Rothmann, Bernhard (ca. 1495- ca. 1535)
Bernhard (Bernd) Rothmann (Rotmann, Rottman), a theologian and an Anabaptist of Münster, Westphalia, Germany, was born at Stadtlohn in the bishopric of Münster. He served as a teacher in Warendorf, pastor of the church of St. Moritz at Münster after 1529, went to Wittenberg where he became a friend of Melanchthon, traveled over South Germany, especially Speyer and Strasbourg. He returned to Münster and was appointed pastor of the Church of St. Lambert, and introduced the Reformation into the city in 1532. He joined the "Wassenberg" preachers in 1533 and finally allied himself with Jan Matthijsz van Haarlem and Jan Bockelson van Leiden, who had come from Holland in early 1534, in whose service he wrote a number of important pamphlets. Nothing definite is known about his death, but it is very likely that he lost his life in the siege of the city in June 1535. His most important works are as follows (all in Low German):
In these works of Rothmann the Protestant zur Linden found a gaping abyss between the current presentations of the Münster revolt and the spirit prevailing in the Münsterite writings. Also the Protestant Detmer pointed out not only the graphic Low German language of Rothmann (127-199), but in spite of all his disagreement with the ideas, also speaks appreciatively of the earnestness with which the deepest religious problems are treated. Detmer says that in this misled misleader the religious side of the entire movement is incorporated (129-201). The Catholic Hast even calls Rothmann one of the most outstanding men of his time. -- Christian Neff, Ernst Crous
Modern historians dealing with the person and life of Rothmann are unanimous in their praise of the genius of this man, a trained theologian and one who early assumed a position of leadership in the evangelical church at Münster. Rothmann's travels, which were meant to keep him faithful to the Reformed cause, served rather to broaden his outlook. He was thrilled with what his friend Capito showed him in Strasbourg in 1531, where he also met Schwenckfeld (although Schwenckfeld never admitted this acquaintance; he said he had seen Rothmann once). Likely he did not meet Bucer personally since Bucer was out of the city when Rothmann visited there. Rothmann called Strasbourg the crown and palm of all Christian cities and churches. Of his time spent traveling from April to July 1531 he spent from the middle of May until July there. When he returned to preach in Münster at the beginning of July 1531, he was thoroughly evangelical in his preaching.
The unsettled state of the bishop's tenure in Münster (there were three in rapid succession) made it possible for Rothmann to rise to a position of honor and power. Related to this was the control which the guilds exercised over the council. He was supported by an atmosphere of reform and so began to agitate for his religious views. On 23 January 1532 he published his confession of faith (found in Kerssenbroch, 176-189). This confession contains thirty articles which include the main points under discussion by the Reformers. It is thoroughly Lutheran and divergent from Wittenberg only in the points dealing with the sacraments, where it shows clear influence from Capito and Zwingli, for the sacraments are considered memorial signs. There are no indications of Anabaptist leanings, and the separation between the spiritual and the physical realms reminds one of Luther. On 10 August, after a number of struggles, the evangelical preacher took over the churches in Münster, and six days later Rothmann along with the preachers published a notice of the abuses of the Catholic Church containing sixteen articles. Here Zwingli's influence is very clear. Article six speaks directly against Luther and for Zwingli.
This divergence from Lutheran views caused both Melanchthon (an acquaintance of Rothmann's) and Luther to warn Rothmann, who was suspect also because he practiced the Lord's Supper outside the church, using ordinary bread sprinkled with wine. At the end of 1532 Luther warned Rothmann regarding Zwingli, and felt it necessary to call the attention of the Münster council to the danger of the Anabaptist movement.
As far as Rothmann was concerned this warning was not needed, for on 6 September 1532, he wrote to the humanist Hermann von dem Busche sharply criticising the Anabaptists. This situation, however, soon changed after Philipp of Hesse intervened on 14 February 1533 to confirm the six evangelical preachers in Münster, and after the election of the council had resulted in a victory for the evangelical party and the guilds in March 1533. Then a reformation was undertaken in an evangelical sense. For this reason church and disciplinary orders were to be created. Rothmann was entrusted with the working out of a church order. Even the strictly Lutheran John von der Wieck did not oppose him in spite of his suspicion that Rothmann was an Anabaptist. This church order has been lost, but the broad outlines indicate sufficiently that Strasbourg's arrangements and Zwingli's teachings serve as the prototype. Philipp's demand that the articles on baptism and the Lord's Supper be changed (17 April 1533) indicates how little this church order was based upon Lutheran presuppositions.
Through the strong influence of the Wassenberg preachers, who entered Münster in the course of 1532, Rothmann began to change his views. The domineering personality of Henric Rol, whom he may have learned to know in Strasbourg in 1531, exerted a strong pressure on Rothmann's subsequent development. In any case Rothmann was on the road to a complete rejection of Lutheranism and on 6 May 1533 he made his position against infant baptism very clear. An open division thus came about between the conservative Lutheran party in the council under the leadership of the syndicus von der Wieck, which saw its hope in the Smalkaldic League, and the party under the leadership of Rothmann supported by the guilds and influenced by the Wassenberg preachers. The result of this was that Rothmann wrote to his friend Bucer and shared his reservations on infant baptism. The reply which Rothmann received was not favorable to his views as he had expected but indicated that infant baptism must be retained to keep the unity of the church. This led Rothmann even further in the rejection of infant baptism, an attitude which resulted in a very important public disputation in Münster on 2, 5, 7 and 8 August 1533. For the Lutheran party and for the Catholic party this disputation was intended to end the influence of Rothmann and the preachers. For this reason the brilliant and well-trained humanist, von dem Busche, was invited to speak for the city council to present its point of view on the sacraments. The preachers, especially Rothmann and Rol, were accused of calling infant baptism an abomination and denying that anyone who had been baptized as an infant could be a Christian. The preachers, with Rothmann as spokesman, thoroughly defeated the opposition in the course of the disputation. Even though at this time Rothmann did not defend rebaptism, or put adult baptism in the place of infant baptism, his arguments against infant baptism were so effective that the council decided to call off the disputation after two days, ostensibly because the aged von dem Busche was tired. A modern historian who described this disputation believes that never at any time did the opponents of infant baptism have such a clear-cut victory in a disputation. To the embarrassment of the council they had to reinstate Rothmann in his ministerial office upon pressure from the guilds, which they did on 3 October. Apparently a continual seesawing between the council and the preachers took place in which the preachers were banished and then reinstated, although Rothmann himself was allowed to stay in Münster even though he could not preach.
Another important influence in Rothmann's life now came to fuller expression. Since the summer of 1533, adherents of the sect of the Melchiorites had been coming to Münster (see Münster Anabaptists). Though many things separated them from Rothmann's coterie, their common opposition to Lutheranism drew them together. Rothmann's desire to increase his following naturally made him anxious to have the support of this group. It was through his act that Jan Matthijsz, who since November 1533 had been turning many of the Melchiorites into a radical direction, and the revolutionary element which later became so strong in Münster got a foothold. Rothmann's writings show clearly how this change came about. The writing called Bekentnisse, which was written in collaboration with five other preachers and completed on 22 October 1533, and published in Rothmann's own print shop on 8 November bears no evidence of this apocalyptic revolutionary mood. Indeed, as Wray has shown, this confession was translated by the Marpeck brotherhood in an effort to rally the splintered Anabaptist movement of the 1530's together into a united group. Published in 1542 under the title Vermanung, it was revised considerably to coincide with the theology of the Marpeck group. Greater stress was laid upon the difference between the Old and the New Testaments; Rothmann's treatment of the circumcision-baptism analogy was dropped and a clearer one presented in its stead; the Marpeck brotherhood went out of its way to insert nonresistant passages, and added numerous admonitions to continue faithful unto the end. A detailed comparison of these two documents shows clearly how the theology of the Marpeck brotherhood formed. Obviously they knew the tragic end which had befallen Rothmann, but they also saw the intrinsic value in the confession of the Münster preachers. Its concise and clear rebuttal of all the arguments against infant baptism could not be allowed to go unnoticed and unused.
Even in this writing the tension between Rothmann's Lutheran background and the influences received from Strasbourg is not completely reconciled. Bucer, writing to Rothmann in December 1533, replied against Rothmann's reservations on infant baptism. Not only did Bucer refute Rothmann, but all of the Strasbourg preachers together wrote a polemical book in March 1534, in which they dealt point by point not only with the published minutes of the disputation held in Münster on 7 and 8 August 1533, but also with the published Bekentnisse. This rebuttal by the Strasbourg preachers—Capito, Hedio, and Bucer—sent first in the form of a letter to Münster, was thought so valuable that it was published and sent especially to Augsburg. The title is: Bericht auss der heyligen geschrift von der recht gottseligen anstellung vnd hausshaltung Christlicher gemeyn/ Eynsatzung der diener des worts/ Haltung vnd brauch der heyligen Sacramenten. Vom heyligen Tauff/ vnnd das die kinder zu teüffen / mit satter schrifltlicher widerleggung was biss her hie wider vffbracht. Von dem H. Sacrament des leybs/ vnnd bluts vnsers Herren Jesu/ vnnd Christlicher eynigkeit in disem handel zehalten. Durch die Prediger des heyligen Evangeli/ zu Strassburg/ der Stat/ vn kirchen zu Münster in Westfal/ erstlich geschriben. The writing is important because the Bekentnisse incorporates the best of Anabaptist thought. The latter book reveals clear dependence upon a book by Christoff Freisleben (Vom wahrhaften Tauff Joannis) (see Eleutherobios), and in other respects is a concise rebuttal of the arguments for infant baptism. Also the Strasbourg preachers gave considerable thought to the problem of infant baptism, and as they are fond of pointing out in the Bericht, they had read all the literature which the Anabaptists had produced in the previous eight years.
Rothmann's authority in Münster continued to ebb and flow. In November 1533 a new church order was introduced, and because Rothmann opposed it he was directed to leave the city on 11 December. Yet he remained, and Philipp of Hesse and Wieck planned by means of another disputation to drive him from Münster. This became impossible and on 23 January 1534 an edict by Franz von Waldeck, bishop of Münster, called for the imprisonment of all Anabaptists, especially Rothmann.
Through the influence of Jan Matthijsz and Jan van Leyden affairs in Münster soon took an abrupt turn. Rothmann's precise role from this point is not clear, but since he had always been impressionable, he very likely came under the influence of these men, who used his gifts of expression and leadership to their own ends. Finally on 5 January 1534, Rothmann along with the Wassenberg preachers was rebaptized; in his home many others were secretly baptized. In the ensuing perversion of power that took place in Münster (see Münsterites) Rothmann assumed an ambiguous role. He opposed many of the changes at first, and yet bowed to the pressure of the more revolutionary leaders. Kerssenbroch reports that he took nine wives when polygamy was instituted. His real importance for Münster was his gift of public speaking and of writing. It is a tribute to his writings that Kerssenbroch, the 16th-century chronicler of the Münster revolution, did not give the contents of the writings in German because he did not want to contribute to the spreading of his ideas.
The lasting influence of Rothmann has come through the confession which he wrote with the Wassenberg preachers. This confession lived on in translation and revision (Vermanung) in the Marpeck brotherhood, and is still somewhat an Anabaptist classic. Just how much he had to do with its actual writing is not clear. Nevertheless it remains one of the tragedies of early Anabaptism that this gifted man, in spite of all his expressions of humility, yielded to the desire for honor, and finally could not resist the influences which came to bear upon his life. And yet Detmer, his modern biographer, may be correct when he implies that Rothmann inevitably had to take the way that he did because the Reformed party would not give him a serious hearing in the 1533 disputation and ignored his victory.
The last days of Rothmann are not known. It may be that he escaped when the city of Münster was attacked, but it is more likely that he chose a courageous death in battle rather than the miserable life of a fugitive driven from place to place. -- William Klassen
Bernhard Rothmann began preaching ca. 1529 and had become the key reformer of Münster by 1531. While retaining friendly relations with Lutherans for the sake of appeasing the Münster city council and to achieve a political alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, Rothmann's proposed reforms dovetailed with the civic communal ideology of the urban Reformation. His ideal of "a community of faith under God" meshed with the aspirations of guild leaders who hoped to wrest political control from the city's ruling elite. At the same time he made himself a spokesman for local autonomy vis-a-vis the city's overlord, the bishop. Attempts to remove Rothmann were therefore met by popular opposition. Theologically Rothmann remained eclectic, borrowing, as his "Confession" of 1532 indicates, from Campanus' "Restitution," Zwingli's "Fidei ratio," and Melancthon's "Loci."
Rothmann's gradual rejection of infant baptism, starting in the summer of 1533, was not only a logical consequence of his sacramental theology, but related also to his resistance to external pressure from Luther and the Schmalkaldic league to revise his Church Order of April 1533 along more orthodox Wittenberg lines. Adopting a more separatist conception of church structure, Rothmann joined forces with the "Wassenberg preachers," becoming the leader of a small radical group.
In the milieu spawned by the arrival of apostles of Jan Matthijs in January 1534, Rothmann allowed himself to be baptized. The crisis of 9-10 February 1534, during which the small band of Anabaptists was delivered from their Catholic and Lutheran opponents, led to the triumph of Rothmann's faction. With the arrival of Jan Matthijs himself on 23 February 1534 (the same day Anabaptists gained legal control of the city council), Rothmann lost direct leadership of the Münster Reformation and became little more than the propagandist for the besieged community. His most important tracts date from this period.
Three of them, "Restitution," "Concerning Vengeance," and "The Hiddenness of the Word of God," helped to shape the ideological development of Dutch Anabaptism. While Rothmann initially disagreed with some of Jan van Leyden's innovations, such as polygamy, he had little choice but to acquiesce and to rationalize the new practice. Destruction of the kingdom on 25 June 1535, ended Rothmann's reform career, and probably his life, although there are reports that he was seen in Lübeck and Rostock in 1537. -- Gary K. Waite
Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. 56v. Leipzig, 1875-1912: XXIX, 364-370, article by Ludwig Keller, reprinted in Mennonitische Blätter (1890):, 9 f., 13-15, 21 f.
Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte XLVII (1956): 243-251.
Bahlmann, P. Die Wiedertäufer zu Münster. Münster, 1894: 10, No. 7.
Brune, Friedrich. Der Kampf um eine evangelische Kirche im Münsterland. Witten-Ruhr, 1953: 11, 16, 18 ff., 34, 36, 43.
Catalogus der werken over de Doopsgezinden en hunne geschiedenis aanwezig in de bibliotheek der Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam. Amsterdam: J.H. de Bussy, 1919: 50-58, 62 f.;
Cornelius, C. A. Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs I. Leipzig, 1855: 121 ff., 281, 284.
Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum. Leipzig : Breitkopf & Härtel, 1907-1961: V, 28, 323, 402.
Detmer, Heinrich. Bilder aus den religiösen und sozialen Unruhen in Münster während des 16. Jahrhunderts II. Münster, 1904.
Detmer, Heinrich. "Das Religionsgespräch zu Münster am 7. und 8. August 1533, Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte B. Rothmanns . . ."Monatshef te der Comenius-Gesellschaft 9 (1900): 273-300.
Detmer, Heinrich. Hermanni A. Kerssenbroch Anabaptistici Furoris . . . Münster, 1900.
Detmer, Heinrich and Robert Krumbholtz. Zwei Schriften des Münsterschen Wiedertaufers Bernhard Rothmann. Dortmund, 1904.
Hast, Johann. Geschichte der Wiedertäufer, von ihrem Entstehen zu Zwickau in Sachsen bis auf ihren Sturz zu Münster in Westfalen. Münster, 1836.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 552-554.
Herzog, J. J. and Albert Hauck. Realencyclopedie für Protestantische Theologie and Kirche, 24 vols. 3. ed. Leipzig: J. H. Hinrichs, 1896-1913: v. XIII, articles by Walther Köhler on "Münster" and "Wiedertäufer."
Krahn, Cornelius. Dutch Anabaptism. The Hague, 1968: 145-164.
Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932: 74 f., 80 f., 84 f., 119, 126, 129, 141, 151, 171.
Linden, F. O. zur. Melchior Hofmann, ein Prophet der Wiedertäufer. Haarlem and Leipzig, 1885: 349-374.
Mellink, Albert F. De Wederdopers in de noordelijke Nederlanden 1531-1544. Groningen: J.B. Wolters, 1954.
Die Religion in Geschichte and Gegenwart, 2.ed., 5 v. Tübingen: Mohr, 1927-1932: IV, article by Walther Köhler.
Rembert, Karl. Die "Wiedertäufer" im Herzogtum Jülich. Berlin: R. Gaertners Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1899.
Schiess, T. Briefwechsel der Brüder Ambrosius und Thomas Blaurer I. Freiburg, 1908: 450.
Sepp, Christiaan. Geschiedkundige Nasporingen I. Leiden, 1872: 55-157.
Stupperich, R. Das Münsterische Täufertum. Münster, 1957.
Wray, Frank J. "The 'Vermanung' of 1542 and Rothmann's 'Bekentnisse.'" Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte (1956): 243-251.
The most important source for Rothmann's theological development is the critical edition of all his extant works (letters, disputations, confessions and tracts) edited by:
Stupperich, Robert. Die Schriften der Münsterischen Taufer und ihrer Gegner, part 1: Die Schriften Bernhard Rothmanns. Münster: Aschendorff, 1970.
Selections from documents relating to Münster are found in:
van Dülmen, Richard, ed. Das Täuferreich zu Münster. Munchen: Deutscher Taschen buch Verlag, 1974.
Recent literature on Rothmann and Münster was reviewed by:
Stayer, James M. "Was Dr. Kuehler's Conception of Early Dutch Anabaptism Historically Sound? The Historical Discussion of Anabaptist Münster 450 Years After." Mennonite Quarterly Review 60 (1986): 261-288.
Stayer. "The Münsterite Rationalization of Bernhard Rothmann." Journal of the History of Ideas 28 (1967): 179-192.
Stayer, James M. Anabaptists and the Sword. Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1972; revised ed. 1976.
The "Reformed" nature of Rothmann's early theology is noted by:
de Bakker, W. J. Profiles of Radical Reformers. Editors: H. J. Goertz and Walter Klaassen. Scottdale, 1982: 191-202.
Bakker, W. J. de. "De vroege Theologie van Bernhard Rothmann: De gereformeerde Achtergond van het Munsterse Doperrijk." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen n.r. 3 (1977): 9-20.
Martin Brecht has discovered many of the sources used by Rothmann in his early writings and has made several corrections to Stupperich's notes in:
"Die Theologie Bernhard Rothmanns." Jahrboekje für westfälische Kg., 78 (1985): 49-82.
The best discussion to date of the reasons behind Rothmann's rejection of infant baptism and espousal of Anabaptism is found in:
Kuratsuka, Tara. "Gesamtgilde und Tilden Der Radikalisierungsprozess in der Reformation Masters: Von der reformatorischen Bewegung zum Täuferreich 1534/35." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 76 (1985): 231-270.
Galen, Hans, ed. Die Wiedertaufer in Münster. Münster: Stadmuseum Münster, 2nd edition, 1982. Contains useful illustrations and texts regarding the Münster kingdom.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 367-370; vol. 5, pp. 777-778. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Neff, Christian, Ernst Crous, William Klassen and Gary K. Waite. "Rothmann, Bernhard (ca. 1495- ca. 1535)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/R6852.html.
APA style: Neff, Christian, Ernst Crous, William Klassen and Gary K. Waite. (1989). Rothmann, Bernhard (ca. 1495- ca. 1535). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/R6852.html.