Full Text for Schleiermacher As Prophet: A Reckoning With His Christian View of History (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER EDITORIAL COMMITTEE ERICH H. HEINTZEN, Editor ~ ~ A Y M O N D F. SURBURG, Book Review Editw Davm P. SCAER, Associate Editor JOHN D. FRITZ, Associate Editor PRESIDENT J . A. 0. PREUS, ex officio Contents EDITORIAL LOUIS H. BET0 IvlEMORIAL LECTURE RICHARD R. NIEBURR, Professor of Divinity, Harvard University C. A. GAERTNER, Zion Lutheran Church, Dallas, T Indexed in INDEX TO RELIGIOUS ~ O D I C A L L r r ~ ~ ~ l ~ a a , American Theological Librmy Association, Speer Library, logical Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. of address should be sent to the Business Manager of The Sprhr rflrclii~ I'h~nlogical Seminary, Springfield, Illinois 62702. Address communications to the Editor, Erich H. Heintzen, logical Seminary, Sprin&eld, Illinois 62702. (ouis H . Beto Memorial Lecture Schleiermacher As Prophet: A Reckoning With His Christian View Of History Professor Richard Reinhold Niebuhr, an authority on the life zd thought o f Schleiermacher, became professor of divinity at Har- I?-d University in 1963. He is the author of SCHLEIERMACHER: N CHRIST AND RELIGION (1 964) ) and also wrote the Introduction THE CHRISTIAN FAITH by Sckleiermacher, published irz 1 963. ?fore joining the faculty o f Harvard University, Dr. Niebuhr served pastor of a CongregationaE church i~z Co~znecticzlt. He received e A. B . degree magna cum laude fronr Harvard in 1 94 7, the l3.D. Wee summa cum luude from Llnion Theological Seminary in 1950, td the Ph. D. degree from Yale University in 1955. OVENANTS ARE MADE in the ~vilderness. They come to fruition in new co~nrnonwealths and cities. But the "seed of braham" are a forgetful people. \Vhen they have become dwellers a place, i t has always been necessary for prticular men to call em to recollect their creation as a people bv God in n'iltlerness. ' ~ ~ ~ d i n g l y , a prophet has typically been one who comes into thc t~ f r o m the wasteland to delivcr his oracle: God does not dwell places, even in holy places. God moves like a pillar of fire, like a rd of armies, like an unnameable Being "abor~e the circle of the rth," bringing its princcs to nothing. IYhoevrr \rould call this :infZ Adonai cannot settle in his house or garden. He may only mP there a day or a generation, always ready for another journry. I f this image of covenantal religion as a nlovement forever k ing possession of new towns and nations suggests a likericss be- ,een Christianity and the great migrations that have for thousands yea r s affected the civilizations of Asia and I-:urope, it tltm so ' c ausc we have still to mention one more decisive featurc. Chris- ln i ty is primarily a movement in time rather than in spacc; it is a u rney ing from age to agee, more than from territory to territory. is a quit t ing of old ways, old custonis and rnannu-5 of s~cech for e sake of a new mind. I t is not a sacking of treasuries hut rather 66 p u t t i n g behind of what is past," a readiness to bc "slain all the ly long ," for the sake of what God a#ill do in the future. The mission of the pophct is to enter the city of habit* the 3ne fortresses of our accustonlcd wJays, and to nlelt them 'vith to our reco]]ections of God's rarlier mercies and with Percep- tions of his present majesty. W e have always acknowledged our dependence on such men, on Elijah of the desert, on the herdsman of Tekoah, on the Baptist clothed in camel's hair, and after them- in the age of the Spirit-on Ignatius of Antioch, Augustine of Africa, \Yycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin, and John Knox. But we have not customarily put Friedrich Schleiermacher, 3 man of modern times, into this company. Indeed, if anything, the fashion has been quite the opposite: to think of him stancling at the other extreme, as a sanctifier of the status quo, as an apologist for the culture of his day and so as a spokesman for. the German Christian establishment of the early 19th century, but not as a member of thc prophets' band. I wish, nonetheless, to review Schleiermacher's work as a prophet, not in order to raise him among those ancient fiery biblical and reformation figures who burned with the \Vord of God in their bones but rather to tcst and perhaps to enlarge our understanding of what Christian prophecy may be in modern times. 1. There is, however, an initial difficulty in this undertaking. I t is a difficulty present in the attempt to assess any man's right to the office of acknowledged prophet. For a prophet is a foreseer of future consequences of our present actions, a man possessing a preterna- tural clarity of vision. Me is not an astrologer. He docs not practice occult arts. His foresight is a moral foresight, resulting from his endowment with a steady and often painful sense of thc presence of God. Hence the prophet is, by any religious standards, a great man, a man whose personality is charged with an almost irresistible power. Accordingly, the difficulty that prescnts itself is this: Does a prophet justify his title in the eyes of others because he foresees so clearly what is to come? O r is the forcefulness of his own per- sonality the instrument that works the effects he has predicted? Does the future make the prophet, or does the prophet make the future because he is a &reat man? \Ve, therefore, have to ask whether we are tempted to make Schleiernlacher into a prophet because of thc clarity of his moral and religious perceptio~l of history or because of the extraordinary in- fluence he excrcised on later generations. 11s it happens, Schleiermacher himself was conscious of the general problem besetting us here: it is the issue of human greatness. What makes a Inan a "great man"? He delivered a public address on this subject on the occasion of King Friedrich \Vilhelm 111's birth- dav; alld in this address he suggested an answer that is relevant to our owl1 dilen~lna. 'The great man, Schleiermacher said, is one who wields a decisive moral influence upon his own people-a simple enough definition. But, then, to this he added a significant qualifi- cation: the grcat man is able to wield a dccisive influence on his comrades because he himself stands under the influence of the same spirit that inforins them. Greatness, in other words, is not an attri- bute of solitary individuals but is an attribute of a man truly belong- Louis H. Beto Memorial Lecture 9 1g to a People, receiving and sharing with that ~ e o p l e a determinate nd characteristic spirit that the great man himself then expresses 'ith a new clarity and vigor. He does not stand above the times t~anscend his fellow mortals; he recapitulates the times and gives 3 fils shared mortality a renewed awareness of its own responsibility nd destiny, its own unique and ~ ~ r e p e a t ~ b l e moment of history. Thus the antinomy between ~ r o p h e t and great man disappears. are different nan~cs for the mortal instruments that the Spirit m~loys , which broods over histor . On these terms, ~chleiex-macher lualifies not only as a great or in I uential man but as a prophet, for easons that I hope to persuade you are valid. 11. In physical appearance Schleiern~acher was not prepossessing. 'e a small man with a slight deformity. Oile does not picture 'fnl 'laying the priests of Baal. Yet his gaze was sharp and brought flscOmfort to those through whom he seemed to look. that he was a man who loved dotnesticity and prized his. place as husband and father. One doer riot easily imagine him 'at'ng locusts in the desert. Yet Sch]eiernlacber repeatedly risked his position, his reputation, and his safet).. He refrlsed to flee invading armies; he unhesitatingly criticized the King of Prussia in public; nwaI spies frequen tlV illfiltratcd his l a r ~ e con- gregatiolls ill his Berlin church to rr*poit his scdiiio~~s sentiments. Again, he was a gregarious inan, at llolllc in sophisticated and polite society, Wlliant and kvjttr ja collrermtion. It is hard to place Schlciermacher in the companv bf men of rustic sir~,plicit), 1ncl1 sut.11 were Some of the early prG,hets. yet hc \\.as the son of U n - pretentious family. He grew up ill the cultural isolation of Rlorarviall piety; his tutors forbad their students to wad the Ijteratl~re. P y t r Y ~ and criticisnl of the 18th Celltory German renaissance. Schlciermachcr canle to Berlin as a voung man 11c turned his aim- but deep pietjr into a trcnchallt c;lticism of the c fb te religion of the Berlin rolnagtics. Finall !., nearlv always p r o c ~ ~ t c d the \\'orld .? Countenance gr:verned br an unusual serenitv. When one looks at h i s likeness in portmit'nnd scu]phlre, one beholds fir1~111es~ Of purpose and It is dificult to criv~sion this man as given to moodiness, as the victiln of douht, as a nlth God. In t h ~ fachion of leremja)l ;,nd of many another prq)het. Yet not on1!' did religious dollbt infqict itqelf on the young ~chlciermac)ler; but throrlgh m u c h of his r n n t u r i t ~ a prrsentirnent of trial and disaster brooded in his mind, cspc~;ally a \ he contemplate(' present of France and the German I.ands. suhleicrmacher rebuked his friends for their conlp]acenc) In thcir donleqtjc tranquilitv. He admonished his that the Lln&dorn *' comes always throllgh strife and that the greatest strife Is of a with himself. The of Christ kvas a frequent theme of his sem,ons. ~ ~ 1 1 honor to s;ffering," he "'Ot' to a 6 d for in the present times it is a necessary element of a lnanly life. is not everyone to whom suffering does not come of itself obliged to go out into the great world to seek it in order that he may grow strong in love and faith?"' From all of these aspects of Schleiermacher we may at least conclude that this was a complex man. But these features still do not tell us that he was a prophet. For evidence to that end we must proceed farther. 111. There are three great ideas, three great perceptions, that gov- erned Schleiermacher's mind and make of him something like a prophet. The first is his insight into the meaning of the living word, both in daily life and in the life of personal and communal religion. I do not want to suggest that Schleiermacher resembles in any super- ficial fashion those men whom we identify today as theologians of the Word of God (of whom Karl Barth has been the foremost). I t is nevertheless true that he, like Luther and Calvin, regarded preaching as the chief instrument of God's work in men's hearts. He thought of himself as first and last a preacher, and he conceived of the office of preacher as the office that represents Christ in the age of Spirit. Christianity, said Schleiermacher, spreads over the earth by preaching and all Christian doctrine must justify itself by showing that it is derivable from the preaching and teaching of Jesus of N a ~ a r e t h . ~ Preaching was indeed for him, as it was for the Reformers, a virtual sacrament. A significant feature of Schleiermacher's perception of word and language is that he gave the highest place to the spoken rather than to the written word. Hence the church was for him not SO much the church of the Bible as it was the church of the continual repetition of Christ's proclamation. It is no wocder, therefore, that his favorite gospel was the gospel of John, the gospel that declares: "In the beginning was the Word." To Schleiermacher the word was the ~~cssel of life; and he carried this conviction not only into his work as ix pastor of the Ilreifaltigkeits I