Michael and Margaretha Sattler: Until Martyrdom Do Us Part

January 29, 2013


by Ron Hale

He has served as Pastor, Church Planter, Strategist (NAMB), Director of Missions, and Associate Executive Director of Evangelism and Church Planting for a State Convention, and now in the 4th quarter of ministry as Minister of Missions.

Michael Sattler (c.1490 – May 20, 1527) was a former Catholic monk who came to see the Bible through a different prism and point of truth. His new beliefs set him free from the Benedictine monkhood and later to marry a woman named Margaretha. The couple fled to Zurich in 1525, where they joined a growing Anabaptist movement. Sattler and his bride were eventually martyred for holding differing beliefs and practices than those of the Roman Catholic Church of their era.

Before his death, Sattler was instrumental in helping draft a simple but straightforward Anabaptist confession of faith. This took place in the city of Schleitheim, Switzerland, north of Zurich, near the German border.

Historians consider the Schleitheim Articles the first Anabaptist confession of faith, and it received a wide distribution, especially after the martyrdom of Sattler and his bride. Ulrich Zwingli saw a need to publish a repudiation of these Articles, and it was released late summer of 1527 and called: Refutation of Anabaptist Tricks. John Calvin published a refutation in 1544.

Michael-Sattler-300x249On May 17, 1527, a trial began with a long list of indictments against Sattler. Two of those charges would cause 21st century Baptists to take great notice, for Sattler was found guilty of: 1) teaching against infant baptism, and 2) teaching against transubstantiation (the elements of the Eucharist actually becoming the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist).

The Schleitheim Articles discloses what Sattler believed about baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As you read them, judge how closely they resemble your beliefs as a Southern Baptist:

Baptism … shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and the amendment of life and [who] believe truly that their sins are taken away through Christ, and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with Him in death, so that they might rise with Him; to all those who with such an understanding themselves desire and request it from us; hereby is excluded all infant baptism, the greatest and first abomination of the pope. For this you have the reasons and the testimony of the writings and the practice of the apostles. We wish simply yet resolutely and with assurance to hold to the same.

Concerning the breaking of bread, we have become one and agree thus: all those who desire to break the one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ and all those who wish to drink of one drink in remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, they must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism. For as Paul indicates, we cannot be partakers at the same time of the table of the Lord and the table of devils. Nor can we at the same time partake and drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. That is: all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no part in the light. Thus all those who follow the devil and the world, have no part with those who have been called out of the world unto God. All those who lie in evil have no part in the good.

Michael Sattler became a “marked man” since he was the chief author of these Articles. Along with other Anabaptists, the Sattlers were arrested in Horb, Germany, and later taken to Rottenburg, Germany, for trial. After a hurried travesty of justice, the gruesome verdict was read:

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 wheel and there with glowing 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.

Forty-eight hours later, on May 20, 1527, Michael Sattler suffered everything in the horrible decree, beginning with the cutting out of his tongue. Eight days later, Margaretha received her “third baptism” as she was drowned in the Neckar River. She was offered freedom if she would renounce her faith, yet she bravely faced her death and told the judges that she would rather have gone into the fire with her husband.

I do not dredge up this horrid history to awaken old religious animosities, but to share the great price of persecution that previous generations have paid, and, to point out the benefits those sacrifices still provide!

Michael Sattler’s life, writings, and courage are important to remember, and here are a few reasons. First, he and his wife lived out the courage of their convictions. Second, Sattler and the early Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation were faithful to the simple truths of the Bible as their sole authority; they did not allow the interpretations of man or the established Church scare them away from living out the New Testament Church model. Third, the Sattlers’ testimony, Michael’s teachings, and their character became the “glue” that held early Anabaptists together as they walked the righteous path forward – fearing no man. Sattler’s tongue was removed, but his death continued to speak volumes.

Last, Southern Baptists may still debate our ancient origins and tribal succession, but we cannot deny our indebtedness to the Anabaptists and their simple but clear teachings on believer’s baptism, the memorial meal of the Lord’s Supper for baptized believers, and for being ardent guardians of religious liberty – dying if they must!

Down-playing or even denying our Baptist heritage and distinctives can give the impression of being hip and cool in the 21st Century; however, as the flames licked the agonizing body of Michael Sattler, he exhibited a “cool” that we cannot even begin to fathom.

© Ron F. Hale, Dec. 4, 2012


Sources to study:

Ched Spellman, Wait Upon My God: The Contribution of Michael Sattler to Our Baptist Heritage, The Center for Theological Research, December 2007. (Winner of the 2007 Baptist Theology Research Award at SWBTS).

William Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1963.

C. Arnold Snyder, The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler (Scottsdale: Herald Press), 1984.