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Philosophical Themes in Schleiermacher’s Christology

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Philosophical foundations of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s christology are found in his rejection of the likeness theology found in many medieval theologians and in German rationalist philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries such as Leibniz and Kant. Instead, Schleiermacher offers a theology of divine otherness, as an interpretation of religious consciousness as awareness of oneself as “absolutely” (i.e., totally and unconditionally) dependent. On this basis all that we can characterize of that on which we are absolutely dependent (God) is its causality. Hence, Schleiermacher argues, Christian theology must not speak of a “nature” of God, but only of a causality of God, as present in Christ in a special way. It is argued that he identifies this divine causality as love (that is, as a causality tending toward human redemption), and as identical with Christ’s human love, on the basis of a teleology known in Christian experience of redemption.

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  1. 1.

    CF2 is the second German edition of F.D.E. Schleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube (Berlin, 1830), as represented by Martin Redeker’s re-edition of the seventh German edition (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1960). I give page references to the English translation ed. by Mackintosh et al. (1928).

  2. 2.

    St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (= ST), I, q. 13, a. 5; q. 14, a. 5–6, 10. Cf. St. Bonaventure, Commentaria in quatuor libros sententiarum Magistri Petri Lombardi, Lib. I, dist. 35, art. unicus, qu. 1—in his Opera omnia, ed. patres Collegii S. Bonaventura, vol. I (Quaracchi: Typographia Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 1882), pp. 600–602.

  3. 3.

    G = Die philosophischen Schriften von Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, ed. by C. I. Gerhardt (Berlin, 1875–90; reprint, Hildesheim: Olms, 1965), cited by volume and page. H = G. W. Leibniz, (1985).

  4. 4.

    A = G. W. Leibniz, Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, edition of the Berlin Academy (Darmstadt and Berlin, 1923-), cited by series, volume, and page. L = G. W. Leibniz, (1969).

  5. 5.

    For fuller discussion, and more textual references, see Adams (1994).

  6. 6.

    In his Dialectic lectures, which I cite from Schleiermacher (2002). See, e.g., KGA II.x.2, pp. 246 (from 1818) and 586 (from 1822).

  7. 7.

    See especially KGA II.x.2, pp. 533–37.

  8. 8.

    As contrasted with “the idea of unity, where all contrasts are included,” which is that of the world (KGA II.x.2, pp. 586–87; cf. KGA II.x.1, p. 269).

  9. 9.

    See especially ST I, q.3, a. 7.

  10. 10.

    ‘Crouter’ refers to Schleiermacher (1996). The pagination of this second, and now more available, edition of the translation differs from that of the first.

  11. 11.

    CF1 is the first German edition, of The Christian Faith, of 1821–22, different in a number of ways from the second, as represented by Schleiermacher (1984).

  12. 12.

    Dialectic 1822: KGA II.i.266; II.ii.565–66. According to Klamroth’s report of the lecture, Schleiermacher, claimed, with some qualifications, that Gefühl was used in this way “also in ordinary life” (KGA II.ii.566, critical apparatus); I don’t think that claim would be very plausible regarding ordinary usage in English today.

  13. 13.

    By this Schleiermacher presumably does not mean that the transcendent ground is represented in the religious feeling as an object of the feeling, but that the feeling can be regarded conceptually as representing the transcendent ground.

  14. 14.

    CF2 §40.3. Cf. Adams (2005).

  15. 15.

    “Oman” refers to Oman’s (1958).

  16. 16.

    The preposition is different in notes taken by different students.

  17. 17.

    The basis for this reading is not wholly clear to me in the apparatus of the critical edition. Iwould have expected ‘transcendent’ in this context.

  18. 18.

    The German sentence paraphrased here is understood in the Mackintosh and Stewart translation in a way that I think makes much less sense of Schleiermacher’s argument.

  19. 19.

    Though not flagged as such by Schleiermacher, the reference to “the reconciling being of God in Christ” is doubtless a scriptural allusion (to 2 Corinthians 5:19).

  20. 20.

    Here again my reading of the German sentence differs significantly from that of the Mackintosh and Stewart translation.

  21. 21.

    An awareness of the teleological character of his thought in this area is evident also when Schleiermacher warns against introducing the contrast of end and means. For it is not the thought of ends to which he seems to object as regards the divine causality, but that of means. “For means are never employed except where the agent must have recourse to something not originated by himself” (CF 2 §168.1, p. 733–34).

  22. 22.

    Adams (1996).


  1. Adams, R. M. (1994). Leibniz: Determinist, theist, idealist (chapter 4). New York: Oxford University Press.

  2. Adams, R. M. (1996). Schleiermacher on evil. Faith and Philosophy, 13, 563–583. esp. 573–76.

  3. Adams, R. M. (2005). Faith and religious knowledge. In J. Mariña (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to Schleiermacher (p. 41). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  4. Leibniz, G. W. (1969). Philosophical papers and letters, trans. and ed. by Leroy E Loemker (2nd ed.). Dordrecht and Boston: Reidel.

  5. Leibniz, G. W. (1985). Theodicy, trans by E.M. Huggard. La Salle: Open Court.

  6. Mackintosh, H. R., Stewart, J. S., et al. (1928). The Christian faith. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

  7. Schleiermacher, F. D. E. (1984). Der christliche Glaube, Studienausgabe, 2 vols. In H. Peiter (Ed.). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

  8. Schleiermacher, F. (1996). On religion: Speeches to its cultured despisers, translated [from the first German edition, of 1799] by Richard Crouter (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  9. Schleiermacher, F. D. E. (2002). Kritische Gesamtausgabe (= KGA), Division II, Vol. x, parts 1 and 2, ed. by Andreas Arndt. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

  10. Oman, J. (1958). Translation of the third German edition (quite different from the first) of Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. New York: Harper.

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Correspondence to Robert Merrihew Adams.

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Adams, R.M. Philosophical Themes in Schleiermacher’s Christology. Philosophia 39, 449–460 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-011-9311-z

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  • Activity
  • Analogy
  • Attributes of God
  • Christology
  • Dependence
  • Divine causality
  • Divine otherness
  • Feeling
  • God
  • Likeness theology
  • Natures
  • Objectivity
  • Passivity
  • Redemption
  • Religious consciousness
  • Schleiermacher
  • Self-consciousness
  • Simplicity of God
  • Subjectivity
  • Teleology
  • Thomas Aquinas