Faculty Reflection: The Rev. Dr. Karl Krueger
Books in the Krauth Memorial Library are arranged in call number order. Do you use the same system at home?
No. At home my books are shelved according to usage. If they were consulted for a lecture or paper, for example, then they will be shelved in the loft because that is where the serious academic work occurs. The loft has high walls with only a skylight in the ceiling. Staring out the window is not an option. On the other hand, if the book was read for pleasure then it is under the sofa in the living room because that is where I sit when I am reading for enjoyment. It’s the biggest room in the house and has the most comfortable chairs. In the winter the living room is particularly welcoming because it has a working fireplace. Now if the book was used when I was preparing a sermon then I know that it will be near the rocking chair in the computer room because that is where sermons are written. If the book has sentimental value, then it is shelved in the nice looking bookcases in the finished part of the basement. They are there for decoration and give the room a nice look. I may not open the books, but I remember each of them fondly because they kept me up at nights.
Is this an efficient system?
No. Sometimes I can’t remember how I last used a book. I just spent ten minutes looking for Volume II of Mühlenberg’s Journals because I knew it would help me answer one of the questions in this queue. It was near the rocking chair in the computer room because I had used it for a sermon. It should have been in the loft with Volumes I and III because that is where I encounter Mühlenberg; in the loft where serious academic work occurs.
Have you thought about changing the arrangement?
I have thought about reorganizing the books several times. I make that resolution every time I run up and down the steps looking for a book that I need. Now that semi-retirement is on the immediate horizon, I am going to attempt to reorganize my library one more time.
You have lectured on Henry Melchior Mühlenberg and created a Public Theology seminar devoted to his ministry and missional outlook. What moment in his Journals really touched you?
October 19, 1776. It was a Saturday. Valentin Urner [Orner] arrived in Trappe to pick up the elderly Mühlenberg. Valentin then drove him in the wagon to Chester Springs [Peikland] because Henry had promised to preach on Sunday, October 20. Enroute Mühlenberg learned that Valentin was the first baby that he had baptized in December 1742. An overwhelmed Mühlenberg wrote, “and now he is a father of four children and an exemplary deacon in the congregation.”
Why that passage?
Because at that moment, Mühlenberg realized that he had made a difference. Even though his pietism would not allow him to articulate it, he was proud! I think that is the most rewarding moment for anyone in a ministry of Word and Service or Word and Sacrament. It’s the moment you realize that you were a vessel of the divine and had made a difference.
Which book in the Rare Book Room do you consider special?
For me it is the 1560 English Geneva Bible. It prompted me to learn Tudor Secretary, the script utilized in 16th century England. It was worth the effort because I made some amazing discoveries. I had taken pictures of the pages with handwritten marginalia and was able to enlarge them on my computer at home. It’s easier and more effective than sitting in the library with a magnifying glass. It was in March 2007 when I was sitting in the loft that I was able to decipher the note the reader scribbled at the bottom of Genesis 37. It was then that I realized this reader was a contemporary of the Spanish Armada . I was amazed at how the reader was interpreting a current event through the lens of the Bible. I was awed by the fact that I had just discovered a neat ‘note to self’ from a reader in the 16th century. It was overpowering because this reader saw similarities between England and the biblical Joseph.
But it was another two years before I resolved the riddle of his handwritten cross-reference to Proverbs 21. I kept asking myself the question, “How did this reader come to link Genesis 37 with Proverbs 21?” I started by reading Calvinist commentaries in English on Proverbs. That went nowhere. But the reader had left the clue when he wrote, “non est sapientia.” He was thinking out loud in Latin. In other words, I should have narrowed the search to a Latin, not an English resource. That was obvious, but then the obvious sometimes eludes me. [Just like the ketchup on the top shelf of the refrigerator.] Then, one night after teaching Book of Faith: Print, Politics, and Public Event, I was carrying the first volume of the Brandt/Froben Biblia Latina [1501/02] back to the Rare Book Room. It was about 10:15 p.m. It was heaven because I was alone in the library with all the books. I sat down on the iron steps underneath the Doberstein window with this volume that weighs about 35 pounds. I read the commentary [the gloss] for Genesis 37. There in the comments written by Nicholas of Lyra was the answer. Nicholas of Lyra used Proverbs 21 to shed light on Genesis 37. Eureka! That meant that this unidentified reader of our copy of the 1560 English Geneva Bible was at home in the Latin Vulgate and the commentary of Nicholas of Lyra. Even though Henry VIII had closed the monasteries and their libraries, the books that had shaped England for centuries were still being consulted and utilized as individuals attempted to make sense of current events.
As a librarian, what is your favorite Bible verse?
That is easy — the final verse of the second conclusion to the Gospel according to John. [John 21:25]
But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
The Jesus Library trumps the Library at Alexandria. Just think — if that had happened, librarians would have had divine job security and apostolic succession by means of the library card. But, we would have also been in endless meetings attempting to persuade administrations that we needed bigger and better funded libraries. Thanks to John’s wise decision, we inherited a policy that I call apostolic coordinated acquisitions. That means that librarians have the responsibility to select the best materials that their budgets allow.
What makes the Krauth Memorial Library so special?
The Krauth Memorial Library has one of the best collections of rare books for a freestanding theological library in the United States. Whenever I teach or speak, I use a book from the collection because it opens windows into the past. It is a hermeneutical object that lets us see how our ancestors received information. For me, one of the most powerful moments in the Confessions class is when I hold the 1518 Froben edition of Luther’s Latin Works. It’s amazing because that is how many people in Europe encountered Luther. They held a book in their hand, read his words, and then made up their own minds about the important questions of the day and God’s relationship with them.
What is your favorite book?
The one I am currently reading.
The Rev. Dr. Karl Krueger, Director of the Krauth Memorial Library and Professor of the History of Christianity, is retiring after 17 years at LTSP. Watch his Farewell Lecture, “Not for Our Eyes: Readers Talking to Themselves and Sometimes God,” and see photos of his retirement reception, also in this issue of PS Portions.