Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Grußwort zur Ehrenpromotion Prof. Dr. Stephen Mitchell

Grußwort anlässlich der Ehrenpromotion Prof. Dr. Stephen Mitchell, University of Exeter, Great Britain, am 1. Februar 2006, Senatssaal der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Spectabilis Gräb, dear colleagues, dear students, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Mr. Mitchell,

It might seem unusual at first sight when the Faculty of Theology bestows an honorary doctorate on an academic that has published work on the cities in Phrygia and Pisidia and has researched the administration of the roman province Asia. A Patristic Scholar is of course delighted when a historian publishes work on the Cappadocian bishop Gregory Thaumaturgus and his various descriptions of life. The New Testament scholar takes notice of course that you have conducted research on Theos Hypsistos between Pagans, Jews and Christians. But since the time of Harnack, to whose “Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums” Stephen Mitchell alludes in his foreword to the second volume of his authorative analysis “Anatolia. Land Men and Gods in Asia Minor” and since the days of Adolf Deissman, who should also be mentioned here, the landscape of academic Theology inGermanyand especially of that its historical subjects has changed fundamentally. It is hard to imagine a full professor of Theology of the New Testament today cataloguing the Greek manuscripts that fell into the hands of the Turkish administration due to the population movements caused by the First World War – as Deissman did during the 20’s. It is also hard to imagine today a single church historian attempting a comprehensive review of the literary and epigraphical material as Harnack did in his mission history. But the pernicious specialization and the high degree of professionalization of the different fields are by no means solely responsible for this development, which does not allow a common scholar of the New Testament to quickly catalogue a byzantine manuscript and which make the great epigraphic collections practically undecipherable for many church historians. It was much more a general reservation towards historical work in Theology – though one does not have to go so far as a colleague from Leipzig who has spoken of an “antihistoric revolt” – that sowed serious doubt about the rationale of such work all the way up to the 1920’s and also here in Berlin. I remember well the quiet condescension that reverberated in the words of Wilhelm Schneemelchers when I asked him about Adolf Deißmann many years ago: “We did not go there as students” said Schneemelcher. “We were interested in Bultmanns Formgeschichte, it was modern and Deißmann knew nothing about it.”


If I see it correctly, the last few years have seen the recreation of a Consensus in the New Testament and in Patristics that antique Christianity looses any kind of context and cannot be adequately described without solid historical work. My teacher in Tübingen likes to vary a saying by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg at this point: He, who knows only the New Testament, does not even know the New Testament. And I could say something similar – with an autobiographical touch – of church history: He who only hastens from Justin to Origins to Athanasius misses the colourful abundance of antique Christianity.


When a Faculty of Theology thus awards a knowledgeable historian who has not only dealt with the spread of antique Christianity and the epigraphical and hagiographical sources of this amazing transformation of the Roman Empire, but has also conducted sensitive research on the institutional and historical context of the imperial era, it professes first of all to the undismissable significance of historical work in the theological fields and to the priorities our grandfathers set at this point. By awarding an antique historian the Theological Faculty of Humboldt University also demonstrates that it does not harbour the illusion that all this could be performed by Patristic and New Testament scholars on the side. There are now knowledgeable scholars who can catalogue Byzantine manuscripts- and who you can study with as theologian – and the epigraphic work has been passed on into the hands of a few specialists among historians. The history of the spread of Christianity in the ancient world can only be written jointly, by specialists from different fields – and with this honorary doctorate the Faculty of Theology documents it’s gratitude for the contributions to this interdisciplinary dialogue that Stephen Mitchell has made and still makes. Befitting a President of a University let me discreetly but nevertheless emphatically make the following remark at the end of my short greeting: there are sound theological reasons for the rehabilitation of historical work at the theological faculties – Joachim Jeremias’ Theology of the New Testament , that has unfortunately remained a fragment, closes with the apparently endlessly optimistic sentence, that in truth phrases a central Christological truth – that of the incarnation – a bit boldly. The sentence reads as follows: “Golgotha is not everywhere. There is only oneGolgothaand that lies at the gates ofJerusalem.”


I congratulate my Theological Faculty on this honorary doctorate, but I congratulate you especially, dear Mr. Mitchell, to this award and express my gratitude to you personally as a Patristic Scholar for the many valuable impulses to our and my work.


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