Schelling, Friedrich

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SCHELLING, FRIEDRICH (17751854), German philosopher. Born at Leonberg in Württemberg, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling received his early education at the preparatory seminary at Bebenhausen, where his father, a Lutheran minister, was professor of Old Testament studies. From an early age, Schelling was exposed both to Lutheranism and to the Swabian mystical pietism of Bengel and Oetinger. Precociously entering the University of Tübingen at fifteen, he enthusiastically espoused (with his comrades G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Hölderlin) the ideas of the French Revolution and the philosophy of Kant. At the time of his first professorship in 1798, at Jena, Schelling had met J. G. Fichte, had published in significant journals, and had offered a synthesis of the new philosophy and the new natural sciences.

Schelling's philosophical career unfolded in four major periods: Fichtean transcendentalism (to 1796); systems synthesizing the history of consciousness and nature (to 1806); explorations of the ground of freedom and consciousness in the mode of mysticism (to 1820); and the final system, whose second and third parts describe the unfolding of idealism in the history of religion (18271843). Because of the years of friendship with Hegel at Jena after 1800 and their years of enmity after Hegel's first publications, we can only suspect Schelling's creative influence in ideas that today are associated with Hegel.

Of the great philosophers of the early nineteenth century, Schelling remains comparatively little known, and his thought is usually falsely presented as a sterile, unwieldy structure of mental forms drawn from his early works. Despite his youthful break with church and orthodoxy, Schelling's philosophy by 1802 had reexamined religion; his move first to Würzburg and then to Munich was crucial, for these cities placed him in contact with Franz von Baader, the rehabilitator of Meister Eckhart and Jakob Boehme, and with the vigor and sacramental mysticism of the Bavarian renaissance under Ludwig I. Stimulated particularly by Boehme, Schelling, in his important Essay on Human Freedom (1809), led German philosophy from the consideration of structures of consciousness to the enterprise of will. Beyond necessity and freedom, good and evil, a ground of the divine being in its longing for its own identity sets in motion an exoteric process. This process realizes itself in a triad of powers that guides the universe, human history, and God's own life.

After some years at the University of Erlangen, Schelling returned to join Baader, Joseph von Görres, Johann von Döllinger, and Johann Möhler at the new University of Munich. There, in 1827, he announced his final system, one that was not an exploration of transcendental concepts but a presentation of the birth of God in a trinitarian dialectic: a vast but real extension of dialectic into history, into religion, and then into the incarnation and kenosis of Christ. Although Schelling presented this system for over fifteen years, the final section on the age of the Holy Spirit and the churchthe synthesis in the Johannine church of the dynamics of both Peter (Catholic) and Paul (Protestant)was never developed beyond a few pages.

Theologically, Schelling was influenced by Neoplatonism, Lutheran Christianity, and forms of mysticism; he read extensively in the theological writings, Protestant and Catholic, of his time. From 1798 to 1830 he was the mentor of progressive Catholic theologians in the south, while Protestant theologians such as Karl Daub were initially impressed with his work. Schelling influenced Russian philosophy and theology and, through Coleridge, English culture; although rejected by the young Kierkegaard and Engels, in thinkers such as Paul Tillich and Gabriel Marcel the existentialism of his final thought touched the twentieth century. The centenary year of his death, 1954, began a new interest in Schelling, while the 1970s saw mature works on him as well as the initiation of a critical text.


Complete bibliographies on Schelling's writings and secondary literature on him do not reach beyond the 1970s: Guido Schneeberger's Vriedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling: Eine Bibliographie (Bern, 1954); Hans Jörg Sandkühler's Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (Stuttgart, 1970); and my "F. W. J. Schelling: A Bibliographical Essay," Review of Metaphysics 31 (December, 1977): 283309.

On Schelling and Christianity see the two dissertations by Paul Tillich available in English translations; Walter Kasper's Das Absolute in der Geschichte: Philosophie und Theologie der Geschichte in der Spätphilosophie Schellings (Mainz, 1965); my Romantic Idealism and Roman Catholicism: Schelling and the Theologians (Notre Dame, Ind., 1982). Emilio Brito has published large studies on Schelling and religious themes as has Marc Maesschalk. Xavier Tilliette's two-volume work, Schelling: Une philosophie en devenir (Paris, 1970), led to a number of volumes of essays in this fieldsome touch on the "speculative Christology" of German idealismand ends with the magisterial study, Schelling: Biographie (Paris, 1999).

Work on the critical text is reaching the writings done after 1800, and the previous volumes have been accompanied by a series of specialized studies on areas touching the volumes published by Frommann-Holzboog in Stuttgart. The basic text of Schelling was republished by the Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft in 1976. There are some recent translations into English, including four early works translated by Fritz Marti, three works published by Thomas Pfau including the "Stuttgart Seminars," a translation of Die Weltalter by Judith Norman, and one by Victor Hays of segments of the philosophies of myth and revelation.

Thomas F. O'Meara (1987 and 2005)

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Schelling, Friedrich

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