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Johann August Wilhelm Neander

Johann August Wilhelm Neander (January 17, 1789 - July 14, 1850), German theologian and church historian, was born at Göttingen. His father, Emmanuel Mendel, is said to have been a Jewish pedlar, but August adopted the name of Neander on his baptism as a Christian.

While still very young, he removed with his mother to Hamburg. There, as throughout life, the simplicity of his personal appearance and the oddity of his manners attracted notice, but still more, his great industry and mental power. From the grammar-school (Johanneum) he passed to the gymnasium, where the study of Plato appears especially to have engrossed him. Considerable interest attaches to his early companionship with Wilhelm Neumann[?] and certain others, among whom were the writer Karl August Varnhagen von Ense[?] and the poet Adelbert von Chamisso.

Baptized on February 25, 1806, in the same year Neander went to Halle to study divinity. Here Schleiermacher was then lecturing. Neander found in him the very impulse which he 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 capable of imparting to them. But before the year had closed the events of the Franco-Prussian War compelled his removal to Göttingen. There he continued his studies with ardour, made himself yet more master of Plato and Plutarch, and became especially advanced in theology under the venerable GJ Planck. The impulse communicated by Schleiermacher was confirmed by Planck, and he seems now to have realized that the original investigation 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. After an interval of about eighteen months, however, he definitively betook himself to an academic career, "habilitating" in Heidelberg, where two vacancies had occurred in the theological faculty of the university. He entered upon his work here as a theological teacher in 1811; and in 1812 he became a professor. In the same year (1812) he first appeared as an author by the publication of his monograph Über den Kaiser Julianus und sein Zeitalter. The fresh insight into the history of the church evinced by this work at once drew attention to its author, and even before he had terminated the first year of his academical labours at Heidelberg, he was called to Berlin, where he waf appointed professor of theology.

In the year following his appointment he published a second monograph Der Heilige Bernhard und sein Zeitalter (Berlin, 1813) 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 in 1822, Der Heilige Johannes Chrysostomus und die Kirche besonders des Orients in dessen Zeitalter, and again, in 1824 another on Tertullian (Antignostikus).

He had in the meantime however, begun his great work, to which these several effort were only preparatory studies. The first volume of his Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Religion und Kirche embracing the history of the first three centuries, made it appearance in 1825. The others followed at intervals--the fifth, which appeared in 1842, bringing down the narrative to the pontificate of Boniface VIII. A posthumous volume edited by CFT Schneider in 1852, carried it on to the period of the council of Basel.

Besides this great work he published in 1832 his Geschichte der Pflanzung und Leitung der christlichen Kirche durch die Apostel, and in 1837 his Das Leben Jesu Christi, in seinem geschichilichen Zusammenhang und seiner geschichtlichen Entwickelung, called forth by the famous Life of David Strauss. In addition to all these he published Denkwürdigkeiten aus der Geschichte des Christentums (1823-1824, 2 vols., 1825, 3 vols., 1846); Das Eine und Mannichfaltige des christlichen Lebens (1840); papers on Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas, Theobald Thamer[?], Blaise Pascal, JH Newman, Blanco White[?] and T Arnold, and other occasional pieces (Kleine Gelegenheitsschriften, 1829), mainly of a practical, exegetical and historical character. He died on the 14th of July 1850, worn out and nearly blind with incessant study. After his death a succession of volumes, representing his various courses of lectures, appeared (1856- 1864), in addition to the Lectures on the History of Dogma (Theologische Vorlesungen), admirable in spirit and execution, which were edited by JL Jacobi in 1857.

Neander's theological position can only be explained in connexion with Schleiermacher, and the manner in which while adopting he modified and carried out the principles of his master. 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," I he emphatically says, "there can be no theology; it can only thrive in the calmness of a soul consecrated to God." This explains his favourite motto: "Pectus est cuod theologum facit."

His Church History (Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Religion und Kirche) remains the greatest monument of his genius. In this Neander's chief aim was everywhere to understand what was individual in history. In the principal figures of ecclesiastical history he tried to depict the representative tendencies of each age, and also the types of the essential tendencies of human nature generally. His guiding principle in treating both of the history and of the present condition of the church was "that Christianity has room for the various tendencies of human nature, and aims at permeating and glorifying them all; that according to the divine plan these various tendencies are to occur successively and simultaneously and to counterbalance each other, so that the freedom and variety of the development of the spiritual life ought not to be forced into a single dogmatic form" (Otto Pfleiderer, Development of Theology, p. 280).

Several of his books have passed into new and revised editions and have been translated into English. Among these English versions may be mentioned General History of the Christian Religion and Church, translated by J Torrey (1850-1858); History of the Planting and Training of the Church by the Apostle, by JE Ryland (1851); Julian and his Generation, by GV Cox (1850); Life of Jesus, by J McLintock and CE Blumenthal (1848); and Memorials of Christian Life in the Early and Middle Ages, by JE Ryland (1852).

See OC Krabbe, August Neander (1852), and a paper by CF Kling (1800-1861) in the Stud. u. Krit. for 1851; JL Jacobi, Erinnerungen an August Neander (1882); Philip Schaff, Erinnerungen an Neander (1886) ; Adolf Harnack, Rede auf August Neander (1889); AFJ Wiegand, Neanders Leben (1889); LT Schulze, August Neander (1890); and KT Schneider, August Neander (1894). Cf. Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie, and P Schaff, Germany: its Universities and Theology (1857).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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