(Picture by Ivan Moon from the files of Jan Gleysteen and printed in Anabaptist Portraits by John Allen Moore [Herald Press, 1984)
Denck graduated from the University of Ingolstadt in 1519 where he under John Eck and became proficient in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. In 1523 he edited three volumes of Theodore Gaza's Greek grammar. In September 1523 he became headmaster of St. Sebald's school in Nuremburg. In Nuremberg he came under the influence of the Gothic mysticism of the Theologia Germanica. The enduring influence of the Theologia Germanica on his thought has led some to call Denck a "Contemplative Anabaptist." In January 1525 Sebald Behaim, one of three artists on trial for making unsound remarks concerning baptism and communion, mentioned that he had conversed with Denck on these matters. After securing a confession of faith from Denck, the Lutheran pastors of the city had him expelled from Nuremburg "forever." In May 1526 he was baptized as a believer by Balthasar Hubmaier. Shortly thereafter, he published three brief works defending his beliefs: Whether God is the Cause of Evil, The Law of God, and Paradoxa: He Who Truly Loves the Truth. In December 1526 Martin Bucer labelled him "the Anabaptist pope" and had him expelled from Strasbourg. He went to Worms where he worked on a translation of the writings of the Old Testament prophets from Hebrew to German (the Wormser Propheten) with Louis Haetzer. Here he also published two more works: Concerning Genuine Love and Divine Order. On August 20, 1527 he was present at the Martyr's Synod. He died in Basel on November 15, 1527 of the black plague.
On Free Will
Denck opposed Luther's doctrine of the bondage of the will because he felt it made God the author of evil. He was vehemently opposed to the idea that unbelievers refused to repent because God made them blind:
"Those who are cunning in scripture speak . . . about a stark blindness . . . This [blindness], according to them, is also without any distinction wrought by God, as though the godless also stood tranquil in God and not they but rather God sinned in them . . . Say it somebody. How could the devil have better messengers?" (Whether God is the Cause of Evil in Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. by George Williams, Westminster Press, 1957, p. 98.)
In its place he offered the idea that God ordains sin and uses it to display his glory by overcoming it with good:
"It is better that he had ordained sin than that he had prevented it, which he could not have done without having forced and driven men like a stone or a block. . . . For sin is over against God to be reckoned as nothing; and however great it might be, God can, will, and indeed already has, overcome it for himself to his own eternal praise without harm for any creatures." (Whether God is the Cause of Evil, p. 90.)
God is exonerated from causing evil because, "He who ordains evil and yet can compensate with greater gain than the loss he cannot prevent is not be blamed for evil." (Whether God is the Cause of Evil, p. 103.)
Denck believed that God, in his love, desires the salvation of all persons:
"Since love in him was perfect and since love hates or is envious of none, but includes everyone, even though we were all his enemies, surely he would not wish to exclude anyone. And if he had excluded anyone, then love would have been squint-eyed and a respecter of persons. And that, [love,God] is not!" (Whether God is the Cause of Evil, p. 102.)
Everyone will not be saved because God, in his love, will not force anyone to accept his forgiveness:
"Still the good pleasure of his will remained unabated such as he has determined it from all eternity, namely, that he desires the salvation of all men. Accordingly, he sets forth a means, . . . and the operation which was impossible has become through the omnipotence of God again possible through the Word. For man could not accept grace without grace . . . the Word is always in them trying to unite them with the Father, and they will not have it. And nevertheless, as said, God wishes to have forced no one; the fault is theirs who do not wish to do what they very well could by means of the Word." (Whether God is the Cause of Evil, pp. 100-101.)
"God alone is to be loved because he alone is good. Furthermore, if one is to love him, one must hate and lose all which hinders this, namely, oneself all that is creaturely. . . . What is now this word other than that which both Moses and Paul preached, although with a difference? But this difference is alone in exteriors, which is not the Truth itself, but rather only a testimony of the Truth. Therefore, whoever holds the testimony higher than the Truth itself inverts the order, all of which is an abomination in the sight of God." (Whether God is the Cause of Evil, p. 98)
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