Nicolai, Melchior (1578-1659)
Melchior Nicolai was a rather quarrelsome Württemberg theologian of the Lutheran orthodox wing and a staunch fighter against Anabaptism in his home country. In 1604 he was made deacon in Waiblingen, and in 1608 minister in Stetten in the Rems Valley, in Württemberg. At both places he had many contacts with local Anabaptists and fought aggressively against their further spread. In 1619 he became professor at the University of Tübingen. In 1627 he was general superintendent and member of the consistory of the state church of Württemberg, the highest office possible. Later he became provost (Probst) of the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart.
The trend of the time and his own bent of mind made him a polemical writer. "Against all calumniators and heretics," writes his biographer F. Wagner in 1685, "against Papists and Calvinists and Anabaptists he defended the true religion" [i.e., Lutheranism]. He was known for his battle against the Jesuits in Dillingen. The book of greatest interest to us is his Gründliche, mit Gottes Wort und der Antiquität bevestigte Widerlegung eines wiedertaufferischen Büchleins handelnd I. Von der Kindertauff, II. Von dem heiligen Abendmahl, III. Von der Gemeinschaft der Güter, IV. Von dem Ampt der Obrigkeit, V. Von dem Eydschwur . . . (Stuttgart, bey fohann Weyrich Rösslin, 1659) (286 pages quarto).
Nicolai's book is the most elaborate answer of Lutheranism to one of the basic doctrinal documents of the Hutterites, namely, the Article Book, which was originally drawn up in 1547, much enlarged in 1577, and condensed again in the time of the Vorsteher Andreas Ehrenpreis around 1648-1655. This book in its present extant form contains five articles, but strangely enough all known manuscripts have as Number Five an article "Concerning Divorce," while an article "Concerning the Oath" (as Nicolai claims) has thus far not been found among the extant manuscripts. In this regard Nicolai's book is of some value for research in Anabaptist doctrinal writings. It is surprising that Nicolai should battle Hutterites (who had long since ceased mission work in his country) and not the Swiss Brethren (remnants of whom were still around). The latter, however, had no doctrinal writings as comprehensive as the "big" book of Hutterite origin. It is not known whether Nicolai used the Ehrenpreis condensation (as Bossert claims) or the original "Article Book" (comprising some 250 leaves) as is suggested by a reference in the book to the Anabaptists in Markt Gröningen (see Dietrich, Sebastian).
Nicolai is not very familiar with the Anabaptists, referring time and again to Thomas Müntzer and Jan van Leyden as his main witnesses, never to the evangelical Brethren whom he should have known better from personal contacts in the Rems Valley. However, what arouses this churchman is the Anabaptist principle of nonconformity and separation from the world. Their critique of the authorities (Obrigkeit) seems to provoke him above all, and as he has no pertinent argument from a theological standpoint he indulges in slanderous conjectures: if these brethren should gain power in the state they would certainly behave like the Münsterites and would use brute force (loc. cit., 251 ff.). It is obvious that an argument like this was much out of date in 1659, a century and a quarter after the unfortunate Münster episode, and proves only the propagandistic intentions of this book.
That Nicolai devotes much space to a defense of infant baptism and the demonstration of the Anabaptist error on this point is understandable from his position as orthodox state churchman. There is hardly any new argument in the material he has to present.
Bossert, G. Jr. "Aus der nebenkirchlichen religiosen Bewegung der Reformationszeit in Württemberg." Blatter für Wiirttembg. Kirchen-Geschichte (1929): 39.
Friedmann, Robert. "Eine dogmatische Hauptschrift der Hutterischen Täufergemeinschaften."Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 29 (1932): 1-8.
Fritz, F. "Die Wiirttembergischen Pfarrer im dreissigjahrigen Krieg." Blätter für Wiirttembergische Kirchengeschichte (1926): 55 f.; (1928): 64.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 224 f.
Cite This Article
Freidmann, Robert. "Nicolai, Melchior (1578-1659)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 31 Jul 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Nicolai,_Melchior_(1578-1659)&oldid=117995.
Freidmann, Robert. (1957). Nicolai, Melchior (1578-1659). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 31 July 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Nicolai,_Melchior_(1578-1659)&oldid=117995.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 872-873. All rights reserved.
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