Antoni Erfordter

?-1541

Some, in the south Austrian province of Kärnten, would have envied Antoni Erfordter. He had a house and a job. He was married and lived a comfortable life with his family in the mountain town of Klagenfurt.

Only Antoni did not think he had much to envy. Neither did he feel comfortable. Particularly not after he heard two messengers from Moravia, Hans Seidel and Hans Donner, speak of Christ’s way to eternal life.

The two messengers spoke of Christ’s Kingdom. They described the love and hope shared by all who leave the world to become part of it, already in this life. What they said pulled at Antoni’s soul. He did not want to live for the things of this world. He was tired of foolish talk, of men drinking beer, bragging, fighting, and wasting their time. He was tired of women trying to look nice while paying no attention to the beauty of their characters. He longed to lead a quiet life with his eyes on Christ. His only desire was to see Christ, world without end, in the light and peace of a new creation where righteousness dwells. But he had a problem. His wife had no interest in spiritual things.

“What do you mean, ‘follow Christ’?” she stormed. “Do you think you know better how to do that than all the Christians in Austria? Do you think you are smarter than the priests and theologians? The only thing you will get for paying attention to those vagabond preachers from Moravia is a jail sentence. Then who will buy our bread?”

At first Antoni would not listen to his wife. He defended the Anabaptist messengers and got put in jail in 1538. In jail he backed down on some of his boldest statements and they released him. But once he had tasted of it he could not forget the sweetness of life in the Spirit of Christ. No matter how much he struggled, or how hard he tried to be happy with his situation in Klagenfurt, he knew that sooner or later he would have to decide between Christ and the comforts of his earthly home.

Antoni decided for Christ.

He left everything. After his flight through great danger to Moravia, he sent a letter back, warning his family about their worldly lives and hypocritical religion. He also wrote the words of a song:

Poor and insignificant, I have much to complain. Where shall I go? One finds so little piety left on the earth. Oh God, where can I find others with interests like mine? When I think of death and the end, great sorrow comes upon me and I cannot feel happy anymore.

I am forsaken, weak, and totally worthless in every place. I am the refuse of the earth, set on the stage so all can make fun of me. Everyone I know—my wife, children, relatives and friends—reject me. I am left desolate, forsaken by all.

They chase me one way. They chase me the other. I scurry from corner to corner looking for a hiding place. In mountains, ravines, caves, and canyons, among wild animals in the forest, no place is left for me. They search me out with spears and rods. They track me down with hunting dogs and set snares for me until they catch me.

My best friend, my worst enemy, and the one dearest to my heart, all link hands to close the way before me. In rain, wind, and exposure, in the thickets I have to creep around and dodge like a mouse. I must keep quiet, not saying a word. If they find me I am in for blows and jabs. I have to bare my back before them.

All this would be nothing. It would be a light matter, the natural result of choosing the way of piety and truth. But what brings me to complain is how my God is shamed, spoken evil of, and blasphemed. This I lament before God in great distress. This alone—this depreciation of God—is what bothers me, you ungodly horde!

Oh woe, and distress, and woe again, to all who dwell on earth! One finds no uprightness, no love, no faith among them anymore, neither pious ones among them! The best one among them is like a thorn. In the whole world it is the same. Therefore I will join myself to the flock of the saved ones—wherever they may be—leaving my wife and children behind me.

I will find my joy and song among the saved ones who fear and love God! My wife, my children, my former companions and worldly friends may remain among thieves. But I say, “Depart from me, depart from me, worldly vanity! Uncleanness go away! I leave you to find the righteous!” You will find your place in the valley of fire. You have earned it through your wickedness and pride.

My God, my God, be my comfort! I implore you from my heart. The godless horde leaves me no rest. Turn my sorrows from me, you who say: “I am with you every day until the end. I have counted your hair and you will not be left an orphan.” O my Lord, this is the joy of my heart!

The one who sings this new song has experienced this in part. Among those in whom he had the most confidence he almost froze to death. They did not give him a place to sleep, no, not even in the cow stable. “Get out of here! Just get out!” they shouted, even though it was dark, raining and windy.

But he thanks God on his throne in heaven. He praises him highly for giving him the opportunity of suffering shame and dishonour to enter in at the small gate, the narrow way, and the difficult path of persecution, cross, and anxiety. He rejoices now to be the pilgrim servant. Lord grant that he may be found worthy! Praise God all you saints! Amen.[1]

In Moravia, Antoni found Christian brothers and sisters. They first took him into their community at Schakwitz (Sakvice), then he found a place to stay among them at Pausram. There, with the brothers and sisters, and with Christ, Antoni discovered how much more he had gained than he had lost. Even though he missed his family, he found fulfilment in working with the brothers—the Pausram community sat among vineyards above the Svratka River—and they chose him to be a servant of the Word.

When Antoni spoke to the brothers and sisters in their evening meetings, everyone knew he spoke from experience. Wherever he went, his testimony brought new courage and hope—like at Falkenstein Castle in 1539.

One hundred and fifty brothers had fallen into the hands of the authorities and lay in prison at Falkenstein. In a short while, their captors told them, they would be taken to Venice and sold as galley slaves. The brothers dreaded that. They feared their coming trials, and even though they encouraged one another in Christ, they shed many tears. Then a letter came from Antoni Erfordter:

See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, and who hope in his goodness! He will save their souls from death and feed them in the time of famine. Let us wait on the Lord for he is our strength and shield! Let our hearts rejoice in him! Blessed is the man who sets his hope on the Lord and not on the proud who go about saying lies. . . .

Dear ones, pour your hearts out before God. God is our hope for the future. Oh beloved brothers, if we have hearts filled with confidence in God and if we believe that the one who trusts in him will be blessed, no torment can touch us. Rather we remain in sure hope that we will never die—for even though the righteous die they remain in peace because they please God. They please God and he loves them. Therefore he hurries to take them out of this evil earthly existance.

Oh who would fear mortal men! Who would be frightened by their threats, their jeers and blusterings? Like Ezra said, “Do not be afraid, do not doubt. God is your captain.” Who would not gladly be flogged if he knew that much good would come to him for it? Who would not gladly be tempted, tried and purified like gold in the fire, so that he could be accepted as a perfect offering by God? Those who trust in God discover that he is trustworthy, and that he rescues those he loves. He has mercy on his elect ones and his grace surrounds them. The righteous will live forever and the Lord is their reward. . . . If God be for us who can be against us? 

Oh brothers, whom I love from the heart, when we think of how great a treasure, how much blessedness and joy, salvation and comfort, healing and life, lie under the blessed cross, how could we do anything but pray to God that we might be considered worthy of carrying it with eagerness, love and joy!

Beloved brothers, do not be afraid of coming to where you stand still before God. He cares for us! When the time comes for you to lay down this mortal tent, you have reached the highest point in your journey! . . . Keep yourselves well! Be cheerful and of good comfort in the Lord![2]

Three years after he wrote the letter to Falkenstein (and after the prisoners there had all escaped), Antoni died among the brothers in Moravia. From what is known, he had no further contacts with his wife or children. Few great or outstanding events marked his life among the brothers. But his example of radical obedience, like his words of instruction written in a dark time, still speaks to the body of Christ.

Main source: Loserth, Johann, The Anabaptists in Carinthia in the Sixteenth Century, Mennonite Quarterly Review, XXI, 4


[1] Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, pg. 110

[2] Die Hutterischen Episteln, 1527 bis 1763, Dritter Band, Herausgegeben von den Hutterischen Brüdern in Amerika, Elie, Manitoba, 1988, 183-188

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