August Gottlieb Spangenberg

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August Gottlieb Spangenberg (1704–1792)

August Gottlieb Spangenberg (15 July 1704 – 18 September 1792) was a German theologian and minister, and a bishop of the Moravian Brethren. As successor of Count Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf, he helped develop international missions, as well as stabilize the theology and organization of the German Moravian Church.

Early life and education[edit]

Spangenberg was born in Klettenberg, now a part of Hohenstein, Thuringia, where his father, Georg Spangenberg, was the pastor and ecclesiastical inspector. Left an orphan at the early age of thirteen, the young Spangenberg attended the gymnasium (secondary school) at Ilefeld. In 1722 he went on to the University of Jena to study law. Prof. J. F. Buddeus took him into his family, and arranged a scholarship. Spangenberg soon abandoned law for theology, took his degree in 1726, and began to give free lectures on theology.

Career[edit]

He also took an active part in a religious union of students, in supporting free schools for poor children which they established in the suburbs of Jena, and in training teachers. In 1728 Count Zinzendorf visited Jena, and Spangenberg met him. In 1730 he visited the Moravian colony at Herrnhut. He founded a "collegium pastorale practicum" for the care of the sick and poor at Jena, which the authorities broke up as a "Zinzendorfian institution", seen as a challenge to the state. Spangenberg visited the Moravian colony, whose approach appealed to him.

Meanwhile his free lectures in Jena were widely accepted. Gotthilf Francke offered him the post of assistant professor of theology and superintendent of schools connected with his orphanage at Halle. He accepted the offer in September 1732. But differences between the Pietists of Halle and him became apparent. He found their religious life too formal, external and worldly. They could not sanction his comparative indifference to doctrine and his tendency to separatism in church life.

Because of these issues, Spangenberg's taking part in private observances of the Lord's Supper and his connection with Count Zinzendorf brought matters to a crisis. The Senate of the Theological Faculty gave him the alternative of doing penance, submitting to his superiors, and separating from Zinzendorf; or leaving the issue to be settled by the king, unless he preferred to "leave Halle quietly." The case went to the king, who ordered the military to expel Spangenberg from Halle, which they did on 8 April 1733.

At first he went to Jena, but Zinzendorf sought to secure him as a fellow labourer, though the count wished to obtain from him a declaration which would remove from the Pietists of Halle all blame with regard to the disruption. Spangenberg went to Herrnhut and found his life work among the Moravians. He became the movement's theologian, apologist, statesman and corrector, through sixty long years. The Moravians universally referred to Spangenberg as "Brother Joseph" because, like Joseph in Genesis, he took care of his Brethren.

For the first thirty years (1733-1762), his work was mainly devoted to the supervision and organization of the extensive missions in Germany, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Suriname, Georgia and elsewhere. One special endeavour of Spangenberg in Pennsylvania was to bring the scattered Schwenkfeldians to his faith. In 1741-1742 he traveled to England to raise funds for his mission and obtain the sanction of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

During the second half of this missionary period of his life, Spangenberg went to Pennsylvania, where as bishop he supervised the Moravian churches. He helped raise money to defend the colonies during the Seven Years' War. In addition, he wrote as an apologist of the Church against the attacks of the Lutherans and the Pietists. He did much to moderate the mysticism of Zinzendorf. His simple, practical nature took a different approach.

The second thirty years of his work (1762-1792) were devoted to the consolidation of the German Moravian Church. Zinzendorf's death (1760) called for Spangenberg to return to Herrnhut. The Moravian organization needed help. In 1777 Spangenberg was commissioned to draw up the Idea Fidei Fratrum (Compendium of the Christian faith of the United Brethren). This became the accepted declaration of the Moravian belief. As compared to Zinzendorf's writings, this book exhibits the balance and moderation that Spangenberg expressed.

The Idea Fidei Fratrum is an account of doctrine that keeps close to the words of Scripture. There is little in it of abstract theological reasoning. Spangenberg does make his views plain on certain controversial matters. One of these, for instance, is on the question of double predestination, i.e., to damnation as well as salvation.

"If we sum up that which hath been deduced from the Scripture concerning the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, we may answer the question, Whether God would have all men to be saved? with a confident, Yes. There is in him the most fervent desire, and the most earnest will that we all should be saved."

He provides numerous texts to justify this position. He notes further that the Saviour suffered the loss of glory and the pains of human life and death in order to save all people. Secondly, the Holy Ghost makes unwearying efforts to reprove the worldly for their sin. "Would God command all men every where to repent, and yet would not, that all men should be saved? Who can form such a thought of the God of Holiness and Truth?" [1]

In his last years Spangenberg devoted special attention to the education of the young. He died at Berthelsdorf on 18 September 1792. He was buried in the Herrnhut (God's Acre).

Works[edit]

  • Idea fidei fratrum (Barby, 1782; translated into English by La Trobe under the title Exposition of Christian Doctrine, London, 1784)
  • Declaration über die seither gegen uns ausgegangenen Beschuldigungen sonderlich die Person unseres Ordinarius (Zinzendorf) betreffend, a polemical work in defence of Zinzendorf (Leipzig, 1751)
  • Apologetische Schlußschrift, a polemical work in defence of Zinzendorf (1752)
  • Leben des Grafen Zinzendorf (3 vols., Barby, 1772-1774; abridged English translation, London, 1838)
  • numerous hymns.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ August Gottlieb Spangenberg (1784) An Exposition of Christian Doctrine, as Taught in the Protestant Church of the United Brethren, or 'Unitas Fratrum', London: W. and A. Strahan, pp. 193-4.

References[edit]