2010 KBBC: Week 1, Day 1

…ich immer nur habe sein wollen ein Diener
des göttlichen Wortes in freudigem Geist und Sinne…

--F.D.E. Schleiermacher, Sermon at Nathanael’s (his son) grave on 1 Nov 1829

Schleiermacher and Barth:
On Theology as the Science of the Divine Word

By: Matthew J. Aragon Bruce

Von Balthasar writes: “Schleiermacher gave Barth a powerful intuition into the unity, grandeur and totality of theology as a scientific discipline” (Theology of Karl Barth (1992), 199). With this, von Balthasar proposed that Barth’s thought exhibited a degree of genetic dependence on that of Schleiermacher at both a formal and material level. The concern of this essay is not to inquire into such genetic dependence, but with the phrase “theology as a scientific discipline.” How did these two modern theologians conceive of theology, and in particular dogmatics, as a “scientific discipline”? What is the nature and task of theology under the conditions of modernity, conditions prominently marked by the ascendancy of “science” and the modern research university?

I: Schleiermacher

In §1 of his Brief Outline (1830) Schleiermacher writes: “Theology… is a positive science,” i.e. “a compendium of scientific elements which have their common bond not as if they form a necessary component of the organization of the sciences by virtue merely of the idea of science, but only in so far as they are required for the accomplishment of a practical task.” With the adjective “positive,” Schleiermacher defines theology as a practical science, i.e. a critical inquiry that cultivates human knowledge for the purpose of addressing practical individual and social needs. The elements of theology (Schleiermacher has in mind all of aspects of the four theological fields and not simply systematic theology or dogmatics) are bound together as a science not by virtue of the idea of science, but by the task that theology seeks to achieve, viz. the training of Church leaders for the task of proclamation. The conception of “positive science,” though it has earlier precedents, emerges in large part in the midst of the foundation of the University of Berlin, an event in which Schleiermacher played a central role. Moreover, the question concerning the scientificity of theology has continued to be shaped in conversation with the role of theology in the university until today. It is thus necessary to examine Schleiermacher’s notion of science in light of the developments surrounding the formation of the university and the reform of the German educational system in the early 19th Century.

Schleiermacher borrows the definition of a “positive science” from the idealist philosopher F.W. J. Schelling. In his 1802 Lectures on the Method of University Studies, Schelling develops a philosophy of education founded on the notion of science as an “organic whole” and thus a collective undertaking in which all members of the scientific or university community are involved. This is in contrast to the current understanding of the sciences as distinct, relatively independent fields of inquiry. For Schelling and Schleiermacher, on other hand there are not sciences per se but only science, for “the more something is treated in isolation, the more incomprehensible and convoluted it appears” (Gelegentliche Gedanken über Universitäten in deutschem Sinn, in Ernst Anrich, ed. Die Idee der deutschen Universität (1964), 223). Each member of the academic community contributes her part to the whole, i.e. to the collective development of scientific knowledge. Schelling contended that it was the philosophy faculty alone (more akin to the liberal arts faculty in our day though heavy in what we call philosophy) that could put forth this vision of the unity of thought and impress it on young minds. It is no surprise then that theology and other “positive” faculties of the German Universities, law and medicine, were considered scientific not in themselves but only in their relation to philosophy. Philosophy, in this sense nearly synonymous with science, was considered the pure pursuit of knowledge for its own sake whereas the other faculties were designated “positive,” i.e. were undertaken out of practical concerns, viz. for the spiritual, moral, and physical health of the state. Schleiermacher’s treatise, Occasional Thoughts on Universities in the German Sense (1808), written specifically to address the foundation of the University of Berlin, contains, for our purposes here, only insignificant differences with Schelling. Both give the three positive faculties a place in the university because the state has an interest in the training of ‘instruments for the state’ (e.g. pastors, lawyers, and doctors), because the common good depended on these bürgerlich social roles (the positive faculties are what we today refer to as professional schools). The training of the individuals who will serve the state in such roles, so contend Schelling and Schleiermacher, should be shaped by science: “Without doubt such instruments should surely be formed by science… but science ceases to be science as soon as it is reduced to a mere means rather than promoted for its own sake” (Schelling, Vorlesungen über die Methodes des Akademischen Studiums in Schellings Werke (1958), 3.251). Their common argument is that the state should provide for and promote scientific knowledge pursued for its own sake, divorced from utilitarian concerns including those of the state. In so doing, the state will, contrary to common wisdom, gain the very thing it seeks from the university, citizens formed by science and as such equipped to be the very best of civil servants.

Both Schleiermacher and Schelling give theology a place in the collective whole of science but there were others that sought to exclude or severely reduce the role of theology in the new University. Schleiermacher’s defense of theology as a science must be understood in this light; he appeals to the common understanding of science as an organic, collective whole in order to argue for a place for theology in the university. Thus his definition of science is external to theology itself; theology is one part of the collective human enterprise of science. In this conception Barth and others will find resultant problems. Before turning to Barth however, it is still necessary to lay out the particulars of Schleiermacher’s understanding of theology as a science.

In BO §5, Schleiermacher writes: “Christian theology is therefore the compendium of scientific knowledge and techniques, without which the possession and application of a united leadership of the Christian Church, i.e. a Christian Church governance, is not possible.” Much criticism of Schleiermacher attacks at just this point. Troeltsch, upon whom Barth’s criticism is dependent, argues that Schleiermacher’s understanding of theology and especially dogmatics is merely an expression of the contemporary theologian’s personal belief undertaken in order to inform the preaching and teaching of the Church; as such, it cannot be designated scientific since “science… is concerned only with the general and universal” (Geesammelte Schriften 2 (1913), 516). This is the seed for Pannenberg’s criticism, which contends that Schleiermacher’s definition reduces theology to the practical task of church leadership and that this is tantamount to making the educational needs of church leadership determinative of the content of the Christian faith, at least as taught in the university (cf. Theology and the Philosophy of Science, 250-255). Pannenberg counters that the opposite is actually the case and that in fact the content and even the form of Schleiermacher’s work proceeds on just this basis contrary to his own definition. The danger Pannenberg sees in Schleiermacher’s supposed reduction is the risk that theology comes to be understood not as the search for the truth about God and God’s relationship with human beings, but rather as an ideology that defends the existence and interests of the Church and the educational needs of its leaders in a bourgeois society. Pannenberg’s interpretation is understandable as such Ideologiekritik justly takes to task much later 19th century thinking. Schleiermacher, however, is not susceptible to this charge.

In the explanation of BO §5, Schleiermacher writes that its content is already contained in §1. What he means by this is far from obvious and thus requires interpretive explanation. Recall §5: “theology is…the compendium of scientific knowledge and techniques.” Schleiermacher explains further that the Christian faith has no need for such a compendium but the Church does; this is supported by §3 where Schleiermacher states that theology is not the responsibility of everyone in the Church but rather those in leadership. Theology, in the sense of critical inquiry and it is this sense Barth has in mind in the discussion below, is essential for the life of the Church but not for the faith of the individual Christian – faith is a given, whereas theology is human reflection on this faith. We must ask, however, if this does not support Pannenberg’s criticism? It does not if Church leadership is understood, as with the Reformers, as the calling to a spiritual office rather than the as a legal hierarchical office for the establishment (sacramental or otherwise) and management of the institutional Church.

Such an interpretation enlightens our understanding of the Brief Outline, e.g. §11: “Every treatment of theological subjects as such…always belongs within the province of Church leadership.” All theological work is properly called “theological” only if it is undertaken for the sake of the Church. Theology for Schleiermacher is a Church discipline; it is the Church’s critical self-reflection on its own being and experience. It is the Church’s reflection on its own history in order to understand its present location and to guide it into the future. The theologian, be she a professor or pastor, is called to understand the place of the Church in history. This involves both knowledge of the Church’s past and also its contemporary form and doctrines, understood as the product of the Church’s historical development (BO §26). These two aspects, the past and present of the Church, are when taken together the sum total of historical theology, “the actual corpus of theological study” (BO §28) as well as “the indispensible condition of all reflective effort toward the further development [of Christianity]” (§70), i.e. the future of the Church (cf. §81).

The reason for Schleiermacher’s placement of dogmatics within historical theology should now be clear: “Dogmatic theology is the science of the system of doctrine prevalent in a Christian ecclesial community at a given time” (Der Christliche Glaube, §19; cf. BO §97, §195). Historical theology is divided into three sub-divisions: exegesis, dogmatics, and church history. Theology makes uses of the various historical tools available to other sciences in investigating the primal Church in which all ecclesial communions are rooted. Inquiry into the further development of the Church after the apostolic age is undertaken by Church History (the history of the Church as community) and the history of dogma (the history of the writings and teachings of the Church)

Dogmatics is that aspect of Christian theology which through critical inquiry into the history of the dogma, exegesis (for Schleiermacher unfortunately only the NT, a feature for which he must be faulted) and Church history – the three of which taken together form the sum total of the historical experience of the Church – explicates the contemporary doctrinal content that is prevalent in a particular ecclesial communion. Dogmatics is a descriptive discipline, which traces the history of doctrine to its contemporary state; it is “the systematic presentation of the doctrine that has currency at any given time” (BO, §97). The emphasis on the empirical, descriptive task of dogmatics, let alone its definition as “the science of the system of doctrine prevalent…at a given time,” once again brings Pannenberg’s criticism to the fore. Is dogmatics concerned with the truth, with the reality of God and God with humanity, or is it merely a description of what the church believes at a given time, rightly or wrongly? In other words, if dogmatics is descriptive, does it have the ability criticize and correct “the system of doctrine prevalent in a Christian ecclesial community at a given time”? And if it does, how and on what basis?

According to Schleiermacher the historical material of Christianity is the basis of theology and in particular dogmatics. Thus, knowledge of the present moment is the most significant aspect for Church leadership, for the very reason that it is that from which the future of the Church will develop. Historical theology is the discipline which, when it functions properly, exerts a “right and appropriate influence upon both the healthy and diseased conditions” of the contemporary ecclesial community (§81). The present state of the Church, however, can only be understood from its past. As the Church is “occupied in the process of expansion,” and continually comes to contact with other social forces, it is necessary to ascertain the purest perspective possible of its distinctive nature. This is possible only though knowledge of “primitive Christianity (§84).”

Schleiermacher’s development of the tripartite form of historical theology is in large part behind the 19th Century obsession with the “essence of Christianity.” Schleiermacher approaches this issue through ecclesiology. Some explanation is needed here. The science of theology as a whole is also organized triadically; the three sub-divisions are philosophical theology, historical theology, and practical theology. In his treatment of philosophical theology, Schleiermacher lays the ground for his ecclesio-centric theology. The task of philosophical theology (we must set aside all contemporary meanings of the term) is to determine the nature of Christianity by contrasting it with other religious communities (§32). In addition, philosophical theology has the task of determining what developments in the historical expression of Christianity are in accord with its essence and what developments are derivations and therefore “diseased conditions.” Philosophical theology is thus neither a purely scientific nor a purely empirical practice, rather it proceeds critically by comparing what is historically given in Christianity to both other religions and, in light of the current division of the Church, the theologian’s own confession in comparison to other confessions. Philosophical theology is also a historical discipline, for it “presupposes the material of historical theology as already known; its prior task, however is to lay a foundation for the properly historical perspective on Christianity” (§65). This feature of philosophical theology is made explicit in Glaubenslehre, §11: “Christianity is a monotheistic faith…and is essentially distinguished from other such faiths by the fact that in it everything is related to the redemption accomplished in Jesus of Nazareth.”

The essence of Christianity, the Christian form of piety, is faith in Jesus Christ as the redeemer: the historical fact upon which the Church is founded, the concreteness of the Christian experience, is faith in Christ the redeemer. Or perhaps better put, the material principle of the Christian theology is the feeling of absolute dependence upon Christ; this feeling is what makes a person a member of the Christian Church. The often misunderstood “Introduction” and its “borrowed propositions” in the Glaubenslehre is better understood in this light. Schleiermacher is not trying to base the veracity of the Christian faith in either speculative deduction or rational proof. Rather his aim is to give a description – description here needs to be understood as the verbal articulation of the feeling of absolute dependence upon Christ – of the Church’s experience of its faith in Christ. He does so by placing Christianity alongside other forms of religious consciousness in order to demonstrate and describe what makes it distinct from other religions. Schleiermacher’s notion of the feeling of absolute dependence is an abstraction from particular forms of religious consciousness. He does not hold that there is a religious consciousness in general, a general feeling of absolute dependence, but rather that we can artificially abstract similar features found in all human forms of religious consciousness. For Schleiermacher, all religions demonstrate some form of absolute dependence. The distinctive Christian form is the redemption accomplished in Jesus Christ.

Schleiermacher’s aim is not to determine the essence of human religiosity, but to describe the essence of Christianity. In doing so he found it necessary to inquire into the origins and subsequent development of the Church’s faith, i.e. to make clear its distinctiveness. This critical inquiry, along with the tools of modern historical consciousness developed in the modern sciences, make possible scientific description of the Christian faith’s essence, and in turn allow for the continual critical development of doctrine and judgment about appropriate and “diseased” developments of the Church’s faith. The Church for Schleiermacher “is a being in becoming, in which the present must always be grasped as a product of the past and as a seed of the future,” (BO 1811, §33). Schleiermacher conceives of dogmatics as the theological science based on this concept of the Church. It is the discipline that learns from exegesis and the church history about the past dogma of the Church and in this light informs Christian leaders of the current developed state of Christian doctrine, giving them tools to judge the appropriateness of such judgments and to continue along such paths or initiate reform in order to serve the future Church. The Church is a product of history; it has developed and will continue to do so. As it moves through time, the Church must borrow language from its historical context to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is because its message, like the God in Jesus Christ who proclaims it to the Church and world, is not static but alive. The Church for Schleiermacher is a being in becoming, a community that continues to be formed by the living God. Theology is scientific to the degree that it functions as the community’s critical self-reflection as it continues to develop in conformity to the living Word of God.

II: Barth

The treatment of Barth is more brief as I assume readers of this blog will 1) be more familiar with Barth’s thought and 2) more likely to be sympathetic to the great Basler than the great Berliner; Schleiermacher simply needed more unpacking to give him a fair hearing. I’ve restricted the discussion of Barth to §1.1 and §7.2 of the Church Dogmatics; leaving aside both the details of his debate with Heinrich Scholz and any questions of development in the latter volumes of the Church Dogmatics.

I take it as uncontroversial that there is little disagreement between Barth and Schleiermacher that theology is a science (CD I/1, 3) that serves the Church’s task of proclamation. The necessary question is: Does Barth understand theology to be a science in the same sense as Schleiermacher? At the beginning of the CD, Barth writes: “Theology as a science…is a measure taken by the Church in consideration of the vulnerability and responsibility of its speech” (4). For Barth, the scientificity of theology is directly related to the Church’s critical self-reflection and examination of its God-talk and the Church and creation’s relationship with God. As we turn to Barth then, it appears at first glance that he shares Schleiermacher’s conception of theology as a positive science, i.e. as a science motivated by a particular practical task.

Looking at §1.1 and §7.2, Barth gives six principles for the scientificity of theology, and dogmatics in particular; these are summarized below.
  1. Theology is concerned with truth; with the designation ‘science’ it recognizes that it shares this concern for the truth with other human disciplines that are classified by tha designation. Consciousness of this similarity reminds theology that it too is a human discipline and that it is not superior because of its subject matter. “Dogmatics is in fact an ars among artes,” (284).
  2. By not giving up the designation science, theology protests against “a general concept of science that is admittedly pagan” (11). By its very presence, theology unsettles the confidence of the modern scientists and fellows of the research university who are self-assured in their understanding of science.
  3. By adopting the designation science, theology demonstrates that it does not take the paganism of such an understanding (in 2.) seriously, but rather counts these persons as part of the Church in spite of their refusal of the theological task and their adoption of a definition of science which excludes theology. Theology does so because it believes in God’s justification of sinners.
  4. Theology is scientific only if it is devoted to Church proclamation, i.e. devotion to the task or act of Church proclamation and not ancillary issues that arise relative to proclamation. Inquiry into the realm of knowledge of theology that is not motivated by the task of proclamation is unscientific. In short, “Dogmatics is preparation for Church proclamation, it formulates the statements to be pondered before Church proclamation formulates its statements. But it is by this relation that that statements of dogmatics are to be tested” (280). In other words, theology informs the task of proclamation but, if its statements are unintelligible to the preparatory task of proclamation, it is unscientific.
  5. Theology is scientific only if it is devoted to the development (in Barth’s terms, “criticism and correction”) of Church proclamation rather than the mere repetition of some classical historical expression of the Christian faith. The scientific character of dogmatics, “consists in unsettling rather than confirming Church proclamation” in either its past or contemporary forms. Historical and contemporary accounts of Christian dogma are only a means to an end. Barth terms a theology that simply conforms to some past or present understanding of the Christian faith as “comfortable [bequem].” A comfortable theology is an unscientific theology. The question put to dogmatics, writes Barth, is “Whether dogmatics should be a part of Church history, or a part of current ecclesial affairs, or whether it is itself a part of church action. Only in the final case is it a science in the sense of its assigned task,” (282). Barth is critical of Schleiermacher on this point: he ranks Schleiermacher’s dogmatics as merely the “clarification and presentation of the faith as the dogmatician concerned personally thinks it should be proclaimed” (p. 281). Barth contends that Schleiermacher reduces theology to a concern with current ecclesial affairs and to this he writes: “one might ask whether here all the criticism and correction amounts to, and wants to amount to, a grandiose conformity” (282).
  6. Decisively, and above all else, theology is scientific only when it asks whether or not the Church’s proclamation agrees with the revelation testified to in Holy Scripture. Scripture is the criterion of theology and must not be usurped by or confused with other subsidiary criteria. Theology stands or falls to the degree to which Scripture is made the standard of the Church’s proclamation. However, the theologian must have an education in and be familiar with other sciences, viz. philosophy, psychology, history, etc. “The dogmatician also,” writes Barth, “must think and speak in a particular age and should thus be a person of his or her age, which also means a person of the past that constitutes his or her age, i.e. an educated person. But no element of his or her education makes a person a dogmatician besides the one that is not provided in all those disciplines, which consists in unsubstantiated and unassuming regard for the sign of Holy Scripture around which the Church gathers and becomes the Church again and again” (283). Theology is more than a mere ars among other artes. Theology is autonomous and this means that it is free from any definition of science coming from other disciples. Theology is the science of the Divine Word testified to in Holy Scripture. To the degree that it pursues its own special path of knowledge defined by the object testified to in Scripture it self-defines as a science. When theology takes as its primary criterion something other than the self-revelation of God which God makes available in Holy Scripture, it is rightly judged to be unscientific.

III: Theses on the Similarities and
Dissimilarities of Barth and Schleiermacher

Thesis I: Barth and Schleiermacher share a notion of theology as a “positive” science and of the material content of this science. For both, theology is not a science pursued for its own sake; rather, it is the science of Church proclamation. It is the science that forms and continues to inform Church leaders by enabling them to hear and proclaim the Divine Word revealed to the Church.

Thesis II: Furthermore, both understand theology as a part of the whole, a particular realm of inquiry with an overall coherent discipline (Schleiermacher) or a science among the sciences (Barth). Theology is a human discipline and should not be exalted above the other sciences because of its subject matter. This also means, however, that the other sciences likewise have no basis to exalt themselves over theology. Differences remain however. For Barth, the other sciences have no basis to exclude theology from the scientific table because it does not conform to some a priori definition of what constitutes a science. For Schleiermacher, theology, as knowledge of the community’s faith and of the being of God, is part of the general theory of science.

Thesis III: Barth’s material criticism of Schleiermacher is inaccurate. His conception of the scientificity of theology is not, as Barth claims, the particular theologian’s concern for what should presently be proclaimed. Like Barth, Schleiermacher conceives of theology as the Church’s critical self-reflection upon its continual reception of the revelation of the Divine Word. Questions remain as to the location of the Church’s reception of revelation. For Barth, this location is clearly the witness of Scripture whereas for Schleiermacher the location is in the Church where the inherited tradition, including Scripture, is developed. The role of Scripture in theology had often been put forward as a primary dividing line between Schleiermacher and Barth in the scholarly literature. However, when the role of the Spirit is taken into account, particularly in the case of Schleiermacher, it appears the two are far closer than one might expect. While this claim is unsubstantiated here, it cannot be denied that Barth developed the received tradition with just as much freedom as did Schleiermacher. The question of the Spirit and Scripture is a clear area for future scholarship to pursue in comparing Schleiermacher and Barth.

Thesis IV: Schleiermacher’s understanding of science is rooted in the rapid social developments that led to the formation of the University of Berlin. More precisely, his conception of the scientificity of theology is, from a contemporary standpoint, unduly motivated by the concern to guarantee theology a place in the university. In order to secure a place for theology it must be defended as an essential element in the complete system of science. This requires a general theory of science, i.e. an overarching conception of science that organizes the “sciences” into a complete system with theology having a particular place within the system. The nature and task of “science” is defined a priori, i.e. prior to the actual practice of theology or any other of the individual sciences. For Barth, this will not do. On the contrary, a science is a human inquiry in which the norms that make it a science emerge only in the act of theologizing. As distinctly human disciplines, the standards of the various sciences are created in the act of the particular domain of inquiry: “No science holds the lease rights to the name ‘science’ and there is no scientific theory which the final authority to grant or withhold this title” (CD I/1, 10). For Barth, such the determination of what is a science cannot be defined transcendentally, i.e. prior to the actual practice of theology (or any other science). Thus according to Barth, when it comes to judgments about the scientificity of theology – if I might borrow a phrase from Schleiermacher – “beginning in the middle is unavoidable” (Dialektik (2001), 1.353). Barth defends this view of science in order not to concede even an inch to the “pagan” sciences in regard to the scientificity of theology. This in part explains Barth’s ultimately unsatisfactory treatment of the role of theology in the university; he would not allow it to be judged by anything but methods appropriate to its object, and it must be admitted that if God is the object of theology, then theology is unique in comparison to the other sciences and has a likewise unique and somewhat uncomfortable and even disruptive role in the university. And this is the very role in which Barth envisioned its continuing practice in the academy. It is up to the contemporary generation of theologians to continue to define theology’s rule in the university without forgetting that our task is primarily in service to the Church’s proclamation that God is for us in Jesus Christ.
By Matthias Gockel

Matt Bruce has chosen a central topic for the discussion about Barth and Schleiermacher. His method is exemplary in two respects. First, he presupposes that both men have something important to say to theology and the church today. Second, his interpretive maxim is that Barth’s reflections on Schleiermacher shall be evaluated on a case-to-case basis and independently from one’s own allegiance to one or the other side.

My response elaborates on central claims and topics, with the two-fold goal of delineating trajectories for future discussions as well as clarifying particular issues in the current debate about “Barth and Schleiermacher.”
  1. Connections between Schelling and Schleiermacher have been noted before, especially in regard to their affirmation of the “identity” of subject and object as the precondition of human knowledge and action. Matt Bruce suggests that they also share the idea of science as “an organic, collective whole.” This connection deserves further attention, since Schleiermacher himself uses the same image when he speaks of ethical concepts as forming an organic whole (Grundlinien einer Kritik der bisherigen Sittenlehre, 1802/3).
  2. In regard to the place of theology in the larger chorus of sciences, Schleiermacher and Barth agree that theology is “a part of the whole.” But the agreement extends even further, since Barth also assumes the “unity of all human strivings for knowledge” (Einheit aller menschlichen Erkenntnisbemühungen, KD I/1, p. 291), which he qualifies eschatologically.

    Barth calls theology a science because, like other sciences, it has a specific object and proceeds on a specific path, for which it can account to itself and to others (KD I/1, p. 6). Schleiermacher probably would not share Barth’s strict dissociation from a general concept of science, since he still could be more optimistic about the acceptance of theology in the general concert of sciences. Nevertheless, he also implies the criterion of Sachlichkeit (KD I/1, p. 292), when he says that the self-proclamation of Christ provides the “text” for dogmatic theology (The Christian Faith 1830/31=CF, §16.2).
  3. For Schleiermacher as well as Barth, theology is not purely constructive. It does presuppose certain “external” conditions. Its task, however, is not conceived a priori (unlike Matt’s concluding thesis IV), that is, in a speculative fashion. Theology is not a function of the state for the promotion of ‘civil religion,’ nor does it pursue the theoretical goals of a general science of religion
  4. .
  5. For Schleiermacher, dogmatic theology is descriptive in a critical sense, since it asks whether actual expressions of Christian piety correspond to “the basic teachings of our faith” (Brief Outline 1830=BO, §206). Schleiermacher rejects a “servile comfort” that accepts everything, as long as it only is “edifying for many” (ibid.), and he affirms the possibility of “corrections and new developments of Christian doctrine” (CF, § 19.3).

    The critical quality of theology in Schleiermacher’s and Barth’s approaches is understood differently. This is mainly due to the diverse historical conditions. Systematically, they share a central assumption. This leads us to the next point.
  6. For Schleiermacher, dogmatic theology in the Western churches is either Protestant or Roman-Catholic. The Christian character of dogmatic propositions is determined by the latter’s correspondence to the New Testament (the “norm of Christian doctrine”), whereas their Protestant quality is determined by the relation to the Lutheran and Reformed confessions (CF, §27). The New Testament is at once the sufficient “norm of Christian doctrine” (CF, §131) and the “first member” (CF, §129) in the historical series of expressions of the Christian faith. Dogmatic propositions are verified (bewährt) by tracing back their content to the New Testament and by the overall coherence of their “scientific expression” (BO, §209).

    Barth defines the quality of dogmatic propositions according to the correspondence between the Church’s proclamation and the revelation attested to in Scripture. Such correspondence he calls “dogma.” The church must carefully distinguish between the Word of God and its own word. Scripture is authoritative in an indirect sense. Both Scripture and proclamation are dependent on revelation, not vice versa. The doctrine of revelation, which addresses the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Holy Spirit, is the basis of Barth’s doctrine of the three-fold Word of God.
There are, again, differences and similarities. Both theologians have in common an emphasis on the evangelische character of their theology, thus their confessional preference for the Reformed tradition is relative. The most interesting similarity may be the priority of Christ (Schleiermacher) or revelation (Barth) over Scripture.
--We’re making this into a book! Please donate.


Many thanks to Matt and Matthias for getting us off to a great start!

How one answers the question of whether and how theology is a science is very important for one’s theological methodology, I think, and it is also a function of how one conceives of theology’s public character (if at all). TF Torrance’s Theological Science is a good read on this stuff, although he’s coming at things from a different context in terms of the philosophy of science.

More specifically – Matt, I think your third thesis is very important. Too often we assume that Barth and Schleiermacher mean vastly different things, and as you indicate, it is sometimes Barth’s fault that we think this because he seems to have gotten Schleiermacher wrong! We can’t forget that Barth, especially earlier in his career, viewed Schleiermacher primarily in terms of the regnant liberal theology that he was intent on rejecting, and this certainly colored his interpretation.

Matthias, your fourth point sounds very interesting, and I would love to hear more about the differences in theology’s critical quality for Barth and Schleiermacher.
Matthew & Matthias,

This is a superb start to the blog conference! Thanks for this deeply informative discussion.

Matt, you mention in II.6 on Barth that his understanding of theology as science is "defined by the object testified to in Scripture." I wonder if we can clarify the extent to which this constitutes a departure from Schleiermacher.

Bultmann makes this point in his Theologische Enzyklopädie (ET What Is Theology?), where he writes concerning Schleiermacher: "Accordingly [for Schleiermacher, the positive character of theology as science is in no way constituted by its object, but by its purpose. ... Theology, then, does not at all begin with itself, that is, with its particular object." That is to say, insofar as theology is a science, Bultmann says, "it has no churchly character," because "its propositions belong to other sciences," viz. philosophy, history, etc. What makes science specifically theological is not a unique object but rather the employment of science for the sake of "the practical aim of church leadership."

What would you make of this claim?
ken oakes said…
I think the question of the scientific nature of theology is an important, even if prolegomenal one. Also important here is some attention to Barth's own development, as for the early Barth (circa 1909), the last thing theology could possibly be is scientific (wissenschaftlich) given that the standards of Wissenschaft demand a kind of nomological character which faith, religion, and revelation, as free acts of God within the individual believer, cannot provide. (Clifford Anderson, of course, has traced all of this in his PTS dissertation on Barth's view of science.)

Barth starts calling theology a science in the early 1920's, plays around with it somewhat in the Goettingen Dogmatics, and the Christliche Dogmatik, and then brings it back in CD I/1. Yet even in CD I/1, Barth is fairly unattached to calling a science, as this might be an apologetic gesture best left untouched. (And here Torrance might be pushing this line harder than Barth would.)

FWIW, I think one of the clearest examples of Barth, Schleiermacher, and Wissenschaft is 1930 (1929?) lecture 'Theologische und Philosophische Ethik' in which Barth specifically discusses his and Schleiermacher's view of theology as a positive science.
Bobby Grow said…
I get the impression that Schl. seeks to explain the scienticity of theology for primarily apologetic concerns (by trying to keep its place in the university); while Barth seeks to avoid this by couching its activity in the church, thus speaking of theological science as primarily offering a prophetic office towards the "other sciences."

In other words, it seems as if they have different starting points relative to their audiences (Schl. the academy [first] and Barth the church [first]). Although I'm not sure, just a general observation based upon my reading here.
Jon Coutts said…
Thanks for this Matt and Matthias. I was particularly intrigued by point #3 from Barth in which it was said that theology counts those whose view of science excludes theology as "part of the Church in spite of" it--"because it believes in God’s justification of sinners." That seems really important.
Andrew Esqueda said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Esqueda said…
Matt, this is a fine paper. I too think your third thesis is quite important and I applaud you for identifying Barth's interpretive mistake. I also think your suggestion for future research regarding Barth and Schleiermacher on scripture and the Spirit is a good one--it would be a fascinating study to undertake.

Matthias, thanks for your comments and further elucidation on the similarities and differences between Barth and Schleiermacher.
Justin Stratis said…
Thanks Matt for a great paper. It’s a thing of beauty to watch you maneuver with such ease through Schleiermacher’s texts – I do hope I can learn to do that when I grow up!

I think one of the reasons why Schleiermacher refused to exclude theology from the general sphere of the sciences had something to do with the fact that, for him, theology is essentially a matter of thinking; it is a receptive science as opposed to one which bears actively upon the external world (i.e., ethical sciences). If this is true, then theology is insufficiently comprehensive to warrant placing it above or outside of the other sciences, since what it does is a) attendant to only one half of reality and b) formally the same as other receptive sciences. (I’m getting this from the tail end of the transcendental part of the Dialektik, can’t remember which paragraph).

Nevertheless, there is, I think, a sense in which Schleiermacher’s account of the finite (=the purview of the sciences) is fundamentally religious to the extent that it issues from an account of the unity of the subject according to feeling. Inasmuch as the other receptive sciences endeavor to reflect a world whose reality is established by a faculty whose purest expressions are unavoidably religious, perhaps one could say that religion really does establish the sciences – even if it does this for theology in much the same way as it does for chemistry.

Of course, all of this trades on a careful distinction between feeling as the original ground of religion and theology as the merely discursive side of a life lived in communion with God. In light of such a distinction, it is religion which always leads, never theology, and this naturally may be too much ground for theology-lovers to concede (keeping in mind, as you point out, there is really no such thing as “religion” considered abstractly and for the sake of analysis).

In any case, thanks again. Great to see Schleiermacher headlining such an august conference (as, incidentally, he should for all conferences without exception and perhaps by force).
mjabruce said…
@ David; RE: Bultmann: On my reading at least of both Schleiermacher and Barth contend that God-talk or anything else is only properly “theology” when it is in service of proclamation. Thus if we engage in talk about the being and attributes of God or human moral agency or the sacraments or what not for any purpose that is not ultimately directed to the task of proclaiming the Gospel we may be engaged in something “scientific” but this is not theology, but rather philosophy or religious studies or history to which we cannot affix the adjective “theological.”

The question to put back to Bultmann is whether or not theology as a discipline that informs proclamation cannot properly be called a “churchly science?” I read both Barth and Schleiermacher as articulating an understanding of theology that is largely congruent with Thomas (in Summa Theologiae, Prima pars, q.1): theology is the science whose object is God (a. 7), undertaken in the light of divine revelation for the purpose of making known God’s work on behalf of human salvation (a.1). As such, theology, to the degree that it is itself concerned with making clear God’s action on behalf of salvation, is a science in which the theoretical (what Thomas calls “speculativa”) and the practical come together (a.4), as it both informs proclamation (i.e. is the theory of proclamation) and is itself proclamatory. The propositions of theology do not belong to other sciences or remain merely “borrowed” to the degree that theology treats them, and as such transforms them, in the light of divine revelation.
mjabruce said…
Thus, @ Ken, Barth is rightly worried about terming theology wissenschaftliche if this means theology must submit to an a priori and non-theological definition of science. So @ Bobby, Barth is worried that Schleiermacher unduly privileges such a definition of science in his defense of theology as a university discipline. But as I tried to make clear, Schleiermacher is concerned to give theology, as a churchly discipline, a place in the university. His argument is that to the degree that the State runs the university and is also – as a Christian state (and Schleiermacher is aware of the problems here) – involved with the Church and its task of proclaiming the Gospel it has an interest in the proper preparation of its leaders (i.e. those in “official” roles tasked with proclamation). Schleiermacher’s argument is “apologetic” in that he’s trying to defend the presence of theology in the university to the powers that be. He does because he’s worried that if theology is pushed out and is undertaken in a stand-alone academy (such as a private seminary like that to which I currently belong) there is a threat that it will become ghettoized and out of touch with the culture at large. Moreover, while there is such a thing as “theological” ethics there is not “theological” chemistry or medicine or auto-repair. To the degree that such knowledge is part of the whole of a scientific grasp of the natural world, its something human beings strive to know, including theologians as proclaimers of Jesus Christ. In short, like Barth, he thinks preachers need to know the both the world and the particular culture in which they are tasked to proclaim the Gospel, and thus need to know e.g. the literature and philosophy of this culture and natural laws of this world (cf. Matthias, 2nd point).
mjabruce said…
I think this puts me in large agreement with the first paragraph of Justin’s post. As to the second paragraph I can only say “yes, but…”. Schleiermacher like Barth understands theology to be critical of the religious outlook on the world in light of divine revelation, but no doubt his criticism is not as pointed.

Penultimately two points of miscellany:
1) Thanks Ken for drawing my attention to Barth’s lecture “Theologische und Philosophische Ethik.” I’ve not read this. FWIW, our conference conveners requested us to limit our posts to 3000 words. At already well over 4000, I was not able to touch upon anything other than the KD. And to attempt to articulate Barth’s early work would have involved me in merely repeating the, which you mentioned, magisterial work of Clifford Anderson.

2) I noticed an unfortunate error of editorial conflation, for which I take sole responsibility. In my thesis 4, it states “a science is a human inquiry in which the norms that make it a science emerge only in the act of theologizing.” This should read something like: “ a science is a human inquiry in which the norms that make it a science emerge only in practice, thus the norms of the science of theology emerge only in act of theologizing and not prior to its practice.

Finally, my thanks goes to my respondent Matthias for his concise yet penetrating response. My own desire to bring together these two Reformed giants was in large part been inspired by his work. You should all read his book! He is surely right to point out that there is further agreement between Barth and Schleiermacher in regard to the place of theology in the larger chorus of the sciences. And I wholeheartedly concur that Schleiermacher does not understand theology to serve the promotion of a state “civic religion.” But if I can push back slightly, it still seems to me that to the degree Schleiermacher disagrees with Barth’s “strict dissociation [of theology] from a general concept of science” he in some sene introduces a priori methodological procedures for theology’s pursuit of knowledge of its object, the God made known in the resurrected Christ. And such an object must surely be pursued along lines that appear unusual or “special” when compared to objects of the created world.

(It appears there is character limit, hence the multiple posts)
Wow Matt! Thanks for that.

As to the suspicion of a character limit on comments - I've never run into that issue before, and I am looking into it. If possible, I will remove it. In the meantime, it is likely best to prepare comments in a word processor rather than composing them in your browser window.
Bobby Grow said…

There is a character limit with blogger, that's one of the reasons I ditched it in favor of wordpress.
Thanks for the intel, Bobby. Haven't run into that problem at past blog conferences, so it must be new(ish). Oh well. Iacta alea est!
Bobby Grow said…

Thank you for clarifying that point. You were clear, I was unclear --- as I read it right out of bed this morning ;-) --- you've provided really helpful and precision nuance to this often times "reduced" issue of continuity/discontinuity between Schl./Barth (the issues I'm primarily dealing with are similar, but different virtuosos --- Calvin and the post-Reformed orthodox).

Thanks for the helpful response. Bultmann most definitely agrees with Barth and Schleiermacher that theology exists for the sake of the church's proclamation. But he would insist, with Barth, that what makes theology the "science of God" is that it is faithful reflection on this unique object (viz. God). But the question that Bultmann wants to ask is this: does theology have a knowledge that is unique to theology alone? From his point of view, Schleiermacher's understanding of theology takes the knowledge gained from other sciences and then orients it toward a practical purpose - and it is this practical application that makes this science "theological."

Another way of putting this is to ask what the relation of faith is to theology as a science. Can we identify the object of theology apart from faith? Bultmann sees in Schleiermacher an affirmative answer to this question, whereas he would argue (and here he would also claim Barth as an ally) that the object of theology is known to faith alone.

Does putting it in those terms help to clarify the issue?
scott said…
I think David's last query is a crucial one, as it ultimately requires theologians to ask (of both thinkers, and of theology as such) what the force of invoking theology as a "scientific" discipline is, in the first place.

If the "object" of inquiry itself is known only in a particular mode (faith/fulness, or whatever), then you either have to develop criteria by which faithful knowing (in whatever discipline) is discerned -- in which case all other 'instances' of knowing are non-scientific -- or you have to end up talking much more about particular or contextualized modes of knowing (philosophical, biological, political, etc) that are not always and everywhere subsumed within the baseline discourse of "science".
Puffer said…
M Bruce,
I am struck by the references to Thomas’s prima pars -- how does his understanding of theology as scientia and sapientia (a.7) map onto KB here? Would KB reject this distinction? Refer wisdom to God's primary objectivity? Place wisdom in the response of obedience?
Justin Stratis said…
On the relation between the claims of other sciences and theology, I think I would want to counter Bultmann’s objection more strongly. FS did not simply harness the content of general scientific knowledge for the sake of the church; on the contrary, it was Schleiermacher’s long-standing contention that there are no statements in the dogmatic portions of the Glaubenslehre which materially derive from other sciences. Whether or not this is an accurate claim, the fact that this was his stated intention bears significantly on his understanding of theology as a science among the sciences. Bultmann’s critique seems to assume both that the Introduction makes material dogmatic claims on the basis of the other sciences employed therein and that these claims wield an undue influence upon the rest of the book. Yet FS is clear both in the Lücke letters and in § 1 of Glaubenslehre II that the Introduction is not dogmatics and that its only function was to establish precisely what the object of theology is: the prevalent doctrines of a particular ecclesial community during a certain time. Only tangentially, then, do the Lehnsätzen serve the task of relating the discipline of theology to other scientific disciplines. Yet even if they do this, they do so only in terms of formal boundaries; in no way does Schleiermacher attempt to integrate the material contents of dogmatics with other disciplines (as was pointed out above). The material for dogmatics emerges not from other sciences and their inquires into their respectively diverse objects, but from Christian self-consciousness as the distinctive object of dogmatic science. (Incidentally, the fact that, for FS, all knowledge is part of an organic whole does not imply that a knowable object is accessible to every science without exception; some sciences are more appropriate than others in certain cases – which is one of the reasons why theology cannot be replaced by philosophy in the university).

Also, Matt, I’d like to muse a bit about your claim that both FS and Barth regard theology as “the science of God” (I think that’s what you’re saying – apologies if I’m suckily misreading you here). I think the fact that, for Schleiermacher, theology is NOT the science of God, but rather the science of that for which God may only function as the presupposition (i.e., pious self-consciousness), is what makes theology’s submission to a general scientific procedure less immediately horrifying to Barthian sensibilities. If Schleiermacher really did aim to speak of God by means of human concepts (a notion Barth defends in CD § 25), his procedure in the Introduction of trying to set apart the (divine) object of theology by means of other sciences really would be screwy, since in that case the knowledge of God would be circumscribed by generalities. But again – he’s not doing this – he’s simply trying to establish which religious utterances warrant integration into the singular dogmatic system he is about to assemble. As he says, ideally, a Glaubenslehre wouldn’t even have to mention the doctrine of God at all, i.e., the stuff of dogmatics is not God.

One final point. If God, for Schleiermacher, is fundamentally unconceptualizable (as he must be on the grounds of the feeling of absolute dependence – a point also argued for in the Dialektik), then it would seem that “God” cannot be integrated with other bits of knowledge. If God cannot be intergrated with other bits of knowledge, then the knowledge of God cannot be deemed scientific, since knowledge can only be recognized as such by means of conviction – something which is achieved by the interconnection of ideas. All of this adds up, I think, to the fact that Schleiermacher did not regard theology to be the science of God, but rather an enquiry into pious states of consciousness.

Sorry to go on like this – I’m just relishing the chance to talk about Schleiermacher with somebody (we don’t all go to PTS you know). Anyway, feel free to disintegrate my argument – just wondering what you think.
myleswerntz said…
The comments on the social location of revelation (eccesiology v. Scripture) were extremely helpful. As a Barth dilettante, I'm really looking forward to the rest of these.
Justin - It looks like you wrote 3 comments this morning; one comprehensive one which was then broken down into 2 smaller ones. No clue why you did it that way, but one of them was published while the other two went to the spam comment file. I've now restored the long, comprehensive one, and removed the other fragment comment that had been posted.

Sorry for this nonsense. Blogger is not making me happy this year.
Justin Stratis said…
Thanks Travis - yeah, as Matt mentioned, it wasn't allowing me to publish it all at once, and then it just started freaking out - thanks for clearing that up for me.
ken oakes said…
At least in the Goettingen Dogmatics, Barth explicitly denies that theology is 'a science of God' (it sounds too much like precritical metaphysics for him). Instead it is the science of preaching, subsequently glossed as the criticism of proclamation in the Christian Dogmatics and CD.
Matthias Gockel said…
I would like to reflect on three issues in more detail.

1) The critical function of theology as a positive science:

Both Barth and Schleiermacher believe that theology is a critical function of the church. For Barth, dogmatic theology is the “scientific self-examination of the Christian church” (KD I/1, par. 1). The object of criticism is primarily the Christian church and secondarily the tradition of Christian doctrine. For Schl., dogmatic theology is an inquiry into the correspondence of dogmatic propositions to the self-proclamation of Christ and the internal coherence of such propositions. He pursues primarily a critique of contemporary church teaching and secondarily a critique of the tradition of Christian doctrine.

Both regard theology as a positive science, which means it has a specific place in the life of the church, that is, the faith community constituted by revelation (Barth) or the self-proclamation of Christ (Schl.).

2) The object and task of theology:

For Schleiermacher, the object of theology is the determination of the believers’ God-consciousness through the redemption accomplished through Jesus. This view seems very similar to Barth’s idea of revelation as the object of theology (for both theologians, the term “object” does not imply “objectivity” in a direct, empirical sense).

For Schl., the first task of dogmatic theology is the exclusion of everything “heretical” and the preservation of the “ecclesial” (CF, par. 21). The “natural heresies” of Christianity are related to the understanding of human nature and of the person of Christ. The first issue has to do with the reception of redemption (with the extremes of Manichaeism and Pelagianism) , the second issue concerns the accomplishment of redemption (with the extremes of Docetism and Ebinoitism). How does this compare to Barth’s view of the classical heresies?

3) The scientific character of theology:

For Schl., the “scientific value” of dogmatic propositions consists, on the one hand, in the “definiteness” of dogmatic concepts and, on the other hand, in their “fruitfulness”, that is, the potential to open up connections with other, related propositions (CF, par. 17). For example, a dogmatic proposition about the person of Christ is most scientific when it implies connections with propositions about the antithesis of sin and grace. What would Barth say about the issue of “systematic coherence”?

For Schl., the “scientific” character of dogmatic theology consists in the “dialectical” character of its language and in its systematic coherence (CF, par. 28). It does not consist in the deduction of its propositions from logical principles (as in philosophical science) or in the presentation of external perceptions (as in historical science). Barth agrees.

It would be interesting to compare Schl.'s vision of the unity of knowledge and thus of science to Barth’s remarks about the unity of science as a problem, since Barth assumes that the particular sciences strive for and even realizes the unity of science in an “anticipatory way” (in his lecture about “Theological and Philosophical Ethics”, thanks to Ken for pointing out this essay).
Matthias Gockel said…

thank you very much for your kind words about my book!

I picked on your use of the word “a priori”, since it implies philosophical speculation, which Schl. seeks to avoid in his dogmatic theology.

You are certainly right that Schl. does work with or presuppose certain methodological procedures. But can we ever avoid doing theology this way? Even for Barth, theology is not identical with the Word of God. He does not simply “read off” the content of dogmatic propositions from the event of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
Matthias Gockel said…

I agree with your definition that for Schl. the object of theology is the Christian pious self-consciousness. Yet, I think you overstate your case when you say that God is not "the stuff of dogmatics".

Schl. rejects a doctrine of God only when it uses metaphysical concepts, because in this case it is separated from the realm “inner experience”. But a concept of God in relation to the redemption accomplished through Jesus of Nazareth, that is, a doctrine of God developed in the light of propositions about the person and work of Christ is certainly feasible on “Schleiermacherian” grounds.
scott said…

Given your helpful articulation of "the scientific character of theology" for these thinkers, could you (or someone else who knows FS) elaborate upon what is entailed in the "definiteness" of dogmatic concepts, which you pair with its coherence? Does "definiteness" have to do with material dogmatic statements being sufficiently determined by the theologian's consciousness of redemption, or something like that? If so, that would seem to require something like conceptual or propositional correspondence to a material principle (e.g., the truth of scripture/the act of revelation, etc). I'm trying to work out precisely what relation "definitness" (as a marker of theology's "scientific" character) bears to the "object and task of theology" -- i.e., the determination of the "believer's God-consciousness" by redemption.

I appreciate your clarification of the sense in which you understand FS/KB to consider theology as "scientific", but I guess I'm not convinced regarding the finality of the distinction you seem to want to draw between domgatics' "systematic coherence" (or fruitfulness as conceptual interconnections) and the methods of "philosophical science" (logical entailment of first principles).
Matthias Gockel said…

the term "definiteness" translates the German word "Bestimmtheit". In fact, it is not easy to translate and may sound awkward.

In this context, it simply means to explain the biblical images and stories as precisely and clearly as possible.
JohnO said…
Thank you for a very formative post. I have been looking for a good introduction into the thought of Karl Barth as his influence is undoubted. Unfortunately last year my history of systematics and philosophy class had to strike him from the course as we ran out of time.

The chief point that I got out of that course was the general shift from speculative deductions into the enlightenment period and theology becoming trapped and warped by the science so-proclaimed of the time. What theology could and could not do on the basis of epistemology and methods of science. We focused quite a bit on Kant and Schleiermacher, specifically what Kant enforced and what Schleiermacher gave up in reaction. So to hear Barth's stand on the matter of naming Theology as Science - yet retaining its otherness in method and goals - is good to hear. I think his argument for retaining that separation is philosophically sound (and I've also read it in Polanyi's Personal Knowledge in which all systems are necessarily constructed "from the middle").

Thanks again. Looking forward to reading more on Barth.

Popular Posts

So, You Want To Read Karl Barth?

So You Want to Read….Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

2010 KBBC: Week 1, Day 5

Karl Barth on Hell, the Devil, Demons, and Universalism – A Florilegium

2010 KBBC: Week 3, Day 1