Schleiermacher and Modern Hermeneutics

After a century and a half (1650-1800) of increasing rationalism in biblical hermeneutics and criticism, a reaction that may be called “romanticism” began. Lessing and Reimarus had succumbed to Spinoza, and had subsequently done incalculable damage to the cause of rationally defending Christianity in the Age of Reason. In reaction, romantic authors began to argue that reason was not, after all, paramount, but that truth had much more to do with emotion and metaphor and mystic mysteries than with logic and propositions and systems. On the forefront of this change were men like Rousseau (1712-1788), Novalis (1772-1801), and Schleiermacher (1768-1834).Schleiermacher is often called the father of modern hermeneutics, and also of the classic “Liberal” Protestant position. Key to Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics is his romantic revision of the basic rationalist idea of Spinoza and Reimarus: namely, that the Bible is not a book to be interpreted by special rules which are not amenable to immanent human reason, but a book to be interpreted in just the same way as we interpret any other work of human beings. Indeed, for Schleiermacher verbal inspiration is anathema, for what is supposed to be “Divine Scripture” is really just a “mausoleum of religion,” or a static witness to a no-longer present Spirit.:”(Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method From Spinoza to Kasemann [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1995], pp. 77-78.)”:

According to Anthony Thiselton, Schleiermacher represents “a decisive turning point in hermeneutics,” moving “from a hermeneutics of enquiry to a hermeneutics of understanding.”:”(New Horizons in Hermeneutics [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992], pg. 197.)”: By this Thiselton refers to the fact that in pre-Modern hermeneutical endeavors one inquires into the meaning of specific texts, while in Modern hermeneutics the focus shifts to the very nature of meaning itself. Pre-Modern hermeneutics is “regional;” Modern hermeneutics is “transcendental.” Pre-Modern hermeneutics operated within a matrix of already assumed knowledge, and used its tools to check for misinterpretations; Modern hermeneutics creates understanding by trying to get inside the exact situation of the original author. Thus, Schleiermacher’s view is the hermeneutical parallel to Kant’s epistemologica project.:”(Ibid., pg. 205.)”: After Schleiermacher, it becomes difficult to maintain that meaning is purely grammatical and purely a matter of authorial intention. Instead, research tends to orient around the question “does textual meaning reside somehow in the inter-relation or inter-action between both?:”(Ibid., pg. 206, italics in original.)”:

Thiselton believes that Schleiermacher would have approved of Calvin’s idea that knowledge of God and knowledge of self are “bound together by a mutual tie” and are exceedingly difficult to distinguish. Knowledge contains a large subjective element, as witnessed by Schleiermacher’s approving citation of St. Anselm’s dictum, “He who has not experienced will not understand.”:”(Ibid., pg. 209.)”: This is Schleiermacher’s connection to the Romanticism of his day. He was not fully at one with them, but “in common with them he believed in the creative power of human feeling and in the importance of lived experience, in contrast to the more cerebral rationalism of the Enlightenment.” Schleiermacher’s most important analogy for the hermeneutical process is that of the intuitive understanding that two friends possess.:”(Ibid., pg. 210.)”:

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