Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, June 28, 2000

Memorial Resolution Lewis W. Spitz

(1922-1999)

Lewis W. Spitz, the William R. Kenan Professor of History emeritus, died on December 22, 1999 of cardiac arrest. He was 77.

One of the most productive and distinguished historians of the Reformation of his generation, Spitz was the author of fifteen books and more than eighty articles, including the biography of the humanist Conrad Celtis, a classic study of The Religious Renaissance of the German Humanists, and The Protestant Reformation, 1517-1559, which appeared in the prestigious series on modern European history edited by William L. Langer.

Lew Spitz brought to his teaching and his scholarship energy, imagination, a commitment to humanistic values, and a deep religious faith. The spiritual and moral struggles of the great reformation theologians came alive in his own work, which was sustained by his conviction of their enduring importance for the contemporary world.

As a teacher, Lew Spitz was famous for his remarkable erudition and distinctive sense of humor. His lectures were memorable because of their scholarly substance, a wealth of quotations from Latin, Greek, German, and French, and some of the worst jokes ever told. An extraordinarily generous and loyal mentor for both graduates and undergraduates, he supported his students with unfailing enthusiasm. Several of his doctoral students now hold distinguished positions in American universities. "Teaching," he wrote in 1991, "has always seemed to me a most important and honorable vocation, both a healing and invigorating cultural exchange between mentor and students." Among his many honors, none was more richly deserved than the Harbison Award given each year by the Danforth Foundation to the outstanding college teacher in the country.

Born in Bertrans, Nebraska and reared in Concordia, Missouri, Lew Spitz did his undergraduate work at Concordia College, earned a master of Divinity degree from Concordia Seminary and received his doctorate from Harvard University. Before coming to Stanford in 1961, he taught at the University of Missouri from 1953 to 1959. Despite his training in the east and his many years in California, Lew never lost his strong ties to the middle west. He remained down-to-earth, plain-spoken, totally without pretension.

Much in demand as a public speaker, Spitz gave scores of lectures throughout Europe and the United States; he was a Fulbright Scholar at the Institute for European History in Mainz, Germany, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a visiting professor at Columbia University. At Stanford, he served as Director of the Western Civilization Program and was an associate dean in the School of Humanities and Sciences. He retired from active teaching in 1993.

Spitz served on the editorial boards of the major journals in his field and was an officer of a several scholarly societies, including the American Society for Reformation Research and the American Society of Church History, both of which elected him president. During his long career, he received many honors and awards including Fulbright, Guggenheim, and American Council of Learned Society Fellowships; he was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a senior fellow at the Huntington library. He held honorary doctorates from Valparaiso University, Wittenberg University, Concordia Theological Seminary, and Concordia College.

Lewis Spitz is survived by his wife of 51 years, Edna Huttenmaier Spitz, a sister, Dorothy Rosin of St. Louis, his sons, Stephen and Philip, and three grandchildren.

Committee:

James J. Sheehan, Chair

David M. Kennedy

Carolyn Lougee Chappell