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Hanoverian Catechism Controversy

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Title page of the catechism from 1862

King George V.

Carl Ludwig Wilhelm Baurschmidt, pastor in Lüchow

The Hanoverian Catechism Controversy was a dispute within the Lutheran regional church of the Kingdom of Hanover in 1862, triggered by a catechism that King George V, in the exercise of the sovereign church regiment, had decreed as the binding basis for Lutheran religious instruction in church and school.[1]

Previous story

Most Lutheran congregations in the Kingdom of Hanover, founded in 1814, used the Catechism of Christian Doctrine, for use in the Lutheran churches and schools of the Royal Brunswick-Lüneburg Electorate, which George III had introduced in 1790. It was written in the spirit of the Enlightenment under the leadership of the General Superintendent Johann Benjamin Koppe and contained only selected parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.

In the first half of the 19th century, Romanticism and political restoration in Lutheranism were accompanied by a return to the theology of Martin Luther and the Lutheran confessional writings (Neuluthertum). This did not happen without opposition from the rationalist and liberal currents.

Introduction of the catechism

George V, a personally pious man, leaned toward the restorative Lutheran direction, as did General Superintendent Eduard Niemann and Consistorialrat and court preacher Gerhard Uhlhorn, as well as senior minister Wilhelm von Borries, who associated this with a strictly anti-liberal policy. In 1856 the king appointed a commission of four clergymen and two teachers to work out a confessional Lutheran catechism. The initiative for this had come from Albert Lührs, who also led the editorial work; he became superintendent in Celle in 1859.

The result was a book containing Luther’s Small Catechism in full, with explanations based on Michael Walther’s 1653 catechism book. The theological faculty of the State University of Göttingen unanimously approved it.[1] Gerhard Uhlhorn used this new catechism for the confirmation classes of Crown Prince Ernst August and advocated its obligatory introduction by decree without consulting the congregations.[2] The king dated the introductory decree April 14, 1862, the Monday after Palm Sunday, on which his son had been confirmed

Reaction

Protest mood in the country

In the following weeks, the new catechism became the subject of fierce disputes throughout the country. The opposition was mainly ignited by the individual confession with absolution by a pastor. Martin Luther and Lutheran orthodoxy had held this act in high esteem, since Christ himself had instituted it. However, it had fallen into disuse by the mid-18th century, and the 1790 Catechism did not include the relevant passages of the Small Catechism. Other criticisms included the interpretation of baptism as deliverance from the dominion of the devil, and the mention of the sign of the cross in Luther’s Morning and Evening Blessings. All of this was perceived by many as a throwback to the Middle Ages and Catholicism.

Formally, it was criticized that the catechism had been introduced without prior formation of the will of the congregations. Here the religious opposition combined with the political dispute of the time about the constitution and the representation of the people.

Baurschmidt

The spokesman and symbolic figure of the opponents of the Catechism was Karl Gustav Wilhelm Baurschmidt, parish priest in Lüchow, who until then had not been prominent beyond the region. Supported by his churchwardens, he published in June in Lüchow the small writing Prüfet Alles – Ein Wort über den neuen Katechismus, in which he summarized the points of criticism. The writing was quickly distributed in the kingdom and met with enthusiastic approval, but also with counter-criticism. Since it publicly opposed a decree of the king, it also put the author in personal and professional danger

In August 1862 Baurschmidt was summoned to Hanover by the royal consistory to answer for his actions. His arrival on August 6 became a triumphal procession. From the train station to the consistory building, Baurschmidt’s path was lined with thousands of people encouraging him and singing church hymns such as Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott and Nun danket alle Gott. Newspapers compared the event to Luther’s walk to the Diet of Worms.

On August 7 and 8, Baurschmidt was questioned by the consistory members Eduard Niemann, Gerhard Uhlhorn, and Brandis[3] interrogated. Details of the proceedings are not known. It was not until the following year that the 47-page statement of the consistory was completed, which severely rebuked Baurschmidt’s writing Prüfet Alles, attested to his “lack of knowledge of Scripture and church doctrine,” and ordered him to “diligently study the Scriptures.” Apart from an official reprimand, however, he did not suffer any sanctions.

On the evening of August 8 there were riots in Hanover. Windows were broken at the house of the General Superintendent Niemann. Baurschmidt’s departure again became a triumphal procession; the carriage and the railway train in which he rode were garlanded with flowers.

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By decree of August 19, 1862, George V. revoked the compulsory introduction of the catechism and left its use free to the congregations[4]– a significant event in the history of the relationship between state and church in Germany. There were dismissals in the cabinet and consistory. On October 6, 1863, as a result of the experience of 1862, a 72-member presynod met in Hanover to give the Evangelical Lutheran Regional Church of Hanover, which until then had been administered only consistorially, regulated self-representation.

Web links

Commons: Hanoverian catechism controversy– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual references

  1. a b Decree concerning the Evangelical Lutheran Catechism, 14 April 1862
  2. Hans Otte On the way to the episcopate in German Protestantism. Gerhard Uhlhorn (1826-1901)
  3. not Friedrich Brandis († 1854), but Oberkonsistorialrat Dr. Brandis, member of the Hanoverian State Council 1865
  4. Decree concerning the Evangelical Lutheran Catechism, August 19, 1862