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1958 Article

Wilhelm Reublin (Röuble, Röblin, Reeblin, Reble, Reubel, or Reiblin), an early Anabaptist, is one of the most interesting figures of the century of the Reformation. Among the Anabaptists of his time he is one of the most frequently named; his fate as well as his career are among the most remarkable.

He was born between 1480 and 1484 in Rottenburg on the Neckar, died after 1559, probably in Znaim in Moravia. He had already received a clerical consecration while a student at the University of Freiburg. On 21 August 1509 he went to Tübingen. His parish of Griessen (between Schaffhausen and Waldshut) he committed to the care of others, and in 1510 he gave it up. For the following years his trace is lost. In the spring of 1521 he appeared with the title of Magister and on June 24 he entered St. Alban's Church in Basel as people's priest. His powerful advocacy of the new faith won him a large following, particularly among the trade guilds. According to the Basel chronicles he explained "the holy Scriptures so well that the like had never been heard before." His audience numbered up to 4,000. He preached against the ceremonies of the old church and its hierarchy, the vigils, annual Masses and Masses for the dead, the regulations of fasting, and offered to give an account on all these points from the Bible. When he began to preach against the Mass the bishop raised a complaint with the council. The populace sided with the bold preacher, since he proclaimed the pure Scripture, and the council had to let him go. But on 13 June he declared the Gospel to be the true sacred object, and the monstrance to contain only dead bones; he was then expelled from the city, in spite of the intervention of his friends, on 27 June 1522. He at once received an appointment as people's priest at Lauffenburg on the Rhine, but could not remain under Austrian dominion. In the autumn of 1522 Reublin appeared in Zürich without a position, and at once joined the Reformation circles and became one of its most radical proponents. "God-fearing people gave him the necessary support at first." He preached repeatedly in the Fraumünster and was made assistant preacher in Wytikon and Zollikon, subsidiaries of the prebendary foundation (Chorherrnstift) of Zürich. In Wytikon the peasants chose him as pastor in 1523, to the great displeasure of the prebendaries. In Zürich he also advocated a radical course, deliberately broke the fasts, incited the peasants to rebel against the tithe, and criticized the government and the monastic system. In his sermons he even used obscene expressions in speaking of the secret sins of the nuns. On 18 April 1523 he married Adelheid Leemann; he was the first priest to take this step in Switzerland.

Reublin was the first in the canton of Zürich, in early 1524, to preach against the baptism of infants; by Easter a number of parents in his congregation did not present their children for baptism. He said, "If I had a child I would not have it baptized before it came to maturity and could choose its own godparents." He was arrested and imprisoned for a time. The opponents of infant baptism during this time gathered around men like Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel. In the debate between them and Zwingli and his party on 17 January 1525, Reublin was a participant. Zwingli considered him simple of mind and foolishly bold, garrulous, and unwise. After the debate the Anabaptists were expelled from the canton, including Reublin.

Reublin, accompanied by his friend Brötli, went first to Hallau, and stayed a while in the region of Schaffhausen. While here it is assumed that he also visited his former parish of Griessen. But nothing is definitely known about such a visit. Specifically, there is no evidence that Reublin, Grebel, and Manz paid a visit to Thomas Müntzer, who is thought to have stayed at Griessen three months previously. From Hallau Reublin went to the Austrian city of Waldshut. There he won Balthasar Hubmaier and with him the city for the Anabaptist cause, carrying through a baptism of 300 persons on Easter Day. In March 1526 he was in Strasbourg, where he was probably received by the tailor Jörg Ziegler. He debated on baptism with Capito in Capito's home. Capito wrote to Zwingli that Reublin appeared to be a pious and honorable man, but not a diamond in dependability. He evaded a colloquium, but started a rumor that the preachers had yielded to him and accepted Anabaptist doctrine but did not dare to take the position in the open for fear of the secular authorities. He was challenged three times to a discussion on infant baptism, but rejected it, saying that it was unnecessary, and left the city.

Reublin now turned toward his home town Rottenburg. Here and in Horb he was active in the Anabaptist cause. He called Michael Sattler to take charge of the work in the region of Horb. When Sattler and his followers, including Reublin's wife, were seized by the Austrian government and taken to Binsdorf, Reublin fled to Reutlingen, where a married sister was living. Here he wrote a brief account of the death of his friend Michael Sattler and his companions, and of the tribulations of the Anabaptists in Swabia. His wife remained in prison a long time; the mayor of Zürich, at the request of her relatives, sent a petition in her behalf. She was probably released upon recantation and an oath, for Reublin reported to Zollikon that all the women with the exception of Sattler's wife had recanted. But the Zürich copyist of the letter written by Reublin to the Swiss Brethren (after 17 July 1527) added the sentence, "William's wife with her eighteen-months-old son is lying in prison with others at Horb in a tower, and has been lying thus since the second week after Easter" (Easter fell on April 21).

From Reutlingen Reublin went to Ulm, probably by way of Esslingen, where there was a large Anabaptist congregation. In Ulm he met Hans Denck. He soon returned to Esslingen, and there, as his enemies reported, "he conducted a regimen like the infallible pope." But there were also other influences at work in Esslingen. The Anabaptists of Esslingen, embittered by the execution of Anabaptists at Rottenburg, wanted to take up arms against those who believed differently, in the name of the true government in heaven. Reublin was sharply opposed to Leonhard Lutz, who had fled to Reutlingen, and who with his group had been persuaded by the Lutheran clergy that the Anabaptist position on baptism was too harsh and severe. Reublin bitterly reproached him and his party. But Reutlingen was not open to Anabaptist doctrine. In 1528 Reublin was expelled from Esslingen with the lash, and Stephan Böhmerle —and in the next year four other Anabaptists—was put to death by beheading. The leaders of the Swabian League had demanded that Esslingen take a more active attitude against Anabaptism. Reublin was considered by them "a very wicked and seditious person"; on 20 February 1528 the "shepherd, or Brother Wilhelm," as he was called, had disappeared from the city.

Reublin next went to Strasbourg. There he worked with Jakob Kautz, who had recently been expelled from Worms, and Hans Bünderlin of Linz. Reublin was also acquainted with Pilgram Marpeck, of Tyrol, and Jakob Wideman, of Memmingen. Reublin soon became known as an Anabaptist leader; his followers, for the most part refugees from other cities, held their meetings on Saturday, and also on other days; they had a proper congregational organization, with deacons who gathered contributions from the members and others in the vicinity. Since Reublin and Kautz everywhere attacked the clergy of Strasbourg, the council intervened. On 22 October 1528 an Anabaptist meeting was interrupted by police and Reublin and Kautz arrested. Reublin tried to flee, but failed and was imprisoned in the tower of the "Ratsbote" Thomas. On 5 January 1529 they were summoned to give an account of themselves. Ten days later they presented a statement of their faith: water baptism is the enrollment of the believers in the visible church of God. "If he desires it, he shall not be refused, if he has heard the word of penitence and consented to it in his heart. A confessed faith . . . must precede and not follow baptism. Thus it is clear that infant baptism is contrary to the command of Christ." "Again, we know from experience that your preachers are comparable to poor carpenters, who have, to be sure, torn down the church of the pope, but have not yet built a church of Christian order; thus their call is not of God, not divine, but earthly." Thereupon the clergy were again sent to the two for further discussion. Reublin and Kautz demanded a public trial. Bucer and his colleagues favored their request, but the council insisted that the debate be fought out in writing. The result was inconclusive. The prisoners were released and expelled from the city and bishopric on threat of drowning if they reappeared. During his imprisonment Reublin had become crippled; he returned to his home to recuperate. He and his wife and children then went on to Moravia. A group of his former flock had already gone there. In vain he had tried to settle in Konstanz.

In early 1530 Reublin arrived in Austerlitz, Moravia. The elements that had assembled here were too heterogeneous to function without friction. Satan, say the chronicles, attacked the people at their most vulnerable spot, namely, their elders, upon whom their whole life depended. During the summer they had held their meetings in the open; but during the winter, when it was too cold to meet outside, they found no place large enough to hold them. Therefore they were divided into three groups and a preacher assigned to each group. This step proved costly. The teaching differed from one group to another. One taught that Christ was a citizen in Capernaum; therefore they too might perform civic duties and the oath. Others, as Jakob Wideman, were not competent as preachers. They preached that the sisters should marry, else the brethren must be given heathen wives. Girls were bothered by peculiar questions. Some of the preachers showed signs of pride, eating and dressing better than their brethren. The Tyrolese complained that the preaching here was not as edifying as it had been at home, and appealed to Jörg Zaunring, their compatriot, concerning "judgment" and "discipline of children." At this point Reublin intervened. He was not received with the cordiality he wished, but rather with distrust. He was not permitted to preach, "because they had had no experience with him." Was Wideman acquainted with Reublin's restlessness, and did he have a premonition of his lack of integrity? Perhaps he feared Reublin's sharp judgment, which had accused the Strasbourg clergy of being able only to tear down, but not to build up. Here Reublin was no more optimistic than there.

In Auspitz Reublin became the leader of an opposition party and began to speak about the abuses in the brotherhood. For a time he filled the place of the preacher Kilian; this fact he took as a justification to step in here. Concerning the reasons for this dispute with the elders he wrote to Pilgram Marpeck on 26 January 1531 (letter in Cornelius, II, 253 ff.). The original letter was taken from Julius Lober, on 8 April 1531, by Albrecht Gailing, magistrate in Hoheneck near Ansbach (Bergdolt, 109). This letter says that one evening after the common meal near the close of 1530 he began to read aloud, and, since the people gathered around him, to explain the Scripture; likewise on the next evening. On the third evening the elders drove the people out of the room. Then they went to the schoolroom and listened to Reublin there. Jakob Wideman thereupon called the people together, spoke of the wonderful works he and his fellow preachers had performed at Nikolsburg and Austerlitz, and gave orders that only the preachers he specified be allowed to preach; the others were to listen. But Reublin's friends asked him to continue. Thus a break was inevitable.

On New Year's Day of 1531 Wideman summoned all the elders and announced that Reublin taught at inconvenient times and contrary to their order, that the people were running after him, and that he was a false prophet. Reublin's friends refused to have the reading of the Word denied them in their house. When Wideman asked all those who considered his preaching right to come to his side, Zaunring and others remained on Reublin's side and demanded that Reublin's answer be heard. Reublin refused, "for they had already been sitting in the cold all day. They would have liked to turn the people from us, but the people understood the matter." On 3 January the elders demanded that Reublin and his immediate group give an account of themselves for calling the elders false preachers and prophets. Reublin replied that they would do so only before the assembled brotherhood. On the next day Reublin then presented his charges to the assembly as follows: the leaders of the brotherhood did not constitute a Christian church in one God, one faith, and one baptism; for they not only showed no fruits, but also prevented others from doing so. In the second place they grieved the Christian brotherhood which has its strength and being in the Holy Spirit, and thus wasted the fountain of divine grace in depriving preachers and hearers of the strength of the spirit of grace. Thirdly, they permitted the wealthy to have their own houses with rich food and clothing; the wives of some of the wealthy had never been seen at the common table. In the fourth place they held baptism alone to be the work of justification, whereas it should be faith. In the fifth place, though they taught that every person awakened by the Holy Spirit was a true apostle, nevertheless they did not allow him to preach. Other complaints dealt with the poor training of the children. Many a person had contributed fifty guilders to the brotherhood, and then had to see his own child go hungry. From such false prophets one must part. Thereupon Reublin was put out of the brotherhood as "one who incites and makes unhappy."

Reublin gathered his followers; on 8 January 1531 they "shook the dust off their feet" and withdrew, about 300 persons, not including children. With great difficulty they reached Auspitz . One of Reublin's friends by the name of Kaspar had gone to Auspitz some time earlier. "Let every one consider how burdensome such a journey with so many children was in winter in such poverty." Johanna von Boskowitz, a noblewoman and abbess of Mariasaal near Brno, gave them residence and in the village of Steurowitz in a parsonage, "in which we now have about fifty brethren." In particular the sick and the children were lodged here.

The beginnings were difficult enough in Auspitz and Steurowitz. "The people were not trained in agriculture and in the work in the vineyards." Attacks by robbers also caused some trouble. But still more serious was the fact that the Brethren were unable to achieve unity even here. There were justified complaints against Kaspar and especially against Reublin, who had rudely rejected a preacher of Swabia who wished to join them with a small group of his own. Reublin had organized a brotherhood on strictly communistic lines. But while the members suffered want though performing difficult work, forty guilders were found on Reublin during a severe illness. And so he, the leader of the Anabaptists, and the preacher of community, lost his good name, and was banned as a "lying, unfaithful, treacherous Ananias." He himself confessed that this judgment had come upon him with reason. But in spite of his repentance he was apparently not taken back into the brotherhood. Reublin's name then disappeared from the chronicles of the Hutterian Brethren.

But in July 1531 Reublin appeared in the vicinity of Rottenburg. He was presumably making an attempt to collect the remnants of his former congregation here in his home area. Near Esslingen he found about 300 persons. But they had scarcely met, when they were dispersed by the Swabian League.

The next information comes in 1535, when Reublin wrote a letter to Heinrich Bullinger, the leader of the Reformed Church in Zürich. Reublin had returned from Moravia with a demand against his brother-in-law Felix Leeman, and asked Bullinger (probably successfully) for support. The letter shows that Reublin had withdrawn from Anabaptism. His residence was in Znaim in Moravia. Ten years later (1545/46) he made two journeys from Znaim to Zürich, serving as a letter carrier between Soerin, a clergyman at Ulm, and Bullinger. On his second return trip to Moravia in June 1546 he was the leader of the Zürich citizens Hans Hug and Meinrat Oggenfuss, who with letters of recommendation from the Zürich city council went to Moravia for some unknown reason (but not as Anabaptists) and returned in August.

In August 1554, at the age of seventy, Reublin appeared in Basel in poor health and asked a shelter for himself and his wife for the short time of life remaining to them, and a small sum for their support; he offered to supply the sick and the aged in particular with distilled goods. But he was sent to a spa with a considerable gift of money (Burckhardt).

On 8 February 1559, King Ferdinand wrote to the authorities at Innsbruck that Wilhelm Reble of Znaim had repeatedly requested the release of his inheritance in Rottenburg, which was being withheld. He was inclined to be gracious to Reble, and would like to see him come into his possessions if only in consideration of his advanced age—Reublin was at that time between seventy-five and eighty years old. It is not known whether Reublin lived to see the restoration of his property. Did he manage to conceal his past, so that Ferdinand was not aware that he was the "renegade Lutheran priest" whom he had once in great anger commanded to be seized? Had Reublin in his last days returned to the bosom of the Catholic Church? Could the love of money have taken him so far? It is not known, just as his character in general is a puzzle. At times he appears in a very dubious light, and at other times his tragic fate and often deeply moving words reach across the centuries. But his attachment to the Anabaptists was without question permanently broken in the 1530's.

(Based on material left by Johann Loserth and Gustav Bossert, written by Gustav Bossert, Jr., supplemented by Eberhard Teufel and Heinold Fast.) -- GBos

1989 Update

Wilhelm Reublin was one of the most widely connected figures in early Swiss and South German Anabaptism. His career demonstrates the close relation between believers' baptism and social protest.

Born in Rottenburg on the Neckar, educated at Freiburg and Tübingen, Reublin was a priest whose sphere of activity in the diocese of Constance overlapped Swabia (southwestern Germany) and Switzerland. His tithe resistance in the Reformation and Peasants' War may have been inspired by the Tübingen master Conrad Summenhart (d. 1502), who taught that the tithe had no basis in divine law.

Expelled from his charge in Basel in 1522 for zealous advocacy of the Reformation, at the end of that year he was made priest by the village of Witikon in Zürich territories. In June 1523 he led six villages south and east of Zürich in resisting payment of tithes to the major ecclesiastical chapter in the city. In his sermons at the time he praised godly peasants and attacked clerics, patricians, and burgomasters. Conrad Grebel sided with the rural tithe resisters against Zwingli and the Zürich Council in what seems to have been the beginning of the rupture between Zwingli and the Reformation radicals in Zürich. In early 1524 rural followers of Reublin were the first Zürich subjects to refuse infant baptism. Reublin, Grebel, and Mantz were the chief advocates of adult baptism in debates before the Zürich Council in January 1525.

Exiled from Zürich in January 1525 because of their opposition to Zwingli on the baptism issue, Reublin and Johannes Brötli took refuge in Hallau for the rest of the year. Hallau was the center of rural resistance to the government of Schaffhausen during the Peasants' War. Reublin and Brötli replaced the Hallau pastor and enjoyed armed protection by the villagers when the Schaffhausen government tried to arrest them. Reublin established contact with two nearby Reformers sympathetic to Anabaptism: the Schaffhausen pastor Sebastian Hofmeister, and the Waldshut pastor, Balthasar Hubmaier. Reublin baptized Hubmaier, who initiated an Anabaptist Reformation in Waldshut at Easter 1525. During the Peasants' War Reublin was the leading figure in temporarily establishing a territorial base for Anabaptism in the Swiss-Swabian border lands. The village of Schleitheim, very close to Hallau, refused its tithes in 1525 and afterward. It was in Reublin's sphere of activity and he led Michael Sattler to Schleitheim in February 1527, almost as certainly as he led him to Horb, where Sattler was arrested. This link of Reublin with Schleitheim lends credibility to interpreting the Seven Articles of Schleitheim as an expression, in radically altered form, of the Peasant War's rejection of established society.

Active in Switzerland, Swabia, Alsace, and Moravia, Reublin, in less than 10 years as an Anabaptist, had intimate connections with most of the important leaders of Swiss-South German Anabaptism: with Conrad Grebel, Felix Mantz, Balthasar Hubmaier, Michael Sattler, Hans Denck, Jakob Kautz, Hans Bünderlin, Pilgram Marpeck, Jakob Wideman, and Jakob Hutter. He eventually renounced Anabaptism and lived for more than 30 years afterward, dying at an advanced age. -- JMS


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Author(s) Gustav, Jr. Bossert
James M. Stayer
Date Published 1989


Cite This Article

MLA style

Bossert, Gustav, Jr. and James M. Stayer. "Reublin, Wilhelm (1480/84-after 1559)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 24 Apr 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Reublin,_Wilhelm_(1480/84-after_1559)&oldid=60438.

APA style

Bossert, Gustav, Jr. and James M. Stayer. (1989). Reublin, Wilhelm (1480/84-after 1559). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 April 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Reublin,_Wilhelm_(1480/84-after_1559)&oldid=60438.




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