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Hutterian Brethren, Hutterites

The Hutterian Brethren, or Hutterites, are a group of Christians that traces its origin to the 16th century Anabaptists of central Europe. Like other Anabaptists, Hutterites reject state churches, practice adult baptism, and are pacifists. Under the guidance of their founder, the Tyrolean Jacob Hutter (d. 1536), they also adopted common ownership of property.

The Hutterian Brethren are a communitarian religious sect that originated among Anabaptists in Moravia (now the Czech Republic) during the Reformation and is now located chiefly in South Dakota, Manitoba, and Alberta. Also known as Hutterites, they took their name from their original leader, Jakob Hutter, who was burned as a heretic in 1536. Throughout most of their history, the Hutterites have formed agricultural colonies, called Bruderhöfe. Their way of life is rural and conservative. On the basis of the New Testament, they are pacifists and shun political participation. As a result, they have often been subject to social pressure and persecution. Over a period of centuries in Europe they sought to escape persecution by moving eastward, finally reaching Russia, before migrating (1874-79) to the northern United States, from which they spread to Canada. They now number more than 20,000; their inward-looking sectarianism continues to elicit some hostility from their neighbors.

Although the Hutterian Brethren were peaceful citizens and excellent farmers, they suffered intermittent but severe persecution. Hutter led his followers from the Tyrol to Moravia. Although he himself was executed, his followers were generally tolerated there until the early 17th century. Then they fled eastward, eventually to the Ukraine. In the 1870s they emigrated to the United States and settled in South Dakota; during World War I many moved to Canada. Numbering about 20,000 adherents today, they maintain their traditional piety and insularity, their pacifism, their agricultural diligence, and their hostility to modern culture. They still speak German in their communities, which are scattered throughout the Dakotas and Montana in the United States, and in Alberta and Manitoba in Canada.


The founders of the Hutterian Brethren were refugees from the Anabaptists from Switzerland, Germany, and the Tyrol (Northern Italy and Southern Austria) who settled in Moravia.

In 1528 Jacob Wiederman became their leader. Also in 1528 they placed all their worldly goods together and started the communal way of life. In 1529 Jacob Hutter from the Tyrol with a group of refugees visited the colonies in Moravia. The two groups were united under Hutter's leadership. In 1533 Jacob Hutter was chosen leader of this united group. Hutter, a good organizer, forged the emergence of our Hutterian church. At this time our creed was established and has remained relatively unchanged since.

Jacob Hutter was burned at the stake in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1536 for refusing to renounce his faith.

Peter Riedeman was another very important founding member of our church. His Confession of Faith is still an accepted authority for our beliefs and practices. The four most important points are adult baptism of believers, community of goods, non resistance and the separation of church and state.

Around the turn of the century (1600) there were over 15,000 Hutterian members in Moravia. (today in the Czech Republic) and Hungary.

After the religious wars of the 17th century, and also to some extent before, the recognized churches were the Catholic, the Lutheran, and the Reformed. Because the law of the time (the Peace of Augsburg) required all people to subscribe to the church of the land's ruler, people of other faith ended up being caught between a rock and a hard place. No other churches were tolerated.

Because of this our history is a history of continued persecution, martyrdom and flight. From Moravia. (today in the Czech Republic) to Slovakia, (then in the Kingdom of Hungary) from Slovakia to Moravia., from Moravia. to Slovakia, from Slovakia to Transylvania,( in Rumania) to the Wallachia district of Rumania, to the Ukraine in the neighborhood of Kiev, to the Molotschna district north of the Black Sea, 1874 to the United States and finally to Canada in 1918. In all these countries the landowners welcomed and were glad to have them as they proved themselves good workers. However on orders from the emperor, authorities, or persecution they ended up vacating their country and their colonies and started anew in a different country.

We see God's hand in the move to Transylvania in 1621 and in the renewal of our church in 1755. During war between the Holy Roman Empire and the Turks, the people of Hungary played both ends for the middle. Sometimes they sided with the Empire and sometimes with the Turks, depending on which side was more beneficial to them at the time.

In one of these wars, Bethlen Gabor, Prince of Transylvania, a Protestant who usually sided with the Turks against the Catholic Empire, came in contact with the Hutterites. Gabor welcomed the Hutterites to Transylvania, but they declined his offer. In 1621 instead of letting the matter drop he sent wagons and forced close to 200 Hutterites to come to his realm where he promised religious freedom. During the 30-Years-War, 1618-1648, the Hutterites in Transylvania were relatively untouched, whereas the colonies in Slovakia were virtually wiped out. Most of the Hutterites eventually evacuated to Transylvania.

When Empress Maria Theresa displaced all non-Catholics to the outskirts of her domains in 1755, Lutherans from Carinthia in Austria, named Waldner, Wipf, Hofer, Stahl, Kleinsasser, Gross, Wurtz and other common names under the Hutterites today, came in contact with the Hutterites and helped this movement which had been coerced to join the Catholic Church by the Jesuits and communal living had been given up, to revive and survive.



D Flint, The Hutterites (1975); J A Hostetler, Hutterite Life (1965) and Hutterite Society (1977); J Hostetler and G E Huntington, Hutterites in North America (1967); K A Peter, The Dynamics of Hutterite Society (1987).
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