Dr. Eric W. Gritsch
Eric W. Gritsch, a prolific author of historical and theological books and textbooks, died Saturday, December 29, 2012, at Bayview Hospital in Baltimore following a brief illness. He was 81 years of age.
Gritsch was born in 1931 in Neuhaus am Klausenbach, Austria, the son of Matthias Gritsch, a Lutheran pastor and Irene (Mattes) Gritsch. He experienced first-hand the reign of Adolf Hitler serving as a Hitler Youth and then experiencing the Russian army occupation of his homeland. He wrote about these experiences in a memoire, entitled The Boy From The Burgenland. He matriculated at the University of Vienna to study Protestant theology, as well as studying at the Universities of Zurich and Basel. In 1954 he was named a Fulbright scholar and traveled to Yale University where he earned a masters degree. After completing his ministerial studies in Austria where he served as a vicar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Austria in the parish in Bruck an der Mur, he immigrated to the United States in 1957. Gritsch returned to Yale and earned the doctoral degree in theology, studying with the beloved Luther biographer and church historian, Roland Bainton, who directed Gritsch’s dissertation on the major reformers of the 16th century. His first teaching position was a Wellesley College from 1959 to 1961. In 1961 Gritsch became a citizen of the United States of America and was ordained in the United Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor Lutheran body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In 1961 Gritsch was called to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he taught Church History and Reformation Studies until his retirement in 1994.
Generations of seminary students were formed by his outstanding teaching and scholarship, his deep love for the Gospel and the Church, not least of all by his wit which produced many memorable lines and “Gritschisms.” Among his many contributions in print, Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings, which he co-authored with Robert Jenson, was likely the most influential for a generation of Lutheran seminarians and clergy both at Gettysburg Seminary and across the continent. The team taught a course in Lutheran confessions that undergirded the book which offered the creative approach of linking a theologian and a historian to press the interpretation of the Lutheran constitutive documents in interdisciplinary context. In 1970 he became the first director of the Gettysburg Seminary’s Institute for Luther Studies bringing international scholars to Gettysburg for a series of scholarly conferences which continue today and is known as the Martin Luther Colloquy.
Always maintaining his international connections he served as a member of the International Congress for Luther Research from 1964 – 2011, as a member of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue in North America from 1970-1994, as a member of the Bishop Ordass Foundation in Oslo and Budapest from 1986-1998, as a member of the Board of Directors, Ecumenical Institute of the Lutheran World Federation, Strasbourg, France, just to mention a few.
In addition to teaching at Wellesley and the Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, Gritsch was a popular teacher in many other academic institutions. He served as a Distinguished Lecturer at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, Adjunct Faculty Member at the Ecumenical Institute of St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore as well as Board Member, a teacher at the Melanchthon Institute , Houston, TX, Guest Professor at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA.
In retirement, Gritsch lived in Baltimore with his beloved wife of 17 years, Bonnie Brobst. Their home continued to be open to countless students, former students, friends, and colleagues. A celebration commemorating the 50th anniversary of his ordination, celebrated this fall, at Zion Church in Baltimore was the occasion for the publication of a Festschrift in his honor entitled Lutheranism, Legacy and Future: Essays in Honor of Eric W. Gritsch. Up until a few days before his death Dr. Gritsch continued to enjoy opera (In fact, he had recently attended his 33rd performance of La Boheme), cooking, traveling, teaching, preaching, and writing. His books have been translated into several languages and his latest book titled Christendumb will be available in the spring. He was a member of Zion Church of the City of Baltimore where he served as a frequent preacher and the Director of the Forum for German Culture.
President Michael Cooper-White conveyed Gettysburg Seminary’s admiration for “one of the giants in 20th century Lutheranism. I am among the hundreds of women and men privileged to have sat at his feet during his third of a century as a professor here at Gettysburg Seminary. Beyond the classroom and campus, during times of crisis over civil rights and the Vietnam War, his prophetic voice taught us what it means to be a ‘public theologian’.” Indeed, Eric Gritsch’s legacy is in his writings and the ministry of his many students.
In addition to his wife, Bonnie Brobst of Baltimore, Eric W. Gritsch is survived by a brother, Gunther Gritsch of Vienna, Austria, and four adult foster daughters: Patricia, Valerie, Erika, and Debbie.
A memorial service for Dr. Gritsch will be held at Zion Church of the City of Baltimore, 400 East Lexington, Baltimore, Maryland 21202 at 2:00 p.m. on March 2, 2013 with a celebration of the life of Eric W. Gritsch in the church’s historic Adlersaal following the memorial service. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to Zion Church.