Luther And The Wittenberg Disputations 1535-36 -- By: Janes Atkinson

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 33:1 (NA 1982)
Article: Luther And The Wittenberg Disputations 1535-36
Author: Janes Atkinson


Luther And The Wittenberg Disputations 1535-36

Janes Atkinson

As a technique both for making clear the evangelical theology, as well as for answering its opponents, the disputation played a decisive role in the Reformation. One has only to consider the significance of the Disputation against the Scholastic Theology (1517) which started off the Reformation;1 the Disputation against Indulgences and the Resolutions which explained the debate (1517);2 the Disputation at Heidelberg (1518) when Luther explained his evangelical theology to his fellow’ monks in an atmosphere free of controversy;3 and the Disputation of Leipzig (1519) when Luther faced the Catholic attack on his theology delivered by John Eck.4 Luther was later to reorganise the ordering of disputations at the University of Wittenberg in 1533, for he criticised the state they had fallen into, on the grounds that the disputants engaged in logical word-play, and discussed questions to which nobody wanted answers. Luther argued that disputations should be on the live issues of the day as a method to elicit truth, and that such disputations should be an important factor in a student’s training. It was only two years later that Luther set up the disputations of 1535–36, when the English theologians went to Wittenberg to effect two things first the approval of the Wittenberg theologians for the divorce of Henry VIII of Catherine of Aragon, and secondly to see whether there could be a theological rapprochement between England and Saxony. These disputations actually tell England what the Reformation is about, and what England must do to effect it.

Before considering the actual disputations it is necessary to look at the events which preceded them to

give them their context. First, there are the theological issues: namely, Luther’s De Captivitate (1520) which occasioned Henry’s attack on Luther’s theology in his Assertio (1521) to which Luther replied in his Contra Henricum (1522). Secondly, there is the matter of the king’s divorce, handled here briefly as of no theological significance.

1. Luther’s De Captivitate (1520), Henry’s Assertio (1521), Luther’s Contra Henricum (1522).

Within about a year of the posting of the XCV Theses against indulgences (1517), Luther’s works had been exported to England.5 That these books had attracted the attention of the government may be inferred ...

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