Melchior Hoffman
Melchior Hoffman (c. 1495–1543) was an Anabaptist
Anabaptists are Protestant Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, and their direct descendants, particularly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites....

 prophet and a visionary leader in northern Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...



Hoffman was born at Schwäbisch Hall
Schwäbisch Hall
Schwäbisch Hall is a town in the German state of Baden-Württemberg and capital of the district of Schwäbisch Hall. The town is located in the valley of the river Kocher in the north-eastern part of Baden-Württemberg....

 in Franconia
Franconia is a region of Germany comprising the northern parts of the modern state of Bavaria, a small part of southern Thuringia, and a region in northeastern Baden-Württemberg called Tauberfranken...

 before 1500. His biographers usually give his surname as Hofmann; in his printed works it sometimes appears as Hoffman, and in his manuscripts as Hoffmann.

He was without scholarly training, and first appeared as a furrier in Livonia
Livonia is a historic region along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. It was once the land of the Finnic Livonians inhabiting the principal ancient Livonian County Metsepole with its center at Turaida...

. Attracted by Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

's teachings, he came forward as a lay preacher, combining business travels with a religious mission. He worked as a lay preacher in the cities of Wolmar (from 1523), Dorpat and Reval. In Dorpat he became involved in an iconoclastic
Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction of religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually with religious or political motives. It is a frequent component of major political or religious changes...

 revolt, and the magistrates obliged him to go to Wittenberg
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

 to obtain Luther's approval of his preaching. After his return to Dorpat he was involved in more controversy and forced to leave the city.

After the same thing happened in Reval, he decided to go to Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

, Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, where he arrived in the autumn of 1526. Here too he was involved religious disturbances and so left Sweden again.

After a short stay in Lübeck
The Hanseatic City of Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, and one of the major ports of Germany. It was for several centuries the "capital" of the Hanseatic League and, because of its Brick Gothic architectural heritage, is listed by UNESCO as a World...

 he made his way to Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, where he found favour with King Frederick I
Frederick I of Denmark
Frederick I of Denmark and Norway was the King of Denmark and Norway. The name is also spelled Friedrich in German, Frederik in Danish, and Fredrik in Swedish and Norwegian...

, and was appointed by royal ordinance to preach the Gospel at Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...

. He was probably the first printer in the city. He was extravagant in his denunciations, and developed a Zwinglian view of the Eucharist.

Luther himself was alarmed at this. At a colloquy of preachers in Flensburg
Flensburg is an independent town in the north of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Flensburg is the centre of the region of Southern Schleswig...

 on (April 8, 1529), Hoffman, John Campanus and others were put on their defence. Hoffman maintained (against the "magic" of the Lutheran interpretation) that the function of the Eucharist, like that of preaching, is nothing more than an appeal for spiritual union with Christ. Refusing to retract, he was banished.

Making his way to Strasbourg
Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département. The city and the region of Alsace are historically German-speaking,...

, he was well received, until his Anabaptist
Anabaptists are Protestant Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, and their direct descendants, particularly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites....

 tendencies became apparent. He joined with the Anabaptists of the city, and, according to Estep, was rebaptized in April 1530.
In May he travelled to East Frisia
East Frisia
East Frisia or Eastern Friesland is a coastal region in the northwest of the German federal state of Lower Saxony....

, where he established churches and baptized about 300 people. He was in relations with Schwenkfeld and with Karlstadt
Andreas Karlstadt
Andreas Rudolph Bodenstein von Karlstadt , better known as Andreas Karlstadt or Andreas Carlstadt or Karolostadt, was a German Christian theologian during the Protestant Reformation. He was born in Karlstadt, Franconia.-Education:Karlstadt received his doctorate of theology in 1510 from the...

, but assumed a prophetic role of his own. In 1532 he founded a community at Emden
Emden is a city and seaport in the northwest of Germany, on the river Ems. It is the main city of the region of East Frisia; in 2006, the city had a total population of 51,692.-History:...

, securing a large following of artisans.

Because of the prophecy of an old man foretelling six months in prison for him, he returned in the spring of the following year to Strasbourg, where there is reference to his wife and child. He gained from his study of Apocalypse
An Apocalypse is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception, i.e. the veil to be lifted. The Apocalypse of John is the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament...

 the belief that the Lord would return there in 1533 and received a vision of "resurrections" of apostolic Christianity, first under John Hus, and now under himself. The year 1533 was to inaugurate the new era; Strasbourg was to be the seat of the New Jerusalem
New Jerusalem
In the book of Ezekiel, the Prophecy of New Jerusalem is Ezekiel's prophetic vision of a city to be established to the south of the Temple Mount that will be inhabited by the twelve tribes of Israel in the...


When however he prophesied that the return of Christ would be preceded by a purging of the ungodly, Hoffman was seen as a revolutionary. Under examination, he denied that he had made common cause with the Anabaptists and claimed to be no prophet but a mere witness of the Most High, but nevertheless refused the articles of faith proposed to him by the provincial synod
A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not...


Hoffman's failed prophecy of the return of Christ contributed significantly to the Münster Rebellion
Münster Rebellion
The Münster Rebellion was an attempt by radical Anabaptists to establish a communal sectarian government in the German city of Münster. The city became an Anabaptist center from 1534 to 1535, and fell under Anabaptist rule for 18 months — from February 1534, when the city hall was seized and...

 (1533–1534), of which he is seen as one of the authors. Two of his followers, Jan van Matthijs
Jan Matthys
Jan Matthys was a charismatic Anabaptist leader, regarded by his followers as a prophet....

 and Jan van Leiden
John of Leiden
John of Leiden , was an Anabaptist leader from the Dutch city of Leiden. He was the illegitimate son of a Dutch mayor, and a tailor's apprentice by trade.-Life:...

, proclaimed that Hoffman was wrong on the questions of the exact time and place, where Christ would return and reign, and named Münster
Münster is an independent city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located in the northern part of the state and is considered to be the cultural centre of the Westphalia region. It is also capital of the local government region Münsterland...

 as the correct location.

As a consequence of the terror inspired by the rebellion and its savage suppression, Hoffman, together with Claus Frey, another Anabaptist, was detained in prison. Although the synod made a further effort to reclaim him in 1539, he stayed there for the rest of his life, until his death in 1543.

Teachings and influence

Hoffman was important in at least one aspect of the development of the Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

s. He adopted the views of Kaspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig
Kaspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig
Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig was a German theologian, writer, and preacher who became a Protestant Reformer and spiritualist, one of the earliest promoters of the Protestant Reformation in Silesia....

 concerning the incarnation of Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

, and taught what has been called the "heavenly flesh of Christ". Menno Simons
Menno Simons
Menno Simons was an Anabaptist religious leader from the Friesland region of the Low Countries. Simons was a contemporary of the Protestant Reformers and his followers became known as Mennonites...

 accepted this view, probably received from the peaceful Melchiorites Obbe
Obbe Philips
Obbe Philips was one of the early founders of Dutch Anabaptism. He was the illegitimate son of a Roman Catholic priest from Leeuwarden. Philips studied medicine, and became a barber and a surgeon...

 and Dirk Philips
Dirk Philips
Dirk Philips was an early Anabaptist writer and theologian. He was one of the peaceful disciples of Melchior Hoffman and later joined Menno Simons in laying out practical doctrines for what would become the Mennonite church.- Biography :...

, and it became the general belief of Dutch Anabaptists in the first century of their existence.

Hoffman wrote a commentary on the Book of Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

 in 1526. Two of his publications with similar titles from 1530 ("Weissagung aus heiliger gotlicher geschrift" (Prophecy from Holy and Divine Scripture) and "Prophecey oder Weissagung vsz warer heiliger gotlicher schrifft" (Prophecy from True, Holy and Divine Scripture) are noteworthy as having influenced Menno Simons and David Joris. Bock
Friedrich Samuel Bock
Friedrich Samuel Bock was a German philosopher and theologian.In 1753 he was appointed first professor of Greek, then theology at the University of Königsberg, though he resigned both positions in 1770 due to the University's failure to pay a salary, plus the onerous duty that the professor of...

 treats him as an antitrinitarian, on grounds which Robert Wallace
Robert Wallace (Unitarian)
Robert Wallace was an English Unitarian minister, now best known for his Antitrinitarian Biography .-Life:He was born at Dudley, Worcestershire, on 26 February 1791. In 1808 he came under the influence of James Hews Bransby, who prepared him for entrance at Manchester College, then at York, under...

 deems inconclusive. Trechsel includes him among pioneers of some of the positions of Servetus
Michael Servetus
Michael Servetus was a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and humanist. He was the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation...

. His Christology
Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. Primary considerations include the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature...

 was Valentinian: while all are elected to salvation, only the regenerate may receive baptism, and those who sin after regeneration sin against the Holy Spirit, and cannot be saved.

His followers were known as Hoffmanites or Melchiorites.

External links

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