Stier, Rudolf Ewald
Stier, Rudolf Ewald, an eminent German commentator, was born at Fraustadt, March 17, 1800. He received a very inadequate preparatory training at the gymnasium of Neustettin, in Pomerania. In his sixteenth year he matriculated at Berlin with the, intention of studying law. He soon, however, tired of that pursuit, and, after overcoming the reluctance of his father, an inspector of taxes at Fraustadt, he had himself enrolled among the students of theology in the winter term of 1816. The principal inspiration of his being, nevertheless, was not theology, but poetry and, an enthusiasm for liberty. He exulted when permitted for the; first time to enjoy the privileges of Berlin, and he spent entire days in roaming through fields and forests, alleging in defense of his conduct that to spend such days behind the study table evinced ingratitude towards the Giver of the breath of spring and the sun of summer. He also entered into correspondence with Jean Paul, and made that romantic author his model. Essays and pamphlets flowed from his pen, all giving evidence of a bold and sprightly, but also of an expectant and yearning spirit. His Krokodileier, Traume und Marchen and numerous attempts at poetry, belong to this period. In 1818 he removed to Halle, and at once entered into the Burschenschaft, becoming its head on Oct. 27; but the Burschenschaft being dissolved in February, 1819, he left Halle, and, after a brief sojourn at home, returned to Berlin. During the interval, he had experienced a thorough conversion, and Christ had come to be the all- absorbing object of his life. His mind had been profoundly agitated by the death of a young girl belonging to the family, whom he fervently loved, and the event turned all the ardor of his passionate nature from aesthetics and nationality into the channel of religion. Having returned to Berlin, Stier came under the influence of an ascetical coterie, which decided him to break with all his earlier literary career and to commit not only his plans for further labors, but even his copies of the German classics, to the fire. He gave himself wholly to the study of theology, but in a spirit which permitted him to depreciate his professors, e.g. Neander and Lücke, as not sufficiently devoted, and as exalting themselves above the apostles whom they expounded. A copy of Von Meyer's exposition of the Bible, given him by Tholuck for the purpose of encouraging a persistent study of the Scriptures, caused a decided change in his views, however, and delivered him from his supercilious tendencies. April 2, 1821, Stier entered the Preachers' Seminary at Wittenberg, where Nitzsch, Schleusner and Heubner were in the faculty, and Krummacher, Tholuck, and Rothe among the students. Heubner, especially, contributed greatly towards the clarifying of Stier's theology and to the settling of his faith. He became indefatigable in Bible study, noting in a quarto Bible of several volumes everything that could in any way assist in the exposition, especially a list of selected parallel passages; and when the quarto proved inadequate he substituted for it a folio which became a perfect treasure house of Biblical learning. After having completed his studies, he taught a year in the Teachers' Seminary at Karalene, and then followed a call in 1824 to the Mission Institute at Basle. Excessive application exhausted his strength and compelled him, after four years, to retire. He went to Wittenberg, which had become a second home to him in consequence of his marriage with a sister of Karl Immanuel Nitzsch, and lived in comparative seclusion until called in 1829 to be pastor at Frankleben, near Merseburg, where he spent ten years of fruitful study and official labor. His sermons attracted hearers from beyond the bounds of his own parish, and his pastoral care was blessed to many individual souls and to the prosperity of the entire parish. The impression made by him is illustrated by an anecdote which relates that he was once declared to be a mystic by one of a company gathered at an inn, and that on the question being asked what kind of persons mystics were, the speaker responded that they were preachers who lived as they preached. From these labors Stier was transferred in 1838 to Wichlinghausen, in the Wupperthal. His physical strength proved unequal to the task of managing so large a parish (3500 souls), and his spirit chafed under the rigid presbyterial control exercised in the Rhenish churches. He also desired to devote himself to literary labor; and, in addition, his wife, who had been a constant solace and help, died. He accordingly resigned his post in 1846, and retired once more to Wittenberg, where he spent three years in literary seclusion. Before his return the University of Bonn had conferred on him the honorary degree of doctor of divinity. His next position was the superintendency of Schkeuditz, where he exercised a beneficial supervision over his diocesans, but was not popular as a preacher. Frequently only fifteen to twenty persons attended the services, even on festival days. His sermons were said to be dry and his personal bearing brusque and unsociable. A similar experience awaited him at Eisleben, whither he was transferred to the same office in 1859. His "Bible hours," however, were highly esteemed by a limited circle of earnest Christians in either place. Stier was afflicted all his life with many and severe corporeal ailments, a chronic affection of the throat being the last; but his death was wholly unexpected when he fell the victim of apoplexy, on Dec. 16, 1862.
Stier was an intense and resolute character, and not naturally sympathetic. An unyielding and stern controversialist, his bearing intensified the opposition already excited against him in the ecclesiastical world by his earnest advocacy of the union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches and by his suspected leanings towards Pietism. As a theologian, he suffered from the lack of adequate preparation in early life. He threw himself into the study of the Scriptures while deficient in philosophical and theological, and even philological training, and accordingly developed a prudish Biblicism which fails to recognize the necessity for a development of Church doctrine beyond the formal limits of the Word. He was primarily a Biblical theologian, and his principal works are exegetical. His theory of the inspiration of the Scriptures is peculiar. He believed the Bible to convey the thoughts of the Holy Spirit, not those of the different writers; but the inspiration does not apply to words, but rather to the Word. "We possess what He spoke. Not indeed in the letter of the verba ipsissima, but as mediated through the testimony of the evangelists and elevated into the Spirit." He accordingly denied any inaccuracies whatever in the general tenor of Scripture, and yet conceded the occurrence of inaccuracies in minor particulars. Matthew did not combine into a single discourse what the Lord uttered at different times, because the Holy Ghost could not guide and instruct him to record any untruth whatsoever for the Church; on the other hand he writes: "Once only did Luke mistake by introducing a saying from another place (Lu 5:39)." Thoroughly convinced that the Holy Ghost is auctor primarius of the Scriptures, he was not greatly concerned about the canonicity of its human authors. He could not, however, ignore history altogether. He was a mystic, but of the rational class which believes in harmonizing the internal testimony of the Spirit with the external witness of history. Following the older interpretation, he received the authenticity of the whole of Isaiah and of 2 Peter on internal grounds alone and without being disturbed by philological or other scientific reasonings. In this instance the critical faculty was compelled to give place to his dependence on ecclesiastical tradition and the felt religious necessity of regarding the whole of the Bible as the regularly attested word of God. Other defects to be noticed in his exegetical works are a lack of doctrinal consistency and of comprehensibility, the reason being, very generally, that the argument moves in figures and images, while the underlying thought is not always brought into view. But, with all his defects, "Stier is known as an interpreter wherever the evangelical Church extends." His chief work in this department is the Reden Jesu, which has been widely circulated in Germany, England, and America. In practical theology he likewise rendered important services, notably in the publishing of his Biblische Keryktik and in his contributions to the literature of catechetics. Hymnology and liturgies also engaged his attention, and his interest in them is attested by the issue of several volumes in these departments. He committed to writing all his thoughts, beliefs, and discoveries. In early life he had already planned a large number of works to be written in the course of his life, and most of them were, in time, actually written. After his death, a card containing a list of eleven books yet to be written was found, among them an Old Test. Christology in Germ and in Brief; Doctrine of the New. Test. in the New Test. itself; Surenhusius Redivivus; Exposition of all New Test. Quotations from the Old Test., etc. Stier's published works are in exegetical science, Lehrgebaude der hebraischen Sprache (1833) :-- Andeutungen fur glaubiges Schriftverstandniss (1824-29): — 70 Ausgewahlte Psalmen (1834, 2 pts.): — commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the Epistle to the Ephesians, and the Epistle of Jude; on the prophet Isaiah, and on the Reden Jesu. All these form a mine of wealthy ideas for preachers, and have been very widely circulated. The last named was his principal work and was republished in extract in 1857, to which were added in 1859 Reden des Herrn vom Himmel her, and in 1860 Reden der Engel. These have been published complete in an English dress (N.Y. 1864, 3 vols. 8vo). Mention may also be made here of his cooperation in the preparation of the last edition of Von Meyer's Bible; (1842), and of the subsequent edition of 1856 (Bielefeld), prepared wholly by himself, together with the well-known Polyglot Bible, edited by himself and Thiele. Further, of the essays in behalf of a revision of Luther's Bible, entitled Altes und Neues in Deutscher Bibel (Basle, 1828): — Darf Luther's Bibel unberichtigt bleiben? (Halle, 1836): — and Der Deutschen Bibel Berichtigung, etc. (1861). In practical theology, homiletics, hymnology etc., Biblische Keryktik (1830; 2d ed. 1844): — Evangelien- Predigten (2d ed. 1862): — Epistel-Predigten (2d ed. 1855).: — Privat- Agende (5th ed. 1863): — Luther's Katechismus als Grundlage des Confirmandenunterrichts (6th ed. 1855): — Hulfsbuchlein zum Katechismus (1837, etc.): A volume of hymns and poems in 1825, and a second in 1845: — Gesangbuchsnoth (1838), a critique of modern hymn books. In support of the Union, to which he was thoroughly devoted, he wrote, Bekenntniss aus der unirten Kirche (1848): — Unlutherische Thesen (1855). See a sketch of Stier's life by his son in Neue evangelische Kirchenzeitung, 1863, No. 11 (March 14); a characterization of the author by Nitzsch, attached to the 3d edition of the Reden Jesu. See Lacroix, Life of Rolf Stier (N.Y. 1874).