Nikolsburg, Articles of
[The scholarship on the Nikolsburg Articles is not as conclusive as presented in this 1950s article. See the Robert Friedmann article listed in the bibliography. See also 1989 update to Hans Hut article]
The articles of faith drawn up under the title, The Articles of Nikolsburg, by enemies of the Anabaptists have had disastrous consequences for the Anabaptists. In the trials of the Brethren in the imperial cities in South Germany they played a considerable role. They have been published by Nicoladoni, Cornelius, Jorg, and Schornbaum in the following form:
(1) The Gospel shall not be preached openly in the churches, but only into the ears and secretly in the houses; (2) Christ was born in original sin; (3) Mary is not the mother of God, but only the mother of Christ; (4) Christ is not God, but a prophet, to whom the Word of God was entrusted; (5) Christ has not made "satisfaction" for the sin of the whole world; (6) Among Christians there shall be neither violence nor government; (7) The Last Judgment is due in two years; (8) The angels were conceived with Christ and assumed flesh with Christ.
But the Articles of Nikolsburg were distributed not only in this version. In the state archives of Nürnberg in the Ansbacher Religionsakten there is an undated document that has been printed by Jörg and Cornelius, which also contains eight articles which are expressly called Articles of Nikolsburg. In the archives of the church of St. Thomas in Strasbourg these articles are found with "several additions by Hut" and with the title, "Articles which Anabaptists in Augsburg have confessed, and learned by careful questioning of the 25 still imprisoned there" (Cornelius, II, 281). And finally they are found in the Chronicle of Clemens Sender. Later works then cite Sender.
Until a early 20th century historians accepted these articles without question as the work of the Anabaptists themselves. Indeed, this seemed the more probable because the Martyrs' Synod, in which Hans Denck and Hans Hut probably participated, was held in Augsburg on 20 August 1527. Cornelius was the first historiographer of modern times to oppose this idea. He thought, as did Loserth and Sachsse, that Hubmaier must be rejected as the author. Loserth assumes that the articles were not formulated until the cross-examination of Hut and his brethren in the summer and fall of 1527, in which Urban Rhegius made use of Hut's own booklet and the information from Nikolsburg. That such doctrinal statements were discussed in Nikolsburg is today considered out of the question. Wilhelm Neuser, who discusses these articles at length in his book on Hans Hut (1913), believes that these statements supposedly confessed by Hut were in their essence discussed at Nikolsburg; but this assumption must be rejected.
Again the articles were thoroughly discussed by Erich Meissner in his doctoral dissertation, Die Rechtsprechung über die Wiedertaufer und die anti-täuferische Publizistik (University of Gottingen, 1921). Although the author does not yet arrive at a generally satisfactory solution of this problem, we are convinced on the basis of some sources that were unknown to Meissner, that the articles did not originate with the Anabaptists, but were falsely attributed to them by their enemies.
The earliest dated version of these articles is in the state archives in Augsburg. They were discussed in detail in Hut's trial. Hut is said to have confessed to them, as the court record of 4 November 1527 reports. And so it has hitherto been assumed that they reached the public through Anabaptist hands. But Meissner proves that the articles were known to the Augsburg city council before the opening of the inquisitory proceedings against Hut. For there is in the archives of Augsburg another document, not yet published, a questionnaire drawn up for the first trial of Hut on 16 September 1527. Even the very thorough and scholarly Friedrich Roth seems to have overlooked it. This manuscript is undated and is written in an almost illegible hand. It consists of 84 questions that were used for the first day of Hut's trial on September 16. Among them the articles of Nikolsburg are clearly recognizable. But Hut answered these questions definitely and briefly in the negative. And now that Hut's life and work have been made known and the Hutterite Geschicht-Buch is available, it can be positively asserted that Hut did not teach at least the two articles of Nikolsburg, that Christ is not God, and that He did not make satisfactory atonement for the sins of man. For two hymns composed by Hut, the "Communion Hymn" and the second one composed by him as "a prisoner of Christ," very clearly state his belief that Christ is God, and that through his death on the cross we have obtained salvation from the Father.
Concerning his attitude toward government, note Nadler's statement on 13 February 1529, "Neither Hans Hut nor the pastor at Eltersdorf (Wolfgang Vogel), nor any other brother has said anything about revolt and the like," which corresponds with Hut's reply to this question before the court. The Geschicht-Buch confirms this idea: "This is the Hans Hut, who at Nikolsburg could not agree with Balthasar Hubmaier in the matter of the sword" (p. 47). Certainly the Hutterite chronicles would not have said of Hut that he died as a true servant of Jesus Christ if he had harbored such radical ideas as the articles of Nikolsburg attribute to him.
When Hubmaier, especially in his Rechenschaft, repeatedly attacked Hut sharply and charged him with deceptive and revolutionary teaching, he was certainly not thinking of the statements in the articles of Nikolsburg, but of Hut's rejection of the "sword" and of "war taxes."
That the Anabaptist preachers in Nikolsburg discussed the eight articles is impossible. According to die Geschicht-Buch the questions under discussion concerned "whether one should use the sword or not, and whether one should pay taxes for war." But at the same time it is indicated that other "doctrines" were also discussed. This is confirmed by the Anabaptist Hans Nadler of Erlangen, who said they also talked about "seven other decisions," namely baptism, communion, the judgment, the end of the world, the new kingdom in Revelation, and the coming of Christ (Cornelius, 281). But the chief topics of discussion were the sword and the payment of war taxes.
The discussion at Nikolsburg did not concern the Nikolsburg articles, but the "seven decisions," as Nadler confirms. But these originated with Hut, as he himself said in his epistle. Ambrosius Spittelmayer also names these "seven decisions" in his cross-examination (TA, 49 f.); likewise Julius Lober. Meissner's surmise is probably correct: "The problem of the Nikolsburg disputation with which the authorship of the Nikolsburg articles is inextricably connected by the report of Hut's trial of November 4, seems to be especially complicated by a persistent confusion. The seven decisions play a part here."
But how did the city council of Augsburg come to connect the Nikolsburg articles, all of which are included in the Augsburg questionnaire, with the Nikolsburg disputation? Meissner suggests, probably correctly, that there was a sort of preliminary sketch, not yet published, upon which the questionnaire was based. On the basis of this sketch Hut was to be questioned about his connections with Hubmaier. That there was only a sketch is clear from the fact that the court record of November 4 contains nearly 50 questions, and the sketch only four: (1) The council believes that many articles have been set up by Hut for the disputation at Nikolsburg; Hut shall show what these articles are; (2) What else he did there; (3) When he stayed there and when he left; (4) In any case the council wants to know what the Anabaptist secrets are and what their articles are.
The admission of the council in point four is worthy of notice. They had in their possession the "Augsburg Interrogatorium," but they saw in it not the "Anabaptist secrets and articles," but merely an interrogatorium. In order to learn something definite about the Nikolsburg disputation they again referred to the questionnaire, which contains a long list of heretical doctrinal statements. Indeed, Hut replied briefly to it in his cross-examination of 16 September, and so they hoped certainly to learn more about it.
From the above sketch of the questions for the trial of 4 November it may be safely concluded that the Augsburg council did not take the "Nikolsburg articles" from a dependable Anabaptist source, for the statement that the council wanted especially to learn the Anabaptist secret and articles would be odd if they had been for "two months in possession of 14 doctrinal statements of dogmatic theological and revolutionary content, whose origin lay in guaranteed Anabaptist circles" (Meissner).
Since there is no Anabaptist source as a preliminary basis we must look through the literature to see whether the Augsburg city council could not have received its information there, and in this review the work of Urban Rhegius, the violent opponent of the Augsburg Anabaptists, comes first to mind. This theologian was one of the skilled polemicists of the time. His argumentation is often artificial and casuistic, but in the capacity to exploit the statements of his opponents in his favor he achieves amazing results (Meissner). This capability of casting scanty material that contains little that shows guilt, into a devastating charge, Rhegius reveals in his first book against the Anabaptists, Wider den neuen taujorden, notwendige Warming an die Christglaubigen durch die Diener des Evangelii zu Augsburg am 6. Tag September anno 1527. Loserth and Meissner also say that it is highly probable that Rhegius influenced the formulation of the articles.
So much at least is certain today, that it is no longer right to seek an Anabaptist origin for the Nikolsburg articles, and equally wrong to claim that they represent Anabaptist doctrines as they were set up for discussion in the disputation of Nikolsburg.
Cornelius, Carl Adolf. Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs in drei Büchern. Leipzig : T.O. Weigel, 1855-1860: II.
Friedmann, Robert. "The Nicolsburg Articles: A Problem of Early Anabaptist History." Church History (1967): 391-409.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: III, 260-262.
Jörg, J. E. Deutschland in der Revolutionsperiode von 1522-1526. Breisach, 1851.
Meissner, Erich. Die Rechtssprechung über die Wiedertäufer und die antitäuferische Publizistik. Ph.D. dissertation, Göttingen, 1921.
Nicoladoni, A. Johannes Bünderlin von Linz und die oberösterreichischen Täufergemeinden. Berlin, 1893.
Schornbaum, Karl. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, V. Band (Bayern, II. Abteilung). Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1951.
Wappler, Paul. Die Täuferbewegung in Thüringen von 1526-1584. Jena: Gustav Fisher, 1913.
Wiswedel, Wilhelm. Bilder and Führergestalten aus dem Täufertum. 3 v. Kassel: J.G. Oncken Verlag, 1928-1952: I.
Wiswedel, Wilhelm. "Die Nikolsburger Artikel."Zeitschrift fur bayrische Kirchengeschichte (1938): 34-36.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 886-888. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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