He was born in Chur, Switzerland, and was educated at the gymnasium of Stuttgart, and at the universities of Tübingen, Halle and Berlin. He then traveled through Italy and Sicily as tutor to Baron Krischer. In 1842 he was Privatdozent in the University of Berlin, and 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.
On his journey he stayed in England and met Edward Pusey and other Tractarians. His inaugural address on The Principle of Protestantism, delivered in German at Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1844, and published in German with an English version by John Williamson Nevin was a pioneer work in English in the field of symbolics (that is, the authoritative ecclesiastical formulations of religious doctrines in creeds or confessions). This address and the "Mercersburg Theology" which he taught seemed too pro-Catholic to some, and he was charged with heresy. But, at the synod at York in 1845, he was unanimously acquitted.
In consequence of the ravages of the American Civil War the theological seminary at Mercersburg was closed for a while and so in 1863 Dr. Schaff became secretary of the Sabbath Committee in New York City, and held the position till 1870. He became a professor at Union Theological Seminary, New York City in 1870 holding first the chair of theological encyclopedia and Christian symbolism till 1873, of Hebrew and the cognate languages till 1874, of sacred literature till 1887, and finally of church history, till his death.
Material adapted from the Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh Edition), now in the public domain.
- Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church in 8 volumes.
- Schaff, Philip. Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes, volume I, volume II and volume III
- Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of the Evangelical Protestant Churches
- The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Schaff edited the European Herzog encyclopedia for an American audience. This is a revision of that work.
- Ante-Nicene Fathers and two series of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers in 38 volumes total. Edited by Schaff et al.
- Shriver, George H. (1987). Philip Schaff: Christian Scholar and Ecumenical Prophet. Mercer University Press. ISBN 0865542341
- Pranger, Gary K. (1997). Philip Schaff (1819-1893): Portrait of an Immigrant Theologian. Peter Lang Publishing. ISBN 0820428477
- Graham, Stephen R. (1995). Cosmos in the Chaos: Philip Schaff's Interpretation of Nineteenth-Century American Religion. Wm. B. Eerdmans-Lightning Source. ISBN 0802808417
- Works by Philip Schaff (ccel.org)
- List of fully scanned Philip Schaff books in multiple formats (archive.org)