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The Martyrs' Synod took place in Augsburg from 20 to 24 August, 1527. The purpose of this meeting, attended by about sixty representatives from different Anabaptist groups, was to come to an agreement over the differences related to the central Anabaptist teachings among the Swiss and south German Anabaptists. It is known as the Martyrs' Synod because most of the participants died for their activities within a short time.

Contents

Background

The young Anabaptist movement had the difficult task of forming a common foundation from groups of varying belief. In early 1527 under the leadership of Michael Sattler an Anabaptist meeting in Schleitheim had produced a basic Anabaptist confession of faith, the Schleitheim Confession. In this confession, participation in government, the taking oaths as well as military service were totally rejected. Other groups of Anabaptists, including the South German Anabaptists, were of the opinion that Romans 13 permitted the authorities to legitimately demand their subjects to the swear an oath or perform military service. It is important to note, in relation to the Martyrs' Synod, that an agreement between the Swiss and South German Anabaptists was achieved on this point.

Augsburg was selected as the meeting place because it was a central location for these Anabaptist groups. The region of the young Anabaptist movement was confined at this point in time to Switzerland, the Alsace as well as to Moravia and Tyrol. There were certainly a number of strong Anabaptist congregations within Augsburg itself, which in 1527 were still relatively free to meet. Their size accounts for their ability to host 60 participants in a single meeting room and offer accommodations for the visitors.

Participants

Not all of the names of those present at the Synod have been passed down. The following 33 participants are known and arranged among various Anabaptist groups.

The largest group was associated with Hans Hut:

Eukarius Binder of Coburg, Burkhard Braun of Ofen, Leonhard Dorfbrunner of Weißenburg, Hans Gulden of Biberach, Sigmund Hofer, Hans Hut, Marx Meir of Altenerlangen, Joachim Mertz of Bamberg, Hans Mittermaier of Ingolstadt, Georg Nespitzer of Passau, Leonhard Schiemer of Judenburg, Hans Schlaffer, Leonhard Spörle of Briderichingen, Ulrich Trechsel of Franken, Thomas Walhauser and Jakob Wiedemann of Memmingen

The second largest group were members of one of the Augsburg Anabaptist groups:

Jakob Dachser, Matheis Finder, Gall Fischer, Laux Fischer, Konrad Huber, Hans Kießling, Hans Leupold, Batholomäus Nußfelder, Siegmund Salminger and Peter Scheppach

The Swiss Anabaptists sent three representatives:

Hans Beck of Basel, Jakob Groß and Gregor Maler of Chur.

Three participants were associated with Hans Denck:

Hans Denck, Ludwig Hätzer und Jakob Kautz of Worms.

The Synod met at the house of weaver Gall Fischer, the house of Konrad Huber as well as the house of butcher Matheis Finder. Two of the three meetings where under the leadership of Hans Hut and Hans Denck.

Business

The Martyr Synod had no formal rules of order and no minutes were recorded. The proceedings can only established from court records of the interrogations that many of the participants later underwent.

The position on the oath and bearing arms—according to these hearings—was handled at the beginning of the Synod. Hans Hut argued against the Swiss Anabaptists position and advocated both oath taking and military service. He also resisted the demand of the Swiss to establish a uniform dress code for Anabaptists.

The great majority overruled Hans Hut's prophecy, that three and a half years after the Peasants' War, namely 1528, the kingdom of God would come, the sinners punished and the authorities would be exterminated. They essentially agreed with Hut that the return of Jesus Christ was imminent, but rejected his calculations and his indication of specific dates and times with references to relevant Bible verses. After a long discussion they came to a compromise on this question. While Hut did not recant his prophetic views, he did promise to no longer openly teach them, but only share them privately with those who were interested.

At the end of the Synod an agreement was made to send out missionaries from Augsburg, in expectation of the imminent return of Jesus to gather as many of the elect as possible. The Anabaptist messengers were individually and in pairs sent to the surrounding area:

Peter Scheppach and Ulrich Trechsel to Worms
Hans Denck and Hans Beck to Basel and the area around Zürich.
Gregor Maler to Vorarlberg
Georg Nespitzer to Mittelfranken
Leonhard Spörler and Leonhard Schiemer to Berne
Leonhard Dorfbrunner to Linz
Hans Mittermaier to Austria and
Eukarius Binder and Joachim Mertz to Salzburg

This mission effort failed to achieve the intended results. Most of those sent out were martyred shortly after arrival in their designated region, giving this gathering it name, Martyr's Synod.

Aftermath

The Martyrs Synod was both a high point and a turning point in the development of early Anabaptism. For the last time there were so many Anabaptist leaders with varying views. After Augsburg, the way of the Anabaptist community led to persecution and martyrdom, and to withdrawal and separation from the world.[1]

Notes

  1. ^ Hans Guderian, p. 44.

Further reading

  • Hans Guderian: Die Täufer in Augsburg. Ihr Geschichte und ihr Erbe. Ein Beitrag zur 2000-Jahr-Feier der Stadt Augsburg, Pfaffenhofen 1984 ISBN 3-7787-2063-5
  • Hans-Jürgen Goertz: Die Täufer. Geschichte und Deutung, München 1980
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