Ehrenpreis, Andreas (1589-1662)

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Andreas Ehrenpreis was a Hutterite bishop (Vorsteher); the last outstanding leader of the brotherhood, during a period of decline aggressively active in a restoration of the old spirit. Born on a Bruderhof in Moravia, he was a miller by profession. In 1621, still in Moravia, he was elected Diener am Wort (preacher), and was confirmed in this office two years later in Sobotište, Slovakia, where the brethren had immigrated after their tragic expulsion from Moravia. For the rest of his life Ehrenpreis remained at this place. In 1639 he was elected bishop, and it was in this capacity that he developed his richest activities during the remaining 23 years of his life. Four days before his death he gave a farewell address to the elders (Chronik, 868-870) which shows all the nobility of his character and the deep faith which motivated him throughout his life.

His was a life of dedication to his brotherhood and its unspoiled testimony. Things were not at all easy: the Thirty Years' War was raging (until 1648), economic misery was rampant, and an epidemic took a heavy toll in 1645. Even worse was the inner spiritual decay. The great period of the beginning had long since passed, moral slackening was observable everywhere, and the exacting standards of a life in community of goods as the Hutterites understood it were no longer obeyed. Poverty and insecurity prompted many a member to think of laying aside some money, or to take refuge to arms if there be need for "self-defense." One hears also about clandestine luxuries here and there; in short the old plain ways of committed people had tangibly deteriorated, and no one seemed to know how to stop this trend. Ehrenpreis now set to work to do just this, reviving the old rules and regulations, and writing epistles and tracts to guide and train his people, in this reminding one sometimes of Jakob Hutter and his work. The earliest document of Ehrenpreis's activity seems to be an address to the brethren in 1633, contained in the Klein-Geschichtsbuch (ed. 1947, 168-172, English translation Mennonite Quarterly Review XXV, 1951, 116-127 with commentaries). Though no name is given, there can be little doubt that it was Ehrenpreis who had summoned the brotherhood to follow again the principle of nonresistance, which in a recent event had been so badly scuttled.

On 4 October 1639 Ehrenpreis was unanimously elected bishop, and from now on he intensified his attacks against the internal evils, and led his flock with such spiritual vigor that the brotherhood could survive for more than another century. Two kinds of activities may be distinguished in his work: (a) his insistence upon a stricter discipline of life as laid down in old and new Gemeindeordnungen (regulations, ordinances), and (b) a spiritual and moral revival as can be found for instance in his challenging Sendbrief of 1652 and his many other epistles.

(a) Of his renowned Gemeindeordnungen we know two completely different sets: the first one is contained in a Hutterite codex of 1640 (now in Esztergom, Hungary; a transcript in the Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN). A few excerpts were printed by Beck in the Geschichts-Bücher, 478-79, and 485-87. The other, of 1651, was for the first time made known in the appendix of the Klein-Geschichtsbuch (1947, 519-32). The former collected all earlier regulations (41 all told), beginning with a Schuster-Ordnung of 1561, and then added Ehrenpreis's own injunctions and ordinances, not even forgetting one for the preachers. From this work we gain an excellent insight into the organized life of the Hutterite community. These regulations not only helped the brethren to make their community run smoothly and efficiently, but they were also a continued reminder toward stricter discipline, the very core of a nonconformist life. In a regulation for the barber-surgeons (dated 1654) much is said in order to make this profession as outstanding as was to be expected from people who had such a reputation in matters of medical care (Beck, ibid., 485 ff.). With great concern Ehrenpreis noticed certain laxities in the administration of buying and selling, and he warned his brethren that no one must own or put aside money or do anything in the execution of his duties contrary to Christian principles. Community of goods should be strictly observed and kept unspoiled as in the earliest days. Not even books should be considered private property, and nothing could be bequeathed to one's kin. Very detailed are the regulations for the Haushälter (stewards of the Bruderhof) and their assistants, the Weinzierl (see Diener der Notdurft), since so much depended upon their devoted performance. In the 1651 regulations the brethren and sisters are reminded of the old principle of a plain life of labor, worship, and communion. Elaborate dresses and food are proscribed. And yet, in spite of all its inherent austerity this document is permeated by a Christian spirit of great humility and kindness. A footnote in the Klein-Geschichtsbuch says that this regulation was reread to the Brethren eight times during the next decade to keep its points alive in their minds.

(b) Ehrenpreis's spiritual leadership may best be learned from his great Sendbrief an alle diejenigen so sich rühmen . . . dass sie ein abgesondertes Volk von der Welt sein wollen, . . . Brüderliche Gemeinschaft, das höchste Gebot der Liebe betreffend (1652), one of the few Hutterite writings which were printed in their time. In 1920 the Hutterites in America had it reprinted (at Scottdale) as a small book of about 190 pages. It contained (1-154) Ehrenpreis's tract, and then (155-190) the Brüderliche Vereinigung of 1556, appended by Ehrenpreis as information for his brethren concerning the principles upon which the brotherhood was founded. The Sendbrief makes a very strong case for community of goods, quoting among others also the beautiful parable of the grain and the grape which have to give up their individuality to make bread and wine (used at the Lord's Table). In like manner men have to give up their individuality in order to become real brothers (again at the Lord's Table). This Sendbrief is certainly no theological tract, and yet it is one of the strongest and finest products of the Hutterite spirit concerning "brotherly communion, the highest commandment of love."

Then there are his epistles. Some of them, like the three of 1650-1654 to (later Unitarian) Daniel Zwicker, show an astounding theological alertness, confirming Loserth's statement "that his training was quite adequate to discuss theological questions with university graduates." But the epistles which he wrote as a shepherd of his church breathe a still more genuine Anabaptist spirit. They are letters of concern, they admonish his brethren to watch their life and conduct, to bring up their children in the right spirit, and to be on the alert in all dealings with the "world." All this is said in great modesty and without any paternalism. But it has authority in it. Two of these letters, sent to the Brethren in Transylvania, were incorporated into the Chronik (831-837, 847-856). Then there is an epistle dealing with an unpleasant affair in Slovakia where a small group of Brethren tried to introduce an element of fanaticism (1645); this epistle is called Antwort und Widerlegung der irrigen . . . Meinung Benjamin Kengels und seines Anhanges (Wolkan, Geschicht-Buch, 631, note 1, where a brief summary is given).

There are two more tracts from Ehrenpreis's hand:

(1) Kurze Widerlegung des grossen Streites von Christo, dem Sohn Gottes, wie er von Christoph Osterrod in seinem . . . Büchel samt seinem Anhang als polnische Brüder oder Arianer schimpflich und nachteilig verkleinert wird (Sobotište, 1654; see Mennonite Quarterly Review XXII, 1948, 161). It is a polemical pamphlet against the Unitarians (against Dr. Zwicker who most likely gave the book of 1591 to Ehrenpreis), and a strong plea for the idea of Trinity. (The only extant copy is to be found with the Brethren in Canada.)

(2) Die Fünf Artikeln des grössten Streites zwischen uns und der Welt (several codices in Esztergom). This is Ehrenpreis's own version or edition of the "great article book" of 1547, originally written most likely by Peter Walpot. Though the title is identical with the one in the Chronik (269 ff.), the text is different, a kind of paraphrase of the original, made by Ehrenpreis for his people to teach them the fundamentals of their specific Anabaptist position. The book might be compared with the Brüderliche Vereinigung of 1556 (appended to the Sendbrief) although it is much more elaborate than the latter. At the bottom, however, the idea was always the same: renewal of the old spirit of Anabaptism and training of the Brethren in the things which were central, so that they could endure trials and temptations and remain a living witness to the idea of genuine discipleship.

A brief list of Ehrenpreis's writings follows: Gemeinde-Ordnungen 1640; Gemeinde-Ordnung 1651 (Zieglschmid, Chronik, 519-532); his speech of 1633 concerning nonresistance (Mennonite Quarterly Review, 1951); Ein Sendbrief . . . brüderliche Gemeinschaft, das höchste Gebot der Liebe betreffend, 1652 (reprint Scottdale, 1920); Die fünf Artikeln des grössten Streites zwischen uns und der Welt (a revision of the tract of 1547); Kurze Widerlegung des grossen Streites von Christo, 1654 (against the Unitarians, copy in Canada); Antwort und Widerlegung der irrigen Meinung des Benjamin Kengels . . ., 1645; three epistles to Dr. Daniel Zwicker, 1650-1654, on theological matters; two epistles to the Brethren in Alwinz, Transylvania, of 1642 and 1649 (Zieglschmid, 831 ff., 847 ff.); his farewell address of 1662 (ibid., 868 ff.); several hymns (Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder 1914, 13, 55, 639, 851, 854, 857, and two more not yet printed in 1956).


Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967.

Friedmann, Robert. "Eine dogmatische Hauptschritt . . . ." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte (1931): 86, 96 (concerning the Fünf Artikel)

Friedmann, Robert. "The Epistles of the Hutterian Brethren." Mennonite Quarterly Review 20 (1946): 169 (concerning the parable of bread and wine).

Friedmann, Robert. "Encounter of Anabaptists and Mennonites with Anti-Trinitarianism." Mennonite Quarterly Review 22 (1948): 139-162.

Friedmann, Robert. "An Ordinance of 1633 Concerning Nonresistance." Mennonite Quarterly Review 25 (1951): 116-127.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 530-532.

Loserth, Johann. "Der Communismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer im 16. and 17. Jahrhundert: Beiträge zu ihrer Lehre, Geschichte and Verfassung." Archiv für österreichische Geschichte 81, 1 (1895). (Particularly elaborate on Gemeindeordnungen, 251 ff.)

Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923.

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947.

Author(s) Johann Loserth
Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1956

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MLA style

Loserth, Johann and Robert Friedmann. "Ehrenpreis, Andreas (1589-1662)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 18 Sep 2019.,_Andreas_(1589-1662)&oldid=144979.

APA style

Loserth, Johann and Robert Friedmann. (1956). Ehrenpreis, Andreas (1589-1662). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 September 2019, from,_Andreas_(1589-1662)&oldid=144979.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 165-166. All rights reserved.

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