Friday, May 20, 2011

May 20 - Michael Sattler, Martyr, Reformer, Anabaptist

Perhaps it exposed a vestige of naivete but Michael Sattler was honestly surprised when he became prior of the little Benedictine monastery -- St. Peter's -- near Freiburg. Michael was devoted to a type of ministry that included not only prayer, fasting, and disciple but, also, regular education at the nearby university. Through this program of spiritual development and formation he had grown to a level of maturity that made him the ideal choice for prior--and perhaps eventually for abbot. But when he began to take an inventory of the spiritual health of the monastery he was painfully surprised and woefully underwhelmed. Sure, he had known that there were those among his peers who seemed less interested in their common calling but he had never questioned their calling to this peculiar life of service and prayer--he had assumed that they all approached the cloistered life with the same sincerity and passion that he brought to this withdrawn, spiritual life. Sadly, Michael was mistaken and when it suddenly hit him that not all who claimed a calling to ministry and service were doing it because of an increasing intimacy with God--or a desire for that intimacy--it was crushing. He still found it awkward to question their calling and so he questioned his and left the monastery. He married a woman named Margaretha and gave up the spiritual life he had been taught.

Slowly--very slowly at first--Michael began to see abandonment as a path unworthy of traveling and so he considered the path of reformation. Indeed, there were those in the Church who were misguided but Michael became increasingly aware that the Church was not made up of the sainted and would always have more than its fair share of hypocrites. How could it not? After all, if the Christian Gospel was the highest of callings, then it made the most room for hypocrisy within its ranks. So, slowly at first Michael began circulating in reformer circles--particularly among the Anabaptists--and advocating for reformation of the One Church. Because of this controversial stance he and Margaretha were forced to flee to Switzerland. While he served as a minister and theologian among the Swiss brethren he relearned a way of spiritual life and leadership that was life-giving to him. In Schleitheim they convened a council of Christians who drafted a confession of faith (now known as the Schleitheim Confession) and Michael was the leader of the party that wrote the document. Both within their lives and within their document they resisted coercion within the Church, denounced the use of violence for Christians, forbade the swearing of vows on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount, called for an increasingly intentional approach to the Faith, and denied the ability of civil power to serve in the Church's place among other things.They published this document under the title "Brotherly Agreement of Some Children of God." They sought reformation but they were labeled heretics. They sought unity through healing but were labeled the disease.

For daring to suggest that the Church had problems they were targeted by the civil arm of the Church. Those in power within the State took up arms against Michael and the Swiss Brethren. He was given a trial but was not asked to defend his arguments for the need of healing and reformation within the Church--that was never considered a possibility by those within power. Rather, he was given a chance simply to deny all he had said. He refused. So, they decreed: "Michael Sattler shall be committed to the executioner. The latter shall take him to the square and there first cut out his tongue, and then forge him fast to a wagon and there with glowing iron tongs twice tear pieces from his body, then on the way to the site of execution five times more as above and then burn his body to powder as an arch-heretic." As they prepared to kill him he cried out, "Almighty and eternal God you art the way and the truth. I have not been shown to be in error and, so, I will--with thy help--on this day testify to the truth and seal it with my blood."And so they made a martyr of a reformer of the One Church. Two days later they also killed Margaretha by drowning her.

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