Nitzsch, Karl Immanuel

Nitzsch, Karl Immanuel one of the most profound evangelical theologians of the 19th century, was born Sept. 21, 1787, at the Saxon town of Borna, near Leipsic, Germany. His father, a Lutheran theologian, a Church superintendent, and a professor at Witterberg, destined Karl from infancy to the priestly office, and personally superintended his education until his sixteenth year. He then placed him in the excellent classical school at Pforta, where young Nitzsch soon distinguished himself both for beauty of character and for thoroughness of scholarship. He became so imbued with the classic languages as to be more ready and fluent in them than in his vernacular. At the age of nineteen he began his university course at Wittenberg, doubtful for a while whether his call was not in philosophy rather than in theology. But the pious Heubner won him over for theology. For a few years his mind was powerfully wrought upon and perplexed by conflicting currents of thought — by Kant, Fichtt, and Schelling, by the "romantic" poets; and by the influence of De Wette and Schleiermacher, against the cold orthodoxy of his father. Under these influences he was forced to the construction of a theological system of his own. This system became what is known as the "mediation theology" — essentially an independent further development and complementing of the better tendency in Schleiermacher. To the consistent development of this position Nitzsch consecrated fifty years of earnest ecclesiastical and academic life. At the age of twenty-three he began his career as privat-docent at Wittenberg, and as assistant pastor at the cathedral of the place. As pastor he soon met with severe trials — during the French occupation of the place in 1813-14 — being left for months, with only a single helper, in pastoral charge of the beleaguered town. His faithful care of the sick and dying during these long months contributed largely to enrich and ripen his religious life. The removal of the university to Halle interrupted his academic labors. In 1817 he resumed them in the newly established theological seminary at Wittenberg. Having already obtained some reputation for a number of erudite dissertations, he was now honored with the theological doctorate by the Berlin faculty. His lectures in the seminary were on Church history in its several branches. Affected in his health by his twofold office, he was forced to ask relief in 1819, and served for a time in the rural parish of Remberg. In 1821 he accepted a call to the young university of Bonn. Here opened before him twenty-five years of his most fruitful academic and churchly labor. He stood and worked by the side of such men as Lucke, Sack, Bleek, Brandis, Niebuhr, etc. Systematic theology was here his chief field. Basing himself upon Schleiermacher's Dogmatics, he began to give positive form to the views which he afterwards gave to the public in his two master works: Christian Doctrine and Practical Theology. The former work presents Christian doctrine and life, dogmatics and ethics, as an inseparable unitary whole, in their mutual interpenetration. The latter presents the Church life in its wide-reaching actual process of transforming the world into the kingdom of God. In 1828 Nitzsch lent Ullmann and Umbreit an active hand in establishing the Studien und Kritiken, to which he contributed some essays of epoch-making character, e.g. on the Immanent Trinity (1841), and especially his "Protestant Reply to the Symbolik of Mohler," and his "Theological Criticism of the Dogmatics of Strauss." In the last two essays he gave scientific expression to the essence of Christianity as distinguished from the opposite errors of Romanismn and mythism. Nitzsch soon obtained such a name that students from all parts of Germany flocked to sit at his feet. He was the "pearl" of the whole university. His power, however, lay not in the beauty of his style, for this was to the student at first both obscure and repellant, nor in any outward expression- of piety, but in the profound and deep flow of genuine scientific Christian thought. As university-preacher, he exercised for years a potent influence on the whole life of the university. This pastoral office formed the basis of an active and wide influence, affecting the Church life of the two Rhine provinces, and promoting the Prussian union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches, for which Nitzsch had earnestly labored ever since its inauguration in 1817. He finally became its acknowledged first champion. This reputation contributed to his call to Berlin in the spring of 1847. He was now sixty years of age, but twenty years of vigorous life lay yet before him. The political convulsions of 1848 called out heroic conduct from Nitzsch as rector of the university. His firmness contributed largely to checking the mad waves of radical demagogy, both in the university and in the Church. In politics he was conservative progressive. After the revolution he was elected twice to the Prussian Chamber, where he opposed the extreme reactionism of the Stahl party. In this interest he also effectively labored in the columns of the newly established Wochenblatt. To check the tide of Neo-Lutheranism he joined Muller and Neander in 1850 in the publication of the Zeitschrift fur chr. Wissenschaft. In 1857 he saw his favorite scheme of Church union assume a more encouraging phase, and a decided check put to the confessional tendency; and he welcomed the Evangelical Alliance as the dawning realization of his own idea on a still grander scale. The date June 16, 1860-the congratulation day of his fifty years of university labor-brought him abundant evidence from far and near that evangelical Germany honored in him the preceptor Germaniae of the day. At the age of seventy-five he began to feel old; and he was compelled, one by one, to lay down the many offices which had accumulated themselves upon him-first his lectures, then his charge of the Homiletical Seminary, then his seat in the Consistory, and, lastly, the pastoral office in the church of St. Nicolai, of which he had been made provost in 1855, though he closed his life before the acceptance of his resignation. He died Aug. 21, 1868. One of the chief labors of his latter years was the completing of his elaborate work on Practische Theologie. He had begun it at Bonn, and the volumes followed each other in 1848, 1851, 1857, and 1867. It is the greatest of his works-rich in practical wisdom, largely drawn from active experience in Church life, a rich storehouse for the pastor — the testament of its author to posterity. Nitzsch must be regarded as one of the leaders of that school of thought in German theology of which Neander was the greatest representative. Like the latter, Nitzsch endeavored to reconcile faith and science, not by forced and unnatural methods. but by pointing out their distinctive spheres, and by exhibiting in his own spiritual life that union of reason and reverence for which he argued in his writings. In theology his position will be best understood when we say that Nitzsch subordinated dogma to ethics, or, rather, that he accepted and prized chiefly those dogmas that result from an ethical apprehension of Christianity. In many respects Nitzsch and Bunsen labored in common, especially in harmonizing their political with their religious obligations as citizens of a Church united with the State. The high Lutheran party having denounced liberal politics as irreligious, Nitzsch and Bunsen came forward with others to vindicate them on liberal grounds, and not without success. Nitzsch's System der christlichen Lehre appeared first in 1829, then, enlarged, in 1833, and between then and 1851 in four further constantly enlarged and enriched editions. He also published several volumes of lectures and sermons, remarkable for their extraordinary richness of thought. See Hoffmann, Lebensabriss nebst Gedichtnisspredigt (Berlin, 1868); the elaborate article by Dr. Beyschlag in Stud. u. Krit. 1869, No. iv; Meth. Qu. Rev. Oct. 1873, art. iii; Schwarz, Gesch. der neuesten Theologie, p. 337 sq.; Kahnis, Hist. of Germ. Protestantism, p. 257. (J. P. L.)

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