The Ausbund

Posted by Amish Country Insider on 11th Dec 2017

The Ausbund

In the late summer of 1535 about four hundred Anabaptist were forced from their homes and farms in central Moravia.Splitting into smaller groups most tried to make their way west to the Palatinate and Rhine valley of Germany, where they knew were others of their kind.The authorities near Passau captured three smaller groups, totaling about fifty people in August and September 1535.Among those captured were two leaders, Michael Schneider and Hans Betz.Betz was distinctive because he had holes burned in both cheeks from a previous imprisonment, typical of punishment given to heretics.

They were imprisoned in the Oberhaus (castle) dungeon.Here they would suffer hunger, fear, and torture.Some died in this cold, dank prison; most suffered greatly, and a few recanted and were given their freedom with the commitment that they would leave this sect.With limited resources these prisoners wrote songs that told their story and allow a window in their hearts and theology. Fifty-three songs of these Passau Prison Songs, as they became known, were written and smuggled out of the dungeon. Fifty-one of these are preserved in the Ausbund today.

From early in the movement, there were differences between the groups of Anabaptist that tended to separate them, just as there are today. Prison and suffering broke down these barriers and promoted a return to their core beliefs.This is reflected in song 100 in the Ausbund, written by these prisoners.The song has a different author identified by initials for each of its fourteen verses.One writer would compose a stanza, and the next one would pick up a thread and compose their stanza.This provides a sense of connection, while allowing the individual voices expression.The song is a call to stay strong and remain unified in the midst of the suffering “in a hard prison:”

You sisters and you brothers, be strong in this fight,

you are Christ’s members, dedicated in baptism.

We begun it in God, for whom we want to hold still.

Although we must certainly hang and suffer great coercion,

so may his will come to pass in us. (stanza 11)

This sense of spiritual connection, care and concern is central to understanding how these people saw the connection of disciples in this community.The “betterment of others” is reflected in this call to remain true, and a commitment to stand together.Christian love for each other becomes the primary indication of their life with Christ.

The Ausbund that so many of us are familiar with and use, is not only a songbook with wonderful songs that carry the Anabaptist message, it is also a book with many stories behind it, one of which is this song.It has a wonderful spiritual message about the value of community life, but it also has much value in showing us that we should be able to bridge some of the barriers and work together to be “strong in the fight.”It also behooves us to learn about and teach our children about these hymns, for they tell the story of our faith.

If you would like to know more about the history of our people or to purchase your own copy of the Ausbund, or the a book of English translations of these songs, please call or visit the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center.

We offer guided tours of "Behalt" - a 10 ft. x 265 ft. cyclorama oil-on-canvas painting that illustrates the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist beginnings in Zurich, Switzerland, to the present day. Behalt means “to keep” or “remember.” The photos in these articles are snapshots of Behalt.

We are open Mon-Sat 9:00-5:00 and are located near Berlin, you can find us at 5798 County Road 77, Millersburg, OH 44654.

Please call (330) 893-3192 for more information or to schedule a day or evening group tour.