Faber, Johann (1478-1541)

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Johann Faber (Heigerlin), born  was the son of a blacksmith. He studied law and theology at the universities of Tübingen and Freiburg i. Br. It appears to be an ancient misconception that he was a Dominican. He was more or less closely associated with outstanding leaders like Erasmus, Vadian, and Zwingli. Faber advocated church reform, but only to the extent that it might remove abuses in the Catholic Church. His complete break with the Reformation occurred in Rome, whither he had gone in the fall of 1521, presumably to interest the pope in his work against Luther: Opus adversus nova quaedam et a Christiana religione prorsus aliena dogmata Martini Lutheri (Rome, 1523). Luther had his young friend Justus Jonas write the reply; he did it with wit and humor (Adversus J. Fabrum . . . Justi Jonas . . . defensio. Item M.  Lutheri ad eundem Jonam Epistola, 1523).

In Germany Faber engaged in an untiring struggle against the reformers, in writing, in preaching, and in dealing with authorities and rulers. His feud with Zwingli followed. He says that he attended the Zürich disputation of 29 January 1523 as a counselor. Faber then wrote his popular booklet, Ain warlich underrichtung, wie es zu Zürich ergangen, to which Zwingli countered with his friends' highly spiced Das Gyrenrupfen.

Faber was employed by Duke Ferdinand  in many offices, chiefly at diets and disputations. In 1528 he was in Vienna to prepare a German translation of the Bible to replace Luther's. His attempts to win Erasmus of Rotterdam for the declining University of Vienna and his former friend Melanchthon back into the Catholic Church failed.

In 1528-1530 he did his most permanent work against the Reformation. His first effort was to suppress the growing Anabaptist movement in Moravia and Austria. When Balthasar Hubmaier lay in prison in Greizenstein (Kreuzenstein), afflicted by sickness and discouraged, he requested an interview with Faber, who had once been his friend. Ferdinand gave his consent.

The interview took place in the last days of 1527, lasting until after midnight on the first day. They discussed the proper interpretation of the Bible, tradition, and infant baptism. On the second day they began at 6:00 A.M. and discussed communion, the intercession of the saints, and purgatory, and Faber gave Hubmaier his booklet against Zwingli on the adoration of the saints. On the next day they discussed faith and good works, the satisfaction of Christ, Christian liberty, freedom of the will, the worship of Mary, the end of time, repentance and confession, fasting, the teachings of Luther and Zwingli and the councils.

The interview with Hubmaier was published at Leipzig in 1528 under the title, Doctoris Joannis Fabri, adversus Doctorem Balthasarum Pacimontanum Anabaptistarum Nostri saeculi, Primum authorem, orthodoxae Fidei Catholicae Defensio. It was reprinted at Leipzig in 1537 in Faber's Opuscula under the following title: Disputatio episcopi Viennensis (which he was not yet) Joannis Fabri de praecipuis rebus orthodoxae religionis adversus Balthasarum Pacimontanum Anabaptistam. Copies of both works are in the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen, Indiana. A copy of the 1537 folio volume of sermons, containing the sermons against the Anabaptists, also is in the Mennonite Historical Library. A copy of the 1528 work is in the Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kansas.

At the conclusion of the talks Hubmaier declared his intention to present his confession of faith to Ferdinand. He wrote a booklet which Faber called Liber Retractationum, thanking the king for sending Faber to him, and saying that Faber had been kind to him. Although Hubmaier declared himself willing to yield on every point except baptism and communion, which he would leave to the decision of the council, there could be no thought of saving his life. These two points were actually the most important of all, and Hubmaier's former political attitude in Waldshut was also reckoned against him. He died at the stake in Vienna, 10 March 1528.

On the following day a polemic sheet of nine pages, entitled Ursach warumb der Widertauffer Patron und erster Anfenger Doctor Balthasar Huebmayr zu Wien auf den zehnten Martii Anno 1528 verbrennet sey (Landshut, 1528), was published by Faber with a dedication to the Duke of Saxony. Faber said he had not written these things because Hubmaier's death gave him pleasure; he had faithfully warned him in prison and in all Christian humility dealt with him, as is seen in Hubmaier's letter; but because it might be said in some places that he had not received justice and was, like John Hus, a martyr in God's sight, he (Faber) testified to the truth.

On 24 April 1528 he dedicated his next work, Sermones doctoris Joannis Fabri . . . adversus Anabaptists (printed in Opuscula, Leipzig, 1537), to the bishop of Olmütz (Olomouc). On his journey to Moravia with the king he so pitied these poor misled people that he preached these sermons at Znaim; since the Moravians did not understand German he had them translated into Latin. There are six sermons; here, as also in the Ursach, he names Hubmaier as the originator of Anabaptist doctrine, and calls the Anabaptists "water bathers."

As a reward for his zeal in persecuting the Anabaptists he asked the Innsbruck government and King Ferdinand to acquit his brother of the debt of 200 guilders. In 1530 he was made Bishop of Vienna. In 1529 he attended the Diet of Speyer as the representative of the Bishop of Constance, and at the Diet in Augsburg in 1530 he was a coauthor of the refutation of the Confession of Augsburg and of the Confessio Tetrapolitana.

In the following years Faber was preocccupied with the work of his episcopate, which he carried on along three lines: (1) He sought to preserve Catholic doctrine by resisting all innovations; he set a good example to his frequently uncouth clergy, taking part in the religious instruction in his diocese by many sermons and writings, and providing capable pastors. (2) He attended the diets of the empire even in the last years of his life. In 1536 Faber wrote a valuable description of church conditions in Germany with advice on the attitude to be taken. (3) His work for the University of Vienna was outstanding. He wrote an extraordinary number of sermons, doctrinal works, and polemics in German and Latin. Not all of them have been printed. The sermons and other theological works he published in folio volumes (Cologne, 1537-1541), to which Johannes Cochlaeus added a supplementary volume (Leipzig, 1537). One of his oldest tracts, Declamationes divinae de humanae vitae miseria (Augsburg, 1520), takes a very pessimistic view of human life. Most of his writings are polemics, as his Malleus haereticorum (Cologne, 1527), the tracts against the Picards and Hussites, and De actis ac mandatis imperatorum et regum . . . adversus haereses et earundem autores liber unus (Leipzig, 1538), and against the reformers, Luther, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Bullinger, Schwenckfeld, Hubmaier, and Denck. During his lifetime Faber collected a library of 3,800 volumes, unusual for that time, most of which is now in the Hofbibliothek in Vienna.

Faber died after a long illness, 20 May 1541, and is buried in the cathedral of Vienna.

See also Hubmaier


Faber's polemic of March 1528 on Hubmaier's death is found in the Munich Staatsbibliothek (4 H. ref. 735)

Schottenloher, K. Die Landshuter Buchdrucker des 16. Jahrhunderts. Mainz, 1930: 50. Excerpts were printed with comments in B. F. Hummel, Neue Bibliothek von seltenen Büchern I (1775): 218.

See also J. O. Pr. Fabri, Doctoris Johannis Fabri adversus Doctorem Balthasarum Pacimontanum. Leipzig, 1528.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 624 f.; v. II, 361.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Johann Loserth
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Neff, Christian and Johann Loserth. "Faber, Johann (1478-1541)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 3 Oct 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Faber,_Johann_(1478-1541)&oldid=120224.

APA style

Neff, Christian and Johann Loserth. (1956). Faber, Johann (1478-1541). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 3 October 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Faber,_Johann_(1478-1541)&oldid=120224.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 285-286. All rights reserved.

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