Church History Seminar with Ueli Zahnd (Geneva)

From Exegesis to Dogmatics: Niels Hemmingsen, Theological Method, and the Emergence of Protestant Scholasticism.

In the later 16th century, Protestant theology returned to a new form of scholasticism. One of the most obvious signs of this development was the reintroduction of theological prolegomena in the opening chapters of systematic works, dealing with questions about the scientific status of theology, its practical or theoretical nature, and its appropriate method. Given the obvious (and sometimes explicit) parallels with medieval theological prolegomena, this development has often been depicted as a “betrayal” of Protestant orthodoxy to the original ideals of the Reformation.

Yet, writing about method was nothing completely new in the late 16th century: ever since Erasmus’ Novum instrumentum, the relation between hermeneutics and theological method was debated in introductions to biblical commentaries and in original works on method. An outstanding figure in this development is, of course, the Danish theologian Niels Hemmingsen: Not only did Hemmingsen publish a whole set of biblical commentaries he provided with rich prolegomena, but he also wrote several works on methodological questions (the most influential being simply entitled De methodo). What is more, in the prolegomena of his more systematic works, he dealt with questions about the position of theology in the canon of sciences, or about the principles to use when dealing with its sources.

In my presentation, I would like thus to explore the relation between Hemmingsen’s exegetical and systematical prolegomena on theological method, and in doing so, I hope to better understand what inspired the late 16th century emergence of Protestant Scholasticism.