Felix Manz’s View of Death—No Soul or Hell

Felix-Manz-WebFelix Manz (ca. 1498-1527) is credited with penning the hymn I Will Stay With Christ (Mit Lust so will ich singen) found in the Ausbund the oldest hymnbook of the Swiss Brethren. While Manz did not live very long to write much material depicting his views the things that remains shed light on his beliefs. The canticle mentioned above reiterates something that I addressed previously regarding the Swiss Brethren branch of the Anabaptists views regarding death and the soul. The first two stanzas of Mit Lust so will ich singen (I Will Stay With Christ) says:

I will sing with gladness! My heart rejoices in God who made me wise enough to escape eternal death! And I praise you Christ from heaven who turns away my grief—you whom God sent for my example and light, to call me into your kingdom before my end.

There [in the Kingdom of Christ] I will be joyful with him forever, and love him from the heart. I love his righteousness that guides all who seek life—here as well as there. Righteousness lets itself be scorned as well as praised. But without it nothing survives.

Felix Manz unmistakably tells us how he views death. According to him God provided him with the wisdom to avoid “eternal death” with no qualification.  In the second stanza he speaks to being joyful with Christ “forever” in the “Kingdom of Christ” which contrasts with the eternal death outside of relationship and the kingdom. Also in this section he posits the idea that without embracing Jesus’ righteousness “nothing survives”.

In the seventh section Manz speaks of how servants of Christ does not bring harm to their enemies and those who do are hypocrites lacking the type of love Christ displayed yet they want to be “shepherds and teachers” because they do not comprehend his words. Other than being an indictment on the religious powers that was persecuting the Anabaptists Manz shows that disobedience earns “eternal death”.

The hymn I Will Stay With Christ (Mit Lust so will ich singen) is rich with Swiss Brethren teaching or if one must Swiss Brethren “theology”. Just from the few lines we see that in order to attain salvation an impartation of wisdom, a relationship with Christ and a life of righteousness is required. But that is not the purpose of this post. I can revisit this hymn on another occasion for that what I am lecturing to at present is the fact that we see what many  would call an “unorthodox” view of the soul was not just present in the teachings of Michael Sattler but also with Felix Manz. In Manz’s opinion death was an eternal state save from an intervention of God who gives everlasting life (Romans 1:161 John 5:10-11). At preset we would call this “conditional immortality” or annihilationism. This also renders the concept of Hell nonexistent in first generational Anabaptist understanding at the very least on the part of some of its original members.

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8 thoughts on “Felix Manz’s View of Death—No Soul or Hell

  1. Thanks for an interesting article. I hope, however, that in future you will not confuse belief in hell with belief in eternal conscious torment. From what you have written here, it appears that Manz believed that hell is ultimately death, or annihilation, but this is not a denial of “hell,” it is simply a different definition from the one most common in Christian tradition as a result of the widespread belief in the indestructibility of the soul.

    • It translates as such, Manz does not posit any eternal torment. All he speaks of is eternal death. Also there is proof that sometime later there were Anabaptists that came straight out and denied Hell. The first generation had an implied “theology” so in most instances they would not just come out and say something or write a theological treatment. Thus some in the second generation would address the issue directly.

  2. I wondered, AO, because you said there were Anabaptists who “came straight out and denied hell.” I’m still not clear about what they were denying and what they affirmed instead. Can you unpack that? I can think of other possibilities but I want to know what you have seen in your study of Anabaptist writing.

    • No, never said that, Manz’s view of Hell was being addressed. The Anabaptists believed in the resurrection which was for those found worthy, otherwise if they was not they suffered “eternal death”. You could say to the groups it applied the Anabaptists believed in “Conditionalism”. Eschatology was not big within the groups some call Evangelical Anabaptists in the sense of they spoke generally about the subject nothing specific. This characteristic was key with the first generation of Anabaptists.

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