Hoffmann, Melchior
(c. 1500-1543)
   Millennarian leader of the Radical Reformation
   One of the radical voices of the Radical Reformation, Melchior Hoffmann's apocalyptic or millennarian views did much to discredit the Anabaptists in their first decade. Hoffman was born in Schwäbisch-Hall, Württemberg, in southern Germany. He began working as a leather dresser, but after he became an enthusiastic supporter of the Reformation, he moved to Livonia, Balticum, in 1523 and became a parish priest, despite his lack of training. He soon moved beyond Lutheranism, and ran into popular opposition after preaching against the use of images in the church. He developed an emphasis on prophetic and eschatological themes, which tended to isolate him from the main body of reformers.
   In 1526, Hoffmann was offered a post in Sweden, preaching in a German-speaking community, but King Gustavus I soon felt the need to stop his sermons. Martin Luther asked him to leave the ministry, but he continued to preach, first in Denmark, and then in Strasbourg, which he became convinced would be the New Jerusalem predicted in the book of Revelation. He predicted Christ's return in 1533 to take the seat of his new universal kingdom. He attacked Luther, whom he had once called the apostle of the third stage of history, but whom he now considered a traitor to the cause; he himself assumed the apostolic mantle.
   When he demanded equal status for Anabaptists in Strasbourg, the city council, concerned by his increased following, ordered him arrested. Hoffman spent the last decade of his life in jail. He died in 1543. However, two of his many followers, Jan Matthys and Jan Beuckelsz (Jan of Leiden), established themselves in Münster, Westphalia, and moved to create a "new Jerusalem" based upon their literalistic reading of the Bible. The structure of their communal society became increasingly bizarre; polygamy was introduced, and brutality and torture were used to maintain conformity. After a long siege, Catholic forces overran the city and killed the leadership. Münster presented the European public with a very negative image of the Anabaptists, which they never outlived. The surviving remnant eventually re-emerged as a pacifist community.
   See Mennonites.
   Further reading:
   ■ Norman Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971)
   ■ K. Deppermann, Melchior Hoffmann (Edinburgh, Clarke Press, 1987)
   ■ R. Po-Chia Hsia "Münster and the Anabaptists," in R. Po-Chia Hsia, ed., The German People and the Reformation (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988)
   ■ W. Klaassen, Living at the End of the Ages: Apocalyptic Expectations in the Radical Reformation (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1992)
   ■ George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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