Rechenschafft unserer Religion, Leer und Glaubens
Rechenschafft unserer Religion, Leer und Glaubens Von den Brüdern so man die Hutterischen nennt aussgangen was written by Peter Riedemann in 1540-41. Among the not too numerous doctrinal tracts of the 16th-century Anabaptists, Riedemann's Rechenschaft (Account of our Religion, Doctrine and Faith, the title according to I Peter 3:15, "Be ready to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you") is one of the most important and significant documents, a basic source for the knowledge of Anabaptist doctrine and theology, a true spiritual foundation for the Hutterite branch of Anabaptists, but beyond that, characteristic of this great movement at large, save for the one specific doctrine concerning community of goods. It is a book of much inner beauty and spirituality which did much to enable the Hutterites to survive through the centuries more or less loyal to their beginnings. Together with the great Article Book of 1547 (and 1577) and the Handbüchlein wider den Prozess . . . of 1558, it represents the official position of the Hutterites in matters both of doctrine and practice. That the Rechenschaft was better known to the outside world than the other two statements was mainly due to the fact that it is one of the few Hutterite books ever to have been published in print (1565).
The history and theology of this unique work has not yet been given a thorough study, although there have been some recent attempts in this direction. Thus it was not known until the present that Riedemann (who began this Rechenschaft during his imprisonment in Hesse, 1540-41, at the castle of Wolkersdorf) got the idea for this work when he wished to inform Landgrave Philip of Hesse about the true Anabaptist doctrine. "Since he has never interrogated us personally . . . since perhaps others slander us, he should at least know why he is keeping us imprisoned" (Epistle 21, of 1540-41, sent to Hans Amon and Leonhard Lanzenstiel).
The original manuscript is very likely lost; yet two old manuscript codices are still extant: one in the primatial library in Esztergom, signature IV, 1, dated 1614, having 364 leaves in 16°, very carefully written, apparently intended as a pocket "companion"; and a second in private possession in Freeman, South Dakota (of which no description is available). In 1565 the book came out in print; its last page says: "This year the Confession was reprinted by Philips Vollanndt." Nothing is known about this printer, and it may be assumed that he was an itinerant printer who chanced to pass by the Hutterite settlements in Moravia, offering his services to everyone, and there (perhaps at Neumühle, the seat of Bishop Peter Walpot) accomplished this work. It was the Golden Age of the brotherhood, and the Brethren probably felt that each of the many Bruderhofs in Moravia and Slovakia should have a copy of this basic work. Nevertheless, the edition must have been small since only a very few copies have come down to our time (list at end of this article). The expression "reprinted" has puzzled scholars regarding the possibility of an earlier print, but it can hardly mean this since no such print has ever been discovered. Apparently it means: first written by hand but now also printed. In modern times the book has been republished three times (1870, 1902, 1938) and also translated into English (1950), thus making the text easily available to anyone interested (list of editions at end of article).
Although the Rechenschaft is the work of but one man, it must be assumed that the brotherhood after careful study promptly approved of it as an official church document. When the Brethren in their dire predicament in 1545 sent a collective letter to the Lords of Moravia (Beck, 169-73), they enclosed a copy (apparently in manuscript) of this Rechenschaft to inform the authorities about their stand both as to doctrine and practice. The work has kept its place of pre-eminence throughout Hutterite history because of its excellence and clarity.
The Rechenschaft is divided into two unequal parts (in the English edition of 1950 of 127 and 86 pages respectively), the first part being the more important while the second is made up of seven lengthy meditations on various topics, not considered as part of the official "Account." The first part is made up of ninety articles, most of them brief. The initial group of twenty-nine articles represents an interpretation of the Apostles' Creed, followed by the articles "What faith is," "Why God created man," "What sin is," "Concerning original sin," "Concerning remorse,—repentance," "Concerning the baptism of children," and the refutation of the arguments for infant baptism. Then follow articles about the Lord's Supper, community of goods (less than 4 pages), separation from the world, etc. The first part is concluded by a set of articles concerning practical matters: government, warfare, taxation, manufacture of swords (forbidden), litigation and swearing (both forbidden), traders, innkeepers, standing drinks (all forbidden), education of the young, ban and readmission, and finally an article concerning the whole life: conduct, dress, adornment, etc.
It is impossible to give here an adequate presentation of the ideas of this comprehensive document; reference to literature at the end of this article will be of some help as well as several other articles in this Encyclopedia. That the theological emphasis is thoroughly different from that of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, is worth mentioning. The great issue of original sin (in many Anabaptist documents completely missing) is here dealt with on not more than three pages. Justification "by faith alone" is not mentioned at all, and the classical loci used by Luther for his basic doctrines are conspicuously absent. In short, Riedemann was not familiar with the Lutheran theological tradition. His sources are rather various texts from the Scriptures. Thus, for instance, baptism is called, after Titus 3:5, "the bath of rebirth"; and as for "the harm wrought by original sin" Riedemann refers back to the Old Testament locus in Ezekiel 18:20, where it is said that children shall not bear the iniquities of their fathers. "The mother of sin," however, Riedemann emphatically declares (English text, 56), "is disobedience" to the commandments of God, alluding to Romans 5:16-19. There is but one reference to Luther (English text, 35), followed by a passionate denial that the Brethren taught "work righteousness." "To this we say 'no,' for we know that all our work, in so far as it is our work, is naught but sin, but in so far as it is of Christ and done by Christ in us, so far it is truth, just and good" (English text, 36). There is nowhere an explicit theology of atonement but there is the emphasis that redemption follows repentance and inner rebirth: "fleeing from sin as from a serpent" (English text, 59). Thus "man is grafted into Christ." "We, redeemed from death through Him, might [thus] be the children of His covenant" (English text, 63) (Acts 3:17-26); indeed a "covenant of childlike freedom" (English text, 68) (Gal. 4:4). The emphasis is thus laid not so much upon justification from sin but upon sanctification of life, which is the very proof of inner rebirth and obedience, i.e., discipleship.
The church, however, of these reborn children of the "new covenant" (67) is basically a spiritual thing. "It is a lantern of righteousness" (39) in which "the light of grace is borne and held before the whole world." "Whosoever endures and suffers the work of the Spirit of Christ is a member of this church." It is the Spirit and not man who leads men to this church (39-41). This church, then, in the concrete here and now, is defined as "the fellowship of the Lord's Table" (Abendmahlsgemeinde), the assembly of the reborn ones. Such a fellowship, to be sure, is not established by the Lord's Supper, but the latter is rather an expression of this fellowship previously entered into. It is a church, as far as humanly possible, "without spot and wrinkle," and in order to achieve this end separation from the world and inner discipline are needed. This leads to all the ensuing statements concerning conduct of life and the practice of the ban ("exclusion," 131 f.). For the world "which is without" (I Cor. 5:12) no further concern is expressed, for this world will eventually be judged by God Himself.
It is obvious that a document of such inner richness could not be drawn up without some forerunners who prepared the spiritual framework in which Riedemann developed the ideas which are specifically Hutterite in character. In 1894 Johann Loserth presented the thesis that the theological framework of this Rechenschaft was taken in its entirety from the work of Balthasar Hubmaier and that therefore the Rechenschaft is not so much an original work as an adaptation of ideas developed by Hubmaier in 1525-27 and assiduously studied later by the Hutterities in Moravia. Loserth's claim was challenged by Franz Heimann in a doctoral dissertation (Vienna, 1927), in which he concludes that Riedemann borrowed from Hubmaier only in those parts which deal with the doctrines of baptism and the Lord's Supper, doctrines which are common to all Anabaptists. The assimilation of these ideas from Hubmaier does not detract from the originality and genuine spiritual eminence of Riedemann's comprehensive work. Hubmaier's most outstanding contribution to the Anabaptist vision is his very convincing discussion and refutation of the several arguments in favor of infant baptism. This discussion Riedemann takes over point by point into his Rechenschaft (English text, 70-77), according to Heimann.
Otherwise, Heimann emphasizes, in all practical and ethical items Riedemann is by and large independent of Hubmaier, rendering Loserth's theory invalid. It must not be forgotten, for instance, that Hubmaier approved the "sword," i.e., the right of the government to use force in the execution of its laws, while the Hutterites, like all evangelical Anabaptists, stood passionately for nonresistance and non-co-operation with any government.
Finally, Riedemann was not solely dependent upon Hubmaier in the shaping of his Anabaptist doctrines. He must certainly also have known the ideas of his earliest teachers such as Hans Hut, Hans Schlaffer, and Leonhard Schiemer. But no such research has as yet been undertaken. It is also possible that Riedemann was influenced in part by Ulrich Stadler, the most important doctrinal thinker of the 1530s in Moravia, but again this question has never been studied. Since Riedemann's Biblical spiritualism was shaped in the second half of the 1520s, one might think of Hans Denk as a strong influence; but this was again the general Anabaptist vision of that time. The value and genuine contribution of the author himself should not be diminished by pointing to some forerunners. Since the work was written in prison in Hesse, it is very likely that Riedemann had no reading material on hand, and his formulations must be considered as his original personal viewpoints and conceptions arising out of his own spiritual pilgrimage.
Of the original Rechenschaft edition in 1565 only a few copies are known to exist: one at the British Museum in London (sign. 3908 a8), one in the University of Chicago Library, one in the National Museum of Brno, Moravia, one at a Bruderhof in the United States (formerly at Rockport, South Dakota, but now of unknown location), one used in 1870 by Calvary but supposedly acquired by the Prussian State Library, one reported by Beck to be in the University of Breslau Library, and one at the National Library of Vienna, Austria.
The following are known—modern reprints: (1) Mittheilungen aus dem Antiquariat S. Calvary (Berlin, 1870) 254-417, reprinted from a 1565 copy; (2) A reprint from the Chicago copy as Rechenschaft unseres Glaubens, neu herausgegeben von den Brüdern in Amerika (Berne, 1902). This edition was probably edited by John Horsch, who lived in Berne at that time, and who had been in close contact with Elias Walter, the leading Hutterite elder of that period. (3) A reprint from the copy in the British Museum in 1938 by the Society of Brothers (Plough Publishing House in England); (4) an English translation, Account of our Religion, Doctrine and Faith, . . . , published by Hodder and Stoughton (London) in conjunction with the Plough Publishing House in 1950, 283 pages. The English translation is by Kathleen E. Hasenberg. In this edition the nearly 1,800 Bible references are all collected in a special appendix of nearly 38 pages (229-66).
Besides all major treatments of the Hutterites such as those by Loserth, Wolkan, Horsch, etc., see Franz Heimann, "The Hutterite Doctrine of the Church and the Common Life: A Study of Peter Riedemann's Confession of Faith of 1540," in Mennonite Quarterly Review XXVI (1952) 22-47 and 142-60 (doctoral dissertation, University of Vienna, 1927, translated by Robert Friedmann).
Friedmann, Robert. "Peter Riedemann on Original Sin and the Way of Redemption." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXVI (1952): 210-15.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 500-5.
Wiswedel, Wilhelm. "Peter Riedemann, ein Gefangener Jesu Christi." Bilder and Führergestalten aus dem Täufertum, 3 vols. Kassel: J.G. Oncken Verlag, 1928-1952: v. I, 169-94.
Cite This Article
Friedmann, Robert. "Rechenschafft unserer Religion, Leer und Glaubens." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 25 Jun 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rechenschafft_unserer_Religion,_Leer_und_Glaubens&oldid=84345.
Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Rechenschafft unserer Religion, Leer und Glaubens. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 June 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rechenschafft_unserer_Religion,_Leer_und_Glaubens&oldid=84345.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 259-261. All rights reserved.
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