Myconius, Oswald (1488-1552)

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Oswald Myconius (Geisshüsler), (1488-1552), a Reformed theologian, born at Lucerne, Switzerland, studied philology at the universities of Bern and Basel, became a Humanistic professor in Basel and Lucerne, then Zurich (1516 f.), where he promoted Zwingli's call to the ministry of the city. In 1520 he turned his attention to the study of the Scriptures. Zwingli had in him an assistant for his Bible study groups well-versed in languages and in the Bible. Myconius as a layman was commissioned by the city council to hold these studies in the Fraumünster Church. His thorough but popular exposition soon attracted large audiences from all ranks. Thus even though he was not a preacher he was an effective promoter of the Reformation.

It is to be assumed that some future Anabaptist leaders also participated in these meetings, for Myconius was acquainted with some of them. Conrad Grebel was in the party in 1518, when Myconius, with Vadian and Johann Zimmermann (Xylotectus), made the first scientific ascent of Mt. Pilatus, which had been shrouded in superstition (Hagenbach, 348). Grebel later left Myconius. With Zwingli, Leo Jud, and Kasper Megander, Myconius took part in the disputations with the Swiss Brethren, including that of 17 January 1525, which led to the founding of the broherhood in Zurich (Blanke, 37-40). Myconius also participated in the debate with Balthasar Hubmaier on 21 December 1525 (Hagenbach, 333). He reported that they had taken part in "nine friendly discussions and serious disputations" with the Anabaptists (Blanke, 45).

When the battle of Kappel (11 October 1531) claimed the lives of Zwingli and Oecolampadius' assistant, who had also been the pastor of the church of St. Alban in Basel, Myconius succeeded into his position; and upon the death of Oecolampadius in August 1532 he as Zwingli's friend was made the antistes of the Basel church. He also held the chair of New Testament at the university. Myconius now became a prominent opponent of the Swiss Brethren, though after 1531 the death penalty was no longer inflicted upon an Anabaptist in Basel. With Heinrich Bullinger, who had just published his first book against the Anabaptists, Von dem unverschämten Frevel, and who became the antistes of the Zurich church after Zwingli's death, Myconius carried on a lively correspondence.

In the synod of Basel of May 1533 Myconius expressed his distaste for the carelessness of the dress of the Swiss Brethren; though the clergy was now wearing civil garb, he did not wish it to be everyday clothing, lest something equally ordinary be expected of the sermon (Hagenbach, 347). In contrast to the Swiss Brethren, who required ethical conduct and faith as condition of membership in their brotherhood, Myconius advocated government intervention to preserve moral conduct and faith by means of strict laws; these laws were, however, constantly broken, so that even the sharpest measures against gluttony, intoxication, and profanity were ineffective. "Lack of respect for the services ordained by the state church, disregard of the Word and the sacrament were made criminal offenses and as such were severely prosecuted" (Hagenbach, 348).

Nevertheless Myconius left a little freedom of action to the Swiss Brethren at first, as is seen in his letter to Wolfgang Capito dated 26 June 1533, admitting that there were in Basel no sects that denied the deity of Christ or the regulation of civil uprightness among men (Cornelius, 264). But he was soon attacking in speech and in writing the Swiss Brethren doctrines that differed from those of the Reformed Church.

In his first church regulation, the Basler Konfession of 21 January 1534 he took a position against Swiss Brethren doctrine. This creed had been outlined by Oecolampadius, but written by Myconius. Like the Augsburg Confession this creed also contained a section on "errors of the Anabaptists," which calls them mobsters and designates their teaching as malicious opinions when they say "that one should not baptize infants (which we baptize according to the custom of the apostles and the early church and because baptism takes the place of circumcision), and that one may under no circumstances swear an oath, and that Christians may not be a part of the government, together with all the others that are opposed to the sound, pure doctrine of Jesus Christ, and that we not only do not accept, but also reject as an abomination and blasphemy" (Hagenbach, 469 f.). The creed was presented to the guilds and sworn to by the members. For over three centuries it remained the official creed of the church in Basel. Until 1789 all citizens, and until 1780 all clergymen in Basel were bound by this creed (Theologischer Jahresbericht, 1911, 654). This same creed was also adopted in Mühlhausen in Alsace, and was known as the Mühlhauser Konfession (Hagenbach, 353).

Ten days after the release of the creed Myconius issued a pastoral letter, which presented a sad picture of the rudeness of the age and an accusation against the conduct of the Catholic clergy, with the entirely unfounded assertion that "Papists and Anabaptists make common cause, one group believing that by killing one's enemy they are doing a work pleasing to God, and the other group would have liked to destroy the Word and the uprightness of the Gospel; for when it came to battle, the Anabaptists turned their backs before they had seen the foe, and the others, having perceived the serious impression of the enemy, likewise sought their safety in flight. Neither party marched out to face the enemy, but only to look after itself" (Hagenbach, 409). Myconius completely ignored the fact that the Anabaptists were nowhere tolerated by the Catholics, and that they defended their teaching with the Word itself.

In his later years, racked by physical pain, he confessed to Bullinger in 1547 in a penitent mood that he too had been lacking in a true trust in God. "Our own sins stand in our way. When we clergymen urge repentance we are admitted nowhere, and we ourselves are occasionally guilty of serious missteps. Love has grown cold in all, even in those who commend love to others. All, learned and ignorant, great and small, are blinded by the prevalent ungodliness. We do not love God and are attached only to the world. Therefore the Gospel preached for many years has borne no greater fruit. Our passions, not the Word of God, govern us, who ought to lead others" (Hagenbach, 367).

Myconius died on 14 October 1552 at Basel, almost at the same time as his colleague Johannes Gast, who had been deacon of the church of St. Martins since 1529 and in 1544 wrote a violent polemic against the Anabaptists.

Conrad Grebel and Oswald Myconius were intimate friends for some ten years prior to Grebel's break with the Zwinglian Reformation. Nine letters of Grebel to Myconius have been preserved covering the period from 30 January 1519, to 4 November 1521, all of which have been published in the original Latin and in English translation by Edward Yoder in the Mennonite Quarterly Review (1928).


Blanke, Fritz. Reprint of Zwingli's In Catabaptistarum strophas elenchus. Corpus Reformatorum 93 Leipzig, 1936.

Cornelius, Carl Adolf. Geschichte des münsterischen Aufruhrs: in drei Büchern. Leipzig : T.O. Weigel, 1855-1860: II.

Hagenbach, Carl Rudolph. Johann Oekolampad und Oswald Myconius, die Reformatoren Basels : Leben und ausgewählte Schriften. Elberfeld: Friderichs, 1859

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 193 f.

Yoder, Edward. "Nine Letters of Conrad Grebel [to Myconius]." Mennonite Quarterly Review 2 (1928): 229-259.

Author(s) Christian Hege
Date Published 1957

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Hege, Christian. "Myconius, Oswald (1488-1552)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 30 Sep 2023.,_Oswald_(1488-1552)&oldid=144151.

APA style

Hege, Christian. (1957). Myconius, Oswald (1488-1552). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 September 2023, from,_Oswald_(1488-1552)&oldid=144151.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 802-803. All rights reserved.

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