Rothenfelder, Jörg Propst (16th century)
Jörg Propst Rothenfelder, (also called Jörg Maler), the compiler and copyist of the recently (1955) discovered Kunstbuch, a codex containing 42 epistles written by members of the Marpeck brotherhood, and a hitherto little-known Anabaptist leader. He became an Anabaptist in 1532 when he was baptized by Sebold Feichter in the home of George Nessler in Augsburg. Feichter's recantation on 29 March 1533 may have had a negative effect on Maler's stability. At any rate the Augsburg Straffbuch shows that on 18 September 1533, Maler also recanted and took an oath (Urfehde), after which he was expelled from the town. It is in this period that a "recantation" by Maler belongs which is now in the Augsburg Archives (III Fasc. No. 24. Manuscript Copy from Box Catalogue in Schwenckfelder Library, Pennsburg). In this statement Maler said that he would reply to the five articles submitted to him.
(1) Concerning the place of the external Word Maler cites Romans 10 and says that it refers to both the inner and the outer word; Peter's sermon at Pentecost, Philip's sermon to the Eunuch, and other passages of Scripture show that the inner and the outer word cannot be separated. (2) Concerning infant baptism, he said that under the influence of the Anabaptists he had hitherto considered it to be a human ordinance, and had allowed himself to be baptized. Since the important matter is the content of baptism, not the time, he would not quibble about it. Salvation does not depend on the external element in any case, but rather on the death of Christ. By this he did not wish to invalidate what Christ had commanded, for good deeds to friends and foes would endure. (3) Concerning the Lord's Supper, the important thing is faith. To the extent that a man believes he will partake of Christ. (4) Concerning government, Maler did not deny that a ruler could be a Christian, for after all, as one can be a father who rules his family, so also a ruler can be a Christian, as Paul wrote in I Timothy 6. (5) When asked if a Christian can swear an oath, Maler replied, "Yes, wherever it relates to the honor of God and love for the neighbor." The Christian has no law, even though he is subject to the law of God. Over perjurers stands the law of wrath. He did not understand either Christ or James as prohibiting the oath, but rather swearing by creatures as the scribes had done. He says that according to the understanding of many Anabaptists Paul must have erred (II Corinthians 2) when he called God to witness over his soul. Maler closes with a prayer that God might be merciful to the many Anabaptists who were still imprisoned in the chains of conscience.
The striking similarities between this recantation and Hans Denck's appear to indicate literary dependence. Fortunately, Maler himself explained this recantation in 1550 when the Augsburg Council questioned him about it. He told them that when he had just come to faith (1532) and was in prison, Musculus and other preachers were unable to move him. Then Bonifacius (Wolfhart), the pastor of St. Anne's Church, tricked him into signing the four or five articles by stating that they meant little since the council was divided between papists and Lutherans. Maler admitted that he had not given sufficient thought to the matter and that he had been hypocritical in not denying and opposing the letter which was read to him; therefore he had soon been found again among the Anabaptists (1535) and again asked to desist. This time he refused because his conscience would not allow him to comply. He learned then that the council did not agree with Bonifacius' presentation of the matter to him in prison. Other than that, Maler insisted he had never openly recanted.
Maler was apprehended at a large Anabaptist meeting at Augsburg on 4 April 1535, in a ravine (Grube) in Rosenau. His court records of 5 and 7 April indicate that since his earlier stay in the city he had been in Switzerland and Moravia, and was suspected of bringing a letter from there to the brotherhood at Augsburg. On 15 April he was driven out of town with a whip.
For six years following this (1535-41), Maler lived in St. Gall, and then for nearly eight years (1541-48) in Appenzell. While here he was in correspondence with Pilgram Marpeck, whom he had learned to know through his excellent work at St. Gall in getting water to a fulling mill. While in Appenzell he received a letter from Pilgram Marpeck attempting to iron out some difficulties among the Appenzell Brethren (Kunstbuch, #8, dated 1543). Maler was apparently an elder here, for he baptized two persons. He learned the trade of weaving. He left Appenzell on account of some disagreement. The Brethren there, for example, rejected the oath entirely; he thought that where it served the needs of the Brethren and contributed toward the preservation of righteousness or truth it was permissible. The Brethren rejected all bearing and use of the sword; Maler rejected only its misuse. The Brethren would not concede that one could take an unbelieving wife or one with whom one did not agree, but Maler thought this wrong in view of Paul's advice. The Brethren did not want any of their number who was a weaver to weave anything colored or bold; Maler could see no wrong in it. The Brethren felt that one should not punish or strike his wife, no matter how angry he became; Maler believed punishment of one's wife to be justified in certain cases just as a father punishes his child. Finally, the Brethren refused to report their marriages to the government, whereas Maler felt that since the government was instituted by God and had authority over adultery, it should also be informed about marriages. That Maler was nonresistant is clear from his refusal to answer the call to arms to protect Appenzell, which resulted in an order to leave the city. He arrived in Augsburg about 7 February 1548, and joined Marpeck.
When Maler was taken into custody on 23 April 1550, he was stronger in faith than he had been on his previous arrest (1533) and refused to recant. He was then imprisoned, and since a visit by the preachers in October 1551 failed to bring results, he was ordered to remain in prison until 22 April 1552. The visit of the clergy is no doubt the one described by Maler in the Kunstbuch (fol. 164), when he was sentenced to remain in prison until he recanted. But on 5 May they had spared him torture because he had a very sore leg, which had recently deteriorated, and because he was weak in constitution.
When he was summoned on 22 April 1552, the judges, out of pity for his condition, wanted to release him. On 25 April they promised to do so if he would refrain from propaganda or holding meetings, either within or without the city limits. Although such a proposition must have been a severe temptation to the sick man, he replied that he understood the proposition well, and had given it careful consideration, but because of his conscience he could not accept it, since he did not know what God desired to do with him. Otherwise, as far as temporal matters were concerned, he was happy to obey the government, even as his life has hitherto been blameless, only he must be unrestricted as far as God's Word and his faith were concerned. The council decreed that he must leave town and reenter it only upon pain of corporal punishment. On 4 July 1553, Siegmund Bosch addressed a letter of comfort to Maler, admonishing him to be patient in all tribulation (Kunstbuch, #26).
That Maler was considered a leader in the brotherhood (Kunstbuch, fol. 164, 168 f.) is indicated by references to him in the correspondence between Marpeck and the Moravian Anabaptists. Marpeck reported that he was sending Maler to them, and they replied that they were happy to have him come. Since this was written soon after Maler was released from prison, it can be assumed that he resumed his church work at once.
Besides the Kunstbuch Maler left two confessions of faith, probably written because of differences with his colleagues, and an important epistle to Ulrich Agemann. The first confession, Rechenschaft des Glaubens (Fol. 228-35b in the Kunstbuch), was written at Appenzell in 1547. It is a typical Anabaptist confession of faith in that it consists almost entirely of a series of Scriptural quotations dealing with such matters as the necessity of suffering and cross-bearing, discipleship, and the purity of the church. The margin contains many citations from the Old and New Testaments as well as the Apocrypha. There is no indication of the context within which this confession was drafted, but throughout it breathes the spirit of Anabaptism.
The second confession of faith, the Bekenntnis des Glaubens, dated 1554, is also brief (Fol. 331b-35b) and is patterned on the Apostles' Creed. The margins again are filled with references to Scripture passages; it is the concordance type of confession very common among Anabaptists. The union of his confession with the Apostles' Creed indicates also the interest of many Anabaptists in the Christian creeds. At this point they were definitely not heretics but part of the universal church. In all points this confession of Maler's is in harmony with Anabaptist theology.
The third writing by Maler in the Kunstbuch is his epistle to Ulrich Agemann, who was friendly toward the Anabaptists but never joined them. This epistle, dated at St. Gall on 15 October 1562 (Fol. 144-57), urges Agemann to make an open confession of faith, accept baptism, and become a member of the covenant community, Christ's suffering body. He begins by pointing out that the kingdom of Christ is not one of force, but one which each member has joined of his own free will. Maler's second point, stressing the importance of a clear distinction between the church and those without, leads him to discuss the nature of Christian baptism, in which he again stresses the nature of the covenant. Baptism is not for the unknowing, as practiced among those opposing Christ (the term "Widerchristen" used here was obviously a reply to the term "Wiedertäufer" and had been used by Eleutherobios in 1528), but only for those who have faith. The order (Ordnung) of Christ must be observed, and the three witnesses (spirit, water, and blood) must be kept together. Nor should one have only the inner baptism (as certain perverted spirits teach); rather, the inner faith demands an outer witness, else faith is dead. Outside the order of the Holy Spirit and of Christ there is no grace, good pleasure, or forgiveness of sin. Maler further details the order of Christ, using the same general approach found in all South German Anabaptism—Denk, Marpeck, Hut, etc. The order is derived from Mark 16 and Matt. 28 and insists that teaching must precede baptism.
Inserted after this epistle (Fol. 157) in the Kunstbuch is a discussion of the oath in reply to a question put to the author. This was likely also written by Maler, and represents a variation from the typical Anabaptist position, at least as it was expressed at Schleitheim. The position expressed is, however, in harmony with the position of Hut (in Mennonitisches Lexicon but not The Mennonite Encyclopedia), Denck, and Marpeck in the Kunstbuch. Whereas Schleitheim insisted that the asseverations of Paul were merely instances of calling God to witness, and hence not oaths, Musculus in his booklet on the oath in 1533 had argued that Paul and Christ both used the oath; hence the restrictions on the oath enjoined in the Sermon on the Mount and in James are not to be taken in an absolute sense. This argument, starting from a Biblicistic presupposition, must have had an appeal to Anabaptists like Maler. At any rate the statement in the Kunstbuch reflects the position of Musculus.
The relationship of Maler to the larger Anabaptist movement is not too clear. Along with his copying of the Kunstbuch, there are also some critical comments against Marpeck and his group, as well as positions which directly oppose the Marpeck brotherhood's position. This is true of his interpretation of II Corinthians 2, "The letter kills," which Scharnschlager and Marpeck both insisted refers only to the Old Testament. In the Kunstbuch (Fol. 152b) Maler takes the opposite position, although he does not develop it in polemical opposition to anyone. This may indicate that after Marpeck's death and Scharnschlager's removal from Augsburg, Maler developed in a direction not completely in harmony with their position.
George Maler is not to be identified with Gregory Maler of Chur; their names preclude such identification, although some reasons for their identification can be adduced.
The date of Maler's death is not known. Since the Kunstbuch (assembled in 1561) contains a letter written by Maler in 1562, it is probable that he died soon after that somewhere in Switzerland, possibly in St. Gall.
Fast, Heinold. "Pilgram Marbeck und das oberdeutsche Täufertum." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 47 1956: 212-42.
Fellmann, Walter, editor. Hans Denck, Schriften: v. II, 110.
Kitwiet, Jan J. Pilgram Marbeck; ein Führer in der Täuferbewegung. Kassel, 1957.
Meyer, Christian. "Die Anfänge des Widertäuferthums in Augsburg." Zeitschrift des Historischen Fereins für Schwaben und Neuburg I (1874): 228.
Roth, Friedrich. Augsburg Reformationsgeschichte: v. II, 411, 420, 422; v. IV, 614 ff., 640 f.
Vasella, Oskar. "Von den Anfängen der bündnerischen Täuferbewegung." Zeitschrift für Schweizerische Geschichte XIX (1939): 180 f.
Cite This Article
Klassen, William. "Rothenfelder, Jörg Propst (16th century)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 9 Aug 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rothenfelder,_J%C3%B6rg_Propst_(16th_century)&oldid=119440.
Klassen, William. (1959). Rothenfelder, Jörg Propst (16th century). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 August 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rothenfelder,_J%C3%B6rg_Propst_(16th_century)&oldid=119440.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 365-367. All rights reserved.
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