Ostorodt, Christoph (d. 1611)
Christoph Ostorodt (d. 1611), a Socinian (anti-Trinitarian) minister of the "Polish Minor Church" (see Polish Brethren) who had several significant contacts with Anabaptists in an attempt to have them unite with his church. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor at Goslar, Germany, and was educated at Königsberg, East Prussia, where he seems to have come into contact with Unitarians. He was converted to Socinianism and in 1585 joined the Polish Minor Church (the only existing church body of that persuasion). He learned the Polish language and soon after became minister of the important church of Smigiel in Greater Poland, near Poznań. In 1598, he accompanied the Polish nobleman Andreas Voydovsky on a missionary journey to Holland, which (according to Wilbur) marked the first introduction of Socinianism into that country, destined to become later the very refuge of that type of Christianity. A few years later he became a minister at Buskov near Danzig. In 1604 he published his Unterrichtung von den vornehmsten Hauptpunkten der christlichen Religion, a major dogmatic work of his church, preceding the better-known Racovian Catechism (1605) by one year, and almost on the same level of importance. Wilbur claims that this Unterrichtung became a standard manual of Socinian doctrines, and accordingly was also widely attacked by German Protestants. In 1611 Ostorodt died in Buskov.
His activities with regard to influencing if not proselyting Anabaptists may be described according to the three main branches of Anabaptism:
In 1590 Voydovsky had made contacts with the Swiss Brethren in Strasbourg in the hope of gaining some footholds there. Returning to Poland, he carried with him a letter of the Strasbourg Swiss Brethren which contained a number of questions as to the Polish beliefs. In 1591 Ostorodt answered this inquiry with a lengthy epistle (16 pages in print), preserved in the State Archives in Bern, Switzerland, and published in full by Theodor Wotschke in 1915. It is a most remarkable source, revealing the spirit of Socinianism as well as the gulf which separated it from the Anabaptists. The tone is irenic and exceedingly warm. "We know all too well," Ostorodt writes, "that prompting factions is just as much a work of the flesh as other sins (Galatians 5:20). For that reason we suffer others and would not shun them if they want only to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ [something which Anabaptists always wanted to do] and are ready to recognize us as brethren." The doctrine of the Incarnation, however, was and remained the stumbling block for such a recognition by Anabaptists. "Christ is the son of God in no other sense," Ostorodt confessed, "than that all men are children of God in the spirit." The Strasbourg Brethren studied this document carefully and answered it in 1592 by a lengthy tract entitled "Concerning the Incarnation and Deity of Jesus Christ" (extant in a Dutch print of 1666; see John Horsch in Mennonite Quarterly Review (1931): 26, note 136). It states very decidedly that "believing is not a decision of human reason but the acceptance of that which is incomprehensible to reason."
A few years later, in 1598, Ostorodt went to Holland to spread his faith to this country and to try to get a permanent foothold in Western Europe. Naturally, he sought to establish contacts also with the Mennonites of this country, all the more since Mennonites and Socinians had almost identical viewpoints concerning adult baptism and nonresistance. In Amsterdam he debated with the Frisian elder Pieter Jans Twisck; he probably also had contact with the Flemish elder Jacques Outerman of Haarlem. In particular he hoped for some success with the most liberal wing of these Mennonites, namely, the Waterlanders. Wilbur in his History of Unitarianism devotes a lengthy section to this visit of Ostorodt with Hans de Ries of Alkmaar, the spiritual leader of the Waterlanders, and so do also J. S. S. Ballot, the biographer of de Ries (Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1864): 38), and other Mennonite historians. This visit, as could have been assumed, yielded very little in results, in spite of de Ries's spiritualistic, non-dogmatic tendencies and certain similar viewpoints on practical matters. In fact, de Ries refused to consider any closer dealings with the Socinians, the main argument being that "the Polish Brethren grossly reduce the glory of Christ" (de Ries, Ontdeckinghe der dwalingen, 1627). Soon after the visit of Ostorodt, de Ries wrote a complete refutation of the Socinian position, entitled Klaer Bewijs van de Eewigheydt ende Godtheydt Jesu Christi. With this exchange of views the contact of Socinians and Dutch Mennonites came to an end for the time being. Later, more successful contacts and influences, however, do not belong to the scope of this article (see Galenus Abrahamsz de Haan; also Antitrinitarianism and Socinianism in the Netherlands).
It is known that the Polish Socinians showed a strong tendency toward communal living, hence their interest in the experiment of the Moravian Hutterites in this regard. Three or four times in the 16th and early 17th centuries visitors from Poland came to study these Anabaptist farm Bruderhofs, but in spite of much friendliness on both sides no real meeting of minds was possible: the genius of Anabaptism and Socinianism was too different as to allow such a rapprochement.
In his letter of 1591 to the Strasbourg Brethren, Ostorodt mentions also that two Polish Brethren went to Moravia in 1590 and there talked "with your brethren" (!) in Auspitz and Pausram. They presented to them a Socinian Confession of Faith but "never received any reply to it." The Hutterite chronicle does not mention this visit at all. It was apparently the report brought back to Ostorodt by these two visitors that prompted him to refute the Hutterite position more elaborately than any Polish brother had done before. Chr. Sand's well-known Bibliotheca Antitrinitariorum sive Catalogus (1684, p. 91) shows that Ostorodt had written a pamphlet entitled Contra Hutterianos seu Moraviensis Communistas Libellus (no date), to which entry Sand adds: "manuscriptum post obitum ipsius a Joanne Franco possidebatur." The content of this polemical tract is not known. Perhaps it was against this book (or another of Ostorodt's fifteen books and tracts) that the outstanding Hutterite head-bishop Andreas Ehrenpreis wrote a rejoinder, Kurze Widerlegung des grossen Streites von Christo Jesu, dem Sohne Gottes, wie er von Christoph Ostorodt in einem im Druck ausgangenen Büchel samt seinem Anhang als Polnische Brüder oder Arianer schimpflich und nachteilig verkleinert ward (Sobotiste, 1654). Unfortunately, also this reply is known only by its title. An old manuscript copy of it is supposed to exist with the Hutterian Brethren in Canada, but at present its location is unknown. How did Ehrenpreis ever come into the possession of Ostorodt's booklet? It may be reasonably assumed that Ehrenpreis received it from Dr. Daniel Zwikker, a Socinian physician of Danzig, who had temporarily joined the Hutterite brotherhood in Slovakia. That happened in 1654, the year when Ehrenpreis replied to Ostorodt's dogmatic theses, forty-three years after Ostorodt's death.
Frisian Mennonite congregation at Danzig
The Polish Brethren also made contacts with the Frisian Mennonites of Danzig in order to try to form a union between the Mennonite church and theirs. An undated letter of about 1609 (Inv. Arch. Amst. II, No. 2926) written by Jan Gerrits, elder of the Danzig Frisian Mennonites, to Hans de Ries, says that the Brethren requested a conversation between Ostorodt and the Mennonite leaders, which was refused by the Mennonites, but the Brethren were urgently insistent on a conversation. Two members were inclined to leave the church and join the Brethren, many of whom were regularly attending the Mennonite meetings. In this letter Ostorodt is said to have denied that Jesus had instituted the ordinance of baptism, rejected the doctrine of satisfaction, and demanded that every preacher know Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
Friedmann, Robert. "The Encounter of Anabaptists and Mennonites with Anti-Trinitarianism." Mennonite Quarterly Review 22 (1948): 139-162.
Kühler, W. J. Het Socinianisme in Nederland. Leiden : A.W. Sijthoff's, 1912: 53-57, 106-111.
Wilbur, E. M. A History of Unitarianism, Socinianism and its Antecedents. Cambridge, 1945.
Wotschke, Theodor. "Ein dtigmatisches Sendschreiben des Unitariers Ostorodt." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 12 (1915): 137-154.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 92-93. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Friedmann, Robert. "Ostorodt, Christoph (d. 1611)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/O850.html.
APA style: Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Ostorodt, Christoph (d. 1611). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/O850.html.