John J. Herzog's Huge Church Encyclopedia

Dan Graves, MSL

John J. Herzog's Huge Church Encyclopedia

One of a church-historian's valuable resources is the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. John Jacob Herzog--the Herzog of the encyclopedia title--was born on this day, September 12, 1805, probably in Basel, Switzerland. The Herzog family had recently moved there from Wurtemburg.

John was left an orphan at a young age and relatives raised him. He showed himself an apt pupil of the sciences and then of theology, studying with such notable individuals as the mathematician Christoph Bernoulli and with theologians Schleiermacher and Neander. He became an educator at Lausanne, specializing in historical theology. John issued works on several of the major reformers, including Zwingli, Calvin and Ocolampadius.

Christian thought often needs defenders because scholarly and pseudo-scholarly attacks never cease. John stood for the faith against damaging influences, including attempts to rewrite Christ's life so as to rob Him of his deity. When Plymouth Brethren began spreading their message in Germany, John opposed them because he considered their teaching as too individualistic for the good of the church.

When the government made demands that overstepped the bounds of church and state, John refused to go along. He resigned his position at Lausanne and worked as a private scholar for much of 1846 and 1847. He was glad to accept an invitation to teach at Halle, because he had had little to live on during the previous months. At Halle, he developed a close relationship with the well-known Protestant theologian Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck.

The same year that John resigned his job at Lausanne, Roman Catholic scholars issued the first volume of the Catholic Encyclopedia. Protestants immediately felt the need to produce an encyclopedia of their own to counterbalance the Catholic version. Political troubles slowed down the project and its editor died. Tholuck recommended Herzog for the vacant position.

John was liked by all parties--in part because of his generous treatment of Reformation figures. He got the job. His vast knowledge of church history made him the perfect editor. In fact, he wrote 500 of the articles that appeared in the first edition. Later, he was co-editor of a second edition.

Philip Schaff was well-acquainted with John, who asked him to adapt the encyclopedia for American use. Schaff agreed to undertake the huge project. And that is how we got the famous and useful Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Herzog died in 1882.


  1. Freudenberg, Matthias. "Herzog, Johann Jakob." Kirchenlexicon.
  2. "Herzog, Johann Jakob." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  3. "Preface." Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954.
  4. Various Encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

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