Wolkan, Rudolf (1860-1927)

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Rudolf Wolkan (1860-1927), Professor of German Literature at the University of Vienna, a co-founder with Beck and Loserth of the Austrian school of Anabaptist historiography around the turn of the 20th century. Wolkan did a great deal to secure a fairer treatment for Anabaptism in aca­demic circles and greatly advanced research in this field.

In 1903, as an instructor he published (in Ber­lin) his epoch-making Lieder der Wiedertäufer, a basic and as yet unsurpassed study in which for the first time the chaotic mass of Anabaptist hymns re­ceived a systematic organization and friendly inter­pretation. Wolkan was the first to differentiate clearly between three distinct groups of Anabaptists: the Swiss Brethren, the Dutch and North German Mennonites, and the Hutterites. Of particular value was Wolkan's research concerning the origin of the Ausbund. His oldest copy was of 1583, but he knew that an earlier one had existed. He studied the Passau records of the Munich "Reichsarchiv" and discovered there the trial records of 1535 that threw light on the background of the oldest section of this famous hymnal. He also utilized for the first time the Protocoll of the Frankenthal Colloquy in order to clarify the doctrinal position of the groups involved. His book came to America, where John Horsch gladly welcomed it.

Through Horsch, Wolkan learned for the first time that the Hutterian Bretliren were still in existence in South Dakota (neither Beck nor Loserth had any knowledge of this kind), and soon a lively correspondence be­tween Wolkan and Elias Walter, a bishop of the Brethren in America, ensued. In 1908 Wol­kan published a brief article in the Oesterreichische Rundschau ("Oesterreichische Wiedertäufer in Amerika"), informing the scholarly world of the modern Hutterites. The fruit of further studies and corre­spondence with Canadian Hutterites was another book, Die Huterer, published in Vienna 1918 under very difficult conditions. It contains not only a brief history of the Hutterites and a description of their form of life, both past and present, but also a brief and highly interesting Hutterite tract concerning community living written by Ulrich Stadler ca. 1536, and found by Wolkan in an original Hutterite codex at the library of the University of Vienna (Viennese codex). This tract (in Wolkan's book pp. 153-60) was published once more by Lydia Müller (Glaubenszeugnisse I, 222-27). Elias Walter, glad to have come into contact with a real scholar and friend of the Anabaptists, suggested that Wolkan undertake the gigantic task of the first publication of the Hut­terite "greater" chronicle, a book thought lost by all earlier scholars, but well preserved by the Brethren in Canada. Walter meticulously copied this huge codex and sent this copy to Vienna. Wolkan then began to edit the work, mainly by adding significant excerpts from other Hutterite sources in footnotes. In 1923 this Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder came out as a volume of nearly 700 pages, a tre­mendous gain for all future research and indispen­sable to every scholar. (When the stock was sold out, the Hutterites in Canada asked Professor Zieglschmid to produce another edition of the same book, which in 1943 in part replaced the older, mod­ernized edition by Wolkan.) Wolkan accomplished this work with great personal sympathy for the Brethren, championing their recognition in the Ger­man scholarly world.

A last personal note should be added by the writer of this article. It was in 1923 that Wolkan suggested to him (then a student at the University of Vienna) that he undertake a dissertation on the hitherto overlooked epistles of the Hutterites, thus starting him on the road to continued Anabaptist research. Wolkan made available to him not only the Viennese codex but also other codices from Bratislava and Esztergom as well, and guided this work by his kind counsel. Through Wolkan the writer came into contact not only with Christian Neff and the Mennonitisches Lexikon, but also with John Horsch and Elias Walter in America. Finally he also encouraged a research trip to Slovakia, to visit and study the remnants of former Bruderhofs (Habaner). Wolkan himself contributed to the first volume of the Mennonitisches Lexicon and would have continued to do so had he not passed away unexpectedly in 1927, aged 67.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Wolkan, Rudolf (1860-1927)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 30 May 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Wolkan,_Rudolf_(1860-1927)&oldid=140884.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Wolkan, Rudolf (1860-1927). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 May 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Wolkan,_Rudolf_(1860-1927)&oldid=140884.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 971. All rights reserved.

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