F. D. E. SCHLEIERMACHER. Christmas Dialogue, The Second Speech, and Other Selections. Edited, translated, and with an Introduction by Julia A. Lamm. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York & Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014. Pp. 296. $29.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8091-4878-3. Reviewed by Richard B. STEELE, Seattle Pacific University, SEATTLE, WA 98119

Friedrich Schleiermacher’s dogmatic writings have always evoked passionate reactions from his readers. Some have loved them dearly, others have hated them fiercely, and still others (including, most notably, Karl Barth) have both loved and hated them with equal intensity. One expects readers of this new collection of Schleiermacher’s “spiritual” writings to respond—whether positively, or negatively, or ambivalently—with similar passion. And with good reason: Schleiermacher’s dogmatic writings foreground religious experience—or “piety,” as he customarily calls it—and tend to construe classical Christian truth claims as thematizations of various aspects of the believer’s religious subjectivity. What the present volume offers us is an assemblage of writings, from across Schleiermacher’s life and career, and in several different genres, which, on the one hand, demonstrate how his concept of “piety,” as a theological category, developed through his professional career, but which, on the other hand, illustrate the way in which his own religious consciousness unfolded in response to various cultural and intellectual currents and to events in his personal, professional and family life. This book thus lets us see the “subjective” side of this arch-theoretician of religious subjectivity, the close congruence between his theology and his own manner of experiencing and practicing his faith and sharing it with others.

The book opens with a lengthy introduction by Julia Lamm. It is a gem of interpretation, and well worth the hundred pages—fully one third of the volume—devoted to it. She gives us an outline of Schleiermacher’s life, an overview of his spiritual writings (including some not represented in this anthology), an account of how the art and act of writing was itself a spiritual exercise for this author, a lucid analysis of five key themes which suffuse these writings (“Christ and grace,” “the open, attuned heart,” “feeling,” “God, and “mysticism”), and brief notes on why she chose the specific texts she did for inclusion and how, in translating Schleiermacher’s writings into English, she sought to follow the principles and practices that he used in translating Plato’s dialogues into German. Withal, Lamm shows us that Schleiermacher’s work was not merely a reaction against the arid logic-chopping of post-Reformation Protestant scholasticism, or the rationalism of the German Enlightenment, or the Kantian reduction of faith to ethics. Rather, it reflected his deep appropriation of and critical engagement with the dialogical method of Plato, the mystical pantheism of Spinoza and the pietism of his Moravian upbringing, and expressed his own warm-hearted faith and natural conviviality.   

The works that Lamm has anthologized and elegantly translated for us here include Schleiermacher’s Christmas Celebration: A Dialogue (1806 ed.), the most characteristically “Romantic” of his works; the second of his five Speeches on Religion (1806 ed.), in which he develops his famous account of the essence of religion as “seeing everything in God and God in everything;” two sermons, one for Pentecost (1825) and one for the Second Sunday of Advent (1832); and six letters, dating between 1787 and 1818, which illuminate the theologian’s own spiritual development. Lamm’s notes to these works are exceptionally helpful: she explains the nuances of many technical German terms, especially those whose meanings have shifted in the intervening two centuries, and those (e.g., Gefühl = “feeling”) which her author invests with special significance or with various nuances in various contexts. She also takes careful note of changes in the texts of successive editions of his Dialogue and Speeches. But the translator’s critical apparatus never buries the reader with distracting and pedantic details: it always serves the purpose of elucidating the precise meaning of Schleiermacher’s text or identifying subtle developments in his thought. The book concludes with a short bibliography of German texts, prior English translations, and important secondary resources.

There are a few gaffes. Embarrassingly, the key word “spirituality” is consistently misspelled in running head of the odd-numbered pages of the introduction. And the bibliography omits reference to certain crucial, if admittedly older, scholarly studies, such as Barth’s Theology of Schleiermacher (a transcript of lectures delivered at Göttingen in 1923/24, published in 1978, and published in English translation in 1982) and Gerhard Spiegler’s Eternal Covenant: Schleiermacher’s Experiment in Cultural Theology (1967).

All in all, this book is a very welcome addition to the enormous literature on the Father of Protestant Liberalism, which shows—for good, for ill or for both—that he practiced what he preached, and preached what he practiced.