1822-1889. German Protestant theologian. Born in Berlin, son of an Evangelical bishop, he studied at various German universities, and was thereafter professor at Bonn (1852-64) and Göttingen (1864-89). He began his career as a disciple of F.C. Baur* and defended Baur's thesis of a radical conflict between Petrine Judaism and Pauline Hellenism, but the second edition of Die Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche (1857) broke with the theory. Ritschl's chief works were The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation (ET 3 vols., 1870-84); Die christliche Vollkommenheit (1874); Geschichte des Pietismus (3 vols., 1880-86); Theologie und Metaphysik (1881); and Gesammelte Aufsätze (2 vols., 1893-96). His brief Instruction in the Christian Religion (ET 1901) provides a compact survey of his views.
Ritschl's thought was characterized by his rejection of metaphysics. This was expressed in his opposition to speculative reinterpretations of Christianity in terms of Hegelian idealism, and also in his caution about doctrines which went beyond verifiable history and immediate Christian experience. In this he was influenced by H. Lotze. It led to the celebrated distinction between judgments of fact and judgments of value (Werturteile). Thus the divinity of Christ is an expression of the revelational value of the church's faith based on Christian experience; it is not a matter of objective demonstration. Mysteries may be recognized, but they transcend knowledge, and hence nothing more may be said about them.
Ritschl believed in the uniqueness of Christ who was the historical author of the church's communion with God and fellowship among its members. He saw Christianity as an ellipse with two foci: the kingdom of God, and personal redemption or justification. Christ's vocation was to found the kingdom of God among men and be the bearer of God's ethical lordship over them. It is man's vocation to practice his civil calling morally and to serve the kingdom of God. The latter was understood in moral terms as the goal of God's plan for man living in mutual love. Through justification man is put in a position to realize it by the removal of his consciousness of guilt which issues in his reconciliation to the will of God.
He rejected the concept of the penal wrath of God. Christ's death was not a propitiation of just judgment, but the result of His uttermost loyalty to His vocation. Christ's object was to bring men into the same fellowship with God by sharing His own consciousness of Sonship which He preserved to the end. For Ritschl, religion was always social, and the individual can experience the effects which proceed from Christ only in connexion with the community founded by Him. Among the many scholars influenced by Ritschl were A. Harnack,* W. Herrmann, N. Söderblom,* and J. Kaftan.*
O. Ritschl, Albrecht Ritschls Leben (2 vols., 1892-96); J. Orr, The Ritschlian Theology and the Evangelical Faith (1897); A.E. Garvie, The Ritschlian Theology (2nd ed., 1902); H.R. Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology (1937), pp. 138-80; K. Barth, From Rousseau to Ritschl (1959), pp. 390- 97; P. Wrzecionko, Die philosophischen Wurzeln der Theologie Albrecht Ritschls (1964); P. Hefner, Faith and the Vitalities of History; A Theological Study Based on the Work of(1966); R. Schäfer, Ritschl: Grundlinien eines fast verschollenen Systems (1968).