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Denominational studies is a branch of theology in its historical , systematic and practical dimensions. It examines the basics, characteristics and religious practice of the individual Christian denominations in the past and present.


The term was coined in the Protestant area (by Ferdinand Kattenbusch in 1890) in order to introduce the concept of the confessional writings ( confessio ) into the theological debate. Originally, a distinction was not made between denominations, but church parties or Christian religions. Especially in Lutheranism, however, the confessional scriptures had a normative function. In the literal sense, therefore, only the Lutheran Church is a denominational church .

The original Catholic term “symbolism” (after Johann Adam Möhler , 1832, derived from the Greek “symbolon” ​​as a denomination of the creed ) alternates in current theological literature between “denominational studies” and “ecumenics” ( ecumenical theology ).

Development as a subject

Confessional studies require the confessionalization of Western Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries. The typical Lutheran characteristic (a creed as a basis) was applied to other groups. The consideration of the respective teaching tradition became the main task of denominational studies. The comparative symbolism became the doctrine of distinction. This was a fusion of isagogic and polemic .

The main scientific institutes in German-speaking countries are the Roman Catholic Johann Adam Möhler Institute for Ecumenism in Paderborn and the denominational institute of the Evangelical Federation in Bensheim .

Goals and Methods

Horst Stephan and Ernst Wolf reflected on this concept as " a whole microcosm of theology ". a. Willem Hendrik van der Pol and Heinrich Bornkamm . In 1934 this topic was also the subject of Konrad Algermissen's lectures .

In 1962, Peter Meinhold determined the task of denominational studies as follows: "Count on the given unity of the body of Christ and seek to clarify theological prerequisites for the ongoing dialogue between the churches."

Friedrich Heyer describes a hermeneutical circle between denominational studies and denominational practice . The methodology of denominational studies is ecclesiastical. The historicity of faith is also connected with the great importance that a historical-critical approach to Christianity has today. Statements that divide the Church are put into perspective if one understands how they came about. This requires some form of distance.

Erwin Fahlbusch suggested that the goal must be the phenomenology of Christian systems of belief and action. Until then, one should be content with a modest descriptive account of church history. The denominational problem cannot be solved by the ecumenical idea of ​​unity. Normative questions that inevitably arise must be carefully considered.

Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians from Tübingen, Heidelberg and Rome developed a new method of confessional discussion in a process from 2001 to 2006. The project “Reason and Object of Faith according to Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran Doctrine” is based on the dialogical principle of appropriating the other construction principles of the teaching traditions.

Gisa Bauer and Paul Metzger structure their denominational presentation of basic knowledge of denominational studies according to the principle of the apostolic understanding of churches. They are divided into churches that (1) profess apostolic succession (office succession), (2) represent succession in terms of content (in teaching), and (3) represent personal succession. In addition, in this denominational study the "irritating topics" between denominations and within the individual churches are taken up: women's ordination, homosexuality, scriptural interpretation.


Web links


  1. Eilert Herms , Lubomir Žak (ed.): Reason and subject matter of belief according to Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran teachings. Theological Studies . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-16-149592-2 .
  2. ^ Project presentation in Tübingen (April 7, 2008) and Rome (April 9, 2008), documented in Material Service of the Konfessionskundlichen Institut , year 2008, issue 4, pp. 81–116.