Schlaffer, Hans (d. 1528)

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Hans Schlaffer, an Anabaptist martyr (d. 1528), highly regarded by Anabaptists as a true preacher of the Word of God, and a "highly gifted man" (Chronicle). His "Account" (Verantwortung) before the magistrate of Schwatz, Tyrol, in 1527 (Müller, 115-21) states that he had entered the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1511, and served in Upper Austria. With the coming of Luther he began to preach the pure Gospel but soon was forbidden to do so. In 1526 he resigned his priesthood, realizing that "it was the estate of a false prophet." For a time (1526-27) he stayed with the Protestant Lord Zelkin at his castle Weinberg near Freistadt, Upper Austria. It was either then or still earlier that he had come into contact with Anabaptists, most likely with Hans Hut. It is not known when or by whom he was baptized but Grete Mecenseffy shows how heavily the Anabaptist congregation of Freistadt leaned on Schlaffer, who followed more or less the line of Hans Hut. In any case he left the area, beginning a period of wandering, the sequence of places being not quite clear. He visited Nikolsburg in 1527 where he heard the dispute between Hubmaier and Hut, which happened prior to Hut's coming to Upper Austria. He may have been converted to Hut's ideas on that occasion and returned temporarily to Freistadt, establishing an Anabaptist congregation there; but it is also possible that he was in Nikolsburg even before he came to Lord Zelkin. In any case Freistadt soon became an unsafe abode, and he then went to Bavaria. First he went to Augsburg where he met Jacob Wideman, and again Hans Hut; he may have been present at the "Martyr's Synod" of Augsburg. Next he went to Nürnberg where he met Hans Denck and Ludwig Haetzer in September 1527 (Fellmann), "two excellent, in God learned men"; finally he went to Regensburg where he met Oswald Glait and Wolfgang Brandhuber, two more of the then leading men in the growing Anabaptist movement.

From Regensburg he turned south to the Inn Valley of Tyrol, to Brixlegg and Rattenberg, where he had some relatives. But after a brief stay due to sickness he went on toward Hall on the Inn for the winter. On his way he attended a meeting of Anabaptists in the mining city of Schwatz on the Inn, a few miles west of Rattenberg, on 5 December 1527, but was caught by the authorities and imprisoned in the nearby Frundsberg castle, together with the brother Leonhard Frick (or, as the Kunstbuch calls him, Funck). He was brought before the magistrate and submitted a written Verantwortung which was sent to the provincial government in Innsbruck. His defense was very dignified: he had sought nothing evil but only divine truth; nothing was further from his mind than rebellion. Children, he contended, should not be baptized, for "they were the Lord's as long as they were in innocence, and they would not be damned." The Innsbruck government sent instructions to Judge S. Capeller for conducting the case. The statements of the prisoners would be sent to the authorities in Bavaria who also wanted to try these men. Orders were further given to convene the court with twelve jurymen to pass sentence on the two prisoners. At the same time a secret report should be made by the judge on the attitude of the jurymen, as it was known that some of them did not approve of death in such cases. Finally the death sentence was pronounced and Schlaffer and Frick were beheaded at Schwatz on 4 February 1528.

Schlaffer left nine writings, all well preserved in numerous Hutterite codices. His long prayer written in the night before the execution is also found in the Kunstbuch of 1561 as No. 12. Of these writings only one rather short piece was composed while Schlaffer was still free, most likely in Freistadt, for the local brotherhood; it is a sort of shortened paraphrase of Hut's Vom Geheimnus der Tauff (Mecenseffy). All the other writings were written in prison between 6 December 1527, and 3 February 1528, slightly more than eight weeks. These are the writings:

(1) Kurzer Bericht eines christlichen Lebens (also Kurzer Bericht und Lehr eines rechten christlichen Lebens); it is made up of the "Hut paraphrase" (Müller, 94-96) and two prayers (ibid., 96-98; Beck, 651). Already in the first document we recognize Schlaffer's greatest potential: his profound gift of praying or communicating with his God.

(2) Ein einfältiger Unterricht zum Anfang eines gotseliges Lebens, again introduced by a beautiful lengthy prayer (Müller, 84-94). This tract, written 19 December 1527, likewise reveals strongly Schlaffer's dependence on Hut (Müller, 85, note).

(3) Kurze und einfältige Vermahnung von der Kindertauff, und wie derselbige nit mag beibracht werden aus Heiliger Schrifft. It was written 2 January 1528 (Müller, 98-105).

(4) Brief an einen schwachen Bruder, Antwort auf etliche Fragstück, also 2 January 1528 (Müller, 105-10).

(5) Von der Art und Gestalt Christi, was er geistlich und leiblich sey geformieret (unpublished, found in Canadian Hutterite codices).

(6) Bekandtnus und Verantwortung [dem Richter zu Schwatz] schriftlich überantwortet, no date (Müller, 110-15).

(7) Die andere Verantwortung: Antwort auf [fünf] Fragstück vor dem Richter (Müller, 115-21). From this item all the biographical information was gained. This account was apparently first given orally before the judge, and later written down by Schlaffer for his brethren.

(8) Ein Bericht seiner Verantwortung vor der Obrigkeit getan an seine Geschwistriget im Herren zugeschickt, Pfingstag vor Pauli Bekehrung, January 1528 (Müller, 121-25). This is another summary of Schlaffer's defense. He informed his brethren (perhaps the congregation of Schwatz) that the authorities in Innsbruck had falsified his written statement (No. 6), completely changing its meaning; for that reason he wanted to inform his brethren about what he had actually written. Thus we have three different documents (Nos. 6 to 8) in which Schlaffer gives account of the major ideas of South German Anabaptism as it had evolved at that time.

(9) Ein einfältig Gebet, also called Gebet, Beicht und öffentlich Bekanntnus, Hans Schlaffers Testament und eigen Bekanntnus gegen Gott, written 3 February 1528, in the night before his execution. This is found in the Kunstbuch No. 12, and in many Hutterite codices (also Beck, 652, as a very inadequate version of this prayer). In the typescript copy in the Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, Indiana) this prayer covers 18 pages; in a narrowly written Hutterite codex (1566) it covers eight leaves. This prayer is no doubt one of the most profound and moving documents in the entire German devotional literature. Like Augustine in his Confessions he talks to God at great length about his life and thoughts, strengthening his mind during the agonizing hours before his death. It is most likely here that Schlaffer's greatest power is to be found and also his greatest contribution to Anabaptist tradition.

Schlaffer composed also two hymns: "Ungnad begehr ich nit von dir," No. 32 in the Ausbund, and pp. 22-23 in Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder; the hymn was also circulated as a pamphlet in 1527, and reprinted in 1550 and 1551 in Nürnberg; "Herr Gott, mein ewiger Vater" (with the acrostic "Hanns Schlaffer") in Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, 21-22; it was written in the last hours of his life, either before or after the above prayer.

Schlaffer's teachings: As was pointed out above, Schlaffer's main ideas are not his own but were taken from Hans Hut, often to the point of verbatim borrowing. But this was nothing unusual in those days (compare Pilgram Marpeck and Bernhard Rothmann); what really mattered was the particular emphasis or slant given to the ideas. In all Schlaffer's writings we meet the same spiritualistic or pneumatic atmosphere as in those of Leonhard Schiemer, Ambrosius Spittelmayr, Hans Nadler, and other men connected with Denck and Hut. "Even if Christ had died a hundred times, it would avail nothing if the spiritual Christ is not preached also" (Wiswedel, 197, quoted from a copy in the Beck collection, file No. 46, in Brno). "Who ever descends into Hades with Christ, that is in Christ, will also be led out of Hades by God" (Müller, 96). Pilgram Marpeck some twenty years later liked to indulge in speculation of this kind in exactly the same way (see Gospel of Nicodemus).

Schlaffer is aware that suffering is a keynote of the Christian in the "world," and his writings abound in such thoughts. "All Scriptures speak of nothing but of the suffering of the elect, from Abel to the apostles; that is why the lamb has been killed ever since the beginning of the world" (Müller, 88). "Who ever suffers in the flesh stops sinning" (ibid., 89). And in the Account: "Here I stand as a lamb which does not open its mouth as it is being slaughtered, to which may Christ . . . grant me strength and help" (Müller, 124). "Only he who follows Christ is a Christian." Of particular appeal is a short passage in his first Bericht und Lehr where he speaks of the "Tiefe Christi," meaning Christ's lowliness (Niedrigkeit) and resignation. "It might also be called Hell, that a man could imagine himself deserted by God and all creatures. This lowliness (Tiefe) is the sign of Jonah. Into this lowliness one has to enter if one wants to be saved in Christ" (Müller, 96). This is a thought which was repeated twenty years later nearly verbatim by Pilgram Marpeck in his "Epistle to the Brethren in the Grisons, Appenzell and Alsace," 1 February 1547, dealing with Von der Tiefe Christi (Kunstbuch, No. 35; see Fast, 235).

Grete Mecenseffy compared this entire tract of Schlaffer (Müller, 94-96) with the Confession of the Freistadt Anabaptists (Nicoladoni, 250-52) and Hut's Vom Geheimnus der Tauff, and found a near identity of all three, at least in certain sections. She thinks that the major ideas were borrowed from Thomas Müntzer, Hut's first spiritual awakener, but this remains a debatable question. Rather one could think of the influence of late medieval mysticism as the true root of this line of tradition. In any case it remains a "gospel of the cross" which became particularly real as this cross was being experienced in the agony and dread of death.

In his "Letter to a Weak Brother" Schlaffer tries to answer certain scruples of that brother concerning difficult doctrinal issues; his reaction here might be called again typically Anabaptist. "One should not worry too much," he writes, "concerning certain secrets as if it would hurt you not to grasp their meaning. Rather one should take into captivity all thought and reason in obedience to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5)" (Müller, 107). This answer is found time and again in Anabaptist sources (see Reason and Obedience). On the delicate issue of the meaning of the Trinity, Schlaffer answers, again typically for pneumatic Anabaptism: "God is neither this nor that" (Müller, 108; here Lydia Müller refers to a stanza of a hymn by Ludwig Haetzer which says exactly the same thing and must have been known to Schlaffer, Mennonitisches Lexikon II, 231 or Beck, 34). But Schlaffer does not deny the truth of the Trinity; in fact he defends it to the best of his ability.

Schlaffer and Schiemer are usually mentioned together, and rightly so. They both had been Catholic clergymen, had become true apostles of budding Anabaptism, both pursuing mainly the Denck-Hut line. Both died as martyrs within the span of two and a half weeks, not more than five or six miles apart in the Inn Valley. Both left a valuable legacy to their brethren, who kept their memory and also their teachings alive. Schiemer was no doubt more the "bishop" who cared fatherly for his congregation or church; Schlaffer never had one to care for. His accounts and tracts are rich sources of instruction and of strength, but his most lasting contributions are his numerous prayers. No other Anabaptist ever produced documents of this type as profound and spiritual as Schlaffer.


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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: 425-426. Available online at:

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Mecenseffy, Grete. "Die Herkunft des oberösterreichischen Täufertums," Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 47 (1956): 252-59.

Müller, L. Glaubenszeupiisse oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter. Leipzig, 1938.

Nicoladoni, A. Johannes Bünderlin. Berlin, 1893.

Wiswedel, Wilhelm. "Hans Schlaffer, ein ernster Beter und eifriger Verteidiger der göttlichen Wahrheit,"in Bilder and Führergestalten aus dem Täufertum, 3 vols. Kassel: J.G. Oncken Verlag, 1928-1952: v. 2, 191-212.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1959

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Friedmann, Robert. "Schlaffer, Hans (d. 1528)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 17 Jan 2019.,_Hans_(d._1528)&oldid=156613.

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Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Schlaffer, Hans (d. 1528). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 January 2019, from,_Hans_(d._1528)&oldid=156613.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 457-459. All rights reserved.

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