August Friedrich Christian Vilmar

1800-1868. German Lutheran theologian. Vilmar's studies at Marburg (1818-20) led him to embrace Rationalism, a creed which he found increasingly less satisfying over the course of the next two decades. He began his career as a secondary school teacher in Rotenburg (1823), Hersfeld (1827), and Marburg (1833). Elected as a liberal candidate to the newly formed parliament of Hesse and appointed to a ministerial committee for religious education, he contributed significantly to the improvement of the quality of religious instruction and general education in Hesse.

His unhappiness with certain movements of his own time, and his studies in the Church Fathers and the Lutheran confessions, led him to break with the Rationalism and liberalism of his earlier years and to become a leader of the political and theological conservatives in Hesse. Refused confirmation as the successor to the general superintendent of Kassel, Vilmar was called instead to the chair of theology in Marburg

1855). His theological stance was reflected in his most famous book, Die Theologie der Tatsachen wider die Theologie der Rhetorik (1856). Vilmar contrasted the objective facts of salvation and their effect in human experience with theology that is nothing more than mere “talk” or “intellectual knowledge.” These facts are embodied in the institutional church, which is identical with the body of Christ. Vilmar deemphasized the priesthood of all believers and stressed the mediation of salvation through the ministerial office. He regarded the institutional church as the last wall of defense against the disintegrating and disruptive forces at work in nineteenth-century Europe. Most of his theological words appeared posthumously, including Die Augsburgische Konfession (1870); Die Lehre vom geistlichen Amt (1870); Christliche Kirchenzucht (1872); Pastoraltheologie (1872); Dogmatik (1874); Theologische Moral (1871); Collegium Biblicum (6 vols., 1879-83); and Predigten and geistliche Reden (1876. See U. Asendorf, Die europäische Krise und das Amt der Kirche. Voraussetzungen der Theologie von A.F.C. Vilmar (1967); and Gerhard Müller, Die Bedeutung August Vilmars für Theologie und Kirche (1969).