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Munzer, Thomas

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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a religious enthusiast and fanatic of the great Reformation period, was born at Stolberg, in the Harz, about 1490. Of his youth we know little beyond what he stated himself to his judges at the time of his death (Walch, Luther's Werke, 16:158), namely, that he had resided at Aschersleben, and had studied at the university in Halle, and had taken part in a conspiracy against Ernest II, then archbishop of Magdeburg. As the archbishop died in 1513, this indicates how early Munzer began to be connected with secret associations. He also manifested early a great tendency to wandering from place to place in pursuance of visionary plans. He appears to have entered the University of Leipsic soon after he left Halle; at least we find him in 1515 with the degree of "magister artium" and bachelor of theology. He then acted as head of a school at Frohsen, near Aschersleben.

In 1517 he appears as teacher in a gymnasium at Brunswick, then at Stolberg in the same year, and again at Leipsic in 1519. Next he was made chaplain and confessor of the Bernardine nunnery of Beutitz, near Weissenfels. This he left in 1520, and was made preacher of the church of St. Mary, at Zwickau, the principal church in the place. His very first sermon there (Rogation Sunday, 1520) made a deep impression, and brought him a large number of enemies as well as friends. At the breaking out of the Reformation, his unquiet spirit made him side at once with the movement. He entered into communication with Luther, and was looked upon as one of the sturdiest champions of reform. But he only understood the negative view of the Reformer's doctrines, that which overthrew the existing form of clerical life. Munzer now fearlessly attacked the mendicant orders, which were in a state of great prosperity at Zwickau, and soon found himself involved in a bitter controversy with their defender, brother Tiburtius of Weissenfels. Both parties had adherents among the population; yet Munzer succeeded in getting the ascendency by enlisting the sympathies of the most influential citizens, who had often suffered from the pride and arrogance of the monks. Munzer, however, still showed some moderation, as he declared himself ready to submit to the decision of the bishop of Naumburg, and also addressed letters of justification to Luther. Hardly was this quarrel over (towards the middle of 1520), when Munzer became involved in another. In the same church of St. Mary to which he was attached was another priest having the same functions, and who had been installed some years before Munzer. This priest was Dr. Johann (Sylvius) Wildenauer, a native of Eger, and generally known as Egranus. He inclined also to the doctrines of the Reformation, but only accepted their humanistic conclusions, and went no further with Munzer than condemning the ignorance of the monks.

On other points he sided with the aristocracy of the town, and his private life was not above reproach. He was vain, conceited, and much given to advancing paradoxical theories. He and Munzer soon began to quarrel, and in November 1520, they had already arrived at the point of exhibiting their differences in the pulpit. The population sided with Munzer, seeing in him not only the reformer of the Church, but their defender against clerical oppression. Munzer now gave full scope to his talents as a popular orator, and, helped on by the events of the times, had great success. Among his adherents was a weaver, Nicholas Storch, who subsequently obtained some reputation. Being either already connected with the sect of Bohme, or led on by Munzer alone, Storch soon became the head of a band of fanatics who boasted of supernatural communication, and spread by means of secret conventicles. Twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples were elected, and Munzer and Storch became the heads of the society. This movement made steady progress, and by its influence Egranus was finally obliged to leave Zwickau for Joachimsthal. This, however, did not suffice to restore peace to the town. Munzer, probably dissatisfied with his subordinate position as preacher of St. Mary's, succeeded in being appointed to the church of St. Catharine. Here; in connection with a master of arts, Loner, he excited the people against a priest of Marienthal, Nicholas Hofer, who had openly attacked him. Hofer was obliged to seek safety in flight, December, 1520. Being called to account by the official of the bishop, Minzer denounced the official in the pulpit, summoning him to appear at Zwickau (January 13, 1521). In spite of the admonitions of his friends, and in simple trust to the support of the lower classes, Munzer now cast off all restraint. He caused libels against Egranus to be posted up at the doors of the churches, and was therefore dismissed by the civil authorities after they had inquired into the whole affair. He remained in town nevertheless, and caused a rising of the weavers. The authorities were obliged to take vigorous measures; fifty- five of the ringleaders were apprehended, and a large number of the others hurriedly left the town, Munzer among them. Peace was now restored in the city, the more readily as the authorities, following Luther's advice, appointed Nicholas Hausmann, previously pastor of Schneeberg, as pastor of St. Mary's church. Still Storch and his followers staved at Zwickau, and remained undisturbed until Christmas, 1521, when the zealous Hausmann caused them to be exiled from the city. Their subsequent career, under the name of "Prophets of Zwickau," in Wittenberg, is well known (on Munzer's stay at Zwickau, see Laurentius Wilhelm, Descriptio urbis Cygnece [published by Tobias Schmidt, Zwickau, 1633], pages 90, 215, 217). Munzer left Zwickau in April 1521, in company with Marcus Thoma, and travelled for a while through Central Germany (see Seidemann, Thomas Miinzer, page 122). His former career had given him some reputation, and the dissatisfied portion of the population everywhere rallied around him.

In September 1521, we find him at Saatz, where he met a large number of Moravians. The works of Luther were by that time known in Bohemia, and had awakened ardent sympathies. Munzer was warmly received, and in November, 1521, he openly published at Prague a proclamation to the Bohemians (printed in the Anabaptisticum et enthusiasticum Pantheon, 1702, and with additions in Seidemann, page 122). This proclamation affords an early glimpse of the doctrines which Muinzer subsequently unfolded in his publications.. But Prague was not a suitable field for such attempts at a radical reform, and Minzer was exiled. In the early part of 1522 he went to Wittenberg, where, under the influence of Carlstadt and the prophets of Zwickau, a complete subversion of all existing ecclesiastical relations was daily progressing (see Salig, Historie d. Augsburgischen Confession, 3:1099). Although connected with Melancthon and Bugenhagen, Munzer's feelings inclined him more towards Carlstadt's views. When Luther came to Wittenberg, Munzer felt that his labors would not be longer profitable there, and left. He appears to have soon after gone to Nordhausen, and in 1523 was married and succeeded in being appointed pastor of Alstedt, in Thuringia. The community at that place appears to have been entirely devoted to Munzer, as was also his colleague, Simon Haseritz (on the latter, see Hagen, Deutschland's litterar. u. relig. Veuf. im Reformationszeitalter, 1844, 3:114), and he conducted worship according to his own views. A work which he published on the subject at that time still shows some moderation (Ordnung, u. berechunge des Teutschen ampts zu Alstadt durch Tomam Muntzer, etc., 1523). He retained the practice of infant baptism, with some ceremonies not commanded in Scripture. Soon after, however, he advanced further in his liturgical changes (in the Deutsch-Evangelisch Messje, Alstedt, 1524, and Deutsch Kirchenampt, etc., Alstedt). He was the first preacher to substitute the German language for the Latin in the public prayers and singing, and composed a directory for worship which was in harmony with his ideas of the Reformation. The quiet duties of a pastor not satisfying Miinzer, and being desirous to contest with Luther the leadership in the reformatory movement, Munzer determined to use all means to destroy the latter's influence; but his conduct displeased the princes who favored the Reformation under Luther, and finally, at the request of Frederick of Saxony and John of Weimar, Munzer was obliged to leave Alstedt in 1524.

He now went successively to Nuremberg, Schaffhausen, and finally to Miihlhausen in Thuringia. In the latter place he acquired great influence over the people, which he hesitated not to use for his own purposes. He had adopted mystical views, and declaiming against what he called the "servile, liberal, and half" measures of the Reformers, required a radical reformation both in Church and State, according to his "inward light." He resolved on recourse to violent means, and his cry became, "We must exterminate with the sword, like Joshua, the Canaanitish nations." He caused the authorities of this place to be superseded, the convents and richest houses of the city to be plundered, and communism to be proclaimed. "Munzer," Luther wrote to Amsdorff, April 11, 1525, "Munzer is king, and emperor of Muhlhausen, and no longer is pastor." The lowest classes ceased to work. If any one wanted a piece of cloth or a supply of corn, he asked his richer neighbor; if the latter refused, the penalty was hanging. Muhlhausen being at that time a free town, Munzer exercised his power unmolested. He was, moreover, encouraged in his course by being joined about this same time by another band of fanatics under Pfeiffer. This, and the rumor that forty thousand peasants were arming in Franconia, decided Munzer to go still further and make himself master of the situation by an appeal to the peasants of Thuringia, promising them the spoils taken from their lords. The revolt of the peasants of Southern Germany led him to imagine that the time had come to extend his new kingdom. He had cast some large guns in the convent of the Franciscans, and now exerted himself to raise the peasantry and miners. "When will you shake off your slumbers," said he, in a fanatical address: "Arise and fight the battle of the Lord! The time is come France, Germany, and Italy are up and doing. Up and at it! Dran (at it!), dran, dran! Heed not the cries of the ungodly. They will weep like children but be you pitiless. Dran, dran, dran! Fire burns let your swords be ever tinged with blood! Dran, dran, dran! Work while it is day." The letter was signed "Munzer, God's servant against the ungodly," or "Thomas Munzer, with the sword of Gideon." Leaving Pfeiffer as governor at Muhlhausen, he marched towards Frankenhausen, and committed all manner of excesses in the country which he traversed. The country people, eager for plunder, flocked in crowds to his standard. Throughout the districts of Mansfeld, Stolberg, Schwarzburg, Hesse, and Brunswick the peasantry rose en masse. The convents of Michelstein, Ilsenburg, Walkenried, Rossleben, and many others in the neighborhood of the Hartz mountains or in the plains of Thuringia, were plundered. At Reinhardsbrunn, the place which Luther had once visited, the tombs of the ancient landgraves were violated, and the library destroyed.

Terror spread far and wide. Even at Wittenberg some anxiety began to be felt the doctors who had not feared emperors nor pope trembled in presence of the madman. Curiosity was all alive to the accounts of what was going on, and watched every step in the progress of the insurrection. Melancthon wrote: "We are here in imminent danger. If Munzer be successful, it is all over with us; unless Christ should appear for our deliverance. Munzer's progress is marked by more than Scythian cruelty. His threats are more dreadful than I can tell you." The elector John, duke George of Saxony, the landgrave Philip of Hesse, and duke Henry of Brunswick finally united their forces, and sent fifteen hundred horsemen and some companies of infantry against the rebels. Muinzer's men then numbered about eight thousand. A battle was fought May 15, 1525, and the insurgents were completely defeated; according to some accounts they lost five thousand men, according to others seven thousand. Frankenhausen was taken and plundered. Munzer, discouraged, hid in a bed, feigning to be sick. He would have escaped, but a soldier having found in his travelling-bag a letter by count Mansfeld, Munzer was recognised and arrested. Being put to the torture, he revealed the names of his accomplices; was then taken to Muhlhausen, where Pfeiffer, who had sought to escape was also a prisoner, and the two, together with twenty-four other rebels, were beheaded. His numerous writings, all of which are still extant, indicate a more than ordinary mind and will, but they betray also a great lack of sound judgment and a want of common-sense. His language is often forcibly eloquent, but all his utterances are tinged with coarseness and vulgarity. See Melancthon, Die Historie v. Thome Muntzer, etc. (1525); Christ. Guil. Aurbachii Dissertationes oratoriae de eloquentia inepta Thomae Munzeri (Wittenb. 1716); Loscher, Dissertatio de Muntzeri doctrina et factis (Leips. 1708); Strobel, Leben, Schriften u. Lehren Thoma Muntzer's (Nurnb. and Altdorf, 1795); Baczko, Thomas Munzer (Halle and Leips. 1812); Seidemann, Thomas Miinzer (Dresden and Leipsic, 1842); Leo, Thomas Munzer (Berlin, 1856); Evangel. Kirchenzeit. 1856, page 293; Kapp, Nachlese niitzlich. Reformations-Urkund. 2:613; Cyprian, Reformations-Urkunden, 2:339; Walch, Luther's Werke, 16:4 sq., 171 sq.; Frank, Ketzer-Chronik, page 187; Seckendorf, Hist. Lutheranismi, 1:118, 156, etc.; Sleidanus, De statu, etc., lib. 5:1; Arnold, Kirchen-u. Ketzerhistorie, 1740, 1:629, 674; Otting, Annales Anabaptist. 1672, pages 4, 6, 16, 42; Ranke, Deutsche Gesch. im Zeitalter d. Reform. 2:187, 192, 215, 225; D'Aubigne, Hist. of the Ref. in Germany and Switzerland, 3:207 sq.; Hardwick, Hist. Church of the Reformation, page 252 sq., page 40, n. 1; Hagenbach, Kirchengesch. 3 (4th ed. Leips. 1870), Lect. 20; Gieseler, Ecclesiastes Hist. volume 4 (Harper's ed.); Seebohm, Hist. Prot. Revolution, page 136, 141 sq., 150; Blackwood's Magazine, February 1847, page 385 sq.; Zeitschr. f. hist. Theologie, 1858, 1860. (See PEASANTS WAR).

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Munzer, Thomas'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​m/munzer-thomas.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
 
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