Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

What Is “A Prince of the Church”?

In his Brief Outline of the Study of Theology, Friedrich Schleiermacher coins a new term to describe someone who serves as an ideal guide for the church. Such a person would be characterized by balance–the balance of practical piety and academic competency, united in a single individual. To give the priority to either side of this complementary pair (i.e., the theoretical or the practical) would be to ruin the desired equilibrium and introduce distortion in those who are to serve as guides for the church. In sec. 9, he writes:

If we conceive of an interest in religion and a scientific spirit, existing in a state of union, in the highest degree and in the greatest possible equilibrium, and with a view to both theory and practice,–we have the idea of a Prince of the Church.1

Schleiermacher chooses the term carefully, demurring from “Father of the Church” as a possibility, because it is already used in a stipulated sense (i.e. of certain figures from the ancient church); but, like that term, Schleiermacher’s new term does not indicate some sort of office, and is the furthest thing from clericalism. though the prince of the church wields authority, it is authority of an informal kind: the authority of understanding, prudence, and piety.

This appellation for the theological Ideal is, it must be admitted, appropriate only when the disparity between the members of the Church is great, and when, at the same time, the exercise of influence over an extensive region of the Church is possible. But it seems more suitable than the term “Father of the Church,” which has already received the stamp of currency for a particular circle; and, for the rest, it does not in the least involve any allusion to an official relation.2

One does not attain to such a status through some kind of ritualized mechanism ex opere operato; one must be trained and discipled to it.3


  1. Emphasis original.
  2. Emphasis original.
  3. B.A. Gerrish uses the term for Schleiermacher himself in the title of his brief introduction.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.