The New International Encyclopædia/Münzer, Thomas

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MÜNZER, mụn'tsẽr, Thomas (c.1489-1525). A religious enthusiast of the German Reformation, born at Stolberg, in the Harz Mountains. He acquired a good knowledge of theology, taught at Aschersleben and Halle, became in 1519 chaplain of a nunnery at Beutwitz, and in the following year received a call as preacher to Zwickau. There he gained great popularity by his attacks on the monastic and mendicant Orders. In 1521 he was compelled to leave the town, and went to Bohemia, where his preaching, however, met with little sympathy. In 1523 he became pastor at Allstedt, in Thuringia, married a nun who had abjured her vows, and carried on his pastoral work in full sympathy with the advanced representatives of the Reformation. He was an ardent champion of German nationality, and was the first to substitute German for Latin in the liturgy. He stood in close touch with Carlstadt and shared the latter's iconoclastic ideas. In time he developed a fanatic mysticism whose chief tenet was the validity of inner revelation, and he attacked as ‘new papists’ those reformers who set up the Gospel above personal justification. His ideas partook also of a political and social nature; he preached the speedy coming of God's kingdom on earth, and sought to organize the peasants and the artisans of the towns into secret associations looking, it is asserted, to the destruction of all authority and the establishment of communal property. In August, 1524, he was expelled from Allstedt and betook himself to Mühlhausen, where he joined forces with Heinrich Pfeifer, a renegade monk, who had succeeded in gaining great influence over the lower classes. Together they were driven from the city in September, and Münzer wandered through Southern Germany and Switzerland, forming close relations with the Anabaptist leaders and hastening in no small degree the peasant uprising in those regions. He returned to Mühlhausen in December, and with Pfeifer, who had likewise reëntered the city, assumed leadership of the discontented masses. The old council was overthrown, and a new council was installed under the control of Münzer. Mühlhausen speedily became the centre of a violent agitation. The opposition of the nobles was ineffectual; but at Frankenhausen, on May 15, 1525, Münzer's peasant mob was almost annihilated by the force of Philip of Hesse, the Elector of Saxony, and the Duke of Brunswick. (See Peasant War.) Münzer escaped from the battlefield, but was captured at Frankenhausen and taken to the Castle of Heldrungen, where he was put to the torture. On May 25th he was decapitated at Mühlhausen, together with Pfeifer and twenty-four other leaders of the peasants. Fanatic though he undoubtedly was, there is nothing to disprove Münzer's warm love for the common people, whose cause he upheld against Luther, accusing the latter of fawning on the German princes while seeking to appease the peasants with empty woids about the responsibility of rulers to God. Consult: Strobel, Leben, Schriften und Lehren Thomas Münzers (Nuremberg and Altdorf, 1795); Seidemann, Thomas Münzer (Dresden and Leipzig, 1842).