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The name of a Protestant sect founded by the nobleman Caspar von Schwenckfeld (b. at Ossig in Silesia in 1489 or 1490; d. at Ulm 10 December, 1561). After studying at Cologne and Frankfort-on-the-Oder Schwenckfeld served at the courts of several Silesian dukes. In 1521 he became a public adherent of the new doctrine preached by the so-called reformers, and was subsequently instrumental in spreading it throughout Silesia. Irreconcilable differences having revealed themselves between his views and the opinions of Luther, he removed in 1529 from Silesia to Strasburg. With his banishment from this city in 1533 opens that period of forced changes of residence which marked the later part of his life. His wanderings were due to persecution exercised against him, mainly by Lutheran preachers who condemned his writings in a meeting held at Schmalkalden in 540. The followers of Schwenckfeld never became very numerous and were organized into congregations only after his death. But they had even then to maintain a secret existence owing to persecution. Toleration was extended to them in Silesia in 1742 by Frederick II. Some members of the sect emigrated in 1734 to America and settled in Pennsylvania. While they have disappeared elsewhere the Schwenckfeldians number at present in the State just mentioned, 850 communicants with 8 churches and 6 ministers (Statistics of Dr. H.K. Carroll in the "Christian Advocate", New York 26 January, 1911). Their church government is congregational and the ministers are chosen by lot. In the Schwenckfeldian teaching such stress is laid on the inner, spiritual, element in religion that it results in an utter depreciation of external worship. The sacraments are retained merely in a symbolical sense. The administration of baptism to infants is discarded as useless; it is considered legitimate for adults, but unnecessary. The presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is denied. The sacramental words "This is My Body; this is My Blood" mean "My Body is this (bread); My Blood is this (wine)", i. e., as bread and wine nourish and strengthen the body, so the Body and Blood of Christ are spiritual food and drink for the soul. Two distinct natures are indeed admitted in the incarnate Christ; but the human element in Him is said to be essentially different from the nature of an ordinary man. It was derived from the very beginning from the Divine substance and was deified by the sufferings, death, and Resurrection of the Saviour.
The numerous works of Schwenckfeld have only incompletely been published. A critical edition is in course of publication under the direction of HARTRANFT, SCHLUTTER, and JOHNSON: Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum, I (Leipzig, 1907); KADELBACH, Ausfuhrliche Gesch. Schwenckfelds u. der Schwenckfelder (Lauban, 1861); KRIEBEL, The Schwenckfelders in Pennslylvania (Lancaster, 1904); LOETSCHER, Schwenckfeld's Participation in the Eucharistic Controversy of the 16th Century (Philadelphia, 1906).