Bossert, Gustav (1841-1925)

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Gustav Bossert was an outstanding research scholar in the field of the history of the Reformation in Württemberg. He was born 21 October 1841 at Täbingen near Rottweil, and was a Lutheran parson at Bächlingen near Langenburg, 1869-1888, and in Nabern near Kirchheim, 1888-1907. His contribution to the history of Anabaptism was unique; he was one of the first modern scholars to sweep aside completely the sectarian prejudice which had for centuries severely handicapped the study of this movement, and to report the facts objectively and sympathetically. While he wrote no comprehensive work on the Anabaptists, he did write a large number of detailed research articles and was the compiler and editor of the large volume of Anabaptist source documents of Württemberg with which the Verein für Reformationsgeschichte opened the great series of source volumes, Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer. Bossert died 29 November 1925 in Stuttgart.

Of Bossert's numerous studies in Anabaptist history the most striking were his account of the life and end of Michaei Sattler and his extensive study of Augustin Bader, the so-called king and prophet of the Anabaptists. In them Bossert presented the antipodes of the original movement. Michael Sattler, the ex-monk, the finest personality among the Swiss-South German Brethren, the probable author of the significant Seven Articles of Schleitheim, appeared as the archetype of the peaceful group. This story, it seems, was Bossert's starting point in Anabaptist history. It was a remarkable deed for a Lutheran country pastor in the 1880s to publish for the first time the records of Sattler's trial and death (in the well-known periodical, Die Christliche Welt). In 1892 even the strong state church Protestant Gustav Adolf Verein had Bossert edit the story again. This was the estimate that this Lutheran pastor gave of Sattler: "Men of the spiritual breadth, of the courage and readiness for martyrdom of Michael Sattler, such men are the heroes who will preserve the kingdom. Perhaps sometime there will be a monument erected in Rottenburg for Sattler like those erected for Giordano Bruno in Rome and John Hus in Konstanz." Yet Michael Sattler was classed with such fantastic persons as Augustin Bader who were wrongly taken as representative Anabaptists. In fact the whole of Anabaptist history was treated by the scholars in such a misleading manner as to justify the state churches. Here again Bossert's painstaking researches revealed clearly the truth in the mystifying case of Augustin Bader. He very plainly proved that Augustin Bader had left the peaceful Anabaptists, who had also excommunicated him, when he started his fantastic program. The official historians, however, preferred mysteries to historical truth; the bloody action of the authorities needed justification. Just so the judges of 1527 who condemned Sattler had needed lies and deceit.

Why was it that the Anabaptists were not met in the spirit of the Gospel, and that recourse to bloody measures seems to have become "inevitable"? There is no doubt that everywhere the Anabaptists themselves proved to be much better provided with ammunition from the Gospel than the learned theologians were. Again and again Bossert showed that the public law was applied against the Anabaptists not because of creeds and forms of baptism but because of the Anabaptist ethic, which was considered a danger to the existing social order. In the case of Augustin Bader, Bossert pointed out clearly what a large part political considerations played in the persecution of the Anabaptists. The Württemberg Anabaptists were believed to be connected with the agitation by which the Duke of Württemberg was trying to regain his country from which he had been exiled in 1519 by the Swabian League. The actions of Augustin Bader, falsely assumed to be a leader of the Anabaptists, frightened the Austrian rulers of Württemberg and also other German princes. The Peasants' Revolt, suppressed only a few years before, was another cause for the suspicion of the authorities. Furthermore, just at this time the Turks were a serious threat to the Holy Roman Empire and it was again Ferdinand who was ordained to be Chief Defender. Eschatological utterances of some of the Anabaptists, referring to the Turks as divine agents in bringing in the millennium, were interpreted by the authorities to mean that the Anabaptists were allies of the Turks! It was again Bossert who showed that all these political charges were an absurdity.

Bossert's work in general was one of the few contributions by modern writers which threw light on the early period of persecution. His (and the other) researches were at the same time a remarkable support of the authenticity and high degree of accuracy of the oldest Mennonite historical work, the Dutch Martyrs Mirror of 1660. Bossert went farther than the Martyrs Mirror by adding a great deal of information regarding the methods of persecution. For instance, he discovered a significant change in the methods of the Austrian government in Württemberg, which is recorded in Ferdinand's decree of 1 October 1528, issued in Stuttgart, which ordered that the more bloody methods be dropped. Only a few months previously, Ferdinand had urged that Anabaptist leaders should be beheaded without trial, the Swabian League had sent out special squads of cavalry, and the dukes of Bavaria protected their boundaries with regular troops against the Anabaptists, inquisitorial methods having extinguished the movement within their duchies up to that time. Bossert suggested that the change in Württemberg came apparently from the effect of the cruel punishment of Michaei Sattler, which had been a stimulus rather than a deterrent to the spread of Anabaptist ideas. One of Ferdinand's decrees (reprinted by Bossert as the first of his sources in his studies on Bader, IV, in the Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte XI, 1914, 18 f.) ordered the (Catholic) theologians of the University of Tübingen to instruct the Anabaptists zur Ehre Gottes, zur Erhaltung des christlichen Glaubens und zum Besten des gemeinen christlichen Volkes. In other words, the professors of Tübingen were to engage in disputations with the Anabaptists. Thus in effect the Catholics adopted Zwinglian methods in dealing with them. However, neither the milder policy which the Catholic authorities here introduced nor the semi-toleration urged by the Lutheran John Brenz, was successful. Fiercer methods were again introduced, with the result that finally all the important groups of Anabaptists in South Germany were exterminated.

The aim of this brief review of Bossert's work has been to demonstrate his successful and thorough contribution toward revealing the true character of the Anabaptist movement, which had been perverted in traditional literature as truly as the movement itself had been destroyed by the iron hand of the political authorities.

No complete list of Bossert's publications has been published. In the following catalog an attempt is made to collect all of Bossert's contributions which are of immediate value for Anabaptist history. Some are mentioned by Hege in his brief article on Bossert (Mennonitisches Lexikon I). The last great work Bossert undertook was the collection of all the archival material concerning the Anabaptists in Württemberg and Hohenlohe. Apparently he died just before the manuscript went to press.

Christian Hege rendered a great service in securing Bossert to write numerous articles for the Mennonitisches Lexikon. In these articles, the most important ones of which are named below, Bossert carefully boiled down his findings to give their essence in a most informing way. Unfortunately a chronic lack of finances made it impossible to carry out Hege's complete plan. No attempt is here made to collect the various reviews Bossert wrote on books on Anabaptist history and the like. The main part of his very constructive reviews was published in Harnack and Schürer's Theologische Literaturzeitung from 1885 on. They refered not only to his particular field, but also to the Reformation history of Switzerland, Austria, Poland, etc.

A. Books and Pamphlets

Das Blutgericht in Rottenburg am Neckar (the trial and death of Michaei Sattler), enlarged reprint from the Christliche Welt, 1891, 22 ff., as No. 162 of the series (Bremen, 1892); Hartmann and Bossert, Württembergische Kirchengeschichte (Calw, 1893); Württembergische Geschichtsquellen II (Stuttgart, 1895); Beschreibung des Oberamts Rottenburg I 1899 (Bossert wrote the historical section) ; Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer I, Herzogtum Württemberg (Leipzig, 1930).

B. Articles in Encyclopedias

1. Realencyclopedie für Protestantische Theologie and Kirche (3d ed., Leipzig, 1896-1913). Blarer, Ambrosius (Hartmann revised), a Swabian reformer (1492-1564) of a rather fair-minded attitude toward Anabaptists; Christoph, Herzog von Württemberg; Wilhelm Reublin, Michaei Sattler; Jakob Strauss.

2. Mennonitisches Lexikon: Joachim Fleiner, an Anabaptist martyr of 1530, son of a patrician of Ulm; Friedrich, Herzog von Württemberg (ruled 1593-1608, and was financially interested in the confiscated fortunes of the few Anabaptists still struggling for their life in Württemberg or leaving for Moravia to join the Hutterites); Alfred Hegler, a Tübingen theologian whose important work on Geist und Schrift bei Sebastian Franck (Freiburg, 1892) shed a very helpful light on the early Anabaptists; Michaei Sattler; Ulrich, Herzog von Württemberg. The following articles on various cities and smaller places where the Anabaptist movement was of importance: Gmünd; Hall; Heilbronn; Hohenwittlingen; Horb; Mantelhof; Reutlingen; Rottenburg; Schorndorf; Ulm; Weinsberg. Comprehensive articles on larger territories like the dominion of Hohenberg, the principality of Hohenlohe, the Duchy of Württemberg. In an article on the Schwäbischer Bund, Bossert described the measures of that mighty political group against the Anabaptist movement.

C. Articles in Periodicals and the Like

1. Blätter fur württembergische Kirchengeschichte (Beiblatt zum württembergischen Kirchen- und Schulblatt): "Rottenburg und die Herrschaft Hohenberg im Reformationszeitalter," 1886-1895; "Wiedertäufer in Oberschwaben," 1888, 36 ff.; "Die Täufer in Rottenburg und Horb nach Sattlers Tod," 1892, 75 ff., 81 ff., 89ff.; "Der Anabaptismus in Kirchheim," 1897, 112 ff.; "Berthold Aichele, der Bundesprofoss," 1897, 25 ff., 35 ff. (Aichele was the executive of the Swabian League and as such responsible for the death of many Anabaptists 1528-1531); "Die Herrschaft Heidenheim in der Reformationszeit," 1898; "Beiträge zur Geschichte des Reformationsgesprächs in Worms, 1557," 1901; "Die Reformation in Blaufelden," 1901; "Die Reformation in Creglingen," 1903; "Beiträge zur Geschichte der Reformation in Württemberg," 1905; "Johann Brenz, der ‘Reformator Württembergs' und seine Toleranzidee," 1911, 150 ff.

2. Besondere Beilage des Staatsanzeigers für Württemberg: "Der ritterschaftliche Adel und die Wiedertäufer, 1560-1600," 1895, 269 ff. (It is worthy of note in the history of Anabaptism that the lesser nobility often exercised toleration; economic as well as religious considerations played a role); "Eine amerikanische Quelle für Württembergische Geschichte und Literatur des sechzenten und siebzehnten Jahrhunderts," June 1, 1916 (referring to the Hutterites).

3. Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins, Neue Folge; "Die Reformation in Kürnbach," 1903; "Beiträge zur badisch-pfälzischen Reformationsgeschichte," 1902, 578 ff.; "Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz und dem Bistum Speyer," 1903, 71 ff.; "Wolf Kürschner, der Täufer von Bretten," 1908, 431 ff.

4. Württembergische Jahrbücher für Statistik und Landeskunde: "Recht und Brauch in Langenburg im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert," 1910; "Aus der Zeit der Fremdherrschaft 1519-1534," 1911, 73 ff.; "Zur Geschichte Stuttgarts in der ersten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts," 1914, 62 ff., 135 ff.

5. Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, Texte und Untersuchungen: "Augustin Bader von Augsburg, der Prophet und König, und seine Genossen nach den Prozessakten von 1530," X, 1913 and XI, 1914, a work of more than 230 pages, where all the available sources are reprinted. Hege's article on Bader, gives an intelligent summary based on Bossert's research. A sensational story of Bader drawn from Bossert's articles by K. Loeffler is "Ein Vorläufer und ein Nachahmer des Münsterer Wiedertäuferkönigs . . . ," in Deutsche Rundschau, September 1923.

6. Jahrbuch zur Geschichte des Protestantismus in Oesterreich: "Hans Bünderlin," 1890, 61 ff. (after Pilgram Marpeck for a time a very influential leader of the South German Anabaptists. (See article Bünderlin); "Jacob Kautz, Schulmeister in Iglau," 1892, 54 ff.; "Zwei Linzer Reformationsschriftsteller," 1900, 131 ff., 1908, 1 ff. (concerns two Anabaptists both known as theological writers, Christoph and Leopold Freisleben alias Eleutherobios. (See Eleutherobios.)

Bossert had also a special liking for the Hutterites. Some of his writings about them concerned the Scottdale edition of Die Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder in Theologisches Literatur-Blatt and in the Stuttgart newspaper Schwäbischer Merkur, 1915, here under the title, "Schwäbische Liederdichter in America." Bossert made no original study on the Hutterite Anabaptists; he was interested only in tracing Hutterite groups to Swabia. His last work on this topic was published in the Stuttgart news paper supplement Schwäbische Chronik,: "Wiedertäuferbischöfe aus Württemberg" (19. Juni 1920), and "Schwaben ausserhalb Schwabens" (February 1923).


Correll, Ernst. "Gustav Bossert's Contribution to Mennonite History." Goshen College Record Review Supplement (May 1926): 28-34.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 248.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1953

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Bender, Harold S. "Bossert, Gustav (1841-1925)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 17 May 2021.,_Gustav_(1841-1925)&oldid=146379.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1953). Bossert, Gustav (1841-1925). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 May 2021, from,_Gustav_(1841-1925)&oldid=146379.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 392-395. All rights reserved.

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