The Cover Letter and a Message

I express my deepest regret to those that was looking forward to the Schleitheim Confession series but I have been inundated with various things relating to school and contributing elsewhere on the internet. The series will go forward in the near future but I desired to realize three things with this post. The first was the above apology the second was to let you know that prior to the initial installment of the series I will post a unique article this coming week the details of which will be explained in said piece of writing. Lastly, I desired to present to you the cover letter of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527 reproduced from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online to prepare for the upcoming series. Thank you for your patience and without further ado the Introduction to the Confession.

 

May joy, peace, mercy from our Father, through the atonement[1] of the blood of Christ Jesus, together with the gift of the Spirit–who is sent by the Father to all believers to [give] strength and consolation and constance in all tribulation until the end, Amen, be with all who love God and all children of light, who are scattered everywhere, wherever they might have been placed[2] by God our Father, wherever they might be gathered in unity of spirit in one God and Father of us all; grace and peace of heart be with you all. Amen.

Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord; first and primordially we are always concerned for your consolation and the assurance of your conscience (which was sometime confused), so that you might not always be separated from us as aliens and by right almost completely excluded,[3] but that you might turn to the true implanted members of Christ, who have been armed through patience and the knowledge of self, and thus be again united with us in the power of a godly Christian spirit and zeal for God.

It is manifest with what manifold cunning the devil has turned us aside, so that he might destroy and cast down the work of God, which in us mercifully and graciously has been partially begun. But the true Shepherd of our souls, Christ, who has begun such in us, will direct and teach[4] the same unto the end, to His glory and our salvation, Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, we who have been assembled in the Lord at Schleitheim on the Randen[5] make known, in points and articles, unto all that love God, that as far as we are concerned, we have been united[6] to stand fast in the Lord as obedient children of God, sons and daughters, who have been and shall be separated from the world in all that we do and leave undone, and (the praise and glory be to God alone) uncontradicted by all the brothers, completely at peace.[7] Herein we have sensed the unity of the Father and of our common Christ as present with us in their Spirit. For the Lord is a Lord of peace and not of quarreling, as Paul indicates.[8] So that you understand at what points this occurred, you should observe and understand [what follows]:

A very great offense has been introduced by some false brothers among us,[9] whereby several have turned away from the faith, thinking to practice and observe the freedom of the Spirit and of Christ. But such have fallen short of the truth and (to their own condemnation)[10] are given over to the lasciviousness and license of the flesh. They have esteemed that faith and love may do and permit everything and that nothing can harm nor condemn them, since they are “believers.”

Note well, you members[11] of God in Christ Jesus, that faith in the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ is not thus formed; it produces and brings forth no such things as these false brothers and sisters practice and teach. Guard yourselves and be warned of such people, for they do not serve our Father, but their father, the devil.

But for you it is not so; for they who are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with all its lusts and desires.[12] You understand me[13] well, and [know] the brothers whom we mean. Separate yourselves from them, for they are perverted. Pray the Lord that they may have knowledge unto repentance, and for us that we may have constance to persevere along the path we have entered upon, unto the glory of God and of Christ His Son. Amen.[14]


[1] A most significant concept in the thought of Michael Sattler is that of Vereinigung, which, according to the context, must be translated in many different ways. In the title we render it “Union”; here in the salutation it can most naturally be translated “reconciliation” or “atonement”; later in the text, in the passive participle form, it will mean “to be brought to unity.” Thus the same word can be used for the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, for the procedure whereby brothers come to a common mind, for the state of agreement in which they find themselves, and for the document which states the agreement to which they have come. Heinold Fast suggests that here, in connection with “the blood of Christ,’ the meaning might be “fellowship”; cf: 1 Corinthians 10:16.

[2] Or, literally, “ordered”; the rendering of J. C. Wenger, “scattered everywhere as it has been ordained of God our Father,” is a good paraphrase if “ordained” may be understood without sacramental or predestinarian connotations.

[3] This term “aliens” or “foreigners” was interpreted by Cramer BRN, 605, note 1, in the geographic or political sense, as referring to non-Swiss. Kiwiet, Pilgram Marpeck, Kassel, 1959, p. 44, takes for granted the same meaning and says more sharply that at Schleitheim the Swiss Anabaptists broke communion with the German ones. This understanding is impossible for several reasons:

  • There was no such strong sense of national identity, divided on clear geographic lines, in the 1520s;
  • Sattler and Reublin, leaders in the meeting, were not Swiss;
  • The libertines whom Schleitheim had in mind, although Denck (or Bucer) might have been included, were (if Anabaptist) surely mostly Swiss; namely, the enthusiasts of St. Gall (H. Fast “Die Sonderstellung der Täufer in St. Gallen and Appenzell,” Zwingliana XI, 1960, pp. 223 ff.), and Ludwig Hätzer.

This term has a quite different reference; it is an allusion to Ephesians 2:12 and 19, testifying to the reconciling effect of the gospel on men who previously had been alienated by unbelief.

[4] “Direct” and “teach” have as their object “the same,” i.e., the “work of God partially begun in us.” Wenger’s paraphrase, “direct the same and teach [us]” is smoother but weakens the striking image of a “work of God” within man which can be “partially begun,” “cast down,” “directed,” and “taught.” There is, however, ground for Böhmer’s conjecture that the original may have read keren (guide) rather than leren (teach).

[5] The “Langer Randen” and the “Hoher Randen” are hills overlooking Schleitheim and not, as a modern reader might think, a reference to the fact that Schleitheim is near the (contemporary, political) border.

The original reads “Schlaten am Randen.” A good halfdozen villages in southern Germany bear the names Schlat, Schlatt, or Schlatten. One, near Engen in Baden, also is identified as “am Randen,” and until recently was held by some to have been the place of origin of the Seven Articles. The evidence, now generally accepted, for Schleitheim near Schaffhausen, is easily surveyed:

  • J. J. Rüger, a Schaffhausen chronicler, writing around 1594, identifies Schleitheim with the Seven Articles;
  • In the local dialect, the equivalent of ei in modern German is long a as in Schlaten, whereas the other villages Schlatten or Schlat have a short a;
  • Being subject to overlapping jurisdictions and therefore hard to police, the Klettgau, and Schleitheim on its edge, were relatively safe and accessible for Anabaptists and thus a most fitting meeting place linking the major centers in southwest Germany and northeast Switzerland. This was the first area where Sattler’s colleague W. Reublin had been active after his expulsion from Zürich early in 1525. This juridical situation continued through the century; Anabaptism was still alive in the Kühtal above Schleitheim as late as Ruger’s writing.
  • Professor F. Blanke reviews the question of place in Z, VI, pp. 104 f.; cf. also Werner Pletscher, “Wo Entstand das Bekenntnis von 1527?” MGB, V, 1940, pp. 20 f.

[6] According to Bohmer, one line of print was misplaced in imprint A. The text seems to say literally, “we were assembled in points and articles.” The verb here is again “vereinigt.” The “points and articles” may well have stood elsewhere in the sentence in the original text: “we have been united in points and articles” or “to stand fast in the Lord in these points and articles.” Wenger’s translation, “we are of one mind to abide in the Lord” is the best paraphrase but sacrifices the passive verbal construction which is important to the writer.

[7] Beginning with the parenthesis “(the praise and glory be to God alone),” the closing phrases of this paragraph refer not simply to a common determination to be faithful to the Lord, but much more specifically to the actual Schleitheim experience and the sense of unity (Vereinigung) which the members had come to in the course of the meeting. “Without contradiction of all the brothers” is the formal description and “completely at peace” is the subjective definition of this sense of Holy Spirit guidance. Zwingli considered the very report that “we have come together” to be the proof of the culpable, sectarian, conspiratorial character of Anabaptism (Elenchus, Z, VI, p. 56).

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:33.

[9] Ds. H. W. Meihuizen has recently asked with great thoroughness “Who were the `False Brethren’ mentioned in the Schleitheim Articles?” (MQR, XLI, 1967, pp. 200 ff.). Meihuizen s method is to survey the entire Reformation scene, Anabaptists of all shadings as well as Reformers, especially those at Strasbourg whom Sattler had recently left. Comparing the known theological positions of these men with the Schleitheim statements, Meihuizen concludes that Schleitheim must have been aimed against Denck, Hubmaier, Hut, Hätzer, Bucer, and Capito. One can agree with this description of the positions in question, without being convinced that the meeting was this clearly directed  against a few particular men who were specifically not invited. If any one person was meant, if would most likely be Hätzer, whom Sattler had just been with in Strasbourg, and who was the only one of these who could be accused of libertinistic leanings. For present purposes, i.e., in order to understand the meaning of this document, it suffices to be clear from the internal evidence (in agreement with Meihuizen):

  • That some persons previously attached to some of the positions condemned were present at Schleitheim in order to be participants in the event of “being brought to unity”; the “false brothers” referred to by the cover letter were therefore not only state-church Reformers but at least some of them were within Anabaptism;
  • That the greatest emphasis in the Seven Articles themselves falls on those points of ultimate theological separateness from the Reformed: baptism, relation between ban and the supper, sword, oath. Here the list is so parallel to the document from Strasbourg that one surmises that Sattler may have been developing his outline already when he was at Strasbourg;
  • That in the juxtaposition of the cover letter and the Seven Articles, Sattler affirms an inner linkage between the positions of the marginal Anabaptists and Spiritualists who differed from the Zurich-Schleitheim stream, and those of the evangelical Reformers.

[10] H. W. Meihuizen reads the phrase “to their own condemnation” as meaning that the Schleitheim assembly took action to excommunicate the libertines whom the text here refers to. “The Concept of Restitution in the Anabaptism of Northwestern Europe,” MQR, Vol. XLIV, April 1970, p. 149. This is not possible. The verb ergeben refers to the libertines’ abandoning themselves to lasciviousness, not to the Anabaptists’ action. In order to enable this interpretation Meihuizen must omit the parentheses which are in the original.

[11] “Glieder” (members) has in German only the meaning related to the image of the body; the overtone of “membership” in a group, which makes the phrase “members of God” unusual in modern English, is not present in the original.

[12] Galatians 5:24

[13] The use of the first person singular here is the demonstration that the introductory letter was written, probably after the meeting, by an individual.

[14] This is the conclusion of the introductory letter and of the epistolary style. The “cover letter” is not in the Bern manuscript, and the Seven Articles probably circulated most often without it.

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