Riedemann, Peter (1506-1556)

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Peter Riedemann (Rideman, Rydeman, Ryedeman), (1506-56), Hutterite bishop, missionary, and outstanding doctrinal writer, by some called the second founder of the Hutterite brotherhood. Because of his height he was also called "the tall Peter," and because of his first imprisonment in Gmunden , Upper Austria, was also known as "Peter of Gmunden."

Riedemann was born in 1506 in Hirschberg, Silesia, Germany, where he learned the shoemaker's trade. In 1529 he is encountered for the first time, imprisoned in Gmunden for his Anabaptist faith. Apparently he had joined the Anabaptist Brethren in Upper Austria sometime before, where Hans Hut and later Wolfgang Brandhuber had been active as missioners, mainly around the cities of Linz, Steyr, and Gmunden 1527-29. Riedemann had been ordained as "Diener des Wortes" in 1529. During his three years' imprisonment (1529-32) Riedemann wrote his first great doctrinal work, Rechenschaft unseres Glaubens geschrieben zu Gmunden im Land ob der Enns im Gefencknus, a work of deeply spiritual qualities, which placed Riedemann doctrinally very near to his contemporary brethren Hans Schlaffer and Leonhard Schiemer. (A complete publication of this work is planned for the second volume of Glaubenszeugnisse, to be published in the Täuferakten Series in 1960.) Even though Riedemann at the time of writing this work had not yet joined the Hutterites, they have faithfully preserved this "Account of Our Faith" in numerous manuscript books. Besides its main part, this work contains also two separate pieces of great beauty not strictly belonging to the confession proper: (1) Wie man das Haus Gottes bauen soll und was Haus Gottes sei, and (2) Von den sieben Pfeilern an diesem Hause (Proverbs 9:1).

In 1532 Riedemann escaped from prison. He worked first with the Brethren in Linz , but soon thereafter joined the Hutterite brotherhood in Moravia then still in its formative years. In 1533 he was sent out for the first time as a missioner (Sendbote) into Franconia, to spread the Anabaptist message. On his way he revisited the remnants of the older Anabaptist groups in Upper Austria, inviting them to join the Moravian group. In 1533-37 he was again jailed for the sake of his faith in Nürnberg, but little is recorded of him in this period. In July 1537 he was released from prison upon his promise not to preach in Nürnberg, and he now returned home to Moravia, again via Upper Austria. Here he met the remnants of the Philippite Brethren and took them into his care as if he were their bishop. Four epistles from his hand (1537-39) written to these Philippite Brethren in Linz, Steyr, and Gmunden, and two more (1537-38 and 1540) to other Philippites in Germany (Württemberg, Palatinate, etc.) are still extant. These epistles give a strong impression of pastoral care for this almost leaderless group, some of whom later joined the Hutterites in Moravia.

About 1532, prior to the above journey, Riedemann married an Anabaptist sister Katharina, called familiarly "Treindl." Among his many letters there are six very lovely ones sent to his "marital sister." In 1539 the Brethren sent him again on a mission trip to Hesse mainly to straighten out an unpleasant affair with Hans Both, a friend of Melchior Rinck and a former Philippite. At Holzhausen Riedemann composed an important epistle. Returning in the same year 1539, he arrived at the brotherhood a few days after the unfortunate government raid at Steinabrunn, Lower Austria. Several letters of comfort written to the imprisoned in Falkenstein are extant, which again show Riedemann as a true pastor, loving and full of concern. Two months later he was again on his way to Hesse through Austria, Tirol, Württemberg , and Swabia (Lauingen), visiting all the groups he could reach. In Hesse he seems to have been very successful, since large numbers (up to 90-100) were now making their way to Moravia. Some of these newly won members were imprisoned in Württemberg en route; Riedemann comforted them too in the genuine fashion of a shepherd.

Not long thereafter, most likely toward the end of February 1540, Riedemann himself fell into the hands of the authorities of Hesse and was chained in a dark and severe prison in Marburg. It should be noted that Philip of Hesse did not permit Anabaptists to be put to death. The numerous letters written by Riedemann during this imprisonment (1540 to early 1542) show that his condition was soon eased. He was permitted to help the jailer by making shoes, and then he and another brother were removed to the nearby castle of Wolkersdorf, where the administrator (Vogt) was sympathetic to Anabaptist ideas and somewhat ashamed of all the imprisonment. Riedemann now had full freedom of movement, but he felt obligated to remain at the castle. His activities were manifold. He received visitors from Hesse and from Moravia (his old friend Hans Gentner, a former Philippite from Austria, but now a Hutterite, was sent to consult him concerning a difficult case at home), and he continued to dispatch newly won brethren and sisters to Moravia. In 1541 his correspondence became more sparse; it may be assumed that at that time he was working on his great doctrinal work, the Rechenschaft. One of the letters (No. 21) indicates that his main motive for writing this confession was to inform Philip of Hesse about the true beliefs and viewpoints of the Anabaptists. (This fact was not known heretofore.) Since he had full leisure, the book became rather lengthy and carefully worked out. More trouble in the Moravian brotherhood and the death of the Vorsteher Hans Amon in February 1542 prompted the Brethren to ask him to come home if he could manage it without hurting his conscience.

Late in February 1542 Riedemann was back in Moravia, where after Hans Amon's death Leonhard Lanzenstiel was chosen Vorsteher of the brotherhood. Riedemann was now made co-bishop, and this co-operation worked out very well. Lanzenstiel was more of a practical man, while Riedemann was the great spiritual teacher and leader. From now until his death in 1556 Riedemann remained with the brotherhood, leading it forcefully through years of severe persecution and trial. In 1545 the brotherhood presented to the lords of Moravia a petition (found in Beck, 169-73, incomplete) which can safely be assigned to Riedemann's hand. A copy of the Rechenschaft of 1540 was enclosed with this appeal.

The years 1547-51 brought the severest persecution which the brotherhood had to endure before their total expulsion from Moravia in 1622. The Brethren were homeless as hounded game, moving hither and thither, and digging underground tunnels (in Czech called lochy) as temporary abodes. Many fell away, but the strong core remained loyal. In fact the group was augmented by newcomers from Silesia (former Gabrielites). One of Riedemann's letters of this period was addressed to these Silesian brethren and spoke frankly about their suffering. One can almost feel the strong spiritual forces that bound the brotherhood together in those days, Riedemann, Lanzenstiel, and Walpot being responsible leaders. The Rechenschaft may well have added to the strength of their conviction, as the church now had available a statement which was well argued and documented by not less than 1,800 Bible references. One last letter by Riedemann (of 1549-50) was addressed to those brethren who were now scouting for new and safer homes east of the Carpathian Mountains in (then Hungarian) Slovakia.

In December 1556 Riedemann died on the Bruderhof of Protzko, Slovakia, at the age of fifty, having been a minister of the Divine Word for 27 years, and having suffered in prison for 9 years. The Hutterite Chronicle contains a lengthy obituary, in which all his achievements are listed with the comment, "For he was rich in all divine secrets and the gift of the spiritual language issued forth from him like a spring which gushes over. All souls who heard him gained peace. . . . On his deathbed he comforted his brethren with the words of Ezra 8:3 and 9" (presumably IV Ezra). Shortly before his passing he composed the hymn "Quitt, ledig, los hat uns gemacht Christus vom Tod, des Teufels Macht" (Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, 516).

Riedemann's written work is quite considerable and has not yet been fully studied. It may be classified in three divisions: doctrinal writings, epistles, and hymns, (a) The doctrinal writings comprise two large works, (1) the Gmundener Rechenschaft (1529-32), one of the very strong expressions of early Anabaptism, biblicistic and yet thoroughly spiritual (well called "Biblical spiritualism," as over against the general spiritualism of the Sebastian Franck type); and (2) the great Rechenschaft unseres Glaubens, written in 1540-41, one of the few books ever to have been printed by the Hutterian Brethren, published in 1565. (See Rechenschaft unserer Religion.) To this day it has remained the basic doctrinal statement of the Hutterites.

(b) The Epistles. Next to nothing was known about Riedemann's epistles until recently. Wolkan refers to them as "a major source of our knowledge of the Hutterite doctrinal position," but only four epistles were incorporated in the Chronicle and were thus known to him. As far as could be ascertained, only one manuscript codex (at a Bruderhof in Montana) and several recent copies of it contain a nearly complete collection of these most valuable documents, 34 in number (six of which are addressed to "Treindl"). To them must be added the epistle to the lords of Moravia (Landesherren) of 1545, mentioned above. The present biographical sketch has been partly drawn from the contents of these epistles. They express a deep and concrete Christian faith, a genuine brotherly love, and a pastoral concern for the fellow brethren and sisters, whom he calls his "dear little children." No prison or persecution could stop him in these acts. The epistles will be published in full in a Täuferakten publication in the near future.

(c) Hymns. The Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder (Scottdale, 1914) contain (pp. 450-537) forty-five hymns by Riedemann. One additional hymn, "O Herr, wie reichlich trostest du," composed in 1529, was discovered by Elias Walter, the editor of the Lieder, after the publication was out, and another, the "Glaubensbekenntnis" (Ausbund, No. 2): "Wir glauben all an einen Gott," is likewise ascribed to Riedemann, even though the Brethren think it was composed by Siegmund Wiedemann (Rechenschaft, new edition, Berne, 1902, last page). Hymn 37 in the Ausbund, "Komm Gott Vater vom Himmel," is likewise by Riedemann (Lieder, 483), composed while imprisoned in Gmunden in 1529, which praises the martyr death of Hans Langenmantel. It is possible that still more hymns were written by this outstanding man. Rudolf Wolkan, who carefully studied these hymns (Lieder, 185-206), considers Riedemann the greatest Hutterite hymn writer. The hymns are found in numerous Hutterite codices in both Europe and America.

One may safely say that the fact that the brotherhood weathered the critical years of 1545-51 and kept its spiritual testimony so high that they could continue unspotted until far into later centuries was due not least to the work of this man, a true bishop of his flock. His writings are preserved in numerous codices and are still being copied today by the Hutterian Brethren in America.


Anonymous. "Peter Riedemann aus Hirschberg, ein schlesischer Wiedertäufe." Literaturblatt zu den schlesischen Provinzialblättern. September, 1793 (According to S. Calvary, 1870).

Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967: 88, 169-73, 195.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 500-505.

Loserth, Johann."Der Communismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer im 16. and 17. Jahrhundert: Beiträge zu ihrer Lehre, Geschichte and Verfassung." Archiv für österreichische Geschichte (1895): 81, 1.

Mencik, F. "Ueber ein Wiedertäufergesangbuch." Sitzung Ber. der hgl. Böhmischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften (1896): No. XI (Mentions a hymn by Riedemann which is not found in the Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder (according to Wiswedel, 193). For the several editions of the Rechenschaft, see that article; the recent editions published by the Society of Brothers in England (1938, 1950) contain a brief appreciation of Riedemann.

Schirnmelpfennig, "Huterische Wiedertäufer in Mähren und Peter Riedemann, ihr Vorsteher." Jahresbericht der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für vaterländische Kultur (1885): 295-315.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer. Berlin, 1903. Reprinted Nieuwkoop : B. De Graaf, 1965: 185-205, 483.

Wiswedel, Wilhelm. "Peter Riedemann, ein Gefangener Jesu Christi." Bilder I: 169-94, including extensive excerpts from the Rechenschaft: (180-93).

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943: 194, 356 f.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Riedemann, Peter (1506-1556)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 29 Sep 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Riedemann,_Peter_(1506-1556)&oldid=146153.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Riedemann, Peter (1506-1556). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 September 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Riedemann,_Peter_(1506-1556)&oldid=146153.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 326-328. All rights reserved.

©1996-2023 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.