Seebaß, Gottfried (1937-2008)

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Gottfried Seebaß: Reformation scholar, was born in Braunschweig, Germany on 2 June 1937 to Georg Seebaß (1899-1970), a Lutheran pastor, and his wife Hedwig Schräpel. Gottfried studed Protestant theology at the the University of Hamburg , then at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen and at the University of Göttingen. He received his doctorate in 1965, and his habilitation (suitability to be a university professor) in Erlangen in 1972 with a study of Hans Hut. Gottfried Seebaß died 7 September 2008.

Few professors of church history and Reformation studies in German universities brought to the field of Anabaptist studies the level of sincere interest, personal commitment, academic rigor and fairness that Gottfried Seebaß embodied. He will be particularly remembered for his monumental 1972 study Müntzers Erbe: Werke, Leben und Theologie des Hans Hut, which together with two other works published that same year (James Stayer's Anabaptists and the Sword and Claus P. Clasen's Anabaptism: A Social History), ushered in a new era in Anabaptist scholarship. Seebaß's interpretation of Hans Hut as an apocalyptic mystic clearly willing to use violence—and thus a true "heir of Thomas Müntzer"—stood in stark contrast to the traditional view of Hut as a former revolutionary won over to nonresistant evangelical Anabaptism by Hans Denck.

Seebaß's vigorous excoriation, in this 1972 study, of what he believed to be a monolithic Mennonite historiographical school was rightly perceived as unduly harsh, but it issued from an unconditional commitment to historical truth and was carried out in good faith. Seebaß's personal impressions of modern Mennonite and Amish church life and piety, with which he became acquainted on a visit to the Goshen area in 1980, were unreservedly positive. His unquestioned commitment to the Lutheran tradition never prevented him from candidly acknowledging the suffering that sixteenth-century reformers brought upon the dissenting voices whom they persecuted, a point he poignantly acknowledged in his 1970 essay "An sint persequendi haeretici?" His most important essays on Anabaptism were reprinted in 1997, conveniently gathered in the volume Die Reformation und ihre Außenseiter.

Gottfried Seebaß not only invested his capacious energy in research and teaching (former students of his became professors of church history at the universities of Heidelberg, Jena and Mainz), but he was also what Germans call a Wissenschaftsorganisator in the full sense of the term: he had a gift for getting scholarly projects started and seeing them through to the end. He played a central role in editing the internationally renowned Theologische Realenzyklcpädie, the final volume of which appeared in 2004. From 1988 to 2006 he headed the commission responsible for editing the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer's works and was influential in significantly improving the quality of this edition. His completion, together with Gerhard Müller, of the 7,117-page critical edition of the works of Nuremberg reformer Andreas Osiander in the span of just 22 years remains an inimitable feat, as anyone acquainted with the painstakingly slow progress of most text-critical editions can confirm. This is even more impressive when one considers Seebaß's simultaneous involvement in countless educational committees and scholarly boards. Parallel to his tenure as professor of church history at the University of Heidelberg from 1978 to 2002, he served as president of the union of Protestant theological faculties in Germany from 1988 to 1992, also playing a crucial role in reorganizing the theological faculties of the universities of Berlin and Leipzig after German reunification. From 1996 to 2000 he served as president of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Readers of The Mennonite Quarterly Review and Anabaptist scholars are particularly indebted to him as president of the Täuferaktenkommission from 1999 to 2008, the joint committee of the Verein für Reformationsgeschichte and the Mennonite Historical Society responsible for publishing the edition of Anabaptist sources known as Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer. It was through Seebaß's alert intervention that funds could be found for the speedy completion and printing in 2007 of the most recent volume in this series, Jörg Maler's Kunstbuch. A forthcoming catalog of Hutterite manuscripts and prints extant in Europe, projected as volume 18 of the Täuferakten, is also the fruit of Seebaß's tireless efforts.

Those who had the privilege of working under Gottfried Seebaß will remember him for his unfailing cheerfulness, his exceedingly high expectations coupled with warm encouragement, and his contagious enthusiasm for Reformation history—all qualities that he continued to embody during the last two years of his life though faced with the verdict of a fatal illness.


Buckwalter, Stephen E. “In Memoriam: Gottfried Seebaß.“ Mennonite Quarterly Review 83 (January 2009): 5-6. This GAMEO article is derived, with permission, from the MQR memorial article.

Wikipedia. "Gottfried Seebaß (Theologe) --- Wikipedia, Die freie Enzyklopädie" 2016.

Books by Gottfried Seebaß

Seebaß, Gottfried. Bibliographia Osiandrica : Bibliographie der gedruckten Schriften Andreas Osianders d. A. (1496-1552). Nieuwkoop : B. de Graaf, 1971.

Seebaß, Gottfried. Die Reformation und ihre Aussenseiter : gesammelte Aufsätze und Vorträge ; zum 60. Geburtstag des Autors, Hrsg. von Irene Dingel. Göttingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997.

Seebaß, Gottfried. Müntzers Erbe Erbe : Werk, Leben und Theologie des Hans Hut. Göttingen : Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2002.

Seebaß, Gottfried, et al. Briefe und Schriften oberdeutscher Täufer, 1527-1555 : das "Kunstbuch" des Jörg Probst Rotenfelder gen. Maler (Burgerbibliothek Bern, Cod. 464). Gütersloh : Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2007.

Seebaß, Gottfried, compiler. Katalog der hutterischen Handschriften und der Drucke aus hutterischem Besitz in Europa. Gütersloh : Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2011.

Author(s) Stephen E Buckwalter
Date Published June 2016

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Buckwalter, Stephen E. "Seebaß, Gottfried (1937-2008)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2016. Web. 12 Aug 2022.,_Gottfried_(1937-2008)&oldid=135176.

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Buckwalter, Stephen E. (June 2016). Seebaß, Gottfried (1937-2008). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 12 August 2022, from,_Gottfried_(1937-2008)&oldid=135176.

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