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chapter S E V E N The Rebirth of Theology Schleiermacher and Kierkegaard In the preceding two chapters I have sketched a fundamental change that occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the attitudes toward religion as reflected in the works of poets and philosophers. How did the theologians, who dealt professionally with the Christian religion, accommodate the more comprehensive concept of religion within the restricted boundaries of that tradition? We must remember that Enlightenment theology in Germany had already considerably enlarged some of the basic concepts of Christian doctrine, among them the interpretation of the historical narratives of Scripture, the influence earlier cultures exercised upon the Hebrew and the Christian, and, above all, the essentially developing nature of a historical religion. Even more extreme interpreters, such as Reimarus and Lessing, had pretended still to remain within the Christian tradition, while more conservative ones, Catholics, Protestant Pietists, as well as a large number of “orthodox” Lutherans, admitted no innovations. The new religious climate presented even greater challenges. Both the rationalism of the progressives and the exclusivism of the  95 dupre.indb 95 dupre.indb 95 1/9/08 7:49:23 AM 1/9/08 7:49:23 AM 96 Religion and the Rise of Modern Culture conservatives were out of tune with the dynamic, revolutionary mentality of the Romantics. In the confused theological climate at the end of the eighteenth century, a young Prussian pastor began his in- fluential career by simply ignoring all established presuppositions. One could hardly better describe Friedrich Schleiermacher’s signi- ficance than in the words of his great biographer, Wilhelm Dilthey: he molded the scattered elements of modern culture into an original whole.1 Though he belonged to the earliest group of German Romantics, Schleiermacher reestablished the link of the movement with religion, which the Prometheism of the early Romantic models, the young Goethe and Schiller, had considerably weakened. Moreover, he was one of the most successful evangelists of his time. People flocked to the weekly sermons, which he preached for forty years—the last twenty-five years in Berlin’s Trinity Cathedral. A formidable classicist , he translated most of Plato into German. Together with Wilhelm von Humboldt he played a major role in the founding of the University of Berlin and became the first dean of the faculty of theology. During the French occupation of the city by Napoleon’s troops, Schleiermacher, like Fichte, through public addresses restored the confidence of his countrymen. He mightily contributed to the building of the confident German culture that secured it a leading role in the intellectual life of Europe in the nineteenth century. Above these achievements stands the personal attractiveness of the man, for whom friendship and goodness always counted as more important than personal reputation. Discourses on Religion Born on November 27, 1768, the second child of a Reformed chaplain in the Prussian army, Friedrich Ernst David was educated by the Moravian Brethren. He started theological studies at Halle as a de1 . Wilhelm Dilthey, Leben Schleiermachers, 2d edition, ed. Hermann Mulert (Berlin: Vereinigung wissenschaftlicher Verleger, 1922), Preface. dupre.indb 96 dupre.indb 96 1/9/08 7:49:23 AM 1/9/08 7:49:23 AM voutly pietistic young man. Contact with Enlightenment theology shook his religious convictions, yet all his life he remained faithful to the spirit of the Brethren. During his tenure as chaplain to the public Charité Hospital in Berlin he became associated with the young Romantics and eventually shared living quarters with their leader, Friedrich Schlegel. It was during that period that he wrote the Discourses on Religion (Reden über die Religion) (1799). Rudolf Otto, in his introduction to a 1926 reprint of the first edition, called it “a veritable manifesto of the Romantics in its view of nature and history; its struggle against rationalist culture and the Philistinism of rationalism in the state, church, school, and society; its leaning toward fantasy , melancholy, presentiment, mysticism.” In the dedication to his friend von Brinkmann, Schleiermacher mentions that he had written his work in response to the “enormous crisis” which the eighteenth century, “an age of epochal decline,” had left in its wake.2 As the subtitle, Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (An die Gebildeten unter ihren V erächtern) indicates, the book had a polemical edge against his contemporaries. From the beginning Schleiermacher had maintained some intellectual distance from the secular icons of the early Romantic Movement: Goethe, Schiller, the early Fichte. His critique was...


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