Sunday, May 14, 2017

TMU's Pilgram Marpeck School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

I thought I would highlight some of TMU's schools and some of the history of the people that they have been named after.

TMU's Pilgram Marpeck School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics currently offers BS in Biology, with concentrations in General Biology and Pre-Health Sciences, and a BS in Exercise Science. Starting Fall 2016, our STEM school will also be offering a MS in Biology.

Pilgram Marpeck was born to a noble family in the city of Rattenberg in the Austrian Tyrol, Pilgram Marpeck followed in his father’s footsteps and became active in the civil, economic, and political life of the city. He most probably began his religious journey as a Roman catholic, for his latter writings show his familiarity with the doctrines of the Trinity, Christology, and councils like Chalcedon, yet he had no formal theological training. In 1520, around the age of 25, after having married Sophia Harrer, Marpeck enrolled in the Brotherhood of Mining Workers and began his career as an engineer. During his tenure in Rattenberg, he held the office of mining director (1525-1528), a very prestigious position where he represented the king directly in matters of commerce and law. At some point, before the death of Sophia in 1528, the Marpecks had a daughter, Margareth.

Civic duty led Marpeck to be Rattenberg’s representative as he interceded on behalf of a Lutheran pastor, Stephen Agricola. Many speculate that this incident led Marpeck away from the Roman church and its “system composed of ‘human intentions’ that enslaved a person” with human accretions to the gospel, and towards a newfound Lutheran freedom. As he would later narrate in his Exposé of the Babylonian Whore, he “came to the truth partly through [the evangelicals’] writing, teaching, and preaching,” but he quickly grew dissatisfied with a lifestyle of fleshly freedom which he observed in many of them. So, while they were instrumental in liberating him from “the Babylonian captivity,” they failed to lead him “through the narrow gate through which the flesh … could once again be led into the liberty of Jerusalem.” Furthermore, he grew disturbed that those who did proclaim the Biblical message were “persecuted by these teachers, who become their betrayers and executioners.” It is not known when Marpeck joined the Anabaptist ranks, but it is most likely that he was introduced to Anabaptist preaching in the Inn Valley in early 1527 and was attracted by their “primitivist vision of a restored New Testament Christianity.” It is also during this period that Marpeck was pressured to police the miners’ religious affiliations so that the Anabaptists might be apprehended and punished. After protesting this mandate, Marpeck promised to uphold it as part of his office. Two days later, Leonhart Scheimer was beheaded and burned, and five days later, January of 1528, Marpeck resigned from his post. As a consequence, he and his new wife, Anna, were banished from Rattenberg. Between their marriage and their banishment, the Marpecks adopted three orphans of miner(s), who eventually remained in Rattenberg with portions of the Marpeck estate.

It is uncertain what happened in the interlude; some oral traditions have the Marpecks traveling to Moravia and being commissioned by the Moravian brethren to go to “Strasbourg to baptize.” What we know for sure is that Marpeck was listed as a citizen of Strasbourg in September of 1528. Here he used his engineering skills and worked as the engineer of the city’s forests, probably bringing to Alsace some of the Tyrolian engineering methods. This allowed him to build a “water system for the city and wood-floating flumes in the surrounding valleys.” Here, he also became an honored member of the religious community. Reformers Wolfgang Capito and Martin Bucer spoke highly of him, initially even referring to him as being “of unblamable conduct.” Strasbourg was a home to many dissenters, such as Caspar Schwenckfeld and eventually Melchior Hofmann, among others. In this setting, Marpeck quickly became prominent among the Anabaptists, eventually holding meetings in his home, and became instrumental in a parting of ways among the dissenters dealing with issues of apocalyptic eschatology and Christology. It was also here where Marpeck refined his theology of the incarnation and “grounded the authenticity of the Anabaptism in ecclesiology, its theology as well as its practice.” Eventually, though, Marpeck was thrown in prison by Bucer. Given his record as a public servant and Capito’s intercession, he was freed. In December of 1531, he requested a public debate with the clergy of the city mainly over the issue of infant baptism, which he lost, resulting in the request from the city council that he leave the city. Before departing, Marpeck appeared in front of the council one more time and assured “them that he never had any intentions of changing the political order in Strasbourg, but only desired to have freedom in the spiritual realm.” After a second disputation in January 1532, he eventually left the city.

The following years are usually considered the itinerant years of his life and were most probably spent primarily in Switzerland and Moravia. During this period, cities like St. Gall continued to benefit from Marpeck’s engineering skills which he used working with municipal forests and water supplies. Eventually, he ended up in Augsburg, where again he was recognized as an asset to the city. Here he continued his Anabaptist work, both with the local congregation and with the pen. He eventually died of natural causes in 1556.

In Marpeck we find an engineering theologian who “was not so much concerned with precise theological definitions as he was with sincere and entire obedience to God, whose will was revealed in Scripture.” Like an engineer who applies the learned principles of physics and chemistry to his craft, Marpeck took his thirst for theology and applied it as he “sought a church which could provide sustenance for engineers and housewives.” We have in him, therefore, the embodiment of what I think our school of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics seeks to produce: a Christian leader in the sciences who serves his/her community with his/her knowledge of science, yet stays passionate to the Lord and His church by thinking biblically and living a sacrificial life to enhance the Kingdom of God.

Klassen, William. Covenant and Community: The Life, Writings, and Hermeneutics of Pilgram Marpeck. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1968.

Marpeck, Pilgram, Walter Klaassen, Werner O. Packull, and John D. Rempel. Later Writings by Pilgram Marpeck and His Circle. Anabaptist Texts in Translation, vol. 1. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 1999.

Marpeck, Pilgram. The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck. Classics of the Radical Reformation, vol. 2. Edited by William Klassen and Walter Klaassen. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2000.

Yarnell, Malcolm B. The Formation of Christian Doctrine. Nashville: B&H, 2007.

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