Sunday, 28 December 2008

Schleiermacher and Christmas

You can tell you are in Germany when you open your daily newspaper over breakfast (OK, it was the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - or FAZ ) on Christmas Eve and there is a whole page given over to "Bildungswelten"- in this case to an essay by theologian Eberhard Jüngel, on "Christmas Eve" by the 18th-19th century theologian Friedrich Daniel Schleiermacher. Written in the style of a platonic dialogue, the work is set in a bourgeois household on Christmas eve where the protagonists discuss the meaning of the incarnation. First published in 1806, the Christmas Eve story has become Schleiermacher's most republished work, born in 1768 as the son of a Reformed pastor, and educated by the Moravian Brethren (or Herrnhuter) from whom comes the Moravian Star that you see all over Berlin at Christmas time. With time, Schleiermacher grew away from the pietism of the Moravians, and after a time in Halle, spent the last 24 years of his life as a professor at the newly founded Friedrich Wilhelm university in Berlin (rebaptised the Humboldt University after the Second World War). He was also an ecumenist before his time, being an enthusiastic supporter of the union of Reformed and Lutheran churches proclaimed by the the king in 1817. He even wrote a - never enacted - constitution for the Reformed-Lutheran union - and, the FAZ tells us, his academic work suffered in the 1820s because of his involvement to the cause of church union.
In fact, just round the corner from where we are staying in Berlin is the new home of the Humboldt University's Theological Faculty (a far cry from the wooden "shed" near Friedrichstrasse in which the theology section was housed when Dr B studied there 25 years ago). The ground floor lobby of the theological faculty has this saying of Schleiermacher: "Soll der Knoten der Geschichte so auseinander gehen: Das Christentum mit der Barbarei, und die Wissenschaft mit dem Unglauben?" - Shall the knot of history unravel in such a way that Christianity is identified with barbarism and modern knowledge with unbelief?