Augustus Neander

Church historian

Summary

Born
January 17, 1789
Died
July 14, 1850
Importance
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Biography

Picture of Augustus Neander
Source: www.librarything.com

Johann August Wilhelm Neander belonged to a Jewish family and originally bore the name of David Mendel. He changed his name to Neander when he became a Christian in 1806. A German Lutheran, he studied with F D. Schleiermacher (1768-1834) in Berlin, but soon switched his interest from speculative theology to church history.

After a year of teaching in Heidelberg (1812), he returned to Berlin as professor of ecclesiastical history (1813). Here he attracted many students not only by the quality of his scholarship but also by the spirit of piety he brought to his work and the interest he showed in the personal aspects of history. From the first he wrote extensively on historical themes, beginning with biographical studies of significant figures like Julian the Apostate (1812), Bernard of Clairvaux (1813), John Chrysostom (1822), and Tertullian (1824). Turning to a whole movement, he offered a history of Gnosticism in 1818. When F C. Baur and D. F Strauss introduced a rationalistic interpretation of the New Testament and early Christian history, he strongly opposed them. He wrote a Life of Christ (1837) in answer to the theory purported by Strauss in Life of Jesus (1835-1836) that the Gospel record is simply a myth in historical dress. With the maturing of his scholarship, Neander began to put together his more detailed monographs in broader historical works. His history of the apostolic age came out in two volumes under the title History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles (1832-1833). Even before the publication of this work he had launched his most ambitious project, A General History of the Christian Religion and Church, which came out in six volumes beginning in 1826 and ending only after his death in 1852. Both these larger works were translated into English, the latter appearing in five volumes (1882) and the former in two volumes (1887-1888).

Neander had considerable influence not only in his own church and country but also further afield through the combination of scholarly excellence and personal interest that he achieved in his teaching and writing. This influence lived on in the American and English-speaking world through the historical work and writing of Philip Schaff (1819-1893), who studied and taught with Neander in Berlin prior to his appointment to Mercersburg in 1844. A basic conviction of Neander was that church history is not just an academic pursuit but part of the mission and ministry of the church.

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