Gottlieb Harless was known as one of the leaders of the confessional awakening of Lutheranism in nineteenth-century Germany. His best-known work, System of Christian Ethics, was a triumph of conservative Neo-Lutheran theology, reviving adherence to the Lutheran Confessions as the orthodox tenants of Christianity. The fullness of the church, Harless would argue, is found in the church’s ethics—which were, to Harless, the very testimony of new life regenerated by the Word of God and the sacraments. Unlike the concurrent Pietist movement, Neo-Lutheran ethics focused on individual repentance and conversion, and Neo-Lutheranism focused on the Lord’s Supper as the center of the liturgy. System of Christian Ethics helped guide the future of nineteenth-century Lutheranism despite competing movements toward either Catholicism or Pietism.
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It would be difficult to find a more useful book on the Christian minister than the volume before us. It is a thoroughly and profoundly Christian treatise. It is full of ripe, deep, and fruitful thought, presented in a clear, compact, and attractive form.
—British Quarterly Review
The Christliche Ethik (Eng. transl., System of Christian Ethics, Edinburgh, 1865), is without doubt Harless’ most important work. Its chief excellences are its scientific structure, the emphasis and consistent application of the Christian ethical principle, and the interrelation and connection of the Biblical factor with the historical factor in the more general sense of the word.
—Rudolf Stähelin, New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
. . . one of the most influential representatives of Lutheran orthodoxy of his generation.
—J. G. G. Norman, New International Dictionary of the Christian Church
Gottlieb Christoph Adolf von Harless (1806–1879) was a German Lutheran theologian from Nuremberg, Germany. At a young age, his interests were in literature, music, and poety, and was completely indifferent to Christianity. When he entered the University of Erlangen in 1823, he discovered a love for theology, and was most deeply influenced by his professor, George Benedikt Winer. He studied Hegel, Spinoza, Schelling, and Pascal, until he finally found his grounding in the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, especially the Lutheran doctrine of justification. He taught New Testament exegesis at Erlangen, and, later, theology, ethics, and methodology. Despite his adherence to the sacraments of the Lutheran church, he opposed rituals—and it was his opposition to genuflection that cost him his position at Erlangen. He then went to the University of Leipzig as professor of theology and dogmatics.
His three most important works were written while he taught at Erlangen, and they include the System of Christian Ethics (Christliche Etik), first published in 1842, and considered to be his most important work. The other two, Commentar über den Brief Pauli an die Ephesier and Encyclopädie und Methodologie vom Standpunkte der Protestantischen Kirche, have yet to be translated.