Jump to navigation Jump to search

Michelians (German, Michelianer), a Pietistic group within the state church in Württemberg, Germany, which derived from Johann Michael Hahn. In contrast with Old Pietism, which accepted the creed of the church, the Michelians deviated further from church doctrine. The writings of Hahn were even more influenced by Theosophy than those of Oetinger, going back to Jakob Boehme. Ascetic traits point back to medieval Mysticism (e.g., the high regard for celibacy). Old Pietism used expressions adopted from church catechisms and hymns; Hahn had a different kind of language.

The core of the piety of the Michelians was sanctification. This doctrine was developed by Hahn in his struggles with other streams of Pietism in Swabia. Old Pietism earnestly cultivated the feeling of human sinfulness, to such an extent that a countercurrent arose in the followers of M. Christian Gottlob Pregizer (died 1824), which advocated joy for the forgiveness of sins by looking at Jesus and the finished sacrificial work of redemption. In opposition to these divergent ideas on justification by faith, the Michelians stressed righteous living; justification was not merely something that happened long ago outside the believer, but a process taking place within him (in contrast to the Pregizians). Whereas the Pregizians ascribed sinlessness to the Christian, the Michelians believed that it was possible for a Christian to sin. Whereas the Old Pietists continued to look at the old life, the Michelians stressed rest and joy in redemption.

The Michelians described the second birth as an inward process that progressed by degrees, "whereby Christ, through the medium of the working of His Spirit on the mind of the believer, must accomplish and suffer within each one personally what He once historically accomplished and suffered, . . . in order to prepare him for pure sonship and blessed perfection." They stressed progress in sanctification through "undismayed watchfulness of a penitent heart." This end is furthered by the brotherhood, in which the like-minded "reveal to each other the state of their spirit and impart counsel and admonition, comfort, and encouragement."

The doctrines of creation and redemption taught by Hahn, related to those of Oetinger, and Boehme, did not insist on the external forms of existing church ordinance, but stress the "free agreement of such as do not stand under the law, because Christ is in them as spirit and impulse, truth and life." The insistence upon the inner life as well as the teaching on sanctification revealed significant points of contact with Anabaptism.

The slight emphasis upon organizational matters made it possible for the Michelians to remain within the state church, follow its creed, honor its public services and sacraments, recognize the office of preaching, and thus to respect the entire institution of the state church as a legal religious educative agency. A conspicuous trait was their effort to live in peace with all other creeds.

The first spread of the Hahn brotherhoods took place in Württemberg, in the regions of Cannstatt, Boblingen, and Herrenberg, principally through the personal work of the founder. These circles treasured, besides the Scripture, the works of F. Christian Oetinger and Ph. M. Hahn, but also those of Gerhard Tersteegen, the mystic poet of the Reformed Church.

About 1870 the Michelians adopted a new constitution. It embraced at that time 26 circles with 100 localities; the southernmost was in the Baar, the northernmost the cities of Frankfurt, Mannheim, Speyer, etc. In each district two conferences were held annually. Supervision and leadership were in the hands of a committee of six older brethren. In 1939 the number of adherents was estimated at 15,000. The center was the Stuttgart circle with its seat in Stuttgart.

Michael Hahn was a prolific writer. After his death in 1819 all his works were published, comprising 15 volumes. The headship of the entire brotherhood was entrusted to Anton Egeler in Nebringen; he served in this capacity until his death in 1850. He was succeeded by the schoolmaster Kolb of Dagersheim. In addition to the conferences arrangements were made for meetings of the brethren. Kolb published Ordnung fur Reisebrüder (Directive for Traveling Brethren) on their visits to the congregations. He appointed 24 unmarried brethren and 24 substitutes for the 12 districts to visit the individual brotherhoods.

Since the Gemeinschaftsbewegung in Württemberg took on a new life (e.g., Liebenzell mission), trying actively to carry out its historic mission (evangelization, etc.), the Michael Hahn brotherhood played an important role beside Old Pietism in Swabian Pietism and beyond its borders.

In the middle of the 19th century the Michelians also found their way into the Mennonite churches of Baden. In the Mennonite congregation of Dühren-Ursenbacherhof the Elder Heinrich Kaufmann received a young girl of a Protestant family into the church without rebaptism as an adult, and the council of elders of the conference of Württemberg and Baden in consequence deposed him from office in 1858. His members in large part remained loyal to him and under his leadership organized a separate congregation, which was joined by the Heimbronnerhof congregation, and in 1900 by Bretten. The division was complete.

The two small congregations did not rebaptize persons coming into the brotherhood from the state church, but recognized infant baptism. From the beginning they conducted Sunday afternoon Bible study, in which members of the other churches participated, whereas only their own members attended the Sunday morning services.

The Michelian custom of two brethren preaching at each service, based on the sending out of Christ's disciples two by two, was also adopted by these two churches; furthermore, they remained seated while preaching. The connection with the Michelians was personal, not official. The preachers of these two Mennonite churches took part in the conferences of the Michelian group, and the latter participated in the Sunday afternoon services of the Mennonites.

Connections between the two groups were maintained by the later elders and preachers, especially Heinrich Musselmann of the Ursenbacherhof and Heinrich Kaufmann in Dühren (died 1920). Later the contacts became rare.


Gruneisen, C. "Abriss einer Geschichte der reltgiosen Gemeinschaften in Wurttemberg." Zeitschrift für die historische Theologie (1841).

Hang, D. Die Sekte der Michelianer nach ihrer Lehre und ihrem Verhältnis zu anderen pietistischen Partheien in Württemberg. Stuttgart, 1859.

Die Hahnische Gemeinschaft, ihre Entstehung und seitherige Entwicklung. Stuttgart, 1877.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon.Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 124-26.

Author(s) Walter Fellmann
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Fellmann, Walter. "Michelians." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 20 Sep 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Michelians&oldid=146621.

APA style

Fellmann, Walter. (1957). Michelians. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 September 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Michelians&oldid=146621.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 667-668. All rights reserved.

©1996-2020 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.