History of the chair

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In the newly established Theology Faculty in Berlin, both of the first professors Schleiermacher and Philipp Konrad Marheinecke (1780-1846) were interdisciplinary readers and therefore also occasionally gave lectures on church history. It soon became clear that, however, that the area of early church history was not covered by this faculty structure. As such, in 1813 August Neander (1789-1850) from Hamburg was appointed to join the faculty as fourth professor alongside Schleiermacher, Marheinecke and Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (1780-1849) to teach this area of study in particular. Neander, who was born as David Mendel and who had himself christened in 1806, was habilitated in Heidelberg in 1811 with a Patristics subject. An entire series of writings from the Berlin period dealt with Early Christianity, whereby a special focus was placed on individuals and their piety (Denkwürdigkeiten aus der Geschichte des Christenthums und des christlichen Lebens, 3 volumes, 2nd edition 1825-1827). In 1889, Harnack summarised the works of his predecessor as follows: "Neander gave the history of the church back to theology, because he knew how to locate the pulse of Christian sensibility and Christian life, even beneath unfamiliar and brittle covers".

Following the less well-known appointments of the succeeding years (incl. Lehnerdt, Niedner and Gerlach), a prominent figure at the faculty was Adolf  (since 1914: von) Harnack (1851-1930), who transferred there from Marburg following intense conflicts in 1888. While his first years were overshadowed by further conflicts – for example, the dispute concerning the position of the Apostles’ Creed in the Protestant Church – in later years this scholar enjoyed growing fame from the great abundance of publications on Early Christianity and other subjects from church and theological history he prodiced. Harnack also became increasingly involved in other academic tasks and matters of academic policy – ranging from being director of the initially Royal, then Prussian National Library to the his position as President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for Promoting the Sciences, which today is the Max Plank Society. His sensitive historical judgement was augmented by his interest in the great interconnected themes (“Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums”, 4th edition 1924), and a quite independent systematic theological concept was the foundation of some of his judgements. This becomes clear both in the "Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte" (Textbook on the History of Dogmas - 3 volumes, 5th edition 1931) and in the later "Marcion" (2nd edition 1924). By founding and managing the publication of the "Greek Christian Writers" at the Prussian Academy, Harnack also established important conditions for working with source texts from Early Christianity.

Harnack’s chosen successor was Hans Lietzmann (1875-1942), who transferred from Jena to Berlin in 1924. While his first works are marked by a strong philological influence (e.g. Apollinaris von Laodicea und seine Schule, 1904), these were followed increasingly by texts dealing with liturgical and archaeological questions (e.g. Petrus und Paulus in Rom, 1927). Synthesis of these inputs is the large, four-volume book "Geschichte der Alten Kirche" (History of the Early Church, 1932-1944; 6th edition 1999). Immediately after World War 2, Lietzmann students Kurt Aland (until 1947, and after that as visiting professor) and Walther Eltester continued the tradition of their tutor, both moving however in 1958  and 1949 respectively to the West.

Under Lietzmann, the work on archaeological sources (once again) became an integral element of the institute’s work. Until then, research into texts and material artefacts from Early Christianity had taken place within two separate institutional contexts. This was first of all because Neander’s student Ferdinand Piper (1811-1889) had discovered the monuments as one form of access to Christian piety (Introduction to Monumental Theology, 1867; reprinted with an introduction by Horst Bredekamp, 1978)  and he worked at the faculty from 1842 as an Associate Professor. In 1849 he founded (with royal grants) the “Christian Museum” at the University, which had an extensive collection of both originals and plaster casts of antique and medieval works of art including a comprehensive library. As his successors, the collection was first of all presided over by Nikolaus Müller (1857-1912) and Georg Stuhlfauth (1872-1942); Lietzmann had shared directorship of the collection with Stuhlfauth since 1924 (not without some tension). After Stuhlfauth’s retirement, he was succeeded in 1934 by Lietzmann student Friedrich Gerke (1900-1966) who relocated to Mainz in 1946, where he again built up a museum. The few remains of the Berlin Museum that survived storage and destruction were first of all organised by a student of Gerke, Klaus Wessel (1916-1987), and after he left, Walter Elliger (1903-1985) took over in 1953 both as Director of the Seminar on Church History and the Seminar on Christian Archaeology and Ecclesiastical Art. In the years before the 1963 transfer to the newly-founded Ruhr University in Bochum, however, he worked in the area of Reformation history. After extended, politically influenced efforts, his assistant Alfred Raddatz (1928-2006) was appointed assistant professor in 1964, and he once again worked in the area of late antiquity and early medieval Christian archaeology. He was succeeded in 1972 by his doctorate student Gerlinde Strohmaier-Wiederanders. Following her retirement, the subject was represented in the Faculty by Tomas Lehmann, who remained there until 2007.

The appointments that followed Lietzmann and his students Aland and Eltester in the positions of professor and assistant professors did not focus their work at all, or only very little, on the area of early Christianity. It was not until the integration of West Berlin’s Kirchliche Hochschule into the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin that a Patristics scholar, Ulrich Wickert (1927-2009) once again taught briefly at the faculty. Wolfgang Ullmann (1929-2004), a church historian who had also been working in the area of Patristics since 1978 and was a tutor at the (East) Berlin Dept. of Classical Languages, did not transfer with his colleagues to the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. After a nine-year vacancy, the chair was once again occupied in 2004 and the faculty has since then been headed by Christoph Markschies (1962- ).


Contact details of the chair
Burgstraße 26, 10178 Berlin
Tel +49 (0)30/20934735 (office)
Fax +49 (0)30/20934736
info @remove-this.antikes-christentum.de