Handbüchlein wider den Prozess

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Handbüchlein wider den Prozess, der zu Worms am Rhein wider die Brüder so man the Hutterischen nennt ausgangen ist im 1557 Jahr, a Hutterite polemical writing, considered with the Rechenschaft by Peter Riedemann and the Article Book as one of the most significant doctrinal books of the Hutterites of the 16th century. It was an official pronouncement of the brotherhood, prompted by a document which a number of Lutheran theologians (Melanchthon, Brenz, Andreae, etc.) had issued at Worms in 1557 (see Bedenken). In this document, the Prozess wie es soll gehalten werden mit den Wiedertäufern (in Württemberg also called Bedenken . . . , published by Bossert in the Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer I in 1930), the Anabaptists are accused of a number of damnable doctrines and practices (see John Oyer's analysis); their teachings are declared blasphemous; hence Leviticus 24:16 (death penalty) should be applied. Toward the end of this document also the upbringing of children in the communistic colonies in Moravia is briefly but violently attacked as a devilish institution (teuflische Communion . . . wider the Natur und alle Rechte; Bossert, p. 166, lines 14-19).

The Anabaptists in Germany felt the need of defending themselves against these accusations, which were much stronger than Melanchthon's attack of 1536 ("Several Unchristian Points Which the Anabaptists Advance," Mennonite Quarterly Review 1952: 268), although by 1557 Anabaptism had already lost some of its prime vigor. At a conference in Strasbourg the Swiss Brethren decided to produce an answer (see letter to Menno Simons, 1557), but apparently this plan was never carried out. At the Frankenthal Disputation in 1571 the Prozess was mentioned but no reply was given.

The Hutterites, on the other hand, although less involved (as they lived in faraway Moravia, where the Lutheran theologians had but a minor influence), nevertheless produced an elaborate answer in which they developed at some length their own doctrine and position. This answer was then called Handbüchlein wider den Prozess, but neither author nor year is mentioned in it. One would not err too much in assuming that this book was written between 1558 and 1560, and although it was a document issued by the entire brotherhood in Moravia, it seems to have been drafted by Peter Walpot, then by far the most outstanding spiritual leader of the Hutterites (see Friedmann in Archiv für Reformations Geschichte, 1931: 105). As far as Anabaptist manuscript literature is known, this book is the strongest polemical writing of the Brethren against the Lutherans, and has always been understood by the Brethren in this spirit.

The Handbüchlein is subdivided into 12 sections called "books" which answer point by point the specific accusations of the Worms theologians; namely, (1) concerning worldly authority and whether such an authority can be a Christian; (2) concerning the use of law courts and lawsuits; (3) concerning the taking of an oath; (4) concerning the Anabaptist claim that whoever does not belong to their church (Gemeinschaft) is condemned and not saved; (5) concerning infant baptism; (6) concerning the Lord's Supper; (7) concerning original sin and whether children have it; (8) concerning the necessity to preach and to hear the Word of God; (9) concerning the Holy Trinity, whether Christ was the Son of God; (10) concerning whether rebirth prevents any backsliding hereafter; (11) concerning justification, whether man is justified through Christ or by his own endeavor; (12) concerning the upbringing of children in communal establishments.

A comparison of these "books" with the Prozess shows that the latter condemns the Anabaptists only on seven points (see Oyer's analysis) while the Handbüchlein answers in 12 points. Some of the additional five items were taken from the 1536 accusations of Melanchthon. Item 12 concerning the children is mentioned in the Prozess only casually (in Bossert's print only five lines, though sharp in tone), yet the Hutterites felt particularly sensitive in this area, since they were very conscientious with regard to the upbringing of children, and wanted to make it clear to everybody that children, were to them the most precious things in the world, and their proper upbringing was one of their most important tasks. We might here remember that it was Peter Walpot who in 1568 wrote a very thoughtful and much advanced School Discipline for the Hutterite schools (see Education).

The Handbüchlein answer to the Worms theologians is a rather skillful and effective work. The arguments are thoroughly but soundly Biblical as was the Anabaptist way of thinking; the words are straightforward, yet never acid (as most polemics of the 16th century were). The author (Walpot?) also quotes amply from old authorities such as Origen, Jerome, Augustine, the Councils, and recent authorities such as Luther (Deutsche Messe, 1526), Zwingli (Contra Fabrum), and Cellarius. It is most likely that the learned book by Christoph Eleutherobios, Vom wahrhaftigen Tauff Joannis, Christi und der Aposteln. Wann und wie der Kindertauff angefangen und eingerissen hat (How Infant Baptism Originated) (1528, sec. ed. 1550) was much used, mainly for "book" five. It is found in many Hutterite manuscripts.

The chapter "Concerning original sin" is one of the most decisive sections of the Handbüchlein and expresses a viewpoint accepted by practically all Anabaptists. The Brethren declare: man as a child of Adam stands under the general curse of original sin; hence physical death. But Christ is the reconciliation of this world including small children. The mere "inclination" to sin (which is inborn in all of us) does not yet condemn man. Only the doing of sin will cause eternal death. Moreover, the Scriptures declare that the children will not bear the consequences of the bad deeds of their fathers, rather everyone dies for that which he has perpetrated himself (Ezekiel 18:17, 20). This argument, incidentally, is the main argument suggested by Peter Riedemann in his Rechenschaft of 1540 (Mennonite Quarterly Review, 1952: 214). The Handbüchlein closes this chapter by declaring that if the inclination to sin is not carried out into works of sin, it does not harm man and does not cause eternal death. "Whosoever is born of God does not sin" (I John 3:9).

Strange to say, the Handbüchlein is nowhere mentioned in other Hutterite writings, not even in their Gross-Geschichtsbuch. But from the Klein-Geschichtsbuch (ed. Zieglschmid, 1947) we learn that the knowledge of it was kept very much alive in Hutterite tradition. Johannes Waldner, the author of the Klein-Geschichtsbuch, tells us that in 1756 when the Lutheran trans-migrants from Carinthia came to Transylvania and there showed the greatest interest both in Hutterite life and Hutterite doctrines the Brethren gave them Riedemann's Rechenschaft and the Handbüchlein to read. "In this little book the Lutheran Church is sharply attacked and its false teachings and errors are clearly brought to light" (Klein-Geschichtsbuch: 274). It appears that the arguments of the Handbüchlein as well as those of the Rechenschaft impressed the newcomers so profoundly that they decided to join the Hutterites and to embrace completely their teachings.

The original of the Handbüchlein is no longer extant. That no Hutterite codex in European libraries contains it accounts for the fact that it was completely unknown to scholars like Beck, Loserth, and Wolkan. The oldest copy is one made in Velke-Levary in 1637 and now in Paraguay. Several copies of this manuscript were made, of which one is in Canada, and one in the Goshen College Library (produced by the late Elder Elias Walter, and donated to Christian Hege).


Friedmann, R. "Eine dogmatische Hauptschrift der Hutterischen Täufergemeinschaften in Mähren." Archiv für Reformations Geschichte. 1931: 105, 107, 111. (The text of the Handbüchlein is to be published in the second volume of Lydia Müller, Glaubenszeugnisse Oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter, in 1955.

Oyer, John. "The Writings of Melanchthon Against the Anabaptists." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXVI (1952): 210-15.

Wiswedel, Wilhelm. Bilder and Führergestalten aus dem Täufertum, 3 vols. Kassel: J.G. Oncken Verlag, 1928-1952: v. III, 171-83 (Wiswedel used the Hege copy, now in Goshen).

Wiswedel W. and R. Friedmann, "The Anabaptists Answer Melanchthon." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXIX (1955), an English translation of the above study plus additional pertinent material by R. Friedmann.

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

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Handbüchlein wider den Prozess." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 3 Dec 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Handb%C3%BCchlein_wider_den_Prozess&oldid=95071.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1956). Handbüchlein wider den Prozess. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 3 December 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Handb%C3%BCchlein_wider_den_Prozess&oldid=95071.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 645-646. All rights reserved.

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