1902 Encyclopedia > August Neander

August Neander
German theologian

AUGUST NEANDER (1789-1850), one of the most distinguished and influential of the modern theologians of Germany, was born, of Jewish parents, at parents, at Göttingen on January 17, 1789.His father, Emmanuel Mendel, is said to have been a common Jewish pedler; but little seems to be really known of his circumstances and character. His mother was a woman of tender and noble disposition ; and from the maternal side, as in so many other cases, the virtues and talents of the son appear to have sprung. While still very young, he removed with his mother to Hamburg ; and in the grammar school, or Johanneum, of that city he received his classical education. There, as throughout life, the simplicity of his personal appearance and the oddity on his manners attracted notice, but still more, under all outward peculiarities, his great industry and mental power. From the Johanneum young Mendel passed to the gymnasium, where he attended for a year the prelections in philology, philosophy, and theology. The study of Plato appears especially to have engrossed him at this time.One of his young friends, Wilhelm Neumann, writes of him in 1806—"Plato is his idol—his constant watch-word. He sits day and night over him; and there are few who have so thoroughly, and in such purity, imbibed his wisdom. It is wonderful how entirely he has done this without any foreign impulse, merely through his own reflexion and downright study." Considerable interest attaches to his early companionship with the writer of this letter, and certain others, among whom were the afterwards well-known writer Varnhagen von Ense and the poet Chamisso. His letters to Chamisso are singularly interesting. They breathe throughout the most simple and glowing enthusiasm, while the picture of a pure and affectionate nature, and the struggling comprehensiveness of a great spirit, are impressed on every page of them. These letters enable us to understand with some degree of clearness the great which now took place in Neader’s convictions. They reveal a course of spiritual training very much analogous to that which he has described in many cases in his Church History. He reached the gospel through Platonism. The influence of his teacher’s idealism many be visibly traced in some of his conceptions of Christian doctrine. He was baptized on the 25th February 1806, when he adopted, instead of his Jewish name of David Mendel, that under which he was always afterwards known.

In the same year he went to Halle to study divinity. At Halle Schleiermacher was then lecturing in the first height of his fame as a teacher. Neander met in him the very impulse which be needed, while Schleiermacher found a pupil of thoroughly congenial feeling, and one destined to carry out his views in a higher and more effective Christian form than he himself was capably of imparting to them. But before the year had closed the events of the Franco-Prussian war compelled his removal to the less congenial Göttingen. There, however, he continued his studies with ardour, made himself yet more master of Plato and Plutarch, and especially advanced in sacred learning under the venerable Planck. The impulse communicated by Scheleiermacher was confirmed by Planck, and he seems now to have realized that the original in vestigation of Christian history was to form the great work of his life.

Having finished his university course, he returned to Hamburg, and passed his examination for the Christian ministry with great distinction. He was not fitted, however, for the pulpit, and seems to have preached but seldom. After an interval of about eighteen months he definitively betook himself to an academic career, "habilitating" in Heidelberg, where two vacancies has occurred in the theological faculty of the university, from the removal of Marheineke and De Wette to Berlin. He entered upon his work here as a theological teacher in 1811; and in the year following an extraordinary professorship rewarded his learning and industry. In the same year (1812) he first appeared as an author by the publication of his monograph On the Emperor Julian. The fresh insight into the history of the church, and the vivid and striking power of delineation evinced by this work—vague and sketchy, perhaps, as it now seems in the light of his maturer productions,--at once drew attention to its author, and marked him as rising theologian. Accordingly, even before he had terminated the first year of his academical labours at Heidelberg, he was called to Berlin as the associate of De Wette and Schleiermacher—an illustrious band, whose labours have left an ineffaceable illustrious band, whose labours have left an ineffaceable impress upon German theology.

In Berlin Neander’s life was only varied by the successive publications which appeared in such fertility from his pen. In the year following his appointment he published a second monograph On St Bernard and his Age, and then in 1818 his work on Gnosticism (Genetische Entwickelung der vornehmsten gnostischen Systeme). A still more extended and elaborate monograph than either of the preceding followed, On Chrysostom, and again, in 1825, another on Tertullian (Antignostikus). He had in the meantime, however, begun his great work, to which these several efforts were only preparatory studies. The first volume of his General history of the Christian Religion and Church, embracing the history of the first three centuries, made its appearance in 1826.The other followed at intervals—the fifth, which appeared in 1845, bringing down the narrative to the pontificate of Bonifice VIII. A posthumous volume, edited by Schneider in 1852, carried it on to the period of the council of Basel. Besides this great work he published in 1832 his History of the Planting and Training of the Christian of the Church by the Apostle, and in 1837 his Life of Jesus Christ, in its Historical Connexion and Development, called forth by the famous Life of Strauss. In addition to all these, labours, he gave to the public many miscellaneous sketches from the history of the church and of theological opinion; as, for example, his Memorrabilia from the History of Christian Life (1822), his volume under the title of the Unity and Variety of the Christian Life, his papers on Plotinus, Thomas Aquina,Theobald Thamer, Pascal, Newman, Blanco White, Arnold, &c., and other occasional pieces (Kleine Gelegenheitsschriften, 1829), mainly of a practical, exegetical, and historical character. Since his death a succession of volumes, representing his various courses of lectures, have appeared (1856-64), in addition to the Lectures on the History of Dogma, admirable in spirit and execution, which were edited by Jacobi in 1857. The life of Neander, as may be gathered from this mere enumeration, was one of unwearied work in his study and in his lecture-room. He lectured usually three times a day, his lectures embracing almost every branch of theology—exegetics, dogmatics, and ethics, as well as church history. He cherished a warm and affectionate interest in his students—his ungrudging self-denial and benefactions in their behalf forming one of the most kindly traditions which surround his name. He was of a very child-like and yet aspiring nature,--simple,-- and affectionate, yet subtle and comprehensive in this views. He died on July 14, 1850, worn out and nearly blind with incessant study.

Neander’s theological position can only be explained inconnexion with Schleiermacher, and the manner in which while adopting he modified and carried out the principles of his master. With a mind less restlessly speculative, less versatile, discriminating, and logical, he possessed, in higher union than Schleiermancher, depth of spiritual insight and purity of moral perception with profound philosophical capacity. Characteristically meditative, he rested with a secure footing on the great central truths of Christianity, and recognized strongly their essential reasonableness and harmony. Alive to the claims of criticism, he no less strongly asserted the rights of Christian feeling. "Without it," he emphatically says, "there can be no theology; it can only thrive in the calmness of a soul consecrated to God." And exactly in the same spirit, and proceeding from the same strong recognition of the absolute necessity of this Christian element in all theology, was his favourite motto, -- "Pertsu est quod theologum facit."

His Church History remains the greatest monument of his genius. Defective in graphic personal details, and in a clear exhibition of the political relations of the church, somewhat heavy in style, with a certain vagueness and want of pictorial life throughout, it is yet unrivalled in its union of vast learning and profound philosophic penetration, its varied comprehensiveness and abundant store of materials, its insight into the living connexion of historical events, but especially into the still more living and subtle nexus which binds together the growths and development of human opinion, -- in its display of such qualities, with the most simple-hearted Christian piety, the most lively appreciative interest in the ever-varying fortunes of the church, the finest discernment of all the manifold phrases of the Christian life, the most genuine liberality and catholic sympathy.

See Krabbe, August Neander (1852), and a paper by Kling in the Stud. u, Krit. for 1851.

The above article was written by: Principal Tulloch, D.D., LL.D.

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