Jacob Heerbrand

by Aaron Jensen

Jacob Heerbrand was born on August 12, 1521 at Geingen in Swabia to Andreas and Barbara Heerbrand. Andreas, a weaver by trade, was also very academically minded, pursuing math and Latin especially. Andreas had also been very interested in music in his younger years, but later came to regret the amount of time he spent on something which was only secondary instead of focusing on more important matters. He did what he could to keep his son away from music to prevent him from making the same mistake. Setting aside music, and also math and Latin, he concentrated himself instead on theology, reading Luther diligently. He took care in raising Jacob to cultivate within him an eagerness for both knowledge and hard work. Already as a young boy Jacob would come home from church with questions for his father about the content of the sermons.

After completing Grammar School in Geingen in 1536, he attended the Gymnasium at Ulm, graduating in 1538. He then studied at the University of Wittenberg. Here he had the opportunity to study under many of the leaders of the Reformation. He listened to Luther speak on Genesis, heard two lectures every day by Melanchthon on a variety of topics, and also studied under Bugenhagen, Major, and Kreutziger. He would forever count it as the greatest privilege of his entire life that he was for five years able to learn at the feet of Luther and Melanchthon. While at Wittenberg, his classmates nicknamed him the "Swabian Owl" because of his diligent study habits. After his graduation from the university in 1543, Melanchthon offered a position in a Saxon church to Heerbrand, who was already making a name for himself through the sermons he was preaching in nearby churches, but he declined the offer in order to continue his studies. While at home for a visit, the pastor at the church in Geingen made him preach the sermon on Easter Sunday. The congregation was greatly impressed at how edifying his words were and his parents, proud of the fine preacher their son had become, encouraged him to stay in Swabia and use his talents for the benefit of the people of his homeland. Heerbrand listened to his parents and shortly thereafter submitted himself to the Erhard Schnepf, the General Superintendent in Stuttgart, to be examined. Schnepf too was so greatly impressed by Heerbrand that he soon exclaimed, "God has sent you to me!" immediately offering him the position of Superintendent of Goeppingen. But again, for the sake of his studies, Heerbrand declined and instead offered to be a deacon at Tuebingen, where he could at the same time study at the university. Schnepf agreed and Heerbrand's time was filled with studying and preaching. During this time Herzog Ulrich often had him preach for him in his castle and said, "Heerbrand will be a great theologian one day." In February 1547, Heerbrand married Margaret Stamler, the daughter of a consistorial assessor, and their marriage was blessed with eleven children, three sons and eight daughters.

For refusing to accept the Augsburg Interim, both Heerbrand and Schnepf were removed from their offices on November 11, 1548, but Heerbrand decided to stay in Tuebingen so that he might continue his study of Hebrew under Oswald Schreckenfuchs. He received his doctorate in theology from the University of Tuebingen on April 22, 1550, and was especially happy that his father was able to be present to see it. The following year he became the pastor at Heerenberg, near Ehingen, which is where Brenz was at the time, and the two met together frequently. Once Brenz said to him, "I rejoice every time I see you." When Heerbrand asked why that was, Brenz responded, "You will help out the church through your teaching, spread true doctrine far and wide, and bring the church protection and honor." Later in that same year, Heerbrand assisted with the drafting of the Confessio Wirtembergica and signed it, and in 1552 was sent to the Council of Trent along with Brenz, Beurlein, and Vannius to present that same confession. During these next few years he worked diligently with the Swabians to put an end to the Osiandrian controversy. In September of 1556, the Margrave Karl of Baden-Pforzheim invited him to come be pastor and director of the state church in Pforzheim, which had just recently been reformed according to the Confessio Wirtembirgica, and he even made Heerbrand temporary superintendent.

A year later Heerbrand returned from Pforzheim to the University of Tuebingen to be a Professor of Theology and also a preacher in that city. He continued in this ministry for over forty years, often holding other additional positions as well, including being the superintendent of the stipendium, chief preacher at the Church of St. George, and the rector of the university eight separate terms. He often served as the orator at various festivals and academic ceremonies including Melanchthon's memorial service in 1560 and the University Jubilee in 1578. When Andreae died in 1590, Heerbrand became chancellor of the university and provost of the cathedral church.
On January 5, 1599 he decided to retire from all his various positions of service in the Church, not because he did not love and enjoy them but because he felt he no longer had the strength of body and mind to carry out such important duties. In March the next year he slipped into a coma. Regaining consciousness, he would repeat these words: "The salvation of God is useful for all things and has the promise of this and of future life." Jacob Heerbrand entered this future life on May 22, 1600.

Heerbrand's sermons, which were what had originally made him well-known, were marked by how well they were rooted in Scripture and by how thoroughly he would show the Gospel as its central message. He would make use of powerful and vernacular expressions, not preaching over his hearer's heads. His specialty was considered to be Old Testament exegesis, especially the Pentateuch, which he frequently lectured on at the University. He had further influence in the church through his many theological disputations, spending considerable amounts of ink countering the theologians of the Roman Catholic Church, specifically the Jesuits. He demonstrated that their accusations against the Lutherans were nothing more than slanderous lies bent on inciting disturbances. His greatest literary impact was through his Compendium of Theology. This book lays out doctrine both thoroughly and simply in question and answer format. This was considered to be such a worthy exposition of the faith that it was translated into Greek by Martin Crusius and sent to Egypt, Greece, and Asia Minor during discussions between the theological faculty at Tuebingen and the patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople.

The coat of arms which was bestowed upon Jacob and the Heerbrand family illustrates his great importance to the church. It is of a man who is carrying a burning torch in his right hand, signifying the light he brought to the church with both his pure Christ-centered teaching and his life which was so often a wonderful example of mercy.

Beste, Wilhelm. "Jacob Heerbrand." Die Bedeutendsten Kanzelredner der Aelteren Lutherschen Kirche von Luther bis zu Spener in Biographieen und einer Auswahl ihrer Predigten. Vol 2. Leipzig: Gustav Meyer, 1858, p 59-62.

Bossert, Gustav. "Jacob Heerbrand." New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Vol 5. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1953, p198-199.

Shott. "Jacob Heerbrand." Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. Vol 11. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1880, p 242-244.