Hans Schmidt

?-1558

Only a little quiet time, a lull before the storm—everyone who found his way on the night of January 9, 1558, through the dark streets Aachen, up winding stairs and into the crowded secrecy of a little room in the back, knelt for prayer. They knelt among boxes and bags in the room. It had a low ceiling. Someone had closed the window shutter. . . . But someone else had betrayed them, and with a fearful crash the door burst open as the “servants of Pilate” leaped in “with spears, halberds, and bare swords . . . well provided with ropes and bonds” to catch them.

They caught one sister with a baby. With ropes they tied up five more sisters, Heinrich Adam, Hans Wekh, a smith named Matthäus, a tailor named Tillman, and Hans Schmidt the “Raiffer,” a messenger from Anabaptist communities in Moravia.

They called him Raiffer because he came from Raiffach (now known as Reifau, between Sterzing and Brixen) high in the Tyrolean Alps. How remote its evergreen forests and pastures above the tree line now appeared! But Hans suspected he would never climb Austria’s mountain trails again.

With others of his region Hans had gone to live in Moravia. He had chosen the way of Christ, and Moravian lords allowed Anabaptist Christians to form communities on their lands while Austria did not. There, in Moravia, Hans married and in 1548 they chose him a “servant of the Word.”

In 1555 Hans travelled for the first time into southern Germany and the province of Hessen. The following year he visited Bad Kreuznach and Worms in the Kurpfaltz. Later trips took him to the homes of seekers in the Eifel district (between Andernach and Trier) and down the lower Rhein. Everywhere he travelled, men and women cast their lots with the Lord. Entire fellowships of seekers joined, and because of persecution in Germany, most of them found their way east to Moravia.

Now it appeared that Hans’s long and dangerous travels had ended. From prison he wrote letters home. He addressed some of them to his wife, Magdalena. Others he wrote to the entire community:

Brothers and sisters, truly given to God, do not grow weary under God’s discipline and in his service. It only lasts a short while, and in comparison to eternal pain, it is nothing. Isaiah considered our present distress to be like a mere instant in the face of eternity and tells us: “Go into a little room, my people, and close the door behind you. Wait there a little while until the storm blows over.” To this Paul adds that the light and earthly troubles we now have do not compare to the eternal and immeasurably great glory that God has prepared for those who love him. . . . Therefore stay calm and stand strong in the faith. Act like men and do not worry. Cast your cares on the Lord and pray without ceasing.

Pray from the time you get up in the morning until you go to bed. Continue in conversation with God, even though your outer members are employed in natural labours. Let your hearts be continually open to God so that you do not fall in temptation. The closer you walk with God and the more you open your heart to him, the more God will let his presence be felt among you. But if you grow careless and pay little attention to God, he will seem far away. Do not stop praying for yourselves and for us . . . A time of great troubles stands before us and the devil tries with cleverness and many-faced deceits to bring us down. [1]

All the letters Hans wrote from prison shone with the blessings he received through inner fellowship with Christ. He also wrote fifteen songs. One of them described the love of God:

Let us sing joyfully of God’s love! Let us pursue love with all we have, for love is the highest command God gave us. The one who has love, has God!

John writes that God is love. If we remain in love we prove that God lives in us and we in God’s Son. Love moved God, on his throne in heaven, to send us his Son to show us how we had strayed from the will of God and fallen into the ways of the world.

God loved us before we loved him and gave us Christ as an example in word, life and deed. We need to follow in his steps. Out of love to God, Christ stood fully surrendered (gelassen) before him. He did not care what would happen to him on earth. In the same way we should fully surrender ourselves, and give up everything that could be named on earth to cling to God in love.

Love moved Christ, early, late, day and night, to seek our salvation. So we should concern ourselves for the salvation of others. Love in his heart moved Christ to accept whatever God gave him: joy, anxiety or pain. So we should accept whatever comes our way as from God. That is his will.

Christ showed love in word, life, and deed and took every opportunity to teach us to do the same. He told all the little ones who followed him, “As I have loved you, love one another. In this will all men know you are my disciples.” The pious of all ages have walked and lived in love, and taught others in it. In all who accepted it, the love of Christ began to work too.

Love has its root in Christ, and in its branches only Christian love becomes apparent. It can no more bear other fruit than a thorn tree can bear grapes. Love becomes evident in the words, life and deeds of those who give themselves up to him and in whom his Spirit dwells. These live in community (Gemeinschaft) like so many members of the same body, as Christ has shown them.

Before all else, love seeks to honour and please God. It does this by taking note of the needs of others and seeing to them. Like a body has many members attached one to another, so through the Spirit of Christ, the members of his body cling to one another. They serve one another at all times.

All the members of the body of Christ remain attached one to another in love. In the Spirit of Christ all serve God and one another. Like the whole body of Christ is of one nature and blood, so all his members come to unity through love. Love moves them to think alike and follow Christ according to the same rule.

Like Christ spoke against pride and worldly honour, so do those who follow in his love. They keep themselves in a lowly way of life and are minded to give their honour to others. Love does not exalt itself but keeps with what is lowly and small. It sees God in others and follows him in everything. Love accepts punishment willingly and still thinks that it is getting treated better than what it deserves.

Love is the key to God’s judgement. Where others fall into sin it knows how to discipline them in the right way. And when others err it knows how to instruct them and bring them back in love. Love keeps itself pure, in word, life, and deed. Fanned to flame by the Word of God it pays careful attention to it and finds its joy, its heart, and soul therein.

Love watches carefully at all times and keeps itself prepared for the sudden appearance of Christ, and the call to his wedding feast. With prayers and petitions, love always keeps itself close to God. God protects those who walk in love and sees to their needs. The closer they keep to his heavenly throne, the more he strengthens them in their hearts.

With God, those who walk in love overcome sin, hell, the devil and the world. They overcome the flesh, as pleases God, along with fear and terror, trembling and fright. God stands with them in their suffering. Love gives patience to those who sorrow and those who suffer pain and shame. Besides that, it gives hope and comfort, and leads into all joy. Love rejoices before God and what it accomplishes stands clearly evident before all. With interest paid in full, love lays out the results of its investments in due time. Love has a good account and a crown awaits it on the day of rejoicing with Christ and all the pious ones.

Dear brothers and sisters, ransomed children of God: Let us pursue love so that we might be found in it, and it in us, at all times. Apart from this, we strive in vain. Out of love I sing you this song, oh community of believers, so that love may be the foundation of your hearts as well as mine—so that its flames may roar up higher yet and throughout the earth.

We pray you, God our Father, we who lie captive here, that you would give us more love, that it would become part of us and move with us wherever we go.

We commend ourselves to you, Lord—body, spirit, and soul—in our great need. Keep us to the end! Stay close to us in love, through sorrow and pain! Let us know your joy! Praise and honour be given to you, God the Father, God the Son, and Holy Ghost, on your throne in heaven, for having come down to us in love. In love, lead us on. Amen.[2] 

Whenever Hans and his companions saw one another in the prison at Aachen they spoke quick words of encouragement and hope. But whatever hope they had to escape melted away as torture and trials increased. On his first interrogation they pulled Hans on the rack. They hung him up by his hands and tied a large stone from his feet (so large the ring they had screwed into it tore and they had to tie it up with a rope). But Hans did not change his mind.

A wealthy woman of Aachen, moved to compassion by reports from the prison, offered to send the captives food. But Hans did not want it. “Prison food is fine for me,” he said. “What I want, is to see you concerned for the state of your soul!”

By the fall of 1558 eight more believers had joined the Anabaptist men in prison. (The authorities had flogged the women and driven them out of town.) Only one of the group recanted, and by October executions began. 

Hans Schmid’s turn came first. He did not speak much, but sang as they led him through the city to the square. There they strangled and burned him on October 19’th, 1558.

His soul in heaven, like his song on earth, lives on in the body of Christ.

Main soure: Zieglschmid, A: J. F. (editor), Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder, Cayuga Press, Ithaca NY, 1943


[1] Die Hutterischen Epistel, pg. 317-319

[2] Die Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, pg. 564

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