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Niels Hemmingsen (15131600) and the Development of Lutheran Natural-Law Teaching

E. J. Hutchinson, Korey D. Maas


Because the Danish Protestant theologian and philosopher Niels Hemmingsen (15131600) is today little known outside his homeland, some of the claims made for his initial importance and continuing impact can appear rather extravagant. He is described, for example, not only as having dominated the theology of his own country for half a century1 but more broadly as having been the greatest builder of systems in his generation. In the light of this indefatigable system building, he has further been credited with (or blamed for) initiating modern trends in critical biblical scholarship, as well as for being one of the founders of modern jurisprudence. Illuminating this last claim especially are the more specific claims for Hemmingsen as having been an important forerunner for more recent founders of natural law, most specifically Hugo Grotius, often deemed the father of modern natural law. Such attributions rest primarily on the content and influence of Hemmingsens De Lege Naturae Apodictica Methodus (On the Law of Nature: A Demonstrative Method, 1562), which was read widely throughout early modern Europe. The narrative in which the natural law jurisprudence of Grotius and the Enlightenment emanated from that of Hemmingsen is, however, not quite so tidy, as others have also emphasized the great differences between Hemmingsen and Grotius. This confusion with respect to the relationship among Hemmingsen, Grotius, and modernity is perhaps entirely understandable, though, in view of Francis Oakleys droll observation that, among commentators, there appears to be little agreement about the precise nature of the novelty, or modernity, or break with scholastic thought patterns they so persistently (if somewhat mystifyingly) ascribe to Grotius.

E. J. Hutchinson and Korey Maas, "Niels Hemmingsen (15131600) and the Development of Lutheran Natural-Law Teaching," Journal of Markets & Morality 17, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 595-617.

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