1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hofmann, Melchior

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HOFMANN, MELCHIOR (c. 1498-1543-4), anabaptist, was born at Hall, in Swabia, before 1500 (Zur Linden suggests 1498). His biographers usually give his surname as above; in his printed works it is Hoffman, in his manuscripts Hoffmann. He was without scholarly training, and first appears as a furrier at Livland. Attracted by Luther's doctrine, he came forward as a lay preacher, combining business travels with a religious mission. Accompanied by Melchior Rinck, also a skinner or furrier, and a religious enthusiast, he made his way to Sweden. Joined by Bernard Knipperdolling, the party reached Stockholm in the autumn of 1524. Their fervid attacks on image worship led to their expulsion. By way of Livonia, Hofmann arrived at Dorpat in November 1524, but was driven thence in the following January. Making his way to Riga, and thence to Wittenberg, he found favour with Luther; his letter of the 22nd of June 1525 appears in a tract by Luther of that year. He was again at Dorpat in May 1526; later at Magdeburg. Returning to Wittenberg, he was coldly received; he wrote there his exposition of Daniel xii. (1527). Repairing to Holstein, he got into the good graces of Frederick I. of Denmark, and was appointed by royal ordinance to preach the Gospel at Kiel. He was extravagant in denunciation, and developed a Zwinglian view of the Eucharist. Luther was alarmed. At a colloquy of preachers in Flensburg (8th April 1529) Hofmann, John Campanus and others were put on their defence. Hofmann maintained (against the “magic” of the Lutherans) that the function of the Eucharist, like that of preaching, is an appeal for spiritual union with Christ. Refusing to retract, he was banished. At Strassburg to which he now turned, he was well received (1529) till his anabaptist development became apparent. He was in relations with Schwenkfeld and with Carlstadt, but assumed a prophetic rôle of his own. Journeying to East Friesland, (1530) he founded a community at Emden (1532), securing a large following of artisans. Despite the warning of John Trypmaker, who prophesied for him “six months” in prison, he returned in the spring of 1533 to Strassburg, where we hear of his wife and child. He gathered from the Apocalypse a vision of “resurrections” of apostolic Christianity, first under John Hus, and now under himself. The year 1533 was to inaugurate the new era; Strassburg was to be the seat of the New Jerusalem. In May 1533 he and others were arrested. Under examination, he denied that he had made common cause with the anabaptists and claimed to be no prophet, a mere witness of the Most High, but refused the articles of faith proposed to him by the provincial synod. Hofmann and Claus Frey, an anabaptist, were detained in prison, a measure due to the terror excited by the Münster episode of 1533-1534. The synod, in 1539, made further effort to reclaim him. The last notice of his imprisonment is on the 19th of November 1543; he probably died soon after.

Two of his publications, with similar titles, in 1530, are noteworthy as having influenced Menno Simons and David Joris (Weissagung vsz heiliger götlicher geschrifft, and Prophecey oder Weissagung vsz warer heiliger götlicher schrift). Bock treats him as an antitrinitarian, on grounds which Wallace rightly deems inconclusive. With better reason Trechsel includes him among pioneers of some of the positions of Servetus. His Christology was Valentinian. While all are elected to salvation, only the regenerate may receive baptism, and those who sin after regeneration sin against the Holy Ghost, and cannot be saved. His followers were known as Hofmannites or Melchiorites.

See G. Herrmann, Essai sur la vie et les écrits de M. Hofmann (1852); F. O. zur Linden, M. Hofmann, ein Prophet der Wiedertäufer (1885); H. Holtzmann, in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie (1880); Hegler in Hauck's Realencyklopädie (1900); Bock, Hist. Antitrin. (1776), ii.; Wallace, Antitrin. Biography (1850) iii., app. iii.; Trechsel, Prot. Antitrin. vor F. Socin (1839) i.; Barclay, Inner Life of Rel. Societies (1876). An alleged portrait, from an engraving of 1608, is reproduced in the appendix to A. Ross, Pansebeia (1655). (A. Go.*)