Posted by: sean | April 23, 2007

Michael Sattler (Biography)

Below is a biography taken from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopdia Online. The trial of Michael Sattler is contained in a different post.

Sattler’s Pre-Anabaptist Life

Michael Sattler, an outstanding Anabaptist leader and martyr of South Germany, was born at Staufen in the Breisgau near Freiburg, Germany, about 1490. The Hutterite chronicle relates that he was a learned man. All of his writings show that this was a fact. He was familiar with the original languages of the Bible; for in his trial he offered to prove his teaching from these languages. But where he was educated was not yet known in the 1950s. His name is not on the matriculation lists of the University of Freiburg; nevertheless it is possible that as a monk in the nearby Benedictine monastery of St. Peter he attended lectures at Freiburg. Nor is it known when he entered the monastery. In the monastery he reached the office of prior, second only to the abbot, as is reported in the Berner Chronik (V, 185 ff.) of Valerius Anshelm, whose wife was a native of Staufen. This also agrees with the mocking question why he did not remain a lord in the monastery, put to Sattler by the soldiers just before his death in Rottenburg in 1527, to which Sattler replied, “According to the flesh I would be a lord; but it is better so.”

The Reformation caused great excitement in the Breisgau area; Freiburg seethed. In Kenzingen Jakob Otter preached evangelical doctrine, in Neuenburg Otto Brunfels, in Schlatt the venerable dean Peter Spengler. Sattler began to study the Pauline epistles in the monastery, and soon discovered that the way to righteousness before God was not the one required by the old church and the monastic life. The earnest, morally upright monk was horrified by the unspiritual life of the priests and monks. He knew the dangers of celibacy as required by the Catholic Church. He therefore left the monastery and married a Beguine, whom Anshelm called “a talented, clever little woman.” But now he could no longer stay at home, since Ferdinand I of Austria, the ruler of the Breisgau, under the influence of Cardinal Campegio, had ordered the extirpation of heresy. He went to Zürich in 1525, and there, probably under the influence of Reublin, he joined the Anabaptists. With Muntprat of Constance and Konrad Winkler of Wassberg, near Ufter, he zealously preached in forests, and among others won Jakob Zander, of Bülach, called Schmid, for the Anabaptist cause. It is improbable that he attended the first Zurich disputation with the Anabaptists, 17 January 1525, or the second, 20 March 1525; but it is certain that he was present at the third on 6 November 1525, for the authorities were now aware of him and expelled him on 18 November. He returned to his home town, but could not stay under the bloody regimen of Ensisheim (the seat of the Austrian government of the Breisgau in Alsace). He turned to Strasbourg, where Capito received him in his home.

The Theology of Sattler and Denck Compared

At Strasbourg Sattler met Hans Denck; but very soon the great difference in their views became apparent. Sattler adhered to the principles of the Zurich Brethren, whereas Denck was more independent. Sattler clung to the letter of the Scripture, whereas Denck rated the inner Word, the revelation of God in the human spirit, above the written Word. Both questioned the Lutheran doctrine of justification and also held works to be important to man’s salvation, but they differed on Christ’s work of redemption. Sattler agreed with Protestant teaching: “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). Denck rejected the concept of total depravity, for every man, he said, bears in him a spark of God’s Spirit, and is related to God. Christ is our example and shows the way to become one with God. The confession of Christ’s death or reconciliation he disregarded. Though he did not expressly deny that Christ’s suffering is reckoned to the believer, he put it into the background. On the other hand, he stressed that Christ by fulfilling the law has opened the path which no man could find alone. In other words, Denck’s emphasis was on Christ as an example rather than as a sacrifice.

Sattler wanted to build a church of Christ, pure, God-fearing, and genuine, cleansed by the blood of Christ to be holy and blameless before God and men. His brethren were God’s obedient children, who had separated from the world. Denck’s writings contain practically nothing about the church and the world. Nowhere, except in the debated conclusion of his booklet Von der wahren Liebe, does he discuss the relation of the church to the world and its attitude toward government, to military service, or other requirements.

Sattler and Denck also differed on the value of baptism. Sattler believed that through baptism the believer was admitted into the church of the saints. Denck did not place much value on the sacraments, which were for him nothing more than external symbols. Denck’s entire concept of church and baptism is derived from the great influence of Mysticism, as represented by Tauler, Deutsche Theologie, and the Imitation of Christ.

Sattler, like the Reformers, taught that Christ came to save all who believe on Him, but that he who does not believe will be condemned. Denck taught that Christ died for all, and that God has destined all men for salvation. In Denck is seen the bold flight of the spirit which wants to penetrate into the deepest questions of faith. Sattler clung to humble simplicity and withdrew from highflying spirits and theologians (Schriftgelehrte).

Sattler’s Discussion with Bucer and Capito in Strasbourg

After Denck, Ludwig Haetzer was staying in Capito’s home; but the serious, quiet, and upright Sattler was repelled by the restless and impure man. His association with Capito and Bucer was so much the more sincere. He presented to them a summary of Anabaptist teaching after consultation with the Anabaptists of Strasbourg, which shows a mystical-quietistic piety, but at the same time a deep inwardness and holy earnestness. The points of discussion between them were baptism, communion, power or sword, oath, and the ban. Sattler drew up his articles of faith as follows:

  1. Christ has come to save all who believe in Him.
  2. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.
  3. Faith in Christ reconciles us with the Father and gives access to Him.
  4. Baptism seals all the believers into the body of Christ, who is now their Head.
  5. Christ is the head of His body, that is, of the believing church.
  6. As the Head, so shall the body be.
  7. The predestined and called believers shall be conformed to the image of Christ.
  8. Christ despises the world; His children shall do the same. He has no kingdom in this world; the world is against His kingdom.
  9. The believers have been chosen out of the world; therefore the world hates them.
  10. The devil is the prince of all the world; through him all the children of darkness reign.
  11. Christ is the prince of all spirits; through Him live all that walk in the light.
  12. The devil seeks to destroy, Christ to save.
  13. The flesh is at enmity with the spirit, the spirit with the flesh.
  14. The spiritual are Christ’s; the carnal belong to death and the wrath of God.
  15. Christians are quite at rest and confident in their Father in heaven, without any external worldly armor.
  16. Christ’s citizenship is in heaven, not on the earth.
  17. Christians are the family of God and citizens of the saints, not of the world.
  18. But they are the true Christians who do the teachings of Christ with works.
  19. Flesh and blood, display, worldly honor, and also the world cannot comprehend the teachings of Christ. In short, Christ and Belial have nothing in common.

Capito and Bucer discussed these points with Sattler in “brotherly discipline and peace,” but did not reach an agreement. Sattler realized the untenability of his situation. On the one hand, he must have feared that the learned theologians would influence him to change his mind, which would for him denote a denial and blasphemy of God. On the other hand, he feared that if he persisted in his views he would fall into the hands of the authorities.

The Schleitheim Conference

It is probably right to assume that in the last months of 1526 (not in 1527) Sattler went into the Hohenberg territory in Württemberg in response to an invitation by Reublin. There he wrote a letter of farewell to Capito and Bucer, defending his departure. Reublin and Sattler divided the Hohenberg region between them, Reublin taking the work south of Rottenburg, and Sattler in the north, with his headquarters in Horb. Sattler was very successful and won a large following for the Anabaptist movement in and around Horb. His influence is indicated by the fact that he presided at the conference at Schleitheim on 24 February 1527, which adopted a confession of faith drawn up in seven points and sent to the brotherhood in the form of an epistle (see Brüderlich Vereinigung) Though these articles did not attain the status of a full confession of faith, they offered a firm foundation for the High German and Swiss Anabaptists, and at the same time rejected the libertinism of a man like Haetzer. The goal set by Sattler for the Brethren was the creation of a holy church, which was forbidden all association with persons of other faiths, all participation in the religious services of Catholic or Protestants, all association in civilian life including trade, all acceptance of public office, all use of weapons and legal compulsion, and all swearing. At the same time Sattler created a proper organization. Each congregation was to choose and dismiss its “shepherd.” The “shepherd” had the leadership of the congregation in his hand in the broadest sense, especially the conducting of worship services, communion, reading, admonishing, teaching, reproving, banning, and audible prayer. Very carefully Sattler provided for the preservation of the office of preaching during persecution, so that the congregations should never lack a firm hand, even though their preacher should be banished or killed. The seven articles of the Schleitheim Confession testify to Sattler’s holy zeal and his unfeigned warmth and devotion.

Sattler’s Arrest and Trial

When Sattler returned from Schleitheim, the Anabaptists had already been discovered at Rottenburg, without Sattler’s having any premonition of it. Then at the end of February he with his wife and Reublin’s wife, Matthias Hiller, and Veit Veringer of Rottenburg, and a number of men and women of Horb were arrested. The government had made a valuable catch. For on Sattler were found not only the seven articles, but also some important written notations on the plans and activities of the Swiss Brethren. The authorities did not trust the feeling in Horb, and the prison was not strong enough or large enough for the great number of prisoners; they feared a revolt. Therefore the prisoners were led by Count Joachim von Zollern and the foremost officials, with fourteen horses, to the more secluded town of Binsdorf. Here Sattler wrote a letter of consolation to the congregation at Horb. He admonished them to be steadfast and bade them farewell. For he was constantly threatened, now with the rope, now with fire, and now with the sword. But these did not terrify him; with his wife and brethren he had committed himself entirely to the will of the Lord, but he knew that martyrdom awaited him.

The Innsbruck (Austria) authorities, under whose jurisdiction this territory fell, had decided to hold court in Rottenburg, and on 18 March the towns of Ueberlingen, Radolfszell, Stockach, and Villingen received orders to send two judges each to Rottenburg. The University of Tübingen was also required to send two doctors of the imperial law, since it was feared that laymen might pass an unsuitable verdict, and also because they wanted to be protected against public opinion, which might have accused the government of dealing too lightly with so serious a matter as a religious trial in committing it solely to the laity. The trial was set for 12 April; but all sorts of hindrances interfered. Horb refused to deliver the prisoners to the court. The government was acquainted with the mood of Horb and had therefore taken the four Anabaptist leaders to Binsdorf.

The strictly Catholic University of Tübingen also flatly refused to send two lawyers, for they knew that the outcome would be a death sentence, which would disqualify them for the priesthood; some had already taken the first steps toward entering the priesthood, and others were planning to do so soon, and they could not be consecrated if they took part in a criminal court. The university also raised the objection that it had a burden of work accruing from the courts in its own principality, whereas Rottenburg belonged to another rule. And finally they noted that the Rottenburg parish belonged to the University of Freiburg, which should therefore be interested in an ecclesiastical trial in Rottenburg. Did the government feel that the real motive behind the university’s refusal was horror of the capital punishment its representatives were to approve?

With amazement the authorities noted the large number of appeals for mercy for the prisoners, an indication of the mood of the people. For Count Joachim, a man of indolent calm, and his officials the entire case, which was creating so much work, was most inconvenient. How easily they could have been relieved of the work of holding court by simply calling in the imperial provost Aichele to hang the Anabaptists quietly on the nearest tree, as the Swabian League did! The Count actually made this proposal to the government. The government replied contemptuously that the honor of the house of Austria did not permit execution without trial and sentence. Even Ferdinand, who in his hasty manner declared “the third baptism,” i.e., drowning, the best antidote to Anabaptism, and who had expressed the wish that Sattler be drowned without delay by Aichele, but felt that for the others there was no need to hurry, was persuaded to postpone the court session to 17 May. Ehingen was added to the towns mentioned above which were to send representatives to Rottenburg. Freiburg also sent two men, though they were not members of the university. The Innsbruck authorities appealed to Stuttgart to use its influence on the University of Tübingen to send two jurists; they were not to be doctors of spiritual law, but of temporal law, who were laymen. Once more the university protested that it had no jurists but those who were now priests or about to take orders, and claimed papal and imperial law. Indeed, on 6 May the university sent two of its members to Stuttgart to present their refusal to send delegates. Stuttgart rejected the appeal, for it wanted to please Innsbruck. A clever evasion was agreed upon, probably suggested by Stuttgart. Two doctors actually went to Rottenburg; they were better paid than was usual for the first court session; they were, however, not doctors of law, but of the arts. They were Georg Farner of Kirchheim and Balthasar Stumpp of Waiblingen.

Now Innsbruck also considered it necessary to call two men from Ensisheim because of their wealth of experience in religious trials. But there was no other government with so bad a reputation as Ensisheim. Their lack of earnestness and strength was matched by an ambitious attitude, full of sycophancy toward their superiors and bloodthirstiness toward their inferiors. The men sent by Ensisheim had no lack of experience in or of inclination for “Blutgericht.” They were the city secretary Eberhard Hofmann and Jodokus Gundersheim, the city secretary of Neuenburg.

Michael Sattler and his wife, Veit Veringer, and Matthias Hiller, who had thus far spent eleven weeks and three days in jail, were taken to Rottenburg by the mayor of Binsdorf, Peter Putz with twenty-four horsemen. Since Count Joachim feared a revolt in the town fifty-six additional foot soldiers were drawn from the villages of the lower district and sent to Rottenburg.

On Wednesday, 15 May 1527, the judges called to the trial were already assembled, so that the court could open. According to the Villingen chronicle the court consisted of twenty-four judges. The chairman was the “Landeshauptmann” Count Joachim of Zollern. The attorney for the defense was the mayor of Rottenburg, Jakob Halbmayer, whom Sattler made responsible for the outcome of the trial; but he appeared only at the beginning and the end of the trial. During the trial, feeling inadequate to the position, he had Hofmann speak for him. The assumption is probably correct that this eloquent legal expert was the conspicuous character in the affair and that he was responsible for the cruel sentence, which aroused great excitement.

There are four accounts of the course of the trial; the simplest and most credible has the title, Ayn newes wunderbarliches geschicht von Michael Sattler zu Rottenburg am Neckar sampt andern 9 mannen seiner lere und glauben halben verbrannt und 10 wyaber ertrenkt, 1527 (copy in the Wolfenbüttel library, photostatic copy in Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, Indiana, USA)). This account is based on the narration of Klaus von Graveneck, a Swabian who had presumably been forced to come to Rottenburg with arms to protect the court. He was a Protestant. In the Peasants’ War he had in person gathered a company of peasants and was therefore arrested, and not released until 5 May 1526. His sisters Kunigunde and Margarete had been nuns in the Königsfelden convent, but had married Zürich clergymen. The account was probably written by a brother-in-law of Klaus von Graveneck and printed in Zürich. The second account appeared as an appendix to the Brüderlich Vereinigung and was headed, Folgen die Artikel und Handhabung, so Michael Sattler zu Rottenburg am Neckar mit seinem Blut bezeuget hat (Walther Köhler, Flugschriften II, no. 3). This appeared in a Dutch translation with some of Sattler’s writings as early as 1560 (reprint 1565). The third account is Eines Wiedertäuffers Nachricht an die Brüder und Schwestern des Schweizerlandes von Hinrichtung einiger ihrer Secte zu Rothenburg am Neckar und der dabei vorgefallenen Wunderzeichen, printed in Füsslin (II, 374-88), written by Reublin and sent to the Brethren in Zollikon, Grüningen, Basel, and Appenzell. A fourth account is found in the chronicles of the Hutterian Brethren, published by Josef Beck (pp. 26 ff.). A fifth account, written by Johannes Schlegel of Ravensburg, first prebendary at Zürichberg, then assistant in Dübendorf, then three years in Bernese territory, about 1525 assistant in Höngg, 1528 pastor in Otelfingen, 1530 in Elgg, d. 1552, has not yet been found. Christian Friedrich Sattler gives brief but independent data certainly based upon material in the state archives.

The trial opened on Friday, 17 May and continued on Saturday. On the bench of the accused sat Michael Sattler, his wife, Matthias Hiller, Veit Veringer of Rottenburg, and seven other men and eight other women. According to the Villingenchronicle there were fourteen defendants. First they were given their choice of attorney. Sattler, speaking for the group, declined the offer, since it was not a legal matter. The way of law was forbidden them by God’s Word; he was willing to be shown the contrary from the Word of God. Sattler spoke in a courteous, modest, but definite manner. Very wisely he called the judges the servants of God, thereby on the one hand recognizing their authority, though of course only to the extent that it did not concern religious matters, and on the other hand he appealed to their conscience by calling attention to their responsibility. Sattler briefly questioned the competence of the court. But no attention was paid to this objection, for they had been appointed by the Austrian government, and were therefore competent.

Original website here



  1. […] the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopdia Online. It is from the same source as the biography but that post was getting quite long so this one is posted separately. The trial of Michael Sattler is contained […]

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