Die frühen Wittenberger Thesen: Disputationen und Thesenreihen in Wittenberg 1516-1523
The general scarcity of the relevant source material has hindered research on disputations from the early 16th century. An exception is presented by the case of the Wittenberg theological faculty, for which more than 80 examples of theses exist, originally intended for oral disputation. These theses serve as an example not only for the practice of disputation in an early modern university, but highlight the importance of disputations in the early Reformation as a medium used to develop a new form of theology and discuss church reforms. The aim of this project is to give an overview of the practice of disputation as practiced in Wittenberg between 1516 and 1523, considering its status between tradition and innovation. This project seeks to address two main questions. Firstly, how did those theses and the disputation practice in Wittenberg from the early Reformation period relate to other forms of academic teaching? Secondly, what function did disputations play in the development of Reformation theology?
This proposed analysis of the Wittenberg theses will combine approaches developed in the history of science and in the history of ideas as well as the methodology of book history and the history of print. Integrating those methods, I will first analyze the way in which these theses were transmitted to us. I will then proceed to give an overview of the relation of the practice of disputation to other academic activities in Wittenberg and reconstruct the oral practice of disputation. Finally, I will relate selected disputation theses to the development of Reformation theology and practical church reforms.
By analyzing four collections of Wittenberg theses printed in Leiden, Paris and Basel in the early 1520s I will seek to shed light on the reception of the new theology in the European public sphere. Several collections of theses manuscripts from the libraries of humanist scholars document the early modern scholarly practice of combining prints and manuscripts. The sheer number of the preserved theses affords a unique opportunity to reconstruct the practice of disputation in an early modern university. Furthermore, analysis of the importance of the disputation practice (originating in the high Middle Ages) for the development of Reformation theology will enable us to arrive at a better understanding of the dynamics of tradition and change in forming the new theology. Finally, a fresh look at the Wittenberg theses represents an essential prerequisite to producing a new comprehensive edition of them, which includes not only the most significant reformers Luther, Melanchthon and Carlstadt but also other Wittenberg professors, previously neglected by Reformation historians.
Dr. Henning Bühmann
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Thomas Kaufmann