Johann August Wilhelm Neander, was a German theologian and church historian.
He became a theologian and a great authority on church history, much loved by his pupils. His many works, several of which have been translated into English, were collected in one edition in 1862.
He was born at Göttingen as David Mendel. His father, Emmanuel Mendel, is said to have been a Jewish pedlar, but August adopted the name of Neander on his baptism as a Protestant Christian. While still a child, he moved with his mother to Hamburg. He was known for the simplicity of his personal appearance and the oddity of his manners, but even more for his hard work and intellectual accomplishment. From the grammar school (Johanneum) he passed to the gymnasium, where the study of Plato appears especially to have engrossed him. Considerable interest attaches to his early companionship with Wilhelm Neumann and certain others, among whom were the writer Karl August Varnhagen von Ense and the poet Adelbert von Chamisso.
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.
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, and in 1837 his Das Leben Jesu Christi, in seinem geschichilichen Zusammenhang und seiner geschichtlichen Entwickelung, called forth by the famous Life of David Strauss. 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. He died on 14 July 1850, worn out and nearly blind with incessant study. After his death 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 JL 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,” I 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 incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
III. memorials of Eleanor Elliott BY KATHERINE A. FORREST, London 1894
ON THE DEATH OF JOHN NEANDER, an illustrious German scholar, named David Mendel, but afterwards baptized as John Neander on his conversion to Christianity, because the Gospel of St. John had been to him the word of life, and Neander means new man.
“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.