Balzer, Heinrich (1800-1846)

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Heinrich Balzer (born 1800, died 1 January 1846) was a minister of the Kleine Gemeinde at Orlov (Molotschna), South Russia, during the 1830s. He is the author of a remarkable tract entitled Verstand und Vernunft (Understanding and Reason), written in 1833 (first published by J. G. Stauffer, Quakertown, Pennsylvania, in his periodical Die Kirche unterm Kreuz, 1886-87). It was re-edited in an English version by Robert Friedmann (in Mennonite Quarterly Review 22, 82-93), together with a discussion of its meaning (ibid., 75-81). The main theme of this semiphilosophical essay regarding the basic principles of Mennonitism was the antithesis of "understanding" and "reason," the difference between a principle appreciated by the "world," namely, natural reason (the intellectual frame of mind), and the other principle that led the earnest Christian in his search of God's Word, namely, understanding (according to 2 Timothy 2:7 and similar loci), which could also be called "reason of the heart" (the mind illuminated by the Holy Spirit). It meant the faculty to know God and His truth, something inaccessible to natural reason with its science and secular philosophy. Thus Balzer developed most stimulatingly his own theory of the tension between the true Christian and the world, between faith and reason, as a difference of two basic approaches in life. Much depended on whether man chose understanding or reason as the principle to rely upon. One had to be conscious of this antithesis in order not to fall into the snares of the great enemy. Paul's admonition in 2 Corinthians 10:5, "to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" finds here an elaborate apology. "Simplicity is the very element of 'understanding,' but to reason it is obnoxious . . . . Reason, on its part, however, can be led astray through imagination and fancy" (Sect. VI). Balzer warned against any "modernistic" trends in the church tending toward assimilation with the world. This strictly conservative outlook prompted Balzer to part from his former Mennonite affiliation and to join the Kleine Gemeinde, a group not unlike the Reformed Mennonite Church in America. In spite of the praise of Biblical simplicity, the essay is unique in the "philosophical" approach to the problem of nonconformity, interpreting the Mennonite position as Balzer saw it, in abstract principles of profound implications. The essay suggested comparison with an old Hutterite letter of 1571 which discussed the similar topic, "Reason and Obedience" (Mennonite Quarterly Review 19, 1945, 27-40). The parallelism of these two Mennonite or Anabaptist documents proves the continuity of one of the main Anabaptist principles up to our time. The implications with regard to learning and other up-to-date problems of church adjustment are obvious.


Friedmann, Robert. "Faith and Reason: The Principles of Mennonitism Reconsidered, in a Treatise of 1833." Mennonite Quarterly Review 22 (1948).

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1953

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MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Balzer, Heinrich (1800-1846)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 7 Dec 2023.,_Heinrich_(1800-1846)&oldid=75117.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1953). Balzer, Heinrich (1800-1846). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 7 December 2023, from,_Heinrich_(1800-1846)&oldid=75117.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 217-218. All rights reserved.

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