An influential school of German Protestant theology that grew out of the corporate efforts of the Lutheran theological faculty at Erlangen University in the mid-19th century. This university, founded in 1743, and its theological faculty had experienced in their successive stages of intellectual development the influence of enlightenment theology, philosophical rationalism, philosophical idealism (connected with romanticism and its understanding of history), and also the late romantic revival of theology, whose chief representatives were the Reformed theologian Christian Krafft (1784–1845) and the scientist Karl von Raumer (1783–1865).
The systematic, theological origin of the Erlangen school was the accomplishment of Gottlieb Adolph von Harless (1806–79), who had been influenced by schleiermacher and "converted" by Friedrich Tholuck, and who stressed personal "regeneration." This emphasis, the first characteristic mark of the school, received added impetus from Johann Christian von Hofmann (1810–77), who combined the views of pietism with a confessional Lutheran outlook and elements of Schleiermacher's thought. Hofmann systematized the regeneration approach and held that all the main parts of classical Lutheran orthodoxy must be constructed in a regressive theological process from the experience of regeneration if the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit has any truth. Theology, he claimed, has met its task if the results of this reconstructive process coincide with the proof from Scripture.
A second characteristic of the school was its systematic interest in biblical interpretation and stress on the promise-fulfillment concept that is the basis of a theology of Heilsgeschichte (redemptive history). Hofmann's book, Weissagung und Erfüllung (2 v. 184–144), proposed that revelation is God's gradual unfolding of the plan of salvation whereby each step or "fulfillment" is again turned into a promise. Thus, Scripture is to be understood historically, but strictly as a redemptive history with Jesus Christ as its center.
These two characteristics, the emphasis on subjective regeneration and on redemptive history, became the pillars of the impressive system of Franz Hermann von Frank (1827–94), a pupil of Harless and Hofmann. His System der christlichen Gewissheit (1870–73) concentrated on the regenerate believer who uncovers the "immanent, transcendent, and transeunt" objects of faith, but his System der christlichen Wahrheit (1878–80) proceeded in the opposite direction by unfolding the divine truth (Wahrheit ) that leads to the individual believer's certainty (Gewissheit ). Immanent objects of faith, according to Frank, are those the regenerate man finds in himself, such as sin and righteousness; transcendent ones are those causing regeneration, namely the Trinity and the person and work of Christ; and transeunt ones are those that mediate between the immanent and transcendent, such as the Church, Sacraments, and inspiration. This theological system attempted to encompass both Schleiermacher and traditional orthodoxy; it represented the climax of the Erlangen school. Other scholars related to the school, especially Theodosius Harnack (1817–89), Gottfried Thomasius (1802–75), and Theodor von Zahn (1838–1933), did not subscribe fully to Frank's elaborate system.
The school's achievements were effectively attacked by Albrecht ritschl and his disciples, but some of its historical and exegetical fruits remained influential. The systematic concept of Heilsgeschichte gained new relevance in discussions of typology in Old Testament interpretation.
Bibliography: k. g. steck, Evangelisches Kirchenlexicon: Kirchlich-theologisches Handwörterbuch, ed. h. brunotte and o. weber (Göttingen 1956–61) 1:1123–25. h. grass, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 2:566–568. w. lohff, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 3:981–982.