Pilgram Marpeck: Living Christ

This multi-part post is the third in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It features different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream. In this post and in the next two weeks we will focus on Pilgram Marpeck.

In 1520, Pilgram Marpeck, trained in civil engineering, was welcomed to the brotherhood of miners in Austria . After doing some favors to the Archduke Ferdinand over the next five years, he was appointed by Ferdinand to be mining superintendent over Rattenberg. As normal in such a position, Marpeck gave an oath of loyalty to Ferdinand, vowing to obey all of Ferdinand’s commands and to obey all the laws of the land. In that charge he represented the Archduke in taking custody of rebels, and held the lives and deaths of the miners under his care in his hands.

In this time, the writings and controversies of Martin Luther enflamed Europe. Although his career and solid government connections would be effected by any strong religious conviction, he held conversations with young Lutherans and were convinced by their arguments. In his words,

“I give them testimony that I came to the truth partly through their writing, teaching, and preaching, for I was deeply possessed and imprisoned by the human laws of the papacy which is nothing by demon possession. Through their teachings and writings I was set free to the liberty of the flesh. Where before I had been bound and had suffered in conscience, I was now free.” (Expose)

Marpeck concluded thus, even though Ferdinand was, in 1522, beginning to crack down on any “heretics” in opposition to the Catholic faith. By the summer of 1524, however, Ferdinand backed off on persecution of Lutherans and helped to write reforms for the Catholic Church in response to reformation activity.

But once Marpeck had opened the Pandora’s box of truth, he could not be stopped. Having been freed by Lutheran teachings, by the end of 1527 he spoke to a group of Anabaptists, who felt that Luther’s reforms did not go far enough. In January of 1528, he was commanded by Ferdinand to assist the local sheriff in persecuting Anabaptists. But Marpeck said that he heard truth from these Anabaptists that he had never heard before.

In later writings, Marpeck wrote that the basis of his understanding of the Christian life is on the humanity of Jesus.

“The true gospel and Word of the Father (by which one becomes a Christian or born again) was preached and proclaimed to human persons by the human person Jesus Christ, himself the Word…” (Outline, p. 34)

Thus all Christians are to take Jesus as the exemplar human being, the example of life to us all.

“We must simply in all of our actions stand idle ourselves, as dead in ourselves, if Christ is to live in us, which life and walk alone are pleasing to the Father.” (Spiritual p. 90)

We are no longer to live for ourselves, nor for authorities over us, but for Christ alone, allowing Him to live through us.

And the one thing the Anabaptists taught him about the life of Christ that was missing in both Catholic and Lutheran teaching was living out the suffering of Christ.

“Christ the highest Lord did not come to dominate, coerce, condemn, nor rule. He will allow no one to be accused before him, and himself accuses no one. Rather, he was himself a servant, and allowed himself to be dominated, violated, accused, condemned, and cursed, and to suffer injustice.” (Expose)

Thus, within two days of his final command from Ferdinand to assist in the persecution (and eventual execution) of an Anabaptist, Marpeck resigned from his office. Around this same time, Mapeck’s wife died. Recognizing that he would have to live the life of a vagabond Anabaptist, Marpeck arranged for his children to be adoped by his wife’s family. A couple years later all his property was confiscated. After living for years as a magistrate, powerful, with a supportive wife and healthy children, he began his life truly following Jesus as Jesus himself did: penniless, without family, without house or home, without a single person to call his friend.

Works Used:

Dyck, Cornelius J., Spiritual Life in Anabaptism: Classic Devotional Resources. Herald Press, 1995.

Klaassen, Walter, Anabaptism in Outline. Herald Press, 1981.

Klaassen, Walter and Klassen, William, Marpeck: A life of dissent and conformity. Studies in Anabaptist History, no. 44. Herald Press, 2008.

Marpeck, Pilgram, Expose of the Babylon Whore. The Anabaptist Network. http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/250

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