Walpot, Peter (1521-1578)
Peter Walpot (Walbot), (1521-78), bishop of the Hutterian Brethren in Moravia during their Golden Age, one of the outstanding leaders of the brotherhood, a creative writer and organizer, a stern and upright character, who did much to bring the brotherhood to that spiritual and moral height which attracted many converts during the second half of the 16th century. He was a Tirolean, born near Klausen, south of the Brenner Pass; when eight years old he was present when George Blaurock was executed for his faith in Guffidaun near Klausen. He seems to have turned Anabaptist at an early age (like many other Tiroleans), for in 1542 he was already a minister (Diener des Worts) in Moravia. By profession he was a cloth-shearer (Tuchscherer), whence he was often called "Peter Scherer." From now on he participated in all the major activities of the brotherhood; e.g., in the important debate between the Gabrielites and the Hutterites in 1545 (Chronik, 252-56). It appears that Walpot was particularly well-read, not only in the Scriptures, but also in church history and in contemporary polemics and apologetics. He is probably the author of the remarkable "Fünf Artikel des grössten Streites zwischen uns und der Welt" (Chronik at the year 1547, pp. 269-316; reprinted in Glaubenszeugnisse I, 237-57), a summary of the most significant theological and practical positions of the Hutterites in which they differ from the "world," a tract apparently derived from the earlier debate with the Gabrielites. From now on the Hutterites had not only Riedemann's Rechenschaft but also these Fünf Artikel to give an account of their faith and life.
In 1546 Walpot and his wife were active in Silesia "in the work of the Lord," apparently among the remnants of the Gabrielites, once going as far as Danzig. After Peter Riedemann's death (1556) Walpot was the uncontested spiritual leader of the brotherhood. When, in 1557, Lutheran theologians at Worms published their condemnation of Anabaptism in the Prozess wie es soil gehalten werden (also called Bedenken), only the Hutterites replied (even though they were more remote from the controversy than any other Anabaptist group), and this reply became known as Handbüchlein wider den Prozess . . . (published in Glaubenszeugnisse II). It is a fine and highly spiritual apology of Anabaptism. To be sure, it was circulated anonymously and was approved by the entire brotherhood, but there can be no doubt that it was Walpot who formulated the points of defense and of emphasis.
In 1565 when the bishop of the brotherhood, Leonhard Lanzenstiel, died, Walpot was elected the new bishop, both of Moravia and adjacent Slovakia. This office he filled for the next 13 years (1565-78) with much energy and wisdom. While he had seen great hardship in Moravia during the 1540s, now a time of peaceful development had set in. There was no longer any persecution in Moravia (the Counter Reformation did not come to that country until the end of the century) and the brotherhood spread and flourished, numbering at that time 30,000 baptized souls. The administrative center was the Bruderhof of Neumühl, where the bishop resided. The Brethren could now afford to have one of their most precious books printed, Riedemann's Rechenschaft, most likely by an itinerant journeyman printer by the name of Vollandt at the Neumühl Hof (see Rechenschaft), where Walpot was instrumental in this enterprise.
The activities of this excellent man must have been manifold indeed. Missioners were sent out into all German lands (as far as Denmark) and into Switzerland. Many newcomers had to be assimilated, and the discipline at home had to be carefully watched and regulated lest the community deteriorate. A wealth of epistles from this period have survived, written to the missioners abroad "in the name of the entire brotherhood," encouraging and comforting them in their hard work. No doubt most of these were drafted by the bishop himself. Kaspar Braitmichel now began the first draft of what gradually became Das grosse Geschicht-Buch (greater Chronicle), assisted by Walpot. An enormous correspondence was brought in almost daily by returning Brethren (no other mail was ever used), and had to be read before the assembled Brethren and answered. Economic and social questions both in Moravia and Slovakia had to be solved; e.g., the relationship to the manorial lords and to the larger cities (many a farmer in Moravia noted with envy the thriving colonies and their enterprise). There were also the schools of the brotherhood to be managed, and on inspection Walpot found many things that needed attention. A model "school regulation" and a fine "address to the schoolmasters," 15 November 1568 (see Education, Hutterite), remarkably modern for the 16th century, both by Walpot, have been preserved.
In the late 1560s and early 1570s, Polish Unitarians visited the Moravian Bruderhofs several times, in fact at one time (1569?) a number of young Poles volunteered to live for one whole year in the Bruderhofs in order to learn how to run such a collective large-scale enterprise. (They were disappointed and became severely critical, since such a Bruderhof is possible only on the basis of a specific attitude, foreign to the Poles.) These visits resulted in an exchange of letters of unusual interest; Walpot's epistles to the Poles were inserted into the Chronicle (Chronik, 443-58).
The Protocol of the Frankenthal Colloquy of 1571 claims that a certain Peter Scherer and two other Brothers attended this occasion; Wolkan and Hege assumed that this was Peter Walpot. Yet neither a Scherer nor a Walpot is listed as participating in the debate in any conspicuous way, and Walpot did not even respond when Dathenus asked whether Hutterites were present. 57
During the 1570s Walpot also drew up a catechism for the children (still in use today, published in part in Glaubenszeugnisse II), several prayers for children, and also some hymns to be learned in school.
With Swiss Brethren of the Rhine area a lively correspondence developed (see Hans Schmidt), the most important epistle being the letter addressed to the Swiss Brethren of Modenbach on the Rhine in 1577, in which the distinguishing points between Hutterites and Swiss Brethren were again formulated and defended. In an earlier paper by this writer also the anonymous tract "Anschlag and Fürwenden" was attributed to Walpot, but more recent research has shown that it was drawn up by Leonhard Dax (d. 1574), doubtless with Walpot's full approval. Dax, a former Catholic priest and versed in the Latin language, soon became an important assistant to Walpot in all matters of theology and literary polemics.
The most important contribution of this busy man was still to come: the elaboration of the Hutterite program of 1545-47, i.e., the "Five Articles." Now in more peaceful times Walpot could develop the ideas of this program by adding ample Biblical and church historical references, and by elaborating on each point. Thus there developed a large work (far larger than the Rechenschaft) of basic nature, the anonymously written Ein schön lustig Büchlein etliche Hauptartikel unseres christlichen Glaubens, etc., briefly called Das grosse Artikelbuch (see Article Book), dated 1577. That it was authored by Walpot is beyond doubt; in fact one 18th-century copy (now in Montana) expressly names him as the writer. And yet it was more the result of the work of the brotherhood as a whole than was, e.g., Riedemann's Rechenschaft, which was written in a lonely prison in Hesse. Some 23 old copies of the 16th and 17th centuries are still extant, and many new ones give evidence of the continued interest of the brotherhood in this work (published in its entirety in Glaubenszeugnisse II; one article was also published in English translation in Mennonite Quarterly Review, 1957).
On 30 January 1578, Walpot died, not without having first addressed all the elders of his church assembled around his bed. The Chronicle contains this last address, and then adds a special paragraph of praise and gratitude. "He was a loyal shepherd," the Chronicle says, "an outstanding teacher (i.e., preacher), and a godly ruler, etc."
Besides the tracts and epistles mentioned above, Walpot also composed two hymns (Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, 737-39). He was probably the author of the earliest known sermons of the brotherhood (see Sermons, Hutterite). Although these early sermons are anonymous, the dates indicate that this bishop was the author.
Walpot's richly filled life gave new strength and direction to the brotherhood. He was perhaps less "spiritual" (pneumatic) than Riedemann, but he was nevertheless the true continuer of the ideas of Jakob Hutter. Obedience to the Word of God, resignation (Gelassenheit) in all things secular, and loyalty to the great cause of Anabaptism — these are the forces which moved the life and activities of this outstanding Anabaptist brother.
Friedmann, Robert. "Eine dogmatische Hauptschrift der hutterischen Täufergemeinschaften in Mähren." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte XXVIII (1931): 102-11 and 217-18; for the individual works see also the bibliographies of the articles mentioned above.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. IV.
Müller, Lydia. Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter I. Leipzig, 1938.
Müller, Lydia and R. Friedmann. Glaubenszeugnisse II. Gütersloh, 1960.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 880-882. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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