October 1997




John S. Oyer*

In February 1570 regional authorities in the Duchy of Württemberg finally caught up with Hans Jäger, an underground Anabaptist from Vöhringen in the Black Forest of southwestern Württemberg, and reported his religious predilection to appropriate central government authorities. It appears that Jäger had attended the local parish church and had even taken the Lord's Supper in the Lutheran form without complaint, which certainly aroused no suspicion of his real religious inclination. In 1571, however, his case broke open because a nephew by marriage, a certain Thomas Negelin, appealed to the court for the receipt of Jäger's property on the grounds that Jäger had fled to the vicinity of Worms and died there after selling most of his land and property to his nephew. Negelin wanted to receive the last remnants of Jäger's property and close out the case. The ducal authorities learned from Vöhringen inhabitants that already in 1530, forty years earlier, they had suspected that Jäger was an Anabaptist; but they could never pin the charge on him and make it stick. He always answered their questions with distinction, probably with equivocation. But he remained suspect, as they reported laconically, because "whoever refuses to swear an oath and lives a blameless (unärgerlich) life is considered an Anabaptist in the Schwartzwald and is investigated accordingly."2

Early in 1570 Jäger finally sold his landed possessions, valued at more than 2000 guilders, to his nephew Negelin, then drove two loads of spelt to the market at Tübingen. But why sell spelt at a market at least 53 kilometers distant from his home village? Surely there were markets closer at hand. Reading between the lines, one decides that Jäger intended to flee, and had gone to Tübingen ostensibly on agricultural business but in reality to deal with his relatives there and make good his escape from the Duchy of Württemberg. He told his relatives and friends in Tübingen that his unnamed illness prompted him to take some kind of cure from a doctor in the vicinity of Worms and that he would return after three months. He also hinted at marriage, probably to postpone legal action by a nephew he apparently did not trust. In 1571 word reached Negelin that Jäger had died single, and the nephew resorted to legal action to gain the remainder of an inheritance to which he felt his wife, apparently the closest surviving relative, was entitled. Ultimately the court ruled in Negelin's favor. Vöhringers who knew Jäger freely reported that he had openly joined the Anabaptists in Worms in the Palatinate. But what are we to make of Jäger's diffidence about his Anabaptist connection for so many years back home in Vöhringen?3

Jäger constitutes a type of Anabaptist frequently found in the records of the Duchy of Württemberg and in imperial cities within Württemberg's boundaries: a Nicodemite.4 He worshipped with Lutherans, apparently with no misgivings, but held resolutely to certain unmistakable Anabaptist practices: conspicuous purity of moral life and a refusal to swear oaths. He was, in short, what we will call in this essay an Anabaptist Nicodemite. Such a position must have posed a real dilemma to Anabaptists because of their minority view on the sharp separation of church and state. In sixteenth-century German territories religious conformity was assumed. To fail to conform usually meant exile or, earlier in the century, even death to offenders.

In the face of such options, how could Anabaptists respond? What should practitioners of one faith do when they lived in a state that killed or banished religious dissidents? Flee to some region whose ruler permitted one's own religion, as Luther counseled? Remain and practice one's religion secretly until caught, then accept death or exile? Or, as with the case of Nicodemites, dissemble, i.e., pretend to adhere to the religion of the majority while simultaneously worshipping secretly with adherents of the preferred religion, thereby saving their skins? More particularly, what should Anabaptists in Esslingen and surrounding Württemberg have done when compelled to conform to first Catholicism, then Lutheranism? The answer for some was to become Nicodemites.

The Genevan Reformer John Calvin defined "Nicodemism" for his generation of Reformers. By 1543 he had coined the term, inveighing against Protestants in Catholic lands who had succumbed to pressure and worshipped in Catholic churches. They should either flee to some safer haven, he said, or else stand firm against Catholicism, even if it meant their death. Above all, they should not rationalize any degree of conformity to the religion of their region.

Some Protestants, however, had begun to advocate conformity to Catholic practices and justified that behavior by the example of Nicodemus, the Pharisee who questioned Jesus under cover of darkness to avoid the appearance of supporting him.5 Calvin was only turning the term from a favorable to a pejorative meaning. Calvin first condemned Protestant priests and pastors who outwardly conformed to Catholic religious practices and worshipped in Catholic churches, and then the "protonotaries"people like Caspar Schwenckfeldwho visited the courts of Catholic princes and conversed freely with them and appeared to conform religiously. He also condemned men of letters who criticized Rome but would not join the Protestant faith community. And finally, he reproached rank-and-file Protestants living in Catholic territories who, for their economic interests, urged their pastors or priests to tone down their denunciations of Rome and even to try to avoid discussions of religious thought and doctrine.6

To late twentieth-century historians of the Reformation, the term Nicodemite has come to mean any sixteenth-century sectarian who, convinced of the truth of one religious confession, worshipped within and conformed to another, usually the different but dominant form of religion. Carlo Ginzburg, expanding on his mentor Delio Cantimori, derived Nicodemism from Otto Brunfels, the Strasbourg botanist-turned-theologian, who in 1527 put forward Nicodemus as exemplary for Protestants living under heavy Catholic censure in Catholic lands. Ginsburg projected a Nicodemite movement with a high degree of unity.7 On the other hand, Carlos M. N. Eire found Nicodemism to be much less theoretical than Ginzburg had thought, and not at all a singular unified movement. In Eire's view, Nicodemites were individuals and small groups who worked out their own pattern of religious conformity or diversity in response to the immediate religious conditions under which they lived.8 Jane Kristof described religious dissidents in Catholic Viterbo, Italy who tried to mix Protestant theology with Catholic practice. She suggested that Michelangelo may have emulated Nicodemus by carving his self-portrait in the role of Nicodemus in a Florentine Pietà; he destroyed it later, notably when Rome was punishing its Nicodemite "heretics."9 More recently Mark Furner has described Lutherans in the Catholic county of Ortenburg, Bavaria, whose Lutheran priest by the mid-eighteenth century developed a set of twelve distinct rules for his Nicodemite followers.10

Many of those Nicodemite rules for Lutherans could have been espoused and even enunciated by Württemberg Anabaptists in the second half of the sixteenth century, had they turned their hand to the task. Already in mid-1527 Anabaptism existed as a viable movement within the then Catholic Duchy of Württemberg. By the early 1530s, several of the later Nicodemites among them had made their first recantation, but it is impossible to gauge their intention. Did they expect to retract and return to Anabaptism, or did they intend to rejoin the regional church that in its Esslingen center at least was deliberately turning to a mild Lutheranism under the preaching of Ambrosius Blarer? Blarer advised the Esslingen City Council to use gentility and quiet discussion in their treatment of Anabaptists because it would be more persuasive and fruitful than the recent executions and continuing sentences of exile. He was absolutely correct on this point. The Anabaptists did indeed listen to Blarer, both to his sermons and his instruction, as he reported.11 But several decades later those Anabaptists seemed to operate under rules of Nicodemism that they might have formulated over time, although none were pried out of them by their interrogators.

One would think it easy enough to define Anabaptist Nicodemites: those who recanted, then retracted their recantation and secretly rejoined the Anabaptist fellowship, once or several times. But in Württemberg one needs also to count as Nicodemites those Anabaptists, especially in the second half of the century, who attended Lutheran worship and took communion there. For the government, participation in the Lord's Supper served to distinguish between the obedient and the religiously deviant. Yet for an Anabaptist, to attend Lutheran communion was a religious compromise.

Another way of measuring religious loyalty is by assessing the quality of an Anabaptist's religious conviction according to the quality of his or her testimony, in court or to neighbors. Although such an evaluation is subjective, it is nevertheless useful. Using this approach, one discovers that two of the three "seekers" among the 21 Anabaptist men captured in July 1562 in Esslingen Forest may actually have been more loyal, though not even baptized, than Ulrich Hauwer, one of the steadfast Anabaptists who never recanted. These two seekers were steadfast and sure, even testy, compared with the relaxed, laid-back, almost irresolute Hauwer.

Thus, one pattern of calibrating Anabaptists on some spectrum of relative faithfulness takes its data from several arrests and trials, interspersed with evidence that the particular Anabaptist had retracted and rejoined fellow believers. It measures their lives longitudinally rather than evaluating them merely on the basis of some singular appearance in court. The second pattern or method assesses the quality of a particular Anabaptist's confession in court, measuring that confession against well known views and practices of Anabaptists enunciated by many of them and accepted by the community of scholars. Surely some combination of these two methods is to be preferred, if one can find enough data.

To be sure, these lines of distinction between the Nicodemites and the steadfast are fine. Still, one who reads all of the testimony becomes convinced that there are distinctions to be made: some Anabaptists were clearly more steadfast, others less so; still others compromised a great deal. The following stories illustrate different positions, but there were many other way-stations between them.

These stories are about Anabaptists in the Duchy of Württemberg and those imperial cities such as Esslingen surrounded by Württemberg lands. To be sure, some Anabaptists in other principalities and regions also recanted and then sought reinstatement with their erstwhile religious bedfellows. Linda Huebert Hecht describes the conditions for recantation for some of the 50 women who recanted in the Tirol after 1527.12 Werner Packull tells the story of Niclas and Anna (Troyer) Niderhofer of Tirol, who recanted, then retracted and rejoined the Anabaptists, then fled to Moravia and forfeited the 200 gulden bondall over a 12-year span of time.13 I have earlier told the story of Fritz Erbe of County Hausbreitenbach in Central Germany, who recanted once to Philip of Hesse, retracted and rejoined the Anabaptists, and after his second arrest received in effect a life prison sentence. He lay imprisoned for 16 years, first in a tower of the Eisenach city wall, then in the Wartburg itself because Anabaptists had been able to commune with him at night in the Eisenach tower. To neighboring Anabaptists, he was the supreme example of steadfastness.14 There are many more cases of Anabaptist Nicodemites. But the Duchy of Württemberg probably had the highest percentage of Anabaptist Nicodemites, second only to some of the imperial cities, all because these regions had governments less inclined to kill, more inclined to show mercy and especially eager to induce recantation by careful religious instruction.15



On July 5, 1562 twenty-eight Anabaptists were caught at worship in a ravine near the Katzenbühl fortress outside Esslingen. The seven women among them were summarily released without trial. Esslingen chronicler Dionysius Dreytwein reported that the police told the women, who were not forced to join the train marching to prison, that they had no mandate to handle the women.16 Probably the women were toldperhaps even required to promiseto remain outside Esslingen territory. We know the names of two of them only because they were caught later in other places and reported their presence at this meeting.17 The state authorities sent a Doctor Krauss and Hipolytus Rösch to interrogate the 21 men, then posted inquiries to their home villages requesting reports about them. We have therefore more than an average amount of information about these prisoners, though still not as much as we want.

The Anabaptists had gathered from far and near. Two were from Esslingen city or from its Etter, the cluster of agricultural villages under the jurisdiction of the imperial city. Six lived some 7 to 10 kilometers distant within the Württemberg court jurisdiction of Cannstatt (including 5 from one village, Fellbach), north and slightly west of Esslingen, all six living within no more than 3 kilometers of each other. Four lived north of Esslingen, in the court jurisdiction of Waiblingen, from 10 to 15 kilometers distant from their Esslingen venue but within 3 of each other. Eight lived east and slightly north of Esslingen within Schorndorf's jurisdiction, from 8 to 25 kilometers distant from Esslingen Forest; four of these lived within 3 kilometers of each other. Finally, one came from the village of Langensteinbach in the margraviate of Baden to the west of Württemberg, about 65 kilometers from Esslingen.

Nothing in their testimonies suggested that the meeting on July 5 had any special significance; it appeared to have been a normal Anabaptist meeting. One is therefore surprised at the distances these people traveled for a common Anabaptist worship service; obviously the Anabaptists had developed a complex network of Anabaptist informers, including announcers of meetings. Most of these Anabaptists refused to comment about specific links in that network. One of them, Sebastian Weber, did report that another Anabaptist, Hans Gep, had told him about the meeting, although Gep himself did not then appear at it. Obviously Weber could report Gep as a network functionary because he was not in the hands of the law and presumably could flee if the authorities pursued him. In such manner Anabaptists protected each other. One notices also that these 21 refused to divulge who would have made the initial decision to call the meeting.18 Scholars have known that Anabaptists traveled 4 or 5 kilometers, perhaps as many as 8, to attend an ordinary meeting.19 That some of these men traveled 25 kilometers merely to attend a regular meeting says something important about their own dedication to the movement, which is all the more significant since so many of these men were Nicodemites by the Reformation-era definition of the term.

The Esslingen 21 were asked repeatedly who their leader was. They always insisted they had none, no Vorsteher at all. Scraps of evidence suggest that Lienhart Sommer and Lienhart Brelin (the latter not yet baptized) did "read" to them, a term that implied making some interpretive, exegetical comments beyond the reading of scripture, and perhaps some words of admonition as well.20 Klaus Rebstock also reported that they "spoke to each other," presumably meaning that they instructed each other; he added that Sebastian Weber taught them but was not their leader. One of the 21 piously suggested that they hoped God was their leader, which was more subterfuge than definitive answer to the question.21 Lienhart Sommer himself reported that when they met they spoke out, each as he was led: when one had something to say that contributed to the edification of the others, he spoke. Was this a meeting run by round-table discussion rules?22
Perhaps they had cultivated the art of meeting without an ordained leader ever since their most recent one, Jörg Werner (often named Scherer), a surgeon, had died in 1559.23 Leaders required special protection, since government authorities were always trying to find them. Werner had baptized a number of these men, had been protected by one of the local nobles, Hans Konrad Thumb of Neuburg, and undoubtedly called meetings for Anabaptists in this region while he still lived. But their adamant insistence that they had no leader at the timeor that, more specifically, "yesterday" when they met they had no leader24 has to mean at the very least that there was no one who they felt was authorized to baptize any converts. That was a sensitive point because two of the three seekers among them, not yet full-fledged Anabaptists, seemed close to deciding to submit to believers' baptism. In any event, these men were carrying on without an ordained leader ever since the death of Werner; they had not yet chosen a successor.25

The Esslingen 21 comprised a mixture of (1) steadfast Anabaptists for whom there is no surviving record of recantation; (2) recanters who must have retracted their recantations and been readmitted to the Anabaptist fellowship; and (3) a group of seekers, men and women curious about Anabaptist teachings and worship who had not yet joined.

Surviving records reveal that eight men fell within the category of the steadfast.26 The recanters included two men who had recanted several times; seven who had recanted once, then retracted and did not recant again; and one who was steadfast in several court appearances, then recanted near the end of his life: a total of ten men. Three men were seekers. All of the men in each of these three categories of Anabaptists seemed to accept the others as brothers in the faith without complaint; they obviously felt that they belonged together, Nicodemites and steadfast Anabaptists apparently joined in harmonious worship with one another, embracing a few potential proselytes as well.

When one combines data about their geographical locations with those data touching the quality of their religious resolve, one discovers members of all categories spread equidistant, both near and far from Esslingen, except that two of the three seekers were from Esslingen itself (none of the steadfast or the Nicodemites was from Esslingen). Otherwise, no geographical region produced more or fewer of either the uncompromising or the Nicodemites. Each region from which these 21 came had Anabaptists in both categories; that is, neither Nicodemites nor the uncompromising were clustered singularly in contiguous villages.

The sources do not mention a clear sentence imposed on the 21. Chronicler Dreytwein reported that they had all been banished for life and that several of them would not swear to obey that sentence and were consequently imprisoned. He provided no more detail.27 Dreytwein was intensely pro-Anabaptist in his descriptions and may therefore have exaggerated the severity of the sentence. One wants some kind of additional evidence. It is clear that, in general, Esslingen wanted the Anabaptists to leave their territory and promise never to return, but showed no interest in punishing them or in inducing them to recant.

We do, however, have clear evidence on treatment for six of the 21. We know that Jörg Schnaitmann, for example, was clearly banished, because in August 1562 he lodged a formal plea with the mayor of Esslingen to permit him to return to the city. He wanted (1) to engage in normal business with four Esslingers who were not Anabaptists (he was a vinedresser, perhaps therefore also a vintner who merchandized); and he wanted (2) to defend his religious position publicly.28 The latter is one of very few requests of that nature, because most governments had notoriously tin ears for such appeals. Schnaitmann was bolder than most Württemberg Anabaptists of his generation. Another four of the 21 were required to promise to leave Esslingen; they signed nothing because Esslingen took their oral pledge at face value. But the sixth Anabaptist for whom we have unequivocal evidence of treatment, Hans Kügelin, was not banished. At age 73 he was considered too old to warrant more than a small fine. Probably all of them had to promise in some manner, with or without oath, to remain outside the city for life, but we cannot know for certain.

We should examine more closely the lives of several men to illustrate each position.

The Steadfast

Esslingen released several of the staunchest Anabaptists, genuine diehards, with at the most only a verbal promise to leave Esslingen's territory, unaccompanied by any kind of oath. The authorities noted that these Anabaptists had been told that if they returned to Esslingen they would be treated as perjurers, who were normally punished by cutting off the first two fingers of the right hand.29 Two Anabaptists who illustrate this conditionKlaus Rebstock and Bernhart Löplewere released (together with two Nicodemites) on July 23, only 18 days after their capture. For each one, Esslingen received a report from an official in the jurisdictional district where each lived. Strikingly, both men were married to women who refused to join the movement.

Bernhart Löple of Öffingen near Cannstatt was first reported to be an Anabaptist by fellow believer Moritz Weber in July 1539.30 Later Löple reported that he was the father of twenty-six children, all of whom, in addition to his wife, were of the same religious persuasion "as, unfortunately, the entire world [i.e., Lutheran]."31 He had been caught the previous year, imprisoned lightly in Waiblingen, had broken out of prison, shed his clothes and swam the Rems River naked, then lived from hand to mouth away from his own home until he was recaptured in the Esslingen Forest at worship with others. The Waiblingen bailiff reported that Löple carried a rope and a mason's hammer with him into jail; he later used these instruments in one of the few Anabaptist jailbreaks that we know anything about. Apparently the jailer was kind enough not to examine him carefully because Löple was well along in years and thought to be harmless. After late July 1562 Löple dropped from the records. He probably reverted to the furtive existence of 1561 before his second arrest and lived that way until his death.32

Under pressure against Anabaptists, Klaus Rebstock left his village of Fellbach in 1558 and took refuge in the castle of a propertied noble, Hans von Stammheim, and became his cellarer. Perhaps he had been a vinedresser, as his family name would indicate; the sources do not tell us. The Stammheim lands lay about 6 kilometers north of Stuttgart. Von Stammheim eventually gave him free rein, and Rebstock could call meetings of Anabaptists in that castle when its lord was absent. Both Rebstock's testimony in court and the reports of Cannstatt bailiffs make it clear that von Stammheim knew these meetings were taking place. Here was one of several Württemberg nobles who protected people they knew to be Anabaptists. In 1600 Rebstock still lived under these conditions; by 1604 he had died; and over the last several decades of his life he led the Anabaptists of his region.33 One suspects that he may even have been a reader at the July 5, 1562 meeting in Esslingen Forest, though no one recorded this fact.

To his Esslingen captors, Rebstock reported that he thought Lutheranism began well enough (introduced gradually when Duke Ulrich returned to power in 1535), but then for the past 20 years had deteriorated, particularly in its use of force for religious purposes. Hence in 1558 he made his way to the Anabaptists, thereby illustrating an archetypical route for Württemberg Anabaptists in mid-century. Late in the century church visitors reported that as a widower Rebstock had married a second time, a younger Anabaptist woman, and that she bore him two children.34 Probably she was the Apollonia Rebstock whom a church visitor in 1621 reported living in Fellbach, Rebstock's old home village.35 He died a man of property worth 759 guilders, which would have given him a lower-middle class economic status.

Rebstock bore some sense of responsibility for evangelical outreach. He induced his stepson, Hans Wagner of Fellbach, to join the Anabaptists.36 Rebstock was reported to have helped other Anabaptists when they were harried.37 Protected by a local lord so that he could practice his faith virtually unhindered, he became a man faithful to his Anabaptist calling until his own death.

The Nicodemites

Sebastian Weber is one of the better examples of a Nicodemite. Born in Waldstetten near Schwäbisch-Gmünd, a student at Württemberg's university, Tübingen, and one of few Anabaptists who had earned a de gree, probably the bachelor of arts, in 1542 he turned up in his wife's native village, Beutelsbach, District of Schorndorf about 15 kilometers north of Esslingen. He was baptized in 1542 in Heinbach by Esslingen. Arrested in Tübingen in 1544 and charged with Anabaptist heresy, he recanted and swore the standard court-shaped oath, promising not to retract, not to seek vengeance for his treatment, etc. He broke that oath so quickly that we can only surmise that he never intended to keep it. In 1545 he was caught and tried in Schwäbisch-Hall where he promised to obey but did not perform the Urfehde (oath to take no vengeance).38 Arrested next in 1562 in the Esslingen Forest, he was freed, then imprisoned three years later in Schorndorf. In 1570 a church visitor covering Beutelsbach and neighboring villages reported that he had fled to Moravia. In 1577 the last word on him came from a church visitor who reported that Anabaptists in Grossheppach, a village not far from Beutelsbach, sheltered him. Here was an Anabaptist who made a career of dodging the authorities, fobbing them off with promises to obey with apparently no intention of keeping those promises. For 35 years, perhaps more, he kept the authorities largely at bay. But he stayed too close to home to succeed entirely. He complained that they hounded him closely enough so that he was not free to visit his wife in Beutelsbach.

Of all of the 21, Weber provided one of the most solidly Anabaptist confessions. He left the Catholic church of his own will, staying with the Lutherans until, in his opinion, they degenerated into petty and major immoralities. He sarcastically commented that if one only looks out the window, one can see how well rank-and-file Lutherans improve their lives. He must have given up on Lutheranism only seven years after it became the religion of Württemberg. He insisted that good works were necessary for salvation and condemned the oath for any purpose whatsoever, despite the fact that he had sworn it in court. Or, did his "swearing" consist only of a "yes," which the court itself decided was tantamount to an oath, subject to standard penalties for perjuring it? There were other Anabaptists in Württemberg who held that view and were upheld in it by their courts. He could not abide what he called the tippling, idle cursing and gluttony of Lutherans, especially of their preachers. He was dedicated in his devotion to the correct order for faith and baptism, and thereby to believers' baptism. His literacy and mental skill turned him into a lay teacher. He appears to us as a standard Anabaptist on points of faith and practice, and steadfast to the end in his faithexcept for numerous promises and even oaths to renounce it, on which he routinely reneged.39 This pattern of promise then disavowal, together with sturdy justifications of Anabaptism in court, marked him as a type of Anabaptist rarely found in other lands.40 Yet it was not atypical in Württemberg, especially by mid-century.

Hans Kügelin is another example of an Anabaptist Nicodemite. In October 1533 Kügelin had recanted, saying that his youthfulness led him into the error of the Anabaptist way, and his relatives posted bond that he would remain religiously clean.41 In the final years of the Hapsburg hegemony before Duke Ulrich returned to his duchy, recanta tion statements were always written by the court, and did not reflect with any accuracy the intention of the Anabaptist. Kügelin's own testimony at his second imprisonment, in 1562, was too strongly Anabaptist and too anti-Lutheran to take seriously his earlier recantation; he excoriated the Lutherans for the standard Anabaptist reasontheir incessant moral lapses. Yet Kügelin had indeed recanted. The Esslingen government thought him too old at 73 to banish, or to punish at all beyond paying a small fine; he even gained the right from court to use the public bath at least four times a year.42

What marks most of the Nicodemites was their artful dodge. They hid out, even close to home. Some of them pretended to be faithful parishioners by attending services in Lutheran churches and even taking communionbut only if they had to. Above all, they recanted in some degree, some of them more than once, and then they retracted in their own ways and returned to the Anabaptists. In July 1562 they were caught once more and run through legal and religious interrogation, revealing and confessing as little as they could, shielding other Anabaptists and also their own families. Esslingen, which wanted them out of town permanently, apparently banished most of them and tried to extract an oath from each one to honor that exile. Did they obey? Probably not. What good reason is there to believe that these Anabaptists perceived Esslingen's action as any different from prior apprehensions and punishments? Why should Anabaptists suddenly decide to obey this injunction when they had cheerfully disregarded prior penalties of equal severity against them? Indeed, extant sources tell us that at least two of the ten, plus the wife of a third one,43 were apprehended or reported later as still practicing their Anabaptist faith.

The Seekers

Three of the 21 had not been baptized and therefore legally did not come under the punishment dealt out to Anabaptists. Two of them would have been regarded as potential converts, close to the Anabaptist position. Lienhart Brelin of Heinbach breathed fire against the Lutherans, critical of them because their faith produced no moral fruit. On the grounds that he was not morally fit, he had declined to be rebaptized; he proposed that he would submit only when he matured with age. He declared that he would give two heads, if he had them, to Christsuch was his dedication.44 His unnamed Anabaptist sister was one of the 7 caught at the July meeting but then released without trial.45 It was common enough for Anabaptists to have in their regular meetings a cluster of people who were dissatisfied with the religion around them and were looking for something better, including the Anabaptist religious option.



From 1562 into the next century a Greiner family in Walkersbach, Schorndorf District, some 30 kilometers east of Stuttgart, practiced Nicodemite Anabaptism, having been led into it by the family patriarch, Blasius. He first attracted court notice as an iconoclast, being one of several men who destroyed a forest chapel in 1548. By 1567 the authorities were labeling him an Anabaptist of five years' standing, and they began a long struggle with him and his family. Arrested and imprisoned several times, he had been carried bodily to attend church in a former Cistercian monastery (Maulbronn) that had been turned into a prison for him. He escaped that prison by cutting the iron bars to his cell.46 Later he would recant, then always return to his Anabaptist ways. After 1571 his recantation was used by the state as a formulaic model for other Anabaptists whom the authorities induced to recant formally in church.47 He always retracted in some manner, unreported in its detail, and returned to his Anabaptist fellow believers. He was dead by 1572, though no extant source reports the year of his death.48

He and his relatives and descendants were master glassmakers who owned a glassworks in the forest hamlet of Walkersbach. Other branches of the family established glassworks in Lauscha near Meiningen and in Langenbach near Schleusingen, then another one in Bohemia.49 The authorities were aware of the economic benefit of their work and seemed reluctant to pursue these Anabaptists until, apparently, the movement became too large and its members too audacious.

Blasius and his second wife Sophie were Anabaptists. So were his three sons and their wivesMelchior and Elisabeth; Jakob and Margarete (and his second wife Veronica); Georg and Klara and their son Endrisand his daughter Marie Schmid. His nephew Hans and Hans's wife Anna also joined, as did their daughters Apollonia and Katharina. Two unnamed maidservants of Jakob joined.50 Six additional Anabaptist Greiners at Walkersbach had blood ties that cannot be traced. Hence the Anabaptist Greiner family constituted at least 21 members plus two servants.51

Within this vibrant clan the most energetically Anabaptist were Blasius' son Melchior, a major leader for fifteen years; Blasius' colorful second wife Sophie; and his daughter Marie. Melchior was banished for life and lived covertly within the region, though close enough to visit his family and conduct Anabaptist worship servicesa style of life not uncommon among Württemberg Anabaptists. He had reacted sharply against his local Lutheran pastor, who called the Anabaptists devils; this gave him a credible excuse for not attending services. He "read" at Anabaptist services and was reported to have preached conversion to others. Toward the end of his life Moravian Anabaptists sent greetings to this Anabaptist leader back home.52

The authorities contemptuously referred to Sophie as Blasius' prostitute; actually, she married him in the Anabaptist manner, which was not recognized as valid by the government. His children by his first wife always supported her, which they probably would not have done if she had really been a prostitute. After Blasius died she married a second time, a certain Nickolaus Greck, whom she grew to dislike and apparently abandoned. He was not an Anabaptist. Usually the authorities could not find her, nor could they induce her to obey their orders to attend church and communion when they did catch up with her. She was adamant, unmovable in her faith.53

Marie married a Hans Schmid of Grossheppach (some 20 kilometers west of Walkersbach), persistently refused to obey even her 1569 sentence of exile, and eventually was imprisoned for an unspecified time. Her veterinarian husband Hans joined, recanted, but continued to read "Anabaptist" books to her. Like her brother Melchior, she hid with friends and acquaintainces in the villages around Grossheppach to avoid imprisonment. Usually she was not pestered heavilymerely asked to attend church and the Lord's Supper, which she resolutely refused to do.54

Some members of this family seemed Schwenckfeldian as much as Anabaptist, although the authorities always classified them as the latter. Jakob was reported to own Schwenckfeld books, but also Menno Simons' "book," obviously the 1575 German translation of Menno's Foundation of the Christian Faith. Indeed, Jakob and his preacher brother Melchior occasionally attended Lutheran church but read Schwenckfeld and Mennonite books during the service.55

Here were seventeen known members (or servants) of the family, plus six additional Greiners who probably were blood kin, covering three generations from 1562 to 1615. There must have been more like them because we know too many instances of Anabaptists for whom no court or civil records have survived; surely some unreported Greiners fell among those more or less anonymous Anabaptists.

Defiance, compliance: this family managed a delicate balance between the two. Blasius had recanted in full, then retracted, promised and retracted.56 Georg made a full recantation, then retracted as his father had done.57 Four58 promised something, usually to attend church and communion, and did neither. Eight59 seem to have refused even that minimal promise. For the remaining three, no records survive to tell us whether or not they promised or obeyed. Georg's second wife, Veronica, had her children baptized. But the Greiners were a family who embraced Anabaptism with enthusiasm and survived by whatever means seemed appropriate: recantation, promise to obey the state church, no promise at all. Obviously they believed with full integrity that they were Anabaptists. In 1598 we learn from two Anabaptists of Urbach, several kilometers from Walkersbach, that they considered the Greiners, especially Blasius, to have been the founders and leaders of the Anabaptists in that region.60


Jakob Bientzli of Möhringen, today a suburb at the eastern edge of Esslingen and renamed Oberesslingen, was Nicodemite from the earliest records about him. On July 18, 1559 he and his unnamed daughter were interrogated by preachers Martin Rauber and Bonaventura, who probed their Anabaptist or Schwenckfeld faith. The record was written out as if Bientzli answered each question entirely on his own without any comment from his daughter. Bientzli thought infants were better left unbaptized, though he had had his own children baptizedperhaps before he had become an Anabaptist, though the matter remains unclear in the records. He espoused the standard Anabaptist view that children fell within the Kingdom without baptism, and that baptism ought to be administered only when people were old enough to understand their own sin and God's forgiveness of it. He was orthodox on the Word of God as salvific, without elaborating on his interlocutors' Lutheran casting of the issue. So why did he not attend church? Bientzli fumbled, saying he had gone once or twice but was not always able to attend, although he did not say what prevented him.

On the issue of government and the oath he appeared to be Anabaptist enough: of course government was ordained by God to curb sin and keep order. And, yes, oaths could be sworn. But there stood that powerful command of Christ to swear neither by heaven nor by earth. Bientzli seemed always to waver, to try to placate his evaluators, but when pressed he held to the normal Anabaptist view. He was staunchest on the Lord's Supper, declaring unequivocally that he could not participate with communicants who were open sinners, that is, blasphemers, payers of tithes, tipplers, etc. Indeed, the entire congregation (Lutheran of Möhringen) lacked brotherly love and practiced no discipline of members. He would not therefore commune with them.61

His position as leader of the Anabaptists of Möhringen was more sharply drawn by Möhringen's parish priest Johannes Dold, who scolded the Esslingen government bitterly for their intolerable inaction. Anabaptists were increasing in number, taking over the village; half of its members had converted, though Dold's own count of them reached only 32. Leader Bientzli was full of contempt for Dold and bruited it about that no power on earth would induce him ever to hear Dold's preaching. Dold complained that Esslingen permitted the Anabaptists' originator, Martin Scheffer, to go free; and that others such as Bientzli's daughter boasted that they would flee rather than ever submit to Dold.62 In 1563 when the government rounded up witnesses to testify about specific Anabaptists in Möhringen, clearly the problem was partly one of personality. Some of Dold's own parishioners did not like him. One testified that Dold "overloaded himself with wine, used inappropriate speech,"63 and was a poor model for his parishioners. But all the witnesses singled out Bientzli as leader of the Anabaptists, and some reported that the Anabaptists regularly met in his house at his invitation and calling.64 Some of those witnesses were coy, refusing to recognize any of Möhringen's inhabitants as Anabaptist and identifying as Anabaptist only those who had fled to Moraviafar enough to be beyond the arm of Esslingen law. Anabaptists often got that kind of unsolicited support from rank-and-file neighbors who were not minded to tattle.65 Bientzli's brother, Michel, was mayor of this small village and used his office to help Jakob.

Imprisoned for an unspecified time in 1562, Bientzli was again arrested and questioned in 1571 by the Esslingen Council. Although he seems never to have been asked to make a formal recantation, he appeared to recant on almost every point except that he could not quite stomach the notion of accepting the Lord's Supper from the local pastor. Dold was not mentioned, perhaps he was no longer in office. Bientzli did take communion in Stuttgart, obviously from Lutherans, perhaps as a sop. Surely that was only a means of ducking the issue of taking communion closer home, in Esslingen or even Möhringen. Threatened with exile, he winced and backtracked. For twelve years he had been a constant thorn in the side of the regular Lutheran congregation in Möhringen. Did he finally yield? Or was he banished? We do not know for certain.66

Here was an Anabaptist leader who tried desperately for twelve years to shape his religious course to fit the requirements of a peaceable life in Esslingen and did not quite succeed. He cringed at the prospect of life in exile. He begged to be allowed to remain in Esslingen in order to support his wife and children, about whom we otherwise know nothing except that an adult daughter was Anabaptist.67 Perhaps he gave in enough to enable him to stay. But did he really obey? Or did he practice his Anabaptism more clandestinely? He appears to have been too strongly Anabaptist to give in completely.


Most scholars of the Anabaptists have found them steadfast to the point of martyrdom. Indeed, their emphasis on loyalty to God and the community of faith seems one of their most common identifying features. Anabaptists qua Anabaptists were steadfast, or they ceased to be Anabaptist and turned to some other religious option. Yet this view does not accurately describe or explain Württemberg's Anabaptists in the second half of the sixteenth century and on into the next century. These Anabaptists did indeed look for accommodation with the larger society, and that inevitably led them to some degree of religious compromise. All the while they continued to regard themselves as fully Anabaptist.

Still, Anabaptists generally protested apostasy in their ranks. Here we will cite a number of lesser known Anabaptist voices. One of the most extreme was Jörg Schreier in February 1532 in Esslingen, condemning any recantation as an irremedial sin, never to be forgiven, however confessed and repented. He "damned guildmaster Lutz and said: whoever fell away from the Kingdom of God could never be regained." He was provoked beyond his limit by Leonhard Lutz, former leader of the Esslingen Anabaptists, who recanted, then tried to induce Anabaptists at subsequent government hearings to join his party.68 Lutz's behavior must have chafed other Anabaptists like Schreier.

One of the earliest expressions of complete rejection of recantation was that of Augsburg Anabaptist Caspar Schlosser, who reported that his mentors told the Augsburg Anabaptists in 1527 that "if they are weak in faith and recant, it would be better if a stone had been hung around their necks [and they were] laid out in deep water."69

In one of his Passau hymns, Württemberger Michael Schneider begged God to sustain him and his own and protect them from recantation. Their Passau captors, especially Archdean Ruprecht von Mosham, pressed them unmercifully to recant, promising them release from jail and restoration of their spouses and property.70 Poet Schneider spurned the inducements to recant; prisoner Schneider ultimately broke down and recanted. Schneider and his Philippite fellow believers in that Passau prison ultimately made their way back to the northwestern corner of the Duchy of Württemberg, probably settling around Bruchsal, from which there was a heavy exchange of Anabaptists with Moravia.71 One suspects that Schneider later retracted, but there is no extant evidence to demonstrate it.72

The Hutterian Brethren consistently opposed recantation. Their missionaries caught in Württemberg did not recant, at least according to the accounts printed in the Chronicle. Indeed, using the Württemberg archival records, there is little evidence that those missionaries were caught, with a few exceptions like Paul Glock. It is conceivable that some Hutterite missionaries were caught and forced to recant, and that the Hutterites would not accept them back nor record their deeds in the Chronicle.73 Although Paul Glock and Württemberg Anabaptist Leonhard Sommer did not discuss the issue in their lengthy debate, recantation might have been one of the bones of contention between Hutterites and other Württemberg Anabaptists, with the former rejecting and the latter accepting retracted recanters.

Late in the century in Poland, Peter Schomann, Polish Brother, in his Catechesis of 1574 reported that apostasy was a sin grievous enough to warrant excommunication.74

I have not cited Menno or Dirk or Peter Riedemann or other Anabaptist writers who are more freqently quoted. There are enough Anabaptist voices raised in opposition to recanters to mark acceptance of them as something striking and unusual, until late in the century when it became more common.


Invalidity of Oaths Sworn under Duress

Perhaps the Württemberg Anabaptists regarded oaths or solemn promises taken under duress as invalid. An older medieval attitude suggested that an oath taken under duress had no morally binding power, and perhaps also no legal power. This is also the view of the Talmud. Perhaps Anabaptists did swear their oaths or make lesser, simple promises with that moral reservation. However, none of them tell us that.

Associations with Schwenckfelders

Perhaps Württemberg Anabaptists were influenced toward Nicodemism by their associations, sometimes close, with Schwenckfelders. The fact of association is clear, especially in the second half of the sixteenth century. Anabaptists were reported to own Schwenckfeld books as well as those by Anabaptist authors. Some Anabaptists had been Schwenckfelders. Others left Anabaptism for that Spiritualist persuasion. The two groups seem to have carried on a fairly constant interchange despite the sharp disputes between Schwenckfeld and southwestern German Anabaptists such as Pilgram Marpeck, disputes that emphasized religious differences rather than similarities.

Schwenckfeld counseled legal denial, then private resumption of one's proper Christian calling without remorse or twinge of conscience. Perhaps one illustration will suffice. In 1546 Schwenckfelder Endris Neff, bookseller and also teacher of sorts, had been imprisoned for his activities, then released, in Cannstatt just east of Stuttgart. He had been pressed to quit teaching and probably made some promise that he would quit. On January 25, 1546 Schwenckfeld himself wrote to Endris' wife Margreth to counsel her, and presumably him. He said that of course one must teach or speak with friends and others about Christ from the scriptures, irrespective of what the authorities required or prohibited or what one may have promised them under oath. Anti-Christian people always tried to drive true Christians from their nur ture, and they must not succeed.75

The counsel was clear: promise what you will even under oath, but live out your Christian life as if no promises had been made, without any pangs of conscience. That counsel seems to parallel Anabaptist views on the right of government, or any private party, to own and govern any territory sufficiently to prohibit Christians of any kind from dwelling in that segment of God's earth. Repeatedly, Anabaptists denied governments the authority under God to banish them from any segment of God's earthfrequently citing Psalms 24:1, "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof"so they did not heed sentences of exile and remained in place, living furtively against recapture, despite having sworn to heed the sentences. Württemberg provides many examples of that form of annulling the effects of oaths.

Did the Anabaptists of Württemberg learn this view from Schwenckfeld, then practice it? If Anabaptists followed the Schwenckfeld counsel, they did not comment on it.

Coexisting with the Dominant Culture

Simply put, Nicodemism was a means of making one's peace with the dominant surrounding culture. In the final analysis, I think that it was this factor that induced Anabaptists both to recant and also to forswear their oaths, retract recantations and rejoin their brothers and sisters. Sixteenth-century Anabaptists faced intolerable pressure to give in. Many who refused were killed or banished or took flight on their own. Many others surrendered in various degrees, and some of these in turn lived out a life between total submission to the dominant church (Lutheran in Württemberg) and the practice of a religious life within the Anabaptist community. In the reports of church visitors from about 1573 through the end of the century, this latter group comprised the three categories of "People who despise God's Word and attend communion indifferently," "Former professed Anabaptists who permit themselves to be instructed," and "Harborers, who house [refugee] Anabaptists." These categories were especially distinguishable from two others: "Seducers [i.e., leaders]" and "Pertinacious, stubborn Anabaptists who refuse instruction."76 The church's Spezialis (church visitors) found them intractable because they seemed to give ground but would not heed their own promises to attend church.

Carlos Eire argues that Nicodemism developed naturally as a practical solution to the problem of persecution of religious dissidentsand not, as Carlo Ginzburg would have it, as a principle of conduct enunciated first by Brunfels, then elaborated and practiced by a succession of people close to the Spiritualists.77 George H. Williams calls Nicodemism a "prudential spiritualism." I would argue that the Württemberg Anabaptists developed their Nicodemism naturally, beginning in the late 1520s in Esslingen, and never bothered to search for or invent a theological basis for recantation or to find some excuse. Perhaps they could have found the elements of a theory in Johannes Brenz, Lutheran Reformer primarily at Schwäbisch-Hall, who in the late 1520s did counsel Protestants to participate in the Catholic mass where necessary, and counseled further on accepting clerical vestments, sprinkling with holy water and singing in Latin.78 But why would the Anabaptists read Brenz? Or why for that matter should they have read Schwenckfeld's letters? Most of them were illiterate. Surely it makes more sense to suggest that they developed the practice out of necessity, without recourse to counsel from other Reformation-age figures whom they would not have trusted anyway.

What still baffles the researcher is the discreet silence that hangs over this practice of Württemberg Anabaptists. It is unclear why their stricter coreligionists, especially the Hutterian Brethren, failed to condemn them explicitly?


By the end of the century most Württemberg Anabaptists, when pushed by authority, agreed to attend Lutheran church, perhaps also to take communion. Many of them continued to dodge, to resist attendance. Or they attended worship, then slipped out when communion was served. But most of them did not formally recant, nor was it required of them. Attendance at Lutheran church was the decisive issue after approximately 1565.

In return for Anabaptists' compromise, Württemberg's authorities were much more lenient than those in some other regions. After 1535 the government authorities preferred interrogation and invitation to change religious views (with even some quarter given for bargaining), over death or even exile. Duke Ulrich favored that policy himself. Many Anabaptists were banished, indeed, and they fashioned a steady stream of exiles to Moravia. But there was also a regular flow of Moravian Anabaptists returning to Württemberg. It appears that Württemberg virtually countenanced Anabaptism as a viable religious option without ever admitting it.

The Württemberg government was lenient toward Anabaptists in another respect. They did not always require an oathto seal a sentence of banishment or a recantation or a mere promise to attend church. A simple yes or no would suffice legally, with the proviso that the Anabaptist who broke that promise, however made, was forsworn.

By century's end, the Anabaptists of Württemberg had developed into two parties, without any evidence that they acknowledged a two-level system of faith and life. On the one hand were a body of intensely steadfast Anabaptists who would not bend nor promise anything nor attend Lutheran church. On the other hand were those who accommodated themselves to the state church requirements, then continued to join fellow Anabaptists in special worship, probably within disciplined congregations. The movement appears almost to have divided into two actual groups, heralding the fissure of late seventeenth-century Mennonites in the South, especially those in Canton Bern, Switzerland.

These are the two groupings that I prefer to superimpose upon late sixteenth-century Württemberg Anabaptists. This pattern of two clusters seems much more significant and realistic than the traditional division into South German and Swiss Brethren Anabaptists.

Anabaptists Hans Koch and Peter Ehrenpreis provide one illustration of this developing two-party Anabaptismof two intensities of faith and practice. In the 1590s Anabaptist Hans Koch was the mayor of Schmie, a village near Maulbronn in northwestern Württemberg. He attended Lutheran worship and even took communion. But he counseled certain Anabaptists to flee to Moravia. In 1596 Koch attended a secret Anabaptist meeting in the forest, and the authorities, in vain, determined to pry out of him and others what went on there. He advised Peter Ehrenpreis, a more conscientious Anabaptist whom the authorities tried to catch. Koch hid Ehrenpreis, then helped him escape. Koch spent an unspecified amount of time in Moravia, and his children re mained there. Despite his evident Anabaptism, the authorities did almost nothing to him; he seems to have been permitted to continue his dual religious loyalties.79

By way of contrast, the Anabaptist he helped, Peter Ehrenpreis, who lived in the village of Illingen approximately seven or eight kilometers east of Schmie, seems to have been an especially devoted Anabaptist, one who would not succumb to any pressure. Ehrenpreis' non-Anabaptist father had been mayor of Illingen. Peter owned a copy of Menno's Foundation and was reported by other Anabaptists to have influenced them by the quality of his religious life. He refused to attend Lutheran church or take communion. Pressed in 1583 and for another five years to submit to interrogation, he fled to Moravia, where he was baptized as an Anabaptist believer. Back in his home region off and on until 1596, he continued to reject any overtures from the state church. By 1596 he had fled a second time to Moravia, presumably after his Anabaptist mayor friend Hans Koch had hidden him and then helped him es cape.80

Hans Koch and Peter Ehrenpreis must have worshipped together, yet they held very different views on the crucial issue of their relations to the state, including its church. In my view, these men represent two discrete levels of faithfulness that characterize Württemberg Anabaptists at the end of the sixteenth century.

1 John Oyer retired as editor of MQR in 1992, and as professor of history at Goshen College in 1993.

2. Gustav Bossert der J., ed., Herzogtum Württemberg, Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer 1 (Leipzig: M. Heinsius Nachfolger, 1930) [hereafter Bossert 1], 259.

3. The entire account can be found in ibid., 259-61.

4. Was he really an Anabaptist? Both Claus-Peter Clasen and I consider him an Anabaptist. Bossert, who edited the documents, did not consider him a bonafide Anabaptist.Clasen, "The Anabaptists in South and Central Germany, Switzerland and Austria: Their Names, Occupations, Places of Residence and Dates of Conversion, 1525-1618" [Published by MQR, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Monograph Publishing On Demand Imprint Series, 1978], 140.

5. John 3:1-17. But see also 7:50, where he spoke out against the condemnation of Jesus without a hearing in religious court, and 19:50, where he is reported to have provided spices for Jesus' burial.

6. George Hunston Williams, The Radical Reformation, 3rd ed. (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, Inc., 1992), 904-12, summarizing Jean Calvin, "Excuse à messieurs les Nicodemites," 1544, Opera, cols. 589-614; and idem, "Petite traité montrant que c'est que doit faire un homme fidèle connaissant la verité de l'Evangile quand il est entre les papistes," 1543, Opera, cols. 541-78.

7. Carlo Ginzburg, Il Nicodemismo. Simulazione e dissimulazione religiose nell'Europa del '500 (Turin: Einaudi, 1970).

8. Carlos M. N. Eire, "Calvin and Nicodemism: A Reappraisal," Sixteenth Century Journal 10 (1979), 45-69. Heiko A. Oberman agreed with Eire in Oberman's "The Impact of the Reformation: Problems and Perspectives," in Politics and Society in Reformation Europe, E. I. Kouri and Tom Scott, eds. (New York: St. Martin's, 1987), 3-31.

9. See Jane Kristof, "Michelangelo as Nicodemus: The Florence Pietà," Sixteenth Century Journal 20 (1989), 163-82, esp. 171. Kristof describes the Catholics of Viterbo (some as erstwhile followers of Juan de Valdes) who wanted to introduce Lutheran and Reformed theology into Catholic practice.

10. Mark Furner, "The Nicodemites in Arth, Canton Schwyz, 1530-1698" (MA thesis, University of Warwick, 1994), ch. 6.

11. Theodor Pressel, Ambrosius Blaurer, Nach handschriftlichen und gleichzeitigen Quellen (Elberfeld: R. L. Friderichs, 1861), 85-86. Blarer lived in Esslingen from the middle of September 1531 until June 1532. He was in effect the reformer of Esslingen. In his letters he reported an almost unqualified success with Anabaptists; they came to hear him preach. As time wore on he became increasingly negative and found them intractable.

12. Linda Huebert Hecht, "Anabaptist Women in Tirol who Recanted," Profiles of Anabaptist Women, C. Arnold Snyder and Linda Hecht, eds. (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996), 156-62.

13. Werner O. Packull, Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments during the Reformation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 256-57.

14. John S. Oyer, Lutheran Reformers Against Anabaptists (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1964), 68-71.

15. In this essay I do not attempt to report the treatment of Anabaptists in the Duchy of Württemberg or the imperial city of Esslingen. There are too many additional categories of treatment possible: the captured Anabaptist was released, imprisoned, executed, exiled, fined, or he/she fled and was never tried (only reported as Anabaptist by others). From my collection of records of individual Anabaptists I draw the following percentages of Anabaptists who either left voluntarily or were exiled:

Wurttemberg Jurisdiction Esslingen Jurisdiction

No. of Ana. in Records 418 189

Known to Flee 19% 5%

Not caught or tried 22% 19%

Exiled 11% 29%

Total 52% 53%

Many of those who fled from elsewhere came to Esslingen, a city considered by Anabaptists to be a safer haven than most other places. Esslingen was not harsh to its Anabaptists, except from June 1529 through January 1530 when it executed 7 Anabaptist men who had been previously exiled and had returned to the city. One of them was a promising young leader, Joachim Fleiner. The figures for those who fled are much below the actual facts, which one cannot ascertain. Evidence for flight is uncertain hearsay in the form of reports by captured Anabaptists or reports by neighbors who only suspect Anabaptism.

16. "Chronicle of Dionysius Dreytwein, D. Dreytwein," Esslinger Chronik, Bibliothek des Litterarischen Vereins zu Stuttgart 221 (1901); this section in MSS Collection Bossert, "Abschriften der Täuferakten der Herrschaft Hohenberg, der Grafschaft Hohenlohe und der Reichsstädte Esslingen, Reutlingen, Schwäbisch Hall, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Heilbronn, Weil der Stadt und Giengen," in the Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe [hereafter Bossert 2], III Esslingen, fols. 320-21. Dreytwein, who wrote with a sharply pro-Anabaptist bias, probably was basically opposed to the Lutheran government. He reported the Anabaptist meeting near Waiblingen. But that is too far from Esslingen to have fallen within that imperial city's jurisdiction. Esslingen handled this case from beginning to end, and did not turn it over to the duchy authorities.

17. Anna Schnaitman, wife of Jörg, one of the 21; see "Further Hearing [of the Esslingen 21]," Bossert 1:223. The unnamed sister of Lienhart Brelin, one of the 21, was also present, according to his own testimony; she was an Anabaptist, not merely a seeker."Hearing of the Esslingen [21]," July 6, 1562, Bossert 1:210.

18. See "Further Hearing of the Anabaptists," July 14, 1562, Bossert 1:223, lines 10-21.

19. See data about the secret Anabaptist meeting in Eckboldsheim Forest on July 4, 1576, about 5 kilometers west of Strasbourg, drawing Anabaptists from that city in M[aster] Elias Schad, "True Account of an Anabaptist Meeting at Night in a Forest . . . ," MQR 58 (July 1984), 292-95.

20. See Heinold Fast's careful treatment of this term, "read," as Jörg Maler used it.Heinold Fast, "Vom Amt des 'Lesers' zum Kompilator des sogenannten Kunstbuches; auf den Spuren Jörg Malers," in Norbert Fischer u. Marion Kobelt-Groch, eds., Aussenseiter zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit: Festschrift für Hans-Jürgen Goertz zum 60. Geburtstag (Leiden, New York: Brill, 1997), 201ff.

21. Lienhart Brelin testimony, "Hearing of the Esslingen [21]," July 6, 1562, Bossert 1:210.

22. "Hearing of the Esslingen [21]," July 6, 1562, Bossert 1:207. Surely this comment is a quotation of, or adaptation from, Paul's admonition in I Cor. 14:30: "If someone else present receives a revelation, let the first speaker stop," a passage used by Anabaptists to argue their right to be heard in the larger religious discussion of the Reformation period. Leonard Gross, The Golden Years of the Hutterites (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1980), 191, decides from this passage that the Swiss Brethren/Anabaptists in Württemberg did not have bishops, or major leaders, only individual members speaking out as each felt led. I think these Württemberg Anabaptists did indeed have major leaders and in 1562 were caught without one to replace Werner.

23. "Hearing of the Esslingen [21]," July 6, 1562, Bossert 1:207. From other sources we learn that Werner died in 1539 of natural causes. See Gustav Bossert, "Wernlin [sic], Jörg," ME, 4: 918; and "Württemberg," ME, 4: 994.

24. "Further Hearing of the Esslingen [21]," July 14, 1562, Rebstock comment, Bossert 1:223.

25. Hans Kügelin implicated Martin Fesser as a leader."Further Hearing," July 14, 1562, Bossert 1: 222. Fesser was indeed an Anabaptist leader in this region, had lived in Moravia where he sided with Wiedeman, returned to Württemberg by the late 1530s where he baptized, and died late in the 1550s of apparently natural causes. He is an Anabaptist leader who seems never to have been caught or tried."Testimony of Martin Stiltz," Kirchheim, May 18, 1560, Bossert 1:197-98.

26. The researcher is unfortunately bound to the chance survival of records. In the light of what seems a prevalence of recantations and retractions, one suspects but cannot demonstrate that the eight steadfast Anabaptists included some who had indeed recanted.

27. Report of Esslingen Chronicler Dionysius Dreytwein, in Bossert 2: III Esslingen, fols. 320-21.

28. Jörg Schnaitmann to the Burgermeister, "Request for Permission to Return and to Be Heard," Aug. 6 to Oct. 24, 1562, Bossert 2: III Esslingen, fols. 322-24.

29. "Report on Treatment of Anabaptist Prisoners," July 23, 1562, Bossert 1: 224.

30. As Bernhard von Öffingen.Hearing of Mauritz Weber, Marbach, July 10, 1539, Bossert 1:72. Weber named some 32 Anabaptists, including 7 leaders, most of whom were never caught or tried. Most steadfast Anabaptists refused to name their coreligionists. We are not told what Weber's Anabaptist friends thought of him after this fuller revelation.Ibid., 71-73.

31. His first hearing, July 6, 1562, ibid., 207.

32. Report of the Bailiff of Waiblingen, July 12, 1562, ibid., 217.

33. His leadership was reported by the bailiff of Cannstatt, not a reliable witness on this issue since government authorities were always scrounging to find leaders. "Report of Stephan Grieninger," bailiff at Cannstatt, July 11, 1562, Bossert 1:215. But he obviously led at least in the form of calling meetings at his place of residence, as reported by the Spezialis (church visitors) in Spring 1574.Bossert 1:401.

34. Rebstock testimony in the hearings of July 1562, together with reports by Spezialis at various times, in Bossert 1:210, 215, 223, 251, 401, 402, 757, 774.

35. "Minutes" of the Synod, Stuttgart, 1621, Bossert 1:902, lines 11-12 and n. 3.

36. "Report" of Bailiff Esais Küss, Cannstatt, Oct. 27, 1569, Bossert 1:251.

37. "Report" of visitor, Spring 1574, Bossert 1:402, and 401 which reports him a leader.

38. Appropriate court records, Bossert 2: VI Schwäbisch-Hall, fols. 19, 20.

39. Many court records in Bossert 1:97, 206, 207; 213 for his confession, 220, 223, 243, 264, 503, 504, 505.

40. There were Nicodemites among the Anabaptists of Central Germany.

41. Urfehde of Hans Kügelin, Oct. 27, 1533, Schorndorf, Bossert 1:33.

42. Various hearings, Esslingen [21], Bossert 1:209, 213, 220, 222. He had died by 1572.Ibid., 1049.

43. Sebastian Weber, Lorenz Degen, Katharina Weber wife of Jörg.

44. "Hearing," Bossert 1:209, 210. Both Clasen, "The Anabaptists," 107, and Bossert considered Brelin to be an Anabaptist. I do not, because he clearly had not been baptized as a believer. Anabaptist meetings often attracted sympathizers such as Brelin.

45. "Hearing of Lienhart Brelin," Bossert 1:210.

46. Obviously he had to have had help, outside or inside, but we are not told by whom or how."Report of the Abbot and Governor . . . on Matthis Binder . . . ," Maulbronn, July 6, 1574, Bossert 1:416.

47. Bossert 1:304, n. 1, tells us that the original recantation has been lost. What remains is the formula drawn up by a secretary, 309-10, to be used in formal recantation ceremonies for Anabaptists.

48. Testimony in court, various Reports of Spezialis or Reports of Officials, Bossert 1:246, 248, 282, 285, 304ff. for the recantation; 371, 374, 416 for jail break; and 504, 567, 709, 730 for reports of his influence as late as 1598.

49. There are some secondary accounts of this remarkable family. See Claus-Peter Clasen, Die Wiedertäufer im Herzogtum Württemberg und in benachbarten Herrschaften: Ausbreitung, Geisteswelt, Soziologie (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1965), 186; Gustav Bossert, "Greiner, Blasius," ME 2: 577; Karl Greiner, "Beiträge zur Geschichte der Glasindustrie in Württemberg," Württembergische Vierteljahrshefte, NS 34 (1928), 70-99.

50. Relevant citations for members of this family not cited above or below, in their order of appearance in the text: Elisabeth, Bossert 1:513, 721, 727; Margarete, Bossert 1:493, 504, 567 (refuses attendance at any Lutheran service), 585; Veronica, Bossert 1:619; Klara, Bossert 1:504; Endris, Bossert 1:481, 493, 504; Hans, Bossert 1:493, 715, 859; Anna, Bossert 1:505; Apollonia, Bossert 1:471, 620, 774, 776, 859; Katharina, Bossert 1:715 (perhaps she was Schwenckfeldian; neither Bossert nor Clasen considers her an Anabaptist; I do.); N. N., two maid servants of Jakob, Bossert 1:493, 504.

51. Some scholars name them all Swiss Brethren, although I do not find primary source justification for that label. It is used in the sources for only one or two of them.

52. Various hearings, reports of visitors and government officials, etc., Bossert 1:432 (on Lord's Supper); 452, 459, 471, 481; 493, 505 (on local Lutheran pastor); 513, 516, 606 (he preaches); 609, 644, 697, and 706 (affirmation of him as leader).

53. Various hearings, reports of visitors or government officials, etc., Bossert 1:264, 382, 404, 427, 448, 456.

54. Various hearings, reports of visitors or government officials, etc., Bossert 1:265, 385, 405, 429 (hides in her village); 450, 458, 470, 481, 492, 503, 513, 516, 584 (husband read her Anabaptist books); 655, 859. Clasen, "The Anabaptists," 123, 133, lists her twice, once under Grossheppach and the other under Rommelshausen. I think he was confused by a reference to the wife of Hans Schmid, of whom there are too many to track any of them easily.

55. Bossert 1:493, 738. For Jakob, other hearings and reports, see Bossert 1:431, 452, 459, 471, 481, 504, 513, 516, 567 (Anabaptists preach in his house), 585, 590, 595, 619, 626, 727, 735, 1022.

56. In Blasius's recantation he promised: (1) to attend church in his parish; (2) to take the Lord's Supper in his parish; (3) to sever ties with Anabaptists (not to attend their meetings; not to house any itinerant Anabaptists; not to instruct any person in Anabaptist teaching); (4) that he would not reproach officials (not quite an Urfehde, but close) for imprisonment; and (5) that if he did not obey all of the above, then he would expect further punishment, unspecified in kind. This is a Verschreibung, a kind of legal bond without money but with an oath (one that is not given here), separate from this formal piece of writing. This Verschreibung was sealed by the government authorities.Bossert 1:309-10. Bossert tells us, 304, n. 1, that the original, official Recantation article, is no longer extant.See n. 36.

57. Various Hearings and Reports, Bossert 1:481, 492, 504, 577.

58. Sophie, Jakob, Melchior, Elisabeth.

59. Margarete, Endris, Hans, Anna, Apollonia, Katharina, Klara, Michel.

60. "Testimony about Anabaptists" Visitation, 1598, Urbach, Bossert 1:709, 730.

61. "Questions Addressed to the Möhringen Anabaptist Bientzli," July 18, 1559, Bossert 2: III Esslingen, fols. 299-301.

62. "Johann Dold, Pastor at Möhringen, to Johann Sachs," May 19, 1561, Bossert 2: III Esslingen, fols. 304-06.

63. Testimony of Michel Bientzli," June 14-15, 1563, Bossert 2: III Esslingen, fols. 326-27.

64. "Interrogation anent Anabaptist Suspects," June 14-15, 1563, Bossert 2: III Esslingen, fols. 325-32.

65. Ibid.

66. "Jakob Bientzli to the Council [Esslingen]," July 10, 1571, Bossert 2: III Esslingen, fols. 339-44.

67. Ibid.

68. "Hearing of Anabaptists," Feb. 4, 1532, Esslingen, Bossert 2: III Esslingen, fol. 240.

69. Friedrich Roth, "Zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer in Oberschwaben: III. Der Höhepunkt der wiedertäuferischen Bewegung in Augsburg und ihr Niedergang im Jahre 1528," Zeitschrift des historischen Vereins f. Schwaben u. Neuburg 28 (1901), 57.

70. Etliche schöne christliche Lieder (n.p., 1564), collection of 53 hymns written in the Passau prison between 1535 and 1539, most of them published in subsequent editions of the Ausbund. This hymn (ff. 28v-30r.) was not published in any later edition, probably because Schneider praised community of goods too heartily for the tastes of the Ausbund's Swiss Brethren editors.

71. See John S. Oyer, "Michael Schneider, Anabaptist Leader, Hymnist, Recanter," MQR 65 (July 1991), 256-86.

72. See also Werner Packull's treatment of the Philippites in Hutterite Beginnings, 284-89.

73. In 1558 two Württemberg couples with their children from the Schorndorf District joined the Hutterian Brethren, then returned utterly disillusioned to their Lutheran homes in Mittelschlechtbach. They were irritated beyond measure by their separation from their children, who were removed some six miles from where they lived and educated to community life apart from the family. Michael Honacker also protested his working out six days a week as a mason, then having to give up his wages to the Haushalter, who returned only a fraction for their upkeep. Michael and Anna Honacker and Hans and Katharina Braun returned home to petition for the return of their property. Their case, which extended from June through September 1559, was unprecedented in that they were required to do penance in private, to a few persons only, as against some form of public penance. The authorities were trying to make recantation easier, less problematic, precisely in order to induce more Anabaptists to recant. See Bossert 1:185-87.

74. See George H. Williams, "Radicalization of the Reformed Church in Poland, 1547-1574: A Regional Variant of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism," MQR 65 (Jan. 1991), 66.

75. See "Der LXXXVI Sendbrief an Frau Margreth Neffin zu Canstadt . . . ," Jan. 25, 1546, Bossert 1:114-18, esp. 115, lines 10-19.

76. Many more categories are often used by Spezialis (visitors) or Vögte (regional governors) to designate people of varying degree of steadfastness to the Anabaptist cause. I draw these particular ones from "Report from Amt Urbach," May 30, 1598, Bossert 1:713-38.

77. Eire, "Calvin and Nicodemism."

78. Ibid., 62-65.

79. Hearings, Reports, Bossert 1:689, 692, 1110.

80. Hearings, Reports, Bossert 1:560, 598, 603, 616, 631, 637, 687, 819, 1111, 1118.


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