Modern Pioneers: Philip Schaff
In the development of the discipline of church history in the United States, few scholars played a more important role than the Swiss-born, German-educated immigrant Philip Schaff.
Known best for his multi-volume History of the Christian Church, which is still in print, Schaff spent his career arguing for and demonstrating the importance of studying the Christian past. Along the way, he founded the discipline of American church history.
Born in Chur, Switzerland, on New Year's Day in 1819, Schaff had a difficult childhood. He experienced poverty and life in an orphanage, where he was sent after his father died and his mother remarried. Fortunately, a series of benefactors cared for him and provided warm Christian nurture that would shape the rest of his life.
As a student at the boys' academy in Kornthal, Schaff experienced a dramatic spiritual rebirth that delivered him from intense anguish of soul and allowed him, as he wrote in Personal Reminiscences, "to realize for the first time what it is to have peace with God through the atoning blood of Christ which washes away all sin." This experience would characterize Schaff's piety throughout the rest of his life and would also influence his understanding of the role of the church historian.
Schaff studied at the University of Tübingen, one of the most dynamic institutions for theological study in the world at that time, and at Halle before moving on to the University of Berlin, where he found an intellectual home in the mediating theology of August Neander. Schaff called Neander "the most important church historian of our time" and "the father of modern church history."
Schaff also appreciated his mentor's deep faith and the Christian devotion that pervaded his work. Schaff noted ...