Pfistermeyer, Hans (16th century)

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Hans Pfistermeyer (Meyer), an outstanding Anabaptist leader of Aarau, capital of the Swiss canton of Aargau, who was probably won to the Anabaptist movement by Jacob Gross of Waldshut in 1525. Little is known of him. On 26 January 1526, the council of Aarau discussed his case. He apparently appeared as a preacher soon after his baptism, whereupon he was apparently banished from the canton. In that year he also preached in Basel. A messenger of the council conveyed to him the order to leave the city. He then went in person to the Protestant mayor, Adelperg Meyer, and received from him a friendly repetition and explanation of the law. But soon Pfistermeyer was in the city again. It was made clear to him that he and his like-minded friends might stay in the city if they would promise not to hold any meetings. To this condition they did not consent and were again expelled. Now they went to the neighboring Therwyl and preached there. They were brought before the council, which demanded from them an oath that they would forever avoid the city and an area with a radius of ten miles around it. They refused to render the oath and were ordered to leave the city, and never to return. Nevertheless Pfistermeyer was in Basel again a year later. "He had heard that good Christian people lived here, and so God led him back and then he worked here." Again he was expelled with a very sharp threat, and apparently did not return. In the following year he was one of the eight Anabaptists who wished to participate in the great disputation held at Bern in 1528, but who were arrested and who were cross-examined after the conclusion of the colloquy, and then expelled from the city and canton. Whither they went is not known. In 1530 he appeared as an Anabaptist preacher. Bern heard that he frequently preached to crowds of several hundred, though only seven were baptized. Bern then de­manded that he be extradited. In March 1531 Pfistermeyer was seized at Mellingen and taken to Bern. On 19 April 1531, the preachers of Bern, Berchtold Haller, Caspar Megander (see Grossmann), Franz Kolb, Sebastian Hofmeister, and Jakob Otherus, engaged in a debate with him, in the course of which he was led to recant. The col­loquy has been printed under the title, Ein christenlich gespräch gehallten zu Bernn zwüschen den Predicanten und Hansen Physter Meyer von Arouw den Widertauff, Eyd, Oberkeyt und andere Widertoufferische Artikel betreffende (1531) (at GCL). By "the Holy Scripture" it was to be proved that Pfistermeyer was in error with regard to "the faith and the Christian life," and an effort was made "with all friendliness" to lead him from "his un­godly plan" in order that at least "his soul might be won." To attain this goal the preachers dealt with him "with all industry, with gentleness and with patience, out of love." Pfistermeyer was first called upon to account for his statement that the clergy were not preaching God's words but Bern's word. One of the questions dealt with was the Anabaptist view that the New Testament is more important than the Old Testament, a view which Pfistermeyer skillfully defended since Christ "had brought a higher and more perfect teaching." Since everything was to be directed toward faith and life, the swearing of oaths was also discussed by the clergy as being "in accord with faith and love." Pfistermeyer to be sure wanted to stay by a simple yes, but allows himself to be moved far enough on this point that "the swearing of oaths is not differ­ent from testifying to the truth" and he would therefore be permitted "to testify to his yes with God."

With regard to taking interest Pfistermeyer assert­ed that it is not suitable for a Christian to take interest; but the clergy countered with the statement that although the Scriptures do indeed forbid usury taking interest is reconcilable with love. But Pfister­meyer would recognize as real love the kind that according to Matthew 5 shows itself in unselfishness, and he could not "get any farther with the Scrip­tures."

Concerning the government Pfistermeyer said that no Christian should become involved in such an office. The theologians on the other hand tried to prove by the Old Testament "that a Christian may stay in office." A "Christian government" also had the duty of punishing the wicked. The sword, which Pfistermeyer believed should not be used, saying, "A Christian shall not pronounce a death sentence," was commanded a Christian government as a weapon of love. "Indeed love is precisely the hilt whereby the government shall grasp the sword." They do this "with great sympathy, not arbitrarily or criminally, not out of vengeance or blood-thirstiness, but alone on account of the office of punishing and eradicating the evil for the benefit of the pious." But Pfistermeyer spoke for mercy and pardon, saying that according to the Sermon on the Mount one should not resist evil. It was his opinion that the clergy found so little attention because they "did not follow after Christ," whose teaching was in harmony with His deed, which made a bigger impression on the people than the mere empty word without corresponding deeds.

A lively discussion arose concerning the article of baptism, since Pfistermeyer rejected infant baptism. The circumcision of the Old Testament gave the clergy their foundation for their defense of in­fant baptism, and baptism denoted being added to the people of God. Pfistermeyer skillfully contend­ed that Christ had commanded to teach and after that to baptize, of which the children were of course incapable. He said that one who was not planted into the kingdom of God by the heavenly Father as a plant, or in other words, added to the people of God, he would be rooted out. Thereupon the clergy said that Christ had promised to the children "the kingdom of heaven." Just as children enjoy civil community without understanding it, so they should also be permitted to participate in the "community of the saints," in baptism. Pfistermeyer, however, found it highly dubious that anybody could be made a Christian through water baptism, without living a godly life.

After a lengthy disputation Pfistermeyer request­ed time to consider until the next day; this was granted. With the argument that infant baptism is a continuation of the circumcision of the Old Testa­ment and that the latter is based on a definite com­mand of God, Pfistermeyer was finally defeated so that he declared that he knew no further Scripture to oppose it. But since he now "through the grace of God" had been further instructed in the truth, he confessed that he had erred. He would ask God for pardon that He might lead him still further in recognition of the truth.

Now Pfistermeyer considered it to be his task to convert his former companions and brethren to his new view. He failed in this with Heini Seiler, his fellow prisoner, who remained true to his faith until death by martyrdom. [Note the update below correcting confusion on the identity of "Heini."] This conversation has also been printed (Heiz, 20). After the experiment with Pfistermeyer had succeeded so well, the council of Bern apparently set great hopes on a religious disputation of this kind. Therefore a "friendly teaching from God's Word" was tried again and in 1532 the Anabaptist disputation of Zofingen was instituted, which was to be held like the one with Pfistermeyer according to the rules of "faith and love." That Pfistermeyer was present in Zofingen is not seen in the printed records. In 1533-34 he succeeded in bringing about Friedli Scherger's(?) recantation. In March 1538 he was by letter ordered to appear at the great disputation of Bern, since he as a recanting Anabaptist could offer the lords good services. At this point all trace of him is lost.

2020 Update

Hans Pfistermeyer, in the process of recanting his Anabaptism, had a conversation in prison with a "Heyni" on 21 April 1531. This "Heyni" subsequently recanted along with Pfistermeyer. [QGTS IV, 60-65]. Martin Haas concludes that "Heyni" was most probably Heini Steffan, or perhaps Heini of Taegeren, who had the 1531 conversation with Pfistermeyer. [QGTS III, #156, note 1; QGTS III, #132, n. 1] The most recent scholarship thus indicates that when Christian Neff named Heini Seiler as Pfistermeyer's prison companion in 1531, he confused Heini Seiler (already deceased) with Heini Steffan.


Geiser, Samuel. Die Taufgesinnten-Gemeinden : eine Kurzgefasste Darstellung der wichtigsten Ereignisse des Täufertums. Karlsruhe: H. Schneider, 1931.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 360-62.

Heiz, J. Die Täufer im Aargau. Aarau, 1902.

Müller, Ernst. Geschichte der Bernischen Täufer. Frauenfeld: Huber, 1895. Reprinted Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf, 1972.

Bibliography for Update

Haas, Martin, ed. Aargau – Bern – Solothurn. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer in der Schweiz [QGTS], Bd. 3. Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 2008: #132, #156, #399.

Haas, Martin, ed. Drei Täufergespräche. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer in der Schweiz [QGTS], Bd. 4. Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1974: 60-65.

Snyder, C. Arnold. "3 drowned in Bern - 1528, 1529, or 1531?." Personal email (29 April 2020).

Author(s) Christian Neff
Samuel Geiser
C. Arnold Snyder
Date Published April 2020

Cite This Article

MLA style

Neff, Christian, Samuel Geiser and C. Arnold Snyder. "Pfistermeyer, Hans (16th century)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2020. Web. 20 Jun 2021.,_Hans_(16th_century)&oldid=167987.

APA style

Neff, Christian, Samuel Geiser and C. Arnold Snyder. (April 2020). Pfistermeyer, Hans (16th century). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 June 2021, from,_Hans_(16th_century)&oldid=167987.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 160-161. All rights reserved.

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