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The first 100 Years

When the department for protestant theology at the University of Bonn was founded 1818 in the predominantly catholic Rhineland – a protestant parish of Bonn had only existed since 1816 –, it consisted of only two lecturers. Since just one student was registered, the teaching programme did not start for another year. There was no strict differentiation between the theological fields; but since Friedrich Lücke mostly focussed on New Testament Studies, he can be considered the first New Testament scholar at the young department. With the addition of Carl Immanuel Nitzsch in 1822, there were now five professors, a threshold only permanently exceeded after 1870. When Lücke went to Göttingen in 1827, the exegete Friedrich Bleek became his successor. Like Lücke, he was a personal student of Schleiermacher’s. From 1831 on, several associate professors joined the department to help teach the growing number of courses.

Bruno Bauer is especially noteworthy. Because of his opinion that even the Gospel of Mark (which he considered to be the oldest) was mainly the product of its author’s literary imagination, and his political affiliations, he came into conflict with the department and the ministry. Expert opinions from all the protestant theological departments in Prussia came to diverging conclusions on whether to take away his venia docendi, which the ministry eventually did in 1842. Bauer was also involved in the controversy concerning the “Life of Jesus” of David Friedrich Strauss – this was when Strauss openly broke ranks with the Hegelians and coined the terms Left and Right Hegelians. Later, Bauer was one of the academic teachers of Karl Marx.

In 1831, Georg Friedrich Heinrich Rheinwald came to Bonn as successor to Church Historian Johann Carl Ludwig Gieseler and took office as full professor for Church History and New Testament in 1833, but only taught in this position until 1834.

Because of multiple deaths and a consistently low budget, the professorate was in constant flux especially during the latter half on the 19th century. This also affected the New Testament, most heavily so around 1870. Albrecht Ritschl was habilitated in Bonn in 1849, became adjunct professor in 1852 and full professor in 1859. In the meantime, Johann Peter Lange received a professorship in 1954. When Ritschl accepted a position in Göttingen in 1864, Martin Kähler became his successor as adjunct professor, but only stayed for a few years. In his stead, Karl Bernhard Hundeshagen was offered a professorship in 1866. After his death in 1872, Wilhelm Mangold followed in his footsteps. He was the last professor at the department that taught his courses in Latin! August Dietzsch, professor in Bonn since 1870, unexpectedly died from a heart disease in 1872.

In 1890, Eduard Grafe succeeded the late Mangold. At the same time, the differentiation between the theological field continued advancing. Thus, Siegfried Goebel took up a newly founded chair for New Testament studies in 1895. It was, however, a continuing phenomenon for a professor to cover multiple fields. One example is Gustav Ecke, who accepted a position as professor for Systematic Theology, Practical Theology and New Testament studies in 1903; another is Friedrich Sieffert, who had already taught at the department as associate professor in 1871 and as adjunct professor in 1873, but had then moved to Erlangen. He returned to Bonn as full professor for New Testament studies and Systematic Theology in 1889. One year after his death in 1911, Emil Weber became his successor, first as adjunct professor, then from 1913 on with a full professorship. Grafe retired in 1913 and was succeeded by Rudolf Knopf a year later.

From 1914 to 1945

During World War I, the teaching programme mostly continued, but extensive personnel changes (and, in all fields, financial and resulting personnel cutbacks) loomed large. Still, it was not just the professorate that changed: In 1921, Johanna Schulze was the first female student to apply for the exam at the department. Bonn consulted with Münster, and since it was found that they had granted permission to female students before, her application was accepted. 

Soon after the end of World War I, Knopf and Ecke died. Wilhelm Heitmüller succeeded Knopf with minor delay during the same year, while no replacement was sought for the chair Ecke had held. At the same time, Wilhelm Larfeld, a habilitated schoolmaster, was given a position owing to the department’s assessment that “a sizable portion of our students take up their studies with insufficient knowledge of ancient greek.” Regular courses for latin and ancient greek were not offered until 1928, though. In effect, Larfeld deputized for a second professor and was thus officially made adjunct professor in 1923.

Heitmüller left Bonn in 1923 towards Tübingen. Since Weber additionally taught Systematic Theology, the department was now left without a full professor for New Testament studies. When the ministry, instead of a direct successor to Heitmüller, appointed the Church Historian Erik Peterson and gave him an additional teaching assignment for New Testament studies (which he clearly prioritized during the following years), the department expressed concern for the vacant chair and later intervened when confronted with the plans to extend Hermann Schlingensiepens teaching assignment from Practical Theology to New Testament studies. Several letters to the ministry give a strong impression of just how drastic the shortage of staff (not only in New Testament studies!) was – in 1928, only six professors remained at the department.

In 1928, the department tried to win over Martin Dibelius for Bonn, but he declined the offer, explicitly mentioning the difficult situation at the department. Instead, the professorship was offered to and accepted by Karl Ludwig Schmidt. Apparently, the department had expected that Peterson would now fully focus on New Testament studies, too. When he unexpectedly converted to Catholicism and left the department, his chair was re-dedicated to now only encompass Church History.

With the addition of Karl Barth, Karl Ludwig Schmidt and Gustav Hölscher in 1929/30 began a short heyday for the department, clearly indicated by a sharply rising number of students. That drastically changed from 1933 on. Amongst the protestant theologians, Barth and Schmidt were considered Socialists and outspoken opponents of the NSDAP. Schmidt was, then, the first to be victimised, vilified and subsequently sacked in 1933 (Adolf Deissmann had in vain tried to petition the ministry on his behalf). Shortly after, Ethelbert Stauffercame to Bonn to fill in for him; in 1934, he accepted a full professorship. Weber shared the fate of Schmidt, was transferred to Münster against his will and lost his admission to teach in 1937 when he disclosed to the ministry that one of his grandfathers had been jewish. The number of students sank to a third of what it had been in just a few years.

From 1945 until the Present Time

After World War II, Stauffer was chosen by the Allied forces to act as interim dean to the department and kept his professorship because he stated that he had not been a member of the NSDAP, SS or SA. He had, however, expressed his approval of Nazi ideology on multiple occasions and was an opponent of the Confessing Church. In the post-war year, he was strongly involved with rebuilding the department.

Part of this reconstruction was the plan to have two professorships per theological field; to that effect, Heinrich Schlier became the second professor for New Testament studies in 1945. He also succeeded Stauffer as dean in 1946. Additionally, the department as well as the regional church endeavoured to convince those that had lost their positions during the Nazi dictatorship to return to Bonn. Only Weber eventually accepted, though; Karl Ludwig Schmidt and Ernst Fuchs (who had been habilitated in Bonn in 1932 and had lost his admission to teach in 1933) for a variety of reasons did not return.

When Stauffer left the department in 1948, new beginnings in terms of personnel were afoot.

The search for his successor initially proved difficult, though: Eduard Schweizer, interim professor in Bonn since 1949, declined, as did Werner Georg Kümmel. Fuchs, who had been considered for the position for some time already, was asked by the ministry in 1949; but the regional church last minute vetoed his appointment after he had already accepted, because they considered him theologically suspect due to being a student of Bultmann. The department supported Fuchs and requested that the church disclose the reasons for their veto and join clarifying talks. Since the department in Tübingen planned to make Fuchs an adjunct professor at around the same time, dean Gerhard Ebeling intervened on Fuchs’ behalf as well. He first contacted the regional church directly and then published an open letter to all regional churches and protestant theological departments in which he accused the church of abusing their veto right. In 1951, the case was first discussed at the Fakultätentag [an annual meeting of representatives from the protestant theological departments in Germany]. When the church did not react, the Fakultätentag in the following year threatened to make the proceedings public. Only now was the church willing to join talks that (in absence of the church president) swiftly led to Fuchs’ full rehabilitation. A year later, he was appointed professor for New Testament studies in Berlin and accepted.

Meanwhile, the much sought-after Philipp Vielhauer accepted a professorship as successor to Stauffer in 1951.

When Weber retired in 1950, the second professorship had to be reassigned as well after Schlier had asked to be transferred to the department for Philosophy. After long negotiations that first ended with a declination but were subsequently reopened, Erich Dinkler (who had, together with Vielhauer, been considered for the succession of Stauffer in 1951) could be convinced to exchange Yale for Bonn in 1956. Here, he lectured in New Testament studies, early Church History, and Christian Archaeology. Because the newly opened branch departments in Aachen and Cologne created a rising demand for lecturers, Wilhelm Schneemelcher was granted an additional full professorship for New Testament studies and early Church History in 1954.

When Dinkler accepted a professorship in Heidelberg in 1963, Hans Conzelmann was nominated as his successor. When he declined, Wolfgang Schrage was appointed and accepted the position. In 1964, he took office; the chair he now held had been reassigned with a focus on New Testament studies and the study of Judaism.

The following period of continuity in terms of personnel ended 1977 with the sudden death of Vielhauer. After substitutions by Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn and Gert Jeremias, Erich Gräßer was appointed his successor in 1979.

The retirement of both professors in 1993 coincided with personnel changes for the department as a whole. Michael Wolter was nominated the successor to Gräßer and accepted in the same year, while negotiations for the second position continued until Wilhelm Pratscher, who had been interim professor in 1995, officially accepted the chair previously held by Schrage in 1996.

Pratscher moved to Vienna in 1998. In 2003, Günter Röhser, previously in Aachen, became his successor. In the meantime, the chair had been reassigned with a focus on “History and theology of early Christianity in its pagan context”. After Wolter’s retirement in 2015, Hermut Löhr was nominated to succeed him and accepted the position in 2017. His chair now additionally focusses on ancient Judaism.
REINHARD VON BENDEMANN, Heinrich Schlier. Eine kritische Analyse seiner Interpretation paulinischer Theologie, Gütersloh 1995. 
ERNST BIZER, Zur Geschichte der Evangelisch-theologischen Fakultät von 1919 bis 1945, in: Bonner Gelehrte. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Wissenschaften in Bonn. Evangelische Theologie, Bonn 1968, 227-275. 
HEINER FAULENBACH (Hg.), Album Professorum der Evangelisch-Theologischen Fakultät der Universität Bonn 1818-1933 (Academica Bonnensia 10), Bonn 1995. 
DERS., Die Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät Bonn. Sechs Jahrzehnte aus ihrer Geschichte seit 1945, Göttingen 2009. 
MICHAEL MEYER-BLANCK (Hg.), Erik Peterson und die Universität Bonn (Studien des Bonner Zentrums für Religion und Gesellschaft 11), Würzburg 2014. 
ANDREAS MÜHLING, Karl Ludwig Schmidt. „Und Wissenschaft ist Leben“, Berlin / New York 1997. 
BARBARA NICHTWEIß, Erik Peterson. Neue Sicht auf Leben und Werk, Freiburg/Basel/Wien 1992. 
WILHELM PRATSCHER, Rudolf Knopf als Exeget, in: K. SCHWARZ und F. WAGNER (Hgg.): Zeitenwechsel und Beständigkeit. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Evangelisch-Theologischen Fakultät in Wien 1821 - 1996, Schriftenreihe des Universitätsarchivs 110, Wien 1997, 277-293. 
OTTO RITSCHL, Die evangelisch-theologische Fakultät zu Bonn in dem ersten Jahrhundert ihrer Geschichte 1819-1919, Bonn 1919.

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