The fifth and final discussion of Schleiermacher that focuses on his theology.
The final two sections of the exposition by Schleiermacher offer to me the impression that he either lacks interest or is tired. I do not mind. If we look upon his work to this point, he has made some of the most creative breakthroughs that continue to inspire theologians today, even if they find themselves in disagreement. He shifted philosophical theology from it discussion of natural theology to the philosophy of religion. He also shifted philosophical theology from the various proofs for the existence of God to a consideration of philosophical anthropology. The significance of these efforts is that he has attempted to persuade us that humanity is intrinsically religious, which means that we depend upon openness to the experience of the Eternal for authentic living. He tries to show that Christianity is a particular mode of this experience of the Eternal. Theology has integrity as it accurately portrays this experience of the Eternal. He showed the weakness of the two natures theory in Christology, paving the way for re-thinking that doctrine. He placed the doctrine of election and predestination in its proper context of the historical working of God in the church and world. For these reasons, I think we can have some graciousness toward him if he did not have the interest in paving the way for re-considering eschatology and the Trinity. He has done enough. We can properly stand upon his shoulders and learn from him.
The consummation of the church is in the return of Christ, resurrection, and last judgment. My impression is that he has little interest in these matters. Schleiermacher is an example of the opening of modern theology and before the re-discovery of apocalyptic. He is a worthy example of what it was like before the work on apocalyptic by Johannes Weiss in the 1890s. He says that we do not need any notion of the “return of Christ.” Apart from literal exegesis, we have no biblical warrant for the position that the reunion of believers is conditional on such a personal return (160). His point is that other biblical statements emphasize that after death, Christ already unites believers in fellowship with Christ. Therefore, we have no need of another “return” that unites believers to Christ in some other way. Nor can he imagine some supposed intermediate state where Christians await the resurrection of the body, for such a state would consist in some type of fellowship with Christ. If it were not, it would amount to a lapse of grace and be an experience of punishment (161). His position has much to commend it. Exactly what does the return of Christ add to our continuing fellowship with Christ immediately after death? He also thinks the notion of the last judgment is primarily to remove from the church the forces that hold it back from enjoying fellowship with each other and with Christ (162). He thinks that any notion of blessedness or the vision of God that does not include communion with others would be insufficient. We are simply too communal as God made us to not have community to be an important element of our understanding of the end (163). In an appendix to this section, he thinks that theology must omit any notion of eternal damnation, for it would create a sense of emptiness and loss for those who receive the blessing of eternal life. He has made any discussion of the consummation of human activity focus upon the individual and the church, separating it from apocalyptic hopes of divine intervention in natural and world history.
He is wrestling with the difficult notion of the end of nature and world history, as we know it. The Newtonian universe he knew has given way to the universe of Einstein. Neither of them will find the notion of an intervention from God compatible. The place of apocalyptic in the preaching of Jesus or the early church was hardly a burning issue for his time. For Schleiermacher, it will be impossible for the theologian to develop a doctrine of last things, for our consciousness of God does not include a future that is beyond our ability to know. His focus on developing a notion of the “consummation of the church” that arises out of our personal consciousness of God meant anything that he has to say will be at the periphery of his theology, a fact he readily admits. If it were important, he says, it would have arisen sooner in his theology. He accepts that a few statements of Jesus suggest personal survival, and that this should be enough for us to have the same hope (158). In fact, his concern is that saying anything about last things and eschatology will take us “away from the domain of the inner life with which alone we are concerned (159).”
Such thinking is in sharp contrast to certain strands of theology today. In this Romans commentary, Barth wanted to recover eschatology for theological thinking. Bultmann will do so as well. The theologians of hope, Pannenberg and Moltmann, restructured theology so that at every theme, eschatology must receive serious consideration. The shift is dramatic. Jürgen Moltmann thinks of theologians who robbed eschatology of its “directive, uplifting, and critical significance for all the days” that we spend here, thereby turning eschatology into “a peculiarly barren existence” that relegated it to “a loosely attached appendix.” He was thinking of Schleiermacher. Thus, it would seem that much of theology today would disagree with Schleiermacher that theologians could dismiss the future dimension of Christian thought quite as easily as he did. In the end (164-169), divine love and divine wisdom are the goal, as Schleiermacher sees it, of all the works of God, whether in world, church, or individual. It may well be that we can say little more than this. It may well be the best hope for humanity and the universe that this would be true.
Schleiermacher concludes with a brief discussion of the Trinity (170-172). A popular saying among ministers and theologians is that as soon as one speaks about the Trinity or tries to describe or explain it, one enters the realm of heresy. Schleiermacher is going to say as little as he can. He is tipping his hat to the tradition, pointing out problems in the classical position, and not attempting resolution. He has already told us that he cannot complete the Doctrine of God until the end of his consideration. In a sense, then, even if brief, his considerations represent his attempt to conclude his theological system. He has discussed the union of the divine essence with human nature in the personality of Christ and in the common Spirit of the church. He has pointed us to the essential elements of the Doctrine of the Trinity. In that sense, the Trinity is the summit of his reflection on God. Yet, since he begins with the Christian consciousness, he cannot make the Trinity a constitutive aspect of his theology. Just as the matter of last things were important to him he would have brought it up earlier, we might assume the same with the Trinity. If it were important to him, he would have dealt with it sooner. Clearly, if the Trinity is to be formative at a deep level in a theological enterprise, then a theologian accepts the revelatory basis of the teaching. The important point here is that if one accepts revelation as constitutive for the formation a theological system, then one can hardly accept the view that one must begin with Christian consciousness. Yet, we might pursue a different course as well. We might conclude that we cannot properly discuss the Trinity until we have discussed Christology, the relation of Christ and Spirit, and the experience of the Spirit in the community. Christology is not complete without pneumatology, of course. To take the approach of Barth and put discussion of the Trinity in the Prolegomena is to make it seem as if it drops from heaven rather than arises out of an event in history. In this sense, then, Schleiermacher may well have a quite legitimate and reasonable approach to placing discussion of the Trinity at the end of his considering of The Christian Faith. He clearly finds it difficult to think of distinctions within the divine essence. He refers to the divine essence as the Supreme Being. His own insight of the feeling of absolute dependence creates a problem for formulating the Trinity. He has said that this feeling connects us with the divine causality of creation and preservation. We depend upon the prior activity of God for our existence and the conditions for the fullness of human life. Yet, how would this feeling relate to the Trinity? Beyond that, other problems confront us in the formulation of a doctrine of the Trinity. For example, if we are to think of Father and Son, Son is dependent upon Father. Father begets Son, but Son does not beget anything. In fact, if the Christian consciousness includes the divinity of the Son and the divinity of the Spirit, it could lapse into tri-theism. He thinks that much of the church is secretly on the side of Origen, who said that the Father is God absolutely, while the Son and Spirit are divine only by participation in the divine essence. Is Schleiermacher a modalist? Such language suggests he might have been. To say the divine essence is present in Jesus and the Spirit is to suggest this to be the case. The type of criticism he offers of the classical doctrine of the Trinity trends in the direction of modalism. He does think the tendency of Trinitarian discussion is toward showing that the consciousness of Son and Spirit that resides in the Christian consciousness is not hyperbole. He does not think we have the terms to adequately deal with this matter. Equality and subordination, Tri-theism and Unitarianism, seem to keep presenting themselves. His concern is that many people turn away from such speculations, but their piety remains faithfully Christian. He thinks the traditional doctrine needs thorough criticism. Even his positioning of the doctrine as a harmless appendix (Barth) may help serve the purpose of re-thinking the Doctrine. Of course, if that happens, the positioning provided by Schleiermacher is not so harmless. For him, considering the doctrine at the beginning (Barth) would give the impression that one must accept this teaching before one can faith in redemption and in the founding of the rule of God through the divine essence present in Christ and the Spirit. He does not want to see the shipwreck of individual faith on the difficult shore of the Trinity. He sees two difficulties. One is the tension between the unity of the divine essence and its relation to the distinction of the persons. Two is the tension between the first person as Father and the supposed equality with that which is terminologically subordinate, Son and Spirit. If one combined the two difficulties, one might “easily” arrive at a new construction. He suggests seeking “new solutions.”
Well, he makes it clear he is willing to go no further. I concur in that I think he has done enough for the history of theology. He has also hinted at future issues theology would need to resolve. He has offered his gift. Theologians today would do well to receive the gift and move forward.
It looks like Barth took Schleiermacher seriously enough to use him as a foil and do the opposite.
It looks like Pannenberg adopted much of the basic insights of Schleiermacher, but updated them. His theology is so different from that of Schleiermacher because he takes the event of Jesus Christ seriously. This means he will take revelation as providing the content of Christian theology rather than the pious consciousness of the church today. He also takes eschatology and the Trinity and includes them throughout his theology. Moltmann will do the same. Rahner and Tillich have some interesting key places where they intersect with Schleiermacher. If time permits, I would like to see if John Wesley, influenced as he was by the pietist movement, has some places where he would both push back to Schleiermacher and would seem to intersect with him.
John Calvin opens his Institutes of the Christian Religion with the observation that wisdom in life consists in knowing God and knowing ourselves. Yet, he finds the knowledge of God and self so closely connected that he finds it difficult to know which knowledge precedes the other. He thinks no one can survey oneself without turning thoughts towards God. He points to the gifts or blessings in life that true knowledge of self will lead us to consider the source. He points to true knowledge of self as needing to face the misery and ruin we have made of self and world. This ought to lead us to aspire to and seek God, the source of wisdom, virtue, and goodness. Calvin will begin his work in the Institutes focusing upon the knowledge of God we have in revelation. However, I wonder if we do not see in Schleiermacher what happens when we begin with knowledge of self, which he finds so intertwined with God that we cannot know one without the other. As Calvin puts it, our being subsists in God. As Schleiermacher might put it, our finitude will find fulfillment and meaning in the Infinite. The fragment that is our life will need to find its place in the picture God is painting. The little storyline of our lives will need to find its place in the larger story God is telling. He hopes that such a procedure will help the secular person reconsider the role God and the religious community might play in their lives.Yes, I think this is a worthy objective.