Leopold Von Ranke

1795-1886. Lutheran historian. Born in Saxony, he became professor at the University of Berlin (1825-71), and is most significant in church history for his History of the Popes (2 vols., 8 editions, 1834-85). Although mainly on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the last editions it covered the period from the Reformation to the Vatican Council (1869-70). He wrote many other works, especially separate histories of Germany (5 vols., 1839-47), France (5 vols., 1852-61), and England (7 vols., 1859-68), mainly of the Reformation period. He is rightly credited with transforming historiography from polemic to systematic history. This he did through fresh archival work in Italy and Germany and a commitment to write history as a task distinct from apologetics; he tried to be fair to Catholics and the popes. Protestants commonly charged him with favor to Catholics, while Gregory XIV added his work to the Index (1841).

Ranke's histories reflected a distinctive perspective: a Lutheran and Prussian concentration on political and diplomatic affairs led by great figures as the core of history; his treatment of the popes, for example, was largely political. He stood against revolution and secularistic progress, and for the stabilizing hand of the established authorities as rooted in national traditions. He believed in God's Providence in history. The Prussian state named him official historian (1841) and granted him the aristocratic title von (1865) for his efforts. Secular positivists in England wrongly attributed to him a belief in their notion of historical objectivity.

See T.H. von Laue, Leopold Ranke. The Formative Years (1950), and P. Geyl, From Ranke to Toynbee (1952).