Clement Theodore Perthes.

Memoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) online

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of all the principles which just now confront each other, and is
itself a singular and important production, because these op-
posing principles are not only clearly reflected in Neander's
mind, but limited by the living consciousness of personal
Christianity, and thus evidently reconciled. Neander feels
himself most at home, and dwells most lovingly on those char-
acters and events in which the silent and secret influences of
the Divine Spirit appear, and the tender but deeply-rooted
growth of spiritual life is unfolded. He has a wonderful faculty


of discovering, in its very source, the sacred stream wliicli, ever
returning to its heavenly home, unites and fertilizes all that in
the wide domain of spiritual life is susceptible of its influence."
Perthes had himself communicated to Neander his thoughts
upon sundry details. "I shall always,'' replies the latter,
" avail myself with pleasure of the remarks prompted by your
great experience. The Bible, history, and self-knowledge lead
a man much further than mere human dogmatism can, which
is only too often accompanied by servility of mind, and pro-
duces, with all its succedancums and outline-drawings of the
divine, but little effect upon men." Later, he writes : " Your
objections are very useful to me. You think that I might have
treated more concisely what is but slightly connected with the
wants and interests of the laity, as, for example, the merely
speculative and dogmatical. Now I too wish, by God's grace,
to make the work useful to as many as possible, but it is also
important to represent Christianity in all its bearings as the
leaven of human nature, and to trace the development of human
nature through Christianity. Now much is involved in this
which cannot interest all alike. I should wish to interest not
only the individual Christian, but also the Christian theolo-
gian, philosopher, and working minister, and, though I acknow-
ledge that I have Mien far below my own ideal, I should be
sorry to give up the plan itself." Perthes continued till his
death to be intimate with Neander, and often proved to him
an adviser and helper. Nicolovius once wrote to Perthes:
" When I consider the strange individualities at work here, —
when I look at this wonderful man of God, with his inward
dignity and outward helplessness, it often seems as if you and
I were specially appointed to support him."



At this time, too, Perthes was actively occupied in prepara-
tion for publishing a selection from Luther's works. This
had long been a wish of his. " We Protestants," he once wrote,
" have no fathers of the Church. The theologians that suc-
ceeded Luther were men who either lost themselves in dry, lite-
ral, dogmatic definitions, or poured out their internal piety from
heart to heart without reference to external forms. They were
not fathers of a Church, and hence arose their disputes, and
their persecuting sj^irit and their separation from existing Pro-
testant communities. Those among them who did most stood
alone, and worked upon other minds by means of the mysticism
in which they found the root of their own life. Their holy
influence has lasted indeed to our own day. And yet I should
scruj)le to circulate now the writings of those pious mystics.
They might indeed attract a few, but they would repel the
majority, because even the God-seeking men of our century
are modified by the views of their fathers and teachers, and
shrink from thoughts and exj^ressions which at one time served
as a ladder, though not even then the only ladder to heaven,
and which are by no means suited to all men and all times. It
is otherwise with Luther and his writings. In him, too, there
is much that belonged to his own times, but, as a whole, he
belongs to all times — so great, so pure, so powerful, was his
knowledge of eternal truth, that we may always find in him a
guide to God. But who is acquainted with him now-a-days ?
Lutherans, Supernaturalists, and Rationalists, all employ in
their controversies detached fragments of his ; the whole world
appeals to him in support of the most contrary doctrines. But,
with the exception of learned theologians, what do even
Lutherans know about Luther ? His Catechism is in most


districts modified by Rationalists, and the force of Lis hymns
diluted in our compilations. Few guess what he was, and
what he effected. Were he better known, his mighty mind
and heart-piercing words respecting sin and repentance, faith
and the atonement, would smite like a flaming sword the dry
and unbelieving mass of Rationalism ; while others would hear
with surprise how Luther insisted upon knowledge and reflec-
tion, and with all the energy of his healthy nature opposed a
weak and sickly pietism. To try at the present time to bring
Luther as a whole before his nation, were indeed a noble and
blessed undertaking."

Holding these views, Perthes could not fail to be agreeably
surprised, when, in 1824, Pastor Vent of Hademarschen in-
formed him that he had prepared, and was resolved to publisli
a selection of Luther's works. " To bring Luther and his
relation to Christianity again before the eyes of men, that,"
answered Perthes, " is the thing to be done, and in order to
do it, we must not terrify people by the magnitude of the
work. We must distinguish between Luther's purely religious,
and his polemical and political writings. To publish such of
the former as were directed against the Papacy, would be not
only superfluous now, but even dangerous, and I should equally
object to a new edition of his political works. Those who do
not understand the period at which he lived, the tone then
prevalent, the rudeness of speech proper to that century, would
be sure to misunderstand him. I cannot say how many of his
speculative works might still have a value for the public, but
his sermons and expositions, his letters and conversations, his
very hymns and prayers spring from the depths of his own
great experience, and from his knowledge of Holy Scripture,


and, being fitted to awaken conviction of sin and faith in
the Redeemer, must prove a blessing to our time as to every

" I think with you," replied Vent, " that our selection ought
to aim only at causing the voice of the old Champion of Faith
to be once more heard, so as to awaken and strengthen the
faith of our contemporaries in revelation. Thus it will in fact
only liave to show how the pious and humble spirit of this great
man sought for light in Ptevelation alone, and gladly let that
light shine out in his dark day. Divine truth is the same now
as it was then, and there are certain ways which, in all times
alike, lead into all truth : these, which for long years were
known to but few, Luther proclaimed to the world, for he heard
and understood the Holy Spirit, being rendered teacliable by
his humility. Wherever then Luther gives that Holy Spirit
utterance, he speaks to Christians of all ages, and knows how
to draw tlie soul out of darkness into light. But when, on the
contrary, he no longer stands on firm scriptural ground, he
remains a true child of his own rude age, and is one-sided and
passionate in the extreme. This is especially true as regards
his polemics, in which he had often to contend with enemies
of truth, who bore a name and used weapons that no longer
exist. On this account, many of his polemical writings will
form no part of our selection ; but others of them may not be
omitted, for enmity to the truth, spite of outward changes,
remains ever essentially the same, and as often as Luther em-
ployed against it weapons not carnal, but chosen from God's
armoury, he employed weapons which never rust, but are
mighty for the truth now as then. And further, our age cannot
afford entirely to dispense with polemics. That tliey are now


cast aside as useless and old-fashioned, arises not so much from
Christian toleration as from indifference, which holds not only
forms of religion, but religion itself to be a non-essential. Even
Luther's political opinions I should be sorry to exclude abso-
lutely as you propose. Certainly, the greater number would
be unsuitable, but, here and there, we find detached passages,
which contain pearls of eternal truth. But as you and I con-
template the undertaking from the same point of view, and
have the same aim, we are sure to understand each other, and
I shall gladly submit myself in details to your matured expe-
rience, and your knowledge of the literature and tendencies of
our time."

During the progress of the work a few other diiferences of
opinion arose between the editor and publisher. For example,
Perthes once wished that less should be taken from Luther's
Commentary on the Old Testament. To this Vent rejoined :
" Christianity is bound up with the creation of man, his alien-
ation from God, the compassion of the Father, who neither
would cast us away, nor could retain us unconverted, but
granted ever brightening rays of hope to pierce the darkness
of sin ; these constitute the first stages of man's spiritual
education — the redemption by Jesus Christ the second. He
who would learn to know and love Christ must read Moses."
To which Perthes replied : — "Your conception of Christianity
is the same as mine, and our selection taken from this point of
view will bring a blessing with it." Another time Perthes
wished to have more of the "Wittenberg Theses given, whereas
it appeared that Vent had been on the point of leaving them
out altogether. Vent expressed himself thus: — "Luther's
position appears far more clearly in his later writings, after his


views were consolidated into a briglit and steady light. The
theses are quite undecided, and resemble the dove which cer-
tainly flew out of Noah's Ark, but could find no terra firma on
which to rest."

In the spring of 1825, matters were so far advanced that a
selection from Luther's works, in ten small volumes, was an-
nounced. It excited universal attention, and in some quarters
dissatisfaction. One friend wrote to Perthes : " My first feel-
ing was one of displeasure at the incongruity of Luther in
duodecimo ! Is the age to be humoured thus ? Will not the
feeling of reverence for the great Reformer be lessened by the
neat smooth modern look of the volumes ? Will Luther in a
lady's work-bag continue to guide Protestants like a beacon ?
Must all things be made common ? It will be said in reply that
in tliis way Luther will be read, which is the common justification
also of selling Bibles below prime cost, but I cannot myself think
that it is well to thrust all that is noblest and best down people's
throats, even against their will. I know, however, that my re-
monstrance is vain, the times will have it so, and they always
get their own way. The bookseller and the public fit in to each
other, and form a sort of millwheel that cannot be stopped," A
party amongst the Roman Catholics looked upon the republica-
tion of Luther as a hostile act, and prepared a selection of their
own from his works, with the view of degrading the Reforma-
tion, When this work actually appeared in Mayence in 1827,
Vent wrote as follows : — " This selection shews how dangerous
Catholics consider ours. The titles given to the detached
passages are malicious and unfair, and the passages themselves
are torn from their context. However, we are ready to grant
that Luther, in his earlier dciys, held many Popish opinions


wliicli he afterwards abandoned. But are there not far greater
contradictions to be found in the decisions of Popes and coun-
cils? or did Protestants ever assert Luther to be free from sin
and error ? We have never cited him as our Pope."

On the other hand, again, many Protestants considered it a
defect that the selection should contain so few of Luther's
violent attacks upon the Papacy. " I do not agree with you,"
writes a friend to Perthes, " in the matter of your Luther ; do
not, at all events, omit his admirable controversial writings
against the 'Pope and the Monks.' They are the best things he
ever wrote. In his dogmatic works, especially those on grace
and faith, he is palpably embarrassed by his wish to steer clear
alike of Popery and Calvinism." Another friend writes: —
" Leave Luther his rights ; do not weaken him ; do not make
a new mezzotinto engraving of an original wood-cut ; you
should shew the man as he was, when God made an instrument
of him."

Perthes heard such criticisms as these during the weeks he
spent in Berlin, in the spring of 1827. He wrote thence: —
" Many imagine that we left out polemical personalities to con-
ciliate the Catholics, and, consequently, warmly oppose our en-
terprise. Several of these zealots would have wished Luther's
strong language respecting sin and the atonement, omitted or
softened down, and replaced by every violent expression used
against the Catholic Church." Paulus was one of the most
bitter of these opponents. In the Sophronizon and the Darm-
stadt Church Gazette, he warned all against this Jesuitical
enterprise, which would tend to mask Luther's warfare against
darkness and superstition. Perthes remarked in answer : —
" Paulus must consider me a very clever fellow, for it would,


indeed, be a first-rate feat of Jesuitical legerdemain to
make people Catholics by the circulation of Luther's writings.
Meanwhile, Paulus' caution will do harm, for nine-tenths of
our pastors acknowledge him to be their lord and master."
" Paulus," wrote a friend to Perthes, " is an honest fanatic,
capable of fighting about a straw ; but do not be angry with
him because his fanaticism has chanced to come into collision
with you ; we cannot, at present, dispense with such rough
comrades, unless we want rubbish to accumulate in the Pro-
testant as formerly in the Catholic Church." "That Paulus
should attack your selection," writes a third, " ought not to
surprise you, for he is fighting in defence of his own labori-
ously acquired reputation ; if our contemporaries take to read-
ing the Bible with Luther's eyes instead of his, all the truths
which appear to have bled to death long ago under the critic's
knife, will regain their life and health, and the surgeon,
who, like Paulus, can only wield a scalpel, will soon lose his

The attacks made upon the work, as soon as it was announced,
rendered its success a point of honour with Perthes. He
availed himself, with incredible energy, of his widely extended
connexions, in order to introduce it into difierent countries.
Not only did he use his personal and professional influence,
but he procured the names of all the most influential ministers
in all directions, and through them, through Bible societies,
and other agencies of the kind, sought to awaken the ge-
neral interest and sympathy. Many of his intimate friends,
among whom we may mention Krummacher, Hebel, and Stein,
promised to further the undertaking. Some of the answers
that he received respecting it, afiford us an insight into ecclesi-


astical life at that time. " Should your publication/' says
one, writing from Bohemia, " be passed by the Vienna Cen-
sor, it will be bought by many wlio are not Protestants. On
the contrary, you will find that, when it comes to parting with
money for their faith, Protestants are very remiss. Till this
very hour, they have never established an evangelical school
at Prague, and this, not because of their poverty, but of their
want of love and devotedness to the Protestant cause." A
letter from Wirtemberg says, " You will not find much en-
couragement amongst us. Christian peasants and mechanics
are accustomed to a different language from Luther's. Religious
families amongst the educated very frequently possess older
editions of his works, and in those of nominal Christians ' The
Hours of Devotion' swarm, and so perfectly satisfy their
requirements, that no other religious works are thought of;
indeed, many fashionables prefer these ' Hours' to the Scrip-
tures themselves." A pastor from the duchy of Weimar writes,
" As for us poor spiritual doctors and apothecaries, our pa-
tients have got delirious, and declare us to be quite superfluous.
It is therefore very desirable to put what may cure them into
their pockets, in small print, if haply they may some time,
having nothing better to do, make a trial of it. Dear good
Perthes, my spirit is sad within me. I have been sowing for
eight years in unfruitful soil, and now, in the ninth, I am just
at the same point as when I began. People consider me a
weak-minded enthusiast ; pity or ridicule is all I get. Tlie
church is empty, and the school governed by the master, who
is much praised by the authorities, civil and ecclesiastical, on
account of his enlightened system of education. There is not
a single house in the whole town disposed to receive God's


word. In short, I am alone ; quite alone, but one thing remains
to me — cheerful trust in our God and his blessed Son, so I look
upward, take comfort, and begin anew."

In December 1825, the first five volumes of the selection came
out. Within the year a large edition was sold, and Perthes
had the delight of not only circulating Luther's works widely,
but also thus of triumphing over his numerous opponents.

A few years later he attempted another great undertaking.
His mind had been long occupied with the plan of a religious
periodical. He had once written to a friend — " Bretschneider's
Journal is thoroughly rationalistic ; the Darmstadt Church
Gazette professes well, but its actual tendency — alas ! In short,
all so-called theological journals are deficient either in aim or
in execution. A new religious periodical is not only desirable
but necessary, and to call such a one into existence is a duty
for whoever possesses the ability to do so. The undertaking
would be no light one, however ; we should indeed have plenty
of fellovv-labourers, but able editors would be essential, and
where are we to find them ? Then the financial prospect is
very uncertain ; for often enough news from the kingdom of
God are mere waste paper to the world."

During the summer of 1825, Perthes made the acquaintance
of Professor Umbreit of Heidelberg. When the latter paid him
a visit in the autumn following, Perthes propounded his scheme
to him, and Umbreit, who had often discussed similar ones with
Ullmann, took it into consideration. In December 1825, after
Urabreit's return to Heidelberg, Perthes wrote to him as fol-
lows : — " I have thought of you, on receiving from several dis-
tricts of our fatherland tidino-s of increasino- religious eifort and
feeling. We more than ever need a central point. Religion and

Perthes' theological press. 203

theology ought not to be separated, nor faith from knowledge.
He who has the light of faith and the desire for holiness may,
indeed, hold private communion with God ; but if he does not
wish to keep such light under a bushel, he must let it shine
forth through the medium of clear thought and widely extended
knowledge ; and in a periodical destined to make known all
that concerns the extension of God's kingdom in our own day,
scientific theology must find place. Tlie division into essays,
reviews, and intelligence, naturally suggests itself. We must
have no anonymous communications. He who has not courage
to give his name for the glory of God may keep away. The
words, ' He that is not for me is against me ;' ' Have salt in
yourselves ;' and, ' Have peace one with another,' seem to me
descriptive of what should be the character of the work." A
little later Perthes w^ote — '' We are now beginning a common
enterprise, by which we desire to further the cause of truth
and God's glory. I say a common enterprise, because I will
employ in it my time, my energies, and my substance, in order
to procure for worthy men an opportunity of influencing the
age. I do not expect any return ; the difficulties with which
such a periodical would have to contend being very great. We
must be cautious in our arrangements, lest we stick fast in the

Perthes corresponded also with several of his theological
friends, as to the characteristics of the periodical " The laity,"
he writes to Luckc, " should not be preached to in a periodi-
cal, but by their pastors ; at least, our periodical is not in-
tended to work directly upon them : but, by its thoroughly
learned and scientific character, to awaken and strengthen
religious convictions in many pastors who have been led away


by the pretensions of science and philosophy, falsely so called."
To Ebel in Konigsberg, he wrote : " We must attack with their
own weapons, even the driest and most learned theologians,
those who think that religion consists in learning, and religious
feeling in understanding ; and we must free them from the
bondage of this said understanding." Another time Perthes
writes : " Now to whom shall the periodical be open as a vehi-
cle of their theological opinions ? Here we must draw a limit,
but not a narrow one. All who strive to overcome the pride
and frivolity of their own hearts, and to obtain a clear insight
into the mysteries of their own being, are really in search of
a support to their own wills, and after rules whereby to re-
gulate their character and conduct. But though all seek
this, they seek it in different ways. Some believe that they
can find sufficient support in their own souls, in those faculties
which God from the beginning gave once for all to the human
race. According to them, God completed the whole at the
creation of the world, and each individual has now but to em-
ploy the faculties already given without further assistance
from on high, being fully qualified to discover truth. Now to
seekers of this kind, that is to say, Rationalists, we do not
belong. Others, on the contrary, believe that, in spite of the
one great creative act, they still walk in darkness, and are lost
so long as they are left to themselves ; their first and greatest
desire is that God should renew them day by day, but, apart
from revelation and redemption, they see no escape from sin,
no light in the night's darkness. Now, it is impossible that
these should blend with the former, yet both are seekers after
truth, and it seems to me that both, whatever their differences
of opinion, should, so long as they express those opinions ably,


find the new periodical open to them ; but it must be closed
alike against piety without talent and learning, and against
talent and learning, unaccompanied by a recognition of the
need of conflict with pride and sensuality."

The editors of the proposed periodical agreeing with these
views of the publisher, Ullmann and Umbreit met Lucke
and Nitsch at Riidesheim, in order to make the necessary
arrangements. They wrote as follows : — " The editors do not
fear to profess the simple biblical Christianity which they be-
lieve to be the true word and salvation of God. Believing this,
therefore, they are firmly convinced that the light and life of
this word lay claim not less to our perceptive and reasoning
faculties, than to our faith. As there can be no truly Cliris-
tian theology without faith, so a theology that despises God's
noble gifts of reason and science, must needs be a nonentity.
In the Evangelical Church especially, the origin and strength of
which are derived from free inquiry and living faith, the real
success of theology must ever flow from the union of faith and

After many laborious preparatory measures, the first num-
ber of the " Theological Studies and Reviews" made its ap-
pearance. Almost all the leading theologians of Germany
were contributors to this periodical, which soon exercised a
wide-spread influence. Perthes did not, of course, pretend to
control the arrangement of details, but he watched its progress
with unvarying interest, and freely imparted to the editors
whatever objections he conceived. Sometimes he considered
that purely scientific inquiries were made too prominent in it, as
if it were written not only by professors of theology, but exclu-
sively for such, instead of being adapted for pastors in general.


At aiiotlier time, Perthes expressed a fear lest the " Studies
and Reviews" should, owing to their purely scientific cha-
racter, leave Christian faith and practice too much out of

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 15 of 36)