Zofingen Disputation, an important debate between Swiss Anabaptists and ministers of the Swiss Reformed Church, held in 1532 in the town of Zofingen, almost equidistant from Zürich, Basel, and Bern, some 30 miles west of Zürich. The "Freie Aemter," today's canton of Aargau, an area situated between Zürich, Bern, and Basel, and administered by Bern under the supervision of the other cantons, were the home of an Anabaptist congregation by the fall of 1525. Because of the more complex administrative arrangements it was more difficult for Bern to take action against Anabaptism there, and the preaching of Hans Pfistermeyer could continue with few interruptions until he was led to recant in 1531.
In January 1532 the reformers of Bern, assisted by Wolfgang Capito, laid the foundations of reformed polity in the Berner Synodus, which prepared them, for the first time, to act energetically in a sweeping reorganization of the churches, involving also new action against dissenters in the canton and in Bern's subject lands. The success encountered with Pfistermeyer coincided with the need to legitimize a new rigor in repression, making a disputation with the Anabaptists seem doubly desirable, "so that everyone may be satisfied and no one might claim . . . that we attack them without a hearing" (words of the Bern Council). Safe-conduct was promised to all Anabaptists, and Zofingen in the Freie Aemter was chosen as host city rather than Bern so that they might feel freer to come. No outside participants on the Reformed side were invited, in order to forestall the accusation that the preachers in Bern were dependent on Zürich and Strasbourg, but Heinrich Bullinger provided considerable advice by letter.
The proceedings began on 1 July 1532, with 23 Anabaptists present, of whom Martin Weniger of Schaffhausen and Hans Hotz were the main speakers. Berchtold Haller and Caspar Megander of Bern and Sebastian Hofmeister of Zofingen led the eight-man Reformed delegation, of which the apostate Pfistermeyer was also a member. Representatives of the four cities of the Aargau presided, the debating etiquette was irreproachable, and the minutes, kept by three secretaries and offered to all parties involved for verification, were printed in Zürich at once and distributed at the expense of the Bern government.
The following questions were debated in sequence: I. That love is the final arbiter of all disagreements; II. Whose "sending" is valid? III. Which is the true church? IV. The ban (and whether it may rightly be administered by the state); V. The magistracy; VI. Should the Christian pay tithes and taxes? VII. The oath; VIII. The calling of preachers by the state; IX. The support of preachers by prebends; X. Whether the Christian should charge interest; XI. Baptism. In spite of superficial agreements under points I, II, IV, and VI, no progress was made and no Anabaptists were persuaded to recant. The debate (and the safe-conduct for the Anabaptists) ended on the evening of 9 July and the irreproachable etiquette gave way again to persecution (since 16 May of that year it was legal to execute Anabaptists without process of law, to get around the complications of administering the subject territories). Both parties claimed to have carried off the victory in the debate.
Zofingen is the most significant of the Swiss Anabaptist disputations, rivaled only by Bern (1538; cf. ME I, 289), in which, however, both positions are less succinctly presented. The issue of baptism, which until 1527 had been the only one to be debated at length, is now dealt with last; it is becoming clear that the Reformed party, in declaring "love" (cf. Article I above; "love" is the concern for the unity and peace of Christian society) to be the ultimate exegetical norm, is seriously qualifying its original Biblicism in the interest of church-state harmony. Two views of the church now stand out against one another in bold relief.
Handlung oder Acta gehaltner Disputation und Gespräch zu Zofingen inn Bernner Biet mit den Widertöuffern. Zurich, 1532.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. 4 v. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. 4.
Yoder, John. Die Gespräche zwischen Täufern und Reformatoren in der Schweiz, 1523-1538 (Basel doctoral dissertation, 1957) Karlsruhe, 1959: 127 ff.
Yoder, John H. and Heinold Fast. "How to Deal with Anabaptists, An Unpublished Letter of Heinrich Bullinger." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXXIII (1959) 83-95.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 1035-1036. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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