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John Ernest Grabe (1666–1711): Lutheran Syncretist and Anglican Patristic Scholar

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 February 2009

Günther Thomann
Osterhausenstrasse 13, 8500 Nümberg 40, Germany


The subject of this article claims attention for two special reasons. Firstly, and without any doubt, Grabe was one of the greatest atristic scholars of his age and lent lustre to the scholarly tradition at Oxford where his later years were spent. Secondly, his phenomenal patristic scholarship was inspired by a religious motive, which derived from his attachment to Lutheran Syncretism, a movement begun by the Helmstedt theologian Georg Calixtus (1586-1656). The problem of Grabe's neglect by historians is compounded by the confusion created by a contemporary account of the vital episode which brought him from Germany to Oxford and from Lutheranism to the Church of England. This article will therefore, draw together the scattered information which exists on Grabe's career and thereby remedy the neglect of historians, and dispel some of the confusion surrounding him.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1992

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1 Green, V. H. H., The Young Mr Wesley, London 1961, 28, 273f.Google Scholar

2 Grabe, M. S. Jr, ‘D. J. E.Graben Leben Tod und Schrifften’, Acta Borussica 1 (1730), 127;Google Scholaranon, . ‘Einige, Zweifel gegen die Erzählung’, Bremische und Verdische Bibliothek, 2 (1756), 4356;Google ScholarGrabe, J. E., Abgenöthigte Ehren-Rettung [Stargard–Pomerania] 1696;Google Scholarvon Sanden, B., Beantwortung der Dubiorum Graben, M. J. E., Königsberg 1695; anonymous review of pamphlets by Philipp Jacob Spener,Google ScholarBaier, J. W. and Sanden, von, in Ada Eruditorum 15 (1696), 30319;Google ScholarGrabe, J. E., Some Instances of the Defects and Omissions in Mr Whiston's Collection, ed. C.E.Hickes, London 1712, preface, 377;Reliquiae Hemianae: the remains of Thomas Hearne, ed. P.Bliss, Oxford 1857;Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, ed. C. E.Doble (Oxford Historical Society 18851889), 1–3 (until 1712);Google ScholarPfaff, C. M., De successione episcopali, Tübingen 1720, 3;Google ScholarSchelwig, G., Dissertatio in memoriam J. E. Grabii, Königsberg c. 1712 (this title could not be consulted);Google ScholarNelson, R., ‘Life of Bull’, prefixed to The Works of George Bull, ed.E. Burton, Oxford 1846, p. 1;Google ScholarSecretan, C. F., Memoirs of the Life and Times of the Pious Robert Nelson, London 1860, 21925;Google ScholarAbbey, C. and Overton, J., The English Church in the Eighteenth Century, London 1902, 47f., 67;‘Grabe’, in AGL 2. 1108f;Google ScholarHooper, R., s.v. ‘Grabe’, DNB 22. 306f;Google ScholarErdmann, J., s.v. ‘Grabe’, RE 7. 56f.;Google ScholarErbkam, J., s.v. ‘Grabe’, ADB 9. 5368.Google Scholar

3 Unfortunately most of Grabe's work are only extant as MS. See Bodleian Quarto Catalogue, I: MS, Greek, ed. H. O.Coxe, Oxford 1853, repr. 1969, cols. 85176 (vols 1–42) and Summary Catalogue of Western MSS, ed. F.Madan, Oxford 1895, 53, nos. 9755–65 (vols 43–53).Google Scholar

4 Particularly valuable for his biography are Grabe's Abgenöthigte Ehren–Rettung and M. S.Grabe, ‘D. J. E.Graben’.

5 Erler, G., Die Matrikel der Albertus Universität zu Känigsberg, Leipzig 19111912, p. 2, 11. 1682,stipendiatus;Google ScholarHedio, A., Strena, Königsberg 1685 (COPY in Bodleian Library, Grabe MS 21, no. 3, fos 18f). At this time Hedio was Grabe's philosophy teacher and also dean of the arts faculty.Google Scholar

6 See n. 9 below; von Selle, G., Geschichte der Albertus Universitdt zu Königsberg in Preussen, Würzburg 1956, 103–6;Google ScholarGass, W., s.v. ‘Dreier’, ADB 5. 392ff.;Google Scholar also for Dreier see Wundt, M., Die deutsche Schulmetaphysik des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts, Tubingen 1939, 1379. Syncretism was brought to Königsberg by Calixtus’ disciple Latermann. Dreier was a Syncretist and as a philosopher a strict Aristotelian.Google Scholar

7 Some of Grabe's earliest works do not seem to have survived: AGL ii. 1108ff., and Arnold, D. H., Ausführliche Historie der Königsbergischen Universität, 2, Theil, Königsberg 1746, 450. Except for a small commentary on Ps. ii, which perhaps has been lost, he does not seem to have had them printed: Abgenöthigte Ehren–Retlung. His Historia ecclesiastica survives in Bodl. Lib., Grabe MS 14, no. 2, fos 15204.Google Scholar

8 Anon, . ‘Historie des Samländischen Consistorii’, Erläutertes Preussen 22 (1725), 73746;Google ScholarHeinrich, G., ‘Brandenburg ii’, in TRE 7. 11128, at pp. 11417.Google Scholar

9 Anon, . ‘Dritte Forsetzung der Kurtzgefassten Historie der Königsbergischen Universität’, §25, Erläutertes Preussen, 45 (1727), 66986;Google Scholar, Arnold, Ausführliche Historie.Google Scholar See also Moldaenke, T., Christian Dreier und der synkretistische Streit im Herzogtum. Preussen, Königsberg 1909;Google Scholarvon Selle, G., Geschichte der Albertus Universilat zu Königsberg in Preussen, Würzburg 1956, 64110;Google ScholarHubatsch, W., Geschichte der evangelischen Kirche Ostpreussens, Göttingen 1968, 1. 14353.Google Scholar

10 Anon, . ‘D. J. Ph.Pfeiffers Leben und Schrifften’, Erläutertes Preussen xxxiv (1726), 695759;Google Scholar anon.‘ D. B. von Sanden sen. Leben und Schrifften’, ibid, 42 (1727), 435–53; Erbkam, J., s.v. ‘Grabe, Martin Sylvester (d.Ä)’, ADB ix. 538: Grabe owned a copy of Pfeiffer's doctoral thesis, Disputatio quod in coeto Lutheranorum eliam [sic] sit vera ecclesia: Bodl. Lib., Grabe MS 8, no. 11.Google Scholar

11 Anon, . ‘Der Reformirten Prediger in Berlin Bedencken vom Syncretistischen Streit’, Erläutertes Preussen 12 (1723), 552–68;Google ScholarSpener, P. J. und Lütken, W. A., ‘Schreiben an das Königsbergische Ministerium wegen des Preussischen Synkretismus und Papismus (7 05 1694)’, Ada Borussica 1 (1730), 2840.Google Scholar

12 Pfaff, C. M., De successione episcopali, Tübingen 1720, 3. The story was given greater currency by J. G.Walch, Historische Einleitung in die Religionsstreitigkeiten ausser der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche, Jena 17336, repr. Stuttgart–Bad Canstatt 1972, ii. 734–6; for Pfaff see my ‘Christoph Matthäus Pfaff und die Anfange der dogmengeschichtlichen Disziplin’, Blätter fur wärttembergische Kirchengeschichte 85 (1985), 83133.Google Scholar

13 An anonymous eighteenth-century scholar was the first to cast doubts on PfafTs assertion: ‘Einige Zweifel gegen die Erzählung’, 43–56.

14 Abgenöthigte Ehren–Rettung, §15. A copy is preserved at the City Library, Soest, Westphalia.

15 Geheimes Staatsarchiv Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, MS Etatsministerium 38: Geistliche Sachen Königsberg, EM 38e no. 35 fos 26r–35r; EM 38e no. 25 fos 156r, 165r–166r, 1791, 220r–221r, 235r–240v; Etatsministerium, 139: Universität Königsberg; EM 139c 1 no. 21; Abgenothigte Ehren-Rettung, §9.Google Scholar

16 Abgenöthigte Ehren-Rettung, §10. Grabe, J. E., Dubia, n.p., part 1. 148, part ii. 4965. A copy is preserved at the University Library, Tübingen, another at Soest; Grabe MS 3, no. 11, fos. 10634.Google Scholar

17 RE vii. 56.

18 Abgenöthigte Ehren–Rettung, §5, p. 11. The elector asked these three theologians to reply: Baier, J. W., Gründliche Erweisung, Jena 1695;Google ScholarVon, Sanden, Beantwortung (a copy is preserved at Soest; see preface pp. 18f. for the elector's request);Google ScholarSpener, P. J., Rettung der Evangelischen Kirchen von falscher Beschuldigung, Frankfurt–am–Main 1695. Review of pamphlets by Baier, von Sanden and Spener in Acta Eruditorum 15 (1696) 30319.Google Scholar

19 Abnegöthigte Ehren–Rettung, §6.

20 Geheimes Staatsarchiv Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, MS EM 38e no. 25 fo. 23r–v.

21 Abgenöthigte Ehren–Rettung. §§13, 17.

22 ibid. §§5) 9.

23 ibid. §17, p. 39.

24 The electoral rescript is quoted by von Sanden, Beantwortung, 18. See Spener's letter on Baier's refutation of Grabe, 19 01. 1695, letter cxxxix, in Spener, Letzte theologische Bedenken, 3, ed. D.Blaufuss and P.Schicketanz, Hildesheim 1987, 686ff.

25 This apparently refers to Bellarmine, R., De conlroversiis Christianae fidei, Ingolstadt 1586–93, 2.However, a reading of Bellarmine indicates that Grabe did not take most of his arguments from him.Google Scholar

26 Spener, Rettung, §71, 293. See Bodl. Lib., Grabe MS 10, no. 9, fos 131–80, Controversiae de justifications et sacra coma, an unprinted work against Spener.

27 Abgenöthigte Ehren–Rettung, §17; Spener, Rettung, cap. i. 96. On Spener's millenarian sympathies see Blaufuss, D., ‘Zu Speners, P. J.Chiliasmus und seinen Kritikern’, Pietismus und Neuzeil 14 (1988), 85108.Google Scholar

28 See Hickes's, preface to Some Instances, lof. Grabe apparently shared Spener's view of Rome and the AntiChrist.An anonymous author [Hildrop, J.], God's Judgement upon the Gentile Apostatized Church, London 1713, also made use of Bodl. Lib., Grabe MS 29.Google Scholar

29 Abgenöthigte Ehren–Rettung, §8.

30 Grabe, M. S., ‘Graben, D. J. E.’, 12.This contention is the most plausible one. For Spener's activities in BerlinGoogle Scholar see Wallmann, J., ‘Spener, P. J. in Berlin 1691–1705’, Zeilschrift fur Theologie und Kirche 84 (1987), 5885.Google Scholar

31 Kleinert, P., s.v. ‘Jablonski’, RE 8. 51014;Google ScholarSchwarze, R., s.v. ‘Jablonski’, ADB 13. 5236;Google ScholarMeyer, D., s.v. ‘Jablonski (1660–1741)’, TRE 25. 4324.Google Scholar

32 Sion College London, MS ARC L 40. 2. L 29, Grabe to Gordon, 29 06 1697, fos 36r–37v.

33 ibid. Jablonski to Gordon, 14 Kal. Dec. 1696, fo. 12r; idem. 7 Kal. Dec. 1696, fo. gv.

34 idem 18 01. 1697, fo. 14V.

35 idem 29 03. 1697, fo. 17V.

36 ibid. Grabe to Gordon, 29 June 1697, fos 36r–37v.; idem Oxford, 30 04. 1698, fos 38r–3gr; idem 27 12. [probably 1698], fos. 40r–41v.

37 Anon, . [Stephens, E.], A Good and Necessary Proposal, n.p. [?] 1705. This pamphlet is held in the Bodl. Lib., 40 Rawl. 564 (23). Edward, Stephens (?1633–1729), originally a barrister, later took orders in the Church of England. For further literature on the Greek College see A Bibliography of Printed Works relating to the University of Oxford, ed. E. H.Cordeaux and D. H.Merry, Oxford 1968, nos 7359–64. Grabe's literary remains prove his keen interest in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.Google Scholar

38 Reliquiae Hemianae, 38ff., 357,709.

39 Grisbrooke, W.J., Anglican Liturgies of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, London 1958, 50–2.For Stevens see Remarks and Collections, 1. 25.Google Scholar

40 Porter, B., s.v. ‘Mill, John’, DNB 37. 38890.Google Scholar For the Nonjurors, see Overton, J. H., The Non–Jurors, London 1902;Google ScholarBroxap, H., The Later Non-Jurors, Cambridge, 1924;Google ScholarWand, J. W. C., The High Church Schism, London, 1951.Google Scholar

41 Grabe, J. E., Spicilegium SS Patrum, 2 vols, Oxford 1698–9; vol. 3 was never published.Google Scholar

42 Spicilegium, i, preface. The preface to vol. ii contains information on his supporters in Oxford.

43 Calixtus, G., De auctoritate antiquitatis ecclesiasticae, Helmstedt 1639, 1658 etc.On Calixtus’ theologyGoogle Scholar see Engel, P., Die eine Wahrheit in der gaspaltenen Christenheit, Göottingen 1976;Google Scholar for Calixtus’ influence on Grabe see Seeberg, E., Gottfried Arnold, Meerane, Saxony 1923, 476.Google ScholarNelson, R., Catalogue of Grabe's Remains, BL, MS Harl. 3985, fo. 18 lists a Brevis delineatio Cassandri, M.A. de Dominis, Calixti…; sententia de modema Ecclesia Catholica (probably corresponding to MS Grabe 4, no. 14).Google Scholar For de Dominis see Malcolm, N., De Dominis (1560–1624): Venetian, Anglican, Ecumenist and relapsed heretic, London 1984.Google Scholar

44 St Justini …; Apologia prima, together with Lang's, J. Latin version, ed.J. E.Grabe, Oxford 1700, 1720, dedication to Aldrich;Google Scholar for Aldrich see Hiscock, W. G., Henry Aldrich of Christ Church (1648–1710), Oxford 1960.Google Scholar

45 St Irenaei … contra omnes haereses libri quinque, ed. J. E.Grabe, Oxford 1702, preface. This work was revised by Massuet, who included some of Grabe's notes in his edition. Massuet's edition was reprinted in PG 7.

46 Grabe also composed liturgies in the spirit of the ancient Church: ‘ Liturgia Graeca a J. E. Grabio’, in C. M.Pfaff (ed.), St Irenaei episcopi Lugdunensis Fragmenta anecdota, The Hague 1715, repr. Leyden 1743.Grabe explained his liturgical principles in De Forma Consecrationis Eucharistiae, London 1721. For Grabe's liturgies see G.Thomann (ed.), J. E. Grabe's Liturgies: two unknown Anglican liturgies of the seventeenth century, Nuremberg 1989.

47 Bull, G., Opera omnia, ed. J. E.Grabe, London 1703.Google Scholar

48 Whiston, W., An Essay on the Apostolic Constitutions, London 1711 Primitive Christianity Revived, London 1711, no. 4. Grabe replied with An Essay upon Two Arabic MSS, London 1711. Whiston countered with Remarks on Dr Grabe's Essay, London ?1711], repr. in Whiston, A Collection of Small Tracts, London 1712.Google ScholarHickes, G. published Grabe's Some Instances, London 1712.Google ScholarSee also Ockley, S., An Account of the Authority of the Arabick MSS, London 1712.Google ScholarGrabe's, Latin translation of the Apostolic Constitutions was posthumously published in St Hippolytus, Opera, 1716.Google Scholar Whiston, on the other hand, upheld his position throughout his life. See his St Clement's and St Irenaeus's Vindication of the Apostolical Constitutions, 1716. Bodl. Lib., Grabe MSS 11, 12, 21, 22 contain a number of works against Whiston and on the relation between reason and revelation. For Whiston see Stephen, L., s.v.Whiston, , William, ’, DNB 61. 1014;Google ScholarGrisbrooke, , Anglican Liturgies, 5670, 247–61;Google ScholarColligan, J. H., The Arian Movement in England, Manchester 1913;Google ScholarFarrell, M., William Whiston, New York 1981;Google ScholarForce, J. E., William Whiston, Honest Newtonian, Cambridge 1985, 106–13; and Ferguson, J. P., Dr. Samuel Clarke: an eighteenth-century heretic, Kineton–Warwick 1976.Google Scholar

49 Spicilegium, 1. 40–55.

50 Die Englische Liturgie, Frankfurt-ander-Oder 1704; Sharp, T., The Life of John Sharp, London 1825;Google ScholarNocolovius, A., Die bischöfliche Würde in Preussens evangelischer Kirche, Königsberg 1834, 327f.;Google Scholaranon, . Darlegung der im vorigen Jahrhundert wegen Einführung der englischen Kirchenverfassung in Preussengepflogenen Unterhandlungen (with letters), Leipzig 1842;Google Scholar E.Berner (ed.) Aus dem Briefwechsel Kb'nig Friedrichs I von Preussen wad seiner Familie, Berlin 1901, 26, 33f., 435–7; Dalton, H., D. E. Jablonski, Berlin 1903;Google ScholarKiefl, F. X., Leibuit und die religiöse Wiedervereinigung Deulschlands, Ratisbon 1925;Google ScholarHart, A. T., The Life and Times of John Sharp, Archbishop of York, London 1949;Google ScholarSykes, N., D. E. Jablonski and the Church of England, London 1950;Google ScholarBenz, E., Bischofsamt und apostolische Sukzession im deutschen Protestantismus, Stuttgart 1953;Google ScholarSykes, N., William Wake, Archbishop of Canterbury 1637–1737, Cambridge 1957, 2. 6080;, From Sheldon to Seeker, Cambridge 1959;Google Scholarvon Thadden, R., Die brandenburgisch-preussischen Hofprediger im siebzehnten und achtzehnten Jahrhundert, Berlin 1959;Google ScholarLevis, R. B., ‘The failure of the Anglican-Prussian ecumenical effort of 1710–1714’, Church History 67 (1978), 381–99;Google ScholarGrabe, J. E. to Dean Atterbury, 22 01. 1705, The Manuscripts of … the Duke of Portland, 4, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Fifteenth Report 1897, appendix, 157–8;Google Scholar Gibson Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 935/32, 942/103; Sion College Library, MS ARC L 40. 2. L 29. In general see, The Church of England and Non-Episcopal Churches in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, London 1948.

51 Epistola ad Millium, J., Oxford 1705, defends the importance of the Alexandrian Codex. J. E. Grabii Epistola ad J. Mill, Bodl. Lib., MS Rawl. C 851 no. 5f., 3gr–v, is a different letter.Google Scholar

52 Septuaginta Interpretum, 1, Oxfor 1707, prologue. Hering, G., Ökumenischer Patriarchat und europäische Politik 1620–1638, Wiesbaden 1968, does not mention the donation of the Alexandrian Codex.Google Scholar

53 Grabe, J. E., Dissertatio de variis vitiis LXX. Interpretum, Oxford 1710, dedication to Harley.Google Scholar

54 Swete, H. B., An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 2nd ed., Cambridge 1902, 125f 182–4;Google Scholar reprints of Grabe's edition: Vetus Testamentum ex versione Septuaginta, ed. Breitinger, J. J., Züurich 17301731; Biblia Sacra quadrilingua, ed. M. C. Reineck, Leipzig 1750;Google ScholarCollatio Codicis Cottoniani Ceneseos cum editione Romana, ed. H. Owen, London 1778. In Russia Grabe's edition remained the standard version of the LXX in the nineteenth century. Critical treatment by J. H. Schulze, Dissertatio academica qua antiquitas Codicis Alexandrini vindicatur, Halle 1739 and J. L. Schulze, Dissertatio qua mutationes in texlu Codicis Alexandrini …ad examen revocanlur, Halle 1768. For Lee see Porter, B., s.v. ‘Lee, Francis’, DNB 23. 351f.;Google Scholar Overton, The Non-Jurors, 250–4; Broxap, The Later Non-Jurors, 317; Hutin, S., Les disciples anglais de Jacob Boehme, Paris 1960, 90103.Google Scholar

55 Foster, J., Alumni Oxonienses, Oxford 1891, 2. 592;Google ScholarSmalridge, G., Two Speeches made in the Theatre at Oxford, London 1714, repr. in Ada Borussica i (1730), 1420. In 1705 the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity had been offered to Grabe, but he declined it: Remarks and Collections, i. 134.Google Scholar

56 Reliquiae Hernianae, 88f, 623; Remarks and Collections, i. 170f.

57 Ibid. 709, 623. This is confirmed by Whiston's account: Grisbrooke, Anglican Liturgies, 64.

58 Secretan, The Pious Robert Nelson, 71. For the meetings at Shottesbrook House see Overton, s.v. ‘Dodwell, Henry, the elder’, DNB xv. 179–81.

59 Grabe, M. S., ‘Graben, D. J. E.’, 21. In a letter to Harley shortly before his death, Grabe complained about ill health and lack of money: BL, Add. MS 4253, fo. 44, copy, 22 08. 1711.Google Scholar

60 Grisbrooke, Anglican Liturgies, 88.

61 Hickes's preface to Some Instances, 76.

62 Secretan, The Pious Robert Nelson, 221–3; Grabe, M. S., ‘Graben, D. J. E.’, 23–7;Google ScholarStanley, A. P., Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey, London 1868, 292.Google Scholar

63 Reliquiae Hernianae, 624f.; 623f.: ‘In short, I could never understand otherwise, but that Dr Grabe was very unsettled, and was setting up a religion of his own framing.’ Secretan's estimation is entirely positive: The Pious Robert Nelson, 345.

64 Abbey and Overton, The English Church in the Eighteenth Century, 67 is certainly mistaken. The ‘Greek Church’ rather refers to Stephen's domestic oratory. In 1703 Grabe was made a ‘Correspondent for the King of Prussia's Dominions’ by the SPCK: McClure, E., A Chapter in English Church History: being the Minutes of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge for the Years 1698–1704, London 1888, 221.Google Scholar We do not hear of Grabe's activities on behalf of the SPCK, but in 1700 August Hermann Francke, the leader of the Halle Pietists, became a more active corresponding member: ibid. 318. Once again it was Jablonski who encouraged the foundation of charities after the English pattern.

65 Grabe contributed to other works, e.g. Novum Testamentum, ed. J. Gregory, Oxford 1703, completed by H. Aldrich with Grabe's assistance; Daubuz, C., Pro testimonio Flavii Josephi de Jesu Christ, London 1706. Others made use of Grabe's MS, e.g. G. Hickes, An Answer to some Things contained in Dr Hick's Christian Priesthood Asserted, 1709; The History of the Seventy-Two Interpreters [Letter to Aristeas], Engl. trans. Lewis, 1715; ‘Testamenta duodecim Patriarcharum’, Greek text with Grabe's notes and R. Grosseteste 's Latin version, in Codex pseudepigraphicus Veteris Testamenti, ed. J. A. Fabricius, Hamburg 1713, 1. 496748 (repr. from Spicilegium, i); ‘Constitutions eorundem SS Apostolorum, J. F. Grabe interprete’, in St Hippolytus, Opera, ed. J. A. Fabricius, Hamburg 1716, 248–59 (repr. from Spicilegium, i); St Justin, Cum Tryphone Judaeo Dialogus, ed. S. Jebb, with J. Lang's Latin version, London 1719, This was edited from Grabe's literary remains. See also Sykes, William Wake, i. 68.Google Scholar

66 Remarks and Collections, iii. 384.

67 Broxap, The Later Non-Jurors, 65 n. 34.

68 There is no study of the survival of High Church doctrines and practices in the Established Church between 1714 and 1830. For some aspects see J. Hoyles, The Edges of Augustanism: the aesthetics of spirituality in Thomas Ken, John Byrom and William Law, The Hague 1972, and Broxap, The Later Non-Jurors, 291–308.