David Hollaz

by Kirk Lahmann

David HollazDavid Friedrich Hollaz (1648-1713)

The details of the life of Hollaz are somewhat sparse compared to those of his predecessors and instructors. His name never received world renown as a great reformer of Christianity. But for the sake of his parishioners and his office, Hollaz faithfully served in the ministry of his Lord with both a shepherd’s humility and a theologian’s wisdom. The history of Lutheranism ascribes Hollaz the title of the last great dogmatician of the period of Lutheran orthodoxy, a designation which modern students of Lutheran dogmatics recognize. However, at his death, those to whom he ministered mourned the death not of Doctor or Professor Hollaz, the author of the last celebrated Lutheran dogmatic textbook, but of Pastor Hollaz, God’s humble servant who unceasingly preached Christ crucified.

David Friedrich Hollaz was born in Wulkow, a small town near Stargard, Pomerania, NE of Berlin in modern day Poland, in 1648 at the very close of the Thirty Years’ War. His already poverty-stricken family lost its father when David was four years old. Despite the meager upbringing, David’s family and parish managed to send him to some of Germany’s premier schools. He studied the classics and Hebrew at the University of Erfurt; then he studied theology at the University of Wittenberg under Calov and Quenstedt and received his master’s degree.

Hollaz received his first call to serve as a pastor back in his homeland of Pomerania. He ministered in Pützerlin, a village NW of Stargard, from 1670-1684. In 1681 he accepted an additional call to serve the congregation at Stargard. He served both congregations, separated by about five miles, until 1684. Then Hollaz traveled to the coast of the North Sea to the port city of Colberg where he served a two-fold ministry, as both an associate pastor at the St. Mary’s Church and as the Dean of Students at the Colberg preparatory school. In 1692 Hollaz once again moved back to the land of his upbringing to serve as the senior pastor of the congregation at Jakobshagen, a town about 10 miles east of Stargard. Hollaz remained in Jakobshagen as the pastor from 1692 until his death on October 2, 1713. Of his five surviving children, three sons served as pastors in Pomerania.

The literary work for which Hollaz is most renowned is his Examen Theologicum Acroamaticum (A Scholarly Theological Examination), published in 1707. Written for the students of the Colberg preparatory school, the Examen doubtlessly stands as Hollaz’s most influential publication, having attained from subsequent scholarship the famous epitaph as the last great Lutheran dogmatic textbook. Contemporary evaluation describes the Examen as a “veritable masterpiece of arrangement and precise formulation,”1 even at about 1500 quarto pages in length. The Examen is much more succinct than such multi-volume works as Gerhard’s Loci or Calov’s Systema, yet is more detailed and more inclusive than a brief overview of doctrine such as Baier’s Compendium. Hollaz’s authorship “surpasses all Lutheran predecessors in encompassment and proportionality of representation.”2

Hollaz’s method in writing the Examen follows the traditional format established first by Melanchthon’s Loci and subsequently adopted by nearly all the Lutheran dogmatics authors. He wrote systematic theology, the method which carefully outlines and elaborates on Biblical dogma and “works to establish a norm in the church that will delimit and also unify theology.”3 Many dogmaticians catalog topics according to places or loci; Hollaz divides the customary categories of doctrine into questions which he answers with definitions, categorizations of terminology, antitheses, observations, and confirmations from Scripture. Hollaz concludes his elaboration of topics with sighs of prayer (suspiria), focusing on the Lord as the source of doctrine and wisdom. The entire Examen is divided into four chief parts, reflecting on God as the object of theology, fallen man as the subject of theology, the origins (principia) and means (media) of our salvation, and the Holy Christian Church, respectively.

Nowhere does Hollaz depart from the unquestionable orthodoxy of his Lutheran predecessors. He presupposes Old and New Testaments as the verbally inspired Word of God and esteems God as the almighty and loving Father of creation and mankind. He emphasizes Christology as the champion over the popular philosophy of humanism and subjects man’s reason to a position that merely supplements the God given gift of faith.

A tone of pastoral concern weaves through the entire Examen, concern not only for the orthodoxy of his ministerial audience but also for laymen of the congregations. At its publication in 1707, the Examen discovered a Europe still affected by the devastating Thirty Years’ War, a Europe striving to unify Catholic and Protestant against the Ottoman Empire, and a European Lutheranism veering from systematic theology to Pietism. Although Hollaz “nowhere sets down Pietism as hostile or completely heretical,”4 his attention to the ideologies of the Quakers, mystics, and enthusiasts connotes his awareness of Pietism’s rising influence. Perhaps in lieu of many historians’ criticism of Hollaz for his avoidance of the subject of Pietism, it should be noted that the most detrimental effects of Pietism on the Church were yet to come as Hollaz wrote the Examen. Hollaz is not deterred from using such positive results of Pietism as practical viewpoints and applications, counting “active piety as something essential for the true theologian.”5

Hollaz’s death in 1713 marks the close of the so-called silver age of Lutheran orthodoxy and ushered in the prevalence of the Pietistic movement. The Examen, however, was still actively read, even over fifty years after his death, by aspiring theologians. It went through 8 editions from its publication until 1763 and was never surpassed in popularity by a subsequent dogmatics text.

  • Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Eds. John M’Clintock and James Strong. Vol. 4. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880.
  • Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, The. Ed. Julius Bodensieck. Vol. 2. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1965.
  • Gaß, Wilhelm. Geschichte der protestantischen Dogmatik in ihrem Zusammenhange mit Theologie überhaupt. Vol. 2. Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1857.
  • New Catholic Encyclopedia. Ed. Berard L. Marthaler. 2nd Ed. Vol. 7. Washington D. C.: Catholic U of America P, 2003.
  • Preus, Robert D. The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism. Vol. 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970.
  • Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche. Est. J. J. Herzog. Ed. Albert Hauck. Vol. 8. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1900.
  • 1. Preus 65.
  • 2. Gaß 495-496.
  • 3. Preus 92.
  • 4. Gaß 496.
  • 5. Ibid.