Verantwortung by Pilgram Marpeck

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The word "Verantwortung" appears frequently in Anabaptist book titles and is taken from I Peter 3:15 where the word "defense" (RSV) is thus translated in the Zürich (Froschauer) Bible. This verse is cited more often than any other in the defense or answer of the Anabaptists to their accusers. The word meant "answer" for them, not "responsibility" as it does today.

The most ambitious answer to critics of the Ana­baptists was made by the Marpeck brother­hood in the form of the Verantwortung über Casparn Schwenckfelds Judicium. This reply circulated only in manuscript and did not appear in print until 1929, when Christian Hege published an edition pre­pared by Johann Loserth. In this modern edition the first part extends to 113 pages, while the second part contains 389 pages. It consists of 100 Reden und Antwurten (Statements and Answers). The Statements are taken verbatim from Schwenckfeld's Judicium, and the answers, which vary considerably in length, constitute the reply to Schwenckfeld's criticism of the Vermanung. Since the Vermanung was a common confession around which the brotherhood was to unite, it is no surprise that Schwenckfeld's Judicium was taken with such se­riousness, and evoked such an extended reply.

The first part of the book deals with two main themes, baptism and the Lord's Supper, but also treats such matters as the use of the term "sacra­ment," the covenant, covenant member, dissension among believers, the Incarnation, and testing the spirits. It was written in great haste and hence is more concise than part II. Its main sources are the Scriptures and Schwenckfeld's writings. It was writ­ten in a little more than a year and was sent to Schwenckfeld at the beginning of 1544, with the note that if this work brought results the authors would desist from writing the second part; other­wise that would be forthcoming shortly.

The second part was written at greater leisure and makes use of a number of sources, one of the most important being the Testamenterleütterung, which must have been published soon after the completion of the first part of the Verantwor­tung. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Schwenckfeld's writings, Sebastian Franck's Paradoxa, and the Deutsche Theologie are also used as sources for the second part. While the first part is pointedly directed against Schwenckfeld, the second part has a much wider frame of reference, even though the starting point continues to be statements appearing in the Judicium.

Both the date and authorship of the Verantwor­tung are uncertain. Kiwiet's claim that the second part of the Verantwortung was written substantially by Leupold Scharnschlager, and that he is solely responsible for the section beginning on page 409 of the printed edition, has not been proved by actual literary analysis; since it is built on slender and inadequate evidence it must remain a conjec­ture. Since both Marpeck and Scharnschlager worked on the Vermanung, the Verantwortung, and the Testamenterleütterung, it is very difficult to prove who wrote what sections. Individual author­ship was not held in high esteem by them, for the brotherhood together studied the Scriptures and their conclusions were always subjected to the scru­tiny of the brotherhood. It might be easier to prove that Marpeck wrote the opening section of many of the answers, and that then Scharnschlager furnished a series of Scripture verses connected with the word "Item" at each point to prove the statements made by Marpeck. Scharnschlager's confession to the Strasbourg council in 1534 seems to indicate that he liked to use the concordance style, simply listing a series of Scripture passages, and that he had a pre­dilection for pointing out inconsistencies in the writ­ings of the Reformers (in his confession) and in Schwenckfeld (in the Verantwortung), If this could be shown conclusively (and his few extant letters appear to support it), Gerhard Hein's suggestion that Scharnschlager is responsible for the Testamenterleütterung would gain some support. He certainly must be considered a coauthor of the Verantwor­tung, for many of the emphases and expressions that occur in his letters are found also there.

The date of the Verantwortung is also uncertain. The first part was completed at the end of 1543, and no doubt the Brethren were already working on the second part at that time. In 1546 Schwenckfeld re­fers to a large book by the Anabaptists in which they treat the faith of the patriarchs, which he has seen. One is inclined to see in this a reference to Verantwortung II, since a predominant portion deals with this subject (82 pages). The only ques­tion would be whether the time from January 1544 to February 1546 would have allowed Marpeck and Scharnschlager to complete both the Testamenterleütterung and Verantwortung II. The most prob­able solution is that Verantwortung II was written after 1544 and completed before 1556, the year of Marpeck's death, and that after it had been sent to the various congregations for approval it was copied for a wider use among the brotherhood.

The Verantwortung was of limited value since it was directed at a concrete problem, viz., spiritual­ism. Soon the tension between the Pilgramites and the Schwenckfelders subsided, and the book fell into neglect. (For its later use and influence see Mar­peck.) The modern Christian who reads it finds that many of the problems to which it is directed are very much with the church today. It is the clear­est analysis of spiritualism and its dangers that the Anabaptists produced, and even its repetitious style and verbosity do not minimize its value as a source for the theology of the Marpeck brotherhood.


Bergsten, Torsten. "Pilgram Marbeck und seine Auseinandersetzung mit Caspar Schwenckfeld." Kyrkohistorisk Arsshrift (1957 and 1958): 56-67.

Kiwiet, Jan J. Pilgram Marbeck. Kassel, 1957: 74-76.

Loserth, Johann ed. Pilgram Marbeck’s Antwort auf Kaspar Schwenckfelds Beurteilung des Buches der Bundesbezeugung von 1542. Vienna and Leipzig, 1929.

Author(s) William Klassen
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Klassen, William. "Verantwortung by Pilgram Marpeck." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 13 Jul 2024.

APA style

Klassen, William. (1959). Verantwortung by Pilgram Marpeck. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 July 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 807-808. All rights reserved.

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