Dietrich, Sebastian (1553-1619)

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Sebastian Dietrich (or Basti), (1553-1619), was a Hutterite bishop and Vorsteher in Moravia. He was born in Markgröningen, Württemberg, and seems to have received a careful education. Somehow he was won for the Anabaptist way (we know that a copy of the great Article Book, was found in his home), and in 1580 he went to Moravia to join the Hutterite brotherhood, much against his father's wishes. He was a barber-surgeon, but it is not known whether he learned this profession in his youth or only after he came in contact with some of the famous Hutterite barber-physicians such as G. Zobel or B. Goller, both of Nikolsburg. In any case, later Württemberg records call him "an excellent and widely renowned physician"; he certainly added to the high regard in which the Hutterite "barbers" were held among the Moravian nobility.

In 1587, Dietrich was elected Diener am Wort, or preacher, in Neumühl, Moravia, and three years later (1590) he was confirmed in this position by the elders and the entire church. From some records it may be assumed that he then lived in Altenmarkt, Moravia, where a large center of the Hutterites was situated. In 1600 he sent an authorized man to his home town to claim his paternal inheritance. The affair went on for years; his brother Konrad claimed the same inheritance, since Sebastian as an Anabaptist was considered as having no legal title to such claims. The records (in Bossert's Quellen) cover thirteen years; eventually Konrad got one-third of the amount, and Sebastian got nothing.

The "golden era" of the Hutterites had come to an end in 1592, when the rising Counter Reformation, Turkish Wars, and oppression by feudal lords made life on the Bruderhofs increasingly hard. The brethren called the period 1592-1618 the "time of affliction." In 1604 they heard of Mennonites in East Prussia (around Elbing), and earnestly considered an emigration to there. Dietrich, together with some other brethren, was sent to Prussia, and an experimental Bruderhof was started there. It was, however, a failure (mainly due to the unfriendly attitude of the city magistrates of Elbing), and Dietrich and the others returned to Moravia.

In 1611 the outstanding Vorsteher Klaus Braidl died in Neumühl, Moravia, and Sebastian Dietrich was unanimously elected as his successor. For the next nine years (1611-1619) he was then a most conscientious leader of the brotherhood during a difficult and trying time. His concern was above all the maintenance of the traditional ways of the Hutterites in all their strictness and austerity. In this he was fairly successful. From a later Hutterite codex (see Ehrenpreis) we learn of Dietrich's activities toward a more precise regulation both of life on the Bruderhofs in general and of the different trades in particular. In 1612 he laid down a sort of comprehensive program after having discussed it with the brethren in all details (see Gemeindeordnungen). These "ordinances" then were to be read to the entire brotherhood every year. Of special interest are the points that deal with the education of the young people. Youth was to be brought up in the fear of the Lord, and diligently read the epistles, hymns and confessions of the brotherhood, so that they would be ready to give account if asked. They should practice faithfully penmanship, so that the children "of the world" would not receive better praise than those of the brotherhood. Children should not be pampered but hardened to endure work and hardship later on. The old regulations must be observed, and those in authority ought to set good examples. Should they know of some hidden "own money" they must report it so that it may be removed at once. Particular attention is paid to the newcomers. Anyone showing a spark of divine grace should be helped on. All property of the brotherhood is to be handled as a trust for which one is responsible to God. Let nothing be wasted, and all luxury done away with lest God think them rich and tax them unmercifully, Special care must be given to the sick, etc. All these points were read to the assembly for approval, and were also sent to those who were absent (this they called "visiting with the doctrine"). Dietrich made every effort to preserve the traditional principle of community of goods, and to do away with all bad customs that had been creeping in during the recent hard times.

Relations with those feudal lords who had been kind to the brotherhood during the Turkish invasion of 1605 were further cultivated, and the interests of the brethren were staunchly defended by the Vorsteher. The Bruderhof in Sobotište, Slovakia, was re-established in 1613, and the lords of that area gave Dietrich and two other elders a contract (Hausbrief) for this possession, stating rights and obligations, and granting religious freedom (text in Beck, Geschichts-Bücher, 364). When Dietrich felt that his end was approaching, he called the elders for a last address (text in the Great Chronicle). In return they assured him their appreciation of his loyal services for his flock, and that he had been a faithful shepherd. He died 8 December 1619, and was succeeded as Vorsteher by Ulrich Jaussling.


Bossert, Gustav. Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer I: Herzogtum Württemberg. 1931.

Bossert, Gustav. Württembergische Kirchengeschichte. 1929: 38.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 442 f.

Loserth, Johann. Der Communismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert: Beiträge zu ihrer Geschichte, Lehre und Verfassung. [Wien]: In Commission bei F. Tempsky, 1894.

Neubaur,L. "Mährische Brüder in Elbing." Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte (1912): 447 f.

Zieglschmid, Andreas Johannes Friedrich. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder : ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit . [Philadelphia] : Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1943.

Author(s) Johann Loserth
Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Loserth, Johann and Robert Friedmann. "Dietrich, Sebastian (1553-1619)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 24 Sep 2017.,_Sebastian_(1553-1619)&oldid=94357.

APA style

Loserth, Johann and Robert Friedmann. (1956). Dietrich, Sebastian (1553-1619). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 September 2017, from,_Sebastian_(1553-1619)&oldid=94357.

Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 58-59. All rights reserved.

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