The Rev. Dr. Eric W. Gritsch, who taught Reformation and Church History at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg from 1961 to 1994, died Saturday, December 29th at Bayview Hospital in Baltimore following a brief illness. He was 81 years of age.
A prolific author of historical and theological books and textbooks, Gritsch was born in 1931 in Neuhaus, Austria, later becoming a citizen of the United States in 1961. He studied at the Universities of Vienna, Zurich and Basel and completed both masters and doctoral degrees in theology at Yale University. His dissertation on the major reformers of the 16th century, was directed by Luther biographer and church historian Roland Bainton. Gritsch was ordained in 1962 by the United Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor Lutheran body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Before his arrival in Gettysburg, he taught at Wellesley College (1959-1961).
President Michael Cooper-White conveyed the Seminary’s admiration of “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’.”
Following retirement from Seminary teaching, Gritsch lived in Baltimore, MD, remained active in writing and teaching projects, and is survived by his wife of 17 years, Ms. Bonnie Brobst, and three adult foster children Debby Cole, Valerie and Erika.
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 course in Lutheran confessions that undergirded the book offered the creative approach of linking a theologian and a historian to press the interpretation of the Lutheran constitutive documents in interdisciplinary context. He was among those who initiated the Institute for Luther Studies at Gettysburg Seminary and its accompanying successful annual Luther Colloquy.
Born in Austria, Gritsch experienced first-hand the reign of Adolf Hitler and Russian army occupation and wrote about those experiences in a memoire, entitled The Boy from the Burgenland.
The Rev. Dr. Kirsi Stjerna, Gettysburg Seminary's Professor of Reformation Church History and Director of the Institute for Luther Studies commented on her predecessor: "His works remain pillars in the field. A model of tenacity and commitment to scholarship, Eric continued to teach and do research till the very end. It was not uncommon to find Eric and Bonnie [Brobst] in the Luther research room at the Wentz library late in the day. We have been fortunate to learn from him, a unique man with a unique voice.”
The 50th anniversary of his ordination, celebrated this fall, was the occasion for the publication of a festschrift in his honor entitled Lutheranism, Legacy and Future: Essays in Honor of Eric W. Gritsch which included essays by current Gettysburg Seminary faculty members Stjerna and the Rev. Dr. Maria Erling, Professor of Modern Church History and Global Missions. Gettysburg’s Distinguished Professor Günther Gassmann and retired colleague Dr. Robert Jenson also wrote for the publication.
In putting Gritsch’s teaching into perspective Cooper-White concluded , “above all, Dr. Gritsch was a pastor whose heart and home were opened to foster children, countless students, and fellow citizens. Especially those like himself who gazed into the depths of darkness found hope and courage as Eric pointed to Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.”
A memorial service is planned for Zion Lutheran Church in Baltimore, MD, for March 2nd, with time to be announced.