Gottlieb Christoph Adolf von Harless


Gottlieb Christoph Adolf von Harless

Gottlieb Christoph Adolf von Harless (November 21, 1806 – September 5, 1879), was a German Lutheran theologian.

He was born at Nuremberg. As a youth, he was interested in music and poetry, and was attracted by ancient and German classical literature, especially by Jean Paul. He was indifferent to Christianity, and even felt an aversion to it, and firmly decided never to study theology. In 1823 he entered the University of Erlangen, at first studying philology, then law; but he had little interest in either, and finally tried theology. The only teacher who particularly influenced him was Georg Benedikt Winer. In his spiritual development, Harless was independent of his teachers. His chief desire was to understand the reasons for the objective power of the Christian religion in the life of the people and the history of the world. He thought the philosophy of Hegel best adapted to the solution of this problem, but later found that even this system did not satisfy his innermost needs. Thus he was at last led to the philosophy of Spinoza, in whose system he searched for the roots of Hegel's and Schelling's philosophy. For this purpose he moved, in 1826, to the University of Halle, attracted by Friedrich Tholuck. In the midst of his philosophical studies he conceived the plan of studying the whole literature of the ancient philosophers, of the earlier teachers of the Church, of the theologians of the Reformation, and of the later theologians and philosophers from the stand point of human freedom and evil, and to put the results in writing. Although the work was never published, it contributed much to his development.

Harless received a further impulse from his study of Pascal's "Pensées", but at about this time he had a crisis of conscience; he turned to the
confessional writings of the Lutheran Church and, to his surprise, found their contents in conformity with the experience of his faith. The chief attraction in the Lutheran confession was, for him, the doctrine of
justification, which would become the central point of his Christianity and theology.

In 1828 Harless returned from Halle to Erlangen as privat-docent in theology, and three years later became professor of New Testament exegesis. This appointment was important not only for the history of the theological faculty at Erlangen, which owed its later conservative tendency and its flourishing condition chiefly to Harless, but for Lutheran orthodox theology in general. In 1836 he became ordinary professor, and as such lectured also on Christian ethics, theological encyclopedia, and methodology. In 1836 he became preacher of the university. He declined calls to Rostock, Berlin, Dorpat, and Zurich. In 1840 he was appointed delegate of the chamber of states in Munich to defend the rights of the Lutheran Church against the violent measures of the ministry. Harless won great popularity by defending the interests of his church with ability and manliness, but the opposition party succeeded in removing him in 1845 to Baireuth as second councilor of the consistory. In the same year, however, he was appointed professor of theology in Leipzig, the height of his career. In Saxony rationalism was still flourishing, but Harless's brilliant personality and the earnestness and depth of his presentation of Evangelical truth overcame it, and his influence on the students was as powerful as it had been in Erlangen. In Leipzig he lectured for the first time on dogmatics, and developed into one of the most powerful and brilliant preachers of his time. Within two years he was appointed preacher at St. Nicolai, in addition to his duties as professor.

In 1850 he moved to Dresden as court preacher, reporting councillor in the ministry of public instruction, and vice-president of the state consistory, but two years later was called by King Maximilian II of Bavaria to return to his native state as president of the supreme consistory. Here the soil had been already prepared for the Lutheran confession. It was only Wilhelm Löhe and his adherents who opposed the existing condition of the State Church, and insisted on an entire change, or, if this should be impossible, on separation. The influence of Harless, a friend of Löhe from former days, persuaded him not to separate himself from the State Church. Harless conquered the remaining opposition of rationalism in the congregations by his manly conduct and his personal spirit of reconciliation. A new hymn-book in the spirit of orthodox Lutheranism was soon introduced. The introduction of a new order of church service was more difficult. Here the question of private confession, which was confused with auricular confession, occasioned a new revolt of the opposition, but the organization of the State Church, firmly established under Harless, finally achieved the victory.

Harless now became the universally acknowledged leader and faithful mentor of the whole Lutheran Church, and his advice was eagerly sought in all quarters of the world. He presided for a long time over the missionary board at Leipsig. During his latter years he was almost blind from cataract. He died at Munich.

His three most important works were written while professor at Erlangen, as his later public activity left him little time for literary work. They are: Commentar über den Brief Pauli an die Ephesier (Erlangen, 1834); Theologische Encyclopädie und Methodologie vom Standpunkte der Protestantischen Kirche (Nuremberg,-1837); and Christliche Etik (Stuttgart, 1842; Eng. transl., Edinburgh, 1868). The commentary and the work on ethics marked an epoch in their respective spheres. The encyclopedia is less important for its methodological arrangement than for Harless' clear and energetic views of the Church, the main points being the close relation of theology to the Church; the unity of theory and practise in a common living faith; the living continuity of the Church from her very foundation as an ideal factor of history, the emphasis of a common faith as the basis of Protestant theology; the entire transformation of this theology by the principle of justification; the necessity of preserving the principles of the Reformation in their purity; the obscurity caused by the later Protestant scholasticism, which considered the dogmas laid down in the confessional writings of the Church as the final conclusion of all dogmatic knowledge; and the sound reaction against this tendency by the Pietistic movement. The Christliche Etik (Eng. transl., System of Christian Ethics Edinburgh, 1868) is without doubt Harless' most important work. Its chief excellence are its scientific structure, the emphasis and consistent application of the Christian ethical principle, and the interrelation and connection of the Biblical factor with the historical factor in the more general sense of the word. He died on the 5th of September 1879, having, a few years earlier, written an autobiography under the title "Bruchstucke aus dem Leben eines suddeutschen Theologen".----


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