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Schwenkfelder Library
Foreword - The Ancestors of John and Susanna (Harris) Masters

The Schwenkfelders are a Christian denomination with five churches and approximately 2500 members found only in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Many Schwenkfelders are descendants of about 200 immigrants who fled religious persecution to America and found tolerance in a growing and expanding new country. Named after Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig, the Schwenkfelders landed in Philadelphia aboard the St. Andrew on September 24, 1734. The Schwenkfelders started a mass migration from Silesia to Pennsylvania in 1735, settling in Montgomery County. The group, strongly in favor of education, had a real interest in the fine arts. Only a few migrated to Canada.

Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig, (1490-1561) was a German theologian who led the Protestant Reformation in Silesia. Schwenkfeld disagreed with Martin Luther on several important matters. He argued for the complete separation of church and state and he opposed the Lutheran belief in the consubstantiation of the Eucharist, regarding the bread and wine as symbols only. He also did not accept the fundamental Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith, seeing in it serious moral problems. Schwenkfeld developed his own approach to the Reformation - the Middle Way - which doctrinally lay between the teachings of Luther and those of the Swiss reformer Huldreich Zwingli. Scorned by Protestants and Roman Catholics alike, he fled Silesia in 1529. He further angered Lutherans by espousing a doctrine of the deification of Christ's humanity. In 1540, Schwenkfeld's published defense of his views, Konfession und Erklärung (Confession and Explanation, 1540), brought an anathema against him from the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League, a defensive alliance, organized by the German Protestant princes at Schmalkalden, Thuringia, in February 1531. Escaping persecution, he went into hiding and wrote under a pseudonym for the rest of his life. He died at Ulm on December 10, 1561. His followers - Schwenkfeldians or Schwenkfelders - continued to be persecuted, and many fled to the Low Countries, England, and North America. Some Schwenkfeldians immigrated to southeastern Pennsylvania, where the sect still survives.

Last Updated
March 4, 2024