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More than three-quarters of a century ago Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher gave to the world his Christian Faith. This great theological treatise was the work of a man who, to the natural endowment of a rich emotional temperament and an intellect of unusual power, had added the culture that comes from a comprehensive acquaintance with the world’s leading thinkers and a varied experience in literary, political, and religious affairs. His Glaubenslehre, as the work is commonly called, represents his mature thought on the most important of subjects. No modern treatment of the questions raised by the religious life has surpassed it, or perhaps even equaled it, in respect to influence exercised on the course of religious thought.
Schleiermacher was the first Protestant theologian to grasp clearly the significance of the new situation created by the evangelical revival of the eighteenth century and the contemporary movement of thought that came to violent expression in the French Revolution. He represents a turning-point in the history of Christendom. Modern theological reconstruction begins with him.
Theology has usually been slow to acknowledge the impact of new forces in the spiritual life. This may partly account for the comparative neglect of Schleiermacher by English-speaking theologians. German theologians of all shades of opinion have long been quarrying materials for their own structures viiifrom the bedrock of his thought. But his influence has been mainly mediated to other countries through the Ritschlian school. There is very little first-hand knowledge of him among us. Excepting Bishop Thirwall’s translation of his Luke (now out of print, I think), Farrer’s translation of his Outlines of the Study of Theology, Oman’s translation of the Discourses (Reden), and W. Robertson Nicoll’s Selected Sermons, all that we have about him for the English reader is a few cyclopaedia and magazine articles. Der christliche Glaube has never been translated, though a desire for a translation has often been expressed.
The present work is a modest attempt to remedy to some extent this want. It makes no claim to a mastery of the great thinker’s whole system of thought, but represents the standpoint of an interested student and admirer. Its purpose is twofold: first, by indicating the historical setting of Schleiermacher’s theology, to cast some light on the origin of certain urgent problems of the present day; in the next place, by exhibiting Schleiermacher’s views of the traditional Christian doctrines and his constructive method, to suggest lines of reflection that may be of value to the rising generation of students of theology.
The sketch of his life offered in the Introduction is drawn mainly from his published correspondence and directs attention to the experiential basis of his doctrine--indispensable to a clear grasp of it. The outline of the course of Protestant life and thought from the Reformation to the end of the eighteenth ixcentury sets forth the religious and intellectual conditions that constituted Schleiermacher’s problem and summoned him to his task.
The central portion of the book is a careful condensation of the Christian Faith. I used the edition of 1889 (Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes). Some of the difficulties attendant on an effort of this kind may be gathered from the fact that the original work in the German covers about 1,200 pages. The ramifications of Schleiermacher’s discussions are very extended and apt to confuse the reader and the more so since many of his sentences are of inordinate length. I have tried to follow closely the main thread of his argument without, on the one hand, reducing it to the limits of a mere outline or, on the other hand, failing to exhibit the full sweep of his thought. I believe my statement is in accord with the spirit of Schleiermacher’s work and will place the careful reader in possession of a clear understanding of its contents.
The brief estimate which closes this work is in tended to suggest lines of criticism and to point out the direction which, in the writer’s judgment, a constructive theology must now take if it is to meet the needs of our times.
I wish to express my sense of obligation to Rev. E. P. Tuller, Ph.D., for his kindness in reading the proof of this work and for many valuable suggestions.
NEWTON CENTRE, MASS.
March 15, 1911xxi
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