Dr. Royden Loewen
September 20, 2018
The Origins of Swiss Anabaptism in the Context of the Reformation of the Common Man: An Article Review
Werner Packull’s article “The Origins of Swiss Anabaptism in the Context of the Reformation of the Common Man” explores the polygenesis viewpoint of Anabaptist origins. The polygenesis thesis suggests that the people who gave Anabaptism its push were not in fact the university educated reformers, but instead the common man. In this instance, the common man includes peasants, those working in trades and those living in rural towns. Packull explores a variety of ideas of the polygenesis origin, including the genesis in urban radicals and rural reformers, the scaled down significance of Conrad Grebel and others, as well as how the Anabaptists ended the peasant movement still as minorities.
Packull’s article points out that “Swiss Anabaptism had its genesis in the converging interests of urban radicals (the Castelberger school) and rural reformers (Stumpf, Reublin, Bröti)” (pg. 54). Andreas Castelberger, a book peddler, had a job in the printing press and transmitted radical ideas to small towns around Zurich. In early 1522 he formed a “school of heretics”, which would be known in modern times as a Bible study. The school was originally comprised of a baker, seamster, weaver and cabinetmaker. The men were all considered to be “common” and these are the main characters at play in the polygenesis view on the beginnings of Anabaptism. The author gives numerous examples to show how influential these urban radicals were to bring forth social and religious change. One of these examples speaks about the harassment that members of the school of heretics received. This happened because “not everyone in Zurich believed that the common man should concern himself with religious questions traditionally left to the clergy or other appropriate authorities” (pg. 39). Because this resentment towards Castelberger’s followers came from privileged people, Packull argues that the radicals would be finding their support from lower classes; the “common people”. He also argues that it was easy to see the heretics aligning their opinions with those of the common people due to the topics of their studies. They were taught that “anyone who expropriated "house, farm, land or meadows" of the poor was no better "than a thief and murderer." and that ‘The poor thief who stole for want of his starving children was contrasted favourably” (pg. 40). Perhaps one of the most important connections between Castelberger’s people and the start of Anabaptism involves Hochrutiner. He was exiled from Zurich after the removal of the crucifix at Stadelhofen. He then moved to St. Gall and made comments in a Bible study against pedo-baptism. Adult baptism is at the root of Anabaptism so “It is therefore historically permissible to see in this school the cradle of fut...