1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Franck, Sebastian

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FRANCK, or Frank [latinized Francus], SEBASTIAN (c. 1499–c. 1543), German freethinker, was born about 1499 at Donauwörth, whence he constantly styled himself Franck von Wörd. He entered the university of Ingolstadt (March 26, 1515), and proceeded thence to the Dominican College, incorporated with the university, at Heidelberg. Here he met his subsequent antagonists, Bucer and Frecht, with whom he seems to have attended the Augsburg conference (October 1518) at which Luther declared himself a true son of the Church. He afterwards reckoned the Leipzig disputation (June-July 1519) and the burning of the papal bull (December 1520) as the beginning of the Reformation. Having taken priest’s orders, he held in 1524 a cure in the neighbourhood of Augsburg, but soon (1525) went over to the Reformed party at Nuremberg and became preacher at Gustenfelden. His first work (finished September 1527) was a German translation with additions (1528) of the first part of the Diallage, or Conciliatio locorum Scripturae, directed against Sacramentarians and Anabaptists by Andrew Althamer, then deacon of St Sebald’s at Nuremberg. On the 17th of March 1528 he married Ottilie Beham, a gifted lady, whose brothers, pupils of Albrecht Dürer, had got into trouble through Anabaptist leanings. In the same year he wrote a very popular treatise against drunkenness. In 1529 he produced a free version (Klagbrief der armen Dürftigen in England) of the famous Supplycacyon of the Beggers, written abroad (1528?) by Simon Fish. Franck, in his preface, says the original was in English; elsewhere he says it was in Latin; the theory that his German was really the original is unwarrantable. Advance in his religious ideas led him to seek the freer atmosphere of Strassburg in the autumn of 1529. To his translation (1530) of a Latin Chronicle and Description of Turkey, by a Transylvanian captive, which had been prefaced by Luther, he added an appendix holding up the Turks as in many respects an example to Christians, and presenting, in lieu of the restrictions of Lutheran, Zwinglian and Anabaptist sects, the vision of an invisible spiritual church, universal in its scope. To this ideal he remained faithful. At Strassburg began his intimacy with Caspar Schwenkfeld, a congenial spirit. Here, too, he published, in 1531, his most important work, the Chronica, Zeitbuch und Geschichtsbibel, largely a compilation on the basis of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), and in its treatment of social and religious questions connected with the Reformation, exhibiting a strong sympathy with heretics, and an unexampled fairness to all kinds of freedom in opinion. It is too much to call him “the first of German historians”; he is a forerunner of Gottfried Arnold, with more vigour and directness of purpose. Driven from Strassburg by the authorities, after a short imprisonment in December 1531, he tried to make a living in 1532 as a soapboiler at Esslingen, removing in 1533 for a better market to Ulm, where (October 28, 1534) he was admitted as a burgess.

His Weltbuch, a supplement to his Chronica, was printed at Tübingen in 1534; the publication, in the same year, of his Paradoxa at Ulm brought him into trouble with the authorities. An order for his banishment was withdrawn on his promise to submit future works for censure. Not interpreting this as applying to works printed outside Ulm, he published in 1538 at Augsburg his Guldin Arch (with pagan parallels to Christian sentiments) and at Frankfort his Germaniae chronicon, with the result that he had to leave Ulm in January 1539. He seems henceforth to have had no settled abode. At Basel he found work as a printer, and here, probably, it was that he died in the winter of 1542–1543. He had published in 1539 his Kriegbüchlein des Friedens (pseudonymous), his Schrifftliche und ganz gründliche Auslegung des 64 Psalms, and his Das verbütschierte mit sieben Siegeln verschlossene Buch (a biblical index, exhibiting the dissonance of Scripture); in 1541 his Spruchwörter (a collection of proverbs, several times reprinted with variations); in 1542 a new edition of his Paradoxa; and some smaller works.

Franck combined the humanist’s passion for freedom with the mystic’s devotion to the religion of the spirit. His breadth of human sympathy led him to positions which the comparative study of religions has made familiar, but for which his age was unprepared. Luther contemptuously dismissed him as a “devil’s mouth.” Pastor Frecht of Nuremberg pursued him with bitter zeal. But his courage did not fail him, and in his last year, in a public Latin letter, he exhorted his friend John Campanus to maintain freedom of thought in face of the charge of heresy.

See Hegler, in Hauck’s Realencyklopädie (1899); C. A. Hase, Sebastian Franck von Wörd (1869); J. F. Smith, in Theological Review (April 1874); E. Tausch, Sebastian Franck von Donauwörth und seine Lehrer (1893). (A. Go.*)