Quasten, Johannes

views updated


Patristic scholar, university professor; b. Homberg, across the Rhine from Duisburg, May 3, 1900; d. March 10, 1987. After a traditional classical education at the Gymnasium of nearby Moers, he entered the University of Münster in 1921. Following his ordination as a priest in February 1926, he pursued higher studies, especially in the area of ancient Christian literature and archaeology. Franz Joseph dÖlger, whose school became known by the name Antike und Christentum, particularly inspired him. Studying the relationship between the ancient world and that of the nascent Christian Church, Quasten came to have a special love for early Christian worship. His work culminated in his doctoral thesis of 1927, Musik und Gesang in den Kulten der heidnischen Antike und christlichen Frühzeit. A revision of this work was published in 1930 (Eng. 1983).

Quasten was an early student of the newly founded Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology in Rome and participated in excavations in Sicily, Yugoslavia, and North Africa. After the preparation of his second doctoral thesis (required for university teaching in the German system) on the Good Shepherd in early Christian art, he began his teaching career as a privatdozent in Münster in 1931. Under the Nazi regime after January 1933, his academic activities were made increasingly difficult, and he was forbidden to teach in the fall of 1937. He returned to Rome briefly before accepting an invitation to join the theological faculty of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1938. His career of teaching and research continued well beyond formal retirement in 1970, and he offered graduate seminars in patristics until 1977, when he returned to Germany, taking up residence near Freiburg.

Works. Over the years, Quasten published many studies in the area of patristics, especially in the area of liturgy. While at work in Germany, he edited a series of fascicles in the series Florilegium patristicum, which contained Latin and Greek selections of the most significant texts bearing on the early Eucharist (Monumenta eucharistica et liturgica vetustissima 193537). After World War II, he contributed numerous articles to the second edition of the Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche and The New Catholic Encyclopedia.

His activities in the United States included the direction of numerous dissertations by his students, and his general influence helped inspire young American scholars in the field of patristics. In the mid-1940s, he collaborated with Joseph plumpe to publish a collection of patristic texts in English translation, Ancient Christian Writers (1946). Another series he inaugurated, Studies in Christian Antiquity (1941), offered to the wider public important studies by his students.

Quasten's best-known publication is his three volume Patrology, a standard reference work which details the lives, writings, and theological teachings of the post-Biblical authors of the early Church. Originally published in English, the volumes have been translated into French, Spanish, and Italian, each with updated bibliographies. Though unable to complete the Patrology himself, Quasten wrote a brief introduction to volume IV, the Italian edition, published in 1978, in which eight scholars from the Augustinianum in Rome completed the project. This additional volume covers the golden age of the Latin Fathers.

Among the many honors conferred on Quasten was the Cardinal Spellman award in theology (1960). Upon his retirement from the Catholic University of America in 1970, Quasten was presented with two volumes of essays and studies by colleagues and former students from around the world, titled Kyriakon. A complete bibliography of his writings, along with a biographical sketch, can be found at the end of the second volume.

Quasten's predilection for liturgical history made a significant contribution to the liturgical movement which preceded the Second Vatican Council. His work led him to be named a member of the council's preparatory commission for the liturgy. Next to his Patrology, his principal influence has been the inspiration of deeper interest in the field of patristics among American scholars.

Bibliography: p. granfield and j. a. jungman, eds., Kyriakon: Festschrift Johannes Quasten, 2 v. (Münster 1970). p. granfield, "Johannes Quasten, a Biographical Essay," 921923; "A Bibliography of the Writings of Johannes Quasten," 924938. Interview, Theologians at Work (New York 1967) 2234.

[r. b. eno]