Hutterite Article Book
The Article Book is a major doctrinal tract of the Hutterites, originating in Moravia around 1547, extant in about 20 manuscript copies of between 1547 and 1655, published in a condensed form only in the Great Chronicle of the Hutterites as Die Fünf Artikel des Grössten Streites Zwischen Uns und der Welt (Die Aelteste Chronik, der Huterischen Bruder, ed. Zieglschmid), and in Lydia Müller's Glaubenszeugnisse Oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter (Leipzig, 1938) from a Hutterite manuscript that contains but a Kurzer Auszug (epitome) of the book as such. The term "Article Book" is not the official title though widely used, particularly among the American Hutterites of today. The original manuscript bears the title, Ein schön lustig Buchlein etliche Hauptartikel unseres Glaubens betreffend. The Geistliches Blumen-gärtlein (Amsterdam, 1680) contains still another edition of this tract under the title, Schriftmässiger Bericht und Zeugnis betreffend die rechte christliche Taufe, Abendmahl, Gemeinschaft, Obrigkeit, und Ehestand. There is no doubt that the Hutterites considered this book (about 300 leaves in manuscript) of equal rank with Peter Riedemann's great Rechenschaft unseres Glaubens of 1545. It was one of their main doctrinal statements, used both within the community and also as a source when dealing with the outside "world" in order to demonstrate the biblical correctness of their particular teachings. The author of the great Article Book is not named, although one codex with a Kurzer Auszug names expressly the Hutterite elder Peter Walpot as the author, as does also Ottius, Annales Anabaptistici of 1672 (p. 160). A careful investigation by Robert Friedmann (Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, 1931) makes it highly plausible that Peter Walpot, Vorsteher (elder) of the Hutterite brotherhood 1565-1578, was if not its author then at least its redactor, possibly together with Kaspar Braitmichel and Hans Kräl. It is not unlikely that Peter Riedemann also gave some advice as to the first draft, for every Hutterite writing was in some sense the work of the entire community (this is what they call the "unity of the Spirit," Einigkeit des Heiligen Geistes). The occasion for the writing of such a succinct doctrinal statement of the Hutterite position (differing from Riedemann's larger and elaborate Rechenschaft of 1545) might be found in the discussion leading to the readmission of the remnant of the Gabrielite Brethren in 1545. The Geschicht-Buch (ed. Zieglschmid, 251-257) has a section, Unterricht, die Hauptartikel betreffend (instruction concerning the main articles), which was presented to these candidates. It appears to be the prototype of our Article Book, which is an elaboration of much the same material. The presentation of the Article Book is "punkt- und argumentweis" (item by item, with arguments).
The book is in no way a theological tract, but rather like all Anabaptist doctrinal writings a collection of biblical proof texts topically arranged to show the correctness of the position of the brotherhood with regard to certain selected problems. The title of the larger edition, A Beautiful and Pleasant Little Book Concerning the Main Articles of our Faith, is quite colorless; more to the point is the title used in the Great Chronicle, The Five Articles of the Greatest Conflict Between Us and the World. It does not pretend to contain a complete system of Anabaptist thought but only a collection of those points and their arguments that distinguish the Brethren from the "world" and justify their particular stand. (The Schleitheim articles were of the same kind of Anabaptist doctrinal writings.) The large Article Book comprises in one codex 286 quarto leaves; this size explains the later appearance of a condensed edition, which in print comprises only 18 pages.
The book deals with the following five articles: (1) Concerning true baptism (and how infant baptism contradicts it); (2) Concerning the Lord's Supper (and how the sacrament of the parsons is against it); (3) Concerning the true inner surrender (Gelassenheit) and Christian community of goods; (4) That Christians should not go to war nor should they use sword or violence nor secular litigation. Those functioning in such offices (authorities) cannot be considered to be (true) Christians; (5) Concerning divorce between believers and unbelievers. One codex has as a fifth article, Concerning taking the oath. The most stimulating article is, of course, the third, where community of goods (Gütergemeinschaft) is interpreted as the supreme expression of brotherly love and of true Gelassenheit. It closes with the rhyme
Gottes Wort wär nit so schwer
Wenn nur der Eigennutz nit wär.
Gelassenheit means nothing but self-conquest and sharing all earthly goods with one's brother. It is a concept of great importance among the Hutterites.
The text is presented almost like a catechism: statement, proof text, etc. The tension between spirit and letter is resolved in favor of the latter; that is, the Article Book represents a literalistic type of Christianity in simple obedience to God's Word. Remarkable is the documentation of each article by extensive quotation from the Church fathers and other ancient authorities. The knowledge of the history of Christian thought and church history thus revealed is quite amazing, a fact that can be noticed in the study of any Hutterite tract. A major source for this knowledge must have been Sebastian Franck, whose various books were certainly well known to the Brethren; it was he who supplied the contact between Anabaptism and humanistic studies. Besides Franck the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius was rather popular among all Anabaptist groups, likewise Flavius Josephus. That Balthasar Hubmaier, too, a scholastic doctor of theology, was of great assistance (through his writings) in this endeavor of proving arguments by old authorities, is quite certain.
The Article Book must have been widely known in its time. Catholics as well as Lutheran polemics against it are known. (See Archiv für Reformationsgeschickte, 1932) The Hutterites continued to use and to copy the book at all times. The new Carinthian transmigrants of the 18th century who joined the Hutterites in Transylvania, soon became familiar with this book, too, as late codices, now in Canada, prove.
Friedmann, Robert. "Eine dogmatische Hauptschrift der Hutterischen Täufergemeinschaft in Mähren." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 38 (1931): 94-102; (1932): 1-9.
Müller, Lydia, ed. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, vol. 3: Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter, vol. 1, Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte, 20. Leipzig, 1938: 238-256.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943: 269-316.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 173-174. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Friedmann, Robert. "Hutterite Article Book." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/H8881.html.
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