Page from the Past

October 30, 2011

Westminster's Montgomery Library now holds more than 143,000 volumes and provides access to many electronic resources.  However, it had humble beginnings.  See below for an article by Rev. Arthur Kuschke from the March, 1958 Alumni Bulletin which recounts some of the library's early history.

Join the staff of Montgomery library this month as we continue to celebrate Theological Libraries Month.

Rev. Arthur Kuschke

The Growth of Westminster's Library

by Arthur W. Kuschke, Jr.
March 1958

Usually the authors of books are more important to us than are the previous owners of those books. Authors presumably make sense; previous owners, unless they scribbled in the margins, convey only sentiment. Now it is an interesting fact that the library's set of Calvin's Opera (Corpus Reformatorium) once belonged to Valentine Hepp of the Free University at Amsterdam. Obviously we would be glad to have this set of Calvin even had it belonged to Adolf von Harnack. But a touch of a Reformed tradition is no doubt better. And there is a certain nostalgia. In Hepp's case the nostalgia takes a physical form; it is the aroma of Hepp's tobacco, faint but distinct, which can still be detected in these volumes. (Dr. Hepp, alas, were he still alive, would be unable to use these books in our library today. No smoking allowed. We do need a new, fireproof building.)

There was a long search for this edition of Calvin, which reflects a peculiar dilemma of our library. Westminster was founded in 1929. By that time a great many standard editions of theology had gone out of print and were difficult to obtain. We could get the new books since 1929, including commentaries, critical studies, the literature of dialectical theology and of the Dead Sea scrolls. But Westminster Seminary, especially, needed access to the main stream of Christian scholarship. So the problem of obtaining these essential writings, in balance and in strength, has been before our library from the beginning.

To this problem the attention of the faculty was addressed. It is notorious in many other institutions that the faculty are of small value in building up a library. The matter has been just the reverse at Westminster. Dr. Machen never forgot the library's needs; if he wanted a new book for himself it was his custom to buy a second copy for the library. At his death many of his own books, especially relating to the New Testament, came to the library, where they may now be readily distinguished by their fine bindings. From Dr. Robert Dick Wilson we have large quantities of Old Testament and Semitic materials. And in the early years the faculty's reputation and testimony brought gifts from Dr. Geerhardus Vos and Dr. Caspar Wistar Hodge of Princeton. It was the desire of Dr. Hodge, the last of his family to teach at Princeton, to provide Westminster with books from the Hodge family library. Thus—to recall the matter of previous owners of distinction—we have J. A. Alexander's commentary on Mark, inscribed to "Rev. Charles Hodge, D.D., from the Author, September 6, 1858", which also bears the signature of "A. A. Hodge".

All of our present faculty have devoted time and effort to the growth of the library. Professors Murray and Woolley, especially, have given long and direct service on the library committee. Professor Woolley for many years ordered the books which were added to the library. In 1929, when Auburn and Union Seminaries merged and combined their libraries, the faculty was prompt to purchase from Auburn important editions which would be duplicated in the Union library. The splendid result was the complete Migne Patrologiae, Greek and Latin, in 389 volumes; the definitive Weimar edition of Luther, in nearly 100 volumes, and the complete Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., as well as other notable and out-of-print reference works.

After a long correspondence carried on by Professor Murray, about 200 volumes were obtained in 1942 from the Evangelical Library, now of London, and were given in memory of Dr. Frank H. Stevenson, the first president of the board of trustees. These books were a choice selection of the writings of the British Puritans, including some who had been members of the Westminster Assembly. For wealth and quality of Biblical writings in the English language there has been no period which excels the seventeenth century. Through this gift a foothold was gained in our library's holdings in Puritan literature, and steady progress has followed.

In 1939 the Seminary's tenth anniversary was graced by the presence of Principal John McLeod of Edinburgh. The Philadelphia Record of that day carried his picture, showing a forthright gentleman of the old school in the cut of his clothes and in the directness of his gaze, and the accompanying interview was entirely in character: "'Princeton', said Dr. McLeod succinctly, 'is under new management'". I well remember, in common with other old-timers among the alumni, the pleasure of hearing his series of ten lectures in the spring of 1939 on "Scottish Theology in Relation to Church History since the Reformation". He drew out the stirring examples of the defenders of the faith, by illustrations from the books of his own private library. Little did we realize at the time that in addition to his services at our tenth anniversary and in the later publication of his lectures, Dr. McLeod was also to bestow many of these same books to Westminster. After arrangements with Professor Murray, in 1945 to 1947, he gave us approximately 1000 volumes. Principal McLeod had been a great book-collector, and a well-known figure in the second-hand shops of Edinburgh. There were many doctrinal works from Scottish history, to which his anniversary lectures constitute a kind of annotated bibliography; many British Puritan writings; and especially a notable gathering of the Latin works of the Reformed theologians of the classical period. These ranged from folios to rare duodecimos, and some of them have since been of great practical value in formulating the doctrinal questions that have emerged from time to time.

But to return to Hepp's Calvin. Among the great standard works which the library has sought to obtain, none was more needed or more elusive than the definitive edition of Calvin. This was published in Brunswick in 59 volumes, from 1863 to 1900, under the editorship of Baum, Cunitz and Reuss, and formed a part of the Corpus Reformatorum series. All scholarly work on Calvin is based on this edition. For many years it seemed beyond our reach.  All inquiry was in vain; the existing copies were apparently in institutional libraries. At length in 1952 a friend of our library, who is a skilled book-finder, happened to pick up, in a minister's home, a catalogue from a Dutch book agency hitherto unknown to him. In glancing through it he found a note to this effect: "Please write if interested in the Corpus Reformatorum edition of Calvin". Then he was dismayed to see that the catalogue itself was already a year old. But knowing of Westminster's urgent need for this work he wrote to inquire, and as a consequence the volumes were eventually obtained. Only later was it learned that they had belonged to the private library of Valentine Hepp, professor of dogmatics at the Free University, and that after his death in 1950 they had passed into the hands of a dealer. Now their distinctive aroma blends with that of the Old Puritans, with the fresh flavor of modern British books, and with the mellowing wooden walls of the library.

And so to return, finally, to our new, fireproof building; or rather to our lack of it. When we consider the 30,000 items in the library, gathered from remote sources, containing such works as those that have been mentioned, and many more, which are of special value in many branches of theology, it seems clear that this particular library of high quality could not be replaced. And yet our building, erected about 1885, is not a permanently safe home for it.

The books at 1526 Pine Street were moved to the present campus in 1937. For fifteen years both reading room and stacks were on the main floor. Then in 1952 the old auditorium upstairs was filled with stacks, which overflowed from below. There will apparently be room for expansion for a few more years. But the need for a permanent, modern and fireproof building grows more pressing. Perhaps such a new building, as the center for the scholarly research for our seminary, may be provided in one way or another through the instrumentality of our alumni.