August Otto Wilhelm Pieper was born on September 27, 1857, in Carwitz, Pomerania, as the second youngest son to August Berhnhard Pieper and his wife Bertha. The pedigree of this great Wisconsin synod pastor, professor, and theologian was not that of a pastor soldiering for the gospel, but rather that of a soldier in the Prussian army. His father followed a line of Piepers and served in the Prussian army. August’s father eventually reached the rank of corporal, but after a year in this position, he decided the private life better suited him. Pieper’s father was honorably discharged, and he transitioned from one leadership role to another. He became mayor of Carwitz and was highly respected as a peaceable man. He was by all accounts a good ruler, especially because he supported Frederick William III’s Prussian Union. His unionist support looked good on his résumé but could have been detrimental to the history of our beloved Synod.
But God is the God of history. Enter August’s mother, Bertha. While his father was consumed with mayoral duties, Bertha looked over the secular and sacred education of her children. Bertha was raised from the age of three by her uncle, a member of the confessional Pomeranian Separation. She held true to her confessional Lutheran faith throughout her life and imparted these teachings upon her children. Under the steady, loving guide of Bertha, August and his brothers became well-educated and their visible talents spoke well of both their mother and father.
Pieper’s father died in 1869, and a year later Bertha took the four younger sons, including August, over to America. The Pieper family settled in Watertown, Wisconsin, near the Rock River bridge because of the proximity to Northwestern College. The college provided the children with the ministerial education that Bertha so highly valued and gave Bertha employment as the college’s stewardess. Bertha still had a hand in the children’s education and wanted them to be trained for ministerial service. August was no exception.
August graduated from Northwestern in 1876 and enrolled the following school year at the Missouri Synod’s Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. This Missouri seminary was a perfect fit for August. August was an exceptionally gifted student, especially in foreign languages such as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. There in St. Louis, Dr. C.F.W. Walther could further cultivate Pieper’s God-given gifts, and August could be closer to his older brother Franz who taught as a professor at the seminary. Franz also was a gifted student and three years after his graduation from St. Louis, he took a call to teach at Concordia Seminary so that he could be groomed as Walther’s hand-picked successor.
Pieper’s time at the seminary was not without its challenges, however. A self-described lover of baseball, August was a pitcher and enjoyed playing games with schoolmates. After one game in the sweltering heat and humidity of St. Louis, August and company had to resort to rain water to try and rehydrate themselves. But instead of replenishing electrolytes, August contracted a serious case of typhoid fever. He was bed-ridden for some time in a room at the seminary and was concerned that his deliriousness would make him unfit for the public ministry. But God eventually restored his sound health and sound mind. August proved he was fully recovered when his final examination for a Walther class was graded in the top two of his class. Walther further showed confidence in August’s skills as a student when he, at brother Franz’s suggestion, asked August to proofread the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew quotes in Walther’s Dogmatics. Pieper, with classic humor, later wrote in reminiscence that, “The Missourians therefore can pride themselves with the fact that they have Walther’s Dogmatics proofread by a Wisconsin Synod man!”
And August Pieper was a Wisconsin Synod man throughout his ministry. He graduated from Concordia in 1879 and took a Wisconsin Synod call to Immanuel Congregation in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, where he served until 1885. Walther had once asked Pieper if he would serve the Lord as a pastor in the Missouri Synod, but Pieper respectfully replied that he felt he was obligated to repay the Wisconsin Synod for the Christian upbringing he received after coming to America. From Kewaunee Pieper accepted a call to shepherd St. Paul’s Congregation in Menominee, Wisconsin. During 1890, however, Pieper again was afflicted with health troubles. He was forced to take some months off from the ministry and move to Texas so that the drier climate could restore his ailing throat back to health.
Shortly after returning from the South, Pieper accepted another call in 1891, this time to St. Marcus in Milwaukee. He served God’s people there for twelve years before he accepted his final call, to be a professor of isagogics and Old Testament exegesis at the Wisconsin Synod’s seminary in Wauwatosa, which later moved to Mequon. His forty-one years at the seminary saw him serve as president of the school from 1930-1937 and prepare nearly five hundred students for the pastoral ministry. August Pieper retired from the public ministry of the gospel in 1943 after sixty-four years of faithful service to his Lord and Savior.
Part of Professor Pieper’s ministry to his lay members, students, and fellow pastors was his writing. He wrote ten essays either for synod or district conventions. He helped found Theologische Quartalschrift in 1904 and over one hundred of his articles have filled its pages. In one article entitled “The Proper Separation of Law and Gospel” Pieper sets forth the basic principles for proper division, a topic about which he undoubtedly learned much when he studied under Walther. Pieper’s principal work of writing, however, is found in Isaiah II. This book focuses on the rich gospel message that is preached in the latter half of Isaiah, a topic that Pieper held so dear.
Professor August Pieper’s ministry was an extremely long one but marked with great consistency. Pieper was always on fire for the sweet message of free and full forgiveness found in the gospel. Above all Pieper looked first to understand salvation for his personal edification and so he could then clearly help others understand it. His theology was crystal clear, and his students, congregations, fellow pastors, and readers were always left with the impression of the gospel. He kept his enormous academic gifts captive to Christ and never let his reason get in the way of the pure Word. As strong as his intelligence was, so was his will. The professor was very self-controlled and always found a way to force himself to do numerous exhausting tasks. Pieper especially applied this will and discipline to stand up for what he was convinced was right, above all that Jesus Christ is the salvation for the entire world.
As intense and intelligent as Professor Pieper was, he was not distant from those around him. His students and colleagues spoke dearly of him, and it was clear that he had a good rapport with them. Before the very first period of every isagogics course, the professor would quietly peak only his head around the door into the filled classroom and then quickly pull it back. He would let suspense build for a minute or so, fully enter the room, and say at the front of the classroom, “That’s Isagogics: just a peak.” Pieper not only made his students laugh but also made them motivated for the ministry. He was famous for sometimes dropping the assigned topic for an entire period and create a Stimmung, an “atmosphere,” for the gospel ministry. His students would leave the hour more enthusiastic and motivated for gospel ministry. One former student summed it up: “Pips gave us the Geist.”
God blessed August Pieper’s personal life with his marriage in 1881 to Emma Koenig, with whom the Lord further blessed Pieper with five daughters, two sons, twenty-five grandchildren, and eighteen great-grandchildren. Professor Pieper’s wife Emma preceded him in death when she fell asleep in 1929 before God called him to his eternal home on December 23, 1946. The Wisconsin Synod owes her gracious God tremendous thanks for August Pieper’s extensive ministry. In him we have a model pastor and Christian who always inspired zeal for the gospel and its ministry. His reminder is as important now as it was during his life: “We can constantly grow in the work of the Lord, always become more.”
Brenner, John. "In Memoriam." Quartalschrift: Theological Quarterly. 44.2 (April 1947): 81.
Lehninger, Max. "Gemeinden: Professor August Pieper." Evangelical-Lutherisches Gemeinde-Blatt. 83.2 (January 25, 1948): 8-9.
Pieper, August. "Reminiscences from Professor August Pieper." WELS Historical Institute Journal. 1.2 (Fall 1983): 48-56.
Westerhaus, Martin O. “The Wauwatosa Theology: The Men and Their Message.” The Wauwatosa Theology, Volume I. Ed. Curtis A. Jahn. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997. 13-98.