Pfeddersheim Disputation (1557)

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1959 Article

Pfeddersheim, a village (pop. 3,500 in 1959, 7,400 in 2004) near Worms, Germany, where an Anabaptist disputation took place with Lutheran theologians on 25 August 1557 on order of Elector Otto Henry of the Palatinate. Some 40 Anabaptists took part, among them 19 bishops (Vorsteher). Five topics were discussed: Infant Baptism, State, Oath, Grounds for Leaving the State Church, and Ban. Very little source material is available regarding the disputation, none giving the statements of the Anabaptists. The Stuttgart Staatsarchiv (Rel. S.B. 16) contains a document reporting the statements made against the Anabaptists by their opponents, entitled Contra Anabaptistarum opinionem, Widerlegung der artikel der Wiedertaufer, signed at the end, "Written at Worms anno 1557." This is printed verbatim in TA Württemberg (pp. 148-161) edited by Gustav Bossert, who states that the document is the report of a disputation, probably the religious disputation at Pfeddersheim in August 1557, and perhaps written by Jakob Andreae, who participated in it. The only other known participant was Dr. Johannes Marbach, who was called from Strasbourg to assist. Diebold Winter, the chief Anabaptist speaker at the Frankenthal debate of 1571, stated at that disputation on the opening day that he had been at the Pfeddersheim disputation; he protested that things were printed about the Anabaptist views supposedly stated at Pfeddersheim "which we never thought, much less spoke. Also we protest that thereupon a very sharp mandate was issued. If we were such people as represented in the Prozess(?) we would not be fit to stand before your eyes. We want to record this for our defense. This is our complaint and protest, that we were dealt with unjustly at Pfeddersheim. .. . We would like to see such persons as were present at that disputation. If someone is here who can testify to this, and the Prozess(?) permits, we would accept correction" (Protocoll, 1573, pp. 9 f.).

It is most probable that a booklet written by Melanchthon and others which appeared in 1558(?) titled Prozess wie es soil gehalten werden mit den Wiedertäufern deals with the views of the Anabaptists as given at Pfeddersheim. (This would explain the strange term "Prozess" in Diebold Winter's statement.) It is identical with a manuscript in the Stuttgart Staatsarchiv, "Bedenken der Wiedertäuferhalber," which is dated "written at Worms anno 1557" and written 5 November 1557. This document is strangely the outcome of a meeting of Lutheran theologians held at Worms 11 September- 7 October 1557 to attempt a reconciliation between the Protestant and Catholic estates by way of a public conference. The experiment failed, but the theologians came to an agreement to recommend to the government of the Palatinate a sharper treatment of the Anabaptists. The Bedenken contains their recommendations. Why the Worms theologians should have turned from their failure to solve the Catholic problem to dealing with the Anabaptist problem is perhaps best explained by the results of the immediately preceding Pfeddersheim disputation. Jakob Andreae was a participant in both meetings and no doubt others were also. Diebold Winter's reference to a printed unjust report on the Anabaptist statements at Pfeddersheim could of course refer to a printed Protocoll, but none such has ever been discovered. (Recently a trace of a manuscript copy of a set of minutes seems to have been found, but not yet verified, possibly in the princely library at Gotha.) If the Bedenken-Prozess is basically an attack on the Anabaptist position as expressed at Pfeddersheim, then the manuscript "Handbüchlein wider den Prozess der zu Worms am Rhein wider die Brüder so man die Hutterischen nennt ausgangen ist im 1557 Jahr" (modern copy in Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen, Indiana, USA) may well be at least in part a defense of the Pfeddersheim Anabaptist testimony, and may support the idea that Hutterites took part in the Pfeddersheim disputation as they did later in the Frankenthal disputation of 1571.

It is strange that no minutes or record of the important Pfeddersheim disputation have been preserved, a fact which Krebs states in his edition of the Täuferakten for Baden und Pfalz (1951), p. 153. He prints a report on the disputation (152 f.) contained in a communication from Johann Marbach and Jakob Herman to the Strasbourg City Council dated 31 August 1557 to be found in the Strasbourg Archives. He also prints (footnote, p. 153) a brief report given by Alting in his Historia ecclesiae Palatinae (reprinted in L. Chr. Mieg, Monumenta pietatis I, Frankfurt, 1702, p. 160). In any case the Lutheran participants declared at the end of the disputation that they had overthrown the errors of their opponents, and summoned them to give up their errors and return "to the fellowship of the true Christian church." But their appeal had no success; the purpose of the Elector in calling the disputation, namely, to bring the Anabaptists back to the fold, was not attained.

Whether there was a congregation of Anabaptists at any time in Pfeddersheim is not clear. Krebs, Baden und Pfalz, twice reports Anabaptists at Pfeddersheim. On 6 August 1563 a certain Martinus is named as an Anabaptist. On 19 October 1566 Elector Friedrich ordered the Count of Alzey to proceed against the Pfeddersheim Anabaptists, having heard that ten inhabitants of the place had been won to the new faith. On 14 September 1608 a meeting of several hundred Anabaptists is reported as having taken place between Pfeddersheim and Kriegsheim, but these may have been Kriegsheim people since there are numerous reports of Anabaptists at that place. -- HSB

1987 Update

On 25-26 August 1557, at Pfeddersheim in the Palatinate, some 40 Anabaptists held a disputation with Lutheran leaders, the only known disputation between members of those two groups. In July 1983 the protocol (minutes) of the disputation was rediscovered in the Forschungsbibliothek at Gotha, German Democratic Republic, under the signature Cod. Chart. A94, folios 96v-113v. Both Palatine Elector Otto Henry and the Anabaptists had requested the disputation, the former to induce the Anabaptists to return to the state church, and the latter to clear their good name against slanders. Neither the elector nor the Anabaptists succeeded in their objectives.

Johannes Brenz, the major Lutheran leader who never consented to the death penalty for religious dissidents, was the principal Lutheran spokesman. Jakob Andreae, Johannes Marbach and Michael Diller, also participated for the Lutherans. Diebold Winter was the spokesman selected by the Anabaptists. Occasionally unnamed Anabaptists entered the conversation briefly. Only five topics were discussed, inadequately at that: baptism, Christians' relation to government, the oath, the Lord's Supper as sacrament, and attendance at the state church (including the use of the ban).

The officials of the electoral court declared the Lutherans to be winners, and demanded that the Anabaptists either recant or accept exile; evidence indicates no recantations, and only some left the Palatinate; Diebold Winter remained to participate 14 years later in the much more thorough disputation at Frankenthal. A 20th century reader of the minutes might find the Lutherans vastly superior in use of logic, and the Anabaptists generally holding their own with arguments from Scripture.

The disputation bears no relation to the Contra Anabaptistarum opinionem (TA Württemberg, 148-161) as Bossert surmised; the latter is a much more thorough refutation of Anabaptist "errors" and does not use the arguments employed at Pfeddersheim. Nor does Pfeddersheim bear any relation to the Prozess wie es soil gehalten werden mit den wiedertäufern . . . (Worms: Köpflein, 1557), which is another detailed refutation of Anabaptist "errors" drawn almost exclusively from Melanchthon's earlier polemics. -- JSO


The minutes were edited and translated by John S. Oyer in Mennonite Quarterly Review 60 (1986): 304-351.

See also:

Fast, Harold. "Die Täuferbewegung im Lichte des Frankenthaler Gespräches." Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter Jg. 30, n.F. 25 (1973): 7-23.

Hege, Christian. Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz. Frankfurt: Minjon 1908.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 593.

Krebs, Manfred. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer. IV. Band, Baden and Pfalz. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1951: 152-154, 157, 168, 242.

Oyer, John S. "The Pfeddersheim Disputation, 1557." Bibliotheca Dissidentium, Scripta et Studia. Baden: Koerner, 1987.

Oyer, John S. Lutheran Reformers against Anabaptists. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1964.

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
John S. Oyer
Date Published 1987

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Bender, Harold S. and John S. Oyer. "Pfeddersheim Disputation (1557)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 21 Jun 2021.

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Bender, Harold S. and John S. Oyer. (1987). Pfeddersheim Disputation (1557). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 June 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 158-159, v. 5, p. 700. All rights reserved.

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