RITSCHL AND THE RITSCHLIANS
If any man in the department of theology in the latter half of the nineteenth century attained a position such as to entitle him to be compared with Schleiermacher, it was Ritschl. He was long the most conspicuous figure in any chair of dogmatic theology in Germany. He established a school of theological thinkers in a sense in which Schleiermacher never desired to gain a following. He exerted ecclesiastical influence of a kind which Schleiermacher never sought. He was involved in controversy in a degree to which the life of Schleiermacher presents no parallel. He was not a preacher, he was no philosopher. He was not a man of Schleiermacher’s breadth of interest. His intellectual history presents more than one breach within itself, as that of Schleiermacher presented none, despite the wide arc which he traversed. Of Ritschl, as of Schleiermacher, it may be said that he exerted a great influence over many who have only in part agreed with him.
Albrecht Ritschl was born in 1822 in Berlin, the son of a bishop in the Lutheran Church. He was educated at Bonn and at Tuebingen. He established himself at Bonn, where, in 1853, he became professor extraordinarius and in 1860 ordinaries. In 1864 he was called to Goettingen. In 1874 he became consistorialrath in the new Prussian establishment for the Hanoverian Church. He died in 1888. These are the simple outward facts of a somewhat stormy professional career. There was pietistic influence in Ritschl’s ancestry, as also in Schleiermacher’s. Ritschl had, however, reacted violently against it. His attitude was that of repudiation of everything mystical. He had strong aversion to the type of piety which rested its assurance solely upon inward experience. This aversion is one root of the historic positivism which makes him, at the last, assert the worthlessness of all supposed revelations outside of the Bible and of all supposed Christian experience apart from the influence of the historical Christ. He began his career under the influence of Hegel. He came to the position in which he felt that the sole hope for theology was in the elimination from it of all metaphysical elements. He felt that none of his predecessors had carried out Schleiermacher’s dictum, that religion is not thought, but religious thought only one of the functions of religion. Yet, of course, he was not able to discuss fundamental theological questions without philosophical basis, particularly an explicit theory of knowledge.