Gottlieb Wernsdorf the Elder

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Gottlieb Wernsdorf the Elder

Gottlieb Wernsdorf the Elder (born February 25, 1668 in Schönewalde near Herzberg , † July 1, 1729 in Wittenberg ) was a German Lutheran theologian and historian.


Wernsdorf's ancestors came from Bohemia and were nobility there. Because of their evangelical faith, they were expelled from there and initially found their home in Chemnitz , where great-grandfather Christoph Wernsdorf was pastor. His grandfather Johann Wernsdorf and his father Johann Nicolaus Wernsdorf both became pastors in Schönewalde. His mother Johanna Margarethe Mohl gave birth to ten children, of which Gottfried was the sixth. After he was educated by his father in his earliest childhood days, he attended school in Torgau from 1684 and only acquired general skills.

Pathetic, as he once remarked himself when he stated that he only learned Latin properly with Schurzfleisch, he moved to the University of Wittenberg on November 11, 1686 . In Wittenberg he first found accommodation with a relative named Michaelis, who had found his accommodation in the former Franciscan monastery, where those in need could seek refuge. Wernsdorf initially lived in poor conditions and was only able to develop further through the acquisition of an electoral scholarship. However, he realized that he could only get out of his plight with immense diligence and worked diligently on his further training, so that he often had to listen to mockery of other less diligent students.

Wernsdorf concentrated on the study of rhetoric, grammar, poetry, history, philosophy and found supporters of his endeavors in the teachers Konrad Samuel Schurzfleisch , Christian Donati , Christian Röhrensee and others. Under the dean's office Daniel Sennert , he was able to defend his disputation “Theses eticas” under Röhrensee in 1689 and thus acquired the academic degree of a master's degree in philosophy on October 15 . Then Caspar Löscher took him on as a teacher for his children, which he did for three years. In doing so, he gained further insights in the Löscher house, so that he was able to obtain an adjunct to the philosophical faculty with further disputations on November 28, 1696 , when he emerged with the dissertation de Henotico Zenonis pro Loco.

Although he initially had no particular ambitions and only dealt with theology incidentally, he also heard the lectures of the then theologians at the University of Johann Deutschmann , Philipp Ludwig Hanneken , Löscher and Johann Georg Neumann . At his first own lecture, 16 listeners came and heard his explanations on logic, morals and history. The number of his listeners increased tremendously and he wished to strive for a professorship for poetics, which however was awarded to Johann Wilhelm von Berger . Wernsdorf had been very popular with his audience. He also knew how to inspire young students from the upper classes and noblemen with his lectures, so that he recently received a scholarship from the Privy Councilor and Chancellor Baron von Friesen.

However, his greatest wish was to become a professor of historical sciences and would have given up on his way to the theological professorship. So he did not follow the theological path with full seriousness. It was only when the court preacher Samuel Benedict Carpzov , whose children he was teaching, wrote to him that he should become an associate professor of theology that a change of heart took place in Wernsdorf. Under Neumann, he disputed in 1698 with the treatise "De auctoritate librorum symbolicorum" and defended it, so that he became a candidate at the theological faculty, which corresponds to an academic level of a baccalaureate in theology at other universities.

In the following year he again disputes under Neumann with “de nexu & discrimine donorum gratiae” in order to obtain the next highest academic degree of a licentiate in theology on December 21, 1699. Almost five months later, on April 22, 1700, he was awarded a doctorate in theology and thus became an associate professor at the theological faculty in Wittenberg. When Hanneken died, he was promoted to full professor of the theological faculty in accordance with the university hierarchy in 1706 and, with the fourth theological professorship, took over the administration of the euphoria of the electoral scholarship holders. In 1710 he became provost at the castle church and thus took over the assessor position in the Wittenberg consistory .

When Caspar Löscher left the general superintendent of the Saxon spa districts in 1719, he took it over, taking the position of pastor of the town church and becoming the first professor of theology and senior at the theological faculty. His reputation as a theologian was so enormous that when he received the general superintendent, he also received the title of Council of Churches in Weißenfels . He administered these offices until the end of his life, he held the dean's office of the theological faculty several times and administered the rectorate of the university in 1712 and 1718, as well as the equivalent vice-rectorate in the winter semester 1708.

Wernsdorf was very popular with his listeners. He also knew how to inspire young students from the upper classes and noblemen with his lectures, so that he recently received a scholarship from the Privy Councilor and Chancellor Baron von Friesen. Wernsdorf was able to inspire his listeners in his lectures with a neatly clear and fluently lively manner. If he had worries and needs, he left them out of the lectures in the auditorium and devoted himself entirely to his explanations. Therefore, he enjoyed not only the respect but also the reputation of his listeners and was dubbed “Father Wernsdorf” by them. Since he was honest and friendly towards everyone, he was able to increase in sharpness in his remarks without being blamed.

This attachment of the people who adored him is also reflected in the traditions of his death. After Wernsdorf fell ill in June, his health deteriorated noticeably, so that in the presence of bystanders praying and singing, he left this world with the words "and help us die blissfully". On the day of his burial there was a torchlight procession in the evening and he was buried in devout peace in front of the altar of the town church, at the grave of Balthasar Bebel . A public funeral took place on July 10th , which was so popular that the town church could not hold the people who wanted to express their grief. At this funeral, the archdeacon Andreas Charitius , about Joh. XXI. 17. preached and Franz Woken spoke the eulogy for him in Latin. Woken compared him with Martin Luther and many other authors wrote great numbers of funeral poems on him.


As one of the most important Wittenberg theologians, Wernsdorf's oeuvre is very extensive. Christian Heinrich Zeibich has collected his dissertations in two extensive volumes (originally three were planned) and published them. The most diverse areas are represented in the treatises. For example about dogmatics, ethics, polemics, church politics, the history of the Reformation.

Although theologically he can be counted among the milder Orthodox Lutherans, he was also involved in the controversies about keeping Lutheran doctrine pure and vehemently advocated the Orthodox Lutheran position. He took a position on the Reformed, Pietists, and mystics and maintained an extensive correspondence with the leading philosophers. In doing so, he encountered a lot of hostility and had to fight off many contradictions. His sizable library was auctioned off in July 1730.


From his marriage on July 29, 1710 in Wittenberg to Margaretha Katharina (* November 6, 1693; † August 29, 1764 in Wittenberg), daughter of the Princely Holstein Privy Council in Eutin Gregor Nitzsch and his wife Catharina Eleonora Hanneken, seven sons emerged. Of these are known: Johann Wilhelm (* May 15, 1729 in Wittenberg; † June 14, 1733 ibid.), Johann Balthasar (* April 3, 1726 Wittenberg; † January 22, 1727 ibid.), Gottlieb Wernsdorf I. , Ernst Friedrich Wernsdorf , Johann Ludwig Wernsdorf (* November 8th, 1720 in Wittenberg, February 25th, 1740 Uni. Wittenberg) a mathematician and engineer, Johann Christian Wernsdorf I. and Johann Gottfried Wernsdorf (* 3.1.1725 in Wittenberg, October 4th, 1741 Uni. Wittenberg), who also attended at the University of Wittenberg.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Christoph Wernsdorf (* September 27, 1565 Chemnitz; † September 14, 1612 ibid. (Pest), born September 19, 1612 Chemnitz), Gym. Chemnitz, August 4th, 1583 Uni. Wittenberg, September 12, 1587 Mag. Phil. ibid., schoolmaster Seyda, ord. 1595 Stadtkirche Wittenberg, 21.9.1595 Rev. St. Johannis Chemnitz, married. February 24, 1590 in Wittenberg with Rebecka Gebler (born September 23, 1612 Chemnitz) cf. Reinhold Grünberg: Saxon pastors book. Ernst Mauckisch, Freiberg / Saxony, 1940, Vol. II, p. 1016; Adam Daniel Richter: Cumbersome chronica, compiled from reliable news, of the Churfürstl at the foot of the Meisnischen Ertzgebürges. Sächßl. City of Chemnitz, with attached documents. Bookstore Spickermann, Zittau & Leipzig, 1767, matriculation Uni. Wittenberg; KB WB
  2. ^ Johann Wernsdorf (* 1593 Chemnitz; † October 26th, 1662 Schönewalde) January 13th, 1608 Princely School Grimma, October 25th, 1612 Uni. Wittenberg; 15.3.1618 Mag. Phil. ibid., November 15, 1617 Rev. Malitschkendorf, 1638 Rev. Schönewalde cf. Veronika Albrecht-Birkner : Pastors book of the church province of Saxony. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig, 2009, ISBN 978-3-374-02141-3 , Vol. 9, p. 359.
  3. ^ Johann Nicolaus Wernsdorf (* 1629 Malitschkendorf; † July 7, 1702 Schönewalde) Gym. Wittenberg, Jüterbog School, Bautzen Grammar School, July 18, 1651 Uni. Wittenberg, 1657 Subst. Schönewalde, 1662 Rev. ibid., M. Johanna Margarethe Mohl († 1703) cf. ibid.