Schaff was born in Chur, Switzerland, and educated at the gymnasium of Stuttgart. At the universities of Tübingen, Halle and Berlin, he was successively influenced by Ferdinand Christian Baur and Schmid, by Friedrich August Tholuck and Julius Müller, by David Strauss and, above all, Johann August Wilhelm Neander. At Berlin in 1841 he took the degree of Bachelor of Divinity and passed examinations for a professorship. He then traveled through Italy and Sicily as tutor to Baron Krischer. In 1842, he was Privatdozent in the University of Berlin, where he lectured on exegesis and ecclesiastical history. In 1843, he was called to become Professor of Church History and Biblical Literature in the German Reformed Theological Seminary of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, then the only seminary of that church in America.
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