Chronica, Zeytbuch vnd geschychtbibel von anbegyn bisz inn disz gegenwertig M.D. xxxj. jar. Darinn beide Gottes vnd der welt lauff/ hendel/art/ wort/werck/thun lassen/kriegen/wesen/vnd leben ersehen vnd begriffen wirt. Mit vil wunderbarlichen gedechtniszwürdigen worten vnd thatten/ guten und bösen Regimenten/Decreten, etc. Von allen Römischen Keisern/Bäpsten/Concilien/Ketz-ern/Orden vnd Secten/beide Juden/vnd Christen. Von dem vrsprung vnd vrhab aller breüch vnd miszbreüch der Römischen kirchen/als der Bilder/ H.err/ Messz/Ceremonien. etc. so yetz im Bapstumb im schwanck geen/wie eins nach dem anderen sey einbrochen/was/wa/wann/ durch wen/vnd warumb. Ankunfft viler Reich/breüch/neüwer fünd. etc. Summa hierinn findestu gleich ein begriff/ summari/innhalt vnd schatzkammer/nit aller/sunder der Chronick wirdigsten/ausserlessnen Historien, eingeleibt/vnnd ausz vilen von weittem doch angenummenen glaubwirdigen Büchern/gleich als mein ymmen korb müselig zusamen tragen/in seer gutter Ordnung für die augen gestelt/vnd in iij Chronick oder hauptbücher/verfasst. Durch Sebastianum Francken von Word/vormals in teütscher zungen/nie gehört noch gelesen. Innhalt begriff vnd gleichsam ein Inuentarium vnd Register diser gantzen Chronicken/ findestu zuruck disz plats. Kumpt her vnd schauwet die werck des Herren. Psalm. xlvj. lxiiy[=66] Anno. M.C.XXXI. Colophon: Getruckt zu Straszburg. Durch Balthassar Beck. Vnd vollendet am Fünfften tag des Herbstmonats. Im Jar. M.D. XXXj. Strasbourg, 1531).
This is a big folio volume of more than 1,000 pages, most important for the history of ideas of early Anabaptism. It might be called the main source of the Anabaptist Brethren for their knowledge of church history and the history of Christian doctrines. Since Sebastian Franck, in spite of his outspoken Christian-spiritual interests, might yet be termed a Humanist scholar, the book became the very link between Anabaptism and Humanism. Here was a text at the same time reliable and thorough and yet acceptable to those radical Christians who just a few years earlier had started their challenging movement. Franck was in open sympathy with this trend toward a predominantly inward Christianity, away from all ecclesiastical institutionalism. But, as a typical spiritualistic individualist, he yet kept aloof from any closer engagement to a movement which stressed brotherhood and the discipline involved. He remained a spiritualist and was not willing to try the way of discipleship.
Franck had discovered, perhaps for the first time in history, a stream of nonconformist and non-ecclesiastical Christianity through the ages, something which in more recent times has been called "old-evangelical brotherhoods," and for which his age had but the derogatory term Ketzer (heretic). He now set out to ennoble this word and to prove that these heretics were actually the better Christians, nearer to truth, than those of the official churches. Thus he started a type of literature which later became known as Ketzerhistorien.
It was in the most brisk atmosphere of Strasbourg (where Franck lived 1529 to 1531) that he conceived the plan to write a complete "world history" comprising both the secular and the spiritual viewpoints. This enterprise grew into a heavy volume, exceedingly well written, and likewise most carefully printed. It should soon have become a real Volksbuch, or as we today would say, a best-seller. But it was too radical in its philosophy, shocking nearly every party and making as many enemies as it made friends. On order of the magistrates Franck was expelled from Strasbourg with wife and child just because he had published this unusual book. Ernst Troeltsch calls it correctly "the outstanding defense brief (Schutzschrift) for the Protestant sects." The nonconformist groups responded accordingly as will be demonstrated later.
The book is made up of three parts: (1) the story of mankind from Adam to Christ; (2) the story of emperors and temporal events; (3) the story of popes and spiritual happenings (church history). It is in this third and most important part that the famous Ketzerchronik appeared, the story of the non-Catholics who dared to think in their own way. To us it is the most interesting section of the entire volume, primarily for its uniquely fair picture of the Anabaptists. Franck who had broken not only with the Roman Church but with the Lutherans as well, was convinced that truth (as he saw it) has ever been and is also now persecuted under the pretext of "heresy" (Ketzerei). "If wishing would help," he exclaims, "I for myself would rather bear the fate of an heretic condemned by the popes, than that of a saint figuring in the calendar of the popes." And thus he starts to picture sympathetically his "Ketzers," one after another down through the alphabet.
It is a strange mixture which he thus presents. For instance, under the letter "M" we find many pages dealing with Martin Luther, and then follow again several pages dealing with "Michael Sattler, Jörg Wagner, Lienhart Kaiser" (three renowned Anabaptist martyrs of the 1520s). Under the letter "W" we find a 17-page study of the Wiedertäufer (Anabaptists), most remarkable for the fine grasp of their main features. A. Hegler (Geist und Schrift bei Sebastian Franck, 1892, 271) was right in claiming that this part of the Chronica is perhaps the best section of the entire book, written with an inner participation and even compassion. One must keep in mind that the book was written in 1530-1531, when Anabaptism had been just a few years in existence, and was slandered everywhere. But Franck had many personal contacts with representatives of this movement, in Nürnberg, Augsburg, and above all in Strasbourg, then a place of refuge for many (also Pilgram Marpeck was then in this city, and he is quoted by Franck in his Weltbuch, 1534, fol. 44b). He shares many of their viewpoints, though he disapproves at the same time of others, e.g., the ceremony of adult baptism which to him seems unnecessary and external.
His story of the Anabaptists begins about as follows: "In the year 1526, right after the Peasants' War, a new sect or separated church arose which wanted to follow the letter of the Scriptures, called Anabaptists; they began to separate themselves by means of baptizing their members, disclaiming anything common with other churches whom they considered unchristian. Their elders or bishops were first Dr. Balthasar Hubmaier, Melchior Rinck, Hans Hut, Johannes Denk, Ludwig Haetzer. They made such quick progress that their teaching soon spread over the entire country (Germany?). They baptized many thousands, among them a great number of good-hearted people who earnestly strove after God and were now attracted to these brethren who so rigidly stuck to the letter of the Scriptures and who made such a good impression. For as far as could be observed, they taught nothing but love, faith, and the cross. They showed themselves humble, and patient under much suffering; they broke bread with one another as an evidence of unity and love. They helped each other faithfully with mutual love, lending and giving, and taught that all things should be held in common [NB. This was taught in Moravia only]. They called each other brethren, but those who were not of their sect they scarcely greeted. They died as martyrs, patiently and humbly enduring all persecutions."
Franck is surprisingly well informed about the brotherhood in Moravia which had just begun setting up their community of goods. (Jakob Hutter had not yet arrived at that time.) "Like monks they have regulations concerning eating, drinking, dress, silence, speech. Some arrogate for themselves the apostolic life and the mode of the primitive church [at Jerusalem], and for that reason they keep strictly to the letter, wash each other's feet, go from place to place to preach and to speak of calling and mission." "They all teach to be obedient to the authorities unless it is against God's commandment. And they are ready to suffer violence for that. All those whom I have asked answered thus: they are here to suffer for Christ's sake with patience, and not to fight with impatience. No Christian should ever go to war. For the Gospel does not ask to be confirmed with the fist (as the peasants did) but with suffering and dying. . . . For that there is no need to worry about rebellion on their part, as the devil insinuates to the many who then tyrannize these poor people. God is strong enough to stop any heresy, if there is any. If I were pope, emperor, or Turk, I would be less concerned about rebellion by these people than by anybody else." "Christians have the ban not the sword among themselves."
With all his admiration, Sebastian Franck, the spiritualist and individualist, does not approve two very central points of Anabaptist teaching: their Scriptural literalism, and their principle of separation from the world. "The letter," he says, "makes heretics (meaning sectarians), for what matters is not the letter but its meaning which Christ had in mind (der Sinn Christi)." That was also the position of the later Hans Denck and of Bünderlin, and of all the other "spiritual reformers" of that age. It makes for individualism at the same time. "Therefore I pray that Anabaptists may walk in the truth, do repentance, live God-fearing and concernedly, but—that they may not separate from the world." To this Hegler (Geist und Schrift, 272) remarks interestingly: "It appears as if the fate of Hans Denck stood before his mind as a warning. Franck does not believe in a community of saints which can never exclude altogether some mean elements. Denck appears to him as proof that a separated church has no justification, considering the disappointment of this man after so many years with the brethren."
Through the next decades the book had great influence upon Anabaptist circles. Joseph Beck, the editor of the Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich, states very significantly that the entire historical introduction of the Hutterite chronicle is nothing but an elaborate excerpt from the Chronica by Franck. (Beck, p. 9, footnote, which tells us that this introduction deals with the story of the early church, the persecutions, and the church development from Arius up to 1519.) The same holds true with Menno Simons, of whom Cornelius Krahn (Menno Simons, 1936, 40) claims that a great number of his quotations of a historical nature were taken from this book. Menno's knowledge of the old authors seems to go back to Franck. Dirk Philips, likewise, borrows many phrases and statements from Franck, referring to him time and again (see Biliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica:X, 83, 110, 483; V, 4, 11, 37; see also IV and VII). In a special tract, Verantwoordinghe ende Refutation op twee Sendbrieven Sebastiani Franck, Philips expressly takes issue with Franck's viewpoint concerning the interpretation of the Scriptures (Sepp). Also the well-known Rhenish Anabaptist Thomas von Imbroich quotes Franck's Chronica frequentlv (Rembert. 468). We learn further that the Old Flemish martyrs' chronicle, Historie der Martelaren (Hoorn, 1617), contains a number of martyrs' stories taken from the Chronica, thus proving again the popularity of this book among all branches of Anabaptism (Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1870, 75). The same must have been true with the Mennonites in Prussia, who, though belatedly, had also produced a volume of martyr stories. Isaac van Dühren in his Geschichte der Märtyrer expressly quotes Sebastian Franck's Chronik der römischen Ketzer as one of his sources, and it seems that by using it he had gone beyond the material of the older martyr books. Also in South Germany the Anabaptists were well acquainted with the work. Pilgram Marpeck (who must once have known Franck) quotes the Chronica in his Verantwortung of 1542 when discussing the communism of the earliest church (Hege, 265). In fact Hans v. Schubert proved that those brethren who defended some sort of community of goods were at least part influenced by a quotation found in Franck's Chronica. Friedmann proved the same for an outstanding dogmatic tract of the Hutterites of about 1547 (ARG 1931, 235). Furthermore, the church historical arguments in this tract, quotations from councils and papal edicts concerning the rise of infant baptism in the Roman Church, were taken altogether from this great book which thus served for many generations as a source of learning and education among the brethren.—For its author, to be sure, the publication of the Chronica meant hardship and homelessness, because he had antagonized nearly everybody of status and influence. Since Franck, however, was not willing to commit himself to any group, it meant also at the same time isolation and the "noble loneliness" of a spiritual individualist.
Hegler, Alfred. Geist und Schrift bei Sebastian Franck ; Eine Studie z. Gesch. d. Spiritualismus in d. Reformationszeit. Freiburg i.B.: J. C. B. Mohr, 1892. Still the best book
Hegler, Alfred. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Mystik in der Reformationszeit. Berlin: Schwetschke, 1906. Posthumously edited by W. Köhler.
Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967.
Cramer, Samuel and Fredrick Pijper. Biliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1903-1914,X, 83, 110, 483; V, 4, 11, 37; see also IV and VII
Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1870): 75.
Dühren, Isaac van. Geschichte der Märtyrer. Königsberg, 1787.
Friedmann, Robert. "Eine dogmatische Hauptschrift der Hutterischen Täufergemeinden in Mähren." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 28 (1931).
Hege, Christian. Gedenkschrift zum 400 jährigen Jubiläum der Mennoniten. 1925: 265.
Jones, Rufus M. Spiritual reformers in the 16th & 17th centuries. London, Macmillan and Co., 1914.
Keller, Ludwig. Die Reformation und die älteren Reformparteien : in ihrem Zusammenhange dargestellt. Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1885.
Keller, Ludwig. Johann Staupitz und die Anfänge der Reformation. Leipzig : S. Hirzel, 1888.
Köhler. W. Die Religion in Geschichte and Gegenwart, 2. ed. Tübingen: Mohr, 1927-1932: II.
Krahn, Cornelius. Menno Simons (1496-1561): ein Beitrag zur Geschichte und Theologie der Taufgesinnten. Karlsruhe i. B.: H. Schnieder, 1936.
Peuckert, Will-Erich. Sebastian Franck: ein deutscher Sucher. München: R. Piper & Co., 1943.
Reimann, Arnold. Sebastian Franck als Geschichtsphilosoph: ein moderner Denker im 16. Jahrhundert. Berlin: Alfred Unger, 1921.
Rembert, Karl. Die “Wiedertäufer“ im Herzogtum Jülich. Berlin: R. Gaertners Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1899.
Schubert, Hans von. Der Kommunismus der Wiedertäufer in Münster und seine Quellen. Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akad. d. Wissenschaften, XI. Heidelberg : Carl Winters Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1919. Schubert claims that the Chronica was most influential upon B. Rothmann.
Sepp, Christiaan. Geschiedkundige Nasporingen. Leiden : De Breuk & Smits, 1872-1875: I, 163. Very valuable.
Stadelmann, Rudolf. Vom Geist des ausgehenden Mittelalters: Studien zur Geschichte d. Weltanschauung von Nicolaus Cusanus bis Sebastian Franck. Halle/Saale: M. Niemeyer, 1929.
Troeltsch, Ernst Social Teachings of the Christian Churches. German 1912, English 1930.
 Cite This Article
Friedmann, Robert. "Chronica, Zeytbuch vnd geschychtbibel." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 28 Aug 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Chronica,_Zeytbuch_vnd_geschychtbibel&oldid=120958.
Friedmann, Robert. (1953). Chronica, Zeytbuch vnd geschychtbibel. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 August 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Chronica,_Zeytbuch_vnd_geschychtbibel&oldid=120958.
Herald Press website.
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