Deutsche Theologie

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Deutsche Theologie was a booklet written about 1500 by Berthold Pirstinger, Bishop of Chiemsee, Bavaria, and spiritual councilor at the court of the archbishop (not as is generally assumed, by a member of the Friends of God). It was written upon the request of the latter in the monastery of Raitenhaslach near Burghausen. [For a later scholarly view on authorship of this booklet see Theologia Deutsch.]

It was the purpose of the booklet to counter the spread of antichurch doctrine, and also to inspire theological thinking among the clergy of Bavaria. It made so profound an impression on Luther when he read a manuscript copy in 1516 that he had it published in 1518 with the title Eyn Deutsch Theologia, das ist ein edles Büchlein von rechtem Verstand, was Adam und Christus sey, und wie Adam in uns sterben und Christus erstehen soll (Wittenberg). In the foreword he says, "With the exception of the Bible and St. Augustine no book has come to my attention from which I learned and shall learn more concerning the nature of God, Christ, man, and all things. . . . God grant that this book may become better known; then they will see that the German theologians are the best theologians." The book went through eleven reprints. Later on Luther, perhaps seeing in it a "source of fanaticism" (L. Keller in Monatshefte der Comeniusgesellschajt, 1902, 147), lost interest in it. A century later it was violently attacked by Lutheran dogmatists as "heresy." The interesting fact remains that the book was zealously distributed by nonchurch circles, such as the Anabaptists, Rosicrucians, Weigelians, and Pietists.

In 1528 it was published in the printing plant of Schöffer in Worms under the title Theologia deutsch. Newlich mit grossem Fleiss corrigiert und gebessert. Etliche Hauptreden einem jeden schüler Christi wol zu studiren. These "Hauptreden" were, as Ludwig Keller proves, written by Hans Denck. Apparently Ludwig Haetzer sent them to Schöffer and thus brought about their inclusion in the book. It was a sort of debt of gratitude that he paid for his friend. The two writings were now to begin their course of building God's kingdom together. From now on in most editions of the Deutsche Theologie, of which more than seventy have been counted, Hans Denck's additions have been included. Caspar Schwenkfeld and Sebastian Franck made it their concern to distribute the booklet. Gottfried Arnold speaks favorably of it in his Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie (p. 735). Johann Arndt includes it at the end of his edition of Deutsche Theologie in 1597. Philip Jakob Spener adds it in his appendix to the six editions of Tauler's sermons.

The booklet can be properly understood only if one has read the author's Onus ecclesiae (The Burden of the Church) of 1524. Berthold holds fast to Roman Catholic doctrine. His principal source for the doctrine is Augustine. In sharp but dignified terms he exposes the abuses of the new church, but also sharply criticizes the ills of the old church.

The booklet contains 54 chapters. It proceeds from Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 13:10, "When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." The perfect is God; the creature, the imperfect, must destroy all personal identity and become one with God, to receive the true nature. In Christ God has assumed human nature and man has become divine through Him. This must happen in each individual. As long as man considers the creature and thereby divides humanity into many identities, there is no glimpse into the eternal and no crossing over into the Perfect, unless man abandons sense and reason and forsakes himself. Then he achieves union with God and thus enjoys the highest pleasure.

In the second part the idea of man's becoming unified with God through obedience is further developed. Man is created for obedience. But Adam did not remain in obedience; Christ on the other hand accomplished perfect obedience. Our obedience must become like His; our old man must die, the new one be born; this happens when one denies himself and forsakes everything. Constant practice is needed for this, lest spiritual pride and false liberty rise, which block the way to union with God. The divine human being is much more possessed by spiritual poverty and true humility. This can be learned only of Christ. Only in following Him may one experience that the true liberty, blessedness, and union with God are one.

Jakob Horsch, Mennonite elder in Gelchsheim, Bavaria, published a new edition of the Deutsche Theologie in 1887, which was sold by Ulrich Hege in Reihen (Baden) through the publishers of the Gemeindeblatt. It was done at the urging of the elder's son John Horsch.


Comeniushefte (1896): 44 ft. (article by F. Thudichum); 1902: 154.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: I, 421.

Herzog, J. J. and Albert Hauck, Realencyclopedie für Protestantische Theologie and Kirche, 24 vols. 3. ed. Leipzig: J. H. Hinrichs, 1896-1913: XIX, 626 f.

Keller, Ludwig. Die Reformation und die älteren Reformparteien : in ihrem Zusammenhange dargestellt. Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1885.

Mennonitische Blätter (1885): 79, 87, 95; (1887): 21, 71.

Mertz, Richard, Dr. Entwicklungsgeschichte des Protestantismus im Berchtesgadener Land ; dem Andenken der vor 200 Jahren um ihres Glaubens willen ausgewanderten Berchtesgadener Protestanten gewidmet. Berchtesgaden: 1933.

Seile, F. Schicksalsbitch der evangelischen Kirche in Österreich. 1928: 244-246.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Wilhelm Wiswedel
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Neff, Christian and Wilhelm Wiswedel. "Deutsche Theologie." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 19 Jul 2024.

APA style

Neff, Christian and Wilhelm Wiswedel. (1956). Deutsche Theologie. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 July 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 43-44. All rights reserved.

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