Michael Sattler was an early Anabaptist martyr. He was born in Stauffen, Germany about 1490. Michael entered the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter’s near Freiberg, Germany where he probably became its prior. During the 1520’s, Michael left the monastery. This was probably due to theological differences and disgust over the depraved lives of the monks and priests. Little is known about his early life or even his education although records of court discussions during his later trial show him as intellectual, well versed in the Scriptures and able to handle discussions of the Scriptures fluently.
Shortly after leaving the Benedictine monastery, Michael married Margaretha, a former Beguine (nun following the rule of St. Benedict). This action was heresy for a monk and nun who had committed to lives of celibacy (abstention by vow from marriage). Because of the program to eliminate such heresy from the region by Ferdinand I of Austria, Sattler and his wife, fled to Zurich, Switzerland in 1525. There they met and joined the Anabaptist brethren. Michael was present at the Third Disputation in Zurich on November 6, 1525. This disputation was the separating point between Zwingli and his Bible students who had asked their Bible teacher to reject infant baptism and the Catholic Church as un-Scriptural. Zwingli for selfish political agenda refused and said, “the officials of the church will make the decision.” Zwingli then officially under penalty of law forbade Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz from preaching. Michael was expelled from the Catholic Church on the 18th of November, 1525.
Michael went to Strasbourg, France and stayed with one named Wolfgang Capito, a German humanist who became a leading reformer. During his stay with Capito, Michael discussed theology with his host. They disagreed on several points including infant baptism. Sattler’s experience with the Protestant reformers was somewhat different from that of the Swiss Anabaptists in that his disagreement over infant baptism did not cause animosity between himself and his friends. In a letter written after he left Strasbourg, Michael referred to them as his “beloved brothers in God”. After Michael’s execution; Capito described him as a “dear friend of God”.
In February of 1527, a group of Anabaptist brethren met in the town of Schleitheim, north of Zurich near the German border. In that meeting, a document was drafted listing seven articles on which they agreed. Michael was the principal author of these articles known as the Schleitheim Articles of faith. This document is considered the first Anabaptist confession of faith. It was so widely circulated among the Anabaptist brethren in the region that Protestant reformers in Switzerland felt the need to respond to the work. by late summer of 1527, Ulrich Zwingli had published a document titled refutation of Anabaptist Tricks in an effort to refute its teachings.
The Schleitheim work was not a systematic confession of faith, but it did address seven major issues upon which the Anabaptist brethren agreed. The seven articles addressed baptism, the ban, the breaking of bread, separation from the world, the role of pastors, the sword, and swearing of oaths.
Michael was a young man of only 37 years in march of 1527, when he and his wife were arrested, .tried, and convicted of heresy just following the drafting of the Schleitheim Confession. On May 20, 1527, as a result of this conviction, Michael was taken to the town marketplace in Rottenburg and tortured. The judge had sentenced that a piece be cut from his tongue. His sentence also included that red-hot tongs be used to rip pieces from his flesh, twice at the market place, and five times while tied to the cart on the way to the place of execution.
At the marketplace, Michael’s tongue was cut out although not enough to keep him from speaking. He was then taken outside the city and tied to a ladder with a sack of gunpowder tied around his neck. He prayed for his persecutors. He prayed also, “Almighty, eternal God, thou art the way and the truth; because I have not been shown to be in error, I will with thy help on this day testify to the truth and seal it with my blood.” He was then pushed into a large fire. As the ropes around his hands burned away, Sattler held up two fingers as a signal to his group to show them he was confident about his fate and prayed, “Father, I commend my spirit into thy hands.”
Margarthea, Michael’s wife was then severely coaxed by friends to recant. However, she told them she would not deny her God and said she had wished to die alongside her husband in the fire and join him in heaven. Margarthea remained steadfast and two days after Michael’s execution was drowned, often called “the third baptism” by the authorities.
Michael stands as a monument in the linage of faithful Anabaptist holding Jesus Christ as preeminent. Although Michael’s involvement, authoring, and formulation of the Schleitheim Articles were principal arguments leading to his condemnation and death, these articles were a forerunner to later written articles of faith unifying groups in their beliefs. They helped solidify principles of early Anabaptist belief and practice.
THE SCHLEITHEIM ARTICLES
1. To baptize only those who make an adult and voluntary confession of faith in Jesus Christ.
2. To adopt the ban to keep order among fellow believers.
3. To conduct a communion in memory of Christ, not as a sacramental mass.
4 To administer the Church separate from the power of the State.
5. To have congregations choose their own pastors.
6. To reject the sword as outside the perfection of Christ.
7. To swear no oaths of loyalty