Marpeck: A Life of Dissent and Conformity
Walter Klaasen and William Klassen
Herald Press, 2008
Pilgram Marpeck (1495-1556), unlike many Anabaptists of his time, did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he “lived on the edge, carefully navigating his fervent commitment to witnessing to an Anabaptist vision of the gospel alongside his more public persona as a highly skilled professional living in relative political and financial security.” How he managed the tensions of such navigation in an era when Catholics and Protestants were at each other’s throats, and the Turks a constant threat, is central to this book.
The authors paint a sympathetic portrait of Marpeck who, wherever he lived, gained favour with authorities for his professional work as engineer while drawing followers to his interpretation of Anabaptism. The physical and spiritual well-being of these followers became his concern and they often gathered at his home.
Marpeck was born in 1495 in Rattenberg, Austria, where Archduke Frederick appointed him mining superintendent. After he joined the Anabaptists in 1528, he quietly resigned and left Rattenberg, a fugitive fleeing Frederick’s harsh decree against Anabaptists. He eventually arrived in Strasbourg where he again found employment in civil service, supplying the city with wood obtained in the Black Forest and conveyed to the city on rivers and streams.
In Strasbourg, he debated with other reformers, such as Martin Bucer. His criticism of evangelical reformers who were willing to defend the faith with force may have contributed to his banishment from “the city of hope.”
Marpeck, no legalist, preferred a spirit of freedom to strict church discipline. He envisioned a “loving, responsible, disciplined community of faith,” and consistently opposed coercion and dominance. He was drawn to the mystical concept of Gelassenheit (yieldedness) which emphasized detachment from property, and considered women fellow workers in the community of believers.
The authors have taken pains to describe the wider context within which Pilgram Marpeck lived and worked. Consequently the reader is given not only a full portrait of the man but also a fresh look at a significant era in Anabaptist history. Although scholarly and detailed, the writing is clear and readable and no one should hesitate to enjoy it.