Sad News: Manfred Hoffmann Has Died

I hope you’re familiar with his work.  He’s contributed substantially to the disciplines of Church history and Historical theology.

Professor Emeritus of Church History and Historical Theology Manfred Hoffmann passed away on March 15, 2017. Charles D. ‘Ted’ Hackett, professor emeritus in the practice of church ministries, offers this remembrance.

Professor Manfred Hoffmann, age 86, died, peacefully, at home. And so it is time to remember, time to recall.

Manfred came to Emory in 1960 after being awarded his doctorate at Heidelberg. He joined a company of young scholars including Ted Runyon, Ted Weber and Hendrikus Boers, who would help transform Candler from a regional, denominational seminary into an international, ecumenical school of theology and eventually establish Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion as one of the leading programs in the nation.

I met Manfred when I arrived at Emory to pursue a PhD in 1966. He was my teacher, the director of my dissertation, and then for twenty-five years my faculty colleague. He did many things before and after his tenure at Emory, but it is Manfred at Emory that I remember.

Manfred was an Elder in the Methodist Church and had been a local pastor in Germany, but it was clear that he thought his “mission” at Emory was as an academician. In the sixties and seventies, during the years of theological foment symbolized by Emory Professor Thomas J. J. Altizer, Manfred seemed to have little use for the “Catholic-Arminianism” of Methodist theology. Instead he approached things by way of a very existentialist vision of Luther. It was a “Theology of the Cross” and it operated in a stark dialectic of personal human mortality and unmerited grace. The human condition was unalterably ambiguous; there was to be no romancing of “progress” or “perfection.” This was hard-edged stuff, and I often thought Manfred’s aura must have been like Luther’s at Worms: “Here I stand, I can do no other!”

He was an active participant in the “Core Seminar” which occupied a central place in the PhD program. Students and faculty all joined in giving and critiquing faculty papers. Manfred was always patient and gentle with students. With faculty colleagues, however, he could be acerbic and dismissive when he thought their scholarship inept or their thinking “fuzzy.” Most students felt intimidated, fearing his criticism might fall on us if our scholarship failed. But his lesson stuck. We tried hard not to confuse historical evidence with opinion and to think things through to their conclusion, regardless of where the thinking took us.

But if he was rigorous and demanding, there was also the pastoral side. He was also a Methodist minister. He was always interested in what was happening in our lives, always sensitive to the pressures we experienced in graduate school and always supportive. He encouraged us to follow wherever our research took us, even if it was out of his own field of expertise. He was equally kind to seminary students and I never heard him dismissive of a master’s level student in any circumstance. He appreciated everyone’s struggles. Behind the gruff exterior there was a great well of empathy.

During this time, I learned of his great love of Bach and his affection for Baroque organ and harpsichord. Of course, he wanted to play this music “authentically.” He was delighted to acquire a harpsichord of his own and occasionally invited some of us for “recitals.” He also played the organ in a local church of which I was Rector while I tried to write my dissertation. The organ was pedestrian at best, but it was a pipe organ, and Manfred managed to make it sound almost like a good instrument!

After I joined the faculty in the seventies, I shared an office suite with him. He was always collegial and willing to share what was happening in his life. Gradually, I noticed a shift in his theology. The hard edges of the confrontational Luther gave way to an interest in Erasmus.

Here rhetoric and style began to carry some of the weight that used to belong only to “tough reality.” Progress and improvement, albeit circumscribed and modest, became possible. “Catholic-Arminianism” now moved to the center. Manfred did his best, most valuable work on Erasmus. It was this mediating, irenic, reforming Catholic that Manfred found to be his historical soul mate. He was a Methodist pastor at heart and a good part of his own journey was in claiming that.

It is not surprising then, that after his retirement he established himself as “Theologian in Residence” at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, where for the past twenty years he has been a beloved teacher and pastor to the people of that place.

So we remember Manfred Hoffmann and learn, among other things, something of what he might call an “existential dialectic.” Scholarship must be rigorous. In life, the “way things are,” the “facts,” must be pursued and faced up to. We cannot fabricate history or any other part of reality. But there is another “fact” of life. We long for something better, more perfect, more just, more loving. And we long for each other. The way to honor that longing is to listen and, as Erasmus teaches us, to be civil; to be careful with each other. The mystery is that as we seek to do both things, we find that we may, indeed, make a “little progress.” Perhaps it is a shadow of “going on to perfection.”

Charles D. “Ted” Hackett
Professor Emeritus in the Practice of Church Ministries

Read Hoffmann’s obituary here.

The Bee Stings the St Paddy Boozers

Reports from around the country Friday indicated that celebrations in honor of Christian missionary Saint Patrick consisted primarily of consuming large amounts of alcohol in order to get “totally plastered.”

Partygoers around the nation and world declared their deep level of respect and admiration for the missionary by pounding all sorts of green beer, hard liquor, wine, and mixed drinks throughout the day and into the night, sources confirmed.

“I’d like to dedicate this to the great ambassador of the one glorious gospel to the lost souls of Ireland,” one man in Boston declared just before some friends hoisted him up to perform his third keg stand of the morning.

“Saint Paaatrrrriiiiiiick!” a woman from Los Angeles cried out, overcome with emotion at the thought of the devout evangelist. “Brrrrfffrrrrrraaagggdddlllellll hahaha!” she added.

A Denver man paying his respects to the missionary echoed the celebratory yet reverential mood sweeping the nation. “To the man who was taken captive into slavery at the young age of 16, escaped, and then returned to the land of his enslavement to share the soul-saving gospel of Jesus Christ among the pagan Druids who wanted him dead!” he said between shots of Jack Daniel’s at a local Applebee’s. “This one’s for you, Patrick!”

“More shots! It’s what ol’ Paddy would have wanted!” he added.

Pretty much.

St Patrick’s Autobiography

17 March is St Patrick’s Day, when the people of Ireland and those of Irish descent around the world celebrate the feast day of this famous saint. Patrick is one of the patron saints of Ireland and certainly the most celebrated! As a young man in the 5th century, he was kidnapped from his home in Roman Britain and spent years enslaved as a shepherd in Ireland. He eventually managed to escape back to Britain, and then returned as a missionary to convert the Irish to Christianity. Patrick describes his remarkable story himself in his Confessio, a form of autobiography. The Confessio survives in only 8 manuscripts, one of which is held by the British Library (now Cotton MS Nero E I/1). This fascinating text has been fully translated from Latin into English by the Royal Irish Academy and can be found online here.

Via.  Enjoy.

#ICYMI – On Keeping Your Books: An Observation

bookstandNPR’s Fresh Air had the most delightful author – Penelope Lively – on in March 2014.  She was asked, in the course of the interview, why she kept all her books (she has a large collection) when it is unlikely that she will re-read many, if any.

Her answer:  that they charted the course of her intellectual life and bidding them farewell would be to lose a part of herself.

I thought that a grand answer.  Books are friends who, in her words, “wave to us from the shelves”.  And I thought to myself as I drove along – I can’t part with my books any more than I can part with my true friends.

Like her, I may not re-read many of them but they remind me of places and ideas and people; and those things I’m not willing to lose.