Von dem unverschampten frävel

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Von dem unverschampten frävel, ergerlichen verwyrren unnd unwarhafftem leeren der selbsgesandten Widertöuffern, vier gespräch Bücher, zu verwarnenn den einfalten, Durch Heinrychen Bullinger geschrieben. Ein guter bericht vonn Zinsen. Ouch ein schöne underwysung von Zähenden (Zürich, 1531, 178 leaves), is the title of the first of the two books against the Anabaptists written by Heinrich Bullinger, which appeared in print in Feb­ruary 1531 in Zürich, though written in 1530. The occasion was the activity of the Anabaptist preacher Hans Pfistermeyer in the "Free Counties" be­tween Zürich and Aarau. The young Bul­linger was at that time a minister in his hometown of Bremgarten, the principal town of this region. Here he had helped the Reformation to break through and had gathered a lively congregation. Pfistermeyer's preaching stirred up large crowds. They were fascinated by his main theme, the ques­tion of tithes and interest. The official ministers had much trouble and sought help; this was the occa­sion for Bullinger's book. For some years already he had discussed Anabaptist ideas in his private writings and letters. Now his friends urged him to summarize his experience with the Anabaptists and give guidance to refute them. The book was begun in April 1530 and finished toward the end of the year. When Bullinger discussed the question of the interest with some Anabaptists in January 1531, his manuscript must have been already in print.

The book has four sections ("books") and two appendices. Except for the appendices it is written as a dialogue (gespräch Bücher) between Simon, who sympathizes with the Anabaptists, and Jojada, who defends "the truth." During the process of the discussion Simon is convinced by Jojada. The argu­mentation tends to popularize the problems and their orthodox solution. There is no interest in the history of Anabaptism, only in its refutation.

A list of twenty Anabaptist errors covers the themes discussed: (1) spirit and Scripture, (2) the right to preach, (3) the unity of the church and separation, (4) justification and sanctification, (5) the sleep of the soul, (6) rebaptism, (7) baptism of infants, (8) community of goods, (9) the vagrancy of the Anabaptists, (10) preachers and education, (11-16) the Christian and the magistracy, nonresistance, oath, death penalty and war: the whole of the third book, (17-20) spiritual and material free­dom (tithes, interest, and usury: the whole of the fourth book). The appendices continue to discuss the last question in a different literary form: the first is a tract on interests and usury, the second a letter to Bullinger's brother on tithes.

The picture of the Anabaptists drawn by Bul­linger is a vivid one. Scholars, therefore, have been tempted to follow him in delineating the life and piety of Anabaptism. A comparison, however, shows that it contains scarcely any traits that had not been attributed to the Anabaptists by Bullinger's teacher Zwingli. For both men the main accusation was one of separatism and sedition, and this dis­qualified the Anabaptists morally. Theologically the Anabaptist error was the ideal of a pure and stain­less church, and accordingly the postulation of a "sinless" life. That in contrast to this demand their way of living was full of the most reprehensible conduct was stressed indefatigably by both Zwingli and Bullinger. The dependence of Bullinger on Zwingli goes so far that one could almost imagine a similarly vivid picture of the Anabaptists even if Bullinger never had seen any but had only read the anti-Anabaptist writings of Zwingli.

Also Bullinger's refutation of the Anabaptist posi­tion kept chiefly to Zwingli's arguments. His main interest was to defend the integrity of the "Volkskirche" against all divisive tendencies. It was only within such an overall organization that he saw any guarantee of a possibility to preach the Gospel to all men, believers and nonbelievers. A small community consisting only of confessing Christians could not be a tool of the Almighty God who wanted to save all the world. To Bullinger's eyes it was hypoc­risy. He supported his arguments by two funda­mental ideas. The first was the invisibility of the true church: because all true believers are known only to God, all outward things, including church organization and discipline, can be delegated to the magistracy. The second idea was the incapability even of the Christian to obey the divine commands: lacking this prerequisite of all Christian ethics man nevertheless can do the will of God by following the less difficult Golden Rule or law of charity (neigh­borly love), a civic virtue sufficient to justify the name of "Christian." Especially this concept of a second, less rigorous, will of God was a key to refute all Anabaptist demands for a serious obedience to New Testament commands.

The influence of Bullinger's book reached far. In April 1531 it was used in dealing with Hans Pfister­meyer in Bern. Sebastian Franck published extracts in his Chronicle that appeared in Septem­ber of the same year. Menno Simons knew Bullinger through Franck. In many letters Bullinger was asked to send the book to his friends. In 1535 it was translated into Latin and slightly supplemented by Bullinger's colleague Leo Jud: Adversus omnia Catabaptistarum prava dogmata . . . libri 1111 per Leonem Judae aucti . . . and published in Zurich. In 1548 and 1551 three English translations (partly extracts?) appeared by the French refugee Jean Veron: (1) An Holesome Antidotus or Counter-poysen agaynst the pestylent heresye and secte of the Anabaptistes . . . (London, 1548); (2) A most necessary and fruteful Dialogue, betweene ye Sedi­tious Libertin or rebel Anabaptist, and the true obe­dient Christian . . . (Worcester, 1551); (3) A most sure and strong defence of the baptisme of children, against ye pestiferous secte of the Anabaptystes (Worcester, 1551). A Dutch edition did not appear, but the necessity of such a translation was one of the occasions for Bullinger's second book against the Anabaptists (Der Widertoufferen ursprung).

Author(s) Henry Franzen
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Franzen, Henry. "Von dem unverschampten frävel." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 Jan 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Von_dem_unverschampten_fr%C3%A4vel&oldid=133945.

APA style

Franzen, Henry. (1959). Von dem unverschampten frävel. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 January 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Von_dem_unverschampten_fr%C3%A4vel&oldid=133945.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 850. All rights reserved.

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