Men in Judgment and the Peasant Aristocracy

Pilgrim Marpeck

Pilgrim Marpeck, from “Men in Judgment and the Peasant Aristocracy,” 473-475, in The Writings of Pilgrim Marpeck (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978).

Pilgrim Marpeck joined the Anabaptists in Austria in 1528, in the region of Rattenberg and Triol, a region which had already seen the executions of early Anabaptist leaders such as Hans Schaffler. Coming from some wealth, Marpeck joined the Anabaptists, leaving behind his civic post working as a mining magistrate. As a religious dissenter, Marpeck’s property confiscated upon his conversion. Marpeck had regular contact with Martin Bucer in Strasbourg after leaving his hometown, and spent most of his life in Augsburg until his death in 1554.

In this selection, we find Marpeck drawing on a familiar theme from pre-Reformation thought: the nature of virtue and that those who are in authority should be the bearers of virtue. But in linking together wealth and virtue—that only those who are virtuous should likewise be wealthy—he holds together a criticism for those who would sever the link between financial gain and spiritual wisdom. It is only one who is wise and virtuous—i.e, only those who have left behind the security of the state and committed themselves to Christ—who are capable of living rightly with their finances.

David the psalmist, the prophets, the evangelists, and apostles witness to the kingdom, people, and generation of Christ. It is the highest and most noble lineage, and the virtues, treasures, riches, honor and property have from ancient times belonged to this royal and most noble house of Christ. These virtues, these priceless noble gems, are not worn externally on physical throats, arms, hands, or fingers; these gems are the power of the Holy Spirit in spirit and soul. The Father of lights, from whom all good gifts come, gives and presents these gems to the most noble house of Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, they are given to the honor of the bridegroom Christ, and they are to be worn on throats, arms, and hands in the real power of the virtue of the noble gems. Man does need elemental gems, which only signify virtue, but which have no unchanging, eternally enduring power.

…Therefore, whoever lays claims to natural nobility must be gifted with natural virtues if they are to wear with justification the elemental gems, which are only a sign of natural virtues. In the natural nobility, it is a scandal to wear much gold, chains, gems, and noble garments, and to lack withal the natural honors and virtues. A nobility without virtue is like a sow bedecked with gold and gems. She immediately drags it all through the dirt, rather than wearing it honorably. Now, if one were to inscribe virtue on the coat of arms of the fleshly nobility, one would find few true nobles. For their sake, I would gladly be made a liar, and I readily grant them their natural honor.

I write what I do, not because I am concerned with the comings and goings of the natural nobility, or presume to scold them, but for this reason: an ancient, honorable, noble line does not gladly tolerate dishonorable persons who disgrace and dishonor their name and ancestry. We who claim to belong the ancient, eternal name and lineage of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, we who have been taken from the world and adorned with virtue and grace, gifted and acquitted by the Father of lights, should be a hundred thousand times more concerned that there be no one among us who would dishonor and blaspheme the noble name and line of the most noble house of Jesus Christ!

Similarly, no one should be allowed to bear the noble name who is not nobly born in this family, that is, born and conceived of the Holy Spirit and of the honorable bride of Christ. She conceives in her body children born to the Father of Jesu Christ; her body is the body of Christ, which is His holy church, and she raises them in her discipline. Christ and His church are of one flesh. She is espoused by Christ in the word of truth and married with the ring of love which has no end. Through the washing in the Word, which they believe for the remission of sins, she is the legitimate spouse who bears the children conceived by the Father…

Therefore all who came before and lag behind Christ—but are not with Him—are thieves and murderers, nor are they highborn lineage or nobility of Christ, but a wild, undisciplined, coarse, bucolic lot, full of all vice, lacking goodness, unlovely, unfriendly, wanton, proud, boastful, full of envy and hate…In short, they do whatever they feel like, regardless of all natural honor, not to speak of any divine virtue. They are beastly people like swine and dogs before whom the precious pearls should not be cast; rather they should be kept and hidden from them. They are the coarsest of all people, to whom not even the earthly is commanded  and entrusted, let alone the divine, any more than it would be given to beastly, unreasoning, raging animals which are inclined only to kill and destroy. All of that and one transgression after another follows from the curse of sin.