“[God] made me as one fettered, in order to fetter me to himself and to you, and in so doing he gave me the gift of inner freedom from all the mortal burdens of my life. He did all this to me, an innocent victim in the world’s eyes, the martyr of a good cause—and only he and you know that in doing so he was truly just and truly consoling. I am now a prisoner, and yet I have everything I have longed for…. In everything I am free and inwardly certain, no longer because of myself but because of the bond of unity that binds me to God and to you.” – Ernst Lohmeyer
A few of us might have seen the name Ernst Lohmeyer listed among those who resisted the Nazi regime. Scholars remember him for his studies on the Lord’s Prayer and Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, which confirmed the early existence of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. Most people, however, have never heard his name.
What puzzled James R. Edwards, author of Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer, was Lohmeyer’s disappearance not only from East Germany, but from the collective memory. Apparently, the Soviet government was not satisfied with killing Lohmeyer. They were determined to erase records about his life.
A Bright Scholar
Lohmeyer was born into a pastor’s family in Dorsten, Germany, on July 7, 1890. The fourth of nine children, he excelled in his studies from a very young age, showing an unusual interest in ancient languages.
Music was also very important in the Lohmeyer home, with every member of the family playing an instrument and holding a family “concert” every Sunday. Ernst played the violin and the piano, sometimes improvising a four-hand piece with his father.
The Lohmeyers carefully instructed their children in the Christian faith. When Ernst turned fifteen, he was confirmed in the local Lutheran church. As it was customary, he had to choose a Bible verse. He chose 2 Timothy 2:1: “Be strong, my son, in the grace which is in Christ Jesus.” Little did he know how much that verse was going to characterize his life.
His progress in the classical languages allowed him to enter the prestigious Friedrichs-Gymnasium in Herford, fifteen miles away from Vlotho, where his family had moved. By the time he enrolled at the university in Tubingen, he was fluent in Latin and Greek and eager to study Assyrian, Babylonian, and Aramaic. He continued his studies in Berlin, where he completed a doctorate in theology with a thesis on God’s covenant.
He had barely finished his year of mandatory military service when World War I broke out, and he was re-enlisted. He was seriously wounded but recovered. Throughout the war, he kept a copy of the Greek New Testament at his side.
He also found great comfort in his relationship with Amalie (Melie) Seyberth, an intelligent young woman with a passion for music and poetry. He met her in Berlin and married her in July 1916. While they were apart, they wrote to each other, sometimes several times a day.
After the war, he worked as professor of New Testament Theology at the University of Heidelberg and the University of Breslau (now Wrocław). During this time, he became particularly interested in the history of early Christianity and martyrdom (another uncanny preview of things to come).
He didn’t write poetry, but his prose was endued with a poetic quality his readers readily noticed. It might have been this poetic sensitivity that allowed him to notice the presence of preexisting Christian hymns in the writings of New Testament authors, particularly in Philippians 2:5-11. If these insights are correct, Christians had been singing of Christ’s divinity long before Paul’s writings – debunking some critics’ conjecture that it was a late doctrine.