Schwenkfelders

Those who follow the teachings of the aristocratic German diplomat and lay theologian, Kaspar von Ossig Schwenkfeld (1489-1561). Early acquaintance with Andreas Carlstadt* and Thomas Münzer* led him to adopt many of the principles of the Reformation,* but he had definite convictions of his own concerning the Lord's Supper, Christology, and church discipline, and these led him into successive conflicts with Luther,* Zwingli,* the Catholics, and Bucer.* He was forced to leave Silesia (1529) and Strasbourg (1534). The event that precipitated the 1540 Lutheran anathema was the publishing of Schwenkfeld's most characteristic doctrine-the deification of the humanity of Christ-in the Grosse Confession of 1540. In it he expressed his belief that all creatures are external to God, and God is external to all creatures. Therefore Christ's relationship to God must be entirely unique, and this uniqueness comes because He was “begotten” and not “created.” God is the Father of Christ's humanity and deity. Christ's flesh stood in a very special relationship with God. This led to Schwenkfeld's being branded as a religious outlaw in 1540 by a convention of Evangelical theologians led by Melanchthon.*

With his followers he withdrew from the Lutheran Church after 1540 and established a community of worshipers who were originally called “Confessors of the Glory of Christ.” Following a middle way between the great ecclesiastical and religious parties of their day, their congregations grew most readily in Silesia and Swabia, in the towns their founder had visited, and in Prussia. The movement flourished in the vicinity of Goldberg until 1720 when an adverse tract caused Emperor Charles VI to dispatch a Jesuit coercive mission against them. Some escaped by emigrating into Saxony and, being denied tolerance, proceeded to Holland, England, and finally by 1734 to E Pennsylvania. The colony in Silesia was restored by Frederick the Great in 1742 and existed until 1826. A small group of about 2,500 still exists in Pennsylvania and is very similar to Quakers in practice and belief.

O. Kadelbach, Ausführliche Geschichte Schwenkfeldts und der Schwenkfeldtianer (1861); H.W. Kriebel, The Schwenkfelders in Pennsylvania (1904); Corpus Schwenkfeldianorum (13 vols., 1907- 37).