Stephan Family Archives
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Stephan Family Archives




My first entry is an excerpt of a seminal letter in 19th Century Lutheran  Church history, penned in 1878 by Martin Stephan Jr., the son of Bishop Martin Stephan. The letter is addressed to Martin Jr's brother-in-Law, George Schick. In it, Martin discusses the treatment he received from members of the Missouri Synod, and in particular, by Pastor C.F. W. Walther, the first President of the Missouri Synod. This letter is in the possession of the Concordia Historial Institute, or CHI.

Professor Theodore Buenger, no friend of Martin Stephan, prefaced his authenticated typewritten copy from the original with the title: Not for Publication.

Buenger goes on to write in his preface to say that this letter "is important as to the guilt of Stephan the leader," and one "can conclude (ex silentio) that son does not claim his father's innocence or else he would  have mentioned that fact in this letter."  [If the letter "proves" that Bishop Martin Stephan was guilty, then why keep it from public view?] Martin's discussion of C.F.W. Walter in this letter will provide the answer.

For years, the Stephan family has heard stories attesting to Walther's beratement and indeed hatred of both Stephan father and son, and this letter collaborates in glaring and unmistakable clarity, the anguish Martin Junior, now in his waning years, felt throughout his life at the hands of Walther and the LCMS.

Revered in the LCMS, C.F.W. Walther is the namesake of the Walther League, an organization of Lutheran youth. His statue stands prominently in the entrance Hallway of the Missouri Synod Headquarters in St. Louis. An Historical Marker placed by the State Historical Society of Missouri in Altenberg, Mo, refers to Walther as the “Great Walther,” and to Bishop Martin Stephan as “a false teacher.”

[Note: An LCMS official I talked to rejects any involvement of the Lutheran Church in the text formulation of this Historical Marker. For at least a half a century, the marker, outlining the origins of the Saxon Emigration, has stood without objection nor call for correction from the LCMS.]

C.F.W.Walther and Dr. Martin Stephan in Germany

In Germany, Martin Stephan Sr. knew Walther, then a student who was starving himself to death in a form of ascetic pietism. Stephan reassured Walther that to obtain salvation, he did not need to resort to this practice, and saved this young man's life (by Walther's own admission). Walther received counsel more than once thereafter from Dr. Stephan in Germany.

The "Great Walther," prior to his leaving Germany for the States with the emigration, kidnapped two children, Theodor and Maria Schuber, children of his deceased sister, and in the court appointed guardianship of Walther's own father and mother. Before leaving Germany, Walther evaded warrants for his arrest and changed ships to elude the law, taking the children with him, leaving his father devastated, and as reported by a neighboring pastor, Georg Pleissner:

"What a faith [Walther], which can separate himself from his parental home with such devilish cunning and dark treason." (As quoted in: In Pursuit of Religious Freedom: Bishop Martin Stephan's Journey, by Philip G. Stephan, Lexington Books, 2008.)

Before disembarking in New Orleans, Walther's brother and eight others others initiated and signed the investiture of Stephan as Bishop, on January 14, 1839 in the Bay of New Orleans.   

C.F.W. Walther and the Expulsion of Stephan in Missouri

Within six months after the investiture signing, C.F.W. Walther turned on Stephan and together with other pastors and members of the Society, as it was called, led a delegation to oust Stephan. Fomented by allegations of Stephan’s sexual misconduct, embezzlement and false doctrine, Walther participated in a vicious and criminal expulsion of Stephan. Stephan was not convicted of any of the charges, nor did he admit to any wrongdoing.

Such acts against emigration leaders are not uncommon in U.S. history, and have been well documented. When the going got rough after the shock of arriving in their new land, some emigration groups turned on their leaders, banishing them from their midst. The best way to defame a leader was to call his sexual conduct into question, or his handling of money. The Saxon Lutherans differed little from this pattern; the clergy added false doctrine to Bishop Stephan's list.

Neither church nor legal officials reviewed the sexual allegations against Stephan, made under confession with a pastor, and then revealed publicly, even to the newspapers, breaking pastoral confidentiality.

In late May,1939, C.F.W. Walther and others deliberated about the best way to ban Stephan from the Society. A mob of ca. 300, including C.F.W. Walther, was organized to descend on Bishop Stephan's cabin about 60 miles south of  St. Louis,  in Perry County. While the mob beat with sticks against the outside cabin walls,and some shouting obscenities and accusations at him, inside, Stephan was robbed of all his goods, and forced to strip search with youth present. Stephan’s protests fell on deaf ears, and he was forced to spend his last night in Missouri outside his cabin in a tent during rain.

Without a church hearing, Stephan was deposed of his Bishop rank, expelled from the Society, forcibly taken across the Mississippi to the Illinois side and deposited. Stephan was allowed to keep some books (from 1500 volumes he had brought along), a mattress and bedding, some clothes and $100.

Martin Stephan and his life in Illinois

Stephan was 62 and ailing, and managed to forage from farmers to eek out an existence, surviving several serious illnesses and the poorhouse.

With the pro bono help of a prominent German-American lawyer, Gustav Koerner, Stephan won the case against the Society in a Missouri Court in 1842, but nevertheless remained excommunicated  and excluded.  Other cases brought against him were dismissed by the court.

Stephan remained an itinerant preacher living most of the time under appalling conditions, and died in 1846  where he had briefly been able to serve as Pastor in a Lutheran church in Red Bud, Illinois. Although he rightfully owned 80 aces of land in Missouri, reserved for him and his family, he never saw that soil, or his family, again. What happened to that land is explained in the letter.

Martin Stephan. Jr. and C.F.W. Walther

Walther’s hounding of Martin Stephan, Jr. mentioned in the letter below--is a little known chapter in LCMS history. It began with Stephan Jr’s return to Germany in 1840 at the urgent request of his mother, who was ailing. This trip did not sit well with Walther, who called him a “Judas” returning to the old ways of Lutheranism in Germany. (Walther it should be noted, traveled back to Germany himself, as did other members of the Society.)

While at home in Dresden Martin decided to study architecture, following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, Johann Friedrich Knoebel, who designed palaces and gardens for the King of Poland and Saxony, and the famous Zeughaus in Dresden Later, Martin Jr. designed churches in the East and Midwest of the United States.

After his mother’s early death in 1844, Martin finished his architectural degree, and decided to study for the ministry and returned to the States in 1847--a brave decision in view of the atmosphere of hatred that abounded towards his father and the Stephan name. In 1847, Walther was elected the next year as the First President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Indeed, Martin Jr. had to endure sneering and derision by Walther, who sought to discourage Martin from his professional decision.To that end, Walther tried to get rid of Martin’s presence by pursuing him, trying to make him appear as laughing stock, theological misfit, and ill suited for the ministry.

At one point, Martin found himself preaching a sermon as a pastoral candidate, with his superior Walther sitting in the church. The letter refers to the humiliation the seminary student felt at the snide and public references to his stammering, out of nervousness in giving a sermon in the presence of Walther, now president of the Synod and his professor.

Walther succeeded in having Martin Jr. removed from larger parishes such as Chester, Illinois and Fort Wayne, Indiana. During his pastorate in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for example, Martin, a talented architect and orator, preached and taught architecture. This combination served as enough reason for his being transferred. Martin had to accept country pastorates under trumped up charges.

 A final blow was Walther’s trickster method of asking Martin to relinquish the family farm in Missouri, discussed at length in this letter and in Philip Stephan’s book In Pursuit of Religious Freedom.

To this day, C.F.W. Walther continues to enjoy an almost beatific place within the Missouri Synod while, the contributions of Martin Stephan Jr. are not even mentioned in the CHI Museum.


The Letter

February 9, 1878,

Waverly, Iowa

Dear Brother-In-Law,

Allow me to reply to some of the things you brought up in your letter of January third. First, I am grateful for the kind view that your words clearly convey. I also agree wholeheartedly with the advice you have given me, that is to expect nothing from the synod, but to persevere and wait patiently in this respect until I, myself, am able to improve my situation, with God’s blessing. I reached this conclusion a while ago myself. In fact, there is nothing else I can do. I would not have tried so persistently to be transferred if, when I was banished from Chester, the then head of the Synod for the West District had not immediately told me that I would only need to come here for a maximum of two years.

I do not think of him very highly for having made such a rash promise… the  blame directed at me in your letter, that of "bitterness" towards the synod or parishioners, with a passing reference to Hebrews 12, 15, is unfounded. A distinction is to be made, however, between bitterness that comes from the bitterness of hate and anger towards fellowmen, … and bitterness – or vexation – which results from indignation about an injustice we have suffered . . .

As far as the first type of bitterness is concerned I have a clear conscience, because I am more than willing to forgive all those who have insulted me, just as God has forgiven me through Christ. . .  I am, however, conscious of the other kind of bitterness, not as my own, but as that caused by others. With others I do not mean certain parishioners (because this parish is not capable of producing masters of hypocrisy and malice such as those who troubled and tormented me in Chester), but certain members of the synod and, if you so wish, the synod itself.

That I dare question the synod and its members may seem to be an act of blind rage or wounded pride . . . [but] you have no idea how I have been dragged through the mud by certain members of the Synod. I remember hearing from a Synodical authority that the Missouri Synod has started to decline. And you, too, indirectly provide a sad report of the Synod when you write that I should drop any hope of the Synod offering me "improvement and advancement". Indeed, that if I fail to fulfil my obligations as paterfamilias and am unable to care for my own, I should "not expect any help from the Synod".

You have doubtless drawn this from a reliable source. I believe every word. Yet, how does the most orthodox of all Lutheran Synods suddenly happen to degrade and dismiss a faithful servant of the church, contrary to all human and divine right? What follows is shocking – worse than heathen (even according to Tim. 5,8). The Synod would, so it seems, let me end my life in the poorhouse, and Walther, the old Stephanist, would not miss publishing this evidence for Ex. 20,5, in his journals.

The man named [=CFW Walther] is my secret enemy. All the injustices committed against me by the Synod can be ascribed to him. Without him the Synod would not have had the slightest reason. In all this I am not forgetting how grateful I am to this man for being my teacher, but this does make me blind to the facts that prove at least how badly he behaves in the flesh – not wanting to judge his heart. I am also aware that I am not really being disparaging about the man since what I indeed hope from my present expectations is to reach him myself and iron out the differences with him personally. My introducing you to this character is, however, a means of defending myself against the charge you bring of my being bitter towards the Synod in a fleshly way.

Koestering, our well-known church historian, says in his "Saxon Immigration" that Walther was no common Stephanist. I add to this that he was a high-ranking/noble Stephanist. In his fanaticism he hastened to participate in the abduction of several children who had to be rescued from a German Egypt and taken to an American Canaan, . . .  whereupon a warrant was issued for his (Wather’s) arrest, for which, of course, he was deemed to be suffering for Christ’s sake.

He would certainly admit this act of folly now, yet his fanatic nature has not been lost completely. He has simply given himself to the other extreme.

In those days the most dogged of the Stephanists deemed it a bad omen and of grave consequence for souls when one of them dared return to the old Fatherland – to the flesh-pots of Egypt. This was also the judgement pronounced on me when I returned with two others to my mother’s house at her bidding. Walther soon presented himself as a man of letters and in the process his own conceit also took on a role, covering all traces of Stephanism before the world and appearing in face of such quite innocent, indeed just "misled" – since the nature of the matter shows that when people idolize one of their own, this cannot happen without their worshiping him, and so both sides are being misled.

Under those circumstances it was risky for me to return to the old Stephanists, to nevertheless prepare myself for the ministry (at the instigation of others) in St. Louis. I was risking their hate being carried over from father to son. Although Walther said it was a good sign that I had gone to them, I have experienced many times, unfortunately, that he knows how to say one thing while thinking another. What indeed proved to be the case was that he loathed me, and in what way and for what reasons can be demonstrated by a few anecdotes.

My father’s [=Bishop Martin Stephan] followers had given him a farm in Perry County, Missouri. While I was studying in St. Louis, Walther persuaded me that I, as the heir, should relinquish all claims to this property in favor of a purchaser of his. I agreed to do so, without considering how unjust or presumptuous this request was. As far as I can remember I later learned what Walther had in mind with this ruse; to line the pockets of Barthel Senior’s heirs – one of whom was Agent General Barthel – either with the proceeds from the property or the property itself, I no longer remember exactly. Where did Walther have the right to do this, and wasn’t the way he behaved towards me an obvious act of revenge?

He passed the ill will and hate he felt toward my father arbitrarily and tyrannically on to me in the same way that the goodwill he felt towards the heirs of the old immigration company’s cashier was transferred from the father to the children. In legal terms it was a fraudulent swindle, and in terms of the seventh and ninth commandments it was clearly a sin to talk me out of my rightful inheritance – rightful following logically from the fact that no deed of purchase could be drawn up without other claims being relinquished. Right from the beginning the proceeds of this swindle helped form the base of the Missouri synod’s material and pecuniary resources.

The first sermon I held in St. Louis was at Christmas matins, as a student. Although I had prepared the sermon as thoroughly as possible, I was very nervous when giving it. Walther preached from the same pulpit during the main service of the day. In his feast-day prayers he praised God for the child-size mystery of the incarnation of his son "which has been spoken of today in stammers and stutters in this place.” In order to make his prayer truly impressive he moved his body vigorously and spoke stentoriously, opening his mouth so wide that his tongue could be seen. In college the late Volk [a now deceased Pastor] started the evening by strongly criticizing this behavior, and others agreed. I remained silent.

What had been Walther’s intention? There was no need for him to tell the good Lord about my stammering because God already knew: he must, therefore, have only wanted to tell the parish, a parish whose core was composed of old Stephanists. He obviously wanted to prevent any affection arising between me and old parishioners as a result of past reminiscences, which was why I had to be dealt the severe blow that would kill me morally and which would plant the seed of prejudice among the listeners, showing that I would turn out to be a stammering preacher of which nothing could be expected. I felt very distressed by the whole episode.

The frivolity, indeed blasphemy, which did not stop the man from making such a joke out of the prayers spoken before the holy countenance of God, a joke which he only used as a means to an end. I regret to say that the hypocritical, coquettish preaching, with which he sought the acclamation of the audience, shook the confidence I had had in this man forever. During a lesson he once said he had seen a picture featuring Judas Iscariot with a face that resembled the face of a person currently sitting at the table, pointing at me.

It was .. . calculated … designed to make my fellow students regard me as a traitor. I can only imagine that he came to view me as a traitor because he feared I was hatching secret plans against him, this in turn resulting from the fact that I always kept myself to myself because I felt the suspicion and distrust directed at me. Walther made use of the other students, in particular Volk and Eisfeld, in whom he placed great hope, but who died early on, to eavesdrop on me. While on a trip to Germany with Wyneken, Walther himself was dealt some quite wretched gossip about me in Dresden, for which he raked me over the coals when he returned.

Once, while practicing outlines for sermons, mine mirrored Walther’s almost word for word, and he always read his sermons aloud after ours. This annoyed him. He was shameless enough to maintain that I had not composed them myself etc. I became so furious about this that I threw my pen across the table. He would obviously have been pleased had I not possessed the talents that God had given me, and would have long before driven me from college in disgrace. Gönner, the rector, also knew the least pleasant side of Walther’s character and argued with him many times. I remember Gönner once explaining the word “Schalat”) as follows: it is related to Sultan, to scold (German = schelten), and means "to rule" (German = walten), i.e. "to be ruler" (German = Walther sein). Gönner was forced to eat humble pie for this remark. It was under such auspices that I entered the ministry.

While I was in Ft. Wayne Walther happened to pass through on a vacation trip. Once he had gone on his way Siehler [ a pastor] informed me that our relationship would have to be terminated. As a pretext he said that I lacked the talent, mentioning that Walther had told him this. Before, Siehler had said quite the opposite about me. The man that was regarded as such a good judge of human nature had suddenly decided differently. As a result I was forced to leave Ft. Wayne.

Well, I am far from wanting to overestimate my talents. However, I do not wish my talents to be played down as a result of taking sides. Such slanderous belittling of my gifts has often happened to me. I can prove this very easily. Firstly, it did not take much to be Sihler’s assistant preacher. I could have met these requirements with far less talent, even more so, in fact, because Sihler would not have feared so much rivalry from me. Professor Craemer witnessed how envious and jealous Sihler was of me, taking care that I developed no following in the parish. Secondly, there was some nasty scheming going on, designed to brand me as a bad, inept preacher.

Once, Walther wanted to accuse me of giving wrong advice in a sermon that he listened to, because my explanation of Matthew 5, 1-12, exactly reproduced the exegesis I had written down according to his dictation in St. Louis. While I was attending a conference in Ft. Wayne, Sihler (tried? – verb missing in original) to bring the sermon into disrepute in a joint assessment. And yet fellow clergymen told me it was a good sermon, and one man called Schmidt, who later contributed the most towards founding a parish in Peru, Indiana, assured me that he became a converted Lutheran as a result of listening to that sermon, for which he remained truly devoted to me as of that day. 

During the time that sermon was being criticized a sermon of Pastor Werfelmann, Sihler’s brother-in-law, was published at Sihler’s eager recommendation, and the Lutheran editors added a note to it stating that the sermon was being published at the request of others and not because it was of particular value. Thus, this seems to be the way our synod creates "gifted" and "ungifted" preachers – absolute talent fraud.

Now for some more recent news. When Buenger, the former head of the synod, examined the charges brought against me in Chester, the outcome was that the entire parish, with only few exceptions, had found me innocent. Buenger exposed my foster daughter as being a godless girl, and the L. Mayer mentioned above as being a slanderer who the parish should watch over closely in future. The matter began to quiet down. Then Koestering, the inspector, appeared with instructions from Walther for the head of the Synod's decision to be examined, going against all the rights in our synodal constitution. Prior to this Mayer had been to see Koestering in Altenburg and had won him over completely. It was to this effect, therefore, that he decided absolutely in Mayer’s favor and thus favorably for my other enemies, and as unfavorably as possible for me. He committed the brutal act of spending time with my enemies before the assembly, yet visiting me very briefly beforehand and neglecting to ask me anything about the whole business.

The rule of audiatur et altera pars [Latin: hear the other side] was adhered to by the heathen Romans. Koestering, the Christian inspector, had no need to do this. He dealt with the instruction from Walther appropriately, and it was decided nevertheless that I had to be elbowed out. In accordance with true Caiaphas policy I was sacrificed to a godless mob. How easy it would have been to render these harmless if they had been punished for their wickedness with the Word of God, and if the well-intentioned part of the parish had been supported. But the brutal act ruined everything for these people. The wicked mob now raised its head triumphantly. First, the freemasons stirred up trouble for me in town by renouncing in both German and English the alleged arrogance I exhibited in agitating against the freemasons etc., this being in the form of a petition "sent to me by the Cynosural editors in Chicago". This mob then induced my unsoiled foster daughter to take legal action against me because I had called her a lying wench during Koestering’s inspection, which she indeed is.

The court, which was made up of nothing but freemasons, was already against me, as described above. Before the sessions the judge had organized a freemason demonstration in the courthouse. It was absolutely impossible for me to prove that the girl was lying in such a way that the entire neighborhood would be able to testify to such, as required by law, and also due to the fact that my most important witness, my wife, was not allowed to testify as her testimony – strangely enough – is worth nothing as far as the law is concerned. I thus lost the case. That I was finally forced to give way to/humble myself before (German = weigen!! Maybe ‘weichen’or ‘neigen’ is meant?) my enemies was mainly thanks to Koestering and, due to him, Walther.

All of Walther’s old insults would have been long forgotten if they had not been rekindled in this way.  In Koestering’s introductory sermon at Pastor Mueller’s inauguration he alluded to me very unkindly. A copy of this sermon is in the synodal printing shop. It is a pity that nobody has so far been able to issue a public warning about me. Walther would be highly gratified to sign it. I am no longer in doubt that he is the one who is barring the door for me all over the place in other parishes. His word carries a lot of weight, much too much unfortunately. There are many parishes that go according to his wishes when appointing a preacher, and he knows how to gain influence over them. If I felt inclined to make the small effort required it would not be difficult for me to learn the facts I need to back this up. But enough!

I have shown from where my alleged bitterness toward the synod originates. Once again, I am not aware of any fleshly bitterness stemming from hate and anger, but I do know that the synod, or at least some of its representatives, has made me very bitter to the shame of its orthodox name. I am, therefore, in no way blind to my own sinful flesh, but humbly know. Because I know myself I recognize the major handicaps of the Synod, or many of its members.

Forgive me for trying your patience with  such a long epistle, but you forced me to do so. I expected you to make the promised accusations and reproaches. I am still waiting.

The Lord be with you and your family.

M. Stephan.

Waverly, Iowa

February 9, 1878.



The next section in the archives will contain letters written by my father, Pastor Curtis C. Stephan, who tried for over 40 years to get satisfaction from his many entreaties to the synod for permitting the hurtful or incorrect way Martin Stephan was portrayed in official documents, publications, oral history, and conventions. I have selected portions of these letters, and will preface them with anything I think may help put them into context.


1. Dated April 29, 1947, the letter is addressed to Prof. W.A. Baepler, in Springfield Illinois.

Reverend Professor:

"We have read the opening chapters of your recent book on the history of our church in American with much interest, but also profound amazement at the fact that you are perpetuating the age-old charges and slanders that have been brought against Martin Stephan, my great-great grandfather.

It is indeed most unfortunate that you have based your account of the Martin Stephan episode upon such secondary and tertiary records left by strongly prejudiced writers like Vehse, Koestering and Hochstetter. You are unaware of the fact that thorough investigations of various phases of the Martin Stephan story, made by competent and impartial historians both within and without our synod, have come to the conclusion that most of the charges against the man are based on hearsay and prejudice, and are simply not consonant with the truth.

I hold the the perpetuation of the charges against Martin Stephan are slanderous and libelous, that they are a violation of the eighth commandment of God, and that they constitute a grave offense to those of us who are the direct descendants of the man and who are trying to serve our God and our Synod to the best of our ability, but who are repeatedly embarrassed and mortified by the unnecessary repetition of this story, which has little basis in fact. 

A century of grace, indeed;  but for the name Stephan, a century of disgrace."

Yours very earnestly,

Curtis. C. Stephan


2.This  letter was written on  Dec. 15, 1970, to Pastor Valentin Andreas, a co-editor of a journal called Sola Scriptura. Pastor Andreas wrote my father in response to my father's complaint about an article on Bishop Martin Stephan in Sola Scriptura, written by a Paul Bergmann. 

Pastor Bergmann, by Andreas' account was a loyal Missouri Synod Lutheran, and had based his article on material he obtained from a professor of his at the seminary, Dr. Theodor Engelder, a student of the "Sainted Walther (sic)."

This episode is one of many examples of LCMS writers who simply take LCMS Canon writers and writings as truth, perpetuating them without questioning their content.  

Bergmann also replied to my father in response to the letter below. From both their letters, it is clear Bergmann and Andreas were caught flatfooted in an embarrassing situation of admitting the article had been published without examining the sources (or lack thereof=Andreas), and had been written in an unscholarly and circular fashion, as Bergmann revealed when he wrote my father: "of all the history of Martin Stephan I have only the records of the Concordia Cyclopedia, which on page 486 agrees with my statements."

So biased scholarship from one page is used the basis for an article which agrees with that of the author using that source unquestioningly. Both men searched to find a way out of their unscholarly actions.

Bergmann was properly chastened in a subsequent letter to my father:

"I will never mention the story of Perry county with any reflection on Martin Sephan (sic) in the future . . . ." And Andreas wrote: "I am sorry that my own misgiving was not strong enough to cause me to try to adjust the matter at the proper time. Please let me know what you would consider a proper rectification of this unfortunate development." 

My father, in his 23rd  year of letters to LCMS officials, tired, worn and exasperated over the disgraceful treatment of his great great grandafather, made a serious mistake, in my opinion, in not demanding an apology. I do not know what action he took.


 Curtis' letter to Andreas:

"Thank you for your letter, I appreciate your kindly tone."

I am not seeking an apology or a retraction from Pastor Bergmann or from the Sola Scriptura, I am merely asking people to refrain, finally, from defaming that man Martin Stephan. . . . "

“The expulsion of Martin Stephan from Perry county on hearsay evidence without a hearing was one of the worst cases of excommunication on record; the refusal of any of the Saxon ministers to come to the man’s aid when he fell desperately ill in Illinois and begged for ministry is a sad commentary on the lack of spiritual depth on the part of the colonists; the failure of the colonists to restore his goods to him even after he had instituted and won a lawsuit in the courts of Missouri against the colony to regain his property was a moral lapse. . . All we ask is that churchmen at long last, cease making mention of the unfortunate episodes in our church’s history. “Es ist ein böser Vogel, der sein eigen Nest beschmutzt." [transl.: An evil bird is one which soils its own nest.]

Curtis C Stephan


3. From my father to his brother Ted and wife in 1961: [Behnken was Pres. of the Synodical body; this is a frequent thread throughout my father’s letters, i.e. complaints falling on deaf ears]

“There has been too much slander spread around in these Walther lectures about Martin Stephan. I have protested to Jack Behnken up (or down) but it does little good.”

Also in this same letter my father tells his brother not to buy the Zion on the Mississippi, The Settlement of the Saxon Lutherans in Missouri, 1839-1841, by Walter Forster. Forster’s book was hailed for years as the sine qua non of LCMS history, in spite of numerous protests by the Stephan family because of its poor scholarship, inaccuracies, including using as a reference failed dissertation by an M. A. candidate at Indiana University, where my father worked on his Ph.D. in History. The book now features a Meissen cup with an image of Martin Stephan, part of the possessions of the Stephan family now in the CHI, and which has never been returned.

My Uncle Ted in a letter called Forster a “disgruntled dropout of the St. L. Seminary.”  Another Uncle refered to the book as an “excoriation” of Martin Stephan. First published in 1953,  Zion is still on the market.


Letters by Stephan descendants

Written by Ted Stephan, my uncle in 1980. At that time he was 85, and writing some of his memoires.   

Ted is writing about Gottlieb (aka Theopholus, Martin Jr’s son) and my grandfather. Here Ted describes show how Gottlieb Stephan had to be checked out as to his faith, even after having graduated from the Concordia Seminary two years previous. But then he had gone to Germany—the "fleshpots, "as Walther referred to their Lutheran teachings, and therefore Gottlieb might have been influenced by false [i.e. non LCMS doctrine.]

“After graduating from the St. Louis Seminary, he [Gottlieb] studied two years at the U. of Leipzig. Upon returning to the US, he reported to the St. Louis Seminary and was questioned by the then Pres. D. Pieper for two hours walking around and round the Seminary buildings and campus to, as Dad said, make sure “I still was in the faith.” . . .

A Stephan allowed to hold high office in the LCMS? Ever since Martin Stephan was bounce from his office as Bishop, no Stephan has held any kind of office more that Pastor in the LCMS. Note Ted’s reference to the negative view of Martin Stephan St., more than a century after his death.

“Because of Dad’s [Gottlieb’s] education, interpretive ability of the Bible, and his linguistic ability (German, Eng Hebrew, Greek, and Esperanto), . . . he could have held a high office in the Mo Synod,--even the presidency had it not been for the dyslogistic feelings of his opponents. (Do not rush for the dictionary as that means not flattering, disparaging, unfavorable uncomplimentary remarks about his grandfather)".

Buenger, the Pres. of St. Paul College and the connection between the Stephans and the LCMS is clear. They vilified Stephan, but wanted his descendants to serve the church. It was actually Buenger’s father who arrived on the boat. Both had the name Theodor which made things complicated.]

“That is why I was not sent to St. Paul College to study for the ministry. Dad said “the buck stops here.”  There will never be another Stephan in the ministry. But God rules otherwise. He sent Dr. Buenger, who was on the boat in 1838 with the German immigrants, then Pres. of St. Paul College, to our home in Colfax, Iowa. Those two men spent three days talking things over, and as a result the salesmanship of Dr. Buenger prevailed, and my brother Curtis was sent to St. Paul, followed by Ralph, LU and Paul. Ralph finished the six years at St Paul and entered the St. Louis Seminary, but could not take the harassment and quit during his first year."

A letter from Ted to 1983 to his son Dick and wife Lea:

“Several years ago mother sent you and Marianne a picture of the gorgeous priceless chalice brought back with the Stephan clan to the USA.  It is in a Lutheran church near the seminary. I asked our Pastor Pebler about it, and he said that he had communed from it many times.  Of late tho, he said that it was placed in a safe place and not used anymore. We are glad you are “monitoring” our investment.” [“Monitoring” is Ted’s wry reference to LCMS and the Stephan possessions which still remain in their hands or in LCMS churches.]