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On the Martyrdom of Michael Sattler

Brad posts the reasons given by the authorities for the torture and murder of Michael Sattler, one of the key figures in sixteenth century Anabaptism:

“First, that he and his adherents have acted contrary to the mandate of the Emperor.

“Secondly, he has taught, held and believed that the body and blood of Christ are not present in the sacrament.

“Thirdly, he has taught and believed that infant baptism does not conduce to salvation.

“Fourthly, they have rejected the sacrament of extreme unction.

“Fifthly, they have despised and condemned the mother of God and the saints.

“Sixthly, he has declared that men are not to swear before the authorities.

“Seventhly, he has commenced a new and unheard of custom in regard to the Lord’s Supper, placing the bread and wine on a plate, and eating and drinking the same.

“Eighthly, he has left the order, and married a wife.

“Ninthly, he has said that if the [Muslims] should invade the country, no resistance ought to be offered them; and if it were right to wage war, he would rather take the field against the Christians than against the [Muslims]; and it is certainly a great matter, to set the greatest enemies of our holy faith against us.”

—Thieleman J. van Braght, The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians (translated by Joseph F. Sohm; Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House, 1951), p. 416

Many of these charges are completely baseless the others are twisted half-truths at best . . . save one. It is true that Sattler and his followers acted contrary to the mandates of the Emperor when it contradicted the commands of Jesus.


  1. Geoff wrote:

    Funny, I’d been reading about Sattler lately because I’ve befriended a group of monks and because I’m interested in the austerity of early baptist and anabaptist church discipline and have wondered how much that came not just from reading the New Testament, but from Sattler’s monastic background.

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, there’s a huge connection between the Benedictine rule and the theology of Michael Sattler. Just try reading the Schlethiem confession along side the Rule of Benedict sometime. Its quite interesting the connections.

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
  3. Charlie Collier wrote:

    In his important essay from the Journal of Religious Ethics—”Is a Messianic Ethic Possible? Recent Work by and about John Howard Yoder”—Travis Kroeker first quotes Carl Schmitt making the claim:

    “Never in the thousand-year struggle between Christians and Moslems did it occur to a Christian to surrender rather than defend Europe out of love toward the Saracens or Turks. The enemy in the political sense need not be hated personally, and in the private sphere only does it make sense to love one’s enemy, i.e. one’s adversary.”

    Kroeker then points out that Schmitt is in error historically—there is the record of Michael Sattler. Then comes this stunning passage from Yoder’s account of the trial of Sattler:

    “If the Turk comes, he should not be resisted, for it stands written: thou shalt not kill. We should not defend ourselves against the Turks or our other persecutors, but with fervent prayer should implore God that He might be our defense and our resistance. As to me saying that if waging war were proper I would rather take the field against the so-called Christians who persecute, take captive, and kill true Christians, than against the Turks,
    this was for the following reason: the Turk is a genuine Turk and knows nothing of the Christian faith. He is a Turk according to the flesh. But you claim to be Christians, boast of Christ, and still persecute the faithful witnesses of Christ. Thus you are Turks according to the Spirit.”

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 5:54 am | Permalink
  4. What do you mean they’re baseless? I would say they’re all true, or quite possibly true even if we have no other evidence backing them up–with the exception, I suppose, of “despising and condemning” the saints, but we know what they meant. That’s not to say, of course, that his accusers had any real understanding of what Sattler’s positions meant, but then inquisitors never really did when they drew up these sorts of lists.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Ok, baseless was the wrong word. What I meant was the charges were ultimately false as to their meaning.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  6. kim fabricius wrote:

    I’ve just finished Earl Zimmerman’s important cartography of Yoder’s theological odyssey, Practicing the Politics of Jesus: The Origin and Significance of John Howard Yoder’s Social Ethics (2007). Yoder did his doctoral dissertation on the conversations the 16th century Anabaptists had with the magisterial Reformers. Zimmerman points out that Sattler, whom Yoder called “the most significant first generation leader of the Anabaptists,” served as the prior of a Benedictine monastery in the Black Forest, and that he “brought a distinct Benedictine influence to the Anabaptist movement.” Zimmerman suggests that “an intriguing question … is the extent to which Sattler’s thought represented a radical laicization of Benedictine theology and practice.”

    On another thread (sorry, but it’s really bugging me), in addition to the Zimmerman book, I have read two other studies of Yoder’s theology: Craig Carter’s The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder (2001) and Mark Thiessen Nation’s John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions (2006). I have also read Chris Huebner’s superb A Precarious Peace: Yoderian Explorations on Theology, Knowledge, and Identity (2006). Particularly given the European ecumenical context which was so crucial to the development of Yoder’s thought, and indeed the personal connection with Barth, I have been astonished to find nary a word about Bonhoeffer. There is a total of only four references to Bonhoeffer in the four books, two each in the Zimmermann and the Nation, and none of them relate to a Bonhoeffer-Yoder theological connection. Is that because there was no connection? Did Bonhoeffer’s work and legacy pass by Yoder like a ship in the night? Which, if true, strikes me as a staggering near-miss. Any information or thoughts on this one?

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Check out these two posts, Kim.

    R.O. Flyer had recently finished his thesis on Yoder and Bonhoeffer, which has a great deal to offer on the topic.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  8. kim fabricius wrote:

    A thousand – well, two anyway – thanks, Halden. And, of course, R.O.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

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