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Theological Publications







(Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Robert W. Streetman, “the Swami Streetmananda”)


Van A. Harvey, in The Historian & the Believer, claims provocatively that "From liberal Protestantism to the new hermeneutic, Protestant theology may be regarded as a series of salvage operations, attempts to show how one can still believe in Jesus Christ and not violate an ideal of intellectual integrity.”1 This paper will pursue the question of whether Harvey’s claim is justified at least at the outset of the history he describes. We will interrogate the father of "liberal Protestantism" along the lines of Harvey's treatment of the issue of the historian’s "morality of knowledge.” We will consider Friedrich Schleiermacher as both "historian and believer,” in Harvey’s terms.

Harvey carefully sets out the dilemma facing Christian theologians whose faith-commitment to Jesus/Christ is dependent at all on historical knowledge of Jesus. Almost none of the famous theologians is immune from this problem, no matter how historically skeptical they pretend to be. How can the theologian's will to believe fail to tend to pad, fudge, or falsify the evidence before him? Harvey begins with a story told by Martin Kähler to the effect that a certain troubled student feared the collapse of Christian faith, or at least apologetics, if the Fourth Gospel were shown not to have been written by the son of Zebedee. The student was so scrupulously honest that he could never help but suspect that any evidence in favor of his convictions was being slanted or fabricated by his desire to hold onto traditional beliefs. Such is the tension entailed by any orthodox apologist whose commitment to truth is material and not merely formal. As if to move along a spectrum of theological belief, Harvey shows how the will-to-believe dilemma traps theologians from C. H. Dodd, to Paul Tillich, to Karl Barth, to Rudolf Bultmann. The historian-believer problem is put in its most extreme form in the consideration of Tillich. Does Christian faith collapse if Jesus never existed at all? Tillich echoes the view of his teachers Kähler and Herrmann that Christian faith dare not rest on the shifting sands of historical research. Kähler wrote:

The attachment of the certainty of Christian conviction to the unpre­dictable results of historical research [is] a stumbling block.... I have become increasingly certain that my Christian faith cannot have a causal connection with the “authenticity” of the Gospels. 2

Herrmann also clearly sees the historian-believer dilemma:

it is a fatal drawback that no historical judgment, however certain it may appear, ever attains anything more than probability. But what sort of religion would that be which accepted a basis for its convictions with the consciousness that it was only probably safe?

It is a fatal error to attempt to establish the basis of faith by means of historical investigation. The basis of faith must be something fixed; the results of historical inquiry are continually changing. 3

Both men go on to seek refuge in the picture of Jesus Christ yielded by the New Testament accounts. Whatever accretions may have attached themselves in the course of the formation of the gospel traditions, the believer is assured of at least the continuity of this "picture" with the historical Jesus. Who could have made up such a character? Similarly, Tillich says that though the historian cannot even assure the name "Jesus" to the historical figure in question, the Christ certainly existed. The picture of Christ does in fact communicate “New Being.” It could not do this if it did not represent a real person in whom New Being initially became concretized under the .conditions of finitude and existence. "Without the concreteness of the New Being, its newness would be empty.” "A picture imagined by the... contemporaries of Jesus would have expressed this untransformed existence and their quest for a New Being. But it would not have been the New Being.”4

So the gospel portrait must represent a real individual. So, in principle, even for Tillich, faith does indeed depend on dubious historical judgments. Bultmann would fall victim to the same analysis inasmuch as he does need a "das" if not a "was" of the historical Jesus at the foundation of his kerygmatic Christ.

If it is possible to put the dilemma in even more extreme form, Harvey points out that even a theology which could dispense altogether with a histori­cal Jesus, but still needed a particular "picture" of him, would not be safe. Even this kind of gospel portrait must be the result of a (debatable) historical­ exegetical reconstruction of various texts: "Even this 'picture of Christ' in the New Testament, of which Kähler and Tillich speak as though it were independent of criticism, can be abstracted only by an act of historical imagination.” 5 As long as one's Christology or theology requires the historicity of some item about Jesus, can one engage honestly in historical research with its inescapable, inherent methodological doubt? Can one at the same time say “I think that,” and "I believe that” about the same proposition?

And where can Friedrich Schleiermacher fit into this discussion with sentiments like this one?

Since the Gospels... which are our sole historical sources about Christ, narrate miracle stories about him with more or less emphasis, our judgment concerning miracles is not injured; for otherwise our faith in the person of Christ would be ruined, and he would become for us a mythical person! 6

First, it must be noted that Schleiermacher claims to be quite an impar­tial historian. He is quite clear that the New Testament documents can claim no special exemption from historical criticism.

The Holy Scripture can only be understood as a book subject to the law that governs human transmission and one that can only be compre­hended when all the resources of the intelligence are brought into play. There must be a continuous application of all the skills of criticism and exegesis to the canonical books. 7

Schleiermacher begins his legitimization of the impartiality of criticism with the assurance that this is allowable by the nature of the scriptures themselves. In other words, it is lucky for the historian that the scriptures are of such a nature as to allow such treatment. The historian can do his work only with the permission of the believer. Schleiermacher goes on to set himself a critical ideal which he does not in fact seem to achieve, as will later become clear:

all inquiries intended to ascertain the authors of the books we have, and the genuineness or the reverse of particular passages, must pursue an unhampered course. . . .

We refuse to be perverted from the purest hermeneutical methods, as would be the case if we knowingly preferred to put an artificial inter­pretation on a passage rather than construe it in a sense suggestive of a less pure view of Christian faith. 8

All this Schleiermacher says concerning exegesis generally, but he makes it clear that no different standards are to apply to research on the life of Jesus: “We must undertake it as we should any other similar one with respect to a man who is no longer in any way an object of faith for us.”9 Yet another quote concerning impartial research begins to alter the picture subtly, yet significantly. Schleiermacher says that,

In the present state of the Christian church we cannot be satisfied to take our departure only from faith in him, or only from faith in the Gospel accounts as inspired truth. On the contrary, in this dispute our faith can become firm and direct only if we establish the facts quite impartially. 10

Yet if establishing faith is the end in view, how impartial can such an investiga­tion really be? An instructive parallel shows how apologetical Schleiermacher's purpose is. In The Christian Faith, he discusses whether faith must presuppose a doctrine of scriptural authority. “The authority of Holy Scripture cannot be the foundation of faith in Christ; rather must the latter be presupposed before a peculiar authority can be granted to Holy Scripture.”11 If it were the former, belief in Christ would be restricted to only those capable of being convinced by rational argumentation for the inspiration of scripture. Thus, the context for Schleiermacher's talk about impartiality toward the scriptural records is that of apologetics, even evangelism. This observation helps us characterize Schleier­macher's position in the historian-believer schema. He definitely attempts a "both-and" position. As Strauss remarked, “He had wanted to occupy a middle position between faith and [historical] science.”12 In Schleiermacher's own words, “My philosophy and my dogmatic are firmly committed not to contra­dict each other... and as long as I can recall, they have mutually affected one another and gradually approached one another.” 13 Here Schleiermacher frankly admits that he cannot keep the two apart, yet in The Life of Jesus, he seems to try:

if we wish to be theologians, the scientific orientation and the Christian faith must be compatible. But if out of a dark concern we attempted to be able to know the results of investigation in advance, we would deceive ourselves.14 

But perhaps he is deceiving himself, for few readers of The Life of Jesus will conclude that Schleiermacher's dogmatic preferences left his exegetical judgment untouched.

We have already suggested that historical-exegetical freedom for Schleiermacher was given its place by the generosity of the queen of the sciences, theology. It becomes even more evident just how this is so. It is not just that the doctrine of inspiration fortunately allows critical study, or that apologetics will be more effective if it allows and employs criticism. Now we find that criticism is actually part of the ongoing process of canonization. In the Brief Outline, Schleiermacher thus dignifies "higher criticism": “The Protestant Church necessarily claims to be continually occupied in determining the canon more exactly; and this is the greatest exegetical-theological task of higher criticism.”15

          How can criticism advance canonization?

The same influence [of the Spirit which led to rejection of apocry­phal materials as being uncanonical] reveals itself even yet in the Church's careful estimate of the different grades of normative authority to be conceded to particular portions of Scripture, as also with deci­sions regarding all sorts of lacunae and interpolations; so that the judg­ment of the Church is only approximating ever more closely to a com­plete expulsion of the apocryphal and the pure preservation of the canonical.16

There are two very different principles of criticism/canonization at work here. First, Schleiermacher mentions textual criticism, the elimination of later glosses and transcriptional errors from original, canonical texts. Second, he suggests that a hierarchy of authority must be established within the canon. How can this be done? How can it be justified if the canon is to remain a "canon" (i.e., an authority) at all?

It must be kept in mind that Schleiermacher is not working with quite the same "Sola Scriptura" model as traditional Protestantism. For him, Christian piety, or self-consciousness, is the ultimate formal norm for theology. The New Testament writings then function as records of the foundational stage of that piety. So "precautions [should] be taken to avoid the impression that a doctrine must belong to Christianity because it is contained in Scripture, whereas in point of fact it is only contained in Scripture because it belongs to Christianity.”17 The resulting authority of the canon is one of legitimization, not one of binding norm: "indeed everything mentioned in the New Testament Scriptures proper may legitimately be given a place in our religious teaching as well. The idea may be used if we find it suitable."18

If the authority of the New Testament canon is in its role of attesting to original Christian piety, criticism could serve to further delineate this authority by making clearer what this piety was, and what understandings of the New Testament are more or less consistent with it. Here we come to the most funda­mental role of criticism for faith generally and for canonicity specifically. Jesus Christ and his self-consciousness form the real center of authority, the true canon-within-the-canon for Schleiermacher. Criticism could make the normative fountainhead of Christian faith clearer and purer if it could render a more accurate picture of the historical Jesus. Thus a vital theological interest in life-of-Jesus-research stands near the very heart of Schleiermacher's dogmatic-methodological edifice. In the long run, it seems to have been quite an under­statement for Schleiermacher to say that "if we wish to be theologians, the scientific orientation and the Christian faith must be compatible.”19

Let us pursue further the connection between Schleiermacher's view of scripture and his use of criticism. Often the divided loyalties of believing "would-be-historians" interfere right at this point. Fundamentalists, for example, tend to reject any critical hypothesis that will endanger the inerrancy of the Bible. Is Schleiermacher held captive by his theological view of inspira­tion? We have already had occasion to note that Schleiermacher felt that any quality of inspiration would not render the texts immune from criticism. Sometimes he sounds surprisingly conservative, with his careful attempts to safeguard the text from the imputation of errors:

Scripture precisely as a collection of all that was freest of error was brought together under the Spirit's guidance.... we may well admit as regards Scripture that among the many peripheral ideas which prevailed at the time yet were not ultimately given a place in the Bible, but none the less belonged to the thought processes of the sacred writers, slight traces of human error might have been found. This does not in any way detract from the normative authority of Scripture.20

Yet the Spirit kept the text error-free in such a natural, provident way that the texts were produced not by automatic writing, but by the normal process of composition.

Nothing but utterly dead scholasticism could try to . . . represent the written word in its bare externality as a special product of inspira­tion. . . . This being assumed it at once follows that we must reject the suggestion that in virtue of their divine inspiration the sacred books demand a hermeneutical and critical treatment different from one guided by the rules which obtain elsewhere.21

Accordingly, when Schleiermacher comes to discuss the harmonizations of parallel accounts attempted by orthodox apologists, he attributes such exegetical gym­nastics to "a certain strict theory of the inspiration of our New Testamentbooks,” 22 which, however, he does not share:

we come to the conclusion that evangelical narratives are not inspired narratives, but accounts such as we find elsewhere. A literal application of the doctrine of inspiration to the Gospel accounts cannot be made.23

Schleiermacher hints at a few specific principles of criticism he feels entitled to employ in his approach to scripture. One is the criterion of inten­tionality:

Such authority we do not ascribe uniformly to every part of the Holy Scripture. . . so that casual expressions and what are merely side-thoughts do not possess the same degree of normativeness as belongs to whatever may at each point be the main subject. 24

Interestingly, Schleiermacher seems to be applying specifically to the Christian scriptures what he had made earlier as a general statement to the "cultured despisers of religion":

I beg you. . . not to regard everything found in . . . the sacred sources as religion. . . . When they speak worldly wisdom and morality, or metaphysics and poetry, therefore, do not at once conclude that it must be forced into religion. 25

For instance, we need not take Christ's ascription of the Pentateuch to Moses as a normative didactic judgment. "He simply makes use of the generally accepted designation of the book.” 26

Secondly, (and obviously related to the first) there is Schleiermacher's use of a sort of "criterion of dissimilarity," i.e., any notion which Jesus and the apostles took from common opinion, rather than explicitly from the Old Testament or from a new revelation, is not binding. Thirdly, there is a kind of demythologizing of what Schleiermacher calls "the forms of prophetic thought," the mythical and the visionary. The former is "the historical presentation of what is suprahistorical," the latter, "the earthly presentation of what is more than earthly." 27 Such language only gives new expression to "principles already known.” It is important to realize that Strauss’s central difficulty with Schleier­macher's Christoloqy lay at this very point. His own conception of myth having been influenced by Baur and Schelling, Strauss wanted to put the incarnation of God in Christ on Schleiermacher's "mythical" side, i.e., a poetic way of expressing the otherwise known philosophical truth of God-man unity. Schleiermacher himself, of course, tried to keep the incarnation of God in Christ (albeit somewhat demythologized) on the side of otherwise known truth, with “peripheral” matters such as eschatology as the merely mythical expressions.

Speaking of Strauss, it is remarkable that Schleiermacher's criticism actually employs some of Strauss' own favorite methods. One is inevitably reminded of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined when Schleiermacher says, e.g., “we must presuppose as possible that these narratives have an apocryphal character because they are based on such a definite tendency.”28 Again, like Strauss, Schleiermacher suggests that certain gospel events like the birth in Bethlehem may have originated in imagined fulfillments of messianic prophecies.29 Also, Schleiermacher dismisses portions of the Lukan birth narrative because of the theatrical treatment of characters and the full-blown poetic monologues which are obviously literary devices, not historical reminis­censes.30 Of course, Strauss becomes indignant at the half-heartedness with which Schleiermacher applies these critical tools, the most flagrant example being his estimate of the Gospel of John. But we will return to his advocacy of John later.

Basically, then, it does not seem that Schleiermacher's view of inspira­tion biases his treatment of the text. But this is by no means the whole story. As we have already noted, the real canon within the scripture is Christ himself:

the fact that all doctrines and precepts developed in the Christian Church have universal authority only through their being traced back to Christ, has no other ground than His perfect ideality in everything connected with the power of the God-consciousness. 31

These “doctrines and precepts" come to us through the scriptures, to be sure, but how?

All that they teach derives from Christ; hence in Christ himself must be the original divine bestowal of all that the Holy Scriptures contain--not, however, as isolated particulars, by way of inspiration, but as a single divine bestowal of knowledge out of which the par­ticulars evolve organically. 32 [Emphasis mine.]


The New Testament writings are. . . a preaching come down to us, hence faith springs from them.... but in no sense conditionally on the acceptance of a special doctrine about these writings, as having had their origin in special divine revelation or inspiration.33 [Empha­sis mine.]

Notice that any doctrine Schleiermacher may have had concerning the “inspiration” of the scriptural texts, it could not possibly have controlled his criticism, since he had absolutely nothing to lose there. Inspiration of the texts as texts is not the locus of normative authority at all. Rather the authority lies with the apostles as writing witnesses of Christ. In fact in this capacity they can even be said to be inspired.

Regarding the eyewitnesses, he writes that the Spirit's “activity is...closely delimited by the individual in whom He is working, with scarcely any weakening or alteration.”34 This, obviously, is the inspiration that counts. And though the inspired production of a canonical text would not necessarily guarantee accuracy, the inspired function of eye­ witness apostles does. As witnesses to the God-conscious Christ, they must report Christ's deeds as accurately as his words since the former are really presupposed by the latter (especially, of course, in John, where. didactic dia­logues follow on the heels of related miracle stories). Besides, all of Christ's deeds were declarative of his God-consciousness, and thus were didactic anyway.35

If historical accuracy is guaranteed by the eyewitness-apostle function, what about secondary, apostolic assertions on doctrinal subjects which do not directly echo Jesus' teaching? Highest authority, of course, does go to Jesus' own statements as recorded by the disciples.

True, if we had evidence to show how. . . Christ formed these. . . conceptions in His own mind, we should endeavour with perfect confidence to appropriate His thought for ourselves; for here too we should ascribe to Him nothing less than a perfectly developed human power of premoni­tion, free from all uncertainty due to sin. 36

Second highest authority would attach itself to apostolic statements which logically follow from Christ's teaching (of his God-consciousness), i.e., "Statements made by the disciples regarding a fact connected in the closest possible way with their vocation.” Third come statements which are not so logically entailed. Yet there is a Christological connection even here, since surely Christ would not have chosen witnesses who could so easily drift into error. "Christ, in choosing for Himself such witnesses, cannot have known what is in men.”37

Thus we see a three-level authority in scripture, none of which has to do with an "inspired" origin or status of the texts as texts. First, the scriptures are authoritative as factual evidence for Christ's teaching, the ultimate authority for faith. Second, the scriptures preserve apostolic teachings central to their vocation as witnesses to Christ. Third, they give us trustworthy apostolic opinions: "I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful' (1 Corinthians 7: 25). Now we are in a position to understand just where Schleiermacher's theological commitments affected his criticism and exegesis. His faith in scripture is not such that it would prevent him from rejecting, e.g., the historicity of certain events or claims of authorship. However his heavily-loaded view of the role of Christ's eyewitness-apostles may make us question whether Schleiermacher lives up to his own critical ideal of impartiality, particularly this one:

all inquiries to ascertain the authors of the books we have, and the genuineness or the reverse of particular passages, must pursue an unhampered course. . . . We refuse to be perverted from the purest hermeneutical methods, as would be the case if we knowingly preferred to put an artificial interpretation on a passage rather than construe it in a sense suggestive of a less pure view of Christian faith. 38

How then does Schleiermacher conduct his criticism of the gospels? In his early Speeches, we are not led to expect that Schleiermacher will do them any special favors. He refers to the gospels as lithe mutilated delineations of His life."39 But by The Christian Faith, he is more charitable. In the course of setting forth his high regard for eyewitness-apostolic testimony, he brings up the question of non-apostolic, second-generation gospels:

nor can we in this respect make any distinction between the apostolic teachings and the evangelical narratives.... one who him­ self had had no experience in the matter might yet, moved by the same impulse and the same Spirit, put together material which he had derived from the pure and original knowledge of others as fruitfully as an original writer could have done. 40

So all might be given the benefit of the doubt, at least in principle. But what happens when Schleiermacher the historian actually goes to work? His critical stance could not be clearer: "I always regard John... as the basic and authentic authority and represent the other Gospels as needing careful criticism.”41  This may come as a rather startling statement. Modern scholarship is preponderantly against the traditional view that the Fourth Gospel is a reliable historical account of Jesus, even when scholars are willing to push back the composition of this gospel to a much earlier date than has generally been assigned to it. The principle reasons for this estimate of John's historical value were set out clearly in Schleiermacher's own day by Strauss and others. Briefly these include factors such as the. obvious dramatic and poetic stylization and dogmatic stereotyping of all the characters and their words, the vast difference in subject matter between Jesusl discourses here and in the Synoptics, and the similarity of doctrine and vocabulary between "John" and the Johannine Epistles. Schleiermacher sees some of these difficulties and tries rather implausibly to explain them (away).

Also, he seems to have arbitrarily shifted critical grounds used on the Synoptics when he came to John, as if to protect that gospel. For instance, the songs in Luke's birth narratives are too stylized to represent actual memories, but the complicated spiraling dialogues in John, with all their puns and double meanings are somehow to be received as the verba ipsissima Jesu. Similarly, Schleiermacher points to the choppiness of the Synoptics and disagreements between them as a reason for preferring John's coherent and well-ordered narrative. Yet in his consideration of the trial of Jesus, he prefers John, this time because its admitted "awkwardness" is a sign of genuineness.42

Why this preference for John? It may be instructive to compare two statements from Schleiermacher on this question. First, "I know no other rule to set up except this: The Gospel of John is an account by an eyewitness, and the whole Gospel was written by one man. The first three Gospels are compila­tions of many accounts that earlier stood by themselves.”43 A sound enough principle, or so it seems on the surface: an eyewitness is to be preferred over later, composite accounts. Yet the steep critical hurdles that must be surmounted by a claim for eyewitness authorship of this gospel are many and well known. They are certainly no less serious than the evidence tending to disconfirm eye­-witness authorship for Matthew. Yet Schleiermacher chooses John, not Matthew, to defend. Why? The answer is probably to be found in our second relevant statement: "I can think of Christ's whole state of mind only as it is described in the discourses in the Gospel of John.”44 In other words, the Christology of this gospel is most amenable to Schleiermacher’s dogmatic prefer­ences.

This is not to say that in composing his Life of Jesus lectures Schleiermacher merely used John to proof text the full-blown system of dogma outlined in The Christian Faith. But it is impossible to ignore the many bald faced statements to the effect that Schleiermacher's exegetical-historical judgments were governed by what he thought was acceptable to faith. Here a re a few examples:

since I cannot imagine an angel appearing during a historical era, I regard them as superfluous persons. Therefore they are to be regarded as men.45

It does not seem appropriate to me, no matter how the idea is phrased, to speak of a plan that Jesus made for his public activity. 46

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" . . . I cannot think of this saying as an expression of Christ's self-consciousness. 47

I cannot possibly believe that for a time he shared the common view that the Messiah would have to exercise an external civil power and that he only later changed his opinion. That would be such a fundamental error that, if I were to ascribe it to Christ, he would have to cease to be an object of reverence for me. 48

Similarly, Schleiermacher cannot have his normative teacher Jesus hold­ing opinions that he himself would be unable to hold. This naturally affects his historical judgment. He persuades himself that Jesus really did not believe in Satan, the eschatological Last Judgment, or even his own preexistence. Like Schleiermacher himself, Jesus and John knew that a truly human being could not have memories of pre-existence.49  It is clear that Schleiermacher the believer dominates his alter ego, Schleiermadier the historian. This is not surprising in view of his avowed commitment to have the two be connected and compatible in a theological frame­work. Yet he did claim to be impartial in his historical work. Thus Schleier­macher is a prime example of Van Harvey's historian-believer dilemma.

One of Harvey's most helpful sections in The Historian & the Believer is that concerned with the principle of analogy set forth by Ernst Troeltsch. The principle of analogy becomes controversial in biblical studies because of how it reflects on miracle stories. The principle implies that criteria appropriate to the testing of an event claim can only be drawn from the study of several other well-attested events of the same kind. But a miracle is by definition extraordinary. There will be no (or few) other well-attested parallels from which to draw appropriate criteria for historical authentication. Thus by the very nature of historical probability, there could be no probability predi­cated of a miracle story. Even if a miracle actually occurred, it would be unavailable to the historian.

Furthermore, since there is quite a stock of analogous, and verifiably legendary, miracle stories on hand, a miracle-claim will almost always be “probably” legendary, (again, even if it actually did occur), since it fits quite plausibly in this class of phenomena or data. Schleiermacher's ambivalent allegiance to the principle of analogy is illustrated by the two diametrically opposite possibilities of understanding the following statement: “we cannot include these [“external” miraculous] phenomena in the field of nature familiar to us without having recourse to presuppositions such that the trustworthiness of the whole body of records con­cerning Christ is imperilled.”50 This can be read as parallel to a statement of F. H. Bradley:

The phenomenon to be solved is an historical phenomenon, and its solution must be an historical solution, and to propose as a solution a fact which, when taken as historical, contradicts the very notion of history, and dissolves together with history both itself and every other certain event, this is a proposition which may indeed do credit to its author's zeal, but hardly to his prudence.51

To admit of the miraculous would undermine the very basis the historian has for appraising any historical source as being either genuine or spurious. Or, Schleiermacher’s words might be taken as parallel to another of his statements, quoted by Strauss: 

Since the Gospels... which are our sole historical sources about Christ, narrate miracle stories about him with more or less emphasis, our judgment concerning miracles is not injured; for otherwise our faith in the person of Christ would be ruined, and he would become for us a mythological person! 52

In other words, if we naturalistically eliminated the gospel miracle-stories we would be admitting the late and legendary character of the gospels, and thus their unreliability.

However this enigmatic quote is to be understood, it is clear that Schleiermacher at least was aware of the issues included with the use of analogy in historical understanding. Of course the outstanding example of this is his zealous attempt to formulate a non-superhuman Christology. Archetypal though he was, Jesus was in every way a normal human being, who arrived at his mature knowledge and abilities by normal human processes.

And so we shall be able to follow no other rule than this: everything that appears in Christ's individuality as a life-moment appears as a deed and an action, and it must be able to be apprehended in its historical connection in a purely human way; but nevertheless, we conceive it as the expression or effect of God which was internal. 53

Jesus' unadulterated consciousness of God was tantamount to God's veritable existence in Jesus. But, as Strauss points out, the use of such apologetic quali­fiers makes it obvious that Schleiermacher knew he was not talking about the incarnation in any traditional sense. Strauss summed up Schleiermacher's Christology this way: "We think of the divine in Christ... no longer.  in personal terms, no longer as a divine being united with the human but only as an effective impulse working on it.” 54

          Schleiermacher's attempt at a Christ conceivable in human terms was dubious in its success. Schleiermacher defended the humanness of being sinless (as he claimed Jesus was) by reminding us that Christian theology has always considered sin to be alien to true human nature. Strauss objected that this still did not make Schleiermacher's Christ a man on the order of other men. In other words, this kind of Christ is like no other man; he violates the principle of analogy. Also, Jesus would have been the only man to have grown in knowledge without ever making a mistake. No, in the end, Schleiermacher's Jesus is just as inconceivable as the Christ of orthodox dogma, only this Son of Man indeed has nowhere to lay his head, since neither naturalists nor orthodox will accept him. Once again, Schleiermacher has been unable to avoid the historian­-believer trap: "without the principle of analogy, it seems impossible to understand the past; if, however, one employs the principle of analogy, it seems impossible to do justice to the alleged uniqueness of Jesus Christ” (Harvey).55 Schleiermacher evidences a shrewd awareness of the historian's dependence on a traceable cause-and-effect sequence. As is well known the following argument forms at least part of Schleiermacher1s Christological apologetic: a founder with absolute God-consciousness is needed as a sufficient cause for the appearance of a society whose segments experience God-consciousness in various relative ways, all attributable to him. Schleiermacher goes on to use the principle of analogy against itself in order to gain plausibility for his "historical" claim that in Christ something unique and unprecedented appeared in history. Science does in other areas recognize real novelty, so why not here?

If science must admit the possibility that even today matter could conglomerate and begin to rotate in limitless space, then it must also concede that there is an appearance in the realm of spi ritual life which likewise we can only explain as a new creation, as the pure beginning of a higher spiritual life-development. 56

Schleiermacher wants to win recognition on naturalistic terms of a new and unique event, the appearance of the archetypal Christ. There is yet another  serious difficulty here. According to the historian's principle of analogy, as F. H. Bradley had said, unique events in the past are always recognized as theoretically possible but they cannot be judged probable until they are no longer unique, i.e., until such an event occurs in our experience and provides an analogy for the first event-claim.                                                                                                  

Yet Schleiermacher may not be arguing for more than recognition of the possibility of something unique, not that the scientific parallel makes the incarnation "probable." Schleiermacher's advocacy of the unique on naturalistic terms brings us to our final question about his relationship to the principle of analogy. How does he deal with the gospel miracles, the focus of our earlier discussion of analogy? In The Christian Faith, Schleiermacher leaves little doubt as to his view: "It can never be necessary in the interest of religion so to interpret a fact so that its dependence on God absolutely excludes its being conditioned by the system of Nature.”57 In other words, no supernatural causation.

But that does not rule out the historical genuineness of the events reported as “signs” or “miracles” in the gospel accounts: “since our knowledge of created nature is continu­ally growing, we have not the least right to maintain that anything is impossible,” especially things like psychosomatic healings.58 In fact, it is our experience with analogous events that make certain gospel miracles more historically acceptable:

 The more we can establish a comparison between Christ's way of accomplishing a given result and that employed by other people the more we can comprehend the acts as genuine constituents of the life of Jesus.... the less... we can discover analogies, the less we shall be able to form a definite idea of the account and understand the facts on which it is based.59

In this statement Schleiermacher goes quite a distance with the principle of analogy. He comes awfully close to admitting that non-analogous “miracles” would have to be rejected as forming no part of the genuine life of Jesus. “We wish we could dispense with all the miraculous accounts in the life of Jesus that go beyond the sphere of human life and existence.”60 Yet he does not; he can only say that such miracle-stories "have the least value for faith. They are not necessary. Faith in Christ would be the same if Christ had performed no miracles.”61 Schleiermacher had admitted in almost identical words that Jesus' virgin conception and his birth in Bethlehem were both unnecessary for faith. He seemed to take this fact as adequate license to dismiss them both as legendary. Yet he stops short of that when it comes to superhuman miracles. Why? The answer is not far to seek. The Gospel of John includes both modest and extravagant miracles. One might excise legendary miracle tales from the admittedly inferior Synoptics. But the existence of legends must not be admitted in the account of the eyewitness John, or "our faith in the person of Christ would be ruined, and he would become for us a mythological person!” Once again, Schleiermacher the consistent" believer overwhelms Schleiermacher the historian.

To conclude, it should now be obvious that Schleiermacher did not escape the historian-believer trap into which Van Harvey finds so many modern theologians having fallen. Like them, Schleiermacher is unable to prevent his dogmatic interests from falsifying the results of his historical research. He professes impartiality in his study of scripture and of the life of Jesus, but he cannot stop his faith from tailoring his version of the historical Jesus. This is no surprise since scriptural inspiration and authority are primarily located in Jesus anyway. And though he is aware of most of the relevant issues of the historiographical principle of analogy, he uses it only inconsistently. This control of factual data by religious faith is a particularly serious lapse in Schleiermacher's case, since he had always maintained that piety is logically independent of knowledge.





          1 Van A. Harvey, The Historian & the Believer (New York: Macmillan Company, 1972), p. 104.

          2 Martin Kähler, The So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic Bibli­cal Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), p. 108.

           3 Wilhelm Herrmann, The Communion of the Christian with God (Phila­delphia: Fortress Press, 1971), pp. 72, 76.

          4 Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), pp. 114, 115.

5 Harvey, Historian & the Believer, p. 249.

6 Quoted in David Friedrich Strauss, The Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), p. 97.

          7 Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Life of Jesus (Philadelphia: Press, 1975), pp. 223-224.

          8 Friedrich Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, Vol. II (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 605.

9 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 21.

10 Ibid., p. 15.

11 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 591.

12 Strauss, Christ of Faith, p. 8.

          13 Quoted in Strauss, Christ of Faith, p. 8.

14 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 24.

15 Friedrich Schleiermacher, Brief Outline on the Study of Theology (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1970), p. 51.

16 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, pp. 602-603.

17 lbid., p. 593.

18 Ibid., p. 169.

          19 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 24.

          20 Schleiermacher,  Christian Faith, p. 689.

21 Ibid., p. 600. Contrast this with Clark Pinnock's “Sacred Herme­neutics,” Chapter 6 of his Biblical Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), and with John Warwick Montgomery's statement of hermeneutical principles in his Faith Founded on Fact (New York: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1978), pp. 225-226.

22 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 38.

23 Ibid., p. 432.

24 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 596.

25 Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion, Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), p. 237.

          26 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 247.

27 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 722.

28 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 66.

29 Ibid., p. 55. .

30 Ibid., p. 48.  

31 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 384.

32 Ibid., p. 598.

33 Ibid., p. 593.

34 Ibid., p. 598.

35 Ibid., pp. 600-601.

36 Ibid., p. 705.

37 Ibid., pp. 705, 420.

38 Ibid., p. 605.

39 Schleiermacher, On Religion, p. 246.

40 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 601.

41 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 223.

42 Strauss, Christ of Faith, p. 118.

43 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 433.

44 Ibid., p. 423.

45 Ibid., p. 442.

46 Ibid., p. 123.

47 Ibid., p. 423.   

48 Ibid., p. 122.

49 Ibid., pp. 94, 312, 334.

50 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 449.

51 F.H. Bradley, The Presuppositions of Critical History (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968), p. 126.

52 Quoted in Strauss, Christ of Faith, p. 97, apparently from one of Schleiermacher’s student’s notebooks.

53 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 34.

54 Strauss, Christ of Faith, p. 24.

55 Harvey, Historian & the Believer, p. 32.

56 Quoted in Strauss, Christ of Faith, p. 29.

57 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 178.

58 Ibid., p. 183.

59 Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 205.

60 Ibid., p. 224. Yet on the other hand, Schleiermacher did in a sense try to "dispense with” the greatest of extraordinary miracles. We refer of course to his advocacy of the Apparent Death, or Scheintod, Theory. It seems utterly ironic that this theory, now taken as an attempted debunking of the resurrection, was originally a sort of apologetic device intended literally to "save the appearances" of Easter Morning in a credible way. This is quite faithful to the principle of analogy. We have no authenticated accounts of resurrections, but we do have reputable reports (e.g., in Josephus) of people surviving crucifixion.

61 Ibid., p. 220.


 By Robert M. Price



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