Nathan Söderblom

Schleiermacher, Friedrich (Ernst Daniel)

detail of an engraving by F. Lehmann, mid-19th century

b. Nov. 21, 1768, Breslau, Silesia, Prussia
d. Feb. 12, 1834, Berlin

German theologian, preacher, and classical philologist, generally recognized as the founder of modern Protestant theology. His major work, Der christliche Glaube (1821-22; 2nd ed. 1831; The Christian Faith), is a systematic interpretation of Christian dogmatics.


Childhood and education.

Schleiermacher was the son of Gottlieb and Katharina-Maria (née Stubenrauch) Schleiermacher. His father, a Reformed (Calvinist) military chaplain, and his mother both came from families of clergymen. He had an older sister, Charlotte, and a younger brother, Carl.

From 1783 to 1785 he attended a school of the Moravian Brethren (Herrnhuters), an influential Pietistic group, at Niesky. In this milieu, individualized study was combined with a piety based on the joy of salvation and a vividly imaginative relation with Jesus as Saviour, rather than (as in the Pietism centred in Halle) on a struggle to feel sorrow and repentance. Here Schleiermacher developed his lifelong interest in the Greek and Latin classics and his distinctive sense of the religious life. Later he called himself a Herrnhuter "of a higher order."

Yet the lifeless and dogmatic narrowness of the Moravian seminary at Barby, which he attended from 1785 to 1787, conflicted with his increasingly critical and inquiring spirit. He left in 1787 with the reluctant permission of his father, who had at first harshly rebuked him for his worldliness and accused him of hypocrisy, and at Easter he matriculated at the University of Halle. There he lived with his maternal uncle, Samuel Stubenrauch, a professor of theology, who could understand his restlessness and skepticism.

A diligent and independent student, Schleiermacher began, along with his theological studies, an intensive study of Immanuel Kant's philosophy. In his epistemology (theory of knowledge), though not in his ethics and religion, he remained a Kantian throughout his life. After two years he moved to Drossen (Osno), near Frankfurt an der Oder, where his uncle had assumed a pastorate, and began preparing for his first theological examinations. Though he read more in ethics than in theology, he took his examinations in Reformed theology in 1790, achieving marks of "very good" or "excellent" in all fields except dogmatics, the one in which he was later to make his most original contribution.

Rudolf Otto, 1925

Scholarly pursuits.

What initially prompted Otto's inquiry into man's experience of the holy was a specifically Christian, even Protestant, concern that had awakened in him while studying the life and thought of Martin Luther. This concern--to elucidate the distinctive character of the religious interpretation of the world--is reflected in his first book, Die Anschauung vom heiligen Geiste bei Luther (1898; "The Perception of the Holy Spirit by Luther"). He was to expand his inquiry in his book, Naturalistische und religiöse Weltansicht (1904; Naturalism and Religion, 1907), in which he contrasted the naturalistic and the religious ways of interpreting the world, first indicating their antitheses and then raising the question of whether the contradictions can be or should be reconciled.

Otto resisted an easy reconciliation between the world view offered by the sciences and the religious interpretation but opposed equally the religionist's hostility toward science and the scientist's disregard of religion. The two perspectives, he insisted, are to be embraced and heeded for what they purport to disclose concerning the world in which men live. It was clear, however, that Otto's principal concern was to justify and to clarify what it is that the religious interpretation of the world, even within its rational aspect, conveys to man as a distinctive dimension of understanding beyond the discoveries of the sciences and the generalized knowledge following from them. Five years later came his work, Kantische-Fries'sche Religionsphilosophie (1909; The Philosophy of Religion Based on Kant and Fries, 1931), a discussion of the religious thought of the German philosophers Immanuel Kant and Jacob Friedrich Fries, in which he sought to specify the kind of rationality that is appropriate to religious inquiry.

During 1911-12 Otto undertook an extended journey, visiting many countries of the world, beginning with North Africa, Egypt, and Palestine, continuing to India, China, and Japan, and returning by way of the United States. These experiences were to set his problem in a worldwide context, turning him to an extended and searching exploration of the diverse ways in which the religious response had manifested itself among various religions of the world. He proved to be remarkably well equipped for such an exploration, both in his mastery of languages and his knowledge of the history of world religions. In addition to being at home with the languages of Near Eastern religions, he had mastered Sanskrit sufficiently to translate many ancient Hindu texts into German as well as to write several volumes comparing Indian and Christian religious thought.

Influence of Schleiermacher

Otto's initial mentor guiding his inquiry into the specific character of the religious response was the eminent German philosopher and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. It was Schleiermacher's early work, specifically his book Über die Religion. Reden an die Gebilden unter ihren Verächtern (1799; On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, 1893), to which Otto gave particular attention. What appealed to him in this work was Schleiermacher's fresh way of perceiving religion as a unique feeling or awareness, distinct from ethical and rational modes of perception, though not exclusive of them. Schleiermacher was later to speak of this unique feeling as man's "feeling of absolute dependence." Otto was deeply impressed by this formulation and credited Schleiermacher with having rediscovered the sense of the holy in the post-Enlightenment age. Yet he later criticized the formulation on the grounds that what Schleiermacher had pointed up here was no more than a close analogy with ordinary, or "natural," feelings of dependence. For "absolute dependence" Otto substituted "creature-feeling." Creature-feeling, he said, is itself a first subjective concomitant and effect of another feeling element, which casts it like a shadow, but which in itself indubitably has immediate and primary reference to an object outside of the self.

Otto called this object "the numinous" or "Wholly Other"--i.e., that which utterly transcends the mundane sphere, roughly equivalent to "supernatural" and "transcendent" in traditional usage.


Söderblom, Nathan

b. Jan. 15, 1866, Trönö, Sweden
d. July 12, 1931, Uppsala

Swedish Lutheran archbishop and theologian who in 1930 received Oil painting by E. Haag-Bolin, 1933the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts to further international understanding through church unity.

Ordained a minister in 1893, Söderblom served seven years as a chaplain to the Swedish legation in Paris before becoming professor of theology at his alma mater, the University of Uppsala (1901). He was appointed archbishop of Uppsala and primate of Sweden in 1914. Söderblom was an outspoken pacifist whose interest in Christian unity bore fruit when the first Universal Conference on Life and Work met in Stockholm in 1925. The series of these conferences eventually united with the conferences on Faith and Order to form the World Council of Churches. Söderblom was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930 for his efforts on behalf of Christian unity. His most important book is Gudstrons uppkomst (1914), a study emphasizing holiness rather than the idea of God as the basic notion in religious thought.

Charles J. Curtis, Nathan Söderblom: Theologian of Revelation (1966), and Söderblom, Ecumenical Pioneer (1967);
Eric J. Sharpe, Nathan Söderblom and the Study of Religion (1990).

pictures: Schleiermacher, detail of an engraving by F. Lehmann, mid-19th century;
Söderblom, oil painting by E. Haag-Bolin, 1933; in the Svenska Portr.



Harry Kuitert