Theologian; b. Freiburg im Breisgau, Feb. 28, 1850;d. Würzburg, May 31, 1906. After ordination in 1873, he dedicated a few years to parochial work. From 1879 to 1881 he studied theology at Rome, and in 1884 began teaching apologetics and the history of Christian art at the University of Würzburg. He served as rector of the University from 1896 to 1897.
Schell left an immense amount of theological work: Der Katholizismus als Prinzip des Fortschrittes (Würzburg 1897); Die neue Zeit und der alte Glaube (Paderborn 1898); Das Wirken des dreieinigen Gottes (Mainz 1885); Katholische Dogmatik (4 v. Paderborn 1889–93); Apologie des Christentums, 1: Religion und Offenbarung (Mainz 1901), 2: Jahwe und Christus (Mainz 1905); Christus, das Evangelium in seiner weltgeschichtlichen Bedeutung (Mainz 1903); Schells kleinere Schriften, C. Hennemann, ed. (Paderborn 1908).
In these writings he sought to open Biblical revelation in a new way to his contemporaries conditioned by monism and the natural sciences. To this end, following the method of immanence apologetics, he first showed the force, light, life, and universality of the Christian faith; only afterward did he refute errors. His special concern was to analyze the faith as the salt of the earth and light of the world, and to overcome the inferiority complex of Catholics before modern culture. Although he decidedly used immanence apologetics to give new impulse and life to traditional apologetics, he avoided its extreme forms.
In the content of his theology he tried to present the faith in a new way that would be both intelligible to and formative of the times, while he respected the demands of tradition; in this he was influenced especially by O. Sengler and F. brentano. He believed that a moderate actualism was in order. He sought a middle course between the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics of being and the Scotistic metaphysics based on the will.
At the center of his theology stood an actualistic Trinitarian concept of God. Instead of following other theologians in calling God ratio sui, Schell characterized Him as causa sui, under the influence of G. W. F. hegel. Later he abandoned this misleading notion in favor of the expression "God's self-realization." He attributed a quasi-sacramental efficacy to man's suffering and death decreed by God. According to him, the only sin that merits hell is hatred of God.
Schell suffered greatly because of the estrangement between the Church and the world, and tried to show how modern culture and the Church could encounter each other. He believed that, although the Church possessed an immutable element, she nonetheless could, and had to, renew herself continually. He emphasized the fact that progress was not unreligious, and that the Church could allow herself to enter into dialogue with the times without betraying her nature.
It was precisely his teaching on the compatibility of Church and modern culture, together with his assertion that God is the cause of Himself and his explanation of hell, that led to his principal works being put on the Index (1898). In his letter of submission (March 1, 1899) and in later declarations he stressed his loyalty to the Church, and years later Piux XII acknowledged the integrity of his sentiments. Nevertheless, he had to endure a galling struggle with his theological opponents (E. Commer, O. Braun, and J. Stufler) who persecuted him with inconceivable reproaches and calumnies. Despite the dated character of his books, modern theologians recognize the theological significance of his work and draw from it valuable insights.
Bibliography: n. palmarini, a. mercati and a. pelzer, Dizionario ecclesiastico, 3 v. (Turin 1954–58) 3:741. j. hasenfuss, Herman Schell als existentieller Denker und Theologe (Würzburg 1956). g. maron, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 5:1395–96.