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Schleiermacher, Friedrich

Schleiermacher, Friedrich (1768–1834). Christian Protestant theologian, sometimes called ‘the father of modern protestantism’. He followed his father into the Moravian Brethren in 1783, and attended a Moravian school. He went to the university at Halle, and in 1794 was ordained into the ministry of the Reformed Church, and became a chaplain at the Charité Hospital in Berlin. Here he associated with an intellectual circle which included the two von Schlegel brothers, and in which there was much criticism of prevailing religion. In response, he wrote Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verachtern (On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, 1798). He shared the distaste of the cultured despisers for the arid philosophy of religion which issued in Deism, and even more for the petty and futile divisions of the Church over dogma and outward form. But this, he argued, is not truly ‘religion’. Thus ‘true religion is sense and taste for the Infinite’. This sense of the Whole, not (as in Newtonian physics) as a passive arena of inert forces, but as an active movement toward the human, evoking a certain feeling (Gefühl), is the origin of religion, ‘raised above all error’ because it is primordial and inescapable—it precedes the organization of church and doctrine. But a feeling of what? Schleiermacher here pointed to its relation to the commonly experienced human feeling of dependence (Abhangigkeit), but in the religious case, this is a feeling of absolute dependence (‘das Gefühl der schlechthinigen Abhangigkeit’).

In 1800, he applied his understanding to ethics in Monologen (Soliloquies). In Der Christliche Glaube … (The Christian Faith), every religion is seen as the consequence of the feeling of absolute dependence, but Christianity derives from ‘the Ideal Representative of Religion’, i.e. from Jesus of Nazareth whose consciousness was entirely taken up with this awareness of God.

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