Charles Hodge’s Famous Footnote on Friedrich Schleiermacher

Charles Hodge and Friedrich Schleiermacher (source:wikipedia)

I had believed that Charles Hodge (1787—1878) would have spit on the grave of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768—1834) upon visiting him, but I have been proven wrong. To my surprise, I recently learned from W. Travis McMaken at Die Evangelischen Theologen about a famous footnote in Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology (II.iii.9) that shows Charles Hodge had great admiration of Schleiermacher. In this footnote, Hodge has said to have fondness for Schleiermacher's family hymns and devotion to Christ.

When in Berlin the writer often attended Schleiermacher’s church. The hymns to be sung were printed on slips of paper and distributed at the doors. They were always evangelical and spiritual in an eminent degree, filled with praise and gratitude to our Redeemer. Tholuck said that Schleiermacher, when sitting in the evening with his family, would often say, “Hush, children: let us sing a hymn of praise to Christ.” Can we doubt that he is singing those praises now? To whomsoever Christ is God, St. John assures us Christ is a Savior.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. II. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1989. 440. Print.

In Hodge's Systematic Theology II.iii.9, there is an extended section on Schleiermacher's Christology that contains an appreciative introduction to Schleiermacher's life, that praises Schleiermacher's piety and life long devotion to Christ. Although Hodge is an opponent in modern Reformed Theology, I appreciate him for the way he admire Schleiermacher, and how he did not demonize his opponent but recognized his greatness despite the differences of methods between these two famous contemporary Reformed Theologians.

The prevalent Christology among a numerous and distinguished class of modern theologians, though not professedly pantheistic, is nevertheless founded on the assumption of the essential oneness of God and man. This class includes the school of Schleiermacher in all its modifications not only in Germany, but also in England and America. Schleiermacher is regarded as the most interesting as well as the most influential theologian of modern times. He was not and could not be self-consistent, as he attempted the reconciliation of contradictory doctrines. There are three things in his antecedents and circumstances necessary to be considered, in order to any just appreciation of the man or of his system. First, he passed the early part of his life among the Moravians, and imbibed something of their spirit, and especially of their reverence for Christ, who to the Moravians is almost the exclusive object of worship. This reverence for Christ, Schleiermacher retained all his life. In one of the discourses pronounced on the occasion of his death, it was said, “He gave up everything that he might save Christ.” His philosophy, his historical criticism, everything, he was willing to make bend to the great aim of preserving to himself that cherished object of reverence and love. [^372] Secondly, his academic culture led him to adopt a philosophical system whose principles and tendencies were decidedly pantheistic. And, thirdly, he succumbed to the attacks which rationalistic criticism had made against faith in the Bible. He could not receive it as a supernatural revelation from God. He did not regard it as containing doctrines which we are bound to believe on the authority of the sacred writers. Deprived, therefore, of the historical Christ, or at least deprived of the ordinary historical basis for faith in Christ, he determined to construct a Christology and a whole system of Christian theology from within; to weave it out of the materials furnished by his own religious consciousness. He said to the Rationalists that they might expunge what they pleased from the evangelical records; they might demolish the whole edifice of Church theology, he had a Christ and a Christianity in his own bosom. In the prosecution of the novel and difficult task of constructing a system of Christian theology out of the facts of Christian experience, he designed to secure for it a position unassailable by philosophy. Philosophy being a matter of knowledge, and religion a matter of feeling, the two belonged to distinct spheres, and therefore there need be no collision between them.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. II. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1989. 440-1. Print.


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  1. Wyatt,

    Although you are correct regarding the comments in his works, Hodge then follows this with a thorough critique of Shleiermacher’s “pantheism” and “denial of the trinity”. I, too, can get along with those who believe differently, but when they are unorthodox in their biblical teaching they need to be contradicted.
    Thank you for your blog.

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