Gemeindeordnungen (Hutterite Brethren)

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Gemeindeordnungen are ordinances and regulations of the Hutterite brotherhood, also their church disciplines (although different in character from the conventional type of such documents, since church activities and everyday living were identical for the Brethren). They were issued by the bishop (Vorsteher) of the brotherhood. Some 30 such Ordnungen are known from 1561 to 1665, and again 1762, 1793, and later. They are among the most original creations of the Hutterites and are in many ways unique documents, revealing the strong consciousness of the brethren that they had to follow a very strict and austere way of life, the "narrow path," and that deviations must be stopped.

These Ordnungen are spiritual and moral as well as practical in nature (to the minutest detail). They are hortative, yet never threatening, admonishing all members of the church to cooperate most carefully and soberly in the great enterprise of brotherly living in community of goods, both in consumption and production, in the way which Christ and the apostles established. In this sense it is not incorrect to call the Anabaptist church in general, and the Hutterite brotherhood in particular, a "church of order" (see article Church and R. Friedmann, MQR, 1950, 21), i.e., a disciplined and regulated church in which this order is voluntarily accepted by all. God speaks through the bishops, who thus assume a charismatic authority.

In many regards these ordinances suggest the rules and regulations of medieval monasteries, with which the Hutterite organization has many traits in common (the principle of merit is, however, completely absent here). In some other regards these ordinances are reminiscent of the medieval guild regulations, although their outspoken Christian emphasis distinguishes them again from these secular documents.

The Ordnungen may be classified into two kinds: (a) those dealing with the general organization and discipline of the community (Gemein, Bruderhofs), its morals and its spiritual guidance, also the formulation of the general genius of the group; (b) regulations dealing in particular with the special functions of the various members of the group, with the administration of crafts and other occupational tasks and their most careful and economical fulfillment. In this group regulations for millers, cutlers (Messerer), barber-surgeons, potters (Hafner, see Ceramics), the various kinds of smiths, buyers, stock clerks (Ausgeber), stewards, and farm foremen (Weinzierl) appear more often than for other occupations. It seems that in these areas temptations were particularly strong to indulge in self-interested extra activities which could easily injure the group and spoil its good name.

The main tenor of all the Ordnungen is the battle against Eigennutz (selfishness, greed, profit-motive), and the admonition to live up to the requirements of a life in perfect community of goods. Austerity, puritanical simplicity, even a degree of ascetic living were enjoined time and again, and thus inculcated in the mind of every member. The education of the youth dared not be soft in any way, for they were to be trained for trying times and must then know why to suffer and be able to bear such situations. The reading of the old writings (epistles, confessions, hymns) was advised as helpful. All handiwork was to be diligent, solid, and reliable, carefully done without waste. Work should be done every day including Saturday, without haste but also without loafing; luxuries must not be allowed, likewise no private possessions of any kind. Ehrenpreis declared expressly, "Inheritance shall remain abolished as of old; if someone dies, everything he has used shall revert to the community, even his books" (Klein-Geschichtsbuch). It should be remarked, however, that the latter point is no longer in practice today; books are now the only possession of a brother or sister which may be left to one's children.

The Ordnungen offer an extremely valuable insight into the inner life of the brotherhood from 1561 on (when the first ordinance of this kind was laid down by the Vorsteher Lanzenstiel. Before that year we have only Peter Riedemann's Rechenschaft of 1540 and the epistles, mainly by Jakob Hutter, or the oral tradition.

In the main, four great Vorsteher distinguished themselves in the drawing up Gemeindeordnungen: Peter Walpot 1565-1578, Klaus Braidl 1583-1611, Sebastian Dietrich 1611-1619, and Andreas Ehrenpreis 1639-1662 but actually leading the brotherhood since 1633. Although the first-named two men contributed much to this tradition, the great Ordnungen were yet to come: Dietrich's general ordinance of 1612 (which fills 22 leaves in one manuscript) and Ehrenpreis' general ordinance of 1651 (which fills 14 pages folio size small print of the Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 519-532). That we are so well informed about all these writings is due to the tradition-mindedness of Ehrenpreis and his unusual sense for the orderly collection of all rules existent before his days, together with the contributions of his own spiritual government. In one handwritten book of 1640 (Codex III, 198 of Esztergom, apparently Ehrenpreis' own copy), with additions up to 1650, this Vorsteher put together nearly everything that had been said before and also that which he himself had presented to the brotherhood since 1633. There is, to be sure, also some repetition, but always with some new angles not stressed before.

This codex has never been published; one copy of it is in the Beck collection of Brno, Nr. 87, another, also done by Beck in longhand, is deposited in the Mennonite Historical Library of Goshen College. Beck in his Geschichts-Bücher prints only the Bader-Ordnung of 1653 (ordinance for the barber-surgeons, actually a repetition of an earlier ordinance of 1633 in Beck, 485-87; English in MQR, 1953, 125-27) and a Weinzierl-Ordnung (order for the farm managers) of 1650 (Beck, 478-79).

A number of hitherto completely unknown Ordnungen were made public for the first time when A. J. F. Zieglschmid's edition of the Klein-Geschichtsbuch came out in 1947. Not only does the Johannes Waldner text contain two remarkably strong instructions by Ehrenpreis: (a) concerning absolute nonresistance (1633; Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 168-172, English in MQR, 1951, 116-127), and (b) concerning the mating of young people, also against the bad practice of unchecked match-making (Kuppelei), which recently had entered the brotherhood (1643; Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 215-218). But the most outstanding Ordnung of all is the great ordinance of 1651, which Zieglschmid prints in an appendix from a copy still preserved and in use by the Brethren today (Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 519-532). It contains a comprehensive instruction which touches practically every aspect of life, stern in character and yet with a loving concern. Among other things also the idea of shunning (Meidung) is enjoined; it must not be allowed to be taken lightly or to be denied altogether. The Ordnung of 1651 contains actually a complete "philosophy of life" in the minutest detail, and for that reason deserves particular attention. A footnote says that it was read before the assembled Brethren in Slovakia as well as in Transylvania year after year, and that it was reread to the brotherhood for the last time as late as 1734. Besides this Ordnung, the larger Chronicle of the Brethren, the Geschicht-Buch, contains also two letters to the Brethren in Transylvania of 1642 (Zieglschmid, Chronik, 831-37) and of 1649 (ibid., 847-56), again by Ehrenpreis and with similar advice and admonitions.

"Be faithful and loyal, even unto the smallest detail," that is in a nutshell the message of Ehrenpreis, by which he wanted to strengthen the somewhat weakened brotherhood of his time, imbuing it with the spirit of the founding fathers. The scope of his concern is amazing. In retrospect we may say that his work has been fairly successful, even though a certain formalism became dominant as the living spirit faded out more or less. The organization and the genius of the Hutterites today is to a certain extent based on these Gemeindeordnungen, which give to the brotherhood such directions that temptations will be met and as far as possible reduced. And yet, these regulations are by no means dictatorial in character; they are presented with a generally accepted authority of the bishops, and they breathe the spirit of brotherly love and concern in maintaining the way which the Brethren considered the true form of Christian discipleship.

A chronological list of all the Hutterite Ordnungen follows:

Time of L. Lanzenstiel
1561 Ordnung of the shoemakers
Time of Peter Walpot
1568 Ordnung for the schools (Kindergarten through grades)
1569 Ordnung enjoining greatest economy at the Bruderhofs
1571 Ordnung for the millers
1574 Ordnung for the carpenters
Time of Claus Braidl
1585 Ordnung for the dyers
1588 Ordnung for the millers
1588 Ordnung for the schools, repeated 1593 and 1596
1591 Ordnung for the shoemakers
1592 Ordnung for the barber-surgeons
1599 Ordnung for the buyers (Einkäufer)
1603 Ordnung concerning dress
1610 Ordnung for the millers
Time of Sebastian Dietrich
1612 General Ordnung to be read yearly, concerning the bringing up of the youth,
simplicity of life, economy and the right conduct of the Bruderhofs
1612 Ordnung for the stewards, shoemakers, buyers, potters, and cutlers
1612 Ordnung for the potters, concerning the precious, expensive ceramic wares
1612 Ordnung for the hoofsmiths, scythesmiths, coppersmiths, bladesmiths,
cutlers, casemakers, watchmakers, and potters
1617 Ordnung repeated
Time of Andreas Ehrenpreis
1633 Ordnung for the barber-surgeons
1633 Ordnung concerning absolute nonresistance
1637 Ordnung for the barber-surgeons, repeated
1639 General Ordnung for the brotherhood (first draft)
1640 Ordnung for millers, stewards, and store clerks (Ausgeber),
farm managers, buyers, teamsters, seamstresses, and cellar masters
1640 Ordnung also for the Diener des Worts (ministers),
likewise for those who are sent out as missioners to visit the people of the world
1641 Ordnung for the cutlers
1641 Ordnung for the potters, repeated
1642 Letter to the Brethren in Transylvania
1642 Ordnung for the stewards (Baushalter)
1643 Ordnung concerning matching young people
1649 Letter to the Brethren in Transylvania
1650 Ordnung for the farm-manager (Weinzierl)
1650 Ordnung for the cutlers
1651 The great general Ordnung (Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 519-32)
comparable to the general Ordnung of Dietrich of 1612.
This Ordnung was repeated almost every year, both in Slovakian Bruderhofs
and in Transylvania, also later in Russia and now in America.
1654 Ordnung for the barber-surgeons
1655 Ordnung for the cutlers (repeated)
Later Leaders
1762 Ordnung for stewards, farm managers, the distribution of
the food at the tables, overseers of the granary (Kastner or Rentmeister),
cooks and caretakers of the linen, also for dishwashers
(Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 535-39)
1773- 1873 Ordnung concerning uniformity of dress, etc., etc., up to

See also Congregational Orders and Church Disciplines (Gemeindeordungen)Ordnung (Order); Braidl; Dietrich; Ehrenpreis; Bruderhof; Community of Goods; Economic History of the Hutterian Brethren, Folk Arts


Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967: 478-479, 485-487.

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

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): 252 ff.

See also Loserth's articles on Dietrich (Mennonitisches Lexikon I, 442-443) and Ehrenpreis (Mennonitisches Lexikon I, 530-532), where details of these ordinances are given.

Sommer, J. L. "Hutterite Medicine and Physicians." Mennonite Quarterly Review (1953): 125 ff.

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943: 831-837, 847-856.

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947: 168-172, 215-218, 519-532.

No special study of these ordinances has ever been made.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1956

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Friedmann, Robert. "Gemeindeordnungen (Hutterite Brethren)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 30 May 2024.

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Friedmann, Robert. (1956). Gemeindeordnungen (Hutterite Brethren). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 May 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 454-455. All rights reserved.

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