Hymnology of the Anabaptists

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Many of the early Anabaptists were hymn writers, at least 130 being identifiable by name. Among them were Felix Manz, George Blaurock, Michael Sattler, Balthasar Hubmaier, Sigmund Salminger, Jacob Dachser, and Hans Hut of the Germans, Menno Simons and Dirk Philips of the Dutch, and of the Hutterites a large number including Peter Riedemann (at least 46 of his hymns have been preserved), Paul Glock, Antony Erdforter, Offrus Griesinger, Hans Schmid or Raifer, Wolf Sailer, Hans Mändl, and Hauprecht Zapf. Many of the hymns of these writers were included in the several German and Dutch Anabaptist hymnals printed soon after the middle of the 16th century (1560, 1562, 1564, 1565), but many others circulated in manuscript form, particularly the Hutterite hymns. A captive Anabaptist of Urbach, Württemberg, in 1598 surrendered two Anabaptist hymn books, "a written one and a printed one" (TA: Württemberg, 725). Von Liliencron reports an Anabaptist codex in the Wolfenbüttel Library of ca. 1578, containing among other items 18 hymns, 8 of which he reprints (Zur Liederdichtung, 20-58). Th. Unger reports an Anabaptist hymn-codex of the 17th century in Graz, consisting of 460 folios. The Hutterite hymnal of 1914 (Die Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder) is based largely upon three codices of ca. 1600, 1650, and 1660. Just what the written hymnbook of 1598 was remains unknown, since the presence of numerous copies of the printed "Anabaptist songbook" in the Urbach area at that time is attested in the court records. (The burgomaster of Urbach bought one for his children.) Earlier (1573) at Maulbronn Mathes Binder had received a hymnbook (letter to Leonhart Reuss, TA: Württemberg, 708). This hymnbook and Menno Simons' Foundation Book were the most common (and apparently only or chief) books in the possession of captured Anabaptists around the turn of the 16th century in Wurttemberg (TA: Württemberg, passim).

Many of the early hymns were written by prisoners or martyrs. George Blaurock wrote a hymn just before his death as a martyr in 1529, in which he gives his reason for writing in the final words of the hymn, "Therefore will I sing to the praise of Thy name, and eternally proclaim the grace which appeared to me." The oldest section of the Ausbund (1564) carries a title which indicates that its hymns were "by the grace of God composed and sung at Passau in the Castle by the Swiss Brethren." This occurred in 1535-37, when Swiss Brethren returning from Moravia were imprisoned at Passau en route. Paul Glock related in a letter he wrote in prison in Hohenwittlingen to Peter Walpot in 1573 that he had composed three hymns which he was sending to Walpot for improvement, and reported, "We read and sing to the glory of God and so pass our time" (TA: Württemberg, 373). Eager to comfort and encourage the brethren at home, the prisoners and martyrs wrote spiritual songs which became a part of the hymn treasury of the brotherhood.

The unusual number of Anabaptist hymn writers and hymns suggests that these hymns were much used among the Anabaptists for private personal and family reading and singing as well as in the congregations, although of course in times of worst persecution singing was little heard because of the danger. But the Anabaptists did sing; the hymns are assigned tunes in the hymnals, they were not merely literary vehicles. In 1596 it was reported of Peter Ehrenpreis of Urbach that he had won much favor with the people by his manner of life and "with his Anabaptist songs which he is accustomed to sing in his vineyards and elsewhere" (TA: Württemberg, 687). Without doubt the hymns were also a factor in Anabaptist evangelism, both read and sung. Christian Neff says (ML II, 86), "A flood of religious songs poured over the young brotherhood like a vivifying and refreshing stream. The songs became the strongest attractive force for the brotherhood. They sang themselves into the hearts of many, clothed in popular tunes. They were mostly martyr songs, which breathed an atmosphere of readiness to die and a touching depth of faith. And those that did not report on martyr steadfastness admonished the listener to a devout faith, which was to prove itself in love. Sanctification and its demonstration in life and death is their glorious content." Von Liliencron says (pp. 4-5), "Love is the great and inexhaustible theme of their hymnody; for love is the sole distinguishing mark of the children of God .... For the brethren love is the 'chief sum' of their being .... So these hymns immerse themselves in the concept of the love which is all in all, which takes up its cross with joy, which gives everything in the service of God and the neighbor, which bears all things, and out of which flows all humility and meekness, mercy, and peace." Seldom do the Anabaptist hymns have a dominant didactic or doctrinal character, although doctrine is not absent. Sebastian Franck's characterization of Anabaptist doctrine as teaching nothing but "faith, love, and the cross" (Chronica, 1531) may well be applied to their hymns.

There is evidence that before the Production of complete hymnals some Anabaptist hymns were published as single numbers or small pamphlets. An illustration is a hymn by Hans Roger (Ausbund, No. 53), presumably an Anabaptist, which appeared in three printed editions at Augsburg in 1539, and two other hymns by the same author which appeared separately at Augsburg ca. 1550 and at Strasbourg.

Apart from manuscript collections, real Anabaptist hymnals did not appear until after the middle of the 16th century. Then five hymnals appeared at almost the same time, two German and three Dutch. The Dutch came first, one a martyr hymnal, the Lietboeken van den Offer des Heeren with 25 hymns (later enlarged), published always with Het Offer des Heeren in ten editions in 1563-99; another, a collection of spiritual songs, Veelderhande Liedekens, in six editions (1560, 1562, 1566, 1569, 1579, and 1580) with 257 hymns; the third, Een nieu Liedenboeck (1562, reprint 1582) with 289 hymns. Late in the century (1582) the noted Hans de Ries issued his Lietboeck, which had many reprints but really falls outside the Anabaptist period.

Ausbund title page, 1564

Germany also had an outspoken martyr hymnal, the Ausbund, first edition in 1564 (Etliche schöne Christliche Geseng, with 53 hymns), first full edition in 1583 with 130 hymns (later increased to 137), with a third edition in 1622 and nine additional reprints in Europe to 1838, as well as many in America beginning with 1742. It was the Swiss Brethren hymnal, and was used in Switzerland and South Germany until at least 1750-1830 in most places, until about 1900 among some of the Amish congregations in France. It is still used and reprinted by 65,000 Amish members in the United States and Canada (as of 1999). The full titles of the editions of 1564 and 1583 are as follows: Etliche schöne Christliche Gesang, wie sie in der Gefengkniss zu Passaw im Schloss von den Schweitzer Brüdern durch Gottes gnad geticht und gesungen worden (n.p., 1564), 53 hymns in 119 folios; Aussbund Etlicher schöner Christlicher Geseng, wie die in der Gefengnuss zu Passaw im Schloss von den Schweitzern, und auch von andern rechtgläubigen Christen hin und her gedicht worden. Allen und jeden Christen, welcher Religion sie auch seyen, unparteilich und fast nützlich zu brauchen (n.p., 1583), 80 hymns in 432 pp. The second part of this edition is a reprint of the 1564 book with a slightly modified title as follows: Etliche sehr schöne Christliche Gesenge, wie diesselbigen zu Passaw, von den Schweitzerbrüdern, in der Gefengnuss im Schloss, durch Gottes gnad gedicht und gesungen worden. (n.p., 1583), 51 hymns in 347 pp. The 1583 edition is the first to carry the title Ausbund, but Petrus Dathenus, the presiding officer of the Frankenthaler Gesprach of 1571, specifically mentions a "geistliches Liederbuch, der Ausbund" in the course of the debate. There may be a lost edition between 1564 and 1571, unless the term "Ausbund" was used by the Swiss Brethren to refer to the 1564 edition.

The other 16th-century German Anabaptist hymnal was Ein schön Gesangbüchlein Geistlicher Lieder zusammengetragen aus dem alten und Neuen Testament durch fromme Christen und Liebhaber Gottes welcher Hiefür etliche seind gewesen aber noch viel darzu getan welche nie in truck ausgangen. In welchem auch ein recht leben und fundament des rechten Christlichen Glaubens gelert wird. Col. 3. Lehrend und ermanendt euch selbst mit gesangen und lobgesangen und Geistlichen Liedern in der gnadt und singend dem Herrn in ewren hertzen. The first edition with 122 hymns appeared about 1564, possibly in Cologne; the second with 133 hymns was printed after 1569; the third with a somewhat changed title and 140 hymns appeared about 1590. This last edition incorporated four hymns from the Dutch Veelderhande Liedekens. It was apparently the hymnal of the Anabaptists of the Lower Rhine.

Unfortunately very few of the Anabaptist hymns carried over into the later Mennonite hymnals of Holland, Germany, and Russia. The reason for this is, at least outside of Holland, that the Mennonites of the 17th and 18th centuries, having lost much of the martyr spirit and some of the Anabaptist vision, and coming under the influence of Lutheranism and Pietism, or lacking resources and opportunities to print their own hymnals, actually used the state church hymnals of the areas where they resided, in many places for over a century. When they then began to compile and publish their own hymnals they naturally preferred to take over the hymns with which they had become familiar; they had lost touch with their own hymnological tradition. To be sure, many of the martyr hymns were too narrative in character to be suitable for worship; but the content of the Anabaptist hymnals was by no means exclusively of this type. Some Anabaptist hymns were included in the earliest German Protestant hymnals such as the hymnbook of the Bohemian Brethren by Michael Weisse (1531), and Joh. Zwick's hymnal published at Konstanz in 1536, Neu Gesangbüchle.

An outstanding early Anabaptist leader and hymn writer was Jacob Dachser, preacher and leader of the Augsburg Anabaptist congregation from February 1527, when he was baptized and installed as assistant pastor by Hans Hut, to his recantation in May 1531. A graduate of the University of Ingolstadt and a teacher in Augsburg, he composed a number of hymns as an Anabaptist preacher which were published in the Augsburg hymnal of 1529 "and are among the best in the collection" (Hege). He was either the editor or coeditor of the second edition of the Augsburg hymnal in 1532, for which he versified six Psalms. The hymnal of 1537 (Der gantz Psalter), published by Sigmund Salminger, also a former Augsburg Anabaptist, contains in addition to several of Dachser's earlier hymns a translation of 42 Psalms by him. In 1538 Dachser published all the Psalms with notes (Der gantz psalter Davids), together with an appendix of hymns for church holidays and ceremonies which he wrote. Dachser's Psalter was, to be sure, produced after his recantation, but grew out of what had been begun while he was an Anabaptist preacher.

Christian Hege has pointed out that the changing relationships of the several major groups of Anabaptists with each other can be traced through the interchange of hymns. In the early days the Swiss Brethren and the Anabaptists in Moravia had many hymns in common. Later the divergence and even opposition between the two groups is reflected in the fact that the Hutterites went their own separate way in the matter of hymns. The exchange between Dutch and Swiss-German groups found expression in their printed hymnals. The Schön Gesangbüchlein contained not only Swiss-South German hymns which also appeared in the Ausbund, but likewise translations of Dutch hymns. The 1583 Ausbund contained improved reproductions of these translated Dutch hymns, obviously taken from the Schön Gesangbüchlein. Thus the Swiss-South German Anabaptists Mennonites, through the Ausbund, received both Dutch and Hutterite influences in the 16th century and later. The Anabaptists of the Lower Rhine region, the producers of the Schön Gesangbüchlein, apparently had few hymns of their own.

The outstanding work on Anabaptist hymnology, a most thorough and scholarly treatise, is Rudolf Wolkan's Die Lieder der Wiedert¨ufer, Ein Beitrag zur deutschen und niederländischen Litteratur- und Kirchengeschichte (Berlin, 1903), 295 pp. Besides the chapters, "The oldest hymns of the Anabaptists," "The oldest hymns of the Swiss Brethren," "Dutch hymns," "Mennonite hymns in Germany," "The later hymns of the Swiss Brethren," and "The hymns of the Hutterites," the book includes a list of Anabaptist hymn writers (130 in number), a list of t he Dutch Anabaptist hymns mentioned (119 in number), and a list of all hymns of the German Anabaptists (931 in number). Wolkan attempts to give the provenance of all the hymns in the two German Anabaptist hymnals. Philipp Wackernagel's Das deutsche Lied von der ältesten Zeit bis zu Anfang des XVII. Jahrhunderts, Vol. III (Leipzig, 1870) contains a section (pp. 441-86) headed "Die Lieder der ersten Wiedertäufer," in which 45 hymns, Nos. 498-542, are reprinted with annotations. The writers of some of these hymns were not really Anabaptists, as e.g., Thomas Müntzer with ten hymns and Ludwig Haetzer with three. The remaining authors in order are Hans Hut (4), George Blaurock (2), Felix Manz, Hans Koch, and Lenhart Meister, George Wagner (2), Hans Langenmantel, Leopold Scharnschlager, Oswald Glait (9), Henslein von Bilach, Leopold Schneider, Hans Schlaffer, Annelein von Freiburg, Jörg Steinmetz, Seven Brethren (2). Wackernagel's Lieder der niederländischen Reformierten aus der Zeit der Verfolgung im 16. Jahrhundert (Beiträge zur niederländischen Hymnologie, No. 1, Frankfurt, 1867) devotes pp. 79-147 to an exact reproduction of 68 Dutch Anabaptist hymns, 46 from Veelderhande Liedekens (edition of 1569), 21 from Een nieu Liedenboeck (edition of 1562), and one from Hans de Ries' Lietboeck of 1582. On pp. 194-208 Wackernagel reproduces eleven more Dutch Anabaptist hymns, three from the 1570 edition of the Lietboecxken of Het Offer, and eight from another printed source of 1577. The introductory section reproduces in bibliographically complete form the title pages, prefaces, and conclusions of all the above books.

See also Church Music; Hymnology (1989); Hymnology of the Mennonites in the Netherlands; Hymnology of the Mennonites of West and East Prussia, Danzig, and Russia; Hymnology of the North American Mennonites; Hymnology of the Swiss, French, and South German Mennonites


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Classen, J.  P. "Taufgesinnte Liederdichter." Der Mennonit 9 (1956): 100.

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Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II.

Johnson, Franklin. "Some Hymns and Songs of the German Anabaptists." Baptist Quarterly Review 4 (1882): 370-78.

Koch, E. Geschichte des Kirchenlieds und Kirchengesangs, 3rd ed., 8 v. Stuttgart, 1866-77 with Anabaptist materials in II, 143-45, and VI, 185f.

Lilienkron, Rochus von. "Zur Liederdichtung der Wiedertäufer." In Abhandlungen der k. bayer. Akademie des W. III. Cl., Vol. 13, Part I. Munich, 1875: 1-58.

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Ramaker, A. J. "Hymns and Hymn Writers Among the Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century." Mennonite Quarterly Review 3 (1929): 93-131.

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Unger, Th. "Ueber eine Wiedertäufer-Lieder handschrift des 17. Jahrhunderts." Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft f. d. Gesch. der Protestanten in Oesterreich (1892), (1894), (1896), (1897), (1899).

Wackernagel, Philipp. Das deutsche Lied von der ältesten Zeit bis zu Anfang des XVII. Jahrhunderts, Vol. III. Leipzig, 1870.

Wackernagel, Philipp. Lieder der niederländischen Reformierten aus der Zeit der Verfolgung im 16. Jahrhundert (Beiträge zur niederländischen Hymnologie, No. 1. Frankfurt, 1867.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer, Ein Beitrag zur deutschen und niederländischen Litteratur- und Kirchengeschichte. Berlin, 1903.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Hymnology of the Anabaptists." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 9 Dec 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hymnology_of_the_Anabaptists&oldid=102285.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1956). Hymnology of the Anabaptists. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 December 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hymnology_of_the_Anabaptists&oldid=102285.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 869-872. All rights reserved.

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