Karl Friedrich August Kahnis


Karl Friedrich August Kahnis

Karl Friedrich August Kahnis (22 December 1814 in Greiz - 20 June 1888 in Leipsic) was a German Neo-Lutheran theologian.

Earlier Life. Professor at Breslau

Despite the poverty of his parents, Kahnis was educated at the gymnasium of his native town, and after acting as private tutor for several years began the study of theology at Halle. He was at first an ardent Hegelian, but becoming conscious that Hegelianism failed to recognize the value of individual effort, personality, and the influence of the Christian faith, he passed to orthodox Lutheranism. The transition may be dated from the publication of his "Dr. Ruge und Hegel: Ein Beitrag zur Würdigung Hegelscher Tendenzen" (Quedlinburg, 1838). At the invitation of Hengstenberg; Kahnis went in 1840 to Berlin, where he studied under Neander, Marheineke, Twesten, and others. To Tholuck's "Litterarischer Anzeiger für christliche Theologie" he contributed a criticism of
Strauss, which appeared in expanded form under the title "Die moderne Wissenschaft des Dr. Strauss und der Glaube unserer Kirche" (Berlin, 1842). In 1842 he became privat-docent and then spent two happy years in close relationship with Neander, Steffens, and the circle of romanticists who gathered about Ludwig von Gerlach. In 1844 he was called to Breslau as professor extraordinary to represent the orthodox party in a rationalistic faculty, but in his inaugural speech De Spiritus Sancti persona he departed from the accepted doctrine of Trinitarianism, ranking the Son as subordinate to the Father, and assigning the last place to the Holy Spirit, which he described as the impersonal principle of life, binding together the other two. This first venture of Kahnis into the field of theology is important for his subsequent development. Hampered to a large extent in his academic work by the lack of harmony between himself and his colleagues, he devoted himself to scientific investigation in theology, the first results being his Lehre vom heiligen Geiste (Halle, 1847), which marked no departure from the doctrines enunciated in his earlier work, yet voiced his protest against the liberalism of the times.

Professor at Leipsic

After the revolution of 1848, in which Kahnis supported the king and the established order, he came to believe that the safest defense against irreligion was in rigid orthodoxy, and gradually drifted into an attitude of opposition to the Union (the consolidation of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia effected by a royal decree in 1817). He strove to preserve the integrity of the Lutheran creed. Convinced at last that the Lutheran confession possessed neither a logical nor a legal basis under the Union, he joined the old Lutheran party in Nov., 1848, a step by which his academic activity at Breslau became still more difficult. In 1850, therefore, he gladly accepted a call to Leipsic, where he succeeded
Harless in the chair of dogmatics, to which he later united that of church history. In the following year the University of Erlangen gave him the degree of D.D., and he acknowledged this honor by his Lehre vom Abendmahle (Leipsic, 1851), one of the best formulations of the type of Lutheranism taught at Erlangen. His professorial work at Leipsic was attended with success, but, feeling himself out of sympathy with the prevailing tone in the faculty, he would have accepted a call to Erlangen in 1856 had not the authorities promised to fill the first vacancy in the faculty by a theologian entirely in agreement with his own views. In the same year,
Luthardt was called from Marburg, and he and Kahnis, together with
Delitzsch, who came to Leipsic from Erlangen in 1867, constituted a triumvirate which raised the university to an unrivaled eminence in the realm of theology. In addition to his academic duties, Kahnis found time for much useful labor in the field of practical Christianity. From 1851 to 1857 he was a member of the board of missions, from 1853 to 1857 edited the Sächsische Kirchen- und Schulblatt, and from 1866 to 1875 was one of the editors of the Niednersche Zeitschrift für historische Theologie. At Leipsic in 1854 he published Der innere Gang des deutschen Protestantismus seit Mitte des vorigen Jahrhunderts (Eng. transl. by T. Meyer, Internal History of German Protestantism since the Middle of Last Century, Edinburgh, 1856), expanded in the second edition (1860) so as to include the entire period from the Reformation. These same years witnessed a literary controversy with Nitzsch over the question of the Union and confessional
latitudinarianism, a controversy in which Kahnis sought to demonstrate the lack of doctrinal unity prevailing among the supporters of the movement.

Later Views and Works

In 1860 Kahnis became canon of the cathedral at Meissen and in 1864-65 he was rector of Leipsic University. Before that time, however, his religious views had undergone the change which found expression in his Lutherische Dogmatik (3 vols., Leipsic, 1861-68). The character of the work was foreshadowed in the second edition of Der Innere Gang, which revealed an approximation to rationalism, the abandonment of his old belief in inspiration, a readiness to admit the necessity of progress in doctrine, and an insistence upon the importance of recognizing the facts of human nature and natural morality. The five divisions of the Dogmatik deal with the history of Lutheran dogmatics, religion, revelation, creed, and system. The problem which Kahnis set himself was the derivation of the doctrines of the Lutheran Church from the basic principle of justification by faith, and the proof of their verity by the sole authority of the
Scriptures. He found the nature of Christianity in the community of salvation between man and God through Christ in the Holy Spirit, seeking his proof in history, philosophy, and the common facts of life. It was not the system he advanced that aroused opposition, but the liberal attitude assumed by him toward the higher critics of the New Testament, his readiness to adopt the most of their theories, and his consequent modification of the doctrine of inspiration, as well as his dissent from the dogma of the Church in respect to the Trinity and the Lord's Supper. Hengstenberg (Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, 1862), like A. W. Diekhoff and Franz Delitzsch ("Fur und wider Kahnis", 1863), was the most prominent among those who now accused Kahnis of apostasy, and Kahnis replied to Hengstenberg in a vigorous pamphlet, "Zeugniss für die Grundwahrheiten des Protestantismus gegen Dr Hengstenberg" (1862). In 1884 he published the second volume of his Dogmatik, wherein he traced the history of the development of dogma in connection with the history of the Church, so as to prove the Lutheran doctrines of the present day the logical result of this twofold development. The third volume, Das System, which appeared in 1868, was disappointing, partly because its contents repeated the matter contained in the first two volumes, and partly because it contradicted the basic principle of investigation laid down in the first part. In 1871 he published at Leipsic a condensation of the historical portion of the work under the title Christentum und Luthertum, a treatise written in a masterly fashion and constituting, together with the third edition of Der innere Gang, the best of his literary productions. After the completion of his Dogmatik, Kahnis devoted himself especially to his historical studies, wherein his work may be characterized as marked less by the modern spirit of painful research, than by a strong sympathy with his subject and an exceptional charm of style. To this period belong his Deutsche Reformation (Leipsic, 1872) and his Gang der Kirche in Lebensbildern (1887). His success as a teacher was due both to the graciousness of his personality and his lofty conception of his duties.

References

*Schaff-Herzog


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