Hieronymus (Jeronimus, Jerome) Käls (Kels), Hutterite martyr of Kufstein, Tyrol, Austria., was a schoolmaster of the "church in Moravia." That there were still numerous Anabaptists in Lower Austria, especially in Vienna, in spite of the severe persecution resting on them in the 1530s is revealed in the trials conducted in Vienna in 1536. The men involved were Jerome Käls and his comrades, Michael Seifensieder of Wallan in Bohemia and Hans Oberecker of Affers in the Adige Valley, Upper Austria.
The trials are of more than ordinary interest, for here it can be seen that the continuous executions were a horror to the judges as well as to the population, and that the unheard-of courage of their faith and their readiness to die amazed the judges. The judge's attitude to these three men is outspokenly friendly; their brethren have access to them, bring them letters of consolation from the churches, and carry their epistles back to the churches; indeed, the prisoners are engaged in so lively a correspondence that the guards must have closed their eyes to it. We are not surprised when Hans Käls wrote that it "would be a comfort if the Brethren had a woman living here who could bring us a good letter of comfort, even if she did it as if she were bringing us food or wine."
The course of the trial against the three Brethren was as follows: In the first days of 1536, Hans Amon had sent the three to the church in the Adige. But they did not get beyond Vienna, for they were seized there. On 3 February Käls wrote to Hans Amon, who had just sent him a letter of consolation: "When we had come into the horrible sodomitic city of Vienna, we turned in at an inn where the Neustadt coaches have their lodging. While we were eating, the people wanted us to drink, as is their devilish custom. We showed them that we would have no communion with such abominations. Thereupon they began to slander your name, but we fearlessly defended your piety. Then one who sat at the table asked for paper and ink; he wrote a Latin note: Sunt hie tres personae. Videntur mihi esse Anabaptizatores. (Here are three persons who I think are Anabaptists.) He did not know that I knew Latin. I told this to the brethren, and we agreed in God's name to await what might come.
"After about two hours the bailiffs came and led us bound to the judge. When he learned that we were from Jakob Hutter's church, he said we were probably the right ones. We answered, Yes, thank God, we are the right ones. Then he had us put into a common prison. There we had to suffer much disgrace and shame. To us this was a great joy; we were only pained when they slandered you. After seven days we were summoned before the judge, who admonished us to desist. We declared that we wanted to confess the truth to our death and admonished the judge to desist from his unbelief.
"In a week the judge summoned us again. Serpents were sitting with him: three selected, treacherous, learned priests. When these made light of our calling, mocked our faith, and said they were sent to lead us away from our error, I replied joyfully: We are on the right way and have our calling from God. He has taught us not to listen to the voice of strangers. We are all willing to give an account, but not to such monks and priests who are sent by the pope, the true antichrist."
For two and one-half hours Käls now defended "his teachings on hereditary sin, infant baptism, the call, and the idolatrous sacrament." The kindly admonition of the judge of his life and body to think of his wife and children was in vain. The prisoners could not complain about the severity of the judge: "We heard," writes Käls, "two days ago that the judge told some of the councillors and men high in this world, that we were too obstinate, and he was sorry. He praised us before them. He will question us once more with kind and friendly words, but then deal with us in severity."
In his second letter to Amon, Käls says, "We have learned that many pious Christian hearts here in Vienna have bravely witnessed the truth to the Lord—brethren and sisters who remained steadfast and undismayed in the greatest tribulation." He is referring here to some Austerlitz brethren, from whom the Hutterites had separated in 1531.
The prisoners even succeeded in winning new members to their faith. Käls writes, "A man came to us in prison, bade us the peace of God, and brought us gifts. To him we wrote that we are surprised that he could live a Christian life in this idolatrous, cruel, and bloodthirsty city. We begged him to go to you at once and give an account to you. When he comes to you, instruct him in a friendly spirit; for he risked his life for us, brought us paper and writing materials, and did good to us."
Amon is requested to take the members of the church who are still living in Tyrol at once to Moravia. "May Oberecker's wife and child," writes Käls, "be commended to your care. His wish to be imprisoned either with me or with Hutter is now fulfilled." He asks in conclusion that his mother and brother be taken to Moravia; they are willing to suffer all things, but alone they cannot stand. Among those to whom he sends greetings are Hutter's widow and Jörg Fasser.
In view of the fact that the Hutterite group had separated from the Austerlitz group, Käls's testimony concerning members of the Austerlitz group who sealed their faith with death at about the same time as he, is noteworthy. "I know the Austerlitz group very well, and know that they do not live according to the command of Christ. Nevertheless I must report that many pious Christians have bravely testified to the truth here in Vienna. We hear only good of them, and testify that through them God has given great Christian signs."
In prison Käls was apparently quite noisy. "To the priest I cried out, how long would he blaspheme with his unprofitable yelling. Then Huetstöck came to me in prison and said, Jerome, you must stop your yelling. I said I would not, for then the stones in the wall would cry out. To the priest who came to indoctrinate me I said: You ungodly fellow, throw away your fool's cap, take a hoe and work." All three of the prisoners finally handed the judge an account (Rechenschaftt) of their faith. They wrote, "We are compelled to write to you, since we are unworthy to speak to you, and not skillful enough. We have now appeared before you many times and have answered your questions and requests with the truth as we want to answer for it before God; thus we still stand and will persist therein until our death. Therefore we beg you, for God's sake not to trouble yourself any further."
Like Käls, Seifensieder (Hans Mändl) and Oberecker also sent letters to their fellow prisoners or to the brotherhood in Moravia. Seifensieder (or Behaim as he is called here) explains that he had at first been with many sects and false brethren "now and again in Beheim," all of whom boast and have a good outward appearance, until God finally drew him out of this terrible darkness.
The last letter Käls wrote to his wife, "his dearest Treudl," has moving tones: "I send you a hymn. I sang it in my prison through God's Spirit with a sincere heart. May the Lord also teach you to sing it to His praise and glory. I send it to you with sincere love. Remain God-fearing and faithful and constant in the truth. I thank God, who gave you to me in mercy. I pray God that He may preserve you to your children. Always be obedient to the dear brethren and sisters, be of lowly, humble heart, always esteeming others better than yourself… Greet my son David. Ask my brother Lienhard Sailer (Lanzenstiel) to teach you the tune, greet him for me and tell him to learn it too and sing it for my sake."
Among his brethren Käls had the reputation of being an excellent, learned schoolmaster, who wrote many good teachings and prayers for the children. In prison he wrote in addition to the song mentioned above also: "Ich freu mich dein, o Vater mein"; "Ich reu und klag den ganzen Tag"; "Ich will dich Herr und mein Gott loben" (Die Lieder, 61-71).
The Rechenschaft of these three brethren is important if for no other reason than that they contain the earliest testimony to Hutter's teaching, "to whom Jerome was an intimate brother." Strangely there is no reference to the community of goods, which was the center of Hutter's doctrinal edifice.
On 31 March 1536 the three prisoners were burned in Vienna.
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Cite This Article
Loserth, Johann. "Käls, Hieronymus (d. 1536)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 4 Sep 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=K%C3%A4ls,_Hieronymus_(d._1536)&oldid=92208.
Loserth, Johann. (1957). Käls, Hieronymus (d. 1536). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 4 September 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=K%C3%A4ls,_Hieronymus_(d._1536)&oldid=92208.
Herald Press website.
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