Biography of Edmund Schlink (1903-1984)
Edmund Schlink, the son of professor Wilhelm and his wife Ella Schlink, was born on March 6th, 1903, in Darmstadt. Schlink’s sister Klara (1904-2001 “Mother Basilea”), the founder of the Maria-Sisterhood, received a stronger impetus from the pietist influence of her mother than her brother. In 1922 Schlink began his studies in several disciplines and eventually, after a crisis that he overcame by turning to the Christian faith, theology. He finished his psychological-philosophical and theological studies in 1927 and 1930 with the completion of his doctoral studies in both fields, which concerned personality-change in conversions and depression as well as the problem of natural religion.
After his theological examinations and vicariate in Hessen, Schlink became a university assistant in Gießen. In 1932 he married Elisabeth Winkelmann. After her sudden death, he subsequently married the Swiss Irmgard Oswald in 1938 and between both of his marriages, was the father of four children. Schlink completed his habilitation in Gießen with an anthropological dissertation, Man in the Promulgation of the Church and was then permitted to lecture at the university. This, however, was revoked shortly thereafter, due to his membership in the Confessional Church. Hence in 1935 took up the appointment to the Theological School of the Confessional Church in Bethel (Bielefeld). Yet the school was closed by the Secret State-Police in 1939. Thus Schlink took up work as the curator in Bethel and held ministerial positions in Dortmund and Bielefeld until the end of the war. It was in the Bethel-era that Schlink's Theology of Lutheran Confessional Writings appeared, for which he received international recognition as a Lutheran thinker after the War's end.
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Schlink was nominated for the leadership of the Westphalian Church, lead the preacher-seminar of the diocese and he taught at the Theological School in Bethel. Along with others, Schlink prepared the Church-Leadership Conference of Treysa and provided the remaining impetus toward newly founding the Evangelical Church in Germany and its dual Confessional and Ecumenical orientation.
Already in early 1946, Schlink was nominated for the chair of Systematic Theology at the University of Heidelberg. Inter-denominational encounters in the struggle of the church and experiences during the war were an impetus for Schlink to take the direction of the ecumenical task in his lectureship. In the same year, he founded the first ecumenical institute of any German university. In the Institute, the theology of the churches and their attempts toward unity should both be studied scientifically in conjunction. The Institute as well as the subsequently founded Student Residence are thereby meant to serve the convergence of churches and the meeting of their members.
From 1953 to 1954 Schlink served as the rector of the University of Heidelberg and was soon at work with two important ecumenical panels: the Ecumenical Study-Group of Catholic and Evangelical Theologians, as well as the Theological Commission for the Sacramental-Discussion of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
As a founder and co-publisher, Schlink shaped the journals Ökumenische Rundshau and Kerygma und Dogma. For his meritorious services in theology and the Church he received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Mainz and Edinburgh in 1947 and 1953 as well as from the Saint-Serge Institute of Orthodox Theology (Paris) in 1962.
On the international level, Schlink was a member of the Study-Group of the Ecumenical Council of Churches and the Commission for Belief and Church-Constitution of the World Council of Churches (WCC). As speaker and member of the board of trustees from 1954 to 1975, he worked at the Graduate School of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in Céligny. He additionally took part as a member of the Academic Senate of theological research at the Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies in Tantur/Jerusalem between 1971 and 1980.
In 1948 Schlink served as a delegate in the first Plenary Assembly of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Amsterdam. He was also a member of the drafting committee of the first commission and the commission for the dispatch of the Plenary Assembly. He also played a part through his presentations with the third Plenary Assembly of the Movement for Belief and Church-Consitution in Lund in 1952 and with the Meeting of the Central Committee of the WCC in Evanston in 1954. His presentation on “The Significance of the Eastern and Western Traditions for Christianity” received wide approbation eastern churches at the Meeting of the Central Committee of the WCC in Rhodes in 1959, and Schlink also engaged in the official discussions between the Evangelical Church of Germany and the Russian-Orthodox Church.
The third Plenary Assembly of the WCC in 1961 stands in the shadow of the Second Vatican Council from 1962. In the autumn of 1961 Schlink visited the Secretary for the Promotion of Unity of Christians in Rome on the behalf of Evangelical Church of Germany and Schlink took part in the council as an official observer and reported the course of events to the church’s council. He published his reports in 1966 in the book After the Council. In 1968 he visited the fourth Plenary Assembly of the WCC in Uppsala and in 1969 his Doctrine of Baptism appeared as a part of the most extensive edition on Baptism in the practical-theological Liturgy Compendium and as a separate edition.
In 1971 Schlink was given emeritus status and his teaching activities were complicated by the politicized student-body. Then in 1975, ten years after the second Vatican Council, he published the story The Vision of the Pope under the pseudonym “Sebastian Knecht”. Through this novel, Schlink seeks to foster the ecumenical engagement in an era that already spoke of crisis and standstill in the ecumenical movement.
Also in retirement Schlink worked further on the basic formulation of the questions of the ecumenical project. He took part in the Working-Group for Ecumenical University Institutes and researched the ecumenical significance of the Augsberg-Confession in the run-up to the anniversary of 1980. The Ecumenical Working-Group published the dialog-series of the churches in 1982, in which Schlink published two volumes on ecclesiology and sacramental doctrine together with Karl Lehmann. Next to his administrative activities, Schlink put out his final and major work, the Fundaments of Ecumenical Dogmatics. Already in his time in Bethel Schlink had announced the intention to complete a dogmatics of the theology of the Lutheran Confessional-Writings. Yet only first in 1983 did it appear in its first edition, due to the demands placed on his time by his teaching activity, the Second Vatican Council, as well as his other conference-engagements.
Edmund Schlink died on the 20th of May, 1984. The funeral oration was held by Schlink’s son-in-Law, the former bishop of Baden, Klaus Engelhardt. In the university memorial speech on the 5th of December of that year, the deacon of the theological faculty, Gerhardt Rau, and the successor to Schlink’s chair, Dietrich Ritschl, honored the life-work of the departed. Not only the translation of his central writings, but also countless other smaller treatises and essays testified to the international impact of his work already in his lifetime. In a memorial-celebration of Schlink's 100th birthday, on the 13th of February 2003, the leader of the Ecumenical Institute at that time, Christoph Schwöbel, reappraised and further praised his work, Ecumenical Dogmatics. Schlink’s wife Irmgard died on the 6th of March, 2006.
- Dr. Jochen Eber - (Translation: Daniel Burnfin)