Audio Archive

Thielicke, Helmut

Helmut Thielicke was a German Protestant theologian and rector of the University of Hamburg from 1960 to 1978.

He was born December 4, 1908 in Wuppertal, Germany where he grew up and went to a humanistic Gymnasium (school), graduating in 1928. He went on to study philosophy and theology in Erlangen. In 1932 he received his doctorate in philosophy.

He took his postdoctoral lecture qualification in 1935 under the growing pressure of the Nazi-Regime, which refused him an appointment to Erlangen in view of his activity within the Confessing Church. In 1936 he obtained a professorship in systematic theology in Heidelberg. There he met and later married Marie-Luise Herrmann in 1937. They had four children.

After repeated interrogations by the Gestapo from the mid-1930s onwards, he was finally dismissed in 1940. Thielicke was conscripted, but nine months later with the help of regional bishop Theophil Wurm was able to take over a church in Ravensburg. In 1942 he assumed theological office in Stuttgart. From there he delivered numerous sermons and went on lecture tours. All of this was made more difficult by government bans on travel, publishing and preaching. The bombing of Stuttgart in 1944 forced Thielicke and his family to go to Korntal, where he continued his lecture tours and preaching. These were anonymously translated into many languages in Switzerland and were read on various fronts of the war.

Immediately after the end of the war Thielicke traveled with a group of delegates to Frankfurt, where he was invited by the government to participate in talks regarding the resumption of academic work to fill the political and academic vacuum of the postwar period. As a consequence, he took over a professorship at the newly reopened theological faculty in Tübingen in 1947. He was made administrative head of the university and President of the Chancellor's Conference in 1951. In 1954, continuing his postwar efforts to revive Germany's academic and spiritual heritage, he accepted a call to Hamburg to found a new theological faculty, where he acted as both dean and professor while also pastoring St. Michaelis, the main church of Hamburg.

Thielicke traveled to Asia, South Africa, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s. He met with Billy Graham and was received by President Jimmy Carter during lecture tours in the USA in 1977. Thielicke guest lectured at Holden Village in 1975.

Helmut Thielicke died 1986 in Hamburg, aged 77

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