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Adolf Harnack

HARNACK, ADOLF VON (1851–1930), was a German Protestant church historian and theologian. Carl Gustav Adolf von Harnack was born in Dorpat (now Tartu), in the Russian province of Livonia, where his father, Theodosius Harnack (1817–1889), was a professor of theology at the German-dominated university. He was educated at the universities of Dorpat and Leipzig, received the Ph.D. in 1873, and began lecturing on church history at Leipzig in 1874. In 1879 he went, as full professor, to Giessen, in 1886 to Marburg, and in 1888 to the University of Berlin, where he taught until his retirement in 1921, thereafter lecturing as emeritus professor until the spring of 1929.

Harnack was the premier historian in modern times of early Christianity and, with Ernst Troeltsch (1865–1923), the foremost spokesman of a liberal Protestantism that sought to "overcome dogma by history." He insisted that the rise and development of Christianity could be understood solely by the use of the historical-critical method, that is, by impartial study of the extant Christian literature, to the exclusion of all metahistorical sources and standards of judgment such as authoritative church dogma or belief in an infallible teaching office or an inerrant Bible.