Wilhelm Schneemelcher

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Schneemelcher (2nd from right) 1956 in Wuppertal

Wilhelm Viktor Gustav Adolf Schneemelcher (born August 21, 1914 in Berlin ; † August 6, 2003 in Bad Honnef ) was a Protestant theologian and from 1954 to 1979 professor of the New Testament and the history of the old church ( patristic ) at the University of Bonn . His revisions of the German translation of the New Testament Apocrypha are widespread .


Wilhelm Schneemelcher was the son of the Protestant theologian Wilhelm Schneemelcher senior. (1872–1928) in Berlin. He studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin with New Testament scholar and church historian Hans Lietzmann (1875–1942), where he also obtained his doctorate in theology in 1938 with a dissertation on the history of liturgy . That is why he saw himself in the liberal tradition of Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930) and Lietzmann throughout his life .

Through Lietzmann, Schneemelcher initially got a job at the Prussian Academy of Sciences as a scientific assistant at the famous Church Fathers Commission , where he familiarized himself with the specific problems of editions of Latin and Greek texts from the time of the Old Church. However, since he was considered politically unreliable, he was dismissed in 1939 and had to complete an apprenticeship as a bookseller , which was temporarily interrupted by military service.

Only after the Second World War was he able to continue his academic career in addition to his work as a country pastor in Stöckheim , a district of Northeim ( Lower Saxony ). He received a teaching position at the University of Göttingen , where he also 1949 with a source-critical work on the history of dogma of the 4th century habilitation and then became an assistant. In 1953 he became ao. Professor before he moved the following year, first as an associate professor , and since 1956 as a professor, to Bonn to the second chair in church history established there.

Schneemelcher taught and researched at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn until his retirement in 1979. In 1967 and 1968 he was its rector. During this time of student unrest , Bonn University celebrated its 150th anniversary. On the eve of the ceremony on July 12, 1968, the students demonstrated against two Greek professors with a fascist past. Despite the broken windows, Schneemelcher remained calm: “You see, despite our 150 years of age, we are a modern university.” He declined calls to Jena (1954) and Hamburg (1955).

In Bonn, Schneemelcher also acted as President of the Faculty Day and was chairman of the Theologentage in Berlin in 1958 and 1960. He was also instrumental in founding the Patristic Commission of the Academies of Sciences . In 1956 he launched the Bibliographia Patristica and continued the critical edition of the works of Athanasius the Great, which had come to a standstill due to the early death of Hans-Georg Opitz . Since 1963 he edited the Patristic Texts and Studies together with Kurt Aland ; in addition, he was co-editor of the magazine for church history (since 1956) and the Evangelical State Lexicon (1966). Also in 1963 he was appointed to the Science Council, of which he was a member until 1967. In 1973 he was elected to the Rheinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften , of which he was president from 1982–1985. 1986–1995 he was a representative of the Evangelical Church in Germany in the working group of social groups of the foundation “ House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany” and its chairman. For the EKD, he also took part in numerous dialogue meetings with Orthodox churches , such as the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Romanian Orthodox Church .

Schneemelcher achieved international fame primarily through the "Hennecke-Schneemelcher", the two volumes of the New Testament Apocrypha in German translation (Tübingen 1959–1997), which he revised twice as a continuation of Edgar Hennecke's older collection . This contained gospels and other texts that have not been included in the biblical canon , but are in some cases as old as the New Testament scriptures. The "Hennecke-Schneemelcher" made this literature known not only to experts but also to a wider audience.

He married Eva Ackermann († March 15, 1999) on May 31, 1940 and had four children. Schneemelcher spent his last years in the Franz-Dahl-Stift in Bad Honnef.


Fonts (selection)

  • Documents on the history of the Arian dispute from the enthronement of Athanasius to the death of Constantine . Habil. Göttingen 1949.
  • Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher: New Testament Apocrypha . Tübingen 1959/64, ISBN 3-16-132242-8 .
  • Collected essays on the New Testament and on Patristics . 1974.
  • Early Christianity , 1981.
  • (as editor): Damaskinos Papandreou : Orthodoxie und Ökumene , 1986.
  • Speeches and essays. Contributions to Church History and Ecumenical Discussion , 1991.
  • Reviews, memories and reflections . In: Dietrich Meyer (ed.), Church history as an autobiography . Vol. II, 2002, pp. 257-326.


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