Toward A Theological System Of Michael Sattler -- By: David Saxton

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 04:1 (Jan 2012)
Article: Toward A Theological System Of Michael Sattler
Author: David Saxton


Toward A Theological System
Of Michael Sattler

David Saxton

Among any serious study of Protestant martyrology, one would certainly find the heart-wrenching account of the cruel execution of a converted Romanist priest named Michael Sattler, along with his faithful wife, Margaretha. Sattler’s story is so fascinating yet tragic that, in recent years, it has been captured in a major motion picture.1However gruesome his end may have been, it is Sattler’s life—a life lived unto Christ and seeking the purity of the church—which ought to be remembered most by God’s people.

Sattler was not primarily a martyr; he was a pioneer biblical theologian of the “Radical” Anabaptists, or rather, the so-called free branch of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. He has been called by some the most significant leader of the first generation of Anabaptists,2 as well as “an outstanding leader of Swiss and South German Anabaptism.”3 John Yoder proposed that Anabaptism itself survived as a visible movement during its formative years, due to the leadership of Michael Sattler.4 Though he died at the young age of thirty-seven, his influential legacy continues beyond the grave through his authorship of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, the first formal doctrinal statement of the Anabaptist movement.

Because of the brevity of his life, history has left us only a small handful of Sattler’s written works. Among contemporary scholarship, there is much debate as to which of these works can actually be attributed to Sattler himself. Thus, because of the limited number of writings, it is often difficult to know what he actually believed or whether he ought to be labeled a theologian at all. Adding to the mystery about Sattler’s doctrinal beliefs is the question of exactly why he withdrew from fellowship with and criticized some of the magisterial Reformers.

It is therefore the burden of this article to show that, although journeying between medieval monasticism and Reformed theology, Sattler should be respected as falling within the broad stream of orthodox belief as an early Anabaptist and biblical theologian. In order to make its case, this paper will seek to set forth a basic outline of Sattler’s theological system from his own writings, recorded statements by witnesses, and from the correspondence of those with whom he maintained a dialogue. All those studying the primary source material of Sattler are indebted to the work of John H. Yoder, whose English tr...

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