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Jorg Maler's Kunstbuch. Writings of the Pilgram Marpeck Circle.

Jorg Maler's Kunstbuch. Writings of the Pilgram Marpeck Circle. Classics of the Radical Reformation 12. Edited by John D. Rempel. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2010. Pp. 753. $45, Can.

The present book is a major accomplishment. For the first time it presents the forty-two writings of the Kunstbuch anthology in a reliable English translation, based on the German critical edition of 2007 in Quellen zur Geschichte der Taufer, volume 17. It uses earlier English translations that the editor has carefully examined and revised, as well as new English renderings of previously untranslated portions of the Kunstbuch. John Rempel probes with great insight into the theological meaning of the texts. However, his view of the Kunstbuch's historical setting resists the scholarship of the past fifteen years---not only the groundbreaking findings of Martin Rothkegel, based on the location of new primary sources, but also the interpretations of Rothkegel's German coeditor, Heinold Fast, published in 1997. Hence what we have here is an English translation taking an oppositional stance against the German scholarship on which it is based.

Beside Rempel's work as translator and editor, an especially important part of the work of new translation was done by Victor Thiessen, Gerhard Reimer, Walter Klaassen and Leonard Gross, as well as seven other coworkers from the community of North American Mennonite scholars. The texts of the Kunstbuch are of unequal dimension: there are about 208 pages of writings by Pilgram Marpeck, 35 pages by Leupold Scharnschlager and 28 pages of writings by Cornelius Veh, Sigmund Bosch, Hans Bichel and Helena von Freyberg, all affiliated with the same Anabaptist group as that of Marpeck and Scharnschlager. Thus, approximately 270 pages of text are products of this particular group, which the editor calls the "Marpeck Circle." Jorg Maler, the compiler of the Kunstbuch, is the source of 58 pages of text in this English edition. As will be noted, his connection to the "Marpeck Circle" is a central problem in understanding the significance of the Kunstbuch. A family of texts by Hans Hut and his followers, Leonard Schiemer and Hans Schlaffer, consisting of 77 pages in the present volume, represents the branch of Anabaptism that won Marpeck to the movement in 1527-1528 in the Tyrol and that left a clear mark on his thought in later years. However, writings by Valentin Ickelsamer (and possibly by Caspar von Schwenckfeld), Christian Entfelder and Lienhart Schienherr--about 70 pages--can be loosely classed as "Spiritualist," while the texts by the Lutheran nobleman Hartmut von Cronberg and the Austrian martyr Hans Has von Hallstadt--another 30 pages--are broadly Protestant, without being Anabaptist or Spiritualist. So, excluding the writings of Maler himself, about 350 pages of the collection represent Marpeck's variety of Anabaptism together with its antecedents, while 100 pages definitely do not fit that description. Added to the problem of interpreting the significance of Maler's collection is the fact that a second volume accompanying the first has been lost. Hence it is impossible to draw reasonable conclusions about particular works of Marpeck and his affiliates being excluded from the collection, because only half of it is available for examination.

Heinold Fast assesses Jorg Maler's role as compiler of the Kunstbuch in a biographical essay that introduces the German critical edition, "Vom Amt des 'Lesers' zum Kompilator des sogenannten Kunstbuch. Auf den Spuren Jorg Malers," first published in 1997 in a Festschrift for Hans-Jurgen Goertz. Fast points to Maler's role as a "reader"--describing him as somewhat less than an Anabaptist elder, sometimes affiliated with the Swiss Brethren, sometimes with Marpeck--and suggests that in his last years Maler came to a "Spiritualist Anabaptist" position comparable to that of Hans Denck. This is confirmed by Maler's marginalia to one of the Marpeck letters (Kunstbuch document 7) in which he suggests that the Christian truth is missed not only by Papists, Lutherans and Zwinglians, but also by "false Anabaptists," among whom "the foremost ones are the Hutterites, the Swiss, the Pilgramites." In the beginning of his essay Fast states that Werner Packull correctly challenged the notion of the Kunstbuch as a collection of the Marpeck Circle: "A great many of the writings in the Kunstbuch would hardly have been taken up in a devotional collection assembled by Pilgram Marpeck himself." On this point, however, in the English version of the Kunstbuch, Rempel challenges Fast's conclusion about Maler and the Kunstbuch. He cites with approval the assessment of the recent Marpeck biography by William Klassen and Walter Klaassen: "The Kunstbuch was the last, herculean effort of an aging follower to give the Marpeckian heritage new life in a radically different setting." The problem with this is Rempel's conception of the Marpeckian heritage. "Marpeckite Christology and ecclesiology," he writes, "constituted the most sophisticated Radical Reformation rebuttal of Spiritualism. It made the case for a believers church on the grounds of the incarnation." The Kunstbuch, as it stands, is an Anabaptist/Spiritualist anthology--such a product cannot reasonably be said to embody the "Marpeckian heritage."

John Rempel's major scholarly work is The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism: A Study in the Christology of Balthasar Hubmaier, Pilgram Marpeck, and Dirk Phillips (1993). This scholarship supplies his point of departure for his theological interest in the Kunstbuch texts that are overwhelmingly expressions of Marpeck and the Anabaptist current with which he was affiliated. Rempel's introductions to the individual writings are strongest in acquainting the reader with this theology, which he thinks of as an Anabaptist "via media--a mediating path, an alternative to trends that took hold in early Anabaptism." He stresses Marpeck's distinctive conception of the "co-witness" of the Holy Spirit and the practices of the church, which amounted to a middle way between Spiritualism and biblical literalism, both of which Marpeck regarded as detrimental to churches based on believer's baptism. Marpeck's orthodox Chalcedonian Christology stressed the incarnation, the human (as well as divine) nature of Christ, in a way that the northern Anabaptist traditions of Melchior Hoffman and Menno Simons clearly failed to do. Since the early scholarship of William Klassen (especially Covenant and Community, 1968), Marpeck's theological affinity to Martin Luther has continually been remarked upon. Rempel guides us through the nuances of theological likeness and difference between Marpeck and Luther. Neal Bloughnoted in 1984 that Marpeck borrowed from Luther's writings against Karlstadt in constructing his anti-Spiritualist statements. Nevertheless, as Rempel shows, Marpeck has a distinct, non-Lutheran soteriology marked by an insistent attack on the predestinarianism of classical Protestantism. Denouncing Luther's characteristic teaching that Christians are "simultaneously justified and sinners," Marpeck held that the regenerate are free from sin--Rempel insists that Marpeck means that regenerate Christians are free from major sins, suggesting something like the traditional Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins. It is interesting to observe that, unlike Marpeck, Leupold Scharnschlager (Kunstbuch document 32) is capable of producing a statement of justification theology that seems entirely Lutheran in substance, despite his routine dismissal of "Papists, Lutherans, Zwinglians, false Anabaptists"; the only thing missing there is an explicit avowal of predestination. Marpeck uses Hans Hut's theme of the "gospel of all creatures" to stress human beings' solidarity with Christ in suffering--"all creatures exist for our sake, we exist for Christ's sake, and Christ exists for God's sake." Twentieth-century Mennonites discovered in Marpeck their most attractive theological teacher.

It remains to be examined whether the title of the present volume, which describes the Kunstbuch as "writings of the Marpeck circle," is a fortunate choice. We have already noted Heinold Fast's opinion that had Pilgram Marpeck assembled the anthology, he would have chosen a different collection of writings than Jorg Maler did. Even more important is the question of whether it is time for Anabaptist scholarship to discard the conception of a "Marpeck circle." Rempel informs us that the idea of a "Marpeck circle" was authored by Jan Kiwiet in the 1950s. Just now the editor of the final critical edition of the Kunstbuch, Martin Rothkegel, holds the opinion that the use of the term "Marpeck circle" to describe "the whole 'network' of congregations affiliated with Marpeck [is] somewhat misleading." Rothkegel has the distinction of finding previously unknown source material about the seven congregations in Moravia and Lower Austria, the "Brethren of the Covenant" centered in Austerlitz, which were the focus of the Anabaptist group to which Marpeck was connected. We know that Marpeck was won to Anabaptism through the impact of Hans Hut and his disciples in the Tyrol, fled to Bohemia and Moravia in 1528 and appeared in Strasbourg before the end of that year, commissioned to baptize by the "church in the land of Moravia." The Brethren of the Covenant emerged in that same year, 1528, in the aftermath of the conflict in 1527 between Balthasar Hubmaier and Hans Hut in Nikolsburg. Their first leader was Jacob Wiedemann and their first headquarters was Austerlitz. In a series of schisms that led eventually to the formation of the Hutterian Brethren in 1533, Marpeck maintained his loyalty to Austerlitz. Jacob Wiedemann, like Jacob Hutter, died in the severe persecutions of 1535 and 1536; but the Brethren of the Covenant survived into the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century as a better educated, more urban Anabaptist group than any of the others. Marpeck spent the rest of his life, until his death in 1556, in Strasbourg, Appenzell and Augsburg, employed by urban governments as an engineer. He led small conventicles and engaged in extensive writing and publication on behalf of the Brethren of the Covenant; and intermittently, he made trips to Moravia, as in his effort in 1541, together with his fellow elder Cornelius Veh, to win over the Hutterites. The notion of a "Marpeck circle," or even a "Marpeck brotherhood," was current until the late twentieth century because of insufficient knowledge of the importance of the "church in the land of Moravia" with which Marpeck was affiliated. Starting with the surprising discovery by Frank Wray in 1956 that Marpeck's Admonition (1542) was substantially dependent on the Munster Anabaptist Bernhard Rothmann's Confession of the Two Sacraments (1533), scholarship has become increasingly aware of Marpeck's reworking and editing of the writings of others. Also, in the service of the Brethren of the Covenant, he undertook editing and writing projects in tandem with Scharnschlager and others, and published the works of other writers. It is difficult in many cases to distinguish Marpeck's personal contribution from that of his associates. This is not meant to demean Marpeck's originality; in the case of Sebastian Franck too, compiling, editing and authorship fade into each other. However, it accords with Rothkegel's description of Marpeck as "one who deliberately remained a largely anonymous partner in a collective leadership." I can find no basis at all for Rempel's declaration: "The saints in Moravia were not Hutterites but seven congregations located at Austerlitz, Poppitz, Eibenschutz, Jamnitz, Znaim, Vienna, and one referred to as 'am Wald.' They were brought into being through the work and inspiration of Pilgram Marpeck himself" (371). Pilgram Marpeck was not an Anabaptist denominational leader in the manner of Menno Simons.

Certainly, there are many unresolved issues connected with the Kunstbuch and the Marpeck publications, not least their impact on the religious trajectory of the Swiss Brethren in the later sixteenth century. Hans Bichel, a spokesman for the Swiss Brethren at the disputations of Pfeddersheim (1557) and Frankenthal (1571), has a letter in the Kunstbuch (document 36) that demonstrates his association with Marpeck in 1555. Scholarship can often provide only approximate answers to the questions it poses. Nevertheless, the historical scholarship of the editors of the German critical edition of the Kunstbuch is very impressive. The consistent effort to resist it by the editor of the present English edition seems misguided. Queen's University
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Author:Stayer, James M.
Publication:Mennonite Quarterly Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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