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Bebenhausen Monastery and Palace

Johannes Brenz, woodcut circa 1590. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain
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Johannes Brenz

As advisor to Duke Ulrich von Württemberg, Johannes Brenz (1499–1570) provided the decisive impetus for the introduction of the Reformation in Württemberg. Together with Ambrosius Blarer, he was also responsible for the establishment of monastery schools, such as the one in Bebenhausen.

Heidelberg Palace and historic town. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Günther Bayerl

A formative education in Heidelberg.

Where did the devotee of Martin Luther come from?

Johannes Brenz came from the city of Weil and studied theology in Heidelberg. In 1518, he met Martin Luther when the latter was intended to explain his theses on indulgences. The student was passionately eager for Luther's much-needed innovations. The two theologians immediately began a close and long-lasting friendship that fueled the ideas about changing the church and cemented Brenz's reputation as Luther's "man in the south."

How did he influence the church in Württemberg?

In 1522, Brenz was appointed as a preacher by the councilmen of the imperial city of Schwäbisch Hall. There, he drafted a church constitution that was intended to effect the reorganization of the church. The writings submitted by Brenz concerned sermons and baptisms as well as matters such as marriage and education. Indeed, these measures were only partially introduced in Schwäbisch Hall, but his church constitution nonetheless had a decisive influence on the state of church constitutions in the land of Württemberg. Together with Ambrosius Blarer, Brenz was also one of the masterminds behind the establishment of monastery schools. In the monasteries of Bebenhausen, Alpirsbach, and Maulbronn, young Protestant academics were soon being educated.

Großcomburg Monastery at the end of the 16th century. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain

A Catholic monastery next to the city.

The preacher from Hall – A cautious reformer?

Again and again, Brenz referred to himself as "Ecclesiastes Halensis" in his writings. He relied on tolerant dealings with the Catholics of Großcomburg Monastery. It was not until his fourth year that he first celebrated a Protestant sacrament at Christmas, during which he used a chalice from the time before the Reformation and an altar that likely would have long since been discarded elsewhere. Iconoclasm also passed Schwäbisch Hall by. We have Brenz to thank for the fact that the Church of St. Michael in Schwäbisch Hall still has eight altars, a tabernacle, and a holy sepulcher even today.

Printed view of city of Schwäbisch Hall, circa 1580. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain

In the winter of 1546, Schwäbisch Hall was occupied by Catholics.

Why did he have to flee Schwäbisch Hall?

Tension between Emperor Karl V and the Protestant Imperial Estates erupted into the Schmalkaldic War in 1546. In the process, the emperor attempted to suppress Protestantism in the Holy Roman Empire in order to strengthen imperial power. After Johannes Brenz was dismissed in December of the same year for opposing the emperor, he had to flee when imperial troops occupied the city in the winter of 1546.

Did he always agree with Martin Luther?

During the Peasants' War, Johannes Brenz rejected the demands of the peasants, as they were not founded in Protestantism. After the end of the struggles, he cautioned the authorities and pleaded for mild and just interaction with the rebellious peasants. This differentiated him from Martin Luther, who was judgmental of the farmers' rebellion and justified their suppression.

Exterior view of Bebenhausen Monastery in Schönbuch. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Günther Bayerl

Brenz contributed significantly to the development of the monastery school in Bebenhausen.