Borrhaus, Martin (1499-1564)

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Martin Borrhaus (Burress; also commonly known as Cellarius) was born in 1499 at Stuttgart, Germany, studied at the University of Tübingen, where he became a friend of Melanchthon, then in Ingolstadt under Reuchlin, from whom he acquired a thorough knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. A dispute with Johann Eck, Luther's noted opponent, led him to Wittenberg. Having here become an ardent follower of Martin Luther, he came under the influence of Marcus Stübner, one of the Zwickau prophets. Via Stuttgart he betook himself to Switzerland, where he met Felix Manz. He apparently remained for some time; but he left Zürich before the first Anabaptist disputation on 17 January 1525, and proceeded through Austria and Poland to Prussia. In Prussia he was placed in mild arrest and then released on the promise to go to Wittenberg and present himself to Martin Luther for a conversation, which dealt with the doctrine of predestination. Luther invited him to remain, but he settled in South Germany.

In late November 1525, he came to Strasbourg, where Capito received him in his home, though not without some hesitancy. "Before I saw him," he wrote to Zwingli on 21 September 1527, "I hated him bitterly. For I had heard nothing from those who knew him but foolishness, pride, arrogance, and sedition." Gradually Capito came entirely under the influence of this important man. He wrote the introduction to De operibus dei, which Borrhaus published in July 1527. He says, "Martin Cellarius came here on a journey, a man of God and gifted with an excellent spirit. When he heard of the condition of our church . . . he resolved to come to an understanding with us concerning the faith. We were very willing, met, debated with each other, and both sides discussed in detail how the glory of God must be still more gloriously revealed in our time. . . . The truth was much clearer to him. . . . Then . . . each assured the other of our mutual faith and the grace we had received."

Zwingli felt uneasy about this enthusiastic friendship between Capito and Borrhaus. He recalled too vividly how a few years before, he had collided with Borrhaus in Zürich and pressed him for his Anabaptist views. He warned his Strasbourg friend of Borrhaus. Capito replied on 15 August 1527 defending his friend, "Martin Cellarius is far better than his reputation. . . . I write this to you to clear our common brother of the suspicion of Anabaptism and present him as an elect servant. . . . When the Anabaptists charged you with cruelty in the execution of Manz, he stood bravely on our side and still does so, defending your innocence as that of a splendid child of God."

Probably at Capito's request Borrhaus wrote to Zwingli on 31 August 1527, defending himself against the reproach of Anabaptism. "If some reckon me among the Anabaptists, I do not doubt that my book (De operibus dei) will easily cure them of this suspicion. It acknowledges the justification of government, repudiates the doctrine of the free will, glorifies the power of election above all else . . . , allows a free use of the outward ceremonies according to the norm of love and the regula fidei and finally its aim is particularly the glory of God and the salvation of the church."

But Zwingli could not so easily give up his suspicion. Once more Capito defended Borrhaus in a letter to Zwingli on 21 September 1527, and used in his favor his aversion to the Anabaptists, his sanction of the Strasbourg government, the assistance he gave the preachers, and his excellent character.

Without question it is due to the influence of Borrhaus that Capito's views were so closely related to those of the Anabaptists. This is expressed in his commentary on Hosea. Bucer was quite horrified by it. He too had at first a most favorable opinion of Borrhaus. In a letter to Farel, 13 December 1526, he praised his greatness of spirit (see Bucer). He too defended him in a letter to Zwingli on 26 September 1527: "What you have written us warning us about Borrhaus we have gratefully received; but because one would have to call the bright light dark if we did not confess that Borrhaus is thoroughly pious, we will beware of admitting suspicions that are foreign to love. Yet I confess that I would give much to have him accept our view of baptism. While in everything else he confesses the same as we, while he lives blamelessly and sanctions nothing less than the raving of the Anabaptists, we cannot reject him." But when Bucer perceived the predominant influence of Borrhaus on his friend Capito, he changed his mind. How different is his verdict in a letter to Zwingli on 15 April 1528: "What you feared has happened. Borrhaus, who is motivated by a true Anabaptist spirit, has tricked our Capito by his association with him." A bitter hostility developed between Borrhaus and Bucer, which nearly descended to acts of violence. "He, Cellarius, the dwarf, nearly attacked me, the giant, on the street," writes Bucer in this letter.

Bucer now asked Zwingli and Oecolampadius to exert all their influence to remove Capito from the dangerous influence of Borrhaus. Thereupon Zwingli addressed a skillfully composed letter to both Bucer and Capito together, most sharply attacking Borrhaus and calling attention to the great dangers threatening the Strasbourg church through him. This took effect. Capito broke with him. Borrhaus left Strasbourg for a teaching career at Basel in 1536, first as professor of rhetoric, then as professor of theology. After an eventful life he died in Basel on 11 October 1564.

Borrhaus was not an Anabaptist. His connections with the Zürich Anabaptists were temporary. In Strasbourg he did not adhere to the Anabaptists. He opposed Denck from the very beginning. At the colloquium which he and Haetzer held with Denck at the wish of the Strasbourg preachers in December 1526, he attacked Denck's doctrine of the freedom of the will expressed in his pamphlet, Was geredt sei. Denck wisely yielded and stressed the points of agreement between them; so they parted in perfect peace and Borrhaus thought he had converted Denck (Hulshof, 39). Borrhaus apparently never gave up his view that infant baptism is not justified, but held baptism to be an external matter to be left to the individual. Bock, in his Historia Antitrinitariorum, counts him an Antitrinitarian, though unjustly, and lists his numerous writings. Menno Simons quotes De operibus dei in matters pertaining to baptism (Krahn, Menno Simons, 46).


Gerbert, Camill. Geschichte der strassburger Sectenbewegung zur Zeit der Reformation 1524-1534. Strassburg: J.H. Ed. Heitz (Heitz & Mündel), 1889.

Heberle, J. "Die Anfänge des Anabaptismus in der Schweiz." Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie (1858): 262 f.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 336-338.

Herzog, J. J. And Albert Hauck, Realencyclopedie für Protestantische Theologie and Kirche. 3. ed. Leipzig: J.H. Hinrichs, 1896-1913: v. III

Hulshof, Abram. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden te Straatsburg van 1525 tot 1557: Academisch proefschrift ... Amsterdam: J. Clausen, drukker van het Amsterdamsch studentencorps, 1905.

Keim. K. T. "Haetzer." Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie (1856)): 215 ff.

Keller, Ludwig. Ein Apostel der Wiedertäufer. Leipzig: Verlag von S. Hirzel, 1882.

Riggenbach, Bernhard. Basler Jahrbuch (1900): 47-84.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Date Published 1953

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Neff, Christian. "Borrhaus, Martin (1499-1564)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 28 Feb 2024.,_Martin_(1499-1564)&oldid=120916.

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Neff, Christian. (1953). Borrhaus, Martin (1499-1564). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 February 2024, from,_Martin_(1499-1564)&oldid=120916.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 538-539. All rights reserved.

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