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Kirchengeschichte: Neuzeit


1) Die Korrespondenz Heinrich Melchior Mühlenbergs aus der Anfangszeit des deutschen Luthertums in Nordamerika. Bd. IV: 1769-1776. Hrsg. in Zusammenarbeit m. d. Hauptarchiv der Franckeschen Stiftungen Halle von K. Aland in Verbindung m. B. Köster u. K.-O. Strohmidel.

2) Die Korrespondenz Heinrich Melchior Mühlenbergs aus der Anfangszeit des deutschen Luthertums in Nordamerika. Bd. V: 1777-1787. Hrsg. in Zusammenarbeit m. d. Hauptarchiv der Franckeschen Stiftungen Halle von K. Aland () u. H. Wellenreuther in Verbindung m. B. Köster, K.-O. Strohmidel u. V. Depkat.


1) Berlin-New York: de Gruyter 1993. XVI, 773 S. gr.8 = Texte zur Geschichte des Pietismus. Abt. III, 5. Geb. Euro 268,00. ISBN 3-11-012842-X.

2) Berlin-New York: de Gruyter 2002. XXII, 903 S. gr.8 = Texte zur Geschichte des Pietismus. Abt. III, 6. Geb. Euro 298,00. ISBN 3-11-016073-0.


Mark A. Noll

Although the first four volumes of Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg's correspondence were published over a space of only eight years (1986-1993), it took another nine years for the edition to be completed with the release of the fifth volume in 2002. The untimely death of chief editor Kurt Aland in April 1994, difficulty in securing institutional and financial patronage, and a desire to expand the clarifying apparatus of the text all delayed the completion of the edition. Thankfully, however, Hermann Wellenreuther, Beate Köster, Karl-Otto Strohmidel, and Volker Depkat persevered in their labors, and now this insightful and informative collection is available to a broad public.

The completion of this critical edition is a great boon for students of many important aspects of eighteenth-century religious history. In the first instance it completes a remarkably full documentary record for Mühlenberg's life itself (along with the Selbstbiographie, 1711-1743 edited by Wilhelm Germann [1881] and the three-volume English translation of Mühlenberg's journals edited by Theodore G. Tappert and John W. Doberstein [1942-1958]). But it also contributes essential sources for understanding what the sub-title rightly calls "die Anfangzeit des deutschen Luthertums in Nordamerika"; it documents the ongoing depth of formal correspondence that continued to link the far-flung missionary agents of Halle Pietism back to their center at the Frankesche Stiftungen (a theme whose importance for the English-speaking world has been repeatedly demonstrated by W. R. Ward, for example in The Protestant Evangelical Awakening [1992]); the edition provides important insights about the process of Americanization that all varieties of European Christianity, including the Lutheran, underwent as they settled in the new world; it contributes a treasure of fascinating material on the sons of Mühlenberg who themselves became famous personages (Johann Peter Gabriel, a general in the American Revolutionary army; Friedrich August Conrad, first speaker of the United States House of Representatives; and Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst, a pastor who became known as the "American Linnaeus" for his botanical researchs); and the edition is full of useful information for the early career of J. H. C. Helmuth, one of the last of the ministers sent by Halle to America, who became the church's leading figure in the generation after Mühlenberg.

These last two volumes contain 57 % of all the letters in the entire edition (230 in volume 4, 364 in volume 5). The vast majority of the letters were written by Mühlenberg, but the Halle archives and the Lutheran Archives Center in Philadelphia also yielded an impressive number of letters addressed to him. The letters are mostly in German, with English coming more and more into use throughout Mühlenberg's life and with occasional letters in Latin (and even one or two in Dutch). A Briefregister and a very thorough Personen- und Ortsregister is found in each volume. The editorial apparatus is simply superb, with especially noteworthy efforts in volume 5 to expand Mühlenberg's contractions and translate non-German material. An unusually helpful feature throughout all volumes is the editors' provision in the notes of extracts from Mühlenberg's journals, so that events, problems, and personalities can be viewed from more than one perspective. The edition is handsomely produced with unusually legible text for books containing so much print. These volumes are meant to last.

The most important thing they reveal about Mühlenberg and his work is the immense labor it required to organize the scattered congregations of immigrant German Lutherans into a cohesive ecclesiastical organization. Most settlers were poor, and many of them had strong ideas of their own about how church life should be regulated. The number of qualified pastors always fell far short of the number of congregations asking for leadership. In 1771 Mühlenberg was overseeing 76 Gemeinden, which were being served by only 25 pastors; and from 1770 onwards the Americans received no further pastoral recruits from Halle. In addition, self-appointed prophets and mere "Vagabonds" often attempted to weasel their ways into local Lutheran congregations for whom Mühlenberg was not able to provide a regular pastor. In response to these needs, Mühlenberg traveled constantly, wrote letter after letter, unstintingly defended the unrevised Augsburg Confession as the doctrinal anchor of the church, encouraged (and sometimes browbeat) ministers who grew weary in the face of great challenges, took every opportunity to secure funding for churches and schools, warned parishioners away from the sects at loose in America, cultivated the good will of political leaders in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, and tended to his own congregation in Philadelphia (which had grown to over 600 families by 1775). In 1774 and 1775 Mühlenberg also played a large role in settling a nasty personality struggle at the Ebenezer settlement in Georgia, which had been founded by refugees from Salzburg after the infamous expulsion of Protestants in 1734 (numbers 601-674, vol. 4: 479-730, passim).

Letter number 635 (20.6.1774, 4: 590-612) is an especially full account of the state of the churches on the eve of the American War for Independence. In this report to A. G. Frelyinghausen, the successor of Gotthilf August Francke in Halle, and F. M. Ziegenhagen, chief Halle representative in London, Mühlenberg described the numerical and financial situation of the German churches in great detail and also provided a brief report on all of the major congregations. In New York, for instance, Mühlenberg's son Friedrich was making every effort "eine deutsche Schule auf zu richten und in den Gang zu bringen, und hat durch Gottes Gnade schon 60 Kinder von der Gemeine beisamen, die ein fleißiger Schulmeister täglich unter richtet, welche Anzal, der Friedrich Sontag Nachmittags, wenn er eine halbe Stunde gepredigt, vor der Gemeine in der Kirche, zur Verwunderung als einer neuen Sache, catechisirt, and auch järlich etliche mal öffentlich examiniren und mit gedruckten Sprüchen ermuntern will, wenn Diabolus nicht queer Stiche machet" (4: 607). Mühlenberg did not enjoy as close a relationship with Frelinghuysen, as he had with his Halle predecessors, G. A. Francke and Johann Georg Knapp, although that cooling relationship reflected mostly the increasing self-sufficiency of Lutheran organization in America.

Scholars of Lutheranism have already demonstrated Mühlenberg's critical role as father of their communion in America. This edition fully supports that conclusion, but it also invites those interested in other aspects of eighteenth-century history to pursue their interests as well. On connections with other Protestants, for example, Mühlenberg was cool toward the Methodists, who by 1770 were just beginning the prodigies of evangelism and organization that would within fifty years make them the largest American denomination. When Mühlenberg reported that Lutherans in Philadelphia had refused the request of a new Methodist cell to use one of their churches, he added immediately: "Es schwärmet wieder aufs neue an allen Ecken und Orten von Englisch= und deutschen Propheten, die sich einbilden, daß sie der Geist zum Predigen treibe etc." (No. 490, 26.11.1769, 4: 136). About others Mühlenberg could be just as sharp, as when in 1784 he criticized Philadelphia Presbyterians as "politico-Christiani" for their efforts at influencing the new Pennsylvania legislature. For the much traveled evangelist George Whitefield, however, whom Mühlenberg invited to preach in his churches shortly before Whitefield's death in 1770, the American Lutherans had only consistent praise (for example, No. 500, 8.6.1770, 4: 164; and No. 874, 24.1.1783, 5: 499).

Mühlenberg tried hard to maintain political neutrality during the tense conflicts of the American War for Independence (1775-1783). To be sure, he did not criticize his sons for joining the American cause, and on very rare occasions he could himself express liberal sentiments: for example, "Die Jungen Leute thun recht, daß sie für ihre von Gott verliehene und angeborne Freiheit streiten wollen" (No. 670, 7.3.1776, 4: 718). For the most part, however, he was much more concerned about the safety of the churches and the orthodoxy of the ministers than about politics. During the war he left Philadelphia, where the Patriots' Continental Congress convened, for the countryside, and he always retained warm sentiments for King George III of England, who was also the monarch of Mühlenberg's native Hannover. Mühlenberg agreed with Freylinghausen from Halle who in 1776 called the American conflict "diese[n] bürgerliche[n] Unruhen" (No. 675, 1.6.1776, 4: 730).

In short, although students of Lutheran church history will be the greatest beneficiaries of these letters and their superb annotations, others will also find them of value. Above all, they show how deep and enduring was the legacy of an ecclesiastical leader who gave himself, not to the production of formal theological publications, but to the creation and nurture of institutions on the ground.