Printer Friendly

Schleiermacher's social witness.

Schleiermacher's social witness. (1)

The funeral procession for pastor and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher included a line of mourners on foot, stretching over a mile in length. Behind these mourners on a cold February day in l834 came some 100 horse-drawn coaches; in the first of these rode Friedrich Wilhelm III (1770-1840), King of Prussia, along with his son, the crown prince, six years later to be Friedrich Wilhelm IV (1795-1861). (2) And lining the streets were additional masses of people, conservatively estimated at 20,000 to 30,000. Clearly, some organization had gone into this event, but according to contemporary witnesses, it was even more--a spontaneous expression on the part of the people of Berlin, meant to honor the one who had died. (3)

Small only in his physical stature, Schleiermacher had been a pastor, a theology professor, and a leader in the cause of social-political reform. He was loved by the people of Berlin. The presence of the king in the funeral procession raises interesting questions. Schleiermacher had been a leader in the movement to secure freedom for Prussia when the country had been conquered by Napoleon some twenty years earlier. In this he was a supporter of the king. But Schleiermacher also had been a thorn in the king's side for most of his life--a leader in the reform movement that had flourished from 1807-19 that had opposed and criticized many of the king's policies. Does the king's presence in the funeral procession signify his respect for Schleiermacher as a Prussian patriot? Does it signify the fact that he had outlasted the theologian and triumphed over the reform movement?

Critics of Schleiermacher's theology would likely see the king's presence as symbolic of an unholy union between theology and culture. Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and other leaders of last century's "neo-orthodoxy" see Schleiermacher as the headwater of a stream of culture-Protestantism, the progenitor of a theological movement that ended up accommodating itself to the culture around it and having no critical leverage against it. Viewed in light of the crises caused by the World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century, neo-orthodoxy casts Schleiermacher into the place of theological weeping and gnashing of teeth. He is charged with giving up a distinctively Christian identity and selling its birthright for a mess of pottage. He is seen as the beginning of a movement that culminated in Barth's liberal teachers acquiescing to or even supporting the Kaiser's war machine.

H. Richard Niebuhr's assessment is quite similar to neo-orthodoxy's. He places Schleiermacher in the "Christ of culture" category--the least favored of his five types of the Christ-culture relation. I have argued that Niebuhr's assessment is a mistake. In fact, Schleiermacher has much affinity with the Christ-transforming culture type in terms of the particular stands he takes on issues of social ethics as well as the overall orientation of his system. (4) Under the rubric of what Schleiermacher calls restorative action, a prophetic critique is at work in Schleiermacher's thought that rejects the death penalty, violent revolution, wars of aggression, and forceful colonization as immoral because of the violence and coercion inherent in such actions. He also rejects divorce, slavery, and dehumanization of workers, dueling (a serious problem at the time), competitiveness in society, and gambling as immoral and unChristian. Under the rubric of what Schleiermacher calls "broadening action," a transvaluation of cul tural goods finds expression. Here Schleiermacher reflects particularly on the State. He critiques the State's "selfish nationalism," calling the self-interest of the State the most powerful force that can oppose Christianity. He argues that Christian faith relativizes the value of the State and all cultural goods. Where the citizen sees the furtherance of the State as the highest good, the Christian sees the Reign of God, here defined as the "absolute community of all with all," as the highest good and views the State only as a lesser good which must be subordinated to the kingdom of God and brought into its service. In terms of what Schleiermacher calls "representational activity," the call is for Christians to participate in all cultural communities and therein to express the Christian principle of love for the brothers and sisters, the mutuality and equality of all persons in Christ.

At the theoretical level, there is much correspondence with the Christ-transforming culture type. This essay focuses on Schleiermacher's activity in the social and political realm. What did he do, and what kinds of consequences did his actions have for the Prussia of his day and for subsequent Prussian and German history? What was his social witness, and what effects can we discern?

Social context and activity

The Christian identity of Prussia, and of Brandenburg and Brandenburg-Prussia before it, was unusual. In 1613 John Sigismund, the Elector of Brandenburg, had announced his adherence to Reformed Christianity, but he had not required that his subjects follow him into the Reformed fold. Lutheranism remained the dominant confession of the people of Prussia, and the unusual result was a Reformed ruler with a majority of Lutheran subjects. This situation remained until the church of the Prussian Union joined the Reformed and Lutheran confessions in one church in 1817. As a Reformed pastor, Schleiermacher, like his father and grandfathers before him, was part of a "royal minority" in Prussia.

Friedrich II (the "Great," 1712-1786) casts a shadow over all of subsequent Prussian and German history. Although he shared with his father (Friedrich Wilhelm I, 1688-1740) the goal of economic and military development of Prussia, he was in other ways very different. Friedrich was deeply immersed in the Enlightenment and a lover of all things French. He admired and befriended Voltaire; for three years the French philosophe lived with Friedrich in Potsdam and Berlin. He rejected confessional Christianity and allowed religious toleration in his kingdom. Believing that humanity could elevate itself through reason, Friedrich eased censorship and eliminated torture in his regime; immediately on his accession to the throne, he reinstated the rationalist Christian von Wolff (1679-1754) at Halle, and he later built an opera house in Berlin for the production of French opera. Friedrich accepted Rousseau's "social contract" theory of the state and believed that the ruler was to serve the people by promoting their secur ity and happiness.

On the other hand, Friedrich believed that, in a ruthless world of struggle and strife, to fulfil his mandate to the people he needed to exercise power unchecked by anything save his own reason. This he did. Friedrich was an autocratic ruler; he gave his ministers and generals no real responsibility. He ruled by fear, though not the fear of physical brutality his father had employed. On the basis of his brilliance and daring, Friedrich became a great military strategist; Napoleon looked back in awe at his prowess. Friedrich won military victories against superior forces. He greatly expanded Prussian territorial claims, adding Silesia through the Seven Years War of 1756-63 and West Prussia by means of the partition of Poland he brokered among Prussia, Austria, and Russia in 1772. Friedrich was a person of genius and contradiction--at once a rationalist committed to toleration, openness, and the pursuit of happiness and a militaristic power broker who prospered while crushing others under foot.

In terms of social class, eighteenth-century Prussia remained a feudal society. Prussian power was developed on the backs of the peasants. They remained bound to feudal lords with little opportunity to better themselves. Peasants paid 40 percent of their income in tax and were obligated to mandatory military service. Friedrich II intended some positive changes for the peasants but accomplished little. He wanted to limit peasant forced labor to three or four days per week but was unable to impose this on the Junker nobility. He didn't even accomplish this for his own peasants, though they did receive land as hereditary holdings. Friedrich's most positive accomplishment regarding the peasantry was the draining of swamps where he then settled free peasants. But overall the peasant lot remained virtual slavery in eighteenth-century Prussia. The class that benefited from the rationalization of state government and economic prosperity was the Burghers. Involved in production and commerce, they became economically secure, a few even wealthy. University-educated and recruited into the state bureaucracy, their status was raised near that of other professionals--clergy, lawyers, teachers.

Schleiermacher was born during the reign of Friedrich II and, like many boys of his generation, was named after the king. Schleiermacher lived to see the reign of two more Prussian kings-Friedrich Wilhelm II (1744-1797), who ruled 1786-1797, and his son, Friedrich Wilhelm III (1770-1840), who ruled 1797 to 1840. This period of history was a tumultuous time. It saw the "fall" of Prussia from its powerful ascendancy under Friedrich II to the low ebb of its defeat by Napoleon in 1806. Eventually Prussia threw off the yoke of the oppressor, gaining its freedom in the "War of Liberation" (1812-14). The Reform period, 1807-19, was ushered in by Napoleon's conquest; this was a period of great hope and movement away from feudalism and bureaucratic absolutism. The year 1819 marks the end of the Reform movement, a turning that saw the king and his bureaucracy triumphant again. And it paved the way for the conservative "German-Christian" dominance under Friedrich Wilhelm IV (ruled 1840-1861).

Friedrich Wilhelm III ruled Prussia for the final 37 of Schleiermacher's 66 years. In contrast to his father's sexual libertinism, he was happily married to Queen Louisa; this set a different moral tone in the land. But like his father, he was an inept, nervous politician, relying heavily on his personal secretaries for political counsel and excluding his ministers of state from influence. This isolated the king politically, and without a good working relationship with his ministers he lost the insight and support they could have given him.

After some defeats Prussia stayed out of the early years of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1805 Friedrich Wilhelm III made a treaty with Napoleon, but, unhappy with its treatment by France, Prussia resisted, hostile negotiations proceeded, and in October 1806 Friedrich Wilhelm declared war on France. War ensued immediately, and Prussia was utterly defeated: Napoleon routed the unprepared Prussian army at the battle of Jena (October 14, 1806), captured Berlin (forcing the royal court to flee to Koenigsberg), and concluded a peace treaty at Tilsit in 1807 that made Prussia subject to the French. With the King's power marginalized, the period of reform begins in 1807.

German intellectuals of Schleiermacher's day, like generations before them, focused on religious and philosophical issues. In contrast to their French and English counterparts, for whom political action and reflection were central, the thinkers of the German Enlightenment maintained their distinctive focus. This may be due in part to the fertility of German soil for religion--the strong tradition of German mysticism, the Reformation, and Pietism being noteworthy examples. Even more was it due to the tight control that German princes exercised over intellectuals. Having little opportunity to wield influence in the political arena, they continued to plow in the fields of religion and philosophy. (5)

Schleiermacher witnessed the humiliation of his country at first hand as the Prussians were defeated in Halle. Schleiermacher's house was plundered, and he was forced to quarter French officers even after he had taken in friends left homeless by the occupation. The University was dissolved, and the church where Schleiermacher preached was used by the French to store grain. Still Schleiermacher vowed to stay on, and he located another pulpit from which he could preach until 1807, surviving on "salt and potatoes."

Schleiermacher repudiated Napoleon as an aggressor and a dictator and, when Halle was severed from Prussia in 1807 (handed over to Westphalia), he returned to Berlin. There he found some opportunities to teach. But, more important, he returned to the capital with a new political consciousness and a commitment to the reform of the Prussian educational and political system and to liberation from the oppressor's domination. This new political consciousness with its call for moral activity in the world also made a mark on his theology. Whereas his youthwork, the Speeches on Religion, had emphasized the passive element in religion, the soul dissolved in a union with the universe, his later theology gives significant place to the active, ethical expression of the faith: in addition to being person-forming, faith is now seen to be community-forming, nation-forming, (human) race-forming, and even world-forming. This gives a decisive shape to Schleiermacher's philosophical and theological program and is especially ev ident in his Philosophical Ethics and Christian Ethics.

In 1807 Schleiermacher made a secret trip to eastern Prussia at the behest of leaders in Berlin agitating for an uprising against Napoleon. On this trip, Schleiermacher carried messages to exiled government officials and had an audience with Queen Louisa and Princess Wilhelmina. Then in 1808 he was appointed to a post in the Department of the Interior, which was working to restructure the educational system and make it available to more than the children of the nobility. He held this position until 1814, and it was from here that Schleiermacher contributed to the formation of the new University of Berlin. The years 1813-14 were filled with hope for the reformers: Napoleon was in retreat; Prussia had joined the attack on the French; and Friedrich Wilhelm had promised a constitution which was to mean a significant reordering of Prussian politics. In these same years, Schielermacher worked as editor of the Preussische Zeitung, a reformminded newspaper that was regularly critical of the government, particularly o f any compromise with Napoleon.

Schleiermacher's criticism of the government was such that the Royal Cabinet ordered his resignation as editor and his exile from Prussia. The order was never carried out. In the reactionary period following 1819 Schleiermacher was again embroiled with the government; he came near to losing his positions. in 1819 and again in 1823. Neither threat came to fruition, but the latter controversy led to a complete severing of Schleiermacher's relation with the King. Although Schleiermacher was not a politician by vocation, he was an active participant in the political arena--always on the side of reform and often at odds with conservative and reactionary political forces.

Schleiermacher's greatest impact on his contemporaries, politically and in other arenas, was arguably from the pulpit. He preached weekly from 1790 until his death in 1834 and had "a charismatic ability to sway a whole congregation through fervent delivery and profound wrestling with many of the most vital religious questions troubling people of the day." (6) Perhaps the most moving and significant sermons were preached in Berlin during the quest for liberation from Napoleon. The sermon sending student volunteers off to join the army communicated a profound sense of God's action in history: the fall of Prussia is the judgment of God on the nation's pride and moral dissolution, and the call of God is for sacrificial action on behalf of the humiliated country. Moreover, the impact of Schleiermacher's sermons during his lifetime was not confined to those who heard him; seven collections of sermons were published before his death and gained a wide readership.

For seven years, Friedrich Wilhelm was content to bide his time, but after the Russian defeat of Napoleon in 1812 and the loss of some half million soldiers, Prussia joined the anti-French coalition in 1813. In October of that year, the allies won a major victory near Leipzig. Then, in March 1814, Friedrich Wilhelm m and Alexander I, Czar of Russia, marched victoriously into Paris. Napoleon abdicated and was exiled. Prussia's spoils of war included the annexation of Saxony and other territories and recognition anew as a power on the European scene.

The Reform Movement of 1807-19

Thus in Schleiermacher's lifetime the external military and political fortunes of Prussia began with the heights of Friedrich "the Great," fell to the depths of subjugation by Napoleon, and rose again in the latter portion of Friedrich Wilhelm III's rule. Schleiermacher was deeply connected with the Reform movement of 1807-19; consequently, his view of internal political fortunes of Prussia might well have discerned a pattern the inverse of the external fortunes. The Reformers viewed Prussia under Friedrich "the Great" as a "'machine state' in which the individual was to function as a cog in a mechanism." (7) The Reform era marks a high-water mark, when freedom and justice come out from the shadows; then, after 1819, there is renewed repression and authoritarian high-handedness by the state towards its people. Thus, from the Reform's point of view, the internal and external fortunes of Prussia were roughly the inverse of each other in the period 1740-1840.

As it so often does, war and its aftermath created an opportunity for social and political change. Napoleon's defeat of Prussia created a triangulated relationship among three parties: Napoleon, Friedrich Wilhelm III, and the Prussian reformers, led by Baron Karl Freiherr vom Stein, whom Napoleon appointed as the chief minister in Prussia. The goals of the three parties were diverse, with Napoleon and Friedrich Wilhelm at opposite poles and Stein in the middle. Whereas Napoleon wanted to maintain control over Prussia and instigate internal reform along Republican lines, Friedrich Wilhelm wanted liberation from the French and restoration of the monarchy's power, and Stein, in the middle, shared desire for liberation with the King and for reform with the Emperor. In his short 14 months as minister, Stein "left an indelible mark on modern German history." (8) Stein believed in balancing power among different groups and sought to achieve such balance in the reorganization of rural county and urban governments.

Stein's work for the liberation of the peasants bore much fruit, but ironically much of it turned out to be bitter. Friedrich Wilhelm III had already freed his own serfs beginning in 1799. His serfs were freed of obligatory work and of their lord's rule in matters of marriage and inheritance. This was a reform of enormous proportions, as some 50,000 freehold farms were established. But with Friedrich Wilhelm's weak political will and Junker strength, the latter's peasants were only freed on the basis of Stein's edict, signed in 1807. Because of his short time in office, Stein's accomplishments in regard to the peasants were limited, but he did begin a process that would lead after many years to true liberation. In the short term, these changes bore bitter fruit. Although the Junkers' peasants were freed of the worst of their servitude, they were totally lacking in economic and political power. Stein's plans for the renewal of rural government would have given the peasants some voice, but they were shelved whe n Stein was forced from office. Thus, in the agrarian crises of the 1820s, former serfs and small landowners were rendered destitute. Unable to secure the needed capital, some 50,000 peasant farms and 70,000 small family farms were claimed by the nobility.

Stein also initiated significant educational reforms. At his suggestion as he was leaving office (having been forced out by Napoleon, who had discovered his anti-French activities), Wilhelm von Humboldt was appointed minister of education. Prior to this time, education had been controlled by the nobility and extended only to their children, especially in the form of military training schools. Humboldt opposed this exclusion of the majority of children from schools and succeeded in advancing the principle that general education be available to all children. Over a period of years, Volksschule ("people's schools") were established and elementary education provided for all children.

Humboldt put significant effort into the development of the Gymnasium, a secondary school he imbued with the ideals of German neo-humanism. The great achievement of the Gymnasium was the way it transmitted the spirit of neo-humanism and critical idealism to a large number of Germans.

If Humboldt's work in reforming the universities was the crowning achievement of his career, the greatest single gem in the crown was the University of Berlin, which opened in the fall of 1810. Schleiermacher was Humboldt's chief collaborator in making the university a reality. Balance between the philosophical vision of a universal and coherent system of human knowledge and attention to historical particularity is the hallmark of Schleiermacher's view, and it became incarnate in the new University. The philosophical vision of the interconnection of all knowledge was to pervade all departments of the university; at the same time, Schleiermacher championed such practical and particular fields as theology, medicine, and law against critics such as Fichte who saw no room for them in a true university. Schleiermacher also insisted on the interconnection between research and teaching and on the university's freedom in both fields from State censorship. His vision of the university was just the beginning of his co ntribution: Schleiermacher helped select the original theology faculty, was dean of theology four separate times, and taught an impressive array of courses in philosophy and theology. In philosophy he taught dialectics, ethics, psychology, pedagogy, aesthetics, and hermeneutics; in theology dogmatics, ethics, exegetical theology, church history, and practical theology. All this, of course, in addition to his work as Pastor of Trinity Church and his other involvements.

The tension between the king and the nobility, on the one hand, and the leaders of the reform movement, on the other, came to the fore especially in the struggle against Napoleon. While both groups shared the objective of throwing off the French yoke, they differed markedly in their visions of a restored Prussia. Although the reformers detested the rule of the French, it opened for them a window of opportunity. This was especially true during Stein's short tenure as prime minister but also true for the first nine years (1810-19) when Prince Karl August von Hardenberg filled the role.

The Reformers blamed Prussia's defeat by Napoleon on the autocratic absolutism of Friedrich II and wanted in its place a state based on broad popular assent and guided by the ideals of the Enlightenment, idealism, and neohumanism. Thus, they believed that the overthrow of the French required the broad support of the people. Movement toward such a populist revolution took different forms: the formation of conspiratorial cells (an underground, revolutionary movement in which Schleiermacher took part) and the establishment of a national guard (Landswehr, created in February 1813) and provincial militias (Landsturm, created in April 1813) consisting of and led by ordinary citizens, Burgher and peasant alike. As could be expected, the king was ambivalent toward these armies of the people. He desired their support but was concerned lest the democratic spirit of these institutions spread and contaminate the state as a whole.

Friedrich Wilhelm had good cause for concern. The reformers' patriotism, which for many (not least Schleiermacher) spilled over to become German nationalism, was melded with their reformist convictions. There were spirits at work in all this that the King feared and knew he could not easily control. The reformers had been at work in the period 1807-13, drumming up the patriotic spirit of the people. They "had rightly judged that great moral forces were slumbering in the people which could be activated for the state." (9) The result was that the morale of the people was high, and this high morale was a significant factor in the defeats of Napoleon in 1813 and 1815.

The presence and influence of reform minded people within the ministries and bureaucracy of the Prussian government was drained away in the period 1815-19. The spirit of reform did not die, however, but arose in other places. Most prominent of these were the student associations (Burschenschaften); the first was established at the University of Jena in 1815. By 1818 there was a union of Burschenschaften that brought together student organizations from universities across the German states. The student associations had been inspired by the Virtue League (Tugendbund), which had arisen during Napoleon's occupation and worked to inspire patriotic feeling against the French. Many students had participated in the War of Liberation and returned with a spirit of patriotism and personal and political responsibility. The Burschenschaften were open to all students, and, with their commitment to reform in the direction of liberal and democratic ideas, they amounted to a transformation of earlier student associations, wh ich had been exclusive clubs where students could play at being nobility.

An event that quickened the movement of the Prussian government in the direction of monarchical conservatism and brought about repression of dissent arose out of the student associations. Karl Follen, the radical leader of one student group, advocated the union of the German states in a republican form of government and was disdainful of conventional morality to the point of allowing for the murder of unjust rulers. Inspired by Follen, the student Karl Ludwig Sand stabbed to death reactionary poet August von Kotzebue in March 1819. Sand's ignominious deed brought about a strong reaction. Friedrich Wilhelm III was frightened and ordered that reform-minded leaders be spied upon and investigated. This work was concentrated on the universities, and a period of persecution and witch hunts ensued known as the Demagogenverfolgung.

Conservative retrenchment

In reaction to Kotzebue' s assassination and the general agitation of the Burschenschaften, the Karisbad Decrees, passed by the Congress of the Germanic Confederation in September, 1819, called for the suppression of all "subversive" expression in the press, universities, and Diets of the states. The Decrees were enforced throughout the German territories: freedom of the press was overturned (it had been affirmed in the Federal Act of the Confederation), censors positioned in the universities, spies sent to hear lectures and sermons (for most of the 1820s Schleiermacher could count on his sermons and lectures being reported to the political authorities), and the Burschenschaften banned.

The conservative political reaction that gathered momentum in responding to Kotzebue's assassination and dominated the political scene in the 1820s and 30s was supported by a growing tide of religious conservatism in the same period. The religious movement is dubbed the Awakening and is seen as an expression of neo-Pietism. The Awakening united religious and theological conservatism with social-political conservatism and created the "throne and altar" movement-the backbone of popular support for the conservative policies of Friedrich Wilhelm in this period. The leaders of this movement have been defined as antithetical to the thought and action of Schleiermacher. While the neoPietists called for obedience to the King and the church and conformity to the status quo, "in an entirely different response, Schleiermacher and some lesser-known clergymen from the ranks seemed to develop and take pride in a feeling of responsibility as representatives and leaders of the public generally and of liberal forces aiming a t political and social change in particular. (10) In this way, the "throne and altar" movement is important both in its own right as a player on the Prussian scene and as the political and theological counterpoint to Schleiermacher.

The neo-Pietist movement began in the decade following 1810 and drew heavily on the support of Junker nobility of Pietist convictions. The movement defined itself particularly against the "ideas of 1789" (that is, the French Revolution) and enlisted traditional Protestant understandings of human sinfulness to combat the optimism of the philosophes: church and state are needed to preserve order and restrain sin. In 1810, Ludwig Nicolovius became minister of Kultusabteilung , the ecclesiastical section of the Ministry of the Interior. Nicolovius stressed the experience of regeneration to the point that it became for him the mark of an authentic theologian, but he also believed that the church could only exist in connection with the state. In this he typifies neo-Pietism: at once holding deep Pietist convictions and pledging unwavering allegiance to the state.

The neo-Pietist/Orthodox coalition succeeded in having Schleiermacher's colleague on the theology faculty at the University of Berlin, Wilhelm Martin Leberecht DeWette (1780-1849), dismissed for inflaming students with liberal passions. The key evidence against DeWette was a letter of condolence he wrote to Sand's mother, in which he affirmed the student movement. When Schleiermacher protested De Wette's dismissal, the conservatives turned their anger on him. It seemed that, he, too might lose his position, but for him the storm passed. However, De Wette's firing and Schleiermacher's escape from the same fate were a portent of the future. NeoPietism, with its commitment to "throne and altar," was on the ascendancy, and Schleiermacher was to spend most of the rest of his political life resisting the ideology and action of this movement.

Church and state in the Prussia of Schleiermacher's day

After the crisis period of Prussia's humiliation by Napoleon had passed and the German state had regained its feet as a military and political power, Friedrich Wilhelm III turned his attention to controlling all areas of Prussian life. Not least, he fixed on the church, for with the military, the government bureaucracy, and the monarchy, the established Protestant Church was one of the pillars of Prussian society. Under the ministry of Hardenberg, after 1810, state control over the church was increased as church properties were secularized, making the church financially dependent on the state. Then in 1815, in order to gain control and religious unity in the expanded Prussian state, local ecclesial governing bodies were replaced by new Consistories, which were directly controlled by the state. In 1816, the state, through its newly established general superintendencies, claimed the right to ordain and appoint pastors.

In 1817, the Church of the Prussian Union, bringing together Lutheran and Reformed, was created. On October 31, 1817, on the 300th anniversary of the Reformation, a joint communion service was celebrated in Berlin; the language of its liturgy was framed in such a way that the communion could be understood in either a Lutheran or a Reformed way.

Prussia was not unique in creating a union church; the German states of Baden, Nassau, and the Palatinate did the same in the years 1817-21. But while their union churches were created with the consent of church leaders, the Church of the Prussian Union was imposed from above by Friedrich Wilhelm. When in 1822 he also imposed a particular order of service (Agende) on the church, many objected. Thus ensued the Agendestreit.

As Senior Pastor at Trinity Church, with its membership of some 12,000 persons, Schleiermacher was the leading pastor in Berlin. He oversaw the life of the congregation, including everything from janitorial service and building repair to confirmation classes and relief programs for the poor. Schleiermacher was also involved at the synodical level; in 1817, at the time of the king's push for a union of Lutheran and Reformed churches, Schleiermacher was the Presiding Officer of the Synod of Berlin. Schleiermacher favored the union and considered himself a theologian of the union (Evangelical) church, but he resisted the imposition of the union by royal fiat. He defended the union in print against conservative Lutheran critics even as he affirmed the church's independence from state interference.

Conflict with the Prussian government came to a head with the liturgical dispute (Agendestreit) of 1822-29. Friedrich Wilhelm Ill wanted liturgical uniformity in the Prussian churches; when the liturgy he proposed was not accepted voluntarily, he imposed it on the basis of his authority as head of state and ipso facto head of the church. Schleiermacher led the Opposition; he was one of the "Twelve apostles," Berlin pastors who held out against the king. Schleiermacher found the liturgy "too Catholic," in his view more Catholic than Luther would have approved. He particularly opposed making the sign of the cross, saying the Apostles' Creed, and praying with his back to the congregation. The dispute raged on for seven years, finally ending when the king made an ultimatum: conform or lose your pastorate. Having won only small concessions that allowed for continuing some local practices which were not part of the king's liturgy, Schleiermacher and the other Apostles gave in.

Although he ultimately lost the battle, in this ecclesiastical realm as in the political realm, Schleiermacher resisted the king's drive for increased control over Prussian life. He exercised his pastoral role in accordance with his convictions and was able to hold out against royal pressure for seven years.

Schleiermacher died in 1834. He had been a key player in the political crises of 1806 and 1819. He inspired the church and the people to political activism in the causes of the liberation of Prussia and then its reform. And when the change in the social-political climate came in the 1820s, he resisted the new direction. After his death, the conservative political wind continued unabated, putting down the revolutionary movement of 1848. In this the church played a key role as a potent political force, rallying against the revolutionaries with the repeated cry of "throne and altar." Schleiermacher' s political career was marked by a profound irony: the neo-Pietists continued the political activism of the church, which he had championed, but steered in a direction very different from his. In significant ways Schleiermacher played into the hands of the king and the reactionaries: he led the church into activism on the political front, and it became a tool for the governmental repression of the people. Robert Bigl ar goes so far as to claim that "The inability of German Protestantism to side with the people during and after the Revolution of 1848 had the baneful consequence of alienating the German masses from the church and eventually driving many of them to embrace the secular religions of Marxism and National Socialism.""

This analysis of Schleiermacher's social and political activity demonstrates its striking correspondence with the transformative orientation of his theoretical work, particularly the Christian Ethics. Schleiermacher was deeply engaged in reform of the social order, not least in his work to gain independent standing for the Prussian church.

Clearly, the law of unintended consequences is at work in this story. Schleiermacher succeeded in inspiring the church to political activism, but the church moved in a direction opposite his convictions. He had little control over the effects of his actions. He was a significant political player, but the long-term results were not what he had hoped for. Also evident is the enormous power of the nation-state--its ability to sweep away everything in its path and co-opt the church to serve its interests. Schleiermacher was a consistent critic of the Prussian state in a time when political freedoms could not be assumed. In significant ways, he was faithful to the call to resist the social order when it seemed unjust.

This analysis shows that faithfulness does not assure effectiveness. At Schleiermacher's funeral, the people demonstrated their love and admiration for the renowned pastor and theologian; the king paid public homage to one who had often been a thorn in his side. He gained respect and even affection; he was faithful to his reformist convictions. This remains true even though the reform movement itself ended in failure.

(1.) This essay includes material from James M. Brandt, All Things New: Reform of Church and Society in Schleiermacher's Christian Ethics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001).

(2.) "Translator's Introduction" in The Life of Schleiermacher, As Unfolded in His Autobiography and Letters, trans. Frederica Rowan (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1859), ix-x.

(3.) Martin Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, trans. John Wallhauser (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973), 213.

(4.) See Brandt, All Things New, 109-34.

(5.) Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 3 vols. (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1959-69), vol. 2 (1648-1840), 308.

(6.) Keith W. Clements, "Schleiermacher, A Life in Outline," in Friedrich Schleierinacher: Pioneer of Modern Theology (London and San Francisco: Collins, 1987), 32.

(7.) Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 2:393.

(8.) Holborn, A History, 2:396.

(9.) Holbom, A History, 2:425.

(10.) Robert Biglar, The Politics of German Protestantism: The Rise of the Protestant Church Elite in Prussia, 1815-1848 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), 33.

(11.) "Biglar, The Politics of German Protestantism, 266.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Lutheran School of Theology and Mission
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Friedrich Schleiemacher
Author:Brandt, James M.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Words:5961
Previous Article:Father of the year award?
Next Article:Augustine and Luther for and against contemporary "spirituality".
Topics:


Related Articles
Joseph Kosuth.
The Living Legacy of Marx, Durkheim and Weber. (Book Reviews).
Father of the year award?

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters