Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Thomas Münzer

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MÜNZER, Thomas (14901525), was born of poor parents at Stolberg in the Harz in 1490, was educated at Halle and Leipsic, where he graduated in 1515, was a teacher in the Martini gymnasium in Brunswick in 1517, and was appointed in the beginning of 1520 preacher in the church of St Mary at Zwickau. There he became the opponent of the friars on the one hand and of the humanist reformers on the other, while his eloquence, combined with his Christian socialism, gave him great power over the people. The weavers in Zwickau, who formed the most important trade in the town, were greatly influenced by Nicolas Storch, a man whose views were not unlike those of Münzer, and who had been in close communication with those various communities in Bohemia who represented the Taborites, the Waldenses, and the Bohemian Brethren. Along with Storch, Münzer formed a society governed by twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples, and in secret conventicles proclaimed the revelations of the Holy Spirit which he and some of his disciples claimed to possess. When the society became known conflicts arose with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, but Münzer and Storch seem to have maintained their position. In September 1521 Münzer and several of his disciples began making preaching tours. Storch went to Wittenberg (see Luther), while Münzer went through Bohemia, then by Silesia to Brandenburg and Saxony. He and his followers were fiercely opposed by Luther, who often asked the princes of the lands in which they appeared to banish them from their territories. In 1524 Münzer was in Thuringia and in south Germany. Wherever he went his Christian socialism was welcomed by the oppressed peasantry, who were encouraged to rise in the insurrection (Peasants War) which ended so disastrously for them at Mühlhausen, 1525. After the battle Münzer was taken prisoner and executed.

Münzer was a successor in the 16th century of those enthusiastic sectaries the mediæval disciples of St Francis of Assisi, who combined intense sympathy with the lot of the poor with strange semi-pantheist notions and ideas of a visible theocracy.

See Seidemann, Thomas Münzer, eine Biographie, Dresden, 1842; Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, ii.; Jörg, Deutschland in der Revolutionsperiods von 1522-26.