Spittelmayr, Ambrosius (1497-1528)
Ambrosius Spittelmayr (Spittelmaier), an early Anabaptist leader, a citizen of Linz, Upper Austria, and a university student with a good command of Latin, born circa 1497 in Linz where he was baptized and commissioned to preach by Hans Hut on 25 July 1527. He worked as an Anabaptist apostle in the vicinity of Linz for about two weeks after his baptism but then was forced to flee. He traveled through Augsburg, Nuremberg, Schwabach, and Gunzenhausen, preaching and baptizing, until he arrived in Erlangen, where on inquiring after Hans Nadler he was taken prisoner on 9 September 1527. After his first trial he was transferred to Ansbach and on 2 October to Cadolzburg, where he was tortured and tried and finally beheaded on 6 February 1528. He should not be confused with Hans Spittelmaier, reformer at Nikolsburg and associate of Balthasar Hubmaier.
There are five extant records (Schornbaum, Karl. Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer, II. Band: Markgraftum Brandenburg. (Bayern I. Abteilung). Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte XVI. Band. Leipzig: M. Heinsius Nachfolger, 1934: (TA) 25 f.) of his answers to the questions the authorities directed to him at his trial. He wrote out his answer for the trial on 25 October, and the 3,000-word document is a moving confession of his Anabaptist faith. It includes a treatment of his view of the knowledge of God, the nature of the covenant in the church, the sharing of goods and property, admonition and discipline, the seven decisions of Scripture, namely, the covenant of God, the kingdom of God, the body of Christ, the end of the world, the judgment, the resurrection, and the eternal verdict; also the person and work of Christ, discipleship and the imitation of Christ, the relationship of the Christian to the state, the significance of the Lord’s Supper, the humanity of Mary, the second coming of Christ, and purgatory. A comparison of Hans Hut’s answers to the same set of questions (TA, 41 f.) makes the similarity between their positions quite obvious. Spittelmayr’s confession is particularly significant because it throws light on the teachings of Hut that are not treated as fully in Hut’s own tracts and confessions. Hut’s seven decisions, for example, are described in greater detail in this confession than anywhere else in the writings of Hut and his followers.
Spittelmayr’s view of the essence of the Christian commitment and the nature of the church is illustrated by a set of five questions that penetrate progressively deeper into the implications of the Christian faith which he put to strangers while carrying on his itinerant ministry as an Anabaptist apostle: first he asked whether the individual was a Christian; secondly he inquired about the character of his life and walk as a Christian—was he a disciple? thirdly he asked what his relationship to his Christian brother was like—was he a functioning member of the church? fourthly he asked whether he shared all things with his brothers and they with him—no brother should suffer need of food or clothing; and fifthly he inquired about the practice of brotherly admonition and discipline.
Spittelmayr said of Christ that He was “true God and man, the head of all His members, who has erased with His suffering the eternal wrath of God that was directed against us. He has reconciled us and restored us to peace with God, and as our personal mediator His suffering and death have opened for us the kingdom of heaven from which we had fallen because of Adam.” Spittelmayr emphasized in his confession that Christians must live, suffer, and die as Christ died for them if they want to inherit the kingdom of God.
The patient acceptancc of suffering is a recurrent theme in the testimonies of Spittelmayr and is presented as an integral part of a life of discipleship. Whoever will not suffer with Christ will not inherit with Christ. Christians must drink the cup that He drank. If men enjoy this world and live according to the lusts of the flesh, they must suffer in the next. Disciples partake of Christ when He is spiritually conceived, born, circumcised, baptized, and preached in them. Spittelmayr’s emphasis is on discipleship, the following of Christ, rather than on physical suffering as Thomas Müntzer and some of the earlier mystics maintained.
The covenant consists of brotherly admonition, the sharing of all things, nonresistance to evil men, and participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “This covenant is realized in the Spirit, in baptism, and in the drinking of the cup, which Christ has called the baptism of blood. ‘We covenant ourselves to God to remain with Him in one love, one spirit, one faith, and one baptism and on the other hand God covenants to be our Father and to stay with us in tribulation.”
Spittelmayr said that he was moved to accept adult baptism because he wanted to be a true and obedient Christian. Christ taught His disciples when He left them saying: Go into all the world and preach the Gospel; whoever believes and is baptized is saved. The preaching of God’s Word must come before and not after baptism. Apart from voluntary faith the concept of covenant and baptism are meaningless and the disciple-church an impossibility.
In speaking of the Lord’s Supper Spittelmayr accused the priests of a very wooden understanding of Christ’s words in John 6: He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. One should not look at these words outwardly but rather put away the letter and seek the spirit. You eat the flesh of Christ by giving yourself here and now as a member of Christ’s body. A true Christian must do everything in his spiritual Christ that Christ did visibly in the flesh. It is in this way that the Word becomes flesh and lives in a Christian. The celebration of the supper itself is to remind us of the suffering of Christ and our commitment to follow Him.
Spittelmayr represents a fine example of the early South German position regarding the sharing of goods. “Nobody can inherit the kingdom unless he is poor with Christ, for a Christian has nothing of his own; no place where he can lay his head. A real Christian should not even have enough property on earth to be able to stand on it with one foot. This does not mean that he should go and lie down in the woods and not have a trade, or that he should not have fields and meadows, or that he should not work, but alone that he might not think they are for his own use and be tempted to say: this house is mine, this field is mine, this dollar is mine. Rather he should say it is ours, even as we pray: Our Father. In summary, a Christian should not have anything of his own but should have all things in common with his brother, that is, not allow him to suffer need. In other words, I will not work that my house be filled, that my larder be supplied with meat, but rather I will see that my brother has enough, for a Christian looks more to his neighbor than to himself. Whoever desires to be rich in this world, who is concerned that he miss nothing when it comes to his person and property, who is honored by men and feared by them, who refuses to prostrate himself at the feet of his Lord . . . will be humbled.” This did not mean absolute propertylessness as it did later for the Hutterian Brethren.
Spittelmayr shared Hut’s dynamic view of the apostolate. He says of his own role as an apostle: “It is my desire to preach and baptize and lead men to accept the Christian faith; God instituted this work (the apostolate) by His Son after the resurrection.” He refers to Hut as a “commissioned apostle sent from God in these last and most perilous times.”
Spittelmayr interprets Christ’s command as preaching the Gospel “through” the whole creation. This means that Christ has given men created things that they might use the visible to understand and explain the invisible. Christ did this when He used real water to explain what living water and eternal life are. A man’s vocation or trade can become a book through which he learns to know the will of God. This is not understood to be a substitute for the written Word of God. It was through Hans Hut that this interpretation entered the Anabaptist movement.
There is nothing dangerously radical (chiliastic) about Spittelmayr’s eschatology. The day and hour of Christ’s reappearing is hidden from all men. The end of the world is near, the time when the world and its lusts will pass away. In the future judgment Christ will appear to judge the living and the dead, everybody reaping in eternity what he has sown in time. In the great resurrection the godless will arise to death, for they have lived and lusted here, and the godly will arise to life, for they have been dead here. The eternal verdict will seal the fate of the godless to the eternal fire that does not consume.
Spittelmayr believed that civil authority was originally instituted by God and that it was the duty of government “to judge word and deed that is directed against God.” Governments had fallen from this original commission and now resembled Pilate. This does not mean that Spittelmayr advocated resistance to the authorities; on the contrary, he called for obedience. The authorities, however, did not have the right to coerce the Christian’s conscience. Besides the principle of nonresistance to evil he said nothing specific about the oath and government office.
Spittelmayr, a disciple of Hans Hut, reflects a position that has much in common with Hans Schlaffer, Leonhard Schiemer, Wolfgang Brandhuber, and also later leaders of the South German Anabaptist movement like Leupold Scharnschlager and Pilgram Marpeck.
Nicoladoni, Alex, Johannes Bünderlin von Linz (Berlin, 1893): 51-60.
Schornbaum, Karl. Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer, II. Band: Markgraftum Brandenburg. (Bayern I. Abteilung). Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte XVI. Band. Leipzig: M. Heinsius Nachfolger, 1934.
Wiswedel, Wilhelm. Bilder and Führergestalten aus dem Täufertum, 3 vols. Kassel: J.G. Oncken Verlag, 1928-1952: 8-17.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 599-601. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Klassen, Herbert C. "Spittelmayr, Ambrosius (1497-1528)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/spittelmayr_ambrosius_1497_1528.
APA style: Klassen, Herbert C. (1959). Spittelmayr, Ambrosius (1497-1528). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/spittelmayr_ambrosius_1497_1528.