Anabaptist Sabbatarians in 16th Century Germany (Part 2)

Anabaptist Sabbatarians in 16th Century Germany (Part 2)
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Last week, we reviewed the background events which led to a spontaneous, grass-roots revival of Sabbatarianism in sixteenth-century Germany (CLICK HERE to read part 1 of this series). Revolutionary movements of the time shook the existing religious and political landscape. Amid these developments, the Anabaptists emerged in Germany as an alternative to those who did not want to join Catholicism or Lutherans.

Andreas Fischer accepted Sabbatarian Anabaptist beliefs from Oswald Glaidt in late 1527 or early 1528 in Nikolsburg, Moravia. As discussed last week, Moravia was an area which was favorable to the Anabaptist movement. As we will see, it also became a major center of Sabbatarianism for a time.

In 1528, Glaidt and Fischer worked together in Silesia, just east of Moravia, where Anabaptist beliefs were already prevalent. Their message emphasized Sabbath observance; they won many people in the city of Liegnitz to this practice. A German noble in the area named Caspar Schwenckfeld and his confidant Valentine Crautwald expressed concern over this development. They engaged Glaidt in a dialogue and debated about the Sabbath.

About 1529/1530, Glaidt wrote a book called Buchlenn vom Sabbath, which defended Sabbath observance. This is likely the first work in modern times devoted to defending the Sabbath. This work must have had an impact beyond the region of Silesia because even Count Leonhard von Liechtenstein in Nikolsburg read it. He was concerned about the book’s implications and implored Wolfgang Capito, a theologian of the reformation, to refute it. Capito turned the job over to Caspar, who had previous dialogue with Glaidt. They both eventually composed works to refute Glaidt’s Sabbatarian teaching. Duke Friedrich II of Liegnitz also got involved in this debate and invited Valentine Crautwald to write a refutation of Glaidt’s Sabbath view. In total, three books were written to try and disprove Glaidt.

While we do not have Glaidt’s original work, his arguments for Sabbath keeping are extracted from Schwenckfeld’s work against it. In brief, he argued as follows: The Sabbath was established at Creation by God and was observed by Adam, Abraham, and the Israelites (before Sinai). Christ and the early disciples also observed the Sabbath. Moreover, he said that God gave all Ten Commandments at the same time and if one was revoked then they all were. Caspar remarked that this was his strongest argument. In all, there appears to be 34 reasons that he employed to defend the Sabbath; we may look at these in a future edition of The Sabbath Sentinel. Several of them involve prophecy. This allows us to see the old influence of Hut’s eschatology.

Glaidt’s book was well composed and followed excellent Scriptural reasoning. It was obviously problematic for opposing views, as it took three contra works to develop arguments against it. Of course, we know that no one can disprove God’s eternal Sabbath. In 1530, Glaidt wrote his work explaining the death penalty for violators of the literal Ten Commandments titled How, When and Where the Law of Blood or the Judgment of God Should be Implemented, Executed and Practiced.

To combat the contra works against his book Buchlenn vom Sabbath, Glaidt asked Fischer to intervene in this debate. Fischer wrote Scepastes Decalogi, which defended his belief in the Ten Commandments. Crautwald attempted to refute it. While we do not have an original copy of Fischer’s work, it can be reconstructed from the attempted refutation. Fischer does not emphasize prophetic implications with the Sabbath. This could have been due to the failed prophecies about Jesus’ return. He listed approximately 26 reasons for keeping the Sabbath. Next month, we will review them (CLICK HERE to read an article on Andreas Fischer’s 26 reasons for keeping the Sabbath). This back-and-forth writing between pro-Sabbath and contra-Sabbath views went on as long as three years (approximately 1529-1532).

Glaidt and Fischer’s Evangelistic Work

Glaidt and Fischer divided their evangelistic efforts in 1529. Fischer and his wife left for a brief campaign in Slovakia; we will return to Fischer later. Glaidt stayed a little longer in Silesia until the Duke of that region ordered him out in 1532. He likely went to Bohemia to minister there and founded a Sabbatarian Anabaptist congregation which continued until at least 1538.

It is not clear whether Glaidt kept and taught the Sabbath commandment in his later years. He eventually joined the Hutterites in Jamnitz, Moravia; the Chronicles of the Hutterite Brethren record his presence there. In 1545/1546, he was arrested and drowned in the Danube as a martyr for his faith.

As aforementioned, Fischer and his wife went to Slovakia to preach the Word about 1529. His short time there was interesting to say the least. He was expelled from the town of Leutschau after a few days of preaching, then went to Neudorff, and lastly to Schwedler. In the latter town, many people received his message. Unexpectedly, people from Leutschau invited him back to their city to preach. The local authorities soon found out about his activity. He and his wife, who was also known to preach the Bible, were arrested.  

After a few months in prison, they were both condemned to death. His wife was drowned. Andreas was hung from a castle tower and left to die. It seemed as if the work of this minister was finished, but something miraculous occurred. After several hours of hanging, the rope broke! It is not known if it was cut down or just snapped on its own. After this escape, Fischer was viewed by people in a new light. Some thought this miracle was a sign of God’s approval of his message. Others thought he had come back from the dead!

He immediately went back to preaching in Slovakia; as many as 80 people were baptized in one day! Not long after this revival started, soldiers came to arrest any Anabaptists they could find. Some people were captured, but many fled. The feudal rulers only allowed people to return to Slovakia if they took an oath of allegiance to follow religious and secular authorities. Fischer and some of his followers fled into the mountains. While there, one of his disciples, Johann Balbus, was put to death. He testified at his trial that the Sabbath should be observed literally because Sunday observance was not found in the Scriptures.

Fischer then traveled to Zeben, Poland for refuge. While there, he publicly debated Anton Philadelphus, who was a local Pastor. Fischer easily bested him. Anton was defeated so badly that he actually left the town! The town rulers made the city a safe place for previously beleaguered Anabaptists.

Scholars place Andreas whereabouts next in Moravia (1530). It was about this time that the Sabbath books described earlier were composed. He seemed to travel between this area and Slovakia. In about 1532/1533, he had success in the latter until his old foe Anton Philadelphus publicly charged him with heresy. He then fled back to a city under the protection of von Lichtenstien near Nikolsburg. Unfortunately, this place of refuge did not last long.

In 1535, King Ferdinand I of Austria commanded all feudal lords in his domain, which included Moravia, to formally end their religious toleration. Some Sabbatarians submitted a formal request to move to Prussia, along with a written statement of their beliefs. Their request was denied. They fled with only what they could carry; some of them returned to Moravia later.

Fischer likely spent his last few years traveling between Moravia, Bohemia, and Slovakia. Desiderius Erasmus complained about Sabbatarians in the 1530s. Multiple times Martin Luther complained about the number of Sabbatarians in Moravia and Bohemia (in the years 1532, 1535, and 1538). In 1538, he composed an entire letter repudiating them entitled “Against the Sabbatarians: Letter to a Good Friend.” We discussed Luther and the Sabbath in a previous article. To read it, CLICK HERE.

In 1536, Fischer was invited to pastor a congregation in a small town in Slovakia, but he also traveled to other areas. Upon one sojourn to Slovakia, he was captured by a robber knight and put to death for the faith in 1540/1541.

One question which remains is this: did this Sabbatarian movement continue after Fischer’s death? There is a school of thought that says the group ended after his execution. However, recent research has shown that to not be the case. We will briefly review the evidence for continued Sabbatarian activity in the area.

In 1554, Ferdinand I issued multiple decrees expelling Sabbatarians from the city of Auspitz, Moravia. In 1555, Johannes Weisenkircher discussed the Sabbatarians as a numerous body that existed in his day. In the 1560s, Marcantionio Varotto was a traveler who visited parts of Southern and Eastern Europe. While in Moravia, he observed many different sects of believers. Seven of them were Anabaptists and Sabbatarians were listed as one of the groups. Two primary sources from 1571 discuss Sabbatarians in Moravia and Bohemia (The Chronicles of Joachim Cureus and the testimony of Jan Okurka).

In 1575, the region of Moravia was sold to Adam Von Dietrichstein, who was devoted to the Roman Catholic cause. He employed Jesuits to help bring Catholicism back into the area; all other groups were expelled. Despite these efforts, traces of Sabbatarians are found in Moravia and Bohemia as late as 1600. The original Sabbath movement started by Glaidt and Fischer faded from the historical record around this date.

How are we to view these brave Anabaptist Sabbatarians and their roughly seventy-year movement? These men and women took Luther’s concept of Sola Scriptora to its logical conclusion in their obedience to the Sabbath. They used such reasoning to their advantage to win people to their cause. While their efforts may seem small, this group made a mighty impact. Their work caught the attention of major theologians of the day, such as Luther and Erasmus, and temporal rulers, such as Count von Liechtenstein, Duke Friedrich II, and King Ferdinand I.

Thus concluded a fascinating chapter in Sabbath history. Let us always remember the lives of these brave men and women of God. Next month, we will honor the life of Andreas Fischer and review his 26 reasons for keeping the Sabbath.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President –

Encyclopedia of the Reformation: Andreas Fischer, Oswald Glaidt, Valentin Crautwald, Wolfgang Capito
Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO – accessed through Andreas Fischer, Oswald Glait, Caspar von Schwenckfeld, Valentin Crautwald, Leonhard von Liechtenstien
Liechty, Daniel. Andreas Fischer and the Sabbatarian Anabaptists. Herald Press; Scottdale, PA. 1988.
Liechty, Daniel. Sabbatarianism in the Sixteenth Century. Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs, Michigan. 1993. pp 1-41.
Hasel, Gerhard F.. “Sabbatarian Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century: Part I.” Andrews University Seminary Studies (AUSS) 5.2 (1967): 101-121.
Hasel, Gerhard F.. “Sabbatarian Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century: Part 2.” Andrews University Seminary Studies (AUSS) 6.1 (1968): 19-28.
Rothkegel, Martin. “Anabaptist Sabbatarianism in Sixteenth-Century Moravia.” Mennonite Quarterly Review, vol. 87, no. 4, 2013: 519-573.

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