Strasbourg (Alsace, France)

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Strasbourg (population in 1959, 167,149; population in 2007, 702,412) is a city in Alsace, France, at the junction of the Ill and the Breusch rivers, two miles west of the Rhine (coordinates: 48° 35′ 4″ N, 7° 44′ 55″ E). Its strategic location be­tween Switzerland and Wittenberg made it an im­portant center during the time of the Reformation, but its importance derived also from prominent leaders in the city, first of all Jacob Sturm and in the ecclesiastical realm, Bucer, Capito, and Hedio. All of these men were interested in the Anabaptists, and especially in the beginning had personal friends among them; Matthäus Zell, and after his death his widow, championed the cause of the Anabaptists. No doubt the close friendship of the Zells with Schwenckfeld contributed to their kindness to the Anabaptists.

Strasbourg was the haven of refuge for Anabaptists from Switzerland, Holland, and North and South Germany. When persecution forced them to leave Augsburg and other localities they came in large numbers to Strasbourg. The Anabap­tists called Strasbourg the "City of Hope," and the "Refuge of Righteousness."

Strasbourg responded to the Protestant Reformation as early as 1523 when Matthäus Zell expressed his views on the custom of having godfathers, and left the language of the ceremony of infant baptism as optional, either Latin or German. Through the agitation of Clemens Ziegler, a layman, who wrote pamphlets against infant baptism stressing the importance of faith (in which he was greatly indebted to Luther), Bucer wrote to Zwingli on 31 October 1524, to request Scriptural proofs to combat cer­tain false prophets, probably including Carlstadt. That he had the opponents of infant baptism in mind is doubtful, since Anabaptism did not have its real beginning until January 1525. During the same month of October Capito entered the discussion be­tween Luther and Karlstadt on the sacraments, insisting that it was merely a quarrel of words, and that the rites, being purely external, should not be a cause of division among Christians.

Capito at that early date stated the position of Strasbourg: tolerance in external matters. In No­vember 1524 Capito and Bucer wrote to the preach­ers of Zürich that they had heard that Carlstadt was agitating against the practice of infant baptism, and declared themselves prepared to retain infant bap­tism as a mere external ceremony with the condition that instruction follow it later. About the same time Nicolaus Gerbel wrote a letter to Luther warning him of Carlstadt's influence on the Strasbourg Re­formers, and on 23 November 1524, the Strasbourg Re­formers directed a letter to Luther in which they stated that they with Luther had hitherto retained the practice of infant baptism, even though it scarce­ly corresponded to the practice of the early church and to the Scriptures. In December of that year Strasbourg received communications from both Zwingli and Luther in reply to the Strasbourg state­ments about the place of infant baptism. In answer Bucer stated his position clearly for the first time, clearly discussing the issues of the ban and infant baptism. He idealized the ban and to some extent longed for it in the church, but thought it impos­sible in the present situation of the church. As for baptism, his favorite term is that it was an external thing, and hence not bound to any particular age in life. Since there are two baptisms, the inner and the outer, of which only the inner is of decisive impor­tance, one should not overstress the time of baptism. He dealt in this writing with the arguments ad­vanced by Ziegler, but most directly with those of Balthasar Hubmaier, The title of this writing, which is clearly composed by Bucer although it bears the names of all the Strasbourg preachers, is Grund vnnd vrsach ausz gotlicher schrifft der neüwerung an dem nachtmal des Herren . . . . . , tauff, . . . zu Strassburg fürgenommen (1525).

In May 1525 the Strasbourg preachers again had to take a stand on the matter of infant baptism and urged their people to place their trust in Christ alone and not in any of the ceremonies which had been done away with. Baptism they defined as a sign of faith and of entrance into the Christian life, by which the parents testify that they will train their child in a Christian manner. Parents were urged not to rush to baptism with weak infants, as though salvation consisted of external washing, and yet they were not to neglect baptism, since it had taken the place of circumcision.

In July 1525 Balthasar Hubmaier published in Strasbourg his important work, Von dem christ­lichen tauff der gläubigen. This book was the Ana­baptist reply to Zwingli's book on baptism, and while it was written in Waldshut, Hubmaier him­self says that it was published in Strasbourg.

In February 1526 the Strasbourg ministers ap­peared before the city council to indicate their posi­tion on infant baptism. The major point of con­sideration was that they did not wish to be innova­tors, and since infant baptism had always been practiced they wished this practice to continue, only that parents ought to wait until a convenient day and not rush their children to be baptized. In March an­other prominent Anabaptist, Wilhelm Reublin, arrived in Strasbourg. When Michael Sattler arrived is not certain, but it was by early 1526 if not late 1525. Hans Denk, arriving in November, had an open disputation in December 1526 with the Strasbourg ministers, as a result of which he was dismissed from Strasbourg. As far as is known this is the only open disputation ever held in Strasbourg, for later all requests for public disputations were rejected by the council. Before the close of 1526 other prominent Anabaptists arrived, for example, Jakob Gross, Jörg Tücher, and Wilhelm Echsel, all of whom engaged in conversation with Bucer about baptism. While the affinities of Capito and Bucer to Anabaptism remained, Michael Sattler at this time (1526-27) wrote a letter to them in which he listed twenty differences between him and them, and requested prayer for the imprisoned Anabaptists. Here the basic difference in the view of the church becomes clear, Sattler insisting on a believer's church and separation between the world and the church. He signed the letter as a "brother in God the heavenly Father." This close relationship is evident also from Capito's letter to the authorities at Horb in 1527 expressing his consterna­tion concerning the martyrdom of Michael Sattler.

In early July 1526 the Strasbourg preachers wrote the Getrewe Warnung der Prediger des Euangelij zu Strassburg vber die Artickel, so Jacob Kautz Prediger zu Wormbs kürtzlich hat lassen aussgohn . . . , in which the position of Denk was also at­tacked.

While these skirmishes were going on, Strasbourg as a city had not taken any official action on the is­sue of Anabaptism, and not until 27 July 1527, was the first mandate issued against the movement. This mandate indicates that the basic issue of the council against the Anabaptists was that they threatened the absolute right of government and were separatists. As a result they ordered no one to lodge or feed them. This mandate was not enforced very strictly, although in the spring of 1528 Lukas Hackfurt, Fridolin Meiger, and Pilgram Marpeck were all ar­raigned for giving shelter to the Anabaptists. Dur­ing these years the Anabaptists worked very closely with the charities of the city which were directed by Hackfurt, who himself was sympathetic to Anabap­tists. The Anabaptist group grew after 1527 because of persecution elsewhere, and their need for tem­porary material assistance was great.

For the Anabaptist group as a whole these years at Strasbourg were marked by tension. The composi­tion of the group was in constant flux and what it lacked in stability it made up in diversity. There were also those who were on the fringes of Anabap­tism, admiring it from afar but unable to bring themselves to shoulder the cross. Such were Lud­wig Haetzer, Caspar Schwenckfeld, Cellarius, and Sebastian Franck. But there were also some who had joined the Anabap­tists but could not integrate their past experience with this new view of the Christian life, and there­fore soon left the Anabaptist fold. Such were Kautz, Hans Bünderlin, and Wilhelm Reub­lin. Both Reublin and Christoph Freisleben differed, however, from Bünderlin and Kautz in that they had made lasting contributions to the Anabaptist cause, while the positions of Kautz and Bünderlin had always been rejected by the majority. Nevertheless the presence of all of these variant per­sonalities in Strasbourg, many of them remaining only a brief period, others like Melchior Hofmann remaining for an extended period of time, caused a leavening to take place which threatened the very existence of Anabaptism. This resulted in a major parting of the ways during these years, from which developed the radical eschatological group with a Valentinian view of the Incarnation represented by Hofmann on the one hand, and on the other hand the quiet spiritualism of Kautz and Bünderlin with its depreciation of historical exege­sis and forms. In the center stood what later be­came the Marpeck brotherhood in other parts of southern Europe, represented by Marpeck himself, Leupold Scharnschlager, Wilhelm Reublin, and probably Fridolin Meiger. It is significant that at this early date Scharnschlager was already opposing Hofmann's Valentinian Christology, and that effec­tive means were used to combat the arguments of spiritualism advanced by Bünderlin as seen in the Clare verantwurtung, as well as the Zwinglian arguments repeated by Bucer, which stressed the difference between inner and outer participation in the ceremonies of the church. While this central party took over the missionary emphasis of Hans Hut and the tradition left by the Tirolese martyrs (Schiemer and Schlaffer), they took over elements from Denk only with extreme selectivity.

After this period of stress and strain Marpeck was expelled from Strasbourg. His exile came about in part because the authorities concentrated their fire on the Anabaptist leadership, and after Reublin's dismissal Marpeck had become the leader of the Strasbourg Anabaptists, but in part also because Bucer exerted pressure upon the council to enforce the mandate of July 1527, which was renewed on 24 September 1530. When Capito, a friend of Marpeck's, left town on 8 December 1531, Bucer immedi­ately started proceedings against Marpeck, which resulted in his expulsion at the end of January 1532.

For the next two years Scharnschlager was the leader of the Anabaptists. Just how active the group was at this time is not clear. About a year later, when Thomas Adolf came to be baptized by Scharnschlager, his request was not granted because Scharnschlager had been requested to temporarily suspend baptisms because of some unwholesome elements in the Anabaptist fold. The discussions of the council in 1530-40 were almost entirely occupied with Claus Frey and Melchior Hofmann, who was arrested in May 1533 and died in prison there ten years later, at the end of 1543. On 3 March 1534, "Täuferherren" were installed, constituting a commission for handling Anabaptist matters. Scharnschlager was asked to leave Stras­bourg after a hearing on 27 May 1534. At this hearing mention was made of Scharnschlager's de­sire that the city council as government should not rule over one's faith and decide for the individual what he should believe. He also refused to inform on his fellow Anabaptists, and was therefore im­prisoned. On 16 June 1534, he wrote a defense of his faith, stating that since he had not yet fully ex­plicated his position to the council, he would like to develop it further. This defense, found in the Stras­bourg archives, is important for a number of rea­sons. It is one of the clearest extant testimonies to the belief of the Anabaptists that they were actually following in the footsteps of Martin Luther in a number of key points. Scharnschlager discussed Lu­ther's position on the authority of government over matters of faith at some length and insisted that this is exactly what the Anabaptists believe. If government had jurisdiction over faith, said Scharn­schlager, Strasbourg would still be under the Roman hierarchy. He stated that he was willing to submit to the council if they were questioning him as eld­ers in the place of Christ, but if they were doing it as government officials he could not allow them to judge his faith. Finally this defense is of impor­tance because it states clearly that Scharnschlager rejected the approach being used at Münster at that very time. Even if there were ten thousand Ana­baptists in Strasbourg and only five others, Scharn­schlager says that these five would not be com­pelled to become Anabaptists.

With the departure of Scharnschlager from Stras­bourg the Anabaptist movement lost one of its finest leaders. While the movement continued there, the city became more of a meeting place for the series of Strasbourg conferences than the location of a strong continuing congregation.

During this decade, however, the influence of Strasbourg was pronounced in other cities of South Germany. Augsburg had as one of its most prom­inent ministers Wolfgang Musculus, who had earlier been Bucer's secretary and who had al­ways been more tolerant than Bucer. The relations of Strasbourg to Münster have never been fully clarified, but it is becoming increasingly clear that they were intimate and far-reaching. Rothmann had spent some time in Strasbourg in 1531, and had been tremendously impressed with the way in which "Christ and Caesar" were working hand in hand. The Strasbourg clergy received a stenographic report of the disputation between Roth­mann and his colleagues in August 1533, and wrote the Bericht aus heiliger schrifft . . . (1534), a 100-page reply to the ministers at Münster. The pub­lication of this Bericht at the request of Augsburg indicates that many looked to Strasbourg for help in dealing with the Anabaptists in both the area of theology and practical suppression.

The mandate of 3 March 1534, stating that views not in accord with the Augsburg Confession would not be tolerated, and the synod of 1533 in which all were allowed to present their views to the ministers and a select group of the council, did much to weaken the Anabaptist cause in Stras­bourg. On 28 April 1535, compulsory baptism of all infants was ordered. Before this, in 1534, Kilian Aurbacher had written a moving letter from Mora­via to Bucer about the danger of compelling people in matters of faith (this letter has been preserved), but its contents were not heeded, and on 23 March 1538, the city council issued a new mandate with four harsh provisions: (1) all Anabaptists were to be banished; (2) in case of return, the offender was to be imprisoned for four weeks on a diet of bread and water, then exiled again; (3) upon a second return he should be punished by cutting off his fingers or by placing him in neck irons and brand­ing his cheek; (4) if he returned a third time, he should be executed by drowning.

On 23 November 1534, Hans Frisch, from Horb, said that there were three groups of Anabaptists in Stras­bourg, the factions of Reublin, of Hofmann, and of Kautz, the latter two being somewhat intermingled. At the end of this decade, 29 May 1539, Ruprecht Schwarz, from Mainz, reported to the Strasbourg authorities that there were a number of gatherings in Strasbourg, and said that the Hofmannites and the Swiss Brethren could not attain agreement. The Swiss Brethren, he said, numbered about 100, while the Hofmannites did not exceed five.

It has been estimated that in 1534 the number of Anabaptists in Strasbourg was about 2,000. It is certain that this number did not increase, but rather decreased, for soon the meetings took place outside the city, and the church came to be known as the "Waldskirche." Bucer expressed satisfaction that he could now rest and concentrate on winning Ana­baptists for the Reformed cause in Hesse through Peter Tasch. John Calvin, the Re­former of Geneva, who stayed at Strasbourg in 1538-41, took great pains to win over the Anabap­tists, particularly the French-speaking among them. In a few cases he was successful; one of his converts was Jean Stordeur.

On 9 April 1540, the Strasbourg Council issued the final mandate against the Anabaptists. Those refusing to take the oath were threatened with loss of life, and those sheltering Anabaptists with cor­poral punishment and loss of property. This mandate also contained the statement that from time to time large numbers of Anabaptists met in uncus­tomary places, such as out in the fields.

In later years Marpeck addressed a letter to the people around Strasbourg on the question of Chris­tian liberty, which shows that he felt that they were abusing their Christian freedom and were not tak­ing sufficient precautions to protect the weaker brother. Only he is truly free, who is free in Christ, Marpeck asserts. During that time and later the Strasbourg group was visited by Pilgram Marpeck, as is evident from a reference in one of Scharnschlager's letters to the Strasbourg Anabaptist brotherhood contained in the Kunstbuch. This let­ter is not dated, but possibly belongs in the 1540's, The circular letters No. 3 and No. 35 of the Kunstbuch, dated 1544 and 1547, were addressed to those in Alsace. The last known writing of Marpeck, dated 22 January 1555 (No. 15), was sent to a certain Abraham at Langnau in the Kinzig Valley, in which he adds the request to greet certain persons in the Leber Valley, mentioning them by name. The important leader of the Marpeck brotherhood in this area at this time was Sigmund Bosch. It appears that Marpeck served as liaison for the Moravian, the Swiss, and the Strasbourg Anabap­tists. According to court testimony of 29 May 1561, there were three groups of Anabaptists around Strasbourg then—the Bilgramites, the Gabrielites, and the Sattlerites.

An interesting testimony of the faith of the Stras­bourg Swiss Brethren is found in a lengthy tract titled Concerning the Incarnation and Deity of Jesus Christ (extant in a Dutch print of 1666), written to counter the Socinian wooing of the Strasbourg group begun in 1590 by Voydovsky and continued by Ostorodt, where particulars are given.

The importance of Strasbourg for Anabaptist his­tory consists in the issues which were resolved there; during the early years. Foremost of these were the issues of spiritualism and religious liberty. - Klassen

Strasbourg was the scene of at least six important Anabaptist Conferences, 1554, 1555, 1557, 1568, 1592, and 1607. Strasbourg was also represented at the conference in 1591 which drew up the Concept of Cologne. These conferences are described in the following article, Strasbourg Conferences. It is probable that the 16th-century congregation died out. If so, it was renewed by immigration later from other parts of Alsace. In 1796 a conference was held in the neighborhood of Strasbourg, of which little is known. Representatives from the Strasbourg congregation at the Essingen Conferences were Hans Rogi for 1759, and Chris­tian Rub for 1779. The general letter of the French Mennonite congregations of 1808 concerning military service was signed for the Strasbourg congrega­tion by Johann Rotacker and Hans Egli. Little is known about the congregation in the 19th century. It must have been small and without influence. Its meetings were held monthly, in places around the city, first at Robertsau, later at Neudorf in the home of an elder. The last known elders were Jacob Egli and his nephew Christian Egli. The latter moved to the region of Chalons-sur-Marne circa 1855; the former died in 1883. After his death the congre­gation dissolved, some moving away, while the rest joined the Reformed Church. Strangely, Strasbourg does not appear in any of the Dutch Naamlijsts or German Namensverzeichnisse or yearbooks. - Bender


Gerbert, Camill. Geschichte der Strassburger Sectenbewegung. Strassburg, 1889.

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

Hulshof, Abraham. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden te Straatsburg van 1525 tot 1557. Amsterdam, 1905.

Kreider, Robert. "The Anabaptists and the Civil Authorities of Strasbourg, 1525-1555." Church History XXIV (1955): 99-118.


Map:Strasbourg (Alsace, France)

Author(s) Klassen William
Harold S. Bender
Date Published 1959

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William, Klassen and Harold S. Bender. "Strasbourg (Alsace, France)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 14 Dec 2018.,_France)&oldid=146738.

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William, Klassen and Harold S. Bender. (1959). Strasbourg (Alsace, France). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 14 December 2018, from,_France)&oldid=146738.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 639-642. All rights reserved.

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