Berka (Berka/Werra; also Berka an der Werra), a town on the Werra River, in the Eisenach district of Thuringia, Germany, in Reformation times was a part of Amt Hausbreitenbach and the seat of a large Anabaptist congregation. Since Hausbreitenbach was subject to the joint jurisdiction of Saxony and Hesse, which differed in policy on the treatment of Anabaptists, the punishment of Anabaptists was the cause of much controversy between them. Therefore the two councils met in Berka on 19 July 1533 to reach an agreement. They arranged a trial of 18 imprisoned Anabaptists, lasting from 19 to 21 July and sent a comprehensive report, compiled and agreed to by both sides, to their respective rulers. (It is printed in Wappler, Kursachsen, 166-176.)
The hearing covered four points: infant baptism, communion, ownership of property, and government. No one, said the Anabaptists, had in the Bible commanded the baptism of infants. They were saved without baptism, since they were by nature pure and by their innocence holy. In the communion they repudiated the bodily presence of Christ; for Christ is in Heaven, whence no man could bring Him down into bread and wine. On the question of possessions, most of them declared that a Christian was obligated to share his goods, since God created all things for the benefit of all human beings. Concerning the government they said that the Christian must be obedient; but he would hardly be able to fill a government office with a clear conscience.
Since the princes of Saxony and Hesse were unable to agree on the punishment, the Anabaptists were released.
On 7-8 January 1544 new proceedings were instituted at Berka against the Anabaptists. Sixteen persons were arraigned, of whom seven, including the innkeeper Jobst Isslebe and his wife, openly acknowledged that they had been baptized, and with the exception of Isslebe, who recanted, persisted in their faith; the other nine agreed to remain with the established church and the sacraments. (See the report of these proceedings in Wappler, 216-219.)
Justus Menius, one of the Lutheran examiners, recommended the death penalty, and won the Elector of Saxony over to his position; but Philipp of Hesse did not consent, and the Anabaptists were consequently released. Nothing is known of their subsequent fate.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 167.
Wappler, Paul. Die Stellung Kursachsens und des Landgrafen Philipp von Hessen zur Täuferbewegung. Münster i. W., Aschendorff, 1910.
Cite This Article
Neff, Christian. "Berka (Freistaat Thüringen, Germany)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 5 Mar 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Berka_(Freistaat_Th%C3%BCringen,_Germany)&oldid=107132.
Neff, Christian. (1953). Berka (Freistaat Thüringen, Germany). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 5 March 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Berka_(Freistaat_Th%C3%BCringen,_Germany)&oldid=107132.
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