A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)
Translation of Rudolf Stier’s Words of the Lord Jesus
T&T Clark, 1855-1859
From 1855 to 1859, Pope translated nine volumes (4,500 pages) of Rudolf Stier’s Words of the Lord Jesus (Die Reden des Herrn Jesu). In these volumes, Stier (1800-1862) set himself to comment on every recorded word of Jesus, treating them from the point of view that these were God’s direct self-revelation, contained in books that were so divinely inspired that they repaid close attention to every word. In this project, Stier set himself deliberately, often combatively, against the rising tide of critical scholarship in Germany at the time.
By translating these volumes for T&T Clark, Pope was joining a Victorian movement that sought to provide English readers with rather conservative Bible scholarship at a time when German scholarship was becoming more infamous for producing critical scholarship corrosive to Christian faith. (see David Lincicum, “Fighting Germans with Germans: Victorian Theological Translations between Anxiety and Influence,” Journal for the History of Modern Theology / Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte 2017 24:2 (2017),153–201). Pope must have felt much contemporary Bible scholarship uncongenial, and making Stier available in English may have been a way of establishing biblical studies that he could work with. But more profoundly, Stier’s meditative lingering over every word of Jesus aligned perfectly with the spirituality that Pope would later manifest. It is significant that before Pope began his career as a theological writer, he had worked diligently through all the words of Jesus, apprenticed as it were to Stier the biblical theologian. Pope’s mature theology can be regarded as attending to the voice of Jesus as the central truth of God’s self-revelation. Stier’s epigraph for his whole series was Isaiah 52:6, “I am He that doth speak; behold it is I.”
During the years of these translations, Pope was a full-time minister serving churches successively in the cities by which he is identified on the title pages of each volume: London (volumes 1 & 2), Hull (volumes 4, 5, and probably 6, though no location is given), and Manchester (volumes 3, 7, and 8).
Pope wrote only a single-page Translator’s Preface for the first volume, and remained invisible for the rest of the series. In his brief preface, Pope notes the good reputation of Stier’s volumes (“for fifteen years in high esteem among the divines of Germany”), and praises their spiritual insight (“No one will read it…without feeling that he is under the guidance of one who is profoundly imbued with the mind of Christ”). As translator, Pope also warns his readers of some stylistic difficulties in the author:
The form of the work may possibly be in some respects repulsive to the reader unaccustomed to German theology. The minute subtilty of its analysis, its keen inquisition into the secret thread of every discourse, with some occasional novelties of theory or exposition, will not disparage it to the student who keeps the original text always before his eye, and understands the rare value of criticism which combines deep thought with deeper devotion. The very frequent vindication of the true meaning against fanciful or infidel interpretations sometimes interrupts the current of the exposition ; but it must be remembered that the work is throughout an unwearied protest against Rationalist opinions. These bring its own distinguishing excellencies into relief ; and every work of orthodox German Theology has, as such, a strong preliminary claim to our favour.
Here are links to the volumes of Stier’s Words of the Lord Jesus at Google Books:
(I don’t currently know of a handy index to help you find what’s where in Stier; I use the list at the bottom of this blog post when I want to find a particular saying of Jesus.)
After completing the Words of the Lord Jesus series, Stier went on to provide three sequels: The Words of the Apostles (speeches in Acts), The Words of the Angels, and The Words of the Risen Saviour. While all of these were translated into English, I think it is telling that the only one that Pope chose to translate was the latter. It can be found at the Internet Archive: