Spittler, Louis Timotheus Von

Spittler, Louis Timotheus Von an eminent ecclesiastical historian of Germany, was born in November, 1752, at Stuttgart, where his father was a clergyman. His early training was obtained at the gymnasium of his native town, where the rector, Volz, inspired him with fondness for historical studies and trained him to critical research. He entered at Tübingen as a student of theology, and became particularly interested in philosophy, everywhere applying his early habits of careful collocation of authorities and comparison of statements. His earliest literary productions dealt with difficult questions in historical theology, which only the most painstaking and critical labors might hope to solve. His themes were, for example, the 60th canon of Laodicea, the decrees of Sardica, and the Capitula Angilramni (1777), history of the canon law to the time of the Pseudo-Isidore. In 1779 Spittler became professor in ordinary of philosophy at Göttingen, and was associated with Walch in teaching Church history, and with Putter in German history, besides cooperating with Schlozer and Gatterer, two other eminent historians, in their work. Down to Walch's death, in 1784, he confined himself chiefly to ecclesiastical history, but afterwards entirely to political history. His Grundriss der Geschichte der christlichen Kirche was accordingly published in the former period (1782), when he was thirty years of age, and constitutes almost his last contribution to that branch of literature. Spittler's Church history was highly valued by his contemporaries, and among moderns Schelling writes of him (preface to Steffen's Nachlass, p. 21) as a man who "has not been excelled in political penetration by any historical scholar of Germany, and in breadth of view in both secular and ecclesiastical history," while Heeren and Woltmann speak of the Church history as the "true bloom of the author's mind." On the other hand, the opponents of 18th century enlightenment, no less than the skeptical Baur (Epochen d. kirchl. Geschichtsschreib. p. 162-178), have little to commend in that book. The truth is that Spittler had little regard for the history of the development of dogma, his interest being more particularly centered on the government and constitution of the Church. His rare powers of research and perfect mastery of the resultant material, joined to an unusual facility in grasping the salient features of an era and a marvelously graceful and vivid presentation of the story, were devoted to a narration of the experiences and actions of those who aspired to rule the Church and of the consequences which resulted to the mass of the governed. He did not assume to determine what constitutes Christianity, and he traced back events to a source in the purposes of individuals; but his peculiar attitude grew out of the opinion that Christianity is not an end, but a remedial agency, as a means to secure the salvation of mankind, the efficiency of which is impaired by whatever degree of ignorance and immorality may be connected with its operation. He did not, however, discover any positive improvement in history, and, more particularly, in the history of the Church; nor yet, upon the whole, any degeneration, but simply a manifoldly uniform and constantly repeated world course. A posthumously published series of Spittler's lectures, copied from students' notes, which deal with the papacy, monasticism, the Jesuits, etc., is scarcely worthy of the author and of the subjects presented because of the prevalent humor, often travestied until it becomes ribaldry. It is, however, to be remembered that they were the product of his earlier years, delivered while his character was not fully formed, and while he had his position to conquer by the side of able and famous professors. In 1797 he was recalled to Stuttgart and made privy councilor. In that position the very breadth of view which he had cultivated, and which gave him so perfect an understanding of affairs, deprived him of the ability to make himself powerfully felt in the administration of the State. A further disqualification grew out of the accession in the same year of a prince who soon after allied himself with Napoleon, and who was not concerned to guard the "good and ancient privileges" of Würtemberg. Nobility, titles, and medals could not replace what Spittler had lost in giving up his post at Göttingen. He died March 14, 1810. Characterizations of Spittler have been furnished by Planck in the preface to the 5th ed. of Spittler's Kirchengesch. (1812); Hugo, in Civilistisches Magaz. 3, 482-508; Heeren, Werke, 6, 515-534; Woltmann, Werke, 12, 312-352; Dav. Strauss, in Haym's Preuss. Jahrbücher, 1860, 1, 124-150. See also Putter-Saalfeld, Gelehrtengesch. v. Göttingen, 2, 179-181; 3, 116-122. Spittler's complete works have yet been published only in part (1827-37, 15 vols.).

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