Friedrich Schleiermacher     1768-1834  

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The most influential German theologian of the 19th c., F. D. E. Schleiermacher is generally regarded as the father of modern Protestant thought. A Calvinist by heritage, he was educated in Moravian & Lutheran schools, studied the philosophy of Kant and became a protégé of F. von Schlegel, leader of the Romantic literary circle at Berlin.

Schleiermacher was the first Calvinist invited to teach at the Lutheran University of Halle (1804) & the first theologian appointed to the newly founded University of Berlin (1810). An ardent ecumenist, he championed the Prussian union of Lutheran & Calvinist churches.

In an era when religion was identified with creeds & dogmas which many intellectuals rejected, Schleiermacher defined religion as "feeling & intuition of the universe" & Christianity as the individual's personal "feeling of dependence" on God, a definition that influenced Protestant liberals & pietists alike. His major works --- On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799) & The Christian Faith (1822) --- are still referred to in Protestant seminary curricula, in spite of critiques by prominent 20th c. scholars, such as Karl Barth.

Schleiermacher held that Jesus was a real human being in the full sense, but was distinct from other humans in his consciousness of the immediacy of God's presence within him. Thus, from 1819-1832 Schleiermacher shifted the focus of his lectures on Christology from dogmas to the portraits of Jesus in the gospels. These lectures were delivered extemporaneously. But 30 years after his death they were reconstructed from students' notes and published as The Life of Jesus.

More than most biblical scholars of his time, Schleiermacher stressed the irreconcilable historical differences between the synoptic gospels & the gospel of John. But unlike most biblical scholars before or since, he argued that John provided better insight into Jesus than the synoptics:

The Gospel of John everywhere presents itself as one originating from an immediate eyewitness. In contrast with this the others' compilation [of their narratives] from single elements is subject to comparable doubt. All three, without exception, are seen as coming to us second hand./note/

Schleiermacher's conviction that the canonical gospel of Matthew, like Mark & Luke, depends on earlier reports was based on his own research "On the Witness of Papias about our First Two Gospels" (1817). He was the first scholar to draw a distinction between the Greek narrative ascribed to Matthew and the Hebrew sayings collection that Papias ascribed to that apostle. He concluded that both were given the same name because the author of the narrative used Matthew's collection of sayings as a primary source.

Schleiermacher also distinguished the canonical gospel of Mark from the source that Papias ascribed to an associate of Peter. Thus, for him the synoptic gospels were all composed of stories & sayings that were formed by previous tradition rather than by eyewitness reports of events. Later form critics & redaction critics confirmed this insight. But very few scholars shared his conviction that the gospel of John preserved reliable first hand testimony. While Schleiermacher himself retained the traditional view that Matthew was the earliest synoptic gospel, his contention that synoptic gospel writers had access to two primitive sources --- one a narrative & one a sayings collection --- paved the way for C. H. Weisse to formulate the Two Source hypothesis.

* Note: citation from D. F. Strauss The Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History: A Critique of Schleiermacher's Life of Jesus (1865; ET Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), p. 41 (italics mine). For clearer reading, I have divided L. Keck's translation of the single German sentence into three.

[For analysis of Schleiermacher's contribution to the development of the Two Document hypothesis see W. R. Farmer The Synoptic Problem (NY: Macmillan Co., 1964) p. 15]

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last revised 31 October 2021


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