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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Nowak, Kurt, u. Otto Gerhard Oexle [Hrsg.]


Adolf von Harnack. Theologe, Historiker, Wissenschaftspolitiker.


Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2001. 448 S. gr.8 = Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte, 161. Geb. ¬ 46,00. ISBN 3-525-35477-0.


Henry Chadwick

Adolf (von) Harnack founded this journal and to its pages contributed numerous weighty reviews. It is an honour to be welcoming here a good symposium of fifteen learned papers on various aspects of his complicated but distinguished life and work. These originated in a conference at Tegernsee in March 1998. Born at Dorpat in Livonia (7 May 1851) he died in Berlin in 1930, a Baltic outsider with an accent who, in Bernd Moeller's phrase, became a central figure in German intellectual life both in and outside Berlin. A prolific producer of books and papers, the bibliography of his writings by Friedrich Smend (1927) runs to over 1600 items. There must be extremely few today who have read every one. If he had written less, he would have written better books. Yet his big books and monograph studies are still necessary.

Harnack's eminence is rooted not only in the volume and quality of his historical labours on patristic texts and problems but also in his Ritschlian vision of the way in which Christian thought is historically determined. His great works on the history of dogma, on the history and chronology of early Christian literature, and on the mission and expansion of Christianity (1924 edition), together with his Markion, remain indispensable for contemporary historians of the age; and the same is hardly less true of a series of works, minor in comparison, on the formation of the Pauline corpus, 1Clement, Justin's Dialogue, Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. For the light thrown by Origen's exegesis on the problems of the contemporary churches of his time Harnack's collection of matter (1919) ranks high as a masterpiece. It is significant that his original plan for the Berlin Academy's GCS series was restricted to the first three Christian centuries. In this plan he received support from Mommsen and, less enthusiastically, from Wilamowitz who was sceptical of Harnack's control of Greek. Neither of these great scholars (also indispensable even today) were sympathetic to Christianity. Duchesne described Mommsen as 'like a rhinocerus in a vineyard'.

But Mommsen found Harnack more congenial than Wilamowitz. The story is here well treated by Stefan Rebenich.

Harnack's scholarly distinction brought him the friendship of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who overruled the Prussian church's aversion and veto to his proposed appointment as professor in Berlin but could never persuade the Oberkirchenrat to modify its position.

He remained a wounded man, hurt by this cold shoulder from the Lutheran church at such a high level of authority. More conservative church people felt a lasting reserve, undiminished by his best-selling lectures on the nature of Christianity which Alfred Loisy famously judged to give insufficient recognition to the faith of the community. Harnack was unmoved by the criticism (P. Gruson's French chapter deals with this). He valued the New Testament to a degree which he could not grant to the Old Testament, but offended church authority by treating New Testament texts less as testimony to the word of God than as priceless evidence for the critical historian of Christian beginnings. He received sympathy from Martin Rade and Troeltsch. From 1919 he met a critical voice in Karl Barth. Paradoxically some of his New Testament studies, often in the Sitzungsberichte of the Academy, judiciously evaluated here by Christoph Markschies, cannot be rated higher than speculative guesswork lacking in cogent argument, moreover he puzzled readers by moving unpredictably from historical radicalism to a not always justified conservatism, both positions being touched at times by improbability.

His relation to the Kaiser brought him elevation to the nobility (von) and presidency of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft, an office which he handed on to Max Planck whose name was eventually to be associated with the society in place of the fallen emperor. Both Harnack and Planck were masterful organisers and facilitators of research for others. Harnack was skilled in raising funds from commercial firms.

One of the most interesting papers in this volume is by Manfred Weitlauff and concerns Harnack's opinion of and attitude to Roman Catholic studies of the ancient church. For Catholic practice he felt no attraction: its sacramentality seemed close to magic, and the cult of the Blessed Virgin reminded him of gnostic ideas of a female power in heaven. But the great historian Döllinger was intrigued by his work and invited him to visit his house by Tegernsee. The friendship became lasting. Döllinger had the unhappy experience of being asked by his bishop (when Roman Catholic friends at Tübingen were not asked) if he assented to Pastor Aeternus of Vatican I; this was to enforce denial and excommunication on a most learned man who would have remained in the church had he not been asked this question. The drama must have confirmed Harnack in the opinion that only Protestants of his own liberal stamp enjoyed real freedom for historical researches in Theology and Church History. That seemed evident from an embittered attack on Döllinger after his death in a Jesuit's biography of him; and the qualification 'liberal' was imposed by the illiberal Prussian Oberkirchenrat. Similarly he had unbounded admiration for Louis Duchesne, and felt very warmly towards Albert Ehrhard and F. X. Funk. He respected the learned Denifle (who died in June 1905 on the journey to Cambridge to receive an honorary doctorate) without liking his unfriendly picture of Luther. It is remarked that he would have enjoyed reading Lortz and Merkle.