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1956 Article

Anabaptist historiography was formerly the privilege of its enemies. The Anabaptists could not take part, for from 1528 on the German imperial and national laws threatened death to any defender of Anabaptism. Any attempt to refute false accusations was directly followed by persecution and arrest. Therefore the opponents of Anabaptism were able to spread the most absurd assertions concerning the life and doctrine of the Anabaptists without having to face a rebuttal. They took copious advantage of their position. This violent suppression of the right of self-defense naturally injured the entire Anabaptist brotherhood, for those who were not in a position to draw their own conclusions from observation had to consider them hostile to the state as well as to religion. The few fanatical manifestations among the Anabaptists, which modern research has shown to have occurred largely when their sober leaders had been forcibly removed, were the principal foundation for the attacks of the writers—chiefly theologians—of the 16th century. In their hostile attitude the writers made no distinction between the character of quiet Anabaptism and the extreme excrescences. The few objective contemporary historians like Sebastian Franck (1499-1543, Chronica, Zeytbuch und Geschychtbibel, 1531) were exceptions and exerted little influence. The difficulty of securing a printer also handicapped the Anabaptists in publishing their views. An Amsterdam printer was executed in 1544 for publishing a book by Menno Simons.

This one-sided attitude dominated the body of church historical writings far beyond the 16th century. The very titles of the books dealing with the origin and doctrine of the new brotherhood betray this. One of the oldest writings was Zwingli's In Catabaptistarum Strophas Elenchus of 1527; another of the same year was that by Urban Rhegius which appeared in Augsburg: Wider den newen Taufforden, Notwendighe Warnung an alle Christ gleubigen durch die diener des Evangelii zu Augsburg. Also of 1527 was J. Bader's Brüderliche Warnung für demnewen Abgöttischen orden der Widertäuffer. In 1528 appeared Philipp Melanchthon's book, Unterricht wider die Lere der Wiedertauffer verdeutscht durch Justus Jonas, and eight years later the admonition to the princes by the same author, Das weltliche Oberkeitt den Widertaufferen mit leiblicher Straß zu weren schuldig sey. In 1528 Andreas Althamer also wrote a book, Ein kurze Unterricht den Pfarherrn und Predigern in Brandenburg . . . ; it draws the conclusion that Anabaptist doctrines carried revolt in their train. In 1531 Heinrich Bullinger wrote Von dem unverschampten fräfel, ergerlichem verwyrren und unwarhaftem leeren der selbsgesandten Widertouffern; in 1560 he wrote a second book, Der widertaufferen Ursprung, fürgang, secten, wäsen, fürneme und gemeine irer Artickel. This method of attack continued in the 17th century. In 1603 Christoph Andreas Fischer published his polemic, Von der widertäuffer verfluchten Ursprung, Gottlosen Lehre und derselber grundtliche Widerlegung, followed in 1607 by his equally venomous book, Der Hutterischen Widertäuffer Taubenkobel. In 1623 Theobaldus Zacharias wrote Widertaufferischer Geist, das ist Glaubwürdiger und historischer Bericht, was Jammer und Elend die alten Widertäuffer gestifftet und angerichtet (repr. by W. A. Mayer at Cöthen in 1701). Note also L. Dick's Adversos impios Anabaptistarum errores (Hagenau, 1530) and Johannes Gast's De Anabaptismi exordio, erroribus, historiis abominandis (Basel, 1544).

These few samples from the literary flood issuing from all the churches are sufficient to show how little interest there was in treating the Anabaptist movement with justice. These works were used as sources by later historians, who took them over without question; very few historians went back to the original confessional writings of the Anabaptist leaders; it occurred to only a few to compare them with the statements of contemporary opponents. Well into the 19th century the great Anabaptist movement of the 16th century was uncritically identified with the Peasants' War of 1525 and the events in Münster; Menno Simons was thought to have gathered the dispersed remnants of the Münster Anabaptists and to have turned them to the ways of peace. But of the persecutions, which lasted in Holland until the last quarter of the 16th century, in Germany until the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, and in Switzerland until the 18th century, and brought a martyr's death to thousands, practically nothing was said. Not even the imperial laws against baptism upon confession were mentioned.

The inevitable consequence was that these biased presentations could not hold their ground against scholarly investigation as soon as the nature and goals of the Anabaptist movement were clearly recognized. It, of course, took several centuries to reach this point. But when it was reached, an amazing reversal took place in the judgment of scholars regarding Anabaptism. In the meantime many of the Anabaptist ideas, such as liberty of faith and conscience, the rejection of force in religious matters, complete separation of church and state, for which the old Anabaptists had struggled so long and valiantly, had already become so commonly accepted that the movement, so long despised, now attracted the scholar. "Thanks to the research of recent years," wrote Adolf Harnack (Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte III, 1910, 772), "the portraits of distinguished Christians from Anabaptist circles have been given us; and not a few of these honorable and strong-minded men are more comprehensible to us than a heroic Luther or an iron-willed Calvin."

The foundation for this unprejudiced presentation of the Anabaptist movement could not be laid until historians took the trouble of becoming acquainted with the writings of Anabaptist leaders and the testimony of the victims of persecution. There was, to be sure, not a wide selection, but the few writings available were sufficient to enable an unprejudiced scholar to form a judgment. Information on their doctrine was found in the works of Hans Denck, Menno Simons, and Dirk Philips. Their spiritual stature was indicated in their hymns, which were begun in 1535 by the prisoners in the castle at Passau in the oldest Anabaptist hymnal, the Ausbund. A collection of the testimony of the martyrs appeared first in the Dutch martyrbook Het Offer des Heeren (1562), which Tieleman Jansz van Braght expanded into his Martyrs Mirror (1660).

The first writer of church history to make a complete break with the accepted presentation of Anabaptism was Gottfried Arnold. In his extensive work, Unparteyische Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, first published in Frankfurt in 1699 (enlarged 3d ed. Schaffhausen, 1740-1742), he proved the untruth of a series of false assertions. He was familiar with the writings mentioned above and recognized the injustice of the church toward dissenting Christians. A factor in his interest may have been the fact that he was closely connected with the arising Pietism; through the spiritual relatedness of Pietism with Anabaptism he may have been granted a deeper understanding of it than the theologians of the traditional school. He was reproached with prejudice in favor of the "heretics." But this did not prevent his work from actually forming the transition from the orthodox, limited concept of church history to an objective evaluation of events and processes. Ernst Troeltsch called Arnold's Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie "a church history which is even today not out-of-date and which can still be compared with modern church historians. It covers an incredibly rich field of material and carries the student into the atmosphere of extra-ecclesiastical Protestantism as no other book does" (Sociallehren, 1912, 800).

Nevertheless it took a long time for Arnold's work to find recognition from scholars. The prejudices against circles outside the state church were so deepseated that the principles represented by, the Anabaptist brotherhood were intentionally overlooked. German writers of church history were still so much under the spell of the traditional concepts that they could not free themselves for objective reporting, and writers of secular history did not investigate into the religious history of the 16th century deeply enough to recognize the significance of the Anabaptist movement. They saw in it rather a mere secondary phenomenon of the Reformation, which must in the nature of things disappear of itself after the large churches of the Reformation were firmly established. "At the time when the older men of our generation were students," said Walther Köhler in a lecture on Mennonite historical research, "we scarcely heard anything mentioned [about the Anabaptist movement], and if it did happen, a judgment was passed upon it in advance by the use of the word 'fanatics'" (Gedenkschrift, 1925, 173). A familiar type of writing about the "heretics" (Anabaptists always one of the chief) was the Ketzer-Historie , Ketzer-Lexikon, or Ketzer-Geschichte ("Ketzer" being the equivalent of "heretic"), which flourished in the 18th century.

A more careful cultivation of Mennonite history was made first in Holland, where the Mennonites found official toleration earlier than in other countries. Here, after the preliminary work done by van Braght, the desire for further research was already awakened. The large numbers of Mennonites there—in the 17th and 18th centuries about 10 per cent of the population of Holland belonged to the Mennonite brotherhood—and their economic prominence brought about a greater attention to their own history. In addition the numerous polemics of their opponents compelled them to make an attentive study of the sources. Since in Germany there was no literature of this kind, German writers frequently dealt only with the Dutch Anabaptists.

The oldest historical work produced by the Mennonites was published anonymously in 1615 under the title, Het beginsel en voortganck der geschillen, scheuringen, en verdeeltheden onder de gene die Doopsgesinden Genoemt worden. For a long time it served with Het Offer des Heeren and the Martyrs Mirror as one of the three principal sources for the history of the Dutch Mennonites in the 16th century. One hundred years later, in 1720, J. Chr. Jehring published a German translation (Gründliche Historie). About this time the works of Herman Schijn, a Mennonite historian, also began to appear. A work of importance was Geschiedenis der Mennoniten in three volumes, 1743-45, by Schijn and Gerardus Maatschoen; another was Nachrichten von dem gegenwärtigen Zustand der Mennoniten, written by the German historian, S. F. Rues, published at Jena in 1743, and in a Dutch translation in 1745.

In the 19th century new interest awoke in Holland through the influence of Samuel Müller (1785-1875), a professor at the Amsterdam Mennonite Seminary, who published the ]aarboekje voor de Doopsgezinde Gemeenten (1837-1850). S. Blaupot ten Cate (1807-1884) did outstanding regional histories. The historical work of J. G. de Hoop Scheffer (1819-1892), also a professor at the Amsterdam Seminary, and the outstanding authority on the Reformation in Holland, was also epoch-making. He brought to light the oldest sources, which he used in many works of lasting value. Alongside of de Hoop Scheffer, Samuel Cramer (1842-1931), professor at the Seminary, deserves credit for his publication of rare 16th-century books dealing with the Anabaptists, in the Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica, the noted collection of works from the time of the Dutch Reformation, which he edited (1903-1914).

An abundance of historical treatises appeared in the Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, 1861-1919. Dutch Mennonite historiography was brought to a climax with the work of W. J. Kühler (1874-1946) and N. van der Zijpp, both professors at the Seminary. Kühler devoted three volumes to the 16th- and 17th-century Dutch Anabaptists (1932-1945) and van der Zijpp presented a brief history of the Dutch Mennonites from the beginning to 1952. Cornelius Krahn, the author of the latest complete biography of Menno Simons (1936), summarized the "Historiography of the Dutch Mennonites" in Church History, September 1944, and Mennonite Quarterly Review, October 1944. Eberhard Teufel presented an annotated bibliography pertaining to the Dutch Mennonites entitled "Täufertum und Quäkertum im Lichte der neueren Forschung" in Theologische Rundschau, No. 1 and 2 (1941) 21-48; No. 2 (1948) 161-81. W. Köhler's "Das Täufertum im Lichte der neueren Kirchengeschichtsforschung" (Archiv f. Ref.-Gesch. 1940-48) also contained valuable historiographical material on Dutch Anabaptism. (See Historiography, Netherlands)

In Germany in the 17th century presentations of the whole of Anabaptist history were predominantly in the Latin language. The best-known works are those of A. Meshovius, Historiae Anabaptisticae Libri Septem (Cologne, 1617) and J. H. Ottius, Annates Anabaptistici (Basel, 1672). Since the middle of the 18th century German research scholars have engaged in the study of Anabaptist history. In his copious collection of sources on Swiss Reformation history (Beyträge zur Erläuterung der Kirchen-Reformations-Geschichten des Schweitzerlandes, Zürich, 1741-53), the Swiss scholar J. C. Füsslin published valuable materials on Swiss Anabaptist history. On the Anabaptist movement in Bavaria in the 16th century V. A. Winter published in 1809 a fragmentary presentation (Geschichte der baierischen Wiedertäufer) based on several archival sources, in which he nevertheless completely misinterpreted their character. He even attempted to justify the Anabaptist persecutions against Kant's conception of the conscienceless character of the heresy judges. In the Anabaptist movement he saw only mischief and ruin to the state (p. 162). The results of more recent research were used by Siegmund Riezler in his sensitive presentation in Geschichte Bayerns (1903).

The first comprehensive history of the Anabaptists (Geschichte der Taufe und Taufgesinnten) was published in 1789 by Joh. Aug. Starck, the Hessian court chaplain. Starck was severely attacked by the rationalistic wing; he called his book a sort of defense of his theological position (p. VI). Beside the writings (1821, 1829) of G. L. von Reiswitz and Friedrich Wadzeck it was the most reliable informative work on the history of the Mennonites in the first centuries up to that time. J. Hast's Geschichte der Wiedertäufer (1836), written by a Catholic, is typical of the early 19th century. The liberal Karl Hagen (Deutschlands . . . Verhältnis im Re f.-Zeitalter IV, 1844) and the orthodox Max Goebel (Geschichte des christlichen Lebens II, 1848) began a juster objective reporting.

A great impetus was given to the study of Anabaptist history about the middle of the 19th century by the noted Old Catholic historian, Carl A. Cornelius, who by his thorough research (e.g., Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs, 1855-1860) sought to fathom the nature and significance of Anabaptism, and thus came to the conclusion that the movement emanated from more worthy motives than the historians, secular and religious, had up to that time given it credit for.

In rapid sequence thorough investigations of the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century were now published, throwing light upon this hitherto neglected branch of church history. For a while nearly every year produced several works on the history of the Anabaptists in various countries or on leading personalities in the movement. Heberle wrote on Hans Denck (1851 and 1855) and Capito's relation to Swiss Anabaptism (1858), G. E. Röhrich on Hans Denck (1853) and the Anabaptist movement in Strasbourg (1860), K. Keim on Ludwig Haetzer (1856), K. W. H. Hochhuth on the movement in Hesse (1858-1860), Friedrich Nippold on David Joris (1863-1868), and Chr. Meyer on the movement in Upper Swabia (1874). Later many individual biographies of Anabaptist leaders appeared; e.g., Denck (Keller 1862, Haake 1897, Schwindt 1922, Weis 1925, Coutts 1927, Vittali 1932); Haetzer (Weis 1930, Goeters 1956); David Joris (Bainton 1935); Grebel (Bender 1950); Blaurock (Jecklin 1891, Loserth 1898, Moore 1955); Hoffman (Leendertz 1883, zur Linden 1885); Hubmaier (Vedder 1905, Mau 1912, Sachsse 1914, Wiswedel 1939); Menno (Cramer 1837, Roosen 1848, Vos 1914, Horsch 1916, Krahn 1936).

Some excitement was caused by the research done by archivist Ludwig Keller of Münster on the forerunners of the Anabaptists and by his attempt to prove direct connection between them and the old-evangelical parties of the Middle Ages. In his investigations he was led by the idea that the Anabaptists, in whom he recognized a revival of apostolic church life, must be the descendants of those suppressed brotherhoods, and he tried on a large scale to construct an unbroken chain of free evangelical brotherhoods from original Christianity to the present. Even though this attempt failed, nevertheless his book, Die Reformation und die älteren Reformparteien (1885), retains its value by virtue of the source material it contains; it was a powerful incentive to further research on Anabaptist history in all countries in which congregations were formed during the Reformation. Even before this book appeared, Ludwig Keller had published monographs on the Anabaptists, for the purpose of serving the truth. His presentation of the life of the Anabaptist leader Hans Denck (Ein Apostel der Wiedertäufer, 1882) won wide attention.

In the following years books and articles on the Anabaptists were published as follows: J. Habets on Maastricht (1877), J. Hansen on Aachen (1884), F. O. zur Linden on Melchior Hoffman (1885), Gustav Bossert on the Anabaptist movement in Württemberg (1888 ff.), C. Gerbert, in Strasbourg (1889), Karl Rembert, in the duchy of Jülich (1893 and 1899), A. H. Newman on the Anabaptist movement in the 16th century (1897), Joh. Loserth, in Styria (1894), Eduard Jacobs, in the Harz (1899), Friedrich Rotli, in Augsburg and Upper Swabia (1900), Eduard Becker, in Kürnbach (1902), Rudolf Wolkan on the hymns of the Anabaptists (1903) and the Hutterian Brethren in America (1918), Christian Hege on the Anabaptists in the Kurpfalz (1908), Paul Wappler, in Thuringia (1908 ff), Hermann Nestler, in Regensburg (1926), and Alt, in Kaufbeuren (1930).

The theology of the Anabaptists and their place in the history of Christian thought has received considerable attention in recent years. Ernst Troeltsch's Sociallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen (1912, English 1936) was epoch-making and influential for the typology of the Anabaptist movement. Johannes Kühn's Toleranz und Offenbarung (1923) was a further creative and stimulating effort in this direction. Karl Holl, "Luther und die Schwärmer" (Gesammelte Aufsätze, 1922), and Ulrich Bergfried, Die Verantwortung als theologisches Problem im Täufertum des 16. Jahrhunderts (1938), while containing much valuable information, wrote wholly from the strict Lutheran standpoint with a negative critical outcome, similar to H. Lüdemann's earlier Reformation und Täufertum (1896) from the Reformed standpoint. Fritz Heyer, Der Kirchenbegriff der Schwärmer (1939) was better but still misconceived the Anabaptist position. Walther Köhler, Dogmengeschichte als Geschichte des Christlichen Selbstbewusstseins, II Das Zeitalter der Reformation (1951) was the first general history of dogma to give the Anabaptists both space and a fair evaluation. F. W. Littell's The Anabaptist View of the Church (1952) was by all odds the best monograph an Anabaptist theology produced by the 1950s. John Horsch's Infant Baptism and its Origin among Protestants (1917) treated a limited field thoroughly and was important for its assembly of documentary evidence for the emergent years of Anabaptism. Ethelbert Stauffer's important article "The Anabaptist Theology of Martyrdom" brilliantly opened a new aspect. H. S. Bender set forth the essence of the Anabaptist faith in The Anabaptist Vision (reprinted from Mennonite Quarterly Review 18, 1949). The Mennonite Quarterly Review's "Special Anabaptist Theology Number" (January 1950) contained valuable studies. J. C. Wenger published "The Theology of Pilgram Marpeck" (Mennonite Quarterly Review 12, 1938, 205-256). A later study was Peter Kawerau's Melchior Hofmann als religiöser Denver(1954).

Modern comprehensive accounts of Anabaptism through the mid-20th century, following the initial attempt by Anna Brons in her Ursprung, Entwicklung und Schicksale (1884), were delivered only by English and American writers (except for the brief account in Horst Penner's Weltweite Bruderschaft of 1955). In English A. H. Newman's History of Anti-Pedobaptism . . . to 1609 (1897) was the first good account, and is still useful. E. B. Bax, Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists (1903), written from the social and socialistic point of view, did not go beyond Münster. E. C. Pike, The Story of the Anabaptists (1904), was better but brief. C. H. Smith's general works on Mennonite history (1920 and 1941) gave the best comprehensive treatment, although John Horsch's Mennonites in Europe (1942) gave more detail, and R. J. Smithson's The Anabaptists (1935) was a reliable popular account. Roland Bainton's treatment of the Anabaptists in his Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1952) was the best in any general history of the Reformation or of the church as a whole. At last the true character of the Anabaptists was being reported by the best modern church historians, among whom the American Bainton was a peer. W. Wiswedel's well-written and reliable essays on a large number of Anabaptist leaders and episodes in his 3-volume work, Bilder und Führergestalten aus dem Täufertum (1928, 1930, 1952), together with numerous articles in scholarly journals, stamped him as one of the best 20th century scholarly popular writers in Anabaptism. He wrote ex animo.

In prewar Austria the Hutterian Brethren had their history written by their own chroniclers and distributed by means of copies. To the outside world the brotherhood was shut away for centuries. These valuable documents were published in extracts in 1883 by Josef Beck in volume 43 of the Oesterreichische Geschichts-Quellen as Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer. Finally the full publication of the large Geschicht-Buch was accomplished by Rudolf Wolkan in 1923 and A. J. F. Zieglschmid in 1943, followed by the Klein-Geschichtsbuch by Zieglschmid in 1947. The large Hutterian hymnbook had already been published in 1914; the fully edited scholarly edition by Zieglschmid (manuscript deposited in the Goshen College Library) awaited a publisher.

There had already been some articles published by Gregor Wolny on the Anabaptists in Moravia (1850) and by von Kripp on the Anabaptist movement in Tyrol (1857). The work and collection of materials of Beck was followed by publications by Alexander Nicoladoni on Johannes Bünderlin (1888 and 1893), by Joseph Jäkel on the Anabaptist movement in Upper Austria (1889 and 1895), by the outstanding scholar Joh. Loserth on the Anabaptist movement in Tyrol (1892 and 1894), on Balthasar Hubmaier (1893), the Anabaptist movement in Moravia and Styria (1894), on the communism of the Hutterites in Moravia (1894), and on the movement in Lower Austria (1899), besides numerous articles in the Mennonitisches Lexikon and in other periodicals. Loserth's work was of the highest quality. Worthy of mention were also the works by Hartmann Ammann on the Anabaptist movement in the Puster Valley (1896 and 1897), by Georg Loesche on Anabaptism and Protestantism in Tyrol and Vorarlberg (1926), by Robert Friedmann on the Habaner in Czechoslovakia (1927), by Lydia Müller on the communism of the Hutterian Brethren in Moravia (1927), by Fr. Hruby on the Anabaptists in Moravia (1935), by Franz Kalb on the movement in the Wipptal (1951), and by Widmoser on Tyrolese Anabaptism (1951). John Horsch's Hutterian Brethren (1929) was the only good general work on the Hutterites in English.

A stately series of writings has also been produced in Switzerland, the country of Anabaptist origins. In addition to the studies by Füsslin, pioneer work was done by Emil Egli on the Anabaptists in Zürich (1878) and in St. Gall (1887), and in his important collection of court records regarding the history of the Swiss Reformation (Actensammlung zur Schweizerischen Reformationsgeschichte, 1879). Egli's research in the field of church history yielded disclosures fundamental to the study of Mennonite origins. After his death Georg Finsler published (in 1910) the first volume of the history of the Swiss Reformation (1519-1525), which Egli had almost completed. Here Egli's research was unusually comprehensive, precisely on the Anabaptist movement. From the socio-economic viewpoint Ernst H. Correll threw light on Swiss Anabaptist-Mennonites (1925); his work was the first thorough presentation of an Anabaptist group in the sociological sense. (See Historiography, Switzerland and Historiography, France)

On the Anabaptist movement in Italy the publications of Karl Benrath, Wiedertäufer im Venetianischen (1885) and Reformation in Venedig (1887), have been superseded by the work of Henry DeWind "Anabaptism and Italy" in Church History (1952), based on his unpublished doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago, "Relations Between Italian Reformers and the Anabaptists in the Mid-Sixteenth Century" (1951). DeWind has shown that there was no true Anabaptist movement in Italy, Benrath and Comba (I Nostri Protestante, 1897) having confused anti-Trinitarians with Anabaptists. (See Italy.)

Anabaptism in England will receive full treatment for the first time in Irvin Horst's doctoral dissertation (Amsterdam, 1957).

The chief repository of scholarly articles on Anabaptist history, theology, etc., has been the Mennonite Quarterly Review, which since its founding in 1927 has published a vast amount of material in this field and sought to keep abreast of current research. Significant articles have appeared in Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte and in Church History.

Independent judgments on the Anabaptist movement were found in few handbooks on church history. One of the first objective presentations was that by Max Goebel in his Geschichte des christlichen Lebens in der evangelischen rheinisch-westfälischen Kirche (1848). The most thorough evaluations were given by K. Müller in his Kirchengeschichte (2nd ed. 1922) and Möller-Kawerau in Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte (1907). Noteworthy articles appeared in Realencyclopedie für Protestantische Theologie and Kirche (3rd ed., 1896-1908), and in Die Religion in Geschichte and Gegenwart (2nd ed., 1926).

The historiography of Utopian as well as scientific socialism also dealt with Anabaptism. This trend, represented especially by Kautsky (Vorläufer des neueren Sozialismus I, 1895) and Bernstein (d. 1932), had two objectives: (1) to explain the Reformation in general according to the principles of materialistic historiography; (2) to see especially in the Anabaptist movement the "forerunners of modern socialism." A critical summary of these attempts was given for the first time in Correll, Das schweizerische Täufermennonitentum (1925), p. 6 f.; see also p. 16; see also his sections "Allgemeine historisch-soziologische Kennzeichnung des Täufertums" and "Ausbreitung und ökonomisch-sozialer Charakter des Täufer-Mennonitentums" with historiographical remarks. Socialistic historiography has to its credit the recognition of the distinction between radical and pacifist Anabaptists. Recently East German writers exploited the Anabaptists for the Communist cause; e.g., K. Kleinschmidt, Thomas Münzer (1952).

Finally the religio-sociological standard works by Ernst Troeltsch (Protestantisches Christentum und Kirche in der Neuzeit, 1909, and Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen, 3rd ed. 1923, translated into English, The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches, N.Y., 1936) and Max Weber (Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie I, 1920, and "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft" in Grundriss der Sozialökonomie, 1922) have removed the last trace of a sectarian judgment. To the same end Walther Köhler (1870-1946), the Zwingli scholar, worked in an eminently objective manner.

For a treatment of bibliographies see the article on this subject in this Encyclopedia.

Source Publications. The years 1925-1955 have witnessed a significant amount of publication of major Anabaptist sources. The first such enterprise was the publication of two Marpeck writings, one, the Vermahnung edited by Christian Hege in the Gedenkschrift of 1925, the other the Verantwortung edited by Johann Loserth in 1929 (Quellen und Forsehungen zur Geschichte der oberdeutschen Taufgesinnten im 16. Jahrhundert). Meanwhile the Verein für Reformationsgeschichte, led by Hans von Schubert and Otto Scheel, had undertaken the publication of all Anabaptist archival sources in the German language area, under the series title, Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer (changed to Täufer in 1951). The following volumes appeared before 1940: Herzogtum Württemberg 1930, Markgraftum Brandenburg (Bayern I) 1934, Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter (Hutterite) 1938. After World War II, the Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein now being a partner in the project, the following additional volumes appeared: Bayern II 1951, Baden-Pfalz 1951, Hans Denk's Works 1956. Further volumes were in preparation: Alsace I (Strasbourg), Glaubenszeugnisse II, Württemberg II, Hutterite Epistles 2 vols., Austria 3 vols., Rhineland 2 vols.

The Täuferakten for Hesse (1527-1626) were also published in 1951 by the Historische Kommission für Hessen und Waldeck, and in 1952 Leonhard von Muralt began the publication of a Swiss Anabaptist source series (Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer in der Schweiz) with a volume on Zürich, to be followed by a volume containing the Berner Gespräch of 1538, and at least two other volumes.

The two great Hutterite chronicles have been published, the first in two editions (Wolkan, Vienna, 1923, and Zieglschmid, Philadelphia, 1943), the second, again by Zieglschmid, in 1947 at Philadelphia. Riedemann's Rechenschaft was reprinted twice (in 1903 at Scottdale, Pa., and in 1938 in England), then published in an English translation in England in 1949. The Mennonite Quarterly Review has published a series of English translations of shorter documents and tracts by J. C. Wenger, such as the Schleitheim Confession. The American Series, The Christian Classics, published in 1956 one volume on the Anabaptists and related groups.

There has been extensive use of the Anabaptist theme in literature, with the Münsterites used most often. Two doctoral dissertations surveyed this field up to 1913: W. Rauch, Johann von Leiden, der König von Sion, in der deutschen Dichtung (Leipzig, 1912), and H. Hermsen, Die Wiedertäufer zu Münster in der deutschen Dichtung (Stuttgart, 1913). Elizabeth H. Bender published a series of articles on Anabaptists and Mennonites in German and American literature in the Mennonite Quarterly Review 1943-1946, and Mary E. Bender's doctoral dissertation (Indiana, 1957) surveyed the field since 1900.

The hymnology of the Anabaptists received an outstanding treatment by Rudolf Wolkan in his Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer (Berlin, 1903). The great German hymnologist, Philipp Wackernagel, treated Anabaptist hymnology twice. His Lieder der niederländischen Reformierten aus der Zeit der Verfolgung im 16. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt, 1867) was largely devoted to Dutch Anabaptist hymns, reproducing a total of 79, while volume III of his Das deutsche Kirchenlied (Leipzig, 1870) reprinted 45 hymns of German Anabaptists (441-486). (See Hymnology)

The only comprehensive treatment of Anabaptist historiography to the 1950s was that by Christian Hege in his article Geschichtsschreibung in Mennonitisches Lexikon II, 96-101, to which the present article is much indebted. -- HSB

1989 Update

More than half a century ago American historian Carl Becker observed that every generation must rewrite its own history. His dictum is illustrated nowhere more amply than in Anabaptist historiography of the past 25-30 years. A body of ardent revisionists has staked out claims to fresh, stimulating interpretations. Other scholars, both non-Mennonite and Mennonite, have poked about in the nooks and crannies of Anabaptist life and thought, publishing a large number of dissertations, monographs, and articles, with non- Mennonites regaining the initiative that Bender and others had seized earlier for Mennonites.

The primary, but not exclusive, object of the revisionists has been the so-called "Bender school"-Harold S. Bender, Robert Friedmann, J. C. Wenger, to a lesser extent Cornelius Krahn, and some of their Mennonite students writing in the 1950s. The revisionists also challenged the work of Methodist Franklin Littell, some Baptist scholars (Davis, Estep), Swiss Reformed Fritz Blanke and Congregationalist-Unitarian George H. Williams. All of these latter authors themselves revised or extended the work of Bender and others, but were at one with him in the larger task of rescuing Anabaptists theologically from the dogmatic misinterpretations of traditionalist historiography. To Bender and his colleagues, Anabaptists were voluntaristic in religious choice (and therefore insisted upon believers' baptism for adults), advocates of a church completely free from state influence, biblical literalists, nonparticipants in any government activity to avoid moral compromise, suffering servant disciples of Jesus who emphasized moral living and who were persecuted and martyred as Jesus had been, and restitutionists who tried to restore pre-Constantinian Christian primitivism, etc.

Bender and Friedmann themselves had been self-conscious revisionists, using theology and a normative mode of inquiry to justify the Anabaptist movement in the light of four centuries of defamation in the name of confessional rectitude (Kurtz, for example). Lutherans Karl Müller and Karl Holl, among others, revived confessionalism within Reformation scholarship, Holl as it applied to the Schwärmer including the Anabaptists. Apparently Bender and his colleagues thought the obvious retort needed to be couched in confessional terms in order to find acceptance in the scholarly world, or even to make both Anabaptists and later Mennonites theologically respectable. This nascent Mennonite historiography created in effect a free church confessionalism with orthopraxis replacing orthodoxy, ironical in that the Anabaptists detested confessionalism, and "free church confessionalism" is a contradiction in terms. The "Bender school" used contemporary historical methodology, pioneered for Anabaptism by Carl Cornelius and others, utilizing primary sources based on views of the Anabaptists directly expressed instead of 16th-century polemics composed by their bitter enemies. That methodology received the approbation of secular scholars. The Bender school's search for essence, for that mentalité that somehow characterized all Anabaptists worthy of the name, coincided with Western historians' then-current passion for finding essence and emphasizing synthesis as against describing diversity and analyzing particularity. (Renaissance scholars were wrestling with the essence of that movement when Bender put forward his singular Anabaptist Vision; he suited the historiographical mood of his times.) But Bender's fresh synthesis of Anabaptism was too idealistic, too nice, almost too sweet despite its cross theology and bitter Christ; it invited revision.

What was revised, by whom? Here follow some of the more significant areas of revision:

(1) Scholars rehabilitated Melchior Hoffman as a bonafide Anabaptist, one whose influence was paramount for Dutch Anabaptists and widely pervasive in other regions (Deppermann; Deppermann, Packull, Stayer; Krahn, 1964; Voolstra). Hoffman's reappearance coincided with a broader return to a vital Anabaptist spirituality (Klaassen 1960, 1963; Seebaß 1972; Packull, 1977; Oosterbaan, 1977; Ozment; Erb) as against a narrow biblicism-only interpretation used by Bender to counter Holl. More recently scholars have rescued Hoffman's disciple David Joris from near oblivion, casting his movement as a viable option to that of Menno's followers and interpreting his spiritualism as a gradual development (Zijlstra; Stayer, 1984, 1985; Waite). Scholars have also tended to see more clearly the Hoffman legacy in the life and work of Menno (Voolstra; Bornhäuser).

(2) Some revisionists reexamined the Anabaptism of Münster, viewing it as theologically viable under Bernhard Rothmann with adherents from middle and artisan classes joining voluntarily not because of intolerable pressure, and established deliberately as the regnant religious pattern by a duly elected city council of its own free will--not under duress (Kirchhoff 1970, 1973; Jahrbuch für Westfälische KirchenGeschichte, 78 [Oct. 1985], entire issue; Stayer 1986; many others). Kirchhoff's discovery of indigenous upper- and lower-middle class origins, coupled with Peachey's earlier work on social class origins of Swiss Anabaptists, provided impetus for a growing rejection of the older theory that Anabaptists were initially entirely of lower class origin.

(3) Gottfried Seebaß (1972) restored Hans Hut and his strain of mystical-apocalyptical thought to the fold of legitimate Anabaptists. South German Anabaptism became more unique and varied, drawing from Hut as well as Denck, distinctly different from the Swiss Brethren variety (Packull, 1977).

(4) Small wonder that Anabaptist particularity, especially in origins (Deppermann, Stayer, Packull, 1975) but also in character, began to dominate historiography. Some scholars thought that Williams (1962) had not demarcated his three Anabaptist hearths (Zürich, Nürnberg, Amsterdam) sharply enough, though as an independent scholar Williams' position on three distinct places of Anabaptist origins seemed clear.

(5) Led by Clasen (1972) and paralleling broader 16th-century studies, scholars began to examine more carefully the broadest possible social conditions of Anabaptists. They probed especially the radical social and economic, as against exclusively theological or eccelesial, roots of Anabaptism, and laid bare a movement built upon a vigorous protest against lower class living conditions, taking issue with Clasen on this point (Goeters; Seebaß, 1972, 1974; Stayer, 1975; Haas; Mellink, 1978, 1979; Goertz, 1979, 1980, 1985, 1987).

(6) Marxist historians, especially those from the German Democratic Republic, while retaining their interest in and affection for social revolutionary Thomas Müntzer, have increasingly seen Anabaptists and other radical reformers as motivated essentially by religion. And they have helped Western historians to recognize the significance of economic and social class struggles in these movements (Zschäbitz; Hoyer; Laube; Looss; Vogler).

(7) With regard to Anabaptist nonresistance, Stayer (1972) wrote one of the most thoroughly researched studies of Anabaptists in the past 25 years, focusing on the Anabaptist biblically defenseless position (Bauman) but also on those who used the sword or defended its use by Christians. He solidified and greatly expanded the earlier, geographically more narrowly restricted, studies of non-pacifist Anabaptists by Yoder (1959, 1962-68), Klaassen (1960), and Oyer (1964).

(8) When did Anabaptism begin: 21 January 1525, in Zürich with the first believers' baptisms, or late in February 1527 at Schleitheim? The latter has been proposed as the time and place of origin because the "Brotherly Union" (Schleitheim Confession) established the separatist--or sectarian-character of Anabaptism (Yoder, 1972; Deppermann, Packull, Stayer; Snyder, 1984-I).

(9) Some interpreters focused on several Anabaptist leaders who projected a commanding personal charisma, especially when they preached the imminent return of Christ--preeminently Hut and Hoffman. This emphasis was all the more necessary to offset an exclusive moderate biblicism of the earlier scholars (Seebaß, 1972; Packull, 1977; Deppermann; Davis, 1979).

(10) Medieval antecedents of Anabaptism, if not medieval forerunners, came into vogue again. Influence may well have emanated from the Brethren of the Common Life, perhaps the Hussites, some forms of monasticism--but no one quite repeated Ritschl's theory of Franciscan Tertiaries as forerunners (Davis, 1974; Zeman, 1976; Packull, 1977; Snyder, 1984-I, 1987; Erb; Martin, 1986, 1988).

(11) Hubmaier again entered center stage, based upon his obvious commanding theological influence even on those who disliked him (perhaps Sattler; certainly the Hutterites): theology of baptism, soteriology, free will among others (Yoder, 1959; Armour; Bergsten; Windhorst; Liland).

(12) Scholars have reasserted the subtle but vital influence of Erasmus and other humanists on Anabaptists, refuting primarily Bender (Friedmann always thought there was a connection, but out of respect for Bender he never declared himself in public on the point; see works by Robert Kreider; Horst, 1967; Burger; Augustijn, 1986; Schrag).

(13) Most recently scholars have raised basic questions about the role and significance of women among the Anabaptists, challenging scholarly negligence as well as prior assertions about Anabaptist egalitarianism. More recent students have suggested that the Anabaptists did not raise the status or widen the range of permissible activities of women, especially in religious affairs, beyond the subordinate role established by Protestants (Bainton, 1971; Irwin, 1979, 1982; John Klassen; Marr; Umble; Kobelt-Groch).

Although revisionism aroused the livelier interest and debate among students of Anabaptism, scholars published many other studies of high merit that were not revisionist either in intent or influence. Some can be clustered around significant themes or persons; others are less amenable to organizational patterns. Here follow some observations about a selected few.

(1) Two studies deserve special mention because of their authors' mastery of massive amounts of sources: Williams (1962) and Clasen (1972, 1978 for data). Each author in his own way compelled all scholars of Anabaptism to wrestle with either his synthesis or his nuanced theses and interpretations, Williams on theology and morphology, Clasen on social history. Williams' work was brilliant. So also was Clasen's, despite Mennonite scholars' neglect of him; scholars will find themselves returning repeatedly to mine its richer lodes.

(2) A spate of studies probed Anabaptism in person or region or by topic, a few of them spawned by Bender's own enthusiasm for farming out topics for "definitive" treatment (Armour; Balke; Bauman; Beachy; Bergsten; Bornhäuser; Dalzell; Davis, 1974; Gingerich; Gismann-Fiel; Gross; Hillerbrand, 1962; Horst, 1972; Jecker; Keeney; Peter Klassen; William Klassen; Oyer, 1964; Packull, 1977; Pater; Plümper; Rempel; Schäufele; Schlabach; Snyder, 1984-I; Voolstra; de Vries; Windhorst; Yoder, 1962-68; Zeman, 1969).

(3) Some scholars returned to the role of martyrs and their influence on survivors and on the temperament of the entire movement. For instances, was there a discernable martyr theology as Stauffer had claimed (Alan Kreider; Doerksen; Dyck; John Klassen; Umble)?

(4) Students of Marpeck have come into their own, elevating him to his proper formative role be- cause of the wide influence of his mature theological synthesis (William Klassen; Blough, 1984, 1987; Boyd).

(5) Fresh research on Menno led many scholars to reevaluate his views on the incarnation (Christology), the church, soteriology (salvation), hermeneutics (biblical interpretation), the ban, the quality and sophistication of his theology, as well as his ability to handle several languages including Latin (Oosterbaan, 1961; Meihuizen; Poetteker; Keeney; Bornhäuser; Irwin, 1978; Voolstra; Klaassen, 1986; Augustijn, 1987).

(6) Scores of scholars treated Anabaptist hermeneutics at least tangentially, then directly in several studies of significance (Klaassen, William Klassen, and Poetteker, entire issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review 41 [April 1966], in addition to the dissertations of Klassen and Poettcker; Yoder, 1967; Dyck, 1978).

(7) Italian scholars reassessed Italian Anabaptism, reaffirmed the antitrinitarian core but fitted it more securely within general Anabaptism than earlier scholars had done. Stella utilized fresh archival sources, tied the movement more closely to Neapolitan spiritualism, especially Juan de Valdes, but also to the Marranos (Stella, 1967, 1969; Williams, 1972; Rotondò).

(8) What differences existed, conscious or not, between North German and South German Anabaptists? (Deppermann; Oyer, 1984).

(9) Liberation theology. Scholars and churchmen alike have applied Anabaptist protests to present-day conditions of oppression against the lower class, especially outside Europe and North America (Rutschman; MQR, (August 1984), entire issue; Arnold Snyder, 1984-II).

One might suppose that after the alterations of many revisionists, and under the influence of dozens of additional scholars changing earlier views of Anabaptism, no synthesis remains, nor is it possible to shape one. If the scholar concentrates on differences among Anabaptists, the multifaceted nature of the movement emerges most clearly, so that the word Anabaptism is in some sense a misnomer. But if she asks how the Anabaptists differed from particular Protestant Reformers or from Catholics, a discernible core of Anabaptist thought and practice does indeed emerge, or remain. Within the sweep of church history it is more remarkable that a large majority of Anabaptists espoused and practiced biblical nonresistance than that a minority did not; Christianity has been a religion that glorified warriors. Or, Bender's (and Kühn's before him) discipleship motif, based largely on the study of Swiss Brethren, describes surprisingly well the first-generation Anabaptists in Central Germany or the Netherlands or Austria, even those whose dominant early religiosities were more mystical than biblicist. Why? Not because Anabaptists from different geographical regions regularly conferred with each other and hammered out agreements. Morphology and broad synthesis are in ill repute at the moment, but they may well return to some prominence when scholars tire of fragmentation in our present mood of examining particularity and again crave the kind of meaning found only in generality or synthesis more broadly cast (Packull, 1979; Williams, 1984; Dyck, 1984; Weaver, 1985, 1987).

The historiography of Anabaptism is an inexhaustible topic. Only a few of the many strands of historiography of the past 25 years can be touched in one article, and only a few representative samples of significant scholarly works can be included in the bibliography. In fact the latter has been shaped consciously to fit the former. By design this study has not covered the publication of sources or of collective works--essays from symposia, festschriften--omissions of material so important that the article suffers in its usefulness to many readers. But some limitations had to be set. -- JSO

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Author(s) Harold S. Bender
John S. Oyer
Date Published 1989


Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. and John S. Oyer. "Historiography: Anabaptist." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 29 Aug 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historiography:_Anabaptist&oldid=121134.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. and John S. Oyer. (1989). Historiography: Anabaptist. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 August 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historiography:_Anabaptist&oldid=121134.




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