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Schaff, Philip


Church historian and theologian; b. Chur, Switzerland, July 1, 1819; d. New York City, Oct. 25, 1893.

Schaff was the son of a poor village carpenter and obtained his education through scholarships, first at Chur and later at Korntal Academy and the Stuttgart Gymnasium in Germany. In 1837 he entered Tübingen University, studying under Ferdinand Christian baur. Two years later he transferred to Halle and, in 1840, to Berlin, where he was profoundly influenced by F. A. G. Tholuck, E. W. Hengstenberg, and J. A. W. Neander.

His theories of history and the development of the Christian Church are drawn from Neander, a debt he acknowledged in his biographical study of Neander. As a Privatdocent in the theological department at the University of Berlin in 1843, Schaff was invited to accept a professorship at the Reformed Seminary, Mercersburg, Pa. His inaugural address, The Principle of Protestantism (Chambersburg 1844; new ed. Philadelphia 1964) linked him with his colleague John Williamson nevin in its theory of doctrinal development and its stress on the Catholic and Reformation heritage as the dynamic force in Protestantism, opposed to rationalism and sectarianism. Although favorably reviewed by theologians as diverse as Charles hodge and Francis P. kenrick, the address led to his trial (1845) before the Reformed Synod on charges of Puseyism; he and Nevin were vindicated. Their joint efforts developed a tradition of liturgical renewal, ecumenism, and a return to Reformation theology that became known as the Mercersburg movement (see mercersburg theology).

Besides his contributions to the Mercersburg Review, Schaff founded and edited (184854) Der Kirchenfreund to popularize these views. Visiting Europe in 1854, he lectured on church unity and on American democracy; the latter was published as America (New York 1855; new ed. Cambridge, Mass. 1961). His chief work began with the publication of The History of the Apostolic Church (New York 1857). Although he moved to New York in 1864, he did not sever his connection with Mercersburg until 1867. He held a lectureship at Hartford Seminary, Conn. (186871), and accepted a call to Union Theological Seminary, New York City (1870) where he taught until 1893.

Beginning in 1866, his ecumenical efforts were concentrated on the evangelical alliance. Holding that reunion was only possible on a firm doctrinal basis, he issued The Creeds of Christendom and A Harmony of the Reformed Confessions (New York 1877). His historical studies generally were intended "to remove ignorance and prejudice and bring Christians closer together." His History of the Christian Church to 600 A.D. (New York 1858) was enlarged and revised in 1882. He organized the American Society of Church History, contributed to its publication series (from 1889), and edited the pioneering series of American denominational histories (begun in 1891). He made the writings of the patristic age available in English translation through the Select Library series. From 1870 to 1885 he was closely engaged in the revision of the English Bible. His own scriptural studies include A Companion to the Greek Testament (New York 1883) and A Commentary on the New Testament (New York 1881). He served as general editor of the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. His last effort, an address on The Reunion of Christendom (Chicago 1893), was written on his deathbed.

Bibliography: d. s. schaff, The Life of Philip Schaff (New York 1897). j. h. nichols, Romanticism in American Theology (Chicago 1961).

[r. k. macmaster]

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