Marriage, Hutterite Practices

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In general the Hutterites had an ascetic outlook on life; in fact were it not for their acceptance of marriage their way of life could best be characterized as "monastic." Marriage, however, was to them a part of their principle of absolute obedience to the commandments of God. As God once had ordered His chosen people to multiply and be fruitful, all His children are to accept this "ordinance" of procreation and act accordingly. "God, however," wrote Ulrich Stadler in 1536, "will wink at our marital work . . . on behalf of the children and will not reckon it upon those who act in fear and discipline." Naturally, emotional engagements of any kind in things connected with marriage were completely ruled out. Courtship and romance simply did not exist among the old Hutterites, and even among the Brethren of today are more or less frowned upon, although the general practice in selecting of the spouse was changed substantially in the mid 19th century. In former days the wife was called by the husband only "marital sister" (eheliche Schwester).

Peter Riedemann, in his Rechenschaft unseres Glaubens of 1540, has a special chapter "Concerning Marriage," in which he expressly declares that the two partners must not come together through their own action and choice but in accordance with the will of God. "One should not ask his flesh but the elders that God might show through them what He has appointed for him. This then one should take with gratitude as a gift from God . . ." (100). One case is known, in 1541, where a young man had asked a girl to marry him without previously consulting the elders of the church. This was considered such a break with the rules of the church that this marriage was never realized (Riedemann, 25th epistle).

The practice of choosing a spouse was indeed peculiar with the Brethren and extremely impersonal. Two reports of this practice have been given by outside observers. In 1578 Stefan Gerlach, a professor at the University of Tübingen, came to Moravia to visit his sisters, who had joined the brotherhood some years previously. He now wrote in his Konstantinopolische Reisebeschreibung what he saw and heard. "On a certain Sunday of the year the elders call all young people together and place the boys on one side and the girls on the other side such that they face each other. Two or three boys are then suggested to each girl, one of whom she has to accept. Of course they are not really compelled, but on the other hand there is not much chance to act against the counsel of the elders" (Bossert, 1107). According to Christoph Erhard (p. 12) such matching took place only once a year and was done exclusively by the elders.

In 1612 the Polish nobleman Andreas Rey de Naglovitz visited the colonies in Moravia and wrote about them to a friend in France in a letter in Latin, in which he also described the Hutterite marriage practices, only he reversed the procedure; namely, each young man was given a choice of three girls (whom he had possibly never seen before) and he had to accept one of them as the will of God, "whether young or or old, poor or rich" (as Riedemann had written in his Rechenschaft). Should, however, one of the two absolutely refuse such a partner, then he or she had to wait for another six months. Apparently by 1612 this practice was performed twice a year (Hruby, 129).

The wedding itself was performed apparently right after this matching meeting so as to exclude any period of courtship. (In the mid-20th century among the Brethren such a period lasted as a rule hardly more than four days, say from Thursday to Sunday, when the wedding took place.) At the wedding meal the bridegroom used to sit with the men, and the bride with the women, and it was only after the meal that the couple was led to their assigned room {Stube or Oertel) in one of the big community houses (see Bruderhof).

During the 17th century these practices began to decline as in general the common life deteriorated. There had been some opposition to the former strict method of matching, and the young people asked to be told before the meeting with whom they were to be mated. Thereupon, Andreas Ehrenpreis, the outstanding bishop of the brotherhood in Slovakia, assembled all the elders in Sobotište in 1634, and gave them a Gemeindeordnung concerning matching, a sort of renewed regulation of this important brotherhood function. He first referred to Abraham who had sent his servants to Mesopotamia to get a wife for his son Isaac, and so forth. As in all other areas of life, so also in this area of selecting a spouse, all self-will should be subdued. Whatever is done in the brotherhood should be done in accordance with the will of God (Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 214-18).

The Hutterites continued such strict practices, in part at least, until far into the 19th century. (As for an unpleasant disagreement in this matter which led to a three-year period of shunning, see Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 284.) But during their stay in South Russia things were radically changed, strangely enough, not by a decision of the elders but apparently by a fiat of the great sponsor of the Hutterites in the Molotschnadistrict, Johann Cornies, the Mennonite trustee of the government. This change must have happened around 1845. D. H. Epp in his book on Johann Cornies (1909) reports in detail the event which eventually led to changes of great consequences. A young girl was about to be compelled to marry a man whom she did not want in any case. She then fled from her confinement and ran straight to Cornies begging him for help. Cornies quickly realized the precarious situation and at once put the girl on some distant farm and at the same time prevailed upon the Hutterian Brethren to abandon altogether the former practice (Epp, Johann Cornies, 146-52). Apparently the brotherhood accepted this advice (as the practice had been most unpopular anyway by that time), and ever since young people may decide for themselves whom they want to marry. To be sure, much strictness remains, and the elders and parents have to approve any such choice before one can speak of engagement. Only a few days after their approval the wedding will take place. There is no room for courtship within the brotherhood, just as there is no room for divorce. But as a rule these marriages are very successful and the two partners share their life in mutual respect and love. Today the couple receives not only one room but usually a small house or a few rooms in a bigger house in anticipation of a growing family.


Bossert, Gustav. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer I. Band, Herzogtum Württemberg. Leipzig: M. Heinsius, 1930.

Epp, D. H. Johann Cornies. Ekaterinoslav and Berdyansk, 1909.

Erhard, Chr. Historia . . . der Münsterischen Wiedertäufer. Munich, 1580.

Hruby, F. Die Wiedertäufer in Mähren. Leipzig, 1935.

Rideman, Peter. An Account of Our Religion, Doctrine, and Faith. London, 1950.

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

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Marriage, Hutterite Practices." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 21 Jan 2022.,_Hutterite_Practices&oldid=89403.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1957). Marriage, Hutterite Practices. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 January 2022, from,_Hutterite_Practices&oldid=89403.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 510-511. All rights reserved.

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