1902 Encyclopedia > August Hermann Francke

August Hermann Francke
German philanthropist and theologian
(1663-1727)




AUGUST HERMANN FRANCKE, (1663-1727), an influential German philanthropist and theologian, was born on the 22d of March 1663 at Lübeck, where his father, a doctor of laws, at that time held a professional appointment. He was educated, chiefly in private, at Gotha (to which his family had removed in 1666), and afterwards at the universities of Erfurt, Kiel, and Leipsic. During his student career, he busied himself specially with the Hebrew and Greek languages; and in order to acquire the former more thoroughly, he for some time put himself under the instructions of Rabbi Ezra Edzardi at Hamburg, at whose instance he is said to have read through the entire Hebrew Bible seven times within a year. He graduated at Leipsic in 1685, but, having found employment as a "privat-docent," did not quit the university until the end of 1687. During the last year of his residence he had, by the help of his friend P. Anton, and with the approval and encour agement of Spener, who was at that time coming into notice, originated the afterwards famous collegium philobiblicum, at which a number of graduates were accustomed to meet for the regular and systematic study of the Bible. He next passed a number of months at Lüneburg as assistant or curate to the learned and pious superintendent Sandhagen, and there his religious life was remarkably quickened and deepened. His own account of his experience at that crisis in his life, and of the influence of the particular text (John xx. 31) to which he believed he owed his conversion, is very interesting and characteristic. On leaving Lüneburg, he spent some time in Hamburg, where he was engaged as a teacher in a private school, and there also he considered himself to have acquired some experience which proved invaluable in after life. After a long visit to Spener, who was at that time in Dresden, and who encouraged him in the plans he had formed, he returned to Leipsic in the spring of 1689, and began to give Bible lectures of an exegetical and practical kind, at the same time resuming the collegia philobiblica of earlier days. He rapidly became very popular as a lecturer; but the peculiarities of his teaching almost immediately aroused a violent opposition on the part of the university authorities ; and before the end of the year he was, on the ground of his alleged pietism, interdicted from lecturing. Thus it was that Francke's name first came to be publicly associated with that of Spener, and with one of the most fruitful church movements of the 17th century. Although, how-ever, the majority of those claiming to be orthodox chose to regard the pietists as a new and dangerous sect, it must be remembered that neither Spener nor Francke taught in any spirit of sectarianism or with any consciousness of antag-onism to any of the doctrines of the Lutheran Church. Loyal churchmen, they were distinguished from other Lutherans simply by their readiness to subordinate mere confessional orthodoxy to the interests of spiritual religion and practical morality, and also by the unusual earnestness with which they insisted on the necessity of conversion, and of the appearance of certain symptoms of a moral and spiritual change, before any one could rightly lay claim to the Christian name. The pietism of Francke, at all events, was quite as compatible with churchliness as was the methodism of Wesley or the evangelicalism of Simeon; and it is well known that neither of these two men desired to set up a sect against the church. Prohibited from lecturing in Leipsic, Francke in 1689 found work at Erfurt as "deacon" of one of the city churches. Here his evangelistic fervour attracted multitudes to his preaching, but at the same time excited the jealousy of his less zealous colleagues as well as the antipathy of the Catholic section of the population; and the result of their combined opposition was that after a ministry of fifteen months, he was, in September 1691, banished from the town by the civil authorities. The same year witnessed the expulsion of Spener from Dresden. In December Francke received and accepted an invitation to fill the chair of Greek and Oriental languages in the new university of Halle, which was at that time being organized by the elector Frederick III. of Brandenburg; and at the same time, the chair having no salary attached to it, he was appointed minister of the parish of Glaucha in the immediate neighbourhood of the town. Here, for the next thirty-six years, he continued to discharge the twofold office of pastor and professor with rare energy and success. Be-sides preaching on Sundays, with an eloquence and earnest-ness and depth that attracted and held together a large congregation, he found time for many week-day meetings for edification, and was unwearied in the work of catechizing the young and of giving spiritual direction to those who sought his private advice. At the very outset of his labours, he had been profoundly impressed with a sense of his responsibility towards the numerous outcast children who were growing up around him in ignorance and crime. After a number of tentative plans, such as that of gathering them together once a week at the parsonage, and that of paying their school fees, he resolved in 1695 to institute what would be called in this country a ragged school, relying for funds upon the charity of the benevolent public. A single room was at first sufficient for the needs of the institution; but within a year it was found necessary to purchase a house, to which another was added in 1697. In 1698 there were 100 orphans under his charge to be clothed and fed, besides 500 children who were taught as day scholars. The later statistics of the many and various educational institutions of Halle which owe their origin to him will be found in vol. vii. p. 675. The principles there indicated were consistently applied in his university teaching. Even as professor of Greek he had given great prominence in his lectures to the study of the Scriptures; but he found a much more congenial sphere when, in 1698, he was appointed to the chair of theology. Yet his first courses of lectures in that department were on Old and New Testa-ment introduction ; and to this, as also to hermeneutics, he always attached special importance, believing that for theology a sound exegesis was the one indispensable requi-site. "Theologus nascitur in scripturis," he used to say; but during his occupancy of the theological chair he lectured at various times upon other branches of the science also, according to the custom still usual in Germany. Amongst his colleagues were Anton, Breithaupt, and Joachim Lange —men like-minded with himself. Through their influence upon the students, Halle became a centre from which pietism, as it was called, became very widely diffused over Germany; but while in some quarters the new light was welcomed and cherished, in others every effort was made to suppress it. Thus, while Frederick William I. of Prussia is said to have gone so far as to issue an edict forbidding that any one should receive a cure of souls in his domi-nions who had not studied in Halle for two years, and received from the faculty there satisfactory certificates as to his status gratia?, legislative enactments were elsewhere frequently directed against the Halle schooL It ought to be borne in mind with reference to these that Francke cannot fairly be held responsible for the separatistic and perfectionist and chiliastic tendencies which are now most commonly associated with the pietistic name. He died at Halle on the 8th of June 1727.

His principal contributions to theological literature were—Manu-ductio ad Lectionern Scripturoz Sacrie (1693); Praelectiones Hermeneuticae (1717); Commentatio de Scopo Librorum Veteris et Novi Testamenti (1724); and Lectiones Parceneticae, (1726-36). The Manuductio was translated into English in 1813, under the title A Guide to the Reading and Study of tlie Holy Scriptures. An account of his orphanage, entitled Segcnsvolle Fuss-stapfen, &c. (1709), which subsequently passed through several editions, has also been par-tially translated, under the title The Footsteps of Divine Providence: or, The bountiful Hand of Heaven defraying the Expenses of Faith. See Guerike's A. II. Francke (1827), which has been translated into English (The Life of A. H. Francke, 1837); and Kramer's Beitrage sur Geschichte A. H. Francke's (1861), and Neue Beitrage (1875).







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