His Peculiar Views (§ 1).

His Literary Activity (§ 2).

The Chronica (§ 3).

Other Works (§ 4),


Sebastian Franck, one of the popular writers of the Reformation, was born at Donauwörth (25 m. n. of Augsburg) 1499; d. Basel (?) 1542 or 1543. He entered the University of Ingolstadt in 1515, and continued his studies at Bethlehem college, an institution of the Dominicans at Heidelberg, incorporated in the university. Here he met his later opponents, Martin Frecht and Butzer. Bethlehem was still dominated by the scholasticism of the closing Middle Ages, but influences of humanism also made themselves felt. Subsequently Franck became priest in the bishopric of Augsburg, and in 1527 he occupied a clerical position at Gustenfelden, a small borough near Nuremberg.


1. His Peculiar Views. At this time his standpoint was strictly Lutheran, and he attacked the Sacramentarians and Anabaptists. But in his Türkenchronik (1530) his radicalism began to find expression. Here he treats of "ten or eleven nations or sects of Christianity" of which none possesses the full truth, and at the close he intimates that beside the three faiths, the Lutheran, the Zwinglian and the Anabaptist, there would soon arise a fourth, an invisible spiritual Church which would be governed by the eternal invisible word of God without any external means such as ceremonies, sacraments and sermons. Thus Franck appears as the representative of a mystic spiritualism which placed him in strong contrast with ecclesiastical Protestantism. In 1528 he resigned his position at Gustenfelden and went to Nuremberg and in the following year to Strasburg. In the free atmosphere of the two imperial cities his views underwent an entire change--the theologian became a popular writer, the Lutheran an opponent of every Christian system that is bound by ecclesiastical rules. He searched for God's truth among all people, in nature, and history as well as in the Bible. In Strasburg he came into contact with congenial opponents of the ecclesiastical Reformation, especially with Servetus and Hans Bünderlin of Linz. Under the influence of the latter as well as of Schwenckfeld his spiritualism reached its full development. He held that the whole external Church and all its institutions were corrupted by Antichrist immediately after the time of the apostles. It is not God's will, he thought, that it should be reerected, the inner illumination by the spirit of God being sufficient. We must all unlearn what we have learned from the pope, Luther, and Zwingli.


2. His Literary Activity. In 1531 there appeared at Strasburg Franck's first great work, Chronica, Zeitbuch and Geschichtsbibel. The frank criticisms in the book caused a great sensation, there being no party which had not received its share. Princes became aware of the dangerous character of the book, and prominent men like Erasmus entered their complaints. In 1531 Franck was imprisoned and his chronicle confiscated, but he was soon released and expelled from Strasburg. He went to Esslingen where he established a soap factory for the support of his family. In 1533 he was permitted to settle at Ulm. Here he established a printing-press and printed some of his works which again brought him into conflict with the theologians and authorities. At the instigation of Martin Frecht, first preacher at Ulm, Franck was ordered in 1535 to leave the city, but he protested against this decision and was allowed to remain. He published several other works which, however, he was not allowed to print at Ulm. They appeared at Frankfort and again offended the theologians. Frecht succeeded in inducing the Town Council to expel Franck from Ulm in 1539. In 1540 a resolution written by Melanchthon was passed at the convention of theologians in Schmalkalden in which Franck was accused of separation from the Church, contempt for the Bible and the ministry, and of heresy. These experiences naturally increased the bitterness of his criticisms, but did not paralyze his energy. In 1539 he moved with his family and printing-press to Basel where he was active in the production and printing of numerous writings until his death.


3. The Chronica. Franck has left no adherents as he belonged to no party. The ecclesiastical leaders of the time did not understand his independence; they only recognized the incongruity of his ideas with their theology and the contradiction between his abstract idealism and their newly established Church. He was severely attacked by Luther, who criticized him for his pessimism and the lack of positive Christian thought in his works; the other Protestant theologians judged similarly. But in spite of all damnatory criticisms by theologians Franck's productions were circulated in numerous editions and remained popular for more than a century. Even more lasting and greater was their influence upon the development of free thought in the Netherlands. Franck was no original thinker in the higher sense. Most of his thoughts on spiritualism were borrowed from the older philosophic mysticism, and he had too little of a religious nature to mark an epoch in the history of mysticism. While his works are superficial and betray a lack of erudition, they are full of a glowing patriotism and pointed remarks and criticisms on the shortcomings of his people and his time. Franck's Chronica consists of three parts; the first comprises the time from Adam to Christ, the second treats of emperors and secular affairs, the third of popes and spiritual affairs. The larger part of the material has been taken from other works, but the book is original in its arrangement, in its leading ideas, in its criticisms of ecclesiastical phenomena of the past and present and of the political and social conditions of the people; it became very popular, and many later works of a similar kind were dependent upon it. Apart from the information on contemporaneous history and customs, the chief value of the book lies in the Ketzerchronik of the third part. Here Franck has compiled all the different beliefs which according to the judgment of Romanism would have to be considered heretical if it were consistent. Among the reformers appear the Anabaptists and enthusiasts; among the heretics rejected by the Church such as Marcion, Arius, Huss and Wyclif are found the great pillars of the Church--Augustine, Ambrose, etc.--in so far as they taught differently from the sixteenth-century Roman Church; by the side of the prophets of the Old Testament appear the sibyls, philosophers, and poets of the pagans--everything in alphabetical order with epitomes of their writings and pervaded by a delicate irony. Franck's purpose was to show the vain presumption of Rome and of all other sects in their claims to possess the only right faith. He criticizes severely the violence of princes and the nobility, but not less the stupidity of the mob in changing its faith like a garment, and the arrogance of the learned. He demands a decisive reform in State and society, being conscious of the misery and disorder of social and ecclesiastical conditions. The Weltbuch, Cosmographie (Tübingen, 1534) appeared as the fourth part of the executive work.


4. Other Works. Franck printed his Paradoxa, 280 Wunderreden at Ulm in 1534, and calls it the true and divine; philosophy and theology for all Christians. Here he developed, on the basis of Dionysius the Areopagite, Eckhart, Tauler and the Deutsche Theologie, his mystical and speculative theories on the relation between God and the world, God and sin, liberty and necessity, spirit and flesh, Christ and Antichrist. Subsequently there appeared his Germaniœ Chronicon (Frankfort, 1538) and Die güldene Arch (Augsburg, 1538). In the latter work he placed side by side passages from Holy Scripture, from the Church Fathers, and from illuminated pagans. By the side of Augustine is placed Hermes Trimegistus; by the side of Thomas, Orpheus; by the side of Plato, Tauler. Franck also translated Erasmus’s "Praise of Folly" (1534) to which he appended treatises, one concerning the vanity of all human arts and sciences; the second concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the third concerning the praise of the "foolish divine word" and the difference between the internal and external word.


Das Kriegsbüchlein des Friedens (Basel 1539) was directed against the court preacher who justified war like the princes. Das verbütschierte Buch (1539) is a sort of concordance which is arranged in such a way that the contradictions in the letter of Scripture become prominent, and intended to lead away from the letter to the spirit. Franck also published two collections of proverbs (Frankfort, 1541) which became popular and were enjoyed by Lessing.

(A. HEGLER†.) K. Holl.