Isaac Haffner (1751-1831)

A distinguished professor of theology

  • Isaac Haffner © Collection privée

Isaac Haffner first studied theology and philosophy at the University of Strasbourg, continuing his studies in Germany – Göttingen and Leipzig – and spent two years in Paris, where he met his friend Blessig again. Returning to Strasbourg he was pastor at Saint Nicholas Church and professor in the Theology Faculty.

He was considered dangerous because of his opposition to the overthrow of Louis XVI, and was jailed for ten months during the Terreur (Reign of Terror). He took up his pastoral activities again in 1795 and was involved in the reorganisation of the Church in Alsace. But his plan was deemed too hierarchical and was not adopted.

In 1803 the Protestant Academy had replaced the former university, and Haffner was appointed professor. In 1818 when the Faculty of Theology was established, he was appointed Dean. The 30.000 books in his library, many annotated or summarised in his own hand, show he was very widely read.

A man of action

He was considered as “liberal”, like his friend Blessig, though he rejected the rationalism of this generation of Enlightenment followers. But whereas supporters of the Revival movement advocated a complete separation from the pervading rationalism, Haffner, through his preaching and writings showed himself in favour of a progressive return to a more exacting Christianity. To alter the vague and uncertain religious beliefs of parishioners, he concentrated on making the Bible more available. At his instigation, the Bible Society, founded in 1817, printed over 10.000 New Testaments to hand out in parishes, something later done on a regular basis. For Haffner “not to do anything to improve religious life and to neglect religious education for young people” was a real danger. In 1830, the fiftieth anniversary of his ministry, his role was widely acknowledged.

Associated notes