The Nineteenth Century Romanticism Idealism and Their Critics

The most influential of those variations comes from the other figure most often credited with setting the course of liberal theology, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) who, unlike Kant, was a theologian and churchman. Typically called the "father of modern Protestant theology," he was raised in a pietistic home and came of age as part of the early Romantic movement in Germany. His two major accomplishments, both concerned with the relation of theology to modernity, are associated with two quite different books. In 1799, while a part of the circle of young Romantic poets and philosophers, he published On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, in which he proposed a radically new view of religion as an immediate (pre-reflective) relation to the Universum or All that manifests itself in feeling - which he called the "feeling of absolute [or utter] dependence." This religious intuition is available to every human being; but in sharp contrast to the natural religion of the Enlightenment and to Kant's ethical religion, it is located in neither the intellect nor the will but in the affections. This universal experience of religion is to be distinguished from all the specific historical religions, including Christianity, yet at the same time it is the essential root of them all. In keeping with this view of religion, the Speeches are rhetorical and apologetic in style, seeking to evoke ("conjure") that spirit of religion in the hearts of his skeptical fellow Romantics, the "cultured despisers" of his subtitle.

Two decades later, as a professor in the newly founded Humboldt University of Berlin, Schleiermacher published a work of a very different style, his theological magnum opus titled The Christian Faith and known informally as the Glaubenslehre or "doctrine of faith." Despite the stylistic shift, The Christian Faith can be seen as Schleier-macher's attempt to interpret the doctrines of Christianity in accordance with the new concept of religion developed in the Speeches. In a lengthy introduction he classifies Christianity in relation to the other major religions of the world, from which it is differentiated by relating its experience of religion specifically to "the redemption accomplished in Jesus of Nazareth." Christian doctrines, on Schleiermacher's terms, are not metaphysical descriptions of supernatural reality but rather, verbal accounts of the uniquely Christian religious experience. This revolutionary turn in modern theology means that for the followers of Schleiermacher doctrines are descriptive not of God but of faith, or religious experience - though these theologians remain convinced that such theology is still indirectly descriptive of God.

Along with Kant and Schleiermacher, the third towering figure from this fertile period in German thought, G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831), gave a different but equally influential twist to the relationship of theology and modernity. A colleague and critic of Schleiermacher at the University of Berlin, Hegel represents the culmination of German Idealism, a movement that has its roots in Kant's practical philosophy, and which J. G. Fichte (1762-1814) and F. W. J. Schelling (1775-1854) developed into fullblown Idealist systems. By rejecting Kant's notion of a Ding an sich - the "thing in itself," which has reality apart from our knowledge of it - they argued in effect that all reason is practical reason, since it constructs its objects of knowledge, which can thus be accounted for without recourse to an ineffable and paradoxical Ding an sich. This move dissolves the dichotomy of subject and object into a concept of the absolute ego (das Ich, the "I" or self), which the Idealists identify as the first principle of philosophy. In Hegel's mature system, the culmination of German Idealism, ultimate reality is interpreted as the dialectical unfolding of God, or Absolute Spirit, through history in a process that is at the same time God's self-revelation and self-realization. To understand Hegel's view of theology and modernity, it is necessary to look at the final stages of this historical dialectic, which Hegel calls Absolute Spirit and distinguishes into the three domains of art, religion, and philosophy. Each of these, as a form of Absolute Spirit, contains the entire truth as its content; but only in the final transformation (Aufhebung) of art and religion into pure philosophy does the truth attain its perfect form. Art expresses the truth in sensuous forms; in religion, the next stage, the truth is expressed in ideas, but they take shape in imagination - sensuous images that represent the truth metaphorically or symbolically. Only at the pinnacle of the system does the truth achieve its purified expression in the pure translucent Concept, in which all traces of sensuality are left behind. Viewed from the perspective of Hegel's philosophy of religion, Spirit manifests itself in a history of different religious forms culminating in the Absolute Religion, which Hegel identifies with Christianity. By working out this vast and intricate system, Hegel sought to do for modernity what Thomas Aquinas had done for the medieval world: to produce a "modern synthesis" that would reconcile the truth of historic Christianity with the thought forms of the modern world. Not many subsequent thinkers are convinced that he succeeded, yet nearly all have been influenced by his way of thinking. And the immediate successors of Hegel, disagreeing about the meaning and significance of his philosophy, took modern religious thought in important new directions.

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Responses

  • Sven
    What is fichte magnum opus that contains the absolute ego?
    3 years ago

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