Selig Cassel 1821-1892
Selig (Paulus Stephanus) Cassel, was one of the most distinguished Hebrew Christians of the 19th century, and one of the most remarkable missionaries ever in the London Society’s ranks.
Selig was born at Glogau, in Silesia, 1821. He was educated at the Gymnasia of Glogau and Schweidnitz, and subsequently at the university of Berlin, where he made a special study of history as a pupil of the famous historian, Dr. Ranke. His brother, David, became a distinguished rabbi in Berlin, but Selig’s path took him elsewhere.
Cassel took his degree at Berlin and Licentiatus Theologiæ in due course, and received the faculty for headmaster for all classes of the gymnasium in Latin, Greek, theology, history, geography and German literature. He then, for a time, was on the journalistic staff of the “Constitutionelle Zeitung” in Berlin. Afterwards, in 1850, Cassel went to Erfurt, where he was the editor of the “Erfurter Zeitung” from 1850 to 1856.
His Christian friends, and especially, according to his own statement, his study of the history of Israel, led him to Christianity, which he embraced in 1855, receiving at baptism the names “Paulus Stephanus.” He celebrated this “second birthday,” as he called it, every year amidst his friends and congregation.
Writer, preacher and orator
For a few years Cassel remained in the town and became custodian of the public library and secretary of the “Erfurt Academy.” He was then called to Berlin by the Prime Minister, who entrusted him with the editorship of the official “Deutsche Reform.” He resigned this post in six month’s time to return to his beloved books and studies at Erfurt.
At this time honours were showered upon him. King Frederick William IV of Prussia honoured him with the title of “Professor.” The University of Erlangen conferred on him the degree of “Licentiatus Theologiæ.” Afterwards, in Vienna, Cassel obtained that of “Doctor Theologiæ (Doctor of Divinity). In 1859 he returned to Berlin and delivered public lectures, which were more and more largely attended and appreciated by both Jews and Gentiles. These lectures made him known throughout the capital and the country.
Dr. Cassel was elected a member of the “Landtag,” the Prussian Parliament, in 1866, and became a prominent member of the Conservative party. As this took him too much from his literary work, he soon laid this mandate down.
Missionary and Pastor
In 1868 the London Society appointed him their missionary in Berlin and minister of Christ Church. For twenty-three years Dr. Cassel’s lips preached the Gospel to his people both in Berlin and other places of Germany, and in Europe. The good done by means of his sermons and lectures can never be fully estimated; and, in addition to this, numbers of Jews were influenced in a Christian direction by his numerous publications.
In a letter he wrote during these years (1887) we gain insight into his activities during these years :
“Invitations came to give lectures in places at a distance. A dear friend of mine shewed me in 1860 a map of Germany, on which he marked all the towns in which I have lectured. Since then I have delivered over a thousand original lectures in Berlin and elsewhere. God’s hand has guided me everywhere. My journeys have extended from Amsterdam to Buda-Pesth. I always had an attentive audience, and the poorer people in both large and small towns heard the Word with gladness – nay, even with enthusiasm.
“During the anti-Semitic agitation, such journeys for the purpose of delivering lectures were more extensive. I had then become known through my defence of Gospel charity, even in circles which were not outwardly known as Christian. The meetings which were held at the period resembled more nearly the ideal at which I aimed. A considerable number of persons listened to the lectures, who had completely turned their backs on the Church.”
Speaking of his ministerial and missionary work in Christ Church, the doctor said:
“The special blessing of the Church consisted in the regular exposition of the Old Testament. It has been my custom to expound the Old Testament every Sunday evening, from the first Sunday I came into office (Jan. 15th, 1868) up to the present time. It was the first time in Berlin that this was made a practice. There were, therefore, from the very beginning hearers, consisting of Jews and earnest Christians. Those expository semons have been the greatest blessing, and have specially united me to the congregation.”
Professor Cassel was used of God to lead many to the feet of their Messiah – nearly all highly educated persons, doctors, authors, merchants. But, as he said, “I am not fond of statistics. I sow the seed, but do not stop to ask how much may be the fruit.”
Dr. Cassel was an ardent lover of his own people. “Though he has left us, he was by no means our enemy. He still fights against those who hate the Jews,” said the “Jewish Chronicle.” It was he who raise his voice against Stocker in Berlin, and against Richard Wagner, and endeavoured by voice and pen to soften down the excitement and anger of German Protestants, and to secure the peace of his people.
In the spring of 1891, when he retired from his duties, Dr. Cassel did not cease to preach, wherever an occasion offered, and he continued to write and to minister to his people. Many of those he reached for the Gospel of Messiah were in high positions and came from various parts of the world. Dr. Cassel’s death took place, after great sufferings, on December 23rd, 1893, his last words being, “Wo ist denn das Himmelreich?” (Where is the Kingdom of Heaven?) He was buried at the Jerusalem cemetery near Berlin.
Mr. C. Urbschat, of Königsberg, who for several years worked under Dr. Cassel in Berlin, wrote of his labours:
Professor Cassel was a highly educated missionary, and showed extraordinary ability in influencing the higher classes of Jews in favour of Christianity by his lectures and by his pleadings on their behalf. He was a man of profound learning, of great diligence, and of restless zeal in propagating the Gospel of his Master amongst Jews and Christians.
The “Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums” said:
“When the anti-Semites began to show themselves, Cassel remembered his origin, and opposed the leaders, Stöcker, Wagner, and others with great decision and manliness. It was this manly action that gives us some satisfaction for his desertion of the parental religion. We have to judge this apostasy very differently from that of many others in former and present times, as he did not forsake his old creed for any worldly reason, or to get honours and position, but rather because he followed a mystical line of thought. God alone can judge the veracity and purity of his life; we dare not. ‘Peace be to his ashes!'”
Of the two brothers who, though divided in life, died about the same time, the Jewish Chronicle remarked:
“The deaths of David and Paulus (formerly Selig) Cassel remove two brothers, both of whom had won a place for themselves among the honoured names of Jewish scholarship… Paulus was the greater man of the two, a scholar and writer of a higher type, and his works will live. He took a worthy part in the struggle against anti-Semitism. Paulus Cassel was perhaps the first man to recognize what was really meant by writing a history of the Jews.”
One of Dr. Cassel’s friends whom he had led to Messiah sent the following most touching tribute to his memory:
“There was no way of his life in which he failed to shine. Study and knowledge sealed in his heart the great truths of religion. His was the faith which is clothed in wisdom; his the wisdom which is hallowed by faith. His faith was to him, as it should be to all of us, an armed angel. His affectionate heart not only throbbed with love for his own kindred, but was alive to sympathy with those who needed it. I always found him benevolent and singularly gentle. He taught the world that the Jews, hitherto despised, must be despised no more; he conquered a place in society, in the highest society – the intellectual circle – for the people of his faith. And this victory he won, not by dint of clamour, or falseness, or obstrusive self-assertion, but by the force of his own intellectual powers, his unsullied integrity, his admirable character. Dr. Cassel gave mankind a useful lesson, a touching example, a glorious spectacle: he showed how a Christian Jew lives! His knowledge was the altar on which he stood to worship the great God-man! History confirms the truth, which the Psalmist, whose music he loved, taught mankind ages ago – that, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'”
Dr. Cassel’s gigantic intellect, marvelous ability, persuasive oratory, brilliant pen, were consecrated to the service of his Lord and Master, and to the spiritual welfare of his brethren. Sage, philosopher, scholar, author, preacher and missionary, he was a king amongst his fellow-men. His name will live immortal in the annals of Jewish and Jewish missionary literature.
Weihnachten, Ursprünge, Bräuche und Aberglauben. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der christlichen Kirche und des deutschen Volkes. Unveränderter Nachdruck d.Ausgabe von 1862. Wiesbaden, VMA-Vlg., ca.1990. XX, 307, CXXVI S., 1 Bl., OPp.-Bd
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Oliphant, 1909. New edition 1999 by Keren Ahvah Meschichit, Jerusalem
Gartenhaus, Jacob. Famous Hebrew Christians. Baker Book House, 1979.
Stevens, George H. Jewish Christian Leaders. Oliphants, 1966.