Bedenken der Wiedertäufer halber (5 November 1557)
The Bedenken der Wiedertäufer halber (5 November 1557) was an official document of Lutheran theologians, now in the state archives of Stuttgart, Germany, and identical with a printed pamphlet of the same time entitled Prozess, wie es soll gehalten werden mit den Wiedertäufern, durch etliche Gelehrte so zu Worms versammelt gewesen, gestellt (How to proceed against the Anabaptists, drawn up by several scholars assembled at Worms). The Bedenken is published in full in G. Bossert, Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer I: Herzogtum Württemberg (1930), and may be regarded as the most concise arguments of the Lutheran theologians against the Anabaptists, and also as their justification for the application of the death penalty against them. It was, so to speak, the final statement of the by then firmly established Lutheran state church. In the main, it was the work of Philip Melanchthon, but the document (in its pamphlet form) was signed by a number of other leading Lutheran dignitaries such as Johannes Brenz and Jakob Andreae, the former more moderate, the latter most radical like Melanchthon. As a whole the document revealed clearly what these men understood as Anabaptism. It was practically the entire "left wing" of the Reformation which they attacked, including besides the evangelical Anabaptists (including Hutterites) the anti-Trinitarians, Illuminati such as David Joris, and other Antinomians. They all deserved death "by fire or sword," according to Leviticus 24, as their teaching was but "blasphemy." The subtitle of this document stated expressly: Concerning ecclesiastical judgment and subsequent ecclesiastical penalty, also concerning corporal punishment of the Anabaptists. For this reason the document must be considered almost as dangerous as the decrees of the Imperial Diet (such as, e.g., the one of Speyer in 1529). Today it presents to us in brief the standard accusations raised against the Anabaptists. "One should know their main articles," the theologians declared, "in order to recognize their lies and that the Anabaptist sect is not a Christian church but a devilish seduction." There were two groups of accusations: (1) public lies of the Anabaptists which can incite revolt against the government, and (2) articles though false yet not directly concerned with secular government. Among the first articles the Bedenken enumerated: (a) that the office of secular princes is sin, and for that is damned, also that true Christians should not participate in secular government; (b) that Christians should give all their money and possessions to the Christian community; (c) that it is sinful to take legal action against others in secular courts; (d) that it is sinful to take an oath; (e) that it is right to leave the married spouse because of the issue of adult baptism. As false articles under (2) we read the following items: (a) that children are born without original sin; (b) that infant baptism is wrong; (c) that God is but one person as the Jews teach (this argument turns against the anti-Trinitarians. It is important to note that Michael Servetus was burned at the stake just four years earlier, in 1553, and that this was approved by Melanchthon and many others) ; (d) that the sacrament is only a symbol and not an application of grace (here the Luther-Zwingli controversy comes in); that the Lord's Supper is but an external sign; (e) that man becomes justified by work and suffering, also by fulfillment of the Law, and even by special illumination (is this aimed at David Joris?); (f) some also claim that a reborn man can never fall again into the wrath of God as he is driven by the Spirit (this attacks the Antinomians of that age). The Hutterites are later specially attacked because of their (then novel) common education of the children (see Education, Hutterite). At one place the execution of Servetus is expressly approved (but the Duke of Württemberg later crossed out this passage). The document declared that according to the Tables of the Decalogue the authorities were the custodians of the law in all things pertaining to the external discipline (Zucht) of a country.
Understandably the Brethren were appalled by these severe denunciations. The well-known Swiss Brother Hans Büchel composed a hymn of 20 stanzas to comfort his people in their new distress. It was later inserted in the Ausbund as hymn 46. Also the Hutterites (who had many ties to Württemberg) felt urged to answer the document; their rejoinder was contained in a Hutterite codex, now in Canada (ms copy in the Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen, Indiana), and bears the title: Handbüchlein wider den Prozess . . . (107 leaves). Its author was most likely Peter Walpot, the time was about 1558-1559. It was an excellent doctrinal practical statement of the Anabaptist position, defending among other things also their school system. "That our children are dear to us before God and a profound concern, of this we will give testimony on the Day of Judgment."
According to a report by Philipp Kieferndorf in Mennonitische Blätter 40 (1893) 108 f., 114 f., 121 f., a copy of the Prozess was secured for the Paulus Museum in Worms a. Rh. The full text of the Prozess was printed in the report, which was entitled "Eine Streitschrift evangelischer Theologen gegen die 'Wiedertäufer' aus dem 16. Jahrhundert."
As to the effect of the document no particular information is available. The official persecutions continued in their ups and downs according to the mood of the rulers.
Bossert, Gustav, Sr. Blätter für wurttembergische Kirchengeschichte (1912): 42 f.
Bossert, Gustav,Jr. Blätter für wurttembergische Kirchengeschichte (1929): 24 f.
Bossert, Gustav. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer I. Band, Herzogtum Württemberg. Leipzig: M. Heinsius, 1930: 160-168.
Hege, Christian. Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz: ein Beitrag zur badisch-pfälzischen Reformationsgeschichte. Frankfurt am Main : Kommissionsverlag von H. Minjon, 1908: footnotes 93-96.
Friedmann, Robert. "Eine dogmatische Hauptschrift . . ." Archiv für Reformationgeschichte (1931): notes on pp. 105, 111.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 261. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Friedmann, Robert. "Bedenken der Wiedertäufer halber (5 November 1557)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 26 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B44346.html.
APA style: Friedmann, Robert. (1953). Bedenken der Wiedertäufer halber (5 November 1557). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B44346.html.