Kaspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig
A nobleman from Liegnitz, he was one of the earliest promoters of the Reformation in Silesia, he came to Reformation principles through Muntzer and Karlstadt. However he developed his own principles and fell out with Luther over the eucharistic controversy (1524). He had his own views on the sacraments - the Heavenly Flesh doctrine. His followers became a new sect, which was outlawed in Germany, but his ideas influenced Anabaptism, Puritanism in England and the Pietistic Movement on mainland Europe.
Kaspar Schwenkfeld was born in Ossig, Silesia (a small province in central Europe) to noble parents in 1489¹. From 1505 to 1507 he was a student in Cologne, and in 1507 enrolled at the University of Frankfurt on the Oder. Between 1511 and 1523, Schwenkfeld served his country as an adviser to Duke Karl I (1511-1515), Duke Georg I (1515-1518), and Duke Friedrich II (1518-1523). In 1518 or 1519, he experienced an awakening that he called a "visitation of God." Martin Luther's writings had a deep influence on Schwenkfeld, and he embraced the "Lutheran" Reformation and became a student of the Scriptures. In 1521, Schwenkfeld began to preach the gospel, and in 1522 won Duke Friedrich II to Protestantism. He organized a Brotherhood of his converts for the purpose of study and prayer in 1523. In 1525, he rejected Luther's idea of consubstantiation and came to a spiritual interpretation of the Lord's Supper (which was subsequently rejected by Luther). Schwenkfeld began to teach that the true believer ate the spiritual body of Christ. He took strong efforts toward reformation wherever he went, but also criticized reformers that he thought went to extremes. He emphasized that for one to be a true Christian, one must not change only outwardly but inwardly. Because of the communion and other controversies, Schwenkfeld broke with Martin Luther and followed what has been described as a "middle way". He voluntarily exiled himself from Silesia in 1529 in order to relieve pressure on and embarrassment of his duke.
In 1541, he published the Great Confession on the Glory of Christ. Many considered the writing to be heretical. He taught that Christ had two natures, divine and human, but that he became progressively more divine. The details of this view caused his followers to call themselves Confessors of the Glory of Christ. In 1561, Schwenkfeld became sick with dysentery, and gradually grew weaker until he died in Ulm on the morning of December 10, 1561. Because of his enemies, the fact of his death and the place of his burial were kept secret.
Schwenkfeld did not organize a separate church during his lifetime, but followers seemed to gather around his writings and sermons. In 1700 there were about 1500 of them in lower Silesia. Many fled Silesia under persecution of the Austrian emperor, and some found refuge on the lands of Count von Zinzendorf. These followers became known as Schwenkfelders. A group arrived in Philadelphia in 1731, followed by five more migrations up to 1737. In 1782, the Society of Schwenkfelders was formed, and in 1909 the Schwenkfelder Church was organized.
The Schwenkfelder Church has remained small, and currently there are six² churches with about 3000 members in southeastern Pennsylvania. All of these bodies are within a fifty-mile radius of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Some of the teachings of Kaspar Schwenkfeld included opposition to war, secret societies, and oath-taking; that the government had no right to command one's conscience; that regeneration is by grace through inner work of the Spirit; that believers feed on Christ spiritually; and that believers must give evidence of regeneration. He rejected infant baptism, outward church forms; and "denominations".
- Caspar Schwenckfeld, Reluctant Radical, by R. Emmet McLaughlin
- Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries, by Rufus M. Jones
- The Life & Thought of Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig
- Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center
- Schwenkfelders: Who Are They?
- 1. some sources give 1490, but late in 1489 appears to be preferable
- 2. for a number of years there were only five churches, but the Schwenkfelder Missionary Church was recently formed in Philadelphia