The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Münzer, Thomas
MÜNZER, Thomas, a German mystic, born at Stolberg in the Hartz mountains about 1490, beheaded at Mühlhausen, Thuringia, in May, 1525. After preaching at various places, in 1520 he became pastor of the principal church in Zwickau, Saxony. Here he associated himself with Nikolaus Storch, a weaver, who professed to receive divine revelations. They formed a society among the weavers separate from the church, whose members believed in dreams, visions, and divine inspirations. They soon gained such an influence that Münzer's co-pastor Egranus, who opposed him, was obliged to leave the city. The city council, who for a time had favored Münzer, finally considered his revolutionary views dangerous to the public peace, and imprisoned many of his adherents. Others, among whom was Storch, fled to Wittenberg, where they still professed to receive inspirations, and rejected infant baptism. Münzer went to Bohemia, where he spent six months endeavoring to stir up reformatory movements. Meeting with little success, he went to Thuringia, married, and in 1523 became curate at Allstädt. He was the first to substitute the German language for the Latin in the public prayers and singing. He composed a directory for worship, which was in harmony with his ideas of the reformation. Infant baptism was to be administered in the presence of the church, instead of privately as before, the baptismal liturgy to be in German. Besides his public ministrations, he organized those whom he considered truly regenerated into a separate society, whose members held community of goods and aimed at the overthrow of hierarchy and despotism. Their fanaticism soon led them to destroy the images and burn the chapel in a neighboring place of pilgrimages. The Saxon princes opposed these proceedings; Luther also wrote against them; and Münzer was obliged to leave Allstädt in the summer of 1524. He went to Nuremberg, where he wrote a violent pamphlet against Luther; then to Basel, where he conferred with Œcolampadius; then to Waldshut, where he exerted considerable influence on the men who soon afterward began the peasants' war. Returning to Thuringia, he was settled early in 1525 as curate at Mühlhausen. The city council, who had opposed his settlement there, were deposed, and a new council installed, who were entirely under the control of Münzer and his disciple Pfeiffer. At the outbreak of the peasants' war in southern Germany, Münzer summoned the people to rise and secure their liberty, threatening vengeance on all who resisted them. His pamphlets and letters were signed “Thomas Münzer, a servant of God against the ungodly,” or “Thomas Münzer, with the sword of Gideon.” Still he himself hesitated to take up arms, until Pfeiffer forced him to do so by alleged inspiration. Led by him, the peasantry of N. W. Thuringia destroyed cloisters, chapels, and the castles of such nobles as refused to engage in the insurrection. For some time they encountered little resistance, until in May the elector John the Constant and Duke George, both of Saxony, the landgrave Philip of Hesse, and other princes rallied their forces against them. The peasants, in their fortified encampment near Frankenhausen, were assured by Münzer that God would give them the victory; but they were quickly routed in the battle of May 15, and about 5,000 of them were killed. Münzer fled in disguise to Frankenhausen, but was captured, tortured, and removed to the castle of Heldrungen. From that place he addressed a letter to the people of Mühlhausen, recommending his wife and child to their care. After the capitulation of that city the leaders were sentenced to death, including Münzer and Pfeiffer. Münzer was beheaded in the market place. His numerous writings, all of which are still extant, indicate a more than ordinary power of mind and will, but a strange lack of clear and sound judgment. His language is often forcibly eloquent, but full of coarseness and vulgarity. As he was associated with persons opposed to infant baptism, Münzer has often been considered an Anabaptist, which he never was. See Melanchthon, Die Historie von Thome Müntzer (1525); Strobel, Leben, Schriften und Lehren Thomä Müntzers (Nuremberg, 1795); Seidemann, Thomas Münzer (Dresden and Leipsic, 1842); and Heinrich Leo's essay on him in the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung (Berlin, 1856). Theodor Mundt published a historical novel, Thomas Münzer (3 vols., Altona, 1841).