Prussian General Synod 1846

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The general synod of 1846 was the first synod for the entire area of ​​the Evangelical Church in Prussia . It met from June 2 to August 29, 1846 in the Berlin City Palace . Since it was not legally anchored in the church constitution at that time , its results were only advisory and were not taken up by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV .


As early as the time of the Wars of Liberation 1813–1815, efforts were made to change the traditional church constitution in the Protestant Church of Prussia by adding synods to the consistory as organs of the sovereign church regiment. King Friedrich Wilhelm III. 1816 set in motion a deliberation process, during which 1817–1819 district and provincial synods (formed only from clergy) met and in some cases called for the consistorial constitution to be replaced by a synodal constitution. In 1822, however, the king decided not to convene a general synod and so broke off this process again. Analogous to his rejection of the demands for a state constitution ( constitutionalism ), he did not allow any constitutional changes in the church area. Only in the western provinces of Rhineland and Westphalia , where the self-government of the church through synods had a long tradition, was a mixed form of consistorial and synodal leadership of the church established in 1835 with the Rhenish-Westphalian church order .

When Friedrich Wilhelm IV ascended the throne in 1840, hopes arose that the path that had broken off in 1822 could be continued. In fact, on December 14, 1841 , the king instructed his minister of culture, Johann Albrecht Friedrich von Eichhorn , by means of a cabinet order to convene district synods. While Friedrich Wilhelm IV hoped that this would support his (secret) plan to reorganize the church in the sense of a supposedly apostolic episcopal constitution, Eichhorn relied on promoting community awareness and lively piety. Because he saw this particularly in the western provinces, he sympathized with the demands for a transfer of the synodal elements from the Rhenish-Westphalian church order to all of Prussia. On July 10, 1843, he convened circular synods in all provinces by decree. He gave them the direction by expressing his conviction "that the Protestant Church ... not only wants to be guided by the church regiment, but primarily built on its own inner life and drive".

The prospects for a reform of the church constitution were largely received positively by the district synods that met in 1843 and the provincial synods that met in 1844. The introduction of presbyteries and synods with lay participation was often called for. However, this frightened the representatives of New Orthodoxy (led by the Evangelical Church newspaper published by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg ), who feared a breakthrough in theological rationalism in the regional church. How strongly this was anchored in the population was made clear by the popularity of the “ Friends of Light ” in 1844/45. The rationalists hoped that the synods would abolish the “compulsory symbol”, i. H. the commitment to the confessions of the 16th century, while the Orthodox were working towards an increased application of the confessional obligation. Closely connected with this was the question of the character of the Prussian Union , which was reflected in the various cabinet orders of Friedrich Wilhelm III. had been determined differently.

The responsible minister, Eichhorn, saw the main tasks of the general synod, through which the deliberation process was to be concluded, but not confession and union, but the solution of practical questions and the new construction of the church constitution. The king also gave new nourishment to the hopes for self-government of the evangelical church through synods when he declared to the Berlin magistrate in October 1845 that his principle was "to let the church shape itself".

Composition and management

Modifying a proposal by Eichhorn, Friedrich Wilhelm IV stipulated that the General Synod should consist of 75 men. From each province the general superintendent , the president of the provincial consistory (i.e. usually the upper president ), the assessors and scribes of the provincial synods as well as three lay people elected by the provincial synods, plus one law professor and one theology professor from the six Prussian universities, the four Berliners Court preacher, the field provost and the vice general superintendent of Niederlausitz . This guaranteed an almost equal number of lay people and theologians.

The elected members included numerous representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie such as the (Upper) Mayors Heinrich Wilhelm Krausnick (Berlin), August Friedrich Krah ( Königsberg ), Karl August Wilhelm Bertram ( Halle ) and Hans Albert Eduard Schallehn ( Stettin ), as well as nobles such as Alfred von Auerswald , Maximilian von Schwerin-Putzar and Adolf von Thadden-Trieglaff . Among the theology professors were the heads of mediation theology such as Julius Müller ( Halle ), Isaak August Dorner ( Königsberg ), Karl Immanuel Nitzsch , Karl Heinrich Sack (both Bonn ) and August Twesten ( Berlin ). The most important law professor was Friedrich Julius Stahl (Berlin), together with the Breslauer General Superintendent August Hahn and Magdeburg Konsistorialpräsidenten Karl Friedrich Göschel acted as a spokesman for the Orthodox.

The Brandenburg general superintendent Daniel Amadeus Neander was elected as vice-president (next to the head of negotiation Eichhorn) , who was just able to prevail against Moritz August von Bethmann-Hollweg .

Procedure and result of the negotiations

Only a few plenary sessions were held during the first few weeks in which questions such as the taking of the oath, the discharge of superintendents, preparation for the ministry and the retirement of pastors were on the program. At the same time, commissions met to prepare the deliberations on the main subjects of union and commitment to confession and the church constitution.

The report on the commitment to confession was shaped by Nitzsch. It considered a commitment of the clergy to correct teaching necessary, but argued against the reintroduction of the obligation to certain confessions at ordination , because this would contradict the Union. Instead, Nitzsch had drafted a lead through which an ordinand should admit to certain central doctrines (later derided as " Nitzschenum "). During the discussion lasting several days, his proposal was attacked by principled opponents of any “symbolic compulsory” as well as by Orthodox who wished to be bound by the confessional writings or at least the Confessio Augustana as the main confession. Nonetheless, Eichhorn managed to get a majority in favor of reintroducing a teaching obligation. Its content should be revisited in the context of the Union question.

The report on the Union, written by Julius Müller, assessed the Prussian Union as fundamentally positive, but saw the need for it to come to a specific expression. This was to be served by a doctrinal order that named the fundamental doctrines in which Lutheran and Reformed theology agreed. Together with the ordination form, a binding basis for the Union would have been created. After a controversial discussion, Eichhorn again first reached a fundamental decision: The Union should not limit itself to common administration and the same liturgy, but should be placed on a theological basis, but not through a comprehensive doctrine that compensates for all differences.

When the question of the content of the ordination obligation was resumed, the fronts clashed again. In a contest vote, a clear majority opposed the commitment to certain Reformation confessions or even just the Apostolicum . The ordination requirement was revised, whereby Stahl and Twesten were able to enforce changes in their sense. The wording changed again in the plenary represented a compromise between a reference to basic evangelical truths that was as non-binding as possible and an explicit reference to the Reformation confessions. Finally, a declaration on the Union was also adopted, in the third part of which the consensus of the Lutheran and Reformed confessions was formulated .

The debate on the church constitution was based on a commission draft in which Stahl had participated. Contrary to his own convictions, which were aimed at an episcopal constitution, he too was guided by the Rhenish-Westphalian church order. The presbyterial-synodal elements should, however, be pushed back even more than the consistorial constitution. The majority of the Synod was in favor of a balance between the two models, but the revision of the draft did not take this fully into account. The constitution adopted in the last ordinary session would have created presbyteries and synods at all levels in a similar way to the order finally enforced (under Minister of Education Adalbert Falk ) in 1873/76, but left the decision-making power largely with the ministry or a higher consistory to be created. Due to the political turbulence, this came about with a delay in 1850 as the Evangelical Oberkirchenrat of the Old Prussian regional church .

The rejection of the results

At the end of August the General Synod was postponed after its most important tasks had been completed. It was now eagerly awaited whether the king would sanction their results. Even during the deliberations, the Evangelical Church newspaper had started a campaign against the resolutions on union and confession, which were seen as endangering orthodoxy. But also rationalists and liberals opposed the proposed commitment to confession as a restriction of Protestant freedom. The supporters only half-heartedly advocated the results. Friedrich Wilhelm IV was determined from the outset not to implement the proposed new church constitution because it did not correspond to his ideas. Initially, he was open to the decisions on Confession and Union, but was persuaded by his advisors Leopold and Ernst Ludwig von Gerlach as well as Ludwig Gustav von Thile to not confirm them. The Protestant Church was thus set on a course of orthodoxy for the rest of its reign (interrupted only by a few months of the revolutionary year 1848 , when Count Schwerin-Putzar was minister of education). Not only the rationalists, but most of the liberal bourgeoisie, were thereby permanently alienated from the church.


  • Wilhelm Heinrich Neuser : Church between romanticism and constitutionalism. The Prussian General Synod of 1846. In: Monthly Issues for Evangelical Church History of the Rhineland 33 (1984), pp. 201–227.
  • Martin Friedrich : The Prussian regional church in Vormärz. Evangelical church policy under the Eichhorn Ministry (1840–1848). Waltrop 1994.


  • Negotiations of the Protestant General Synod in Berlin from June 2 to August 29, 1846. Berlin: Decker, 1846.
  • Aemilius Ludwig Richter : Negotiations of the Prussian general synod of 1846. Leipzig 1847.

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from Martin Friedrich : The Prussian Church in Vormärz. Spenner, Waltrop 1994, p. 157.
  2. Quoted in Friedrich: Die Prussische Landeskirche im Vormärz , p. 264.