Schiemer, Leonhard (d. 1528)

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Leonhard Schiemer of Vöcklabruck, Upper Austria (the Martyrs' Mirror erroneously calls him Leonhard Schöner of Becklasburg), one of the outstanding Anabaptist leaders and martyrs of the very beginning (died 1528), whose significance for the entire movement has been but recently recognized. He belongs to the line of South German Anabaptists roughly characterized by the names Denck and Hut, to which group also Hans Schlaffer, Ambrosius Spittelmayr, and Hans Nadler belonged. They all represent a stronger spiritualistic emphasis in their Christian faith. The "outer word" alone does not suffice for a true understanding, Schiemer would say; rather the true light of the Holy Spirit is needed which shines in our heart.

Of his life some details are known from his Bekanntnus (Müller, 80-81), which he submitted to his judge in January 1528. He was brought up at Vöcklabruck and Vienna by God-fearing parents, and desired to enter the Catholic priesthood. But when he found little godliness in the life and teaching of the priests he joined the Barefoot Friars (Franciscans), noted for their piety. But again he found nothing but strife and hypocrisy; finally, having tried this life for six years he fled from the monastery at Judenburg, Styria. A kind citizen of that city gave him some clothing and a guilder for his needs. Now he began to wander about: first he went to Nürnberg where he learned the tailor's trade (and probably met some of the leading men of the Radical Reformation). Thence he went to Nikolsburg, Moravia, to hear Hubmaier's teachings —having vigorously opposed them in his former days. From here he turned to Vienna to learn more about true Christianity from Hans Hut. He related that the assembly "in the Kärntnerstrasse" was greatly embarrassed when he entered, suspecting him to be a spy. After two days of talks, however, he accepted believer's baptism from Oswald Glait in the spring of 1527. From Vienna he went to Steyr, the industrial city in Upper Austria, known as a place of great readiness for radical ideas. Here he stayed for a time earning his living by his trade and baptizing many converts to the new faith. The brotherhood made him a preacher (Leermeister) and soon sent him into many lands (Salzburg, Bavaria, Tyrol) to spread his new message. Although he was well aware that several monasteries in Austria were trying to apprehend him as a renegade monk he obeyed his call without hesitation, and was caught in the city of Rattenberg on the Inn, Tyrol (in the documents always written Rotenburg), 25 November 1527, scarcely six months after his conversion. In Rattenberg, he claims, he had worked only one day, and yet he signs one of his epistles to the local brotherhood as "your unworthy bishop." We cannot completely reconstruct the story of that Rattenberg Anabaptist congregation but there is little doubt that Schiemer's influence was tremendous, in spite of the fact that he was in prison until his execution by the sword seven weeks later, 14 January 1528. The district judge Bartholomeus Angst was most lenient to his prisoner (Beck, 61 note), allowing brethren to go in and out and to give him paper and ink to write as much as he wanted. Thus these seven weeks are among the most fruitful ones in the long and bitter story of South German and Tyrolean Anabaptism. His writings were soon collected in a pamphlet or booklet presumably for the local congregation, but they found wide distribution afterwards in Moravia, Germany, and Switzerland. The Hutterites as well as Pilgram Marpeck and his people were greatly indebted to this outstanding Anabaptist teacher.

At one time Schiemer tried to escape (Müller, 76) but was caught again. Now his imprisonment was made harder. Torture and hunger made him miserable in the flesh, and the dread of death made him shudder. But he gained new strength by the thought, "If I did not place all my confidence in the Lord, I would fall; but the Lord is my comfort and my confidence; he forsakes none who trusts him" (Müller, 76). The government in Innsbruck urged Judge Angst to greater rigor and requested the speeding up of the case. Schiemer was condemned to death by fire in accordance with the mandates of King Ferdinand, but the sentence was moderated to beheading and burning the corpse afterwards. "After him about 70 others testified to their faith [in Rattenberg]," writes the Hutterite Chronicle, thus demonstrating the amazing spiritual vitality of this "Schiemer congregation."

The writings produced by Schiemer in prison are found in numerous Hutterite codices (best perhaps in the oldest one extant, 1566, now at a Bruderhof in Montana) and, surprisingly, also in the Kunstbuch of 1561, which originated in the Marpeck group. The numbering and counting of these writings is not easy because the items are sometimes written together and sometimes separated, sometimes considered as "epistles" and sometimes taken as tracts or sermons. Their tremendous appeal and effectiveness in the shaping of the Anabaptist genius and tradition cannot be doubted. Fortunately, the majority of Schiemer's writings have been published by Lydia Müller (Glaubenszeugnisse); others follow in Glaubenszeugnisse II and in an edition of the Kunstbuch. The list is roughly as follows:

(1) Eine hübsche Erklärung der 12 Artikel des christlichen Glaubens, contained in an epistle to the church in Rattenberg (Müller, 44-58; Kunstbuch, No. 10). The oldest codex of the Hutterites (1566) has this item too, supplemented by two pages containing a remarkable diagram of four circles: /the Will of God/ Adam/ Creature/ Christ/, plus accompanying text (not yet published).

(2) Was die Gnad sey. Eine Vorred, and a tract "concerning threefold grace." The term Vorred means with the Hutterites always "sermon" but at this place it might also mean "introduction" (Müller, 58-71; Kunstbuch, No. 9). This is a real gem of Anabaptist writing. In the article concerning "the second grace" there is a lengthy insertion called Auslegung des Vater Unser, a paraphrasing of the Lord's Prayer (reissued side by side with a similar piece by Hans Langenmantel, in Glaubenszeugnisse II). In the Kunstbuch this item runs over without interruption into item.

(3) Vom Fläschl (Müller, 72-74), concluded by a lengthy epistle to the congregation of Rattenberg, dated 4 December 1527 (Müller, 74-77). The Kunstbuch has Fläschl and epistle all under No. 9. It might be said that Schiemer was never more profound and close to the spirit of the great medieval mystics than in this item. The ensuing epistle is more personal; the writer suddenly interrupts his "Lehr" (instruction) by being overwhelmed by his predicament and now wants to pour out his troubled mind to his brethren.

(4) Von der Tauff im Neuen Testament, also called Von dreyerlei Tauff (namely, by the Spirit, by water, and by blood), very much a counter piece to the Dreyerlei Gnad (above No. 2; Müller, 77-79). The Kunstbuch includes this item in No. 10 (see above, item 1) as a sort of appendix. The Hutterite codices call this item "the third epistle by Leonhard Schiemer," apparently meaning the third item which Schiemer sent from prison. The term "epistle" is not quite correct as this item does not contain personal communications. The Kunstbuch presents these four items as Nos. 9 and 10.

(5) Trostbrief an einen schwachen Bruder. In many Hutterite codices but not in the Kunstbuch or in Müller.

(6) Ein wahrhaft kurz Evangelium, heut der Welt zu predigen, found only in the Kunstbuch, to be published in Glaubenszeugnisse II, a rather short piece, a kind of sermonette.

(7) Ein Bekanntnus vor dem Rickter zu Rotenburg (most likely January 1528) (Müller, 80-81; not in the Kunstbuch), a brief biography with a concluding apologetic paragraph.

These are the known items of Schiemer's work, all produced for his Rattenberg brethren during the seven weeks of his imprisonment. The writer of this article, however, is inclined to ascribe to Schiemer also a number of anonymous items found in Hutterite codices, usually following Schiemer's "epistles" and apparently serving a similar purpose—organizing the Rattenberg church and giving it guidance, direction, and order.

(8) Ordnung der Gemein, wie ein Christ lebensoll. In the Hutterite Chronicle (Wolkan, 60-61), inserted by the writer of the Chronicle for 1529 without much argument, taken most probably again from the afore-mentioned (hypothetical) booklet of Schiemer's writings. The Mennonite Quarterly Review (1955, 162-66) published an English translation of the fuller text (as found in codices). It is a skeleton church discipline, a true model of Anabaptist thought concerning ordering life in the congregation, much shorter than the Schleitheim articles of the same year (1527), only laying the groundwork for all future attempts in the same direction. Most likely Schiemer drew it up tentatively (in 12 points) that the brethren of the incipient congregation might have some guidance after his death.

(9 to 13) Anonymous tracts of similar purpose. One is a catechism; the rest contain more or less moral instructions. The Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder (1914, p. 19) assigns all these items expressly to Schiemer.

Besides these writings several hymns are likewise ascribed to Schiemer: (l) Dein heilig statt hond sie zerstört (Müller, 82-83, after Beck 58-59, note); (2) Wir bitten dich, ewiger Gott, neig zu uns deine Ohren (Ausbund, No. 31); here the author is named Leonhard Schöner whence the Martyrs' Mirror may have taken the name; also in Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, 28-29; (3) Sollstu bei Gott dein wohnung han (Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, 28-29). According to an old codex in Esztergom this hymn is said to have been composed by Schiemer, but according to Wolkan (Lieder, 12) it was written by Ludwig Haetzer; (4) Wie köstlich ist der Heil'gen Tod (Wiswedel, 185, who took it from the Beck collection in Brno, file No. 45). No further reference found.

Schiemer's "Theology" and Main Teachings. One might easily agree with Wiswedel's statement (184) that both Schiemer and Schlaffer had been strongly influenced by medieval mysticism (while being priest or monk), in the main by Tauler and the Deutsche Theologie, just as Hans Denck and some of the early Spiritualists had been. Christ must be born in us, we must suffer with Him, be crucified and be buried with Him, also descend into Hades with Him, in order to be raised with Him (Müller, 53). Schiemer prefers the translation "The Word became flesh and dwelleth in us," rather than "among" us, as we likewise believe "in" God not "on" God (German: an Gott), etc. (Müller, 61). Justification without sanctification loses its deeper meaning (Müller, 78), countering Paul's thesis by references to Matthew 25. In such an outlook naturally the old problem of "the inner and outer Word" (see Bible, Inner and Outer Word, also Spiritualism) becomes a most urgent issue although this emphasis on the inwardness of God's Word never leads to a quietistic enjoyment but rather to an active witnessing and following of Christ.

This becomes perhaps most impressive in the beautiful small tract Vom Fläschl: "A reply to those who say we drink something from a small flask, of which the devil himself does not know what it contains." Very well, says Schiemer, let it be called a flask. But the drink in it is nothing but a contrite, crushed, and sad heart, pounded by the mortar of the cross. The grapes in it grew in God's vineyard and were pressed under the press of tribulation. From such a flask Christ drank on the cross. And as a flask is narrow at the top but wide at the bottom, thus is also the way of salvation: once a man has overcome all agony and tribulation the flask gets wide and he receives God's comfort and consolation.

Schiemer teaches three kinds of grace: the first is the Word given us by the Father as a divine light (the law). This divine light in man shows him what sin is (anzeigen was sind sey oder nit). Although this light is the same in all men, not all accept it and use it in the same way (Müller, 63). The second grace is Christ or divine righteousness (Gerechtigkeit). The first light is our taskmaster (Zuchtmeister), preparing us for the other light which is Christ (apparently Christ in us). But in order to see this second light one needs to go through the "furnace of suffering" (Luther: Feuer der Trübsal, Ecclesiastes 2:5, also I Peter 1:7, "gold tested by fire"; the Anabaptists changed the word into Schmelzofen der Gelassenheit), "for the uncrucified Christ is like untried metal" (Müller, 67 and 78). In other words, an untested faith is no faith at all. Thus the second grace might also be called "the cross." The third grace, finally, is a grace of joy and rejoicing. It is the promise of the Holy Spirit and His glory. While the life of the "world" begins merrily but ends sadly, the life of a God-fearing man has a sad beginning but eventually the Holy Spirit comes to him anointing him with the oil of unspeakable joy.

As there are three kinds of grace there are also three kinds of baptism, well known from the Scriptures themselves: the first baptism is with the Holy Spirit, the second is with water, and the third with blood. Baptism with water is a confirmation of faith and an inner covenant with God. When one has written a letter he seals it. But no one would seal a letter without knowing what it contains. Whoever baptizes a child acts like a man who seals an empty letter (Müller, 79).

It would be an attractive task to search for the spiritual roots of these teachings. Herbert Klassen in his study of Hans Hut strongly suggests that many a thought of Schiemer, Schlaffer, Ambrosius Spittelmayr, and others goes back to this dynamic and dedicated leader, as far as we are able to reconstruct his doctrines. This is most likely correct. But it is certainly also true that a great many of these ideas are derived from Schiemer's own spiritual experiences condensed as they were into the unbelievably brief span of perhaps nine months. The wide use of his writings throughout the Anabaptist brotherhood, including Pilgram Marpeck, and the unique heroism of the Rattenberg congregation (72 martyrs within a few years) give vivid testimony to the spiritual force of these tracts, suggesting that also the 16th century knew something of the charismatic and pneumatic experiences of the apostolic church.


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

Braght, Thieleman J. van. Het Bloedigh Tooneel of Martelaers Spiegel der Doops-gesinde of Weereloose Christenen, Die om 't getuygenis van Jesus haren Salighmaker geleden hebben ende gedood zijn van Christi tijd of tot desen tijd toe. Den Tweeden Druk. Amsterdam: Hieronymus Sweerts, 1685: Part II, 13 ff.

Braght, Thieleman J. van. The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs' Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only upon Confession of Faith and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus Their Saviour . . . to the Year A.D. 1660. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1951: 424 ff. (here called "Schoener"). Available online at:

"Das Kunstbuch" [typescript copy in Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN)].

Fast, Heinold. "Pilgram Marbeck und das oberdeutsche Täufertum, ein neuer Handschriftenfund." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 47 (1956): 212-42.

Friedmann, R. "The Oldest Church Discipline of the Anabaptists." Mennonite Quarterly Review 28 (1955): 162-66.

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

Klassen, Herbert. "Hans Hut" [Master’s diss., University of British Columbia, 1958; copy in Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN)].

Lieder der Butterischen Brüder. Scottdale, 1914.

Loserth, Johann. Der Anabaptismus in Tirol. Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1892.

Müller, Lvdia. Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter. Leipzig, 1938.

Müller, L. and R. Friedmann, eds. Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Taufer. Gütersloh, 1960; quoted as Glaubenszeugnisse II.

Nicoladoni, A. Johannes Bünderlin. Berlin, 1893.

Wiswedel, Wilhelm. "Leonhard Schiemer, der erste Täuferbischof Oberösterreichs" in Bilder and Führergestalten aus dem Täufertum, 3 vols. Kassel: J.G. Oncken Verlag, 1928-1952: v. 2, 174-86.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1959

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Friedmann, Robert. "Schiemer, Leonhard (d. 1528)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 May 2024.,_Leonhard_(d._1528)&oldid=146718.

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Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Schiemer, Leonhard (d. 1528). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2024, from,_Leonhard_(d._1528)&oldid=146718.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 452-454. All rights reserved.

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