Matthias Hafenreffer

by Andrew Hussman

Matthias Hafenreffer (1561-1619)

Matthias Hafenreffer, although a lesser-known Lutheran theologian of the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, exemplifies the dedication to preserving the purity of God’s Word that characterized this age. He was born on June 24, 1561 in the town of Lorch, Wuerttemberg, which is about 25 miles east of Stuttgart. His father was a Schultheiss in Lorch, similar to a town official or mayor of a city. Matthias’ early schooling took place in the monastic schools of Lorch, St. George, and Hirschau, all in the southern part of modern Germany. In 1579 be began to study philosophy and theology at the University of Tuebingen, and two years later he received his Master’s degree. He remained at Tuebingen as a lecturer until he moved to Herrenberg in 1586 to serve as a deacon. It was here that he married the widowed daughter of Johannes Brenz, Agatha. He also became a colleague of Johann Andreae, the son of the southern reformer and co-author of the Formula of Concord, Jakob Andreae. Hafenreffer did not stay long in one spot over the next few years as he became pastor at Ehningen in 1588, court preacher and member of the Consistory at Stuttgart in 1590, and finally came back to Tuebingen in 1592, where he would remain for 27 years until his death.

At Tuebingen he served as superintendent and professor of theology. While he specialized in the study of the Old Testament and the Church Fathers, he did not limit his desire for knowledge to the area of theology but broadened his learning to include mathematics and natural science. He even called mathematics “the ‘eyes’ without which one is as blind as a mole.”1 The breadth of his learning was characteristic of his age; his aversion to polemics, however, was not. Hafenreffer was a gentle, peace-loving man who avoided theological confrontations and debates, choosing to focus instead on his academic interests and studies. His zeal for learning was impressed upon his thankful students, most notably Wilhelm Schickard, Johann Valentin Andreae, and Johannes Kepler. Schickard went on to become a Lutheran minister and professor of Hebrew and astronomy at Tuebingen and also invented an early type of mechanical calculator. Andreae, the son of his former colleague Johann at Herrenberg, also became a Lutheran pastor and was associated with the Rosicrucians, a secret society of mystics. Kepler, an astronomer famous for his laws on planetary motion, is an example of how thorough Hafenreffer’s knowledge really was, for he called him his praeceptor colendissimus, “dearest of preceptors,” and praised him in his correspondence. Hafenreffer finally became provost and chancellor at the university in 1617, but only two years later he was called to eternal rest on October 22, 1619.

As mentioned above, Hafenreffer was known for his zealous personality, but he also knew to keep everything in moderation, since he warned his students against becoming too engrossed in one’s studies. It has been said of him, “For no elder surpassed him in moderation, no fiery youth in zeal for wisdom and virtue. . . his whole life was as his motto: schlecht und recht.2 Hafenreffer’s opposition to confrontation can be seen in the situation where Kepler requested his arbitration in a dispute with the superintendent at Linz. Hafenreffer advised Kepler “not to get involved in theological questions, to renounce the imagination of foolish reason and to admire the divine mysteries in true, simple faith.”3 On the other hand, Hafenreffer should also be remembered for his uncompromising orthodoxy. Again we see this in his relationship with Kepler. When Kepler refused to subscribe to the Formula of Concord because it denied the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Hafenreffer did not allow his good friend a pass and look over this important disagreement. Rather, he required from Kepler a strict, unconditional confession to the Formula of Concord and had to advise the Consistory to refuse him communion, even though this led to a falling out in their friendship. Another admirable quality of Hafenreffer was his selfless, content attitude that relied completely on God to provide for him and his family. He did not die a wealthy man, because he often welcomed the poor, strangers, and students, like Andreae, into his own home and shared his possessions with them. It was his principle that a person could not devote his efforts to exploring the Scriptures and pursuing wealth at the same time.4

Hafenreffer may not have been as prolific a writer as some of his contemporaries, but it is worth noting what he did write and the impact it had on the church. He has left behind some of his sermons, theological disputations, commentaries on Nahum and Habbakuk, memorial speeches for his colleagues at Tuebingen, like Jacob Heerbrand, and, surprisingly, even several polemical writings against the Anabaptists and Calvinists. His two most famous works, however, are his Loci Theologici and his Templum Ezechielis. He originally wrote his Loci for the son of Duke Friedrich of Wuerrtemberg, but he thoroughly reworked it to become a dogmatics textbook and had it published in 1600. He later revised and edited it again in 1603. It was known for its clarity and orthodoxy in the form of simple questions and answers. It is interesting to note that Hafenreffer outlines the prolegomena to his theological textbook according to Luther’s threefold definition of what makes a theologian: prayer, meditation, and tribulation. What is unfortunate about it is its unusual, uneven division. Part one deals with God and is about one third of the book; part two briefly discusses angels; and part three covers the last two-thirds of the book and treats of man and is subdivided according to the four states of man: before the fall, after the fall, restored through Christ, and after death. Hafenreffer also follows after Chemnitz in considering the antilegomena books of the New Testament (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Revelation) like the Apocrypha–they are beneficial and good books to read, but they should not be used as dogmatic authority. Nonetheless, his Loci became popular enough to replace Heerbrand’s Compendium Theologiae as the dogmatics textbook in Tuebingen and remained in that spot for the rest of the 17th century. It was even translated into German by Anna Johanna, the daughter of Duke Johann Friedrich of Wuerrtemberg. But it was also highly regarded in Sweden, where it was introduced in 1612 by royal decree as the official textbook for the University of Uppsala and other educational institutions. King Charles XII of Sweden, who did not live until a century later, was even said to have known it almost by heart.

Hafenreffer’s other well-known work, his Templum Ezechielis, an exposition of Ezekiel 40-48, was more admired than his Loci by his contemporaries. In it he described the details of the Temple, but he also included meditations on the chief points of Christianity and examined the measurements, currency and weights of the Old Testament.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm. “Hafenreffer, Matthias.” Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon. http://www.bautz.de/bbkl/. September 7, 2008.

Brecht, Martin. Johann Valentin Andreae 1586-1654: Eine Biographie. Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008.

Kunze, Johannes. “Hafenreffer, Matthias.” Realencyklopaedie fuer protestantische Theologie und Kirche. Ed. Albert Hauck, vol. 7, 330-332. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1899.

Meusel, Carl. “Hafenreffer, Matthias.” Kirchliches Handlexikon. Vol. 3, 127. Leipzig: Justus Naumann, 1891.

Römer, C. Kirchliche Geschichte Wuerttembergs. Stuttgart: Die evangelische Buecherstiftung, 1848.


  1. Martin Brecht, Johann Valentin Andreae 1586-1654: Eine Biographie (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), 55. 

  2. “simple and right.” C. Roemer, Kirchliche Geschichte Wuerttembergs (Stuttgart: Die evangelische Buecherstiftung, 1848), 291. 

  3. Johannes Kunze, “Hafenreffer, Matthias.” Realencyklopaedie fuer protestantische Theologie und Kirche (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1899), 331. 

  4. Roemer, 291.