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Friedrich Daniel. Ernst Schleiermacher was born at Breslau, in Upper Lusatia, Prussia, on November 21, 1763, and died in Berlin on February 12, 1834. His life coincides with a period that is the most eventful in European history excepting, possibly, the age of the Protestant Reformation. It was a time of popular convulsions and general unrest. Revolution was in progress in economics, politics, society, and religion. The inevitable temporary and partial reaction followed. Next to France, of all the countries in Europe, Prussia was the most deeply affected by these movements. Allowing for brief intervals of absence, Schleiermacher’s whole life was spent within the borders of his native country and the greater part of his public career was occupied in her service at the capital, Berlin, in connection with its new and now famous university. His sensitive temperament and his broad sympathy enabled him to feel every pulse-beat of the life around him. His wide knowledge and liberal education fitted him to become one of the best interpreters of the European world of that day. As a religious man and a thinker he becomes a sort of reflex of its most potent ideas.



Schleiermacher belonged to a family of preachers on both sides of the house, His father was chaplain, of the Reformed church (the name given to the Calvinistic Protestants of the continent) to a Prussian regiment of soldiers. His mother was a daughter of Royal Chaplain Stubenrauch and sister to Professor Stubenrauch, of the University of Halle. The family were poor, but intelligent and pious. The father’s early theological studies led him in his twenty-fourth year to inward renunciation of Calvinism, though, perhaps for prudential reasons, he made no outward sign of it. In a letter written to his son many years later he admits having preached orthodoxy without actually believing it. He was a Freemason and a keen student of philosophy in his young manhood, and in respect to religious opinions he was only one out of a multitude of preachers in Protestant Europe who at that time conformed in their public ministrations to established doctrine but in their hearts held a rationalistic view that true religion and essential Christianity consisted in the belief in God, virtue, arid immortality. Strangely enough his experience was partly duplicated for a time in his son.

The mother was a noble-minded woman, of an ardent temperament, devoted to the care of her three children, strict and even severe in discipline, and prayerful. In the father’s continual absence from home the burden of their training fell to her lot. She took a great interest in their studies, observed the development 5of their mental characteristics and their moral tendencies with much solicitude, and exercised a close supervision of their reading. So far as spiritual preferences are concerned she seemed to hold with her husband that a straight morality is the one important thing.

But in 1778 the father, being then fifty-one years of age, experienced an inward change. His regiment was quartered at that time at Gnadenfrei in Silesia. There he came into contact with the Moravian Brethren. This much-persecuted sect, whose origin dates back to the times of John Huss, had long maintained a precarious existence in Bohemia and Moravia, and at length a portion of them, under the leadership of Christian David, sought a refuge in Saxony. Count Zinzendorf gave them an asylum on his estate at Berthelsdorf and later became a prominent leader. This new home they named Herrnhut (“Watch of the Lord”).11These people have accepted various designations: The Unit as Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren, the Unity, the Bohemian Brethren, the Brethren, the Brethren’s church, Moravian Brethren, the Moravian church. Many German writers use the name Herrnhuters. For a comprehensive history of the body to the year 1722 see The History of the Church Known as the Unitas Fratrum, by Edmund de Schweinitz. From this center they spread into other communities. At the time above referred to Gnadenfrei was one of their chief centers. Through one of the Brethren, named von Bruiningk, Chaplain Schleiermacher became a convert to their views and believed himself a subject of that supernatural grace on which they laid so much stress. Henceforth all was changed. 6 He became anxious for the conversion of his wife and children. His efforts were rewarded by the wife’s finally hearty, though at first hesitating, response to her husband’s new attitude of mind. Henceforward both endeavored to instil the same religious experience into the minds of their children, all three of whom ultimately entered the community of the Brethren. It is worth noting here that the father never became a member of the Brethren’s church, and years later, when the elder son renounced his father’s views, the latter himself gradually receded from the Herrnhuterite position, though he retained to the end of his life their faith in Christ and a deep regard for those who had mediated that faith to him.


We now turn more particularly to the career of his more famous son. Friedrich, or Fritz as he was usually called at home, was the junior of his sister Lotte and the senior of his brother Carl. He was an unusually bright child, and in his early school days made such rapid progress in his studies and showed such a disposition to pry into difficult subjects that his mother became alarmed at what seemed his pride and conceit. When only ten years of age, according to his own testimony, his mind was greatly distressed with the thought of the eternal happiness and woe of men, and many sleepless nights were spent in seeking some solution of the relation of the sufferings of Christ to the punishment of human sin. The attempt 7to indoctrinate the boy in such matters evidently brought only confusion and pain to his sensitive nature. The mother’s conversion to Moravianism introduced a new and powerful religious influence into the home, but this only increased his unhappiness The attempt to reproduce in himself that sense of utter sinfulness and that experience of miraculous change which was demanded as the inward response to the orthodox teachings, was for a long time fruitless. The Moravian profession of a conscious soul-inter course with Jesus prompted him to longings and strivings which for years remained unsatisfied. The mother saw in all this an answer to her prayers, but when he besought her for help she could only tell him to pray to Jesus for the gift he sought. It is evident that the boy’s mind was overwrought and his spiritual development abnormal, but at the same time it is clear that he was possessed of a nature wonder fully endowed and capable of high religious attainment.

The family moved to Pless in Upper Alsatia in the year 1778 and the year after to Anhalt, where they remained till the summer of 1780. That year Fritz attended a boarding-school at Pless. While there he came under the influence of Ernesti, the famous exegete and advocate of the grammatico-historical method of Scripture-interpretation, whose enthusiasm awakened in the boy the desire for a scholastic career and a love for the ancient classics. The rich fruit of this appeared in later years in Schleiermacher’s splendid 8 translation of Plato’s Dialogues and his deep acquaintance with Greek philosophy. During those years there came over him “a strange skepticism,” as he calls it. It consisted in a suspicion that the whole of what was contained in ancient history was unreal, because he knew nothing of the proofs of the genuineness of the events mentioned in the literature of those far-off times and because the accounts themselves seemed disjointed and fanciful. Though much troubled by these doubts he kept them to himself. The death of Ernesti in 1781 led to his return to his father’s house. Here with no experienced teacher to direct his studies he developed that tendency, after ward deplored by him, to follow his own choice of books and subjects rather than those more regular academic courses which are based on long scholastic experience.

At the same time these were days of spiritual profit. At Anhalt and at Gnadenfrei, whither the family soon removed, he saw a good deal of his father and they often talked together of religious matters. Long afterward, in 1802, when on a visit at Gnadenfrei, he wrote his friend Reimer of those happy days.22See Meyer, Schleiermachers und C. S. von Brinkmanns Gang durch die Brudergemeine, 61; also Rowan, The Life and Letters of Schleiermacher, I, 6. He recalls a walk in company with his father when there came to him the feeling that he was a subject of divine grace and he began to entertain the hope that he had entered on a higher life:


Here it was that there came to me for the first time the consciousness of man’s relation to a higher world . . . . Here it was that mystical temperament was developed which has been of so much worth to me and which through all the storms of skepticism has supported and preserved me. Then it was only in germ, now it has attained to full development, and I can say that, after all that I have passed through, I have become a Herrnhuter again--only of a higher order [italics mine].

He is not unmindful of certain dangers attendant on such an experience:

Here were laid the germs of an imaginativeness in matters of religion, which, had I been of a more ardent temperament, would probably have made me a visionary, but to which I am nevertheless indebted for many a precious experience, and which is the reason that, while in most people the disposition of the mind is formed unconsciously by theory and observation, in my case, it bears the impress, and is the conscious product, of my own mental history.33It will help us to understand Schleiermacher’s theology if we remember that he believed he learned much of the nature of religion by observing attentively and calmly the process of his own inner life, and that he considered that from his earliest remembered religious experience to the end there was no internal revolution, but a development.

In those days, however, he was still tossed about by the fear lest all these experiences might be only from himself, and his young soul was still harassed by the questionings which had troubled him before. He began to share his father’s dread of the effect of a contact with the dangerous tendencies toward irreligion and immorality in the larger schools then open to him, and when the father proposed to seek admission for him to a school of the Brethren at Niesky, known 10as the Paedagogium, he eagerly assented; for by this time he had made up his mind to join the Moravian society, cost what it might.

Application was duly made in May, 1783. It was not easy to obtain admission, for first of all the casting of the lot, which the Brethren regarded as indicating, immediately the Savior’s will, must result favorably, and the directors at Barby, which was at that time their educational headquarters, must approve. After a few weeks of waiting his desire was granted and he entered the Paedagogium in June. With this step the home life was brought to an end. He never saw his parents again, for his devoted mother died in the following December, and his father’s path and his own began to run apart.


The Paedagogium at Niesky was of the nature of a gymnasium or preparatory college for young men who wished to enter the Christian ministry, particularly the Moravian. At that time it enjoyed a wide, reputation. Among the students were members of aristocratic German families, children of absent missionaries, representatives of eastern German provinces, and youths from Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, and England. It was a student-cloister unlike any other, whether Protestant or Catholic. The entering students became members of a new family. The teachers held a sort of graded parental relation to them, and brotherly affection was the dominant feature of the 11mutual relations of all the inmates. The organization and administration of the institution were on the same lines as those of its prototype at Halle, where Zinzendorf was educated. Connection with the out side world was severed. The refining and ennobling influences of female society were excluded. A strict supervision was exercised over correspondence with relatives or friends. Incoming and outgoing letters were subjected to censorship. This may partly account for the fewness of Schleiermacher’s letters which are preserved from this portion of his life.

The instruction given to students was fairly broad. It aimed at breadth rather than learnedness in a single field, at a many-sided intellectual activity with some love for science, a keen appreciation of Latin and Greek literature, and some taste for the fine arts. Schleiermacher relates how he and his room-mate von Albertini--who held afterward for a long time a first place among the Brethren as scholar, preacher, and poet--ranged at will over the field of classic literature, and even tried to work up a knowledge of Semitics. At the same time the aim of the institution was mainly heart-culture. Coldness, hard-heartedness, lack of feeling were regarded as the worst faults, There was an attempt to play on the heart strings in a thousand ways. A developed phantasy, a powerful soul-life was the presupposition of religiosity. The culmination of the education given was found in soul-intercourse with the Savior, and to that end it was supposed to be necessary to exercise one’s self in 12 world-denial, to avoid the society of women, and any thing that might stimulate the lower affections.

This meant, of course, that the works of many contemporary writers were sternly proscribed as being out of harmony with the views of the Brethren. Moreover, the greatest care was taken to impress students with the unquestionableness of Protestant orthodoxy, especially the doctrines of Christ’s deity and his substitutionary sacrifice, of human depravity, miraculous grace, and future punishment. No effort was spared to give the students an inward attestation of the truth of these doctrines by the cultivation of a religious experience corresponding with the doctrinal teaching. This artificial devotion to mysticism stimulated doubts of the worth of this religious intercourse in the minds of some young men who hesitated to submit themselves to a compulsory divine service.

At the same time the relations between teachers and students and of students with one another were characterized by a happy and wholesome intimacy. With hard study were combined the cultivation of an acquaintance with poetry and music and the enjoyment of birthday parties and other festivals. Religious meetings recurred with great frequency. The hymn-singing for which the Brethren were famous was a notable feature of these gatherings. In later years in -connection with his own conduct of public worship Schleiermacher used to contrast the dull monotonous liturgy of the state church with the lively, inspiring worship in Moravian congregations, and to express 13his thankfulness for what he had learned on this subject when he was among them.

There can be no doubt as to the intentions of Schleiermacher’s godly parents in sending him to this school. They admired the religious life of the Herrnhuters and they feared the rationalistic tendencies of the times. They were not unaware of the strength of the great movement of thought which was sweeping over Europe. European society was then stirred to its depths over many questions. Ideas and institutions hoary with age were subjected to the keenest and most unrelenting criticism, and particularly in the ecclesiastical and religious realm. The skepticism of Bolingbroke and Hume in England, of Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists in France, of Fredrick the Great and the “Illuminants” in Prussia, had delivered a fearful polemic against current orthodoxy and the church. Science and philosophy seemed to corroborate its arguments. Political institutions traditionally associated with established religion were threatened with a general overturn. The very codes of morality were being torn to shreds. The ominous rumblings of the approaching revolution in France were heard all over western and central Europe. The foundations of the great deep were breaking up, To Schleiermacher’s parents the institutions of the Moravians seemed an ark of safety for their children, and especially for their gifted son. Mainly, perhaps, they were in the right. His sympathetic, sensitive spirit, united with a keen intelligence, might not have withstood at that 14 time the unmediated shock of a fierce onset of rationalism. With his habit of introspection he might have been driven to a moody mysticism, or with his penetrating intellect to a blank skepticism.

The immediate outcome was gratifying. At Niesky he yielded himself heartily to the surrounding religious influences. At the end of three months he was admitted by lot to membership in the society, to the great joy of his parents and his sister Lotte, who took a similar step about the same time. A period of religious, elevation ensued. His mother writes, in October, 1783, “Let us therefore, my dear son, cling firmly to him alone who is the faithful shepherd of our souls; let us give up our hearts entirely to him; let us pour out all our gifts to him; let us speak to his heart and pray daily to him to cast out and take away everything that tends to separate us from him.” His eager participation in these sentiments appears in a letter to Lotte just then: “When I find that I do not love the Savior enough, that I do not sufficiently honor him; when the daily intercourse with him does not go on uninterruptedly, then I am distressed.” And later: “The heart may feel the peace and love of Jesus, as I can assert from my own experience, thanks be to his mercy.” By the advice of his spiritual guardian he became, in February, 1784, a candidate for admission to the Supper--for actual entrance within the circle of the reborn. The way in which he speaks of the prospect brings out his warmth of feeling, but at the same time the superstitious regard for the Supper, which Lutheranism and Moravianism inherited from Catholicism. “On Maundy-Thursday I am to partake of the Savior’s flesh and blood in the Holy Supper.”44Meyer, 141. The very sight of the celebration fills him with holy reverence. At this time he voices his feelings to his sister in such utterances as, “Ah, did but the love of Jesus fill our hearts day and night!” “Think of me and love thy Jesus.” He speaks also of longings for the world beyond. There is nothing in his correspondence at this time to suggest that it is from the hand of a youth of sixteen. It is altogether unnatural and one is tempted to treat it as nothing better than mere sentimentalism. But it was very pleasing to his father and the Brethren. His Uncle Stubenrauch alone seems to have had some misgivings, and in a letter he gently cautions his nephew against the spirit of intolerance which the Moravians, with all their warmth of religious passion, shared with most Christians at the time. The letter includes an admonition against overlooking “the great amount of evil that has resulted through many centuries from the early established principle, ‘Outside of the church, no salvation.’”

His stay at the Paedagogium lasted two and a quarter years. In the autumn of 1785 he was promoted to the theological seminary at Barby. The conditions there were much the same as at Niesky. Every thing was arranged with a view to the promotion of religious development in the pietistic sense. The 16 twenty-two students, divided into two equal sections, lived in the “choir-house” of the single brethren under one roof with their spiritual censor. Three religious meetings were held daily, and all must attend. No intercourse was allowed with outside families, the town pastors, or the town church. “Useless” and light reading material was supposed to be kept out. Modern philosophical and theological works--even Kant and Lavater--were banned. Yet there were fewer restrictions on liberty than at Niesky. Students found it quite possible to evade the rules about reading. Copies of leading liberal periodicals and of the works of such writers as Lessing, Kant, and Herder were surreptitiously obtained without difficulty by those who desired them. An acquaintance with a wider world of thought was sure to arouse in independent-minded young men doubts of the trustworthiness of what they had been taught. There was soon a rapid falling away. Some of the older students went so far as to play the part of free-thinkers among their young comrades. Schleiermacher soon came distinctly under the influence of this new spiritual atmosphere and the consequences were as might have been expected.


When he first went to Barby he gave himself mostly to exegetical studies and followed the Herrnhuterite methods, He held distinctly to the Moravian faith and hoped to become one of the society’s accepted laborers, though how or where he could not tell. But 17he soon turned to the study of philosophy. A philosophical club was formed among the students and he became an active member of it along with Albertini, his room-mate. The progress of his thought, at first glance, seems to have been startlingly rapid. Ernesti’s influence was not dead. Those fine intellectual powers that showed their presence so early in life, and that had been so long subordinated to a sup posed religious interest, were now revived. That inquiring spirit, exhibited in the questionings of his schoolboy days, reasserted its claims. A change came over him. The rational understanding began to take precedence of the religious feeling. He felt suspicious of an orthodoxy that shunned an open battle with its foes. Suspicion developed into doubt and doubt into skepticism. He awoke as if from a dream. By the end of the second semester he had definitely rejected the orthodox system. The strain of this new situation soon became unbearable. He decided, though with much hesitancy, to unburden his mind to his father. The letters that passed between the father and the son on the subject have been so interesting to the present writer that extracts from them are given herewith in the hope that similarly they may interest the reader.

The first intimation that a change was in progress was given in a letter to his father in July, 1786. He complains that his desire for a thorough study of theology has not been met by his teachers. Students are “kept within too narrow limits in point of reading. Except what we see in the scientific periodicals, we 18 learn nothing about the objections, arguments, and discussions raised at the present day in regard to exegesis and dogmatics.” A suspicion has been aroused in his mind that the objections of the “innovators” must be difficult to refute. In reply the father assures him that ignorance of the objections and criticisms of the innovators is no loss. “Keep out of the way of this tree of knowledge and of that dangerous love of profundity which would lure you to it. . . . . Besides, you do not intend to be a vain theologian but are preparing to equip yourself to bring souls to the Savior, and for that purpose you do not need all that vain knowledge.” Then, as if half-divining the purpose so soon to be formed in the son’s mind, he adds, “You cannot sufficiently thank your Savior for having brought you into the community of the Brethren where you can do so well without it.” In lieu of modern scientific and philosophic studies he urges the young man to content himself with the Bible and certain edifying books whose theme is “the martyrdom of God . . . . who died on the cross for us.”

In January, 1787, six months after his first intimation of the intense struggle that had begun within him, he wrote that letter which announced to his astonished and bewildered parent the disappointment of all the hopes of former days. That faith which his father believed to be essential to salvation in the next world and tranquillity in this, is now lost to him. Here are his words:


I cannot believe that he who called himself the Son of Man was. the true eternal God; I cannot believe that his death was a vicarious atonement because he never expressly said so him self; and I cannot believe it to have been necessary, because God, who evidently did not create men for perfection, but for the pursuit of it, cannot possibly intend to punish them eternally because they have not attained to it.

He declares that it pains him to the depth of his soul to write as he has done; indeed, he has shrunk from it and has brought himself to do it at last only at the command of his superiors at college, to whom he had evidently communicated his thoughts. He has not abandoned utterly the hope of returning to the views of the Brethren, but that can never be if he remains at the seminary. He pleads to be permitted to go to Halle, where he could live under the guardianship of his uncle, Professor Stubenrauch, and pursue his investigations unhindered. He concludes: “In sorrow, dear father, I kiss your hands, and entreat you to look at everything from the most favorable side, and to consider well, and to bestow upon me in future also, as far as it is possible, that fatherly affection which is so indescribably valued by your distressed and most dutiful son.”

This letter gives evidence in every sentence of the clearest sincerity of purpose and earnestness of soul. Further, we must not do young Schleiermacher the injustice of charging him with youthful precipitancy in expressing himself as he did. He was only eighteen at the time, but he was far beyond most men of his years in maturity of judgment. In order to understand 20his radical expressions of doctrinal dissent we must keep in mind that the views of Zinzendorf were at that time generally accepted by the Brethren, and to them Jesus was virtually identical with God the Father (although they denied the charge of patripassionism), or perhaps we might say that Jesus had displaced God the Father in their minds. The substitutionary death of God on the cross--with a good deal of emphasis on the physical--was the very essence of the gospel. Schleiermacher knew that from his father’s point of view, and from his own up to that time (and as yet he appeared to have found nothing to take its place), the rejection of that doctrine meant the renunciation of Christianity itself. But the letters which followed this first fateful message make it quite evident that the young man had not renounced his religion but was unable to make quite clear to himself or to others the distinction between religious faith and belief in a doctrine of religion. At this point I may be permitted to quote the words of W. Robertson Nicoll in reference to this event:55Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher (biographical sketch), 6.

The letter . . . . is the farthest possible from resembling the utterance of some callow theologian who imagines that because an idea is new to him it is new to everybody else . . . . On the contrary its tone is throughout humble, self-distrustful, full of deepest regret for his lost faith and for the conclusions to which he felt, in the meantime, compelled to come; and full, even more, of reverential tenderness toward his father and bitterest sorrow for the pain which he is so unwillingly inflicting and which he tries to soften by the hope of a change by-and-by.


The distracted father’s reply is extremely painful reading. Pleading, rebuke, warning, counsel, and denunciation mingle. He breaks out: “O, thou insensate son! Who has deluded thee, that thou no longer obeyest the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was pictured, and who now crucifiest him?” He charges the son’s error to love of the world’s honors, to wickedness, conceit, and pride of heart. Then he turns to answer the son’s arguments, which he thinks a child could refute. At length, in exasperation, he goes so far as to declare, “With heart-rending grief I discard thee, for discard thee I must.” But this is hardly intended literally, for the letter closes with an outburst of affection and the desired permission to go to Halle.

One cannot help admiring the depth of affection and unswerving loyalty to his father and the unruffled patience which Schleiermacher exhibited in those trying weeks of excitement and suspense. In all his letters he addresses the disappointed parent, as “Tenderly beloved and best of fathers,” or in similar terms. Ere the father’s first reply can reach him, he writes another letter to mollify the wound his first letter made:

Oh! how often have 1 wished that I had been less honest, and that I had not disclosed my thoughts to anyone, or at least that I had not sent off the letter to you. I should then have spared my good father all the pain and troublous consequences of this matter, the end of which God only knows. But it had to be done some time and now I am glad that I took courage.

Most respectfully and yet most firmly in a later communication he defends his own sincerity throughout, 22 and beseeches his father, “Do not look at every thing from the worst side; do not seek in my views everything exactly the reverse of what you think.” And then, after modestly traversing the father’s arguments, he quietly asserts that the father’s refutation of his doubts has not convinced him. Still later he even attempts to revive the father’s drooping faith in the persistent goodness and faithfulness of God: “Oh! that I could now already send you the joyful tidings of my conversion, instead of referring you to the future, begging you not to give up all hope. God, who is the Father of all, will watch over and guard me, and will direct everything for the best.” He meekly receives the father’s rebukes as to his faults, and says, “You have at once, dear father, put your finger on my most dangerous enemy--pride.” A softening of the father’s bitter feeling was one result and before long the tone of reproach in his letters dies away.

The permission to go to Halle was granted none too soon, for the officials at Barby could not tolerate, such a heretic in their midst. He knew he “could reckon upon no pity, no mercy here, nor hope to be allowed to remain here.” They had decided to turn him adrift.

It is worth while in passing to notice that this great change in Schleiermacher had a lasting effect on the mind of the father himself. As he followed his son’s career with fatherly interest and concern, his own earlier interest in philosophical and theological 23studies began to return and, whether for better or for worse, his Moravian sympathies were weakened and broader views found a place in his convictions.

It can scarcely be disputed that the influence of Moravianism on the mind of Schleiermacher was permanently beneficial. To that, more than to any other single element in his character, he owes the peculiar, place he has won in the world. His experiences at Niesky and Barby may be regarded as having set for Schleiermacher the problem of his whole life, which, Lücke says,66Erinnerungen von Schleiermacher: Studien und Kritiken 1834, 754. was the “union without compromise of free science and Christian piety.” If we may anticipate at this point the backward survey which naturally occurs when his whole career has been described, we can say that he was above all else a religious man and his religion was characterized by the warmth of feeling, love of brotherly fellowship, vivid realization of the nearness of God, and peculiar regard for the person of the Savior which is associated with Moravianism. At the same time it cannot be doubted that his separation from them was a distinct gain. Had he remained with them he could never have attained to that breadth of human sympathy, deep insight into the relation between the religious life and the common things of the world, and that intellectual wealth which made him one of the great forces in the modern religious and theological world. It was the defects of Moravianism that drove him out. The union of Herrnhuterite religious feeling with Calvinistic theology 24 was rather forced. The correspondence effected between experience and the external authority of doctrine was artificial. There was, after all, a subtle legalism in it all. When a wider knowledge of human thought brought a new world into view, it was inevitable that his over-strained spirit should revolt and seek for freedom elsewhere.


Schleiermacher went to Halle in the spring of 1787 and remained there two years. He then accompanied his uncle to Drossen, where the latter had accepted a pastorate, and stayed with him a year. These three years represent an important period in our young theologian’s spiritual development, for at this time he began to get his theological bearings. It is true that in his own opinion77Rowan, Autobiography, I, 12. he was seriously handicapped at the outset, for, as he says, he knew almost nothing of the outside world, was conscious of a great deficiency in suppleness of mind and outward polish, had been given a disparaging view of the moral character of his future comrades, was shy of company, and enervated by depressing circumstances. But on the other hand he was encouraged by his loving sister Lotte’s unwavering confidence in him, by the many evidences of his father’s growing desire to promote his studies, and, perhaps most of all, by the friendship and wise counsel of his considerate uncle. This thoughtful man had observed with interest and 25concern the change that had been taking place in his nephew’s mind and had written to him letters which were full of sympathy but also contained an admonition to beware of precipitancy in his thinking. Now he took the young man into his own home and for these three years their thoughts freely mingled.

Moreover, Schleiermacher’s desire for an unrestricted study of the questions that distressed him was now realized. At Halle he entered upon a course of reading, continued for many years, which included in its scope almost all that was of high value in ancient philosophy and theology and the most famous writers of the age of the Reformation. Plato and Aristotle; the neo-Platonists; Origen and Augustine among the church Fathers; Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin among the Reformers; Spinoza, Descartes, and Locke; and later, Lessing, Kant, Wolff, and Herder ultimately became food to the omnivorous appetite of this young; student and were made to contribute their quota to the makeup of his mature thought later on. His reading at Halle was not well connected and his thought was quite unorganized. He chose his own course of reading and paid rather indifferent attention to the regular class-work of the university. This course of action was regarded with disfavor by professors and students and was afterward regretted by himself. However, his state of mind at the time may have made inevitable the neglect of studies that did not seem to have the solution of his problem directly in view. One thing he did pursue with intense zeal--the history of human 26 opinion, which is surely essential to a thorough grasp of theology.

We know little of his religious experiences at this time, for the subject is rarely mentioned in his letters. He mentions at times the kind Providence of God and expressed his trust in the heavenly Father. That he felt he had some sort of Christian message to give to men is evident from his application in the spring of 1790 for ordination as a licentiate in the Reformed church, to his father’s great satisfaction. In one of the father’s letters of that spring, which deprecates on the one hand the trend of the new methods of Scripture exegesis and the tendency to abolish the Augsburg confession as a standard authority, and on the other hand the compulsory acceptance of orthodoxy, we come across the curious advice to the son to imitate his own example of an earlier unbelieving period of life in not attacking the orthodox faith concerning the person of Christ, but utilizing it in the cause of morality and of love to God and man. This respect he thought was due to the belief which had been a blessing to millions. The son seemed to have acquiesced. Their correspondence at this time evinces a deep mutual affection and respect and a desire to avoid any occasion of difference. But the uncle continues to exercise the greater influence, and Schleiermacher ever afterward treasured a grateful memory of those days of quiet intercourse with the man who helped him to attain to some definiteness and coherency of theological views and to lay hold of a purpose in life.



The examination pro licentia was duly passed and he was ordained by Mr. Sack, chaplain in ordinary to the king. The same gentleman secured for him a tutorship in the family of Count Dohna of Schlobitten in Prussia. Here he remained for three years. The new experience was extremely profitable. Participation in the happy home life of a wealthy and cultured family brought him a new freedom and polish of manners. The work of teaching, visiting the sick people of the community, and, after a time, of occasional preaching brought home to him a deeper sense of responsibility and the consciousness of a mission. This, he declared, more than made up for the want of a library to read and of money to buy one.

His sister Lotte’s influence becomes very manifest at this time. Before she left her father’s roof to live in the Moravian choir-house her father noticed what he playfully termed “the miserly idolatry” with which she brooded over Fritz’s letters. This noble young woman followed her gifted brother’s career with the most affectionate solicitude for his moral and spiritual well-being and proved more than once in times of danger a guardian angel to him. That he was conscious of making spiritual progress is evident from the occasional modest references he makes to his own inner state. For example, in a letter to his father he says, “I feel that I am becoming a better man.” He has the love of preaching and of sermon-making. He writes more sermons than he preaches 28 and many sermons that he never preached were delivered several times over in thought. Some of the subjects selected are significant, as, “On the Duties Imposed by the Certainty of a Resurrection”; “On the History of Thomas (the Apostle) and Rational Belief”; “On the Coming of Christ as Putting an End to the Nonage of Man.” At this time also begins his personal acquaintance with the great leaders of German thought. In a letter to his father, written May 15, 1791, he speaks of spending at Königsburg “a half-hour with Mr. Kant and a few other professors.”

His stay with the Dohna family came to an end through his refusal, on account of personal convictions, to conform to the parents’ ideas of education. He left Schlobitten in May, 1793. After four months again at Drossen he went to Berlin to teach in the Kornmesser Orphan Asylum. Here he also preached frequently, and a year later his desire to enter the regular pastorate was gratified by an appointment to a curacy at Landsberg on the Warthe. A letter from his sister in October, 1794, brought to him the news of his father’s death. At that time he wrote to her: “Had I felt when I lost my mother that which I now experience in giving up my father, it would have been too much for a human heart.” Then recalling the painful incident of his leaving Barby he says:

There was a period, the remembrance of which now often forces itself upon me, during which I mistook the heart of our excellent father; when I thought he was too hard upon me and 29judged me falsely, because I was not of the same opinion as he. A certain coldness of feeling toward him, which arose in consequence, now seems to me the darkest spot in my existence. But in secret I have acknowledged my injustice, and he forgave me without my asking it.

In this generous spirit he turns the blame for their trouble entirely upon himself. But when we search in this letter for some reference to the Christian assurance of immortality we are disappointed at finding nothing except “Peace! peace be with his ashes, and may his soul ever delight itself in his children!” It may be that he had special reasons for reticence on this great subject, especially in a communication to such an ardent Herrnhuter as his sister, but it is most likely that he conscientiously refrained from anything explicit on a subject on which he seems at the time to have had no very settled conviction.

The next eight years of Schleiermacher’s life, from 1796 to 1804, represent the period during which he emerged from semi-obscurity to a recognized place among the scholars of his native country and began to exercise an influence in her affairs. Till 1802 he was chaplain of the Charité Hospital in Berlin, and then for two years he was court preacher at Stolpe in Pomerania. In 1804 he removed to Halle. For the greater portion of this time his life-story may be drawn from his correspondence. His letters disappoint us, however, by their very scanty references to his work as a preacher, but they relate principally to literary efforts and his relations with a brilliant circle 30of friends among whom he found a warm place. His course, though mainly controlled by high ideals, was marked at times by a wavering moral judgment and would scarcely justify anticipations of that power and eminence to which he afterward attained.


Shortly after coming to Berlin he became acquainted with the family of Dr. Marcus Herz. Dr. Herz was a Jewish physician of some distinction and a man of learning. His wife, a woman of unusual beauty united with splendid intellectual gifts and a fine culture, made their home a center of attraction to many men and women of good breeding and high literary attainment. The social gatherings at their home were characterized by intimate personal inter course and the free, informal discussion of those questions of science, philosophy, politics, literature, and religion in which educated people are commonly interested. Among the members of this social club were Friedrich Schlegel, Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt, Moritz, the elder and the younger Spalding, Nicolai, Reichhardt the composer, Schadow the sculptor, Count Christian Bernsdorff, the Danish-Prussian statesman Count Alexander von Schlobitten, eldest son of the Dohna family where Schleiermacher had been tutor (later he became minister of state in Prussia), Brinkmann, and Fessler. Of these talented men none excelled Schleiermacher in sparkling wit, 31quiet humor, keen penetration into the heart of every question, and power of deep reflection. With these qualities were united a warmth of personal feeling and a cherished regard for the ties of friendship that won for him the firm confidence and the admiration of men and women alike and soon made him the center of attraction to the company. His nature craved for sympathy and as freely gave it out. The unstinted measure in which he poured his affectionate regards upon his friends of both sexes sounds rather sentimental to the colder-hearted Anglo-Saxon and at times seems reprovable, but, as he said himself, such was his nature, there was no remedy for it, and if there were he should not wish to employ it. A less unselfish man would have been more guarded and sparing in his self-expression.

Such a man was likely to find his most intimate acquaintances among women. His refined, delicately constructed, sensitive nature was best understood by them. This he was aware of, and at the same time he felt that he was a debtor to them principally for the most ennobling influences he had experienced. Once he wrote: “It is through the knowledge of the feminine heart and mind that I have learnt to know what real human worth is.” But we are not to regard him as lacking in manliness, for the letters to his intimate women friends of those days, while not clear of emotional excess and some rather dull moralizing, are always characterized by a pure and deep respect for them and by the utterance of noble sentiments.


His sister Lotte, whom he kept closely informed of all his experiences, from her cloister at Gnadenfrei viewed these intimacies with misgivings and wrote to him rather deprecatingly. In reply he went carefully over his whole course and assured her that all was well. But, though he was unconscious of it, she was partly right. At Mrs. Herz’s he met Friedrich Schlegel, the Romanticist, and at once entered into friendly relations with him. With his customary exaggeration of a friend’s good qualities fie was full of admiration for Schlegel’s really powerful intellect and soon came to confide deeply in him. When at length they took up adjoining rooms in one house this intimacy increased. The consequences were of a mixed nature. Schlegel was probably the first to impart to Schleiermacher an incentive to high literary effort. It began in the form of contributions to the Athenaeum, a periodical edited by the brothers Schlegel. This was in 1798. During the next year he published anonymously the work that first brought him fame, Discourses on Religion to the Educated among Its Despisers, of which we shall speak again. He and Schlegel next began in collaboration a translation of Plato’s Dialogues, but Schlegel, rather dishonorably, abandoned the work before it had gone far, and Schleiermacher, with his accustomed perseverance, completed the undertaking, though it involved many years of hard labor. This translation of Plato remains one of Schleiermacher’s great literary monuments. So much to the credit of Schlegel’s influence. But, on the other hand, some of Schleiermacher’s 33 friends viewed with disfavor his friendship for a man whose character was so opposite to his own, and not unreasonably; for the latter’s morality was open to serious objection. Great was the astonishment of many when Schleiermacher wrote a defense of Schlegel’s Lucinde, a work regarded as immoral. He claimed to find in this novel a higher meaning than appeared on the surface, but his comment appeared to his friends like a good sermon on a bad text. This cost him the loss of the favor of Sack, the influential court preacher. Notwithstanding Schleiermacher’s error of judgment as to Schlegel’s faults, we cannot but admire his unwillingness to turn away from a man simply because others did so. In the Studien und Kritiken of 1850 their correspondence on the subject is published and Schleiermacher’s reply to Sack’s reproaches brings out the essential nobility of his own soul. He wrote, in part:

Never will I be the friend of a man of disreputable principles; but never either will I, out of fear of the world, with draw the consolations of my friendship from anyone who has innocently incurred its bann; never will I, on account of my profession, allow myself to be guided in my actions by the false appearances which determine others, instead of by the true nature of the circumstances. Were this maxim to be allowed sway, we ecclesiastics would be outlaws in the domain of sociability; for every calumny against a friend, provided it were invented with sufficient cleverness to secure belief, would banish us from his society. Far from submitting to this, the aim which I propose to myself is to lead a life uniformly blameless, that in time I may bring it so far, that no unfavorable light 34 shall fall upon men on account of any undeserved evil repute in which my friends may stand; but that, on the contrary, my friendship may shed a favorable light on their reputation [Miss Rowan’s translation].

Yet as time passed Schleiermacher became aware of the incompatibility between his temper and Schlegel’s. In a letter of June, 1801, he speaks of “the utter dissimilarity of our sensitive natures,” and adds presently, “Ever in my inmost soul [there are] secrets which I cannot impart to him.” That year he found in a new friend, Pastor Ehrenfried von Willich, a man whose heart and mind accorded well with his own. Of him Schleiermacher wrote: “Von Willich has not Schlegel’s deep comprehensive intellect, but he is in many respects nearer to my heart.” From whatever cause, Schlegel and his influence gradually receded and gave place to this higher friendship. Years later Schlegel became a Roman Catholic.

Schleiermacher’s doctrinal views flowed so directly from his religious life and the latter was so largely affected by his friendships that it will be proper to refer at some length to an episode that constituted the only moral shadow that passed over his career, and that is fairly traceable, in a measure, to his association with Schlegel. The latter had married a Mrs. Dorothea Veit, a member of the club referred to above after she had secured a divorce from a husband with whom she had no fault to find, but whom she did not love. Schleiermacher came very near perpetrating a similar wrong, but under different conditions. At 35Mrs. Herz’s he met Eleanore Grünow, the ill-matched wife of a Lutheran clergyman. Her husband was not only a coarse man, but, as Dilthey affirms, immoral. This lady communicated the fact of her unhappiness to Schleiermacher though, it seems, without mentioning the charge which Dilthey makes. In those days it was a custom in Prussia for parents to arrange marriages for their daughters without consulting their wishes. The law offered a recompense of equally doubtful character by permitting the divorce by mutual consent of persons who were unhappy in their union, even if no further cause of complaint existed. Schleiermacher’s view of the primacy of the affections, perhaps unconsciously strengthened by his admiration for the lady, led him to view such an unloving union with horror. He considered it immoral in itself and properly to be dissolved. He advised Mrs. Grünow to obtain a divorce and, to secure her from want, offered to marry her himself. She promised, and then changed her mind. Schleiermacher’s retirement to distant Stolpe in 1802 is said to have been occasioned by his desire to leave the matter to Mrs. Grünow herself. The correspondence went on at intervals for years and was closed by her decision to remain as she was. This experience brought Schleiermacher unspeakable misery and left him broken-hearted and broken in health. It was a bitter lesson he learned, but its sobering effect appeared in a saner view of ethical relations. Long years after his own marriage to a wife more worthy of him he met Mrs. Grünow in 36 a large company and, taking her hand, he said, “Eleanore, God has been good to us both.”

The reason for adverting to such an unhappy episode in this good man’s life is that it brings out some of the characteristics of his mind. In the first place it indicates a defect in his cast of thought--namely, an unsatisfactory view of the nature of the moral law. Not that Schleiermacher took an easy view of moral obligation so far as his own conduct is concerned, for no man ever forced himself more sternly to the doing of duty. But any system of thought which gives the primacy to the affectional, rather than the volitional side of human nature, is sure to intro duce moral confusion.

However, except in respect to moral judgment, Schleiermacher appears to advantage in this whole affair. His independence of the conventional, merely as conventional, his utter transparency of purpose, and his uprightness of character appear in his whole correspondence in this connection. He mentioned the matter freely to his sister Lotte and to his intimate; friends, and made known his intentions to them. He could countenance nothing that was surreptitious. When Mrs. Grünow requested, after he had gone to Stolpe, that his letters be not addressed directly to her house, she promptly received a flat refusal, and the declaration that she would receive no more letters from him. When his hopes at length were blasted he poured out his grief as openly in letters to his friends.



A reader of Schleiermacher’s letters written during these years would never suppose from the almost incidental references in his letters to his pastoral and pulpit work and his literary undertakings that he had come to be already a powerful force in the intellectual and religious life of Prussia and particularly Berlin. Yet such was the case. At the same time that he was cultivating those close personal friendships for which his nature craved and which he felt to be indispensable to any meaningful life for him, he was engaged in the preparation of literary works that were to have far-reaching consequences. In 1799 he published a book that was to usher in almost a revolution in the religious life of Prussia and to constitute a turning-point in the course of theological science. I refer to his Discourses on Religion to the Educated among Its Despisers. The “despisers” referred to are probably in the first instance the skeptical members of the club that met in the Herz parlors, but in a general way the whole school of rationalism. The argument of the book will be given in another connection in this present work. Here we may simply note that it was a defense of religion in general rather than of Christianity in particular, and claimed for religion a universal and necessary place in human experience, such as Kant claimed for the moral law. His words on this subject came to the reading public like a message from another world. Men felt in those dark days that a new prophet had arisen, and many of them awoke to a new interest 38 in a reality which a specious moralism had concealed from them. Claus Harms, the great evangelist and missionary organizer, received from the Discourses the first impulse to his great movement. Neander, the great church historian, was brought by it out of Judaism to evangelical Christianity. It is considered to have played a part second to none in arousing the patriotism of Prussia for the struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte, because by it men apprehended the magnitude of the interests at stake. It is still being republished and translated, and modern scholars of note are still devoting time to the discussion of it. Oman88‘Discourses on Religion,’ Introd., x. says: “It may be questioned whether, after Kant’s Critique and Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, any book of the period has had such a lasting effect; there is certainly no question that it foreshadows the problems chiefly discussed among us today as is done by no other book of the time.”

The truth is that Schleiermacher had found no food for his soul in the rationalism into which he had passed on leaving the Moravians, and his Moravian faith was returning, though as yet it was tinged with romanticism. Romanticism with its canonization of the aesthetic sentiments is itself a poor substitute for rationalism, at least the higher rationalism. For the nobler types of the latter accord a dignity to the principles of morality and elevate human life above the play of mere feeling or passion. But after all mere ethics is not theology and mere morality is not religion. 39Man is a being possessed of something more than thought and will. He has emotions and these are often as safe a clue to character as mere will or mere intellect. Rationalism had neglected the claims of feeling, which religion cannot ignore. Romanticism was at least an assertion that feeling is a non-negligible factor in the estimate of human nature. It supplied to Schleiermacher a bridge by which he made the transition from a dry and insipid morality to a warm, religious experience, like that of his earlier years. The changes made in the second edition of the book, in 1806, showed that by this time he had come to a warm evangelical faith. But a greater influence than that of romanticism was at work within him. Before the book appeared there are evidences that his early experience among the Moravians was making itself felt. His religious spirit was awaking to new vigor and was reasserting its sway. His letters of 1789 seldom make mention of religious matters, but in a letter to his sister Lotte in August of that year he appears greatly interested and affected by her account of a recent visit to Herrnhut. He exclaims: “How often my mind reverts to Albertini and our common studies at Niesky!--the depths of his heart are still known to me.” He had found no solace for his mind in that rationalistic view of religion which subordinated it to morality. His later antipathy to so-called natural religion comes out strongly in a letter written a few weeks before the publication of his Discourses. Some one had recommended a work of Hülsen’s on religion. 40Schleiermacher objected, “But it is nature-religion, and I doubt, therefore, that it will produce much effect on me. My religion is so through and through heart-religion, that I have not room for any other.” This is indeed Schleiermacher’s secret. He had seen and felt too much of heart- religion to be permanently occupied with the dry platitudes of rationalism. He now yielded himself freely to the sway of his renewed Christian faith and endeavored to gain for it a rightful place in the world of thought. Not only so, but he felt it to be a part of his mission to free the church from bondage to a lifeless creed and the influence of religionless men. He felt this in the early part of his pastoral career, and even while undertaking extensive literary labors he found in preaching his loved vocation. He wrote to his sister, “Book-writing is a strange kind of activity, without life, without face-to-face encounter, without real use. Preaching is better.” We find him near the close of his voluntary exile at Stolpe saying of a new circle of friends there, “How sweetly do we all cleave with the same religious feeling to the loving and informing Christ! Never since I left the Herrnhut congregation have I so rejoiced in my Christian feelings and in my Christian faith, nor have I ever beheld its living power so spread around me”; and again a little later, to von Willich, speaking of “the sweetest mystery of Christ and the church, how this is built up through his love, how it glorifies and exalts him; and how, through it, the whole world is born anew and sanctified.” We feel 41that in these words it is a Moravian who speaks. But there is a difference. To their warm piety and deep religious feeling he united, on the one hand, a fearless and thorough pursuit of all that human learning could contribute to the solution of life’s problems and, on the other, a participation in human affairs, from which the Moravians, with their semi-monastic piety, shrank. Yes, he was a Moravian again, but truly of a higher order.

In addition to the Discourses he published, in 1800, his Monologues (a presentation of his philosophical views), considerable portions of his Plato, Two Impartial Judgments on Protestant Ecclesiastical Affairs, anonymously, and, in 1803, A Critical Inquiry into Existing Systems of Ethics, regarded by scholars as epoch-making. This last was composed while he was in wretched health and not expecting to live long. “This book,” he writes, “is my gravestone.” But though suffering much in mind and body he went on steadily with it, explaining his action by saying, “Just as a man ought to do nothing because of death, so also he ought to leave nothing undone because of death.” However, the prospect of professorial work at the University of Wurzberg or at Halle, and later in Berlin, revived his spirits and his health. It was impossible that a man of his ability should long remain comparatively hidden, and in 1804 the government appointed him extraordinary professor at Halle, and preacher at the university, with the promise of a future appointment at Berlin, should a new university be 42 founded there. It is significant of his theological position at the time and of his independence of judgment that one of the conditions on which he accepted the new position was that the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed confessions should be over looked, “lest my hands as a member of the Reformed church should be bound.”


Schleiermacher went to Halle in October, 1804. He did not find conditions there very satisfactory. His professorial work was of a rather varied nature and indefinite in range. We find him lecturing on Plato, philosophical ethics, introduction to the study of theology, fundamental Christian doctrines, and dogmatics, and delivering public exegetical lectures on the Epistle to the Galatians, and all within a single year. The delay and uncertainty as to his appointment to a regular professorship vexed him. Moreover, the arrangement for his preaching services at Halle were by no means to his liking. The stiffness and want of life in the liturgy he could not abide. His desires for a change in this respect were quickened by a visit to Barby in the spring of 1805, when he witnessed a Moravian Easter service. A letter written just after this visit sets forth his feelings at the time:

There is not throughout Christendom in our day a form of public worship which expresses more worthily or awakens more thoroughly the spirit of true Christian piety than does that of the Herrnhut brotherhood. And while absorbed in heavenly 43faith and love I could not but deeply feel how far behind them w are in our church, where the poor sermon is everything and e\en this is hampered by meaningless restrictions, while, on the other hand, it is subject to every change in the times and is rarely animated by a true and living spirit.

He hoped soon to transplant something of its nature into the services at Halle. He experienced on that occasion a renewal of the drawing toward the Moravian communion, and goes on to say, rather regretfully:

They would not have refused me permission to partake of the Lord’s Supper with the congregation, but I would not ask for what I knew to be contrary to rule. . . . . While dwelling on my loneliness in the world and my separation from those who, I believe, form the truest Christian communion which exists in the outward world, I consoled myself with the thought of the secret and scattered church to which we all belong and of the common spirit which animates it.

He felt so dissatisfied with the state of things at Halle that in the spring of 1806 he was disposed to accept an invitation to the pastorate at Bremen, but by certain concessions was prevailed on to. remain. We might trace without difficulty, if space would permit, his struggle through the rest of his life against formal ism. A state-controlled church was a veritable prison to a liberty-loving spirit like his, that longed for a lofty flight. The dread of Separatism helped to keep him within it, but to the end of his days he battered his wings against the bars of his cage without much avail.

While at Halle he met Goethe once or twice, but 44 about the only thing he said of their interview was that they conversed together like old acquaintances. It is more important to note that he found there a kindred spirit in a Norwegian member of the faculty, Steffens by name. A warm friendship soon sprang up between them and continued through the vicissitudes through which central Europe was then passing. When the war with France broke out he and Steffens shared the same dangers, suffered the same losses, occupied portions of the same lodgings, and partook of the same scanty supply of food. Their friendship was based on religious sympathies. This is incidentally brought to our knowledge in a note Steffens makes of a little time they spent together in an inn at Ostrow: “Never did the deep religiosity of his nature strike me more favorably. The Savior was with us as he promised to be ‘where two or three are gathered.’” The excellent opportunity Steffens enjoyed of observing Schleiermacher under a great variety of circumstances makes the following pen-portrait he gives of Schleiermacher in those days especially valuable:99Rowan, II, 27.

Schleiermacher was small of stature and slightly deformed, but so slightly as hardly to be disfigured by it. His movements were quick and animated, his features highly expressive. A certain sharpness in his eye acted, perhaps, repulsively at times. He seemed, indeed, to look through everyone. . . . . His face was long, his features sharply defined, his lips firmly and severely closed, his chin prominent, his look always earnest, collected, and self-possessed. I saw him under various circumstances 45in life--deeply meditative and sportive, mild and fired with anger, moved by sorrow and joy--but ever an unalterable composure greater, mightier than every passing emotion, seemed to dominate his being. A slight expression of irony played round his features; the sincerest sympathy ever animated his heart; and an almost childish goodness shone through the outward calm. His constant presence of mind had sharpened his features in a remarkable degree. Even while engaged in the most animated conversation nothing escaped him. He saw everything that was passing around him and heard everything, even the most low-toned conversation.


But the progress of events was now opening for him a sphere of wider influence. Prussia was entering on her life-and-death struggle with Napoleon Bona parte, and in the storm and stress of those bitter days the preacher and lecturer became the Christian patriot. Prussia, led by her king and oligarchy, had played of late a rather unworthy part in the affairs of Europe. Her government had fawned on Napoleon, hoping to enjoy his favor and in alliance with him to hold her territory intact or make fresh accessions without cost to herself. That shrewd man, great in diplomacy as in the battlefield, had utilized her friendship temporarily for his own ends, but the time had now come to despoil her. His heavy exactions and the clamors of the people forced the Prussian government at length to declare war. But Napoleon crushed her like a snuffbox. At Auerstadt and Jena her power was broken, and from her surrendered capital the conqueror 46 issued to the world his famous “Berlin decrees” against England.

Schleiermacher had been by no means unobservant of European affairs or unconscious of the mean spirit of the Prussian government. He clearly foresaw the approaching troubles of -his country and a strong patriotic spirit rose within him. He felt that Prussian sentiments, mental culture, and religion were at stake. In the early stages of the French Revolution he had sympathized with the Democratic party in France, and when Louis XVI was beheaded he did not share in the common feeling of horror. But the infant French democracy had soon given place to a virtual autocracy; his own deep love of liberty and his intense national sentiment aroused in him a determination to fight for the salvation of his fatherland. At the same time he perceived that Prussia was ill-prepared to defend herself, principally on account of the chasm between her government and her people. With the eye of a true statesman he saw that a war for freedom must be carried on by king and nation together, “not by kings and their hired armies.” Aware that the struggle on which the government was at length about to enter with Napoleon must ultimately promote the cause of freedom, he exclaims, “I exult in the war against the tyrant, which I think is now unavoidable.”

When disaster fell upon the Prussian arms and Halle was taken, his house was plundered by French soldiers. He and his half-sister Nanni, who had come to live with him, and the Steffens family were reduced 47to destitution. Only by the kindness of a French officer were they able to secure enough firewood to keep from freezing in the winter of 1806-7. The times were serious enough for him, but he writes jocosely of his experiences and his “potatoes and salt” diet. Napoleon closed for the time being the University of Halle, lest it should nourish patriotic feeling, and threatened to remove it. Its future was uncertain. If Halle should be turned over to Saxony, Schleiermacher would not remain in it, for the Saxons were such stiff Lutherans that he knew a member of the Reformed church could not be happy in the university. “If the town fall to the share of a French prince,” he said, “I, for my part, will not abandon it, so long as there is anywhere a Prussian hole to which I can retire.” He declined a second invitation to Bremen until he should be sure that the university was definitely closed. The upshot was that he severed his connection with the University of Halle, because it came under the authority of Jerome Bonaparte, the new king of Westphalia, and because he could not conscientiously obey the order to offer public prayer for the new king and queen or put himself in opposition to the German spirit. In the end of 1807 we find him delivering lectures in Berlin, whither he had removed in consequence of the Prussian government’s declaration of its intention to found a university to take the place of Halle. His name was being talked of in connection with a professorship there. What 48 his purpose was we may gather from a letter written to a friend about that time:

One determination only I hold fast and that is, to follow the fortunes of my immediate fatherland, Prussia, as long as it continues to exist and does not prove itself quite unworthy of this resolve. Should it entirely succumb, then I will, as long as it is possible, seek the German fatherland wherever a Protestant can live and a German governs.

It was this spirit animating the breasts of patriots like himself, which saved Prussia and ultimately raised her to the headship of modern Germany.


Before we follow farther the career of Schleiermacher during the Napoleonic wars, we must turn aside to notice certain domestic events. The friendship between him and Ehrenfried von Willich has already been mentioned. Begun in the summer of 1801, it deepened with time. When the young pastor married, his home became Schleiermacher’s chief resort for the inspirations and consolations of human fellowship. Von Willich looked upon him as an elder brother, and the wife regarded him as a spiritual father. When their “Schleier,” as they familiarly called him, came to see them, there was always a free mutual outpouring of joys and sorrows. The love of friends like these he described as “my highest good, without which neither the world nor anything in it would have the smallest value in my eyes.” (We shall remember this when we come to the vital place 49he assigns to the Christian communion in his Glaubenslehre.) On the outbreak of the war von Willich was pastor at Stralsund. When the place was attacked he remained with his flock. A fever that became epidemic during the siege seized him and, in the be ginning of March, 1807, he died. The young widow, left with two infant children, writes a pathetic letter to Schleiermacher telling him the awful news. In her distress she beseeches him to give her some word of assurance that her husband was not lost to her altogether. The correspondence throws light on the state of Schleiermacher’s mind at the time. She urges him to tell her his inmost convictions on the question of the future state and adds, instinctively, that she is not without consolation, that in the midst of her anguish she has the rapture of feeling that “love is eternal and that God cannot possibly destroy it, because God himself is love.” She goes on to say, “I implore you, by all that you love and hold sacred, if you can, give me the certainty that I shall see him again, that I shall recognize him. . . . . Alas! it will be annihilation to me to lose this faith.” It would seem that she had been led to fear that Schleiermacher held to some sort of pantheism, for she asks, “Do you know when I feel my grief most poignantly? When I think that in the future life there will be nothing left of the old, . . . . and when I think that his soul is merged in the great all . . . . that the past will not be recognized--that all is over--Oh, Schleier! this I can not bear.” Schleiermacher’s reply, though gentle and 50tender, is without the certainty of possessing definite information on the point that concerned her most. There is even a tone of rebuke, which we find echoed in his Glaubenslehre, because of the emphasis she had placed on physical existence and her desire that the future life should be, in a degree at least, a reduplication of the conditions of the present. He says a good deal about the “eternal order of things and the necessity of submitting tranquilly to it, but confesses that he cannot undertake to settle her doubts by confirming the certainty of the images of the phantasy, which, he thought, would be to prefer our own desires to God’s own order. Yet, “There is the greatest certainty--and nothing would be certain if it were not so--that 1 for the soul there is no such thing as annihilation.” But immediately upon this follows the disappointing assertion, “Personal life is not the essence of spiritual being; it is only an outward presentment thereof. How this is repeated we know not--we can form no conception of it, we can only form poetic visions.” His idea of a merging in the great all was that it was not an unconscious condition, but “a living commingling--as the highest life.” He seems to have in mind a future life of fellowship without the personal separateness and mutual exclusiveness of the present. The poetic visions we have of the future life he held to be of value because they are anticipations of reality, but he seemed to think that the precise nature of that future reality is nowhere disclosed to men. Mrs. von Willich thanked him for his helpful words, but it 51seems to the writer that her consolations were mainly drawn from her own spiritual intuitions.

The correspondence continued. He finally visited Mrs. von Willich at her home on the island of Rügen and the personal interview resulted in a betrothal. In the year 1809, notwithstanding the extremely unsettled state of Prussia and the precariousness of Schleiermacher’s means of livelihood, they were married. He took as much care of her children as if they were his own. To them in course of time five others were added--two girls and a boy of his, and two adopted children. He reveled in the love and joys of the home life and found in his wife a companion who, though much his junior, entered heartily into his deepest religious experiences and his many trying labors.


The much-talked-of university to be established in Berlin at last became a fact. Schleiermacher is considered to have had a powerful influence in its formation. Fichte was its rector, but Schleiermacher stood at the head of the faculty of theology, as Savigny at the head of that of jurisprudence, arid the organization of the theological studies and the spirit he introduced into them ushered in a new epoch. His Kurze Darstellung des theologischen Studiums, which was published at this time, exhibits his view of the nature and relations of the various theological sciences. This little book was a pathmaker in the proper apprehension of the subject, and an evidence of its great value is seen in 52 the fact that it is still being studied and republished. For the first time the various theological disciplines were comprehended in their integrity by the determination of their organic relation to a single principle. Schleiermacher’s views on the subject have been much criticized, but his great merit is beyond dispute. But Schleiermacher’s activities in Berlin were by no means confined to the duties of his professorial position. He was incessant n\ multiform labors for the public good. Preaching, lecturing, writing, philanthropic work, participation in ecclesiastical and political affairs, his efforts in the reorganization of state educational institutions, and the instruction of youths went on together. Add to this his wide social relations, for his home be came one of the chief social centers in Berlin, and we get some idea of the extent of his capacity for work. At the same time we find here an explanation of the fact that his university lectures were never given that completeness and perfection of form which is desirable in order to a thorough knowledge of his views.

To enter extensively into Schleiermacher’s connection with the history of Prussia during the later Napoleonic wars would lead us very far afield. We must here content ourselves with a few brief references. The regeneration of Prussia was owing in no small degree to him. From a very early period in this great struggle he apprehended the immensity of the interests at stake and at the same time perceived the incapacity of the Prussian government. He saw that the power of the French movement lay in its popular 53basis, and felt that the hope of his own country lay in her people. They must be aroused to a realization of their rights and responsibilities. As he saw it, the safety of the German fatherland lay in German. Protestantism; the cause of Christianity and the cause of Protestantism were one. To him, therefore, the conflict with Napoleon was at bottom for the interests of true religion, and on that account, unlike Fichte, he flung himself into it with all his might. He was in close touch with the political leaders throughout and co-operated with them. After the peace of Tilsit, which left Prussia clinging to the skirts of Napoleon, the nation, stirred to indignation over its humiliation and the partition of its territories, began to rouse itself to action. A reformation was soon in progress. Schleiermacher boldly denounced the selfishness, the cowardice, and the want of faith in God which were the root of his country’s shame, and summoned the people to repentance. While patriots like Stein and Scharnhorst aimed at placing the civil and military affairs of Prussia on a truly national basis, he wrought for the reawakening of the church.

The French were not slow to recognize in him a dangerous man, and as early as 1808 one of his letters intimates that he had been arrested and brought before Marshal Davoust and had been rebuked by that officer as a hot-head and provoker of disorder. But his perfect composure during the interview thwarted the marshal’s intention to keep him under restraint. He continued the good work of preparing his countrymen 54 for that desperate grapple with the tyrant which he felt could not long be delayed. His sermons and his lectures pointed that way. His house became a resort for Prussian patriots. In one of his letters he notes incidentally that at the close of a lecture there was a meeting of the Defense Committee at his house. We find him in the autumn of 1811 traveling in Silesia on a political mission, evidently of a dangerous kind, but the exact nature of which is not clear. Between the years 1810 and 1813 his letters frequently express alarm over the country’s prospects and a deep distrust of the character and ability of the royal government. After Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow he urged strenuously that Prussia should identify herself with the common interests of Europe, and great was the rejoicing when her government broke the alliance with Napoleon and declared against him. We find a fine expression of his feelings in a sermon1010Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher, 67-82 (Biblical Library, edited by W. Robertson Nicoll; transl. by Mary F. Wilson). on “A Nation’s Duty in a War for Freedom,” preached on March 28, 1813, from Jer. 17:5-8 and 18:7-10, on the occasion of the king’s summons to the people to unite in the cause of the fatherland. He hails the change of policy as an evidence of a revived trust in God after a disgraceful submission to a foreign foe and as a renewal of their devotion to the divine purpose in the nation’s life. He warned the people against personal ambition and selfishness and urged all classes to perform their part.


On the calling out of the Landwehr (“militia”) he was one of the first to enrol himself in a regiment and submitted to several hours’ military drill daily. The nature of his influence at the time is vividly represented in Bishop Eilert’s description (quoted by Lücke in Studien und Kritiken, 1850, and transl. by Miss Rowan) of a special occasion when a portion of the Landwehr made up of students of the university and the Gymnasium as a body requested Schleiermacher to preach and administer the sacrament to them just before their departure. At eight o’clock on the evening of May 13, 1813, they assembled in Holy Trinity Church, having piled their arms in and around the building.

After having pronounced a short prayer, full of unction, Schleiermacher went up into the pulpit. There, in this holy place and at this solemn hour, stood the physically so small and insignificant man, his noble countenance beaming with intellect, and his clear, sonorous, penetrating voice ringing through the overflowing church. Speaking from his heart with pious enthusiasm his every word penetrated to the heart, and the clear, full, mighty stream of his eloquence carried everyone along with it. His bold, frank declaration of the causes of our fall, his severe denunciation of our actual defects, as evinced in the narrow-hearted spirit of caste, of proud aristocracy, and in the dead forms of bureaucratism, struck down like thunder and lightning, and the subsequent elevation of the heart to God on the wings of solemn devotion was like harp-tones from a higher world. The discourse proceeded in an uninterrupted stream, and every word was from the times and for the times. And when, at last, with the full fire of enthusiasm he addressed the noble youths already equipped for battle, and next turning to their mothers, 56 the greater number of whom were present, he concluded with the words: “Blessed is she who has borne such a son; blessed is the bosom that has nourished such a babe,” a thrill of deep emotion ran through the assembly, and, amid loud sobs and weeping, Schleiermacher pronounced the concluding Amen.

Notwithstanding the suspense and terrible anxieties of those days, his life was a happy one because of the character of his family life and enrichment of his spiritual nature. For a time, during the war, he sent his family into Silesia, thinking it a safer place for them than Berlin was likely to be. Great was his alarm when that country itself became the theater of war, but happily they escaped all injury. During this time the letters between him and his wife are full of expressions of tender regard for each other and their children and at the same time of a calm trust in the grace and goodness of God. More and more we are impressed, as we study his career, that in the simple relations of everyday life more than anywhere else is to be seen the true greatness of this wonderful man. We shall see a reflection of this later in the theological view of the identity of the spheres of the natural and the supernatural.


At the conclusion of the war, notwithstanding his invaluable services to the cause of the country, Schleiermacher found himself in a difficult position. The overthrow of Napoleon was followed by a vigorous conservative reaction. As it has been said of 57the restored Bourbon house in France, they came back “having learned nothing and having forgotten nothing,” so also it might almost be said of Frederick William of Prussia. His attitude is indicated by his participation with the emperors of Russia and Austria in the so-called Holy Alliance, which was simply a determined attempt to prevent the rise of freedom for the individual and of democracy in government. The king attempted to play the part of a Constantine or a Charlemagne by trying to bring the church as well as the state under direct royal control. Schleiermacher was by no means persona grata to him, for he could see that individualism in religion spells democracy in ecclesiastical and state affairs. He had promised a commission for the regulation of ecclesiastical matters, but, instead, he proceeded to trample under foot the spirit of religious liberty and the rights of the Reformed church by establishing a strict Lutheranism, even going so far as to issue a new liturgy, mostly of his own composition, compulsorily to be used. Schleiermacher spoke out manfully in opposition. He affirmed that if all that the Reformation did was to transfer the pope’s power to the prince, then there was need of a new Reformation. In his Reflections (Gutachten über die für die Protestantische Kirche des Preussischen Staates einzurichtende Synodal-Verfassung), issued in 1817, he took the ground that just as in a free state constitution the power of the executive reposes on the active and willing co-operation of the citizens, so “the Protestant church consists, in 58 truth, of the totality of the Protestant communities, and the clergy are only their servants.” He advocated a church constitution based on congregational representation, with presbyteries and synods for the regulation of all matters of order and discipline. While he was an advocate of the (rather abortive) union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches of Prussia which took place in 1817, he opposed the proposal to issue a new creed, foreseeing that it must limit the freedom of the teacher and preacher and become a barrier to the progressive apprehension of evangelical truth. He held that the teacher must be fettered by no formulae, but only when he so departs from the spirit and truth of Christianity as to alienate from him the congregation to which he ministers is he to be dealt with by the church authorities. He perceived also that the king’s policy must prove detrimental to Christianity by preventing the free critical study of the Scriptures, saying, “Purest faith and sharpest testing are one and the same, for no one that would believe what is divine should wish to believe deceptions, old or new, his own or other people’s.” Moreover his ingrained Moravianism appears in his determination to maintain freedom and spontaneity of public worship, in which the sermon and congregational singing should have a large place.

The religious struggles of those times are reflected in his Glaubenslehre, or, to use the longer title, A Systematic Exposition of the Christian Faith according to the Principles of the Evangelical Church 59(Der Christliche Glaube nach den Grundsätsen der evangelischen Kirche in Zusammenhange dargestellt), which the present work is intended to expound. It was published in 1821 and 1822. Throughout this great book we may perceive the working of his profound conviction that creeds and all formal doctrines are only approximate and temporary expressions of religious experiences and must ever be subordinated thereto. He endeavors, on the one hand, to do justice to traditional and current dogmatical statements by bringing into relief the religious reality that lies be hind them and, on the other, to indicate the limitations of their worth.

His differences with the civil authorities brought Schleiermacher into considerable controversy. His advocacy of congregational rights and of the freedom of the church from dictation by the state led the king to regard him as a secret republican and rendered his position insecure. His friend and brother-in-law, Arndt, was dismissed in 1817, and Schleiermacher’s letters for many years later indicate that for a long time he expected the same treatment. But his immense hold on the public esteem proved a secure protection, and he was left undisturbed. His increasing years and his chronic poor health unfitted him to become leader of a popular movement for the liberation of the church, and at last, so far as the liturgy was concerned, a compromise was reached, Schleiermacher being left free to use it or not to use it as his conscience might decide. While the propagation of his 60views had, doubtless, been working for the liberation of the church in Germany, his compromise with the authorities postponed it.


During all these years and up to the close of his life, Schleiermacher was carrying concurrently the work of his professorial chair and of his pulpit in Holy Trinity. Though continually accusing himself of laziness he was more abundant in labors than al most any other man of his day. At one point in the war, about the time of the battle of Leipsic, when all Berlin was full of excitement, he was the only professor who kept up his lectures. There have been more popular and able lecturers but his students were always numerous and enthusiastic. That his lectures were not written out in complete form need cause no surprise when we remember that he treated at one time or another every subject in the theological curriculum. However, what his lectures lacked in form and system was compensated for by their richness and suggestiveness. It will be generally acknowledged that Schleiermacher’s pre-eminence as a theologian is principally due to the rich veins of thought which he only tapped and opened up for other and less comprehensive thinkers to explore.

As a preacher he has had few, if any, superiors in Germany. Old Trinity church has become famous as the place where thousands felt the thrill of his warm, attractive personality and those stirring appeals that 61found their way into so many hearts. W. Robertson Nicoll quotes a German writer as saying that “thousands were won by him to the Savior.” Many others received through him a deeper spiritual life. The subject-matter of his sermons and his theological writings were substantially the same, but of course the methods differed. The topics chosen were of very wide range, but those relating to personal experience predominated. His sermons were prepared in rather an extraordinary way. They were never written but were composed while his other work was in progress, or even in the midst of those social festivities which were such a common feature of his home life. He was often observed on a Saturday evening, when his home was filled with guests, to step aside from the company into some corner of the room and there, in a few moments, write some notes on the subject on which he had been ruminating, and this “brief” he carried into the pulpit on the following day. The final form of the discourse depended largely on the inspiration of the occasion. A striking characteristic of his delivery was the frequent occurrence of long, involved sentences which would fill a page or more of common octavo, but, though they were composed on the instant, his hearers never detected in them an instance of incorrect or defective grammatical construction. We are indebted to Miss Rowan for a translation of the following portion of Lücke’s description (“Erinnerungen,” etc., Stndien und Kritiken, 1834) of his delivery:


Those who knew the secret [of his method of preparation] could follow the artistic structure of his discourse. They perceived how, at first, he spoke slowly and deliberately, somewhat in the ordinary tone of conversation, as if gathering and marshaling his thoughts; then, after a while, when he had, as it were, spread out and again drawn together the entire net of his thoughts, his words flowed faster, the discourse became more animated, and the nearer he drew to the encouraging or ad monishing peroration, the fuller and richer the stream. . . . . He had modes of expression peculiar to himself and also a sphere of thought peculiar to himself. But the richness of his mind and the fulness of Christian life in him never allowed any of the ordinary defects of extemporaneous preaching to be apparent in his sermons and caused one to contemplate with unalloyed pleasure his wonderful mastery of the homiletical art and the rich fruits it bore. . . . . It is true that he expected a good deal from his hearers, yet in reality no more than attention and familiarity with the Scriptures; and as he knew how to rivet the attention of the less educated by the freshness and vivacity of his mode of delivery and by the constant application of even the deepest ideas to practical life and to the actual conditions of the church, of family life, and of the fatherland, this explains how it was that, although his congregation mostly belonged to the educated classes, persons of the lower ranks and even be longing to other congregations were constantly seen in his church. I believe that this portion of his congregation steadily increased, for just as his whole system of theology was ever in living progression, so also the fervor and Christian simplicity of his mode of preaching increased year by year in proportion as his experience was enlarged and his inner life expanded.

Considering his immense popularity it is astonishing to find how seldom in his correspondence he makes reference to this part of his work or gives us a hint of his influence. But we find a very interesting incidental 63remark in one of his letters to his wife: “Today I preached in the Cathedral with great fire and to my own satisfaction, which is by no means always the case.” He also took great interest in improving the liturgical part of the service, especially the singing--thanks to his Moravian training--and, quite in harmony with his view of the nature of religion, favored a form of worship of high aesthetic quality.


One word more must be added concerning his family life. He paid the greatest attention to the education of his children, stepchildren, and adopted children. He shared their pranks and frolics and their holiday making and imparted his own freedom and spontaneity to their studies. In 1820 he was greatly elated over the birth of a son, and on that occasion writes, “My first prayer to God was to be inspired with wisdom and power from above to educate this child to his glory.” This child inherited the religious precocity of his father and exhibited very early the influence of the peculiar Moravian attitude to Jesus of which deep traces still remained in Schleiermacher. It is related by Auberlen (Studien und Kritiken, 1860) that on one occasion when the boy was only four years old his father asked him: “Nathaniel, dost thou love me?” and the child replied, “Yes, I love thee, but I love the Savior still better.” But his death when only nine years of age was so deeply felt by his father that he said it drove the nails into his own 64 coffin. He himself pronounced the funeral oration and went on with his regular work that very day, but with a sore heart. He wrote to a friend wearily, “Life goes on in its old grooves, but more slowly and more heavily.” It is said that from the time of this bereavement there was a greater depth of sympathy in his preaching, and that he spoke more persistently of the love of God in Christ. The death in 1831 of his elder sister, the faithful Lotte, who had come to live in his home after Nanni’s marriage, was an added sorrow. He was not to survive her many years.

In 1828 he made his first and only visit to England and preached at the opening of a German church at the Savoy. He noticed with wonderment the commerce and wealth of London. On a visit to St. Paul’s he was disappointed with the worship and criticized the indifference with which the officiating minister conducted a funeral service which he attended.

In 1831 evidence was given of the reconciliation between him and the king in the tardy recognition of his services to the nation by conferring on him the decoration of the Order of the Red Eagle. Two years later he visited Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. His fame had preceded him, and ovations met him everywhere, especially at the schools of learning. But long-continued suffering had undermined his strength and the end was near. A slight cold contracted in the middle of the winter of the next year developed into pneumonia and after a few days of suffering it terminated fatally. He died at his home in Berlin 65on February 12, 1834. The friends who were present often spoke of the deathbed scenes. Some of his utterances may be recorded here. At one time, just after recovering from the effects of laudanum, calling his wife to his bedside, he said, “I am, in fact, in a state between consciousness and unconsciousness, but inwardly I enjoy heavenly moments. I feel constrained to think the profoundest speculative thoughts and they are to me identical with the deepest religious feelings.” Near the last, he said, “I have never clung to the dead letter, and we have the atoning death of Jesus Christ, his body, and his blood. I have ever believed, and still believe, that the Lord Jesus gave the communion in water and in wine.” (The physician had forbidden him to use wine.) After receiving the assent of the friends present he added, “Then let us take the communion: the wine for you, the water for me. . . . . Let no one take offense at the form.” Then he calmly gave to each the bread and wine with the usual words and, taking the bread and water for himself, said soliloquizingly: “On these words of the Scripture I rely; they are the foundation of my faith.” After pronouncing the benediction he said to his wife, “In this love and communion we are and ever will remain united,” and in a few moments expired. It is significant of his attitude in religion that his deep regard for the Supper and for the communion of believers appears at the very close of his life.

The news of his death caused profound sorrow everywhere and was regarded as a national calamity. 66 He was buried like a Prince of the country. Thirty-six of his students shared among them the honor of bearing his body to the cemetery. The carriages of the king and the crown prince led the long procession of mourners, shop-windows were closed, and thou sands of Berlin’s weeping citizens lined the march. The sight was a tribute to his own simple greatness and at the same time a proof of that deep spiritual sympathy of the German people that has made so many of her university professors the teachers of the world.

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