1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Münzer, Thomas

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For works with similar titles, see Münzer, Thomas.

THOMAS MÜNZER (c. 1489-1525), German religious enthusiast, was born at Stolberg in the Harz near the end of the 15th century, and educated at Leipzig and Frankfort, graduating in theology. He held preaching appointments in various places, but his restless nature prevented him from remaining in one position for any length of time. In 1520 he became a preacher at the church of St Mary, Zwickau, and his rude eloquence, together with his attacks on the monks, soon raised him to influence. Aided by Nicholas Storch, he formed a society the principles of which were akin to those of the Taborites, and claimed that he was under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. His zeal for the purification of the Church by casting out all unbelievers brought him into conflict with the governing body of the town, and he was compelled to leave Zwickau. He then went to Prague, where his preaching won numerous adherents, but his violent language brought about his expulsion from this city also. At Easter 1523 Münzer came to Allstedt, and was soon appointed preacher at the church of St John, where he made extensive alterations in the services. His violence, however, aroused the hostility of Luther, in retaliation for which Münzer denounced the Wittenberg teaching. His preaching soon produced an uproar in Allstedt, and after holding his own for some time he left the town and went to Mühlhausen, where Heinrich Pfeiffer was already preaching doctrines similar to his own. The union of Münzer and Pfeiffer caused a disturbance in this city and both were expelled. Münzer went to Nuremberg, where he issued a writing against Luther, who had been mainly instrumental in bringing about his expulsion from Saxony. About this time his teaching became still more violent. He denounced established governments, and advocated common ownership of the means of life. After a tour in south Germany he returned to Mühlhausen, overthrew the governing body of the city, and established a communistic theocracy. The Peasants' War had already broken out in various parts of Germany; and as the peasantry around Mühlhausen were imbued with Münzer's teaching, he collected a large body of men to plunder the surrounding country. He established his camp at Frankenhausen; but on the 15th of May 1525 the peasants were dispersed by Philip, landgrave of Hesse, who captured Münzer and executed him on the 27th at Mühlhausen. Before his death he is said to have written a letter admitting the justice of his sentence.

His Aussgetrückte Emplössung des falschen Glaubens has been edited by R. Jordan (Mühlhausen, 1901), and a life of Münzer, Die Histori von Thome Müntzer des Anfengers der döringischen Uffrur, has been attributed to Philip Melanchthon (Hagenau, 1525). See G. T. Strobel, Leben, Schriften and Lehren Thomä Müntzers (Nuremberg, 1795); J. K. Seidemann, Thomas Münzer (Leipzig, 1842); O. Merx, Thomas Münzer und Heinrich Pfeiffer (Göttingen, 1889); G. Wolfrau, Thomas Münzer in Allstedt (Jena, 1852).