Schwenkfeld, Kaspar von

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Schwenkfeld, Kaspar von

Kaspar von Schwenkfeld (käs´pär fən shvĕngk´fĕlt), 1490–1561, German religious reformer. Schwenkfeld was in court service with the duke of Liegnitz from 1510 to c.1522. He visited Wittenberg during Martin Luther's absence at the Wartburg and there met the radical reformers Thomas Münzer and Carlstadt. Returning to Liegnitz, he devoted himself to the reform movement in Silesia. Luther suspected Schwenkfeld of Anabaptist leanings and opposed his belief that the Eucharist was only a spiritual symbol (see Lord's Supper). After Lutheranism became dominant in Silesia, Schwenkfeld was forced to move to Strasbourg and later to Ulm. An anathema was proclaimed against him by the Lutherans at Schmalkald, and his books were banned. He offered a full statement of faith in Konfession und Erklärung (1540) and enunciated the differences between Luther and Huldreich Zwingli. An important part of his belief was the distinction between the outward and transitory word of God as given in the Scriptures and an inward spirit, divine, eternal, and necessary for salvation. His followers, known as Schwenkfeldians or Schwenkfelders, were persecuted, and in the 18th cent. many of them fled to other parts of Europe and to North America. Some Schwenkfeldians emigrated to Pennsylvania in the 18th cent., and there the sect still exists.

See study by R. E. McLaughlin (1986).

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