Paulus (Selig) Cassel, was one of the most distinguished Hebrew Christians whom Germany produced during the 19th century, and one of the most remarkable missionaries ever in the Society’s ranks.
Speaking of the necessity of writing a history of converted Jews, the “Jewish Chronicle,” said that the most important chapter of it would be that which, concerning Germany, contained the lives of such men as Benfey, Bernhardy, Lehrs, Neander and Veith; and after them should be mentioned Cassel, who became a pillar of the Reformed Church, and acknowledged that “a genius like Cassel is always an honour to his former brethren in the faith,” whilst wondering that one who observed for so many years the Jewish ceremonial laws, ate at the table of Jacob Joseph Ettinger, the rabbi of Berlin, who was the admirer of Michale Sachs, and the author of the article, “History of the Jews,” in Ersch and Gruber’s great “Encyclopædia of Science,” could have embraced the Christian faith. It was indeed a strange spectacle, and a sorrowful one withal, for every Jew with any feeling whatever, to see Paulus Cassel teaching Christianity in the same city of Berlin, where his brother, David, was a well-known rabbi, training younger men for the Jewish ministry.
We must, however, first speak of his early years. Selig Cassel, to give him his Jewish name, was born at Glogau, in Silesia, on February 27th, 1821, of Jewish parents. He was educated at the Gymnasia of Glogau and Schweidnitz, and subsequently at the university of Berlin, where he made a special study of history as a pupil of the famous historian, Dr. Ranke.
Cassel took his degree at Berlin and Licentiatus Theologiæ in due course, and received the faculty for headmaster for all classes of the gymnasium in Latin, Greek, theology, history, geography and German literature. He then, for a time, was on the journalistic staff of the “Constitutionelle Zeitung” in Berlin. Afterwards, in 1850, Cassel went to Erfurt, where he was the editor of the “Erfurter Zeitung” from 1850 to 1856.
His Christian friends, and especially, according to his own statement, his study of the history of Israel, led him to Christianity, which he embraced in 1855, being baptized at Büssleben, a village near Erfurt, on May 28, and receiving the names “Paulus Stephanus.” Every year subsequently he was wont to celebrate this “second birthday,” as he called it, amidst his friends and congregation.
We now come to the second period of Cassel’s life, as a renowned Christian writer, preacher and orator. For a few years Cassel remained in the town, where the great change in his life had taken place, and became custodian of the public library and secretary of the “Erfurt Academy.” He was then called to Berlin by the Prime Minister, who entrusted him with the editorship of the official “Deutsche Reform.” He resigned this post in six month’s time to return to his beloved books and studies at Erfurt.
At this time honours were showered upon him. King Frederick William IV. of Prussia honoured him with the title of “Professor.” The University of Erlangen conferred on him the degree of “Licentiatus Theologiæ.” Afterwards, in Vienna, Cassel obtained that of “Doctor Theologiæ (Doctor of Divinity). In 1859 he returned to Berlin and delivered public lectures, which were more and more largely attended and appreciated by both Jews and Gentiles. These lectures made him known throughout the capital and the country.
Dr. Cassel was elected a member of the “Landtag,” the Prussian Parliament, in 1866, and became a prominent member of the Conservative party. As this took him too much from his literary work, he soon laid this mandate down.
In 1868, the third and most famous portion of Cassel’s life commenced, when the Society appointed him their missionary in Berlin and minister of Christ Church, a stately Gothic building, with over a thousand sittings, erected by the Society in the Wilhelmstrasse, in 1864.
For twenty-three years many children of Israel heard the Gospel from Dr. Cassel’s lips both in Berlin and other places of Germany, and indeed of Europe. The good done by means of his sermons and lectures can never be fully estimated; and, in addition to this, numbers of Jews were influenced in a Christian direction by his numerous publications.
It would be impossible for us to follow the indefatigable missionary in his multifarious activities in Berlin and in Germany generally during these busy years; but we may be allowed to quote from a published letter which he addressed in 1887 to English friends, entitled, “Thoughts on the Jewish Mission” :
“Invitations came to give lectures in places at a distance. A dear friend of mine shewed me in 1860 a map of Germany, on which he marked all the towns in which I have lectured. Since then I have delivered over a thousand original lectures in Berlin and elsewhere. God’s hand has guided me everywhere. My journeys have extended from Amsterdam to Buda-Pesth. I always had an attentive audience, and the poorer people in both large and small towns heard the Word with gladness – nay, even with enthusiasm.
“During the anti-Semitic agitation, such journeys for the purpose of delivering lectures were more extensive. I had then become known through my defence of Gospel charity, even in circles which were not outwardly known as Christian. The meetings which were held at the period resembled more nearly the ideal at which I aimed. A considerable number of persons listened to the lectures, who had completely turned their backs on the Church.”
Speaking of his ministerial and missionary work in Christ Church, the doctor said:
The special blessing of the Church consisted in the regular exposition of the Old Testament. It has been my custom to expound the Old Testament every Sunday evening, from the first Sunday I came into office (Jan. 15th, 1868) up to the present time. It was the first time in Berlin that this was made a practice. There were, therefore, from the very beginning hearers, consisting of Jews and earnest Christians. Those expository semons have been the greatest blessing, and have specially united me to the congregation.
Professor Cassel baptized 262 Jews in Christ Church; amongst them doctors, authors, merchants, nearly all educated persons. But, as he said, “I am not fond of statistics. I sow the seed, but do not stop to ask how much may be the fruit.”
Dr. Cassel was an ardent lover of his own people. “Though he has left us, he was by no means our enemy. He still fights against those who hate the Jews,” said the “Jewish Chronicle.” It was he who raise his voice against Stocker in Berlin, and endeavoured by voice and pen to soften down the excitement and anger of German Protestants, and to secure the peace of his former brethren in the faith.
In the spring of 1891, when he retired from his duties, Dr. Cassel did not cease to preach, wherever an occasion offered, and he continued to write. So great was his love and zeal that he could not forego instructing and baptizing Jews who wished to become members of the Church of Christ through his instrumentality. The number of his converts must exceed some hundreds. Many of them were in high positions, and residing in various parts of the world.
Dr. Cassel’s death took place, after great sufferings, on December 23rd, 1893, his last words being, “Wo ist denn das Himmelreich?” His funeral was held on December 27th in the afternoon. In Christ Church, where the coffin had been place before the communion-table, a funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. Pastor Weser from St. John i. 12. The Rev. Dr. Dryander, the General Superintendent of the Lutheran community, also addressed the congregation. After the service within the sacred edifice the obsequies were completed, in the presence of a large concourse of friends, at the old Jerusalem Cemetery, where Dr. Cassel’s mortal remains lie in their last resting-place.
We append a few testimonies to the life, example, a powerful influence of Dr. Cassel:
Mr. C. Urbschat, of Königsberg, who for several years worked under Dr. Cassel in Berlin, wrote of his labours:
Professor Cassel was a highly educated missionary, and showed extraordinary ability in influencing the higher classes of Jews in favour of Christianity by his lectures and by his pleadings on their behalf. He was a man of profound learning, of great diligence, and of restless zeal in propagating the Gospel of his Master amongst Jews and Christians.
The “Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums” said: “When the anti-Semites began to show themselves, Cassel remembered his origin, and opposed the leaders, Stöcker, Wagner, and others with great decision and manliness. It was this manly action that gives us some satisfaction for his desertion of the parental religion. We have to judge this apostasy very differently from that of many others in former and present times, as he did not forsake his old creed for any worldly reason, or to get honours and position, but rather because he followed a mystical line of thought. God alone can judge the veracity and purity of his life; we dare not. ‘Peace be to his ashes!'”
Of the two brothers who, though divided in life, died about the same time, the Jewish Chronicle remarked: “The deaths of David and Paulus (formerly Selig) Cassel remove two brothers, both of whom had won a place for themselves among the honoured names of Jewish scholarship… Paulus was the greater man of the two, a scholar and writer of a higher type, and his works will live. He took a worthy part in the struggle against anti-Semitism. Paulus Cassel was perhaps the first man to recognize what was really meant by writing a history of the Jews.”
One of Dr. Cassel’s numerous converts, baptized by him in 1870, sent the following most touching tribute to his memory: “There was no way of his life in which he failed to shine. Study and knowledge sealed in his heart the great truths of religion. His was the faith which is clothed in wisdom; his the wisdom which is hallowed by faith. His faith was to him, as it should be to all of us, an armed angel. His affectionate heart not only throbbed with love for his own kindred, but was alive to sympathy with those who needed it. I always found him benevolent and singularly gentle. He taught the world that the Jews, hitherto despised, must be despised no more; he conquered a place in society, in the highest society – the intellectual circle – for the people of his faith. And this victory he won, not by dint of clamour, or falseness, or obstrusive self-assertion, but by the force of his own intellectual powers, his unsullied integrity, his admirable character. Dr. Cassel gave mankind a useful lesson, a touching example, a glorious spectacle: he showed how a Christian Jew lives! His knowledge was the altar on which he stood to worship the great God-man! History confirms the truth, which the Psalmist, whose music he loved, taught mankind ages ago – that, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'”
The industry of Dr. Cassel was truly prodigious, and was especially evidenced by the large number and character of his writings.
A complete list of all his books and pamphlets would fill a large space, so mention can be made only of his more important writings, namely: “Juden Geschichte” in Ersch and Grüber (1847), “Magyarische Altertumer” (1848), “Von Warschau bis Olmutz” (1851), “Thüringische Ortsnamen” (1856-58), “Eddische Studien” (1856), “Rose und Nachtigall” (1860), “Weihnachten, Ursprünge, Bräuche und Aberglauben” (1862), “Die Schwalbe” (1869), “Drachenkämpfe” (1869), “Vom Wege nach Damascus” (1872), “Name und Beruf (1874), “Löwenkämpfe von Nemea bis Golgotha” (1875), “Das Buch Esther” (1878), translated by the Rev. A. Bernstein into English and published by T. and T. Clark of Edinburgh (1888), “Vom Nil zum Ganges” (1879), “Christliche Sittenlehre” (1880), “Aus Literatur und Geschichte” (1885), “Aus dem Lande des Sonnenaufgangs” (1885), “Kritische Senschreiben über die Probebibel” (1885), “Wie ich über Judenmission denke” (1886), “Das 900 jährige Jubiläum der russischen Kirche” (1888), “Aletheiam, Vorträge” (1890), “Das 1000 jährige Reich” (1890). For Lange’s Bible-Commentary he wrote the expositions on the books of Judges and Ruth. His works against anti-Semitism were “Wider Heinrich von Treitschke für die Juden” (1880), “Die Antisemiten und die Evangelische Kirche” (1881), “Ahasverus” (1885), and “Der Judengott und Richard Wagner.” Dr. Cassel composed many poems under the title, “Hallelujah,” containing 188 hymns, and also some dramas (Vom Konige, Das neue Schauspiel, Der Weiner Congress, Paulus at Damascus, Paulus at Cyprus, &c.)
From 1875-91 Dr. Cassel edited and published a weekly paper, “For Christian life and knowledge,” entitled “Sunem.”
Such, in conclusion, was this truly wonderful son of Israel, and follower of Christ. His gigantic intellect, marvelous ability, persuasive oratory, brilliant pen, were alike consecrated to the service of his Lord and Master, and to the spiritual welfare of his brethren. Sage, philosopher, scholar, author, preacher and missionary, he was a king amongst his fellow-men. His name will live immortal in the annals of Jewish and Jewish missionary literature.
Bernstein, A. 1999. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit.