Biographical Sketch of Thomas Muntzer  

By Jessica Snow, Biola University

screenshot-2016-10-25-15-49-11

Summary of Life

Birth:

  • Definitely born before 1490 in Stolberg, Germany.[1]
  • Recent research has confirmed that 1489 is the most likely year.[2]

Early Years

  • (In general, there is very little information on the early years of Thomas Muntzer’s life.)
  • 1506 – Name is registered at the University of Leipzig.[3]
  • 1512 – attained master of arts and bachelors of theology from University of Frankfurt an der Oder.[4]
    • Specialized in Linguistics, particularly Greek, Hebrew, and Latin
  • 1513-1515 – Assistant teacher/clergyman in various schools[5]
  • 1516-1517 – Prior at Frohse monastery in Aschersleben.[6]

Middle Years

  • 1518 – Introduced to Martin Luther and interested in his ideas.[7]
  • 1519 – Speaks out against the Franciscan order and the veneration of the saints.[8]
    • Ideas fit in the box, wants to push the envelope
  • 1519-1520 – Goes back to school to develop these new ideas at the monastery of Beuditz at Weissenfels.[9]
    • During this time he developed his own views based in mysticism.
    • Thought Luther’s work was important for both church and secular life.
  • Pastored at Zwickau where there was large separation between common people and the upper class
    • Sided most often with the common people believing authority comes from within God’s own and not from the Bible, thus deviating from both the Roman Catholic church and Luther.
    • Was encouraged to be here by Luther originally, later kicked out for his differing ideas.[10]
  • 1521 – Published manifesto in Prague on a new church rising up that would be governed by the Holy Spirit.[11]
  • 1522 – Recognizing vast differences from Luther by getting into a disagreement with his supporters where they are the ones threatening him.[12]

Later Years

  • 1522 – Meets future wife, Ottilie von Gersen, who used to be a nun.[13]
  • 1523 – Became pastor at a church in Allstedt.[14]
  • 1525 – Gives vision for the people to bring about God’s justice and takes his place as the Commander of the troops in the Peasant War.[15]

Death

  • Died May 27, 1525, beheaded after the Peasants War didn’t succeed.

Influence and Recognition

  • Influenced by:
    • Martin Luther was an initial influence to Muntzer to think differently and challenge the assumptions of authority. Muntzer took this further and in a different direction over the years after discovering Luther, but Luther was still the initial inspiration.
    • Nikolaus Storch, led a reform group called the “Zwickau prophets” that influenced Muntzer in authority coming from God’s people and not scripture.[16] This notion is what encouraged Muntzer to lead the peasants into war, because he believed they were God’s people bringing divine judgment and truth.
  • Influenced:
    • Locally and immediately, Muntzer influence the thousands of peasants that partook in the Peasant War. He encouraged them to fight as he believed the end was drawing near, and they were about to bring God’s wrath and plan for the church.
    • 1843 – Friedrich Engels, a co-founder of Marxism, wrote that Christians must be in society that shares all things to be “proper.” He reached this conclusion after reading Muntzer’s writings.[17] Engels always assumed that Muntzer was much more concerned about the social aspect of his movement than the religious. He just used the religious part to get his point across.[18]
    • 1975 – The Peasants War was noted by the German Democratic Republic, bringing it into the light again noticed more modernly for its ideological contributions.[19]
  •  Known for:
    • Thomas Muntzer is most commonly known for the Peasant War
    • Also known for his disagreements with Luther and the rest of the Reformation.
    • Theology of Revolution

Key Theological ideas

  • In development of theology, Muntzer focused greatly on pneumatology and eschatology.[20]
  • Theology of Revolution[21] – This is a term many use to describe Muntzer theology that the people of God needed to rise to fulfill the call God had for revolution in the land. This is the ideology that encouraged communist support later. It came from ideas he had seen Storch that encouraged the authority of God being displayed through people that possessed his Spirit.
  • Questioned Infant Baptism with the Anabaptists.[22]

Works

  • Types:
    • Muntzer wrote letters, speeches, and other rhetorical devices used for persuasion. He was focused on wanting to rally together the people through his writing.
  • Major Works:
    • Letter written to Count Ernst of Mansfeld
    • Vindication and Refutation
    • A Sermon before the Princes
    • “Open Letter to the People of Allstedt”
    • The Prague Manifesto
  • Publications:
    • Matheson ed. and trans., The Collected Works of Thomas Muntzer (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988)

Secondary Works

  • Thomas Müntzer: Briefwechsel, ed. Siegfried Bräuer und Manfred Kobuch. Thomas-Müntzer-Ausgabe. Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Vol. 2. ed. Helmar Junghans und Armin Kolmle. Leipzig: Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig. 2010. [ThMA 2]
    • This is a very important work on Muntzer that revolutionized many ideas about the relevancy of Muntzer as well as clarified many ambiguous historical facts or assumptions through meticulous research in just 2010.[23] Being almost 600 pages in length, this work is comprehensive and holds the most information on this Muntzer and his influences. Unfortunately though, it is also in German, so I was unable to read it.
  • Elliger, Walter. Thomas Müntzer : Leben u. Werk. n.p.: Göttingen : Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1975.
  • Junghans, Reinhard. “The rise and decline of Thomas Müntzer.” Lutheran Quarterly 5, no. 3, 1991: 247-276. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.
    • I found this text to be especially insightful as it helped show the modern implications for the use of Muntzer’s words in the interpretation done by the communist party. Seeing the application of Muntzer’s ideas in a contemporary format is fascinating and saddening.
  • Josipovic, Mario, and William McNiel. “Thomas Müntzer as ‘Disturber of the Godless’: A Reassessment of His Revolutionary Nature.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 70, no. 4 (October 1996): 431-447. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
  • Bensing, Manfred, and Ed. 2014. “Müntzer, Thomas.” Encyclopædia Britannica Research Starters, EBSCOhost.

 

Bibliography

Bensing, Manfred, and Ed. 2014. “Müntzer, Thomas.” Encyclopædia Britannica Research Starters, EBSCOhost.

Josipovic, Mario, and William McNiel. “Thomas Müntzer as ‘Disturber of the Godless’: A Reassessment of His Revolutionary Nature.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 70, no. 4 (October 1996): 431-447. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

Junghans, Reinhard. “The rise and decline of Thomas Müntzer.” Lutheran Quarterly 5, no. 3: 247-276. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Livingstone, E.A., Thomas Muntzer, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3 ed.), Oxford University Press, 2015.

Maczka, Romwald. “Retheologizing Thomas Müntzer in the German Democratic Republic: 15 years of Marxist and non-Marxist research.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 63, no. 4: 345-366. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Matheson, Peter. 2012. “Recent German research on Thomas Müntzer.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 86, no. 1: 97-109. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Endnotes

[1] Manfred Bensing, and Ed. 2014. “Müntzer, Thomas.” Encyclopædia Britannica Research Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2017).

[2] Peter Matheson. 2012. “Recent German research on Thomas Müntzer.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 86, no. 1: 97-109. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 22, 2017).

[3] Bensing, “Müntzer, Thomas.”

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] E.A. Livingstone, Thomas Muntzer, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3 ed.), Oxford University Press, 2015.

[11] Bensing, “Müntzer, Thomas.”

[12] Bensing, “Müntzer, Thomas.”

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Livingstone, “Thomas Muntzer”.

[16] Bensing, “Müntzer, Thomas.”

[17] Junghans, 248.

[18] Junghans, 249.

[19] Romwald Maczka. 1989. “Retheologizing Thomas Müntzer in the German Democratic Republic: 15 years of Marxist and non-Marxist research.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 63, no. 4: 345-366. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, 346.

[20] Reinhard Junghans. 1991. “The rise and decline of Thomas Müntzer.” Lutheran Quarterly 5, no. 3: 247-276. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, 246.

[21] Mario Josipovic, and William McNiel. “Thomas Müntzer as ‘Disturber of the Godless’: A Reassessment of His Revolutionary Nature.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 70, no. 4 (October 1996): 431-447. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, 431.

[22] Livingstone, “Thomas Muntzer”.

[23] Matheson. “Recent German research on Thomas Müntzer.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s