolution, which spread far beyond the limits of natural science into history, philosophy and religion, as well. Insofar, as Modernism in the Catholic Church was related to Liberal Protestantism, this same thing may be said, proportionately, of its philosophical sources.

Modern Liberal Protestantism is a post-Kantian form of Protestant life, vastly different from that of the sixteenth-century Reformers, and Schleiermacher is one of the dominant links between this present-day development and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.19 It is for this reason that Schleiermacher has come to be called the father of modern liberal theology.20 What Schleiermacher did was to extend the immanentist qualities of Kant's thought to the entire field of religion. If man was to find God within himself after Kant, it was also in himself that Schleiermacher would have him find the essence of all religion--or at least in the communal conscience that he came to attribute to the Christian community.

The Fathers at First Vatican Council were already concerned over the immanentist philosophy of Schleiermacher and its emphasis upon a religious sense and the need of the divine. The Adnotationes to the first Schema on Catholic doctrine proposed to the Council contain a direct reference to Schleiermacher's works.21 Little did they realize the even greater impact these teachings would have on the life and history of the Church in the thirty years following the First Vatican by their influence on the principles of Modernism.

There is an acknowledged difficulty in determining whether Schleiermacher was properly more of a philosopher or a theologian, or a curious mixture of the two. Felix Fluckiger begins his study of Schleiermacher with a discussion of this precise point.22 There is no question that a very close relationship exists between Schleiermacher's philosophical and theological views; the center of discussion concerns chiefly the degree to which his theology has been influenced by his philosophy, and the extent that the two can be separated. Involved in this question is the more basic problem of whether Schleiermacher actually reduced religious experience to the philosophical and purely natural level, or whether his starting point was a truly Christian experience as he conceived it, springing from man's confrontation with the self-manifestation of God.

Fluckiger divides the various opinions into three groups: (1) Some hold that Schleiermacher's theology is nothing more than an extension or deepening of his philosophical views. This would, in effect, reduce his theology--and his grasp of Christian faith--to a purely natural, philosophical experience. (2) Others say that not everything of Christianity was abandoned in his system, but only that which could not be brought into accord with his philosophy. (3) Still others contend that there is nothing more than a similarity between his philosophical and his theological views, so that the "religious feeling" of which Schleiermacher speaks is formally distinct in the Christian context from that which might be attributed to any mere philosophical notion of religion in general. In its deepest roots this may, indeed, be the same "feeling," but in the Christian it is something proper and distinct, a response to the unique Christian revelation; it could not occur under any other circumstance.23

This last view may well add greater insights into current appraisal of Schleiermacher's position. He was above all a theologian and a preacher. As a Protestant clergyman, he was attempting to save Protestant Christianity from the evils he saw associated with it in his day. He was particularly concerned over the apparent conflict between the claims of traditional religion and the results of scientific and philosophic study such as it was portrayed in his time. As Brandt notes:

There are many assertions which Christians have become accustomed to make [Schleiermacher] says, which it is important for them to get on without--such as the statements about creation, miracles, the Mosaic chronology, and so on. For these statements conflict with reliable scientific knowledge, and, he says, it would be scandalous if religion were to ally itself only with a crude and unsound science, while reliable scientists were forced by the unnecessary claims of religion to ally themselves with the irreligious elements of society. Schleiermacher seems particularly to have felt the sting of the results of the (at that time) new internal criticism of the Bible. All these facts, he thinks, have the effect of putting the religious man in a dilemma and of forcing him to find a way of reconciling his two legitimate interests.24

Schleiermacher's solution to this problem facing the Christian grew out of his general theory on the essence of religion; that may be granted. It may not be a correct estimate of his views, however, to say that he reduced ail religion to a common denominator, making all of them nothing more than rather arbitrary expressions of the same, identical "experience." Many of his statements appear to contradict such an analysis. He considers Christianity as the most perfect expression of religious experience, and he does so in a way as to indicate some objective norm proper to Christianity itself, distinct from the individual. Moreover, he claims that no one would admit, "that Christian piety could anywhere arise, as it were of itself, quite apart from any historical connexion with the impulse which proceeded from Christ."25 Christ definitely enters into the formation of Christianity. Schleiermacher views Mohammedan and Jewish piety in much the same fashion as Christianity, it is true, but he always insists that the highest development of religious piety is to be found in Christianity "and thus in the most perfect form (which we may say in advance is Christianity) the inward peculiarity [of a particular faith] must be most intimately bound up with that which forms the historical basis of the outward unity."26

The overtones of this approach may well reflect the spirit that came to more complete expression in later existentialistic theology among Protestants, with its emphasis upon the personal reaction (of the individual or the community) to the historic fact of Christ. In one of his letters, Schleiermacher explains the root of religious experience as he understands it, foreshadowing this later approach: ". . .what I understand by pious feeling does not at all come from representations, but is the original expression of an immediate existential relation."27 The "feeling" which results from this experience is basic, primary, fundamental; whatever thought content or religious formula may be associated with it would result only from a reflection on that experience.

Life And Times

In order to understand the position of Schleiermacher, it is most important to view him in the historical situation in which his approach developed. It has been pointed out by those who have studied him in detail that, while such an historical view is necessary for evaluating any philosopher, it is doubly necessary in regard to Schleiermacher. Any attempt to study merely his "ideas," apart from the spirit of the time which helped formulate them, will lead only to serious misunderstandings.28

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher was born in Breslau on November 21, 1768; he died on February 12, 1834. He was the child of Moravian parents, and was raised in the strict moral atmosphere of this pietistic group. He eventually entered the seminary at Barby, at that time the University of the Moravian Brethren; he was seventeen at the time. Schleiermacher continued to receive here the type of training approved by the Brethren, but he also set about a private study of current philosophical questions. This brought him into contact with the first dominant influence in his academic development: the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Schleiermacher was at this time won over almost entirely by the new critical philosophy of Kant, and he soon found that he was in serious conflict with the religious beliefs and attitudes of the Moravian seminary. Finally, in 1787, after overcoming the bitter opposition of his father, he entered the University of Halle--at that time enjoying the height of its fame, and almost entirely dominated by the spirit of the Enlightenment. He remained there until 1789, studying philosophy. He became more and more acquainted with the discussions of that day concerning Kant, as well as those which debated the merits of the Leibniz-Wolff school of thought. He also did some work in translating parts of Aristotle, indicative of a lasting interest in Greek philosophy that later brought forth other translations from the works of Plato.

After a year of study and writing at Drossen, he passed the church examination in theology, and in October of 1790 accepted a position as tutor in the household of Count Dohna of Schlobitten; he remained there until 1793. These seem to have been years of great skepticism in the life of Schleiermacher; the acceptance of the Kantian position had all but destroyed his belief. The contact with this cultured family also deeply influenced his appreciation of a more liberal and free manner of life, considerably different from that which he had known as a child of Moravian parents.

In 1793, Schleiermacher set out for other labors. He taught for a time in a boys' school, and then served at a church in Landsberg for two years. But in 1796 he moved to Berlin as a chaplain of the Reformed Church, where he remained for six years. This assignment was to bring about the second great influence in his philosophical career: namely, his contact with the leaders of the Romantic Movement, especially with Friedrich Schlegel (with whom he shared rooms for a time) and Henriette Herz.

Due to a number of problems in which he became involved (both through his writings and because of an unfortunate affair with a married woman), Schleiermacher was more or less forced to accept a position in Stolpe, in Pommerania; this was in 1802. After two unhappy years there, however, he returned to Halle as extraordinary professor in theology and university preacher. His work there was interrupted by the Napoleonic war in the winter of 1806-07. In the summer of 1807 he was back in Berlin, giving lectures on the history of Greek philosophy; in autumn of that year, he moved to Berlin permanently, where he remained until his death in 1834. In 1808 he was appointed preacher at the Trinity Church in Berlin, where he became famous as a noteworthy preacher; in 1810 he was appointed professor on the theological faculty, being then forty-two years of age. He lived out his life in Berlin, interested not only in philosophy and theology, but also taking an active part in political questions and in the organization of ecclesiastical affairs.

His Philosophy Of Religion

The first important work produced by Schleiermacher on the philosophy of religion appeared in 1799, during his first stay at Berlin. It was published anonymously, but the name of its author was soon widely known: On Religion: Discourses Addressed to its Cultured Despisers. It was one of his most notable works.

The "cultured despisers," in this instance, were his new friends of the Romantic Movement in Berlin. Schleiermacher was beginning to formulate his own position in the debates of the era, and it was to be a unique position, differing greatly both from that of the eighteenth century Rationalists and Deists and from that of the Romanticists.

The Deists and their natural, purely rationalistic religion had sought to work out the conflict between faith and reason--between Rationalism and Christianity--by reducing religion to certain essential elements that could be defended by reason alone. These essentials were chiefly moral principles and a few very general statements concerning God. Kant had entered the picture and attempted to preserve Christianity from this attack while still accepting the basic tenets of Deism. Kant attempted to overcome this spirit of the Enlightenment, but he was, at the same time, trying to overcome himself. His deistic religious views could not preserve what was then considered "traditional" Christian belief among German Protestants; the Deists, no less than the Rationalists, had in effect rejected all such orthodox belief.

Kant attempted to found religion on a moral or ethical basis (much as the other Deists before him had done). This approach was never entirely acceptable to Schleiermacher, even though he was won over in general to the Kantian spirit. As time went on, he grew more and more dissatisfied with this mentality; he did not wish to join forces with the Deists. Thus his original acceptance of Kant's position came to be modified by a new approach towards the preservation of Christianity. It is important to note that he did not actually reject the teaching of Kant in regard to such matters as proofs for the existence of God by reason. He had little regard, it would seem, for the cosmological and teleological proofs as outlined by Kant; he rejected them for much the same reason. On the other hand, Schleiermacher did make some efforts at formulating certain arguments for God's existence that may have been closer to the ontological proof. At any rate, he frequently came close to Pantheism in his system, and these arguments generally ran along this line.29

What Schleiermacher did reject in Kant was above all his attempt to place the essence of religion in the ethical order. He chose to follow Kant's position in the Critique of Pure Reason (rather than the Critique of Practical Reason), and therefore posited, in effect, some sort of a priori category proper to religion; in this would its essence lie. As Dillenberger-Welch note: "For Schleiermacher, religion itself was a unique realm of experience, related to but not determined by knowledge or ethics. Only in this way could Protestant theology begin again."30

Following this general line of thought, Schleiermacher felt that he could criticize both sides of this discussion, and for much the same reason. Both the leaders of the Enlightenment and those of the Romantic Movement were making the same mistake. They all looked upon religion as a way of thinking or as a set of beliefs and a moral code. The Romanticists had reacted against both the cold intellectualism of the Enlightenment and the vigorous moralism of Kant and Fichte. In place of these approaches they proposed an idealized concept of the free man, a notion that came close to a rather pantheistic doctrine involved in their praise of the "divinity" of human nature. Yet their position still remained tied in some way to beliefs or codes of action.

As a result, Schleiermacher begins his discourses to these "culture despisers" by asking first of all the most general question:

Let us then, I pray you, examine whence exactly religion has its rise. Is it from some clear intuition, or from some vague thought? Is it from the different kinds and sects of religion found in history, or from some general idea which you have perhaps conceived arbitrarily.31

Schleiermacher rejects the view that religion is derived from different sects, insisting that the concept of religion is far more profound than that. He notes that the Romanticists still view religion from this aspect; they consider the general religious teaching of the various churches, and then reject those two doctrines above all that they find in all religions and to which they object: providence and immortality. These they consider the hinges of all the traditional religions, but the Romanticists themselves feel that these doctrines must be cast aside, and a more personal, subjective basis for religion established.

By acting in this manner, Schleiermacher insists, the Romanticists are also wrong. Like the philosophers of the Enlightenment, they have mistakenly identified religion with a set of beliefs, with doctrines, or with a certain ethical code. Actually, something more is needed than an emphasis upon the subjective and personal as opposed to the objective and intellectual elements of religion. In its very essence, according to Schleiermacher, religion is neither metaphysics nor ethics nor a combination of the two; in this lies the common error of the Romanticists and the leaders of the Enlightenment. For Schleiermacher, religion is something far deeper, something unique in man's experience. Instead of approaching the heart, the essence of religion, the Romanticists, like the philosophers of the Enlightenment, have started with a consideration of what is most apparent, i.e., the beliefs of the various sects:

You start with the outside, with the opinions, dogmas and usages, in which every religion is presented. They always return to providence and immortality. For these externals you have sought an inward and original source in vain. Wherefore religion generally can be nothing but an empty pretense, which, like a murky and oppressive atmosphere, has enshrouded part of the truth. Doubtless this is your genuine opinion.32

Before going on to "despise" religion, therefore, Schleiermacher suggests that his friends of the Romantic Movement ought first of all ask if they themselves have ever properly grasped what religion actually is. He grants, from his own point of view, that there have been many different sects, many religions "from the senseless fables of wanton peoples to the most refined Deism, from the rude superstition of human sacrifice to the ill-put together fragments of metaphysics and ethics now called purified Christianity. . ."33 And he agrees with the Romanticists when they say that all of these are "without rhyme or reason."34 On this point, he claims, there is no argument between them. All of these various sects and doctrines, however, must be looked upon only as the external manifestations of religion; in its very essence, religion is something far different. None of these systems, theories, analyses represent the true character of religion, but since the Romanticists--like the leaders of the Enlightenment--have considered only these elements, they also "do not yet know religion itself."35 Hence what they "despise" is not religion at all, but only these external elements which they have mistakenly identified with religion itself.

Basis Of Schleiermacher’s System

In this we find the kernel of Schleiermacher's religious thought, such as it was to develop in later years, above all in two works: Kurze Darstellung des Theologischen Studiums (1811, 1830), and Der christliche Glaube nach den Grundsatzen der evangelischen Kirche (1821, 1830)--translated as The Christian Faith. Schleiermacher thus asks his readers to turn "from everything usually reckoned religion, and fix your regard on the inward emotions and dispositions. . . You must transport yourselves into the interior of a pious soul and seek to understand its inspiration."36 He will not attempt to defend religion by the argument that it maintains justice and order in the world, nor will he emphasize doctrines or the weakness of man and his need of God's directing strength. Others follow this line of argument, but he will not; to do so would mean making the same mistake they have made.

In his Second Speech, Schleiermacher concerns himself directly with the true nature of religion as he sees it. If religion is neither "a way of thinking, a faith, a peculiar way of contemplating the world," nor "a way of acting, a peculiar desire and love, a special kind of conduct and character," what precisely is it?37 "Piety cannot," he insists, "be an instinct craving for a mess of metaphysical and ethical crumbs."38 All of these outward appearances and formulas are merely secondary elements of religion itself:

Religion never appears quite pure. Its outward form is ever determined by something else. Our task first is to exhibit its true nature, and not to assume offhand, as you seem to do, that the outward form and the true nature are the same.39

True religion is something that rests deep within the heart of man; it is this contemplation of the Infinite, which is neither knowledge nor science, but an experience in which God is perceived:

It is true that religion is essentially contemplative. . . But this contemplation is not turned, as your knowledge of nature is, to the existence of a finite thing, combined with and opposed to another finite thing. . . The contemplation of the pious is the immediate consciousness of the universal existence of all finite things, in and through the Infinite, and of all temporal things in and through the Eternal. Religion is to seek this and find it in all that lives and moves, in all growth and change, in all doing and suffering. It is to have life and to know life in immediate feeling, only as such an existence in the Infinite and Eternal.40

As he goes on to explain, this religion is not knowledge and science, either of the world or of God. Without being knowledge, true religion recognizes knowledge and science, but in itself, it is essentially an affection--a revelation of the Infinite in the finite, God being seen in it and it in God. The same thing is true of ethics. The pious man contemplates God's activity among men and sees the meaning of ethics, but he does not formulate any ethical system.

It is important to note that at this time of his philosophical development, Schleiermacher continued to include two elements in his complete notion of true religion: Intuition and Feeling. Later on, in those works, which most represent his influence upon modern thought, he dropped the notion of Intuition (which had overtones of an intellectual grasp of faith and an objective belief), and emphasized only feeling. This Intuition of which he is now speaking, however, is not perception. As Schleiermacher understands it, Intuition involves a more personal, immediate influence of one thing upon another:

All intuition proceeds from the influence of the thing perceived on the person perceiving. . . What is perceived is not the nature of things, but their action upon us, and what is known or believed of this nature is beyond the range of intuition. . . Religion neither seeks like metaphysics to determine and explain the nature of the Universe, nor like morals to advance and perfect the Universe by the power of freedom and the divine will of man. It is neither thinking nor acting, but intuition and feeling.41

The basic principles of Kantian phenomenology can be recognized in this statement, joined to Schleiermacher's notion of religion as something entirely beyond the outwardly perceptible. In his later works, and in the second edition of the discourses On Religion, Schleiermacher, for various reasons, set aside this element of Intuition in his concept of religion. He had reworked his concept of science, and Intuition was now also rather important there. At the same time, he may have wished by that time to avoid confusion with the "intellectual intuition" proposed by Schelling, with whom he now disagreed.42

This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to analyze the position of Schleiermacher; he was constantly progressing towards a newer, more explicit formulation of what he was thinking in general, although he never set forth a fully worked-out system such as we might desire. By a peculiar trick of fate, this may be the reason for his profound influence on modern religious thought in Protestantism and in Catholic Modernism. Had he perfected a system, any acceptance of his concepts would have been conditioned by an acceptance of his system. As it was, the concepts he proposed were able to be assimilated in various ways by rather diverse schools of thought, and thus Schleiermacher gave the impulse to equally diverse systems. As Brandt expresses it: "Being vague, his idea was elastic and adaptable. Had he carried through a rigorous analysis of his concepts of 'feeling' and religious experience, it is quite possible that the idea would have proved less powerful."43

Schleiermacher did attempt to explain what he meant by "feeling" (das Gefuhl), however inadequate were his efforts. In his earlier concern with intuition and feeling, he held that each intuition is, from its very nature, linked to a feeling. Once he had transferred this notion of intuition to the realm of science or knowledge in general, making it a part of his epistemological system, he redefined religion in terms of feeling alone; this was from about 1806 on. This meant, in effect, that his religious views, and his concept of religious belief, became increasingly subjective, since this concept of intuition--vague as it was--had implied some contact with an objective religious truth. As Oman notes:

In 1806 he stood opposed to an entirely different state of matters. . . Schleiermacher solved the difficulty by saying that one part of the mind can take the other for its object. Thus the mind can make its feelings the object of its thought, and doctrines arise. Religious ideas are reflections on religious feeling. This is the conception he works out in the Glaubenslehre [The Christian Faith].44

It is this notion of religion, dating from his later period, that has come to be associated with the name of Schleiermacher, and which has become the starting-point for so many modern systems of religious thought, including the Modernism condemned by Pius X. It sets aside intuition and is identified with "feeling" alone, not an emotional or psychological feeling, but "an immediate conscious state, the result of an interaction between the individual and his environment, a mirroring of the effect of that interaction on the individual, its enhancing or depressing his life in a specific way; and feeling is either pleasant or unpleasant in tone."45

There can be, of course, feelings of this nature that are not religious; for Schleiermacher, religion is simply one species of a genus.46 On a purely philosophical basis, all mankind finds God on the basis of this feeling of absolute dependency. In this, Schleiermacher remains an intuitivist. When man perceives himself as a dependent being, as a part of the Whole, he at once achieves certitude; he needs no further reasoning process, no further proof. 47 In this idea of the Whole, the individual perceives God, the Cause of all things.

In the Christian, however, there is question of a further, unique experience. The dogmatic statements which pertain to that belief are a result of the reflection on the Christian consciousness, rather than merely this primal feeling of absolute dependency on God, common to all mankind. The Christian consciousness is that associated with the experience of redemption in Christ; it could not be experienced in any other situation. It might be called the highest and most profound experience with the feeling of absolute dependence on God, but, while this feeling might be somewhat vague and misty apart from Christian revelation, it is clear and domineering in this experience, strong enough to exclude all hint of shadow and hesitancy.48

All of this is the work of the Spirit, and this working finds expression simultaneously in "revelation" and in the devout, Christian "consciousness." Schleiermacher understands this term "consciousness" more in a metaphysical than in a psychological sense.49 It is that which places man in contact with God; hence it is, in the Christian, that which places man in contact with God through Christian revelation. The same Spirit that was active in Christ is also active now in the devout Christian, and the heightened activity of this Spirit that is apparent in the Christian church and which unites all Christians in a common feeling of holiness actually constitutes, for us, the Christian revelation. "Just as the self-consciousness of Christ was a revelation of God in him," writes Fluckiger in his interpretation of Schleiermacher, "so is the Christian, devout, self-consciousness a revelation of God in us."50 The Spirit is the same in all instances, but in the Christian, this heightened activity of the Spirit progresses only under the impulse of the preaching of Christ; apart from this preaching, there might be religious activity of the Spirit, but never that activity proper to the Christian. The work of the Spirit in the Christian is necessarily linked to the preaching of Christ. Thus there is a necessary identity between the self-consciousness of Christ and that of the Church. It is necessarily a question only of one revelation, being manifested in both Christ and His Church. The Christian message, therefore, is really the preaching of the self-consciousness of Christ, which is, necessarily, that of the Christian community as well.

Because of this, there is, in Schleiermacher's view, an essential link between Christ and Christianity. His theology is not a purely rational, philosophical outgrowth; it is something associated only with Christ, and it is the working of the one Holy Spirit. Thus Schleiermacher can write:

No true Christian can wish to retain anything in his inner life, and at work there, in which he does not recognize Christ; so, too, no one can wish, in his self-communication within the Christian fellowship, to commend and disseminate himself and his own things, but rather Christ alone and whatever of Christ lives in him. Similarly, no one can wish to take up anything into his life for self-advancement, save as he takes it from Christ.51

If one accepts the philosophical and theological principles adopted by Schleiermacher, all of this does make sense, and his "Christian faith" might be called truly "Christian." But only if one accepts his philosophical position. As he views it, Christianity is something that could never occur apart from the impulse given by Christ, but every statement of this nature must be understood in the philosophic categories in which he himself labored. Otherwise, we miss the meaning of Schleiermacher entirely.

Modern-day Protestantism has rejected much of Schleiermacher's approach, but one basic element has continued to exercise its influence. As Dillenberger-Welch point out:

Even his sharpest critics are one with Schleiermacher in the recognization that God and faith belong together. We cannot speak significantly about God from a neutral corner. We know him only as we meet him in a venture of trust and obedience, i.e. as we respond in faith to his forgiving and liberating work in Christ.52

It is important to note that it is the philosophic basis of this approach to Christian revelation that makes all the difference in the meaning of these same words. A Catholic might say this same thing about man's relationship to God, but he would necessarily mean something greatly different from what Schleiermacher meant to say, or from what a large number of present-day Protestant theologians intend. Again, a Pelagian might also describe Christianity as a "response in faith" to the activity of God, but mean nothing more than man's totally independent and natural activity in the way of salvation. Man's response to revelation is still a response under grace. God retains the initiative, or else we again lapse at once into Pelagianism.

All of these basic principles concerning the nature of religion came to be applied in a particular manner in Schleiermacher's later work concerning the teaching of Christianity; The Christian Faith. It is in this further application that we will note the impact of Schleiermacher's thought upon Liberal Protestantism and on Catholic Modernism as well.

(To be continued)

John L. Murphy
The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.


1 Denz. 2105. English translation in All Things in Christ, edited by Vincent A. Yzermans (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1954), p. 117. (Cited hereafter as Yzermans.)

2 Cf. Pius XII, Divino afflante Spiritu (N.C.W.C. edition), par. 18: "It is scarcely necessary to observe that this [textual] criticism, which, some fifty years ago not a few made use of quite arbitrarily and often in such wise that one would say they did so to introduce into the sacred text their own preconceived ideas, today has rules so firmly established and secure, that it has become a most valuable aid to the purer and more accurate editing of the sacred text and that any abuse can easily be discovered."--The same current interest can (be noted in regard to the Hebrew mentality and Hebraic forms of literature which, set against the philosophy of the Liberal Protestant in an earlier era, took on a quite different meaning. Cf. Divino afflante Spiritu, par. 33 ff.

3 Denz. 2096. (Yzermans, p. 109.)

4 Denz. 2097. (Yzermans, p. 111.)

5 Ibid.

6 Denz. 2098. (Yzermans, p.111.)

7 Denz. 2099. (Yzermans, p. 112.)

8 Denz. 2101. (Yzermans, p. 113.)

9 Denz. 2101. (Yzermans, p. 114.)

10 Ibid.

11 Denz. 2072. (Yzermans, p. 91.)

12 Denz. 2074. (Yzermans, p. 92.)

13 Denz. 2079. (Yzermans, p. 95.)

14 Ibid.

15 Denz. 2079. (Yzermans, p. 96.)

16 Denz. 2080. (Yzermans, p. 96.)

17 Denz. 2087. (Yzermans, p. 101.)

18 Richard B. Brandt, The Philosophy of Schleiermacher (New York: Harper, 1941), pp. 307-308.

19 It may be noted that the term "Liberalism" has been used in many different senses during the last few centuries. As used in present-day theological circles and as used in Pascendi (Denz. 2093; Yzermans, p. 106), it indicates chiefly that type of post-Kantian thought, which came to life in the writings of Schleiermacher and similar-minded men. It must be distinguished from the current use of the word "Liberal" as distinguished from a so-called "Conservative," and also from the "Liberalism" spoken of by Newman in his early work, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church (1837). In this work of Newman, "Liberalism" refers more properly to Deism or eighteenth-century Rationalism rather than the type of philosophic thought discussed in the Pascendi. This same use of the term as indicating deistic Rationalism is to be found in Romuald A. Dibble, S.D.S.: John Henry Newman: The Concept of Infallible Doctrinal Authority (Washington, D. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955).

20 Cf, John Dillenberger and Claude Welch, Protestant Christianity (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1954), p. 182; John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), p. 406.

21 Collectio Lacensis: Acta et decreta sacrorum conciliorum recentiorum (Friburgi: Herder, 1890), VII, 528,d (note 2).

22 Felix Fluckiger, Philosophie und Theologie bei Schleiermacher (Zollikon-Zurich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1947), p. 9.

23 Fluckiger, op. cit., pp. 9-17; 174 ff.

24 Brandt, op. cit., p. 261.

25 Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, trans. by Mackintosh and Steward (Edinburgh: dark, 1928), p. 44 (No. 10, 1).

26 Ibid., p. 45.

27 Schleiermacher, Werke, Part One, II, 586: in Brandt, op. cit., p. 280.

28 Cf. Fluckiger, op. cit., p. 184; Brandt, op. cit., pp. 4-5.

29 Cf. Brandt, op. cit., pp. 217 ff.

30 Dillenberger-Welch, op. cit., p. 159.

31 Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, trans. by John Oman (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1893), pp. 12-13.

32 Ibid., p. 14.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid., p. 15.

36 Ibid., p.18.

37 Ibid., p. 27. (Italics ours.)

38 Ibid., p.3l.

39 Ibid., p. 33.

40 Ibid., p. 36.

41 Ibid., (1st edition), in the Oman edition, pp. 278, 277.

42 Cf. Brandt, op. cit., pp. 155, 175 ff.

43 Brandt, op. cit., p. 313.

44 Oman, "Introduction" to his translation of On Religion, p. xliii. (Italics ours.)

45 Brandt, op. cit., p. 179.

46 Ibid., p. 180.

47 Fluckiger, op. cit., p. 121.

48 Ibid., p. 126.

49 Ibid., p. 128.

50 Ibid., p. 125.

51 Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, p. 612 (No. 133, 1).

52 Dillenberger-Welch, op. cit., p. 189.

Part II, "Modernism and the Teaching of Scheiermacher"

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