Questions About Schwenkfelder History

On Wednesday, middle school students from the Souderton Charter School Collaborative visited the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center. During their school program we engaged in a discussion about how technological advancement can often lead to political and institutional change. Printing technology was the force behind the Protestant Reformation in a very similar way that social media technology is the driving force behind many political movements in the United States and around the world today. In addition, by reading and analyzing 18th century Schwenkfelder correspondence, we learned that the Schwenkfelders wrote about many topics that we write and comment on today: war efforts, prices of food, agriculture, weather, our occupations, and expressions of our own faith.

Students on Wednesday asked us many excellent quality questions. Here are two we were asked on Wednesday and we’d like to share our responses with you. We hope that next time you’re in our galleries that you are encouraged to ask us questions like these. Answers to these questions were generated by our Associate Director of Research, Allen Viehmeyer, and our Museum Educator, Rebecca Lawrence.

Q. When Martin Luther translated the bible into a language everyone could understand did anyone question his interpretation? Did anything like that happen to Caspar Schwenckfeld?

A. Yes. Many individuals questioned Luther’s translation of the Bible. However, Schwenckfeld never translated the bible- at least that we know of. If you were a theologian like Martin Luther and Caspar Schwenckfeld in the 16th century, you would work with more than one edition of the Bible. You would refer to various editions as part of your practice of personal devotion, to draw your own conclusions, to question church practice, and use passages to support your own arguments. Martin Luther was certainly was not the first individual who translated the Bible into an everyday language, his version was the most popular. As one individual in the group responded, “Martin Luther has more street cred!” Martin Luther translated the New Testament in 1524 and the Old Testament in 1534 but there were many German editions of the Bible that were circulated prior to Luther’s. The Bible Schwenckfeld used (his Bible is occasionally on view in our ground floor gallery) is a German translation by two scholars, Ludwig Haetzler, a Mennonite, and Hans Denck, a German Anabaptist who both lived in Worms, Germany. Schwenckfeld’s Bible was printed in Worms in 1529. In our archive collection we also have a German Bible that was printed in 1485 by Anton Koberger; this was printed considerably before Luther wrote his popular German translation. In the critical edition of Schwenckfeld’s works called the Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum, Caspar Schwenkfeld noted that he worked with at least two Bibles: the Haetzler & Denck Bible as well as a Bible printed by Anton Koberger.

If you were an orphan in Harpersdorf, who took care of you? Would you be forced to become Catholic, Lutheran, or Schwenkfelder?

A. During the years when the Schwenkfelders were pressured by the Jesuit (Catholic) mission to convert to Catholicism in the 1720s, if you were a orphan in Harpersdorf, the local priest would be in charge of your care. It would have been likely that you would be taken into foster care by a Catholic family, not a Lutheran or Schwenkfelder family in Harpersdorf and practice Catholicism. As a side note, the most noted Protestant orphanage founded during this time was the Francke Foundation in Halle, Germany. The Francke Foundation was established in 1695.

We thank the students for their insightful questions on Wednesday and we look forward to answering more questions from visitors and sharing answers with you. While we certainly encourage you to stop in and ask us questions, don’t hesitate to use our facebook page, blog, or twitter feed to contact us.

-Rebecca

About schwenkfelder

We are a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of the Schwenkfelders and the history of southeastern Pennsylvania and the Perkiomen Region. The Heritage Center offers educational programming and tours, exhibits, workshops, and events throughout the year. Our blog is maintained by museum educator, Rebecca Lawrence, SLHC staff and guest bloggers.
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