Denck John , (Germ. Hans Dengck,) was the intimate friend of Lewis Hetzer. Scultetus calls him a Bavarian ; and describes him as a learned man, and a skilful Hebraist, but says that he was of a melancholy temperament. According to some, he was born in the Upper Palatinate, which now forms part of the circles of the Regen and the Upper Maine, in Bavaria. Having been removed, by the Chief Magistrate of the town of Nuremberg, from the office of Rector of the School of St. Sebald, in the year 1524, he was ordered to leave the place before sunset. From Nuremberg he went into Switzerland, where he continued to reside, for the most part, during the rest of his life. At St. Gall, and subsequently at Basle, he was employed as a corrector of the press; and during his residence at the latter place he formed an intimate acquaintance with Oecolampade.
In 1526, he began to assist Hetzer in his translation of the Prophets, which was published in the year following; and in 1528, he died of the plague at Basle. The book of Micah was rendered by Denck into German, as appears from a work in the Royal Library at Kbnigsberg, entitled, "Micha der Prophet, wie der Hans Dengck uff diese Zeit verglichen hat, u. s. w. Strassburg, Jacob. Cammer." (a contraction of the name Cammerlander). 8vo. The date of the impression is not mentioned; but it is supposed to have been printed in 1527.
A copy of another scarce work of Denck's is preserved in the same Library, and bears the following title. "Von dem Gsetz Gottes, wie das aufgehaben sey und doch erfullt werden muss. Hans Dengck." 8vo.
Six theological and ascetic tracts, having the name of Denck in the title-page, were published at Amsterdam in 1680, 12mo.; and the translators of an edition of the whole Bible into German, which was printed at Worms in 1529, are commonly supposed to have been Hetzer and Denck. But as Hetzer was decapitated on the 4th of Feb. in that year, and Denck died in the year preceding, the German Bible above mentioned, although it may have been begun by them, was probably continued, and carried through the press by others, whom they had associated with themselves in that undertaking.
No mention is made of Denck by Sandius, or any of those, who profess to have written a history of Unitarianism, before the time of Bock ; but there can be no doubt that he ought to be ranked among the number of Antitrinitarians. In his "Ordnung Gottes und der Creaturen Wort," he taught that God is the fountain of all created existences; that the Spirit or Power of God ranks next to God in the scale of being; and then the Word, which God generated by his Spirit. But by "the Word" he understood the souls of men, and not the Son of God. He believed, therefore, that this Word began to exist with the human race.
He altogether denied the real presence of the body of Christ in the Lord's Supper, and taught that Christians partake of it only in a spiritual sense. He is said also to have rejected the doctrine of a plenary satisfaction by Christ; and it is well known, that he revived Origen's doctrine of Universal Restoration.
It has been customary to class Denck with the German Anabaptists; but he joined no sect, and contended that eternal salvation might be attained by the members of every sect. Hetzer and he acquired great celebrity in Switzerland, and the neighbouring countries; and it has been thought by some to have been partly owing to their fame being spread through the provinces of Italy, that Unitarianism found so many revivers and defenders in the Italian states, soon after the breaking out of the Reformation.
If we are to credit the accounts of Wigand and Scultetus, Denck was prevailed upon by OEcolampadius, a short time before his death, to abandon some of the more extravagant of his opinions ; but it does not appear that any change took place in his sentiments respecting the Trinity, and the Deity of Christ.
At Worms, where Denck and Hetzer remained some time, while their German translation of the Prophets was being printed, there was a young evangelical preacher, of the name of James Kautz, of Bockenheim, who embraced their opinions with great ardour, and stood forward as their avowed advocate. He vehemently assailed some of the popular doctrines, in Seven Theses, which he defended at Worms, on the 13th of June, 1527, and made generally known through the medium of the press. This attracted the attention of the preachers at Strasburg, who felt themselves called upon to publish an answer, which might operate as a warning to their people. The reply prepared on this occasion is supposed to have been drawn up by Bucer.
But it had not the effect of silencing Kautz, who continued to attack what he deemed the popular errors, at Worms and elsewhere, till he was apprehended, and lodged in prison at Strasburg. This was about the beginning of the year 1529. In the mean time Denck and Hetzer had left Alsace, and gone into the neighbourhood of Nuremberg. But when the circumstance of Hetzer having impugned the doctrine of Christ's Divinity from the press became known, they both found it expedient to make the best of their way back into Switzerland. Denck went to Basle, where he was soon carried off by the plague ; and Hetzer took up his abode in the neighbourhood of Constance, where he shortly afterwards suffered a violent death at the hands of the executioner.
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