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+ Hermann Sasse, Theologian and Confessor +
9 August AD 1976
Lutheran pastor and theologian Hermann Otto Erich Sasse was born on 17 July 1895 at Sonnewalde, Lower Lusatia (Lausitz), Germany. He was the eldest of five children born to pharmacist Hermann Sasse and his wife Maria, née Berger. In 1913,he began reading theology and ancient philology at the University of Berlin. In later years, he claimed that his tutor in practical theology was war, as he was one of only six survivors from his battalion after engaging in trench warfare in Flanders.
After the war, he continued his studies and was ordained in 1920 in St Matthew's Church, Berlin. He served in several Brandenburg parishes took the licentiate in theology in Berlin in 1923. Sasse came to Hartford Seminary, Connecticut in 1926, where he earned a master's degree.
Hermann Sasse married Charlotte Margarete Naumann (d. 1964) on 11 September 1928 in St. Nicolai's Church, Oranienburg, Germany. Their union was blessed with three children.
During the tough economic times of the Great Depression, During the Depression, Sasse was made a Sozialpfarrer
(pastor with social duties). As such, he reached out to those in need in the community, particularly to factory workers in Berlin.
Although remembered as one who resisted the watered-down theology of unionism, Sasse participated in the Ecumenical Movement and was a delegate and interpreter during the first world conference of the Faith and Order Movement in Lausanne, Switzerland (1927). He also attended the 1932 disarmament conference in Geneva.
Among German theologians, he ranks as one of the the earliest to speak out against Nazism. While criticizing some of its theology, he participated actively in the Confessing Church Movement that had emerged under Martin Niemöller
and others. Sasse and Dietrich Bonhoeffer
were among the small but growing church opposition to Hitler. In 1933, they were the primary authors of the Bethel Confession
. This strongly trinitarian document also clearly condemned discrimination against the Jews. Rejecting an all-Aryan German Church, the Confession stated, "Instead of giving up, either willingly or unwillingly, in one area the ecclesial fraternity with the Jewish Christian that is created by word and sacrament, the Gentile Christians should rather expose themselves to persecution."
Although he'd been working hand-in-hand with its members, Sasse left the synod that produced the Barmen Declaration
. He objected to Karl Barth and others leading the Confessing Movement to wrongly arrogate church authority for itself. During this time, he continued as professor in church history at the University of Erlangen, Bavaria, a position he received in 1933. The German government withdrew his passport in 1935 but his popularity as a lecturer and protection from the dean of the faculty helped him to retain his university post through the Nazi era.
Uncomfortable with its theological compromises, Sasse protested at the 1948 formation of the Evangelical Church in Germany
. His opposed its policy of restoration rather than renewal and expressed disquiet over state-supported university faculties of theology. This led him to join the Lutheran Free Church.
After receiving a call to teach at Immanuel Seminary
(now Australian Lutheran College) in North Adelaide, South Australia, he migrated in 1949. There, he worked mightily to unite Australia's divided Lutheran churches, devoting much energy to this cause. Exercising his considerable teaching and writing skills, he helped to formulate and forge new doctrinal bases of agreement and was rewarded by seeing the 1966 church union occurred in 1966.
Sasse stayed active in the German Lutheran communities of Adelaide and Melbourne. Through his many contacts, he assisted immigrants with pastoral advice and care.
Sasse also retained his global Lutheran connections — many in the United States knew him as "Mr. Lutheran." He maintained world-wide correspondence through regular doctrinal and pastoral "Letters to Lutheran Pastors." He continued to encourage ongoing theological research, particularly in the areas of Scripture as Word of God and the Eucharist. While maintaining his justly deserved reputation for strongly defending confessional and conservative positions, Sasse also kept active personal contacts across denominational boundaries.
From its inception, Sasse involved himself in Australian Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialog. He finally retired from the seminary in 1969 but stayed active in the affairs of the Church. The Federal Republic of Germany honored him with the Order of Merit in 1972.
Sasse saw over 450 of his works published. Included among them are Here We Stand (Minneapolis, 1946) and This is My Body (1959). A fire in his North Adelaide home claimed his life on 9 August 1976. Survived by two sons, he was buried in Centennial Park
in Pasadena, south Australia. One obituary declared Sasse "Australia's most distinguished acquisition from the Continental theological scene."
Hermann Sasse was one of many who stood steadfast in confession of the Evangelical, Orthodox, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. For a sampling of some of the others in Lutheranism, please see The Meanies of Grace
. For more on and by Sasse, I recommend What Sasse Said
, Hermann Sasse and the Liturgical Movement
, and Hermann Sasse: If You Don't Know Him, You Should
as possible starters. You can also find plenty of Sasse to read through this CPH search
O Lord God, heavenly Father, we pray that, as You raised up Hermann Sasse to resist the evils of Nazi philosophy and through him led Lutherans in Germany, Australia, and around the world into renewed appreciation of their confessional heritage and trust in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, so You would continue to provide Your Church with faithful pastors and leaders, keeping them steadfast in Your grace and truth, defending them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestowing on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
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