A Conscious Perplexity: Barth’s Interpretation of Schleiermacher -- By: Daniel B. Clendenin

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 52:2 (Fall 1990)
Article: A Conscious Perplexity: Barth’s Interpretation of Schleiermacher
Author: Daniel B. Clendenin


A Conscious Perplexity:
Barth’s Interpretation of Schleiermacher

Daniel B. Clendenin

“Schleiermacher…I am dealing with him in a seminar with many boy and girl students and for the moment I am enjoying it (with the old love/hate and the even older hate/love).”1 Thus Barth described his “romantic relationship” with Schleiermacher in a letter to Carl Zuckmayer of May 1968, less than a year before he died. Indeed, Karl Barth and Friedrich Schleiermacher are widely regarded as two of the most important Reformed theologians of the last two hundred years (the latter being afforded a special dispensation by the Prussian throne to be Professor Extraordinarius at the formerly all-Lutheran faculty at Halle), and yet for many they symbolize two irreconcilable paradigms for doing theology.2 Recent years have witnessed something of a revival in Schleiermacher scholarship and especially in Barth’s interpretation of the latter. E. H. U. Quapp’s Barth Contra Schleiermacher (1980), Geoffrey Bromiley’s translation of Barth’s Göttingen lectures on Schleiermacher (1982), the American Academy of Religion’s sponsorship of a Barth-Schleiermacher Consultation in 1983, the recently published Barth and Schleiermacher: Beyond the Impasse? 3 and Edwin Mellen Press’s new project to publish a critical edition of Schleiermacher’s complete works all attest to this renewed interest.

The present essay examines Barth’s interpretation of Schleiermacher. To do this I will (I) present an overview of Barth’s five works on Schleiermacher; (II) summarize his main criticisms of Schleiermacher; and (III) suggest several questions for contemporary theology which result from this fascinating dialogue between two modern church fathers

I. Overview of Barth’s Publications on Schleiermacher

Barth wrote five pieces directly on Schleiermacher.4 Those are, in chronological order, his 1923–24 Göttingen lectures (never revised for publication); “Schleiermacher’s Celebration of Christmas Eve” (1924); “Schleiermacher” (1926), an address originally given at Münster which now appears with the second piece in Theology and Church; his chapter on Schleiermacher in Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century (1947); and his tantalizing “Concluding Unscientific Postscript” (1968). In considering these works we can say that, in general, Barth’s early treatments of Schleiermacher were quite vituperative and emotional, while his later writings reflect a more judici...

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