David Mendel – Johann Auguste Wilhelm Neander 1789-1850
“Neander’s love embraced all mankind. Truth and justice were his only aim. Jesus Christ was to him the highest revelation of a holy and merciful God, the source of the redemption and salvation of the world, as well as the central point of history and the innermost shrine of the moral universe.” J. Kunert, Zion’s Freund, December 1834
He was born at Göttingen as David Mendel, a descendant of Moses Mendelssohn, the known Jewish reformer. While still a child, he moved with his mother to Hamburg. From the grammar school (Johanneum) he passed to the gymnasium, where the study of Plato appears especially to have engrossed him. His father, Emmanuel Mendel, is said to have been a Jewish pedlar, but he educated August in the legal profession. While at university he came to faith in Israel’s Messiah and opted to continue his studies in theology. On his baptism in 1806 he adopted the name of Neander and the private names of two friends. He was hereafter known as Auguste Neander.
Baptized on February 25, 1806, in the same year Neander went to Halle to study divinity. Here Friedrich Schleiermacher was then lecturing. Neander found in him the inspiration he needed, while Schleiermacher found a congenial pupil, one destined to propagate his views in a higher and more effective Christian form. Before the end of that year, the events of the War of the Fourth Coalition forced Neander to move to Göttingen. There he continued his studies, made himself an expert on Plato and Plutarch, and became especially advanced in theology under the venerable GJ Planck. The impulse communicated by Schleiermacher was confirmed by Planck, and he seems now to have realized that the original investigation of Christian history was to form the great work of his life.
Having finished his university course, he returned to Hamburg, and passed his examination for the Christian ministry. After an interval of about eighteen months, however, he decided on an academic career, which began at Heidelberg, where two vacancies had occurred in the theological faculty of the university. He went there as a teacher of theology in 1811; and in 1812 he became a professor. In the same year (1812) he published his monograph Über den Kaiser Julianus und sein Zeitalter. The fresh insight into the history of the church evinced by this work at once drew attention to its author, and even before he had terminated the first year of his academical labours at Heidelberg, he was called to Berlin, where he was appointed professor of theology. His pupils included Edmond de Pressensé.
Neander, the man
From Memoirs of John Neander…
Johann August Wilhelm Neander was one of that circle of illustrious names by which the 19th century has been so forcibly reminded of the native majesty, the princely power and splendour of the Hebrew intellect, when developed and applied under right influences and towards worthy object.
The personal character of Neander has often been a theme of praise; but we question whether any have said of it more than the reality itself would have justified and confirmed. Untiring industry, a sagacity, within certain limits almost prophetic, a humble, ardent, life-pervading, rejoicing spirit of godliness, childlike simplicity, self-denying benevolence, a heart glowing and cpacious enough for all the requirements of Christian friendship, but delighting especially to pour out its rich treasures of instruction and of sympathy upon the receptive sols of the young – these were the chief and strongly marked features of Neander’s character. Eccentric we must admit him to have been, almost beyond the power of tongue or pen or pencil to describe; but even this eccentricity was so absolutely remote from anything like affectation – so completely and manifestly an art of his individuality, that after the first impression of singularity had somewhat subsided, it ceased to strike as being at all out of place, and in the minds of all such as really knew the man, and that which is in him, was certainly not associated with anything like disrespect or ridicule.
Neander’s charity was unbounded. Poor students were not only presented with tickets to his lectures, but were also often provided by him with money and clothing. A very small portion of his income as a professor went to supply his own wants; it was nearly all given away for benevolent purposes. The profits resulting from the sale of his writings were bestowed upon Missionary, Bible and other Societies, and upon hospitals. Thoughts of himself never seemed to have obtruded upon his mind. He would sometimes give away to a poor student all the money he had about him at the moment. And he has even been known frequently to bestow his new clothes in charity, while he retained the old ones for himself. At Berlin he was, if possible, less esteemed for his learning than for his piety and benevolence. His students loved him as a father, and he was indeed a father to them. He used to assemble them once or twice a week in his house; and there he conversed with them familiarly, encouraging one, advising another, and distributing to all, with inexhaustible liberality, the stores of wisdom and erudition that he had amassed. His pleasure was to be with the young; and when a student showed uncommon aptitutde for learning, he was always willing to devote a portion of his leisure time to his instruction. It would be difficult to decide whether the influence of his example has not been as great as that of his writings upon the thousands of young men who have been his pupils. Protestants, Romanists, nearly all the leading preachers throughout Germany, have attended his lectures, and all have been more or less imbued with his ideas and teachings.
Neander’s love of Christianity was a living affection, dwelling in the present as truly and attentively as in the past. His faith remained firm and lively to the end…. He believed profoundly in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Redeemer and Saviour of the world, the only true Mediator between God and man. He admitted the supernatural facts of the Gospel – the incarnation, expiation, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. But what distinguished him especially was a heart full of love and devotedness to his divine Redeemer. Too often learning dries up the heart, and the abstract speculations of theology stifle the warm emotions of the soul. But in this respect the great Berlin professor afforded a remarkable example. He was at once very learned and very fervent: he combined with the highest endowments of genius the simple faith of a child. His warm, generous heart, constantly overflowing with feelings of love to all mankind, saved him from those rocks against which so many of his eminent contemporaries in his own nation have been dashed.
Neander was never marreid, but lived with his maiden sister, who watched over him with the most devoted affection. And indeed he stood in need of her constant vigilance; for he understood nothing, absolutely nothing of the simplest business of life, or of the commonest domestic affairs So absorbed in thought was he continually, and so utterly inattentive to what was passing around him, that he would have forgotten to take his meals, if he had not been conducted to table every day by his sister. Although he had for years been in the habit of going from his house to the university, he did not know the way, and it was necessary for him to have some one to guide him whenever he left his study to take a walk, or to go to his lecture-room. Generally a student accompanied him to the university, and just before it was time for his lecture to close, his sister could always be seen on the oppostie side of the street, waiting to conduct him home.
“A small spare man, buttoned up in an old brown surtout, and having his trousers tucked in at the tops of his books, enters the room, holding a few papers in his hand, shuts the door hastily, steps upon a small dais furnished with an elevated desk, and immediately commences talking in a calm, measured, abstracted manner, while he leans his forehead upon his left hand, and this upon the desk before him. The small, well-turned head, with its tangled mass of jet black hair – those shaggy, portentous eyebrows – those small but brilliant eyes, which seem anxious to shut out the earthly daylight, perhaps that they may dwell without hindrance upon the clearer ligth within – that southern complexion – those sensitive features – and the rising enthusiasm of that deep toned voice – might well call forth expectation, if – But did ever mortal eyes behold such extraordinary attitudes – such unaccountable geticulation – such reckless defiance of all fashionable “guides to Elocution”? Now playing with an old pen, and twisting it into every possible fashion – now scrutinizing evry finger nail in succession, with as much earnestness as if the lecture were written there – now standing on one leg, while the other performs a series of rapid and indescribable gyrations – and now again, groping after the black board that hangs against the wall behind him! Surely the man is possessed! Yea, veryly: but not as thou wouldst insinuate. It were well that some of us too were possessed by the same powers that have mastered him. Think for a moment of what he is speaking! How shall one small body express, by any conceivable geticulation, the spiritual throes, the mighty upheavings which precede or attend the conversion of a continent, the construction of a theology, the soul-birth of a reformer, the renovation of the Christian world?….
On Monday, the 8th of July, 1850, he lectured as usual; on Monday, the 15th of the same month, at about two o’clock in the morning, his spirit departed. He ws somewhat unwell on the 8th, but not so as to interfere with his duties at the University; in the evening, however, he became very ill. His malady was a disease of the bowels, and his sufferings were excruciating during the whole week. On Sunday morning, though a strongly medicated bath relieved him somewhat, his reason gave way. No sooner had he lost the command of his mind than he began to fancy that his duties called him to his lecture-rooms, and besought his physician for permission to go. Afterwards he called for the young man whom he had employed to read to him since the partial failure of his sight, and requested him to go on with the work he was reading the day before his illness began. Then he appeared to think himself in his lecture-room, and that he had delievered his usual lecture, and said, “I am weary: let us go home.” After this his feeble eye caught sight of the books ranged round his room, and they brought to mind the meetings for the study of the New Testament and the Fathers of the Church, which he held weekly with the students in his own house. Imagining his class to be present, he spoke some time upon certain passages of the New Testament, and afterwards wandering into the early history of the Church, he dictated a page or two for the continuation of his magnum opus. After finishing this – it was towards the close of the day – he said gently, “I am weary; I must sleep. Good night.” Being now easy – that fatal symptom – he fell asleep and breathed until about two o’clock on Monday morning, when, in that more solemn sense, he again fell asleep.
In the year following his appointment he published a second monograph Der Heilige Bernhard und sein Zeitalter(Berlin, 1813) and then in 1818 his work on Gnosticism (Genetische Entwickelung der vornehmsten gnostischen Systeme). A still more extended and elaborate monograph than either of the preceding followed in 1822, Der Heilige Johannes Chrysostomus und die Kirche besonders des Orients in dessen Zeitalter, and again, in 1824 another on Tertullian (Antignostikus). He had in the meantime begun his great work, to which these efforts were only preparatory studies. The first volume of his Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Religion und Kirche embracing the history of the first three centuries, made it appearance in 1825. The others followed at intervals–the fifth, which appeared in 1842, bringing down the narrative to the pontificate of Boniface VIII. A posthumous volume edited by CFT Schneider in 1852, carried it on to the period of the council of Basel.
Besides this great work he published in 1832 his Geschichte der Pflanzung und Leitung der christlichen Kirche durch die Apostel (History of the Planting and Leading of the Christian Church by the Apostle), and in 1837 his Das Leben Jesu Christi, (The Life of Jesus Christ) In addition to all these he published Denkwürdigkeiten aus der Geschichte des Christentums (1823-1824, 2 vols., 1825, 3 vols., 1846); Das Eine und Mannichfaltige des christlichen Lebens (1840); papers on Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas, Theobald Thamer, Blaise Pascal, John Henry Newman, Blanco White and Thomas Arnold, and other occasional pieces (Kleine Gelegenheitsschriften, 1829), mainly of a practical, exegetical and historical character.
After his death in 1850 a succession of volumes, representing his various courses of lectures, appeared (1856- 1864), in addition to the Lectures on the History of Dogma (Theologische Vorlesungen), admirable in spirit and execution, which were edited by J Jacobi in 1857.
Neander’s theological position can only be explained in connection with Schleiermacher, and the manner in which he modified and carried out the principles of his master. Characteristically meditative, he rested on the great central truths of Christianity, and recognized their essential reasonableness and harmony. Alive to the claims of criticism, he strongly asserted the rights of Christian feeling. “Without it,” he emphatically says, “there can be no theology; it can only thrive in the calmness of a soul consecrated to God.” This explains his favourite motto: “Pectus est cuod theologum facit.”
His Church History (Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Religion und Kirche) remains the greatest monument of his genius. In this Neander’s chief aim was everywhere to understand what was individual in history. In the principal figures of ecclesiastical history he tried to depict the representative tendencies of each age, and also the types of the essential tendencies of human nature generally. His guiding principle in dealing both with the history and with the present condition of the church was “that Christianity has room for the various tendencies of human nature, and aims at permeating and glorifying them all; that according to the divine plan these various tendencies are to occur successively and simultaneously and to counterbalance each other, so that the freedom and variety of the development of the spiritual life ought not to be forced into a single dogmatic form” (Otto Pfleiderer).
Several of his books went through multiple editions and were translated into English.
• This article is based on text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain; and on “Memoir of the Life and Writings of Dr. Neander” in preface to General History of Christian Religion and Church.
III. memorials of Eleanor Elliott BY KATHERINE A. FORREST, London 1894
ON THE DEATH OF JOHN NEANDER, an illustrious German scholar, named David Mendel
“Let us make ready to go home,”
Neander said on his death day,
When the tired soul would flee away
To rest, because the hour was come.
To rest among the blessed dead
Until the dawn of morning light,–
“Now let us go to sleep,–good-night,”
With dying voice Neander said.
And then his spirit passed away
In sleep that deepened into death,
Calm as a sleeping infant’s breath,
Calm as the death of summer day.
An offspring he of Israel’s line,
Of princely Israel’s hallowed race,
But born again of heavenly grace,
And sealed with sacramental sign.
The dew of that baptismal wave
Upon his spirit still abode,
“He died to self, he lived to God,”
– So spake they of him at his grave.
The loving heart is dead and chill,
The hand that gave can give no more;
But still the mind of richest lore–
The noble mind, endureth still.
Engraved in many a shining word,
His thoughts of wisdom yet endure,
Of holy wisdom, high and pure,
Breathing the truth of Christ his Lord.
Calm was his spirit’s parting breath,
Serene his soul in days of strife
A peaceful death, a lovely life,
Blest are such souls in life and death.
Bernstein, A. Some Jewish Witnesses for Christ.1909. New edition 1999 by Keren Ahvah Meshichit, Jerusalem.
Gartenhaus, Jacob. Famous Hebrew Christians. Baker Book House, 1979
Gidney, W. T. Biographies of Eminent Hebrew Christians
Memoir of the Life and Writings of Dr. Neander, prefixed to the English translation of his General History
Kunert; Zion’s Freund, December 1834. Source courtesy of Messianic Good News, South Africa.
General History of the Christian Religion and Church
Life of Christ
The History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles
Biographies of Julian the Apostate, St. Bernard and St. Chrysostom
AntiGnostikus, Development of the Gnostic System
Memorabilia from the History of the Christian Life
Unity and Variety of the Christian Life
Memoirs of the Proceedings of the Berlin Royal Academy of Sciences