Spitta, Karl Johann Philipp

Spitta, Karl Johann Philipp a German theologian and poet, was born Aug. 1, 1801, at Hanover. He was of Huguenot stock, which had emigrated during the persecutions under Louis XIV. His early years held out no promise of future eminence for him, as he seemed dull, and was, moreover, afflicted with scrofulous disease, which interrupted the progress of his studies. On his recovery, he was deemed so little qualified to undertake the theological career which he preferred that he was apprenticed to a watchmaker. While thus employed, he developed a love for the study of languages and of science, and spent his leisure time in the private study of Greek and Latin, and also of geography and history. He was subsequently admitted to the lyceum of his native town, and in 1821 entered the University of Göttingen. This institution was at the time pervaded by the rationalistic. miasma, and Spitta lost his love for theology, though he neglected the study of philosophy, in which the current rationalism sought its support. A period of questioning ensued, which was happily ended by his return to a simple scriptural faith through, the influence of the writings of De Wette and Tholuck. After graduating, he became a private tutor, and remained in that position until 1828, though he was during the interval associated with pastor Deichmann at Lüneburg in an abortive attempt to publish a journal for Christian families of every rank in society. At the age of twenty-six he was associated with the aged Cleves in the pastorate, but in November, 1830, became temporary preacher to the garrison at Hameln and also, spiritual guide to about 250 convicts in the penitentiary. Thence he was transferred, after being married to Maria Hotzen, to the parish of Wechholt, where he remained during ten happy years. The number of his hearers increased, and with it his influence over the community. His reputation extended even beyond his native country, and secured for him calls to Bremen, Barmen, and Elberfeld. He eventually became superintendent and pastor at Wittengen, in Lüneburg, and then pastor of the more responsible post at Peine (1853). In 1855 he received the doctor's degree from his alma mater, together with an honorary testimonial in recognition of his signal fidelity to the Church. In 1859 he was once more transferred to a new field of labor, but was attacked with gastric fever soon after his removal, and died of heart disease Sept. 28. As a clergyman, Spitta was pious, thoroughly evangelical, and deeply in earnest. His temperament was genial and sociable, and he was a capable performer on the harp. But his principal claim to notice grows out of his spiritual hymns, through which his fame extended over Germany, and of which a number have been rendered into English. He had attempted poetry in his childhood days, and proved his powers in every species of poetry, but in time came to devote his abilities wholly to religious composition. In 1833 he published a collection of hymns under the title Psalter und Haife (24th ed. 1861), which was received with general satisfaction, and was followed by a second collection in 1843 (13th ed. 1861). A third (posthumous) collection was published by his friend, Prof. Adolph Peters, in 1861 (2d ed. 1862). These hymns are pervaded with unusual fervor and simplicity, and are chaste and neat in style. They are specially suited for use in household and private devotions, the second collection being perhaps inferior to the others in an artistic point of view. Peters's collection is accompanied with a portrait of the author. Of English renderings of Spitta's hymns, we mention "I know no life divided, Lord of life, from thee," by Massie, and the funeral hymn, "The precious seed of weeping today we sow once more," by Miss C. Winkworth. See Munkel, K.J. Ph. Spitta (Leipsic, 1861); Messner, two articles in Neue Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, 1860 (No. 5), 1861 (No. 25); also the preface in Peters's collection of Spitta's hymns.

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