Walther Friesen: Andreas Osiander – An Ideologue of Russian-German Rapprochement Efforts

Walther Friesen

Andreas Osiander:
An Ideologue of Russian-German Rapprochement Efforts

Dr. Walther Friesen
Ausbildungs- und Forschungszentrum ETHNOS e. V.
Speckestr. 19, 44357 Dortmund, Germany


The religious doctrine of Andreas Osiander was similar to the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church. That was in line with the stance of the most prominent representatives of the West European clerical elite who advocated for the strategic union with the Grand Duchy of Moscow. It turned out to be the natural ally of the German (Holy Roman) Empire in their joint struggle against the Turkish expansion. After the public execution in Königsberg of distinguished public figures, some followers of Andreas Osiander could have found refuge in the Tsardom of Russia during the confusions of the Livonian war and thereafter. It is plausible that some congregants of the first Lutheran parish in Moscow might have been influenced by the ideas of Andreas Osiander. The social and spiritual integration of the Germans who were at the military and civil services of the Russian state was facilitated due to the affinity of the religious beliefs of the Andreas Osiander’s devotees and those preached by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Key words: Andreas Osiander, Lutheran Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Turkish Wars in Europe, Duchy of Prussia, Philipp Melanchthon, Matthias Flacius Illyricus, John Calvin, Johann Faber, Albertus Pighius, Vasili III, Ivan IV, Johann Funck, Matthias Horst, Hans Schell, Johann Steinbach.

1. Andreas Osiander (1498 –1552)
1.1. He was a prominent German Lutheran theologian, born at Gunzenhausen, in the region of Franconia. He studied at the University of Ingolstadt. In 1520 Osiander was ordained as a priest in Nuremberg and started to work as a teacher of Hebrew. In 1522, he publicly declared himself to be a Lutheran. Andreas Osiander played an important role in convincing Albert of Prussia, at that time – the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, to introduce Lutheranism in Prussia. In 1549, he was appointed by Albert, by then - Duke of Prussia, as a professor of the newly established University of Königsberg, where he lived and worked until his death in 1552.
1.2. Although Osiander agreed with Martin Luther’s fundamental opposition to the Roman Catholicism, he propounded at the same time the view that justification by faith was instilled in humanity by the divinity of Jesus Christ: “… that person who doesn’t have God is not a Christian” („…wer Gott nicht hat, ist nicht Christi“1). The religious belief of Andreas Osiander was similar to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine, regarding the union with God in a process of transformation and through a synergy between human activity and God’s uncreated energies. He prophesied that the righteousness of a Christian believer was accomplished by the indwelling of God; thus, God finds one righteous because Christ is in that person. This theological point of view did not coincide with the tenets of some most outstanding leaders of the European reformation:
2.1. Philipp Melanchthon (Philipp Schwartzerdt; 1497 – 1560)
2.1.1. Melanchthon systematized the ideas of Martin Luther, for the purpose of instruction. He wrote treatises dealing with education that presented some of his key thoughts on learning, including his views on the basis, method, and goals of the reformed school. Philipp Melanchthon became the founder of the Evangelical schools in Germany that a combined humanistic and Christian ideals. He outlined a teaching plan that recommended seminaries to teach Latin only. In his controversy on justification with Andreas Osiander Melanchthon held that Christ was our justification only according to his human nature and, like a priest, was a mediator between God and human beings in two natures.
2.2. Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Croatian: Matija Vlačić Ilirik; 1520 – 1575)
2.2.1. Affirming the natural inability of man, Flacius adopted a position on sin being integrated in substance of human nature, since The Fall of Man. He insisted that human nature was entirely transformed by original sin; human beings were transformed from goodness and almost wholly corrupted with evil, making them kin to the Devil, so that within them, without divine assistance, there is even no power to cooperate with the Gospel when they hear it preached. Human acts of piety are valueless in themselves, and humans are entirely dependent on the grace of God for salvation. Those that agreed with him were termed Flacians.
2.3. John Calvin (French: Jean Calvin, born Jehan Cauvin; 1509 – 1564)
2.3.1. In Calvin’s view, sin began with the fall of Adam and propagated to all of humanity. The domination of sin is complete to the point that people are driven to evil. Thus fallen humanity is in need of the redemption that can only be found in Christ, who was suffering under Pontius Pilate and would return to judge the living and the dead. For Calvin, the whole course of Christ's obedience to the Father removed the discord between humanity and God.
2.4. Some scientists, such as Tuomo Mannermaa (Finnish professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Helsinki), were of the opinion that Luther's own views of justification, especially early in his life, were actually closer to the views of Andreas Osiander than to what would later become the outspoken official confessional Lutheranism.
2.4.1. Tuomo Mannermaa attempted to prove that Luther’s views on salvation were much closer to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis (a transformative process whose aim is likeness to or union with God) rather than the mainstream interpretations of Luther’s teachings in Germany.

3. The overall political situation in Europe found its expression also in the religious developments and conflicts of that time. There was much fear in Europe about the expansionism of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, most of all in German states. „In the 16th century the Turkish Sultan was the enemy of the Occident and especially of the German Empire” („Für das Abendland, vor allem für das Deutsche Reich, war im 16. Jahrhundert der türkische Sultan der Feind“2)
3.1. Sultan Suleiman I attempted to capture its capital Vienna in 1529. Under Wilhelm Freiherr von Roggendorf the garrison of Vienna repulsed the enemy. The attack on Vienna led to a rapprochement between Charles V and Pope Clement VII, and contributed to the Pope's coronation of Charles V as the Holy Roman Emperor on February 24, 1530. Suleiman led another campaign against Vienna in 1532; it was also beaten back.
3.2. The Turks quickly gained reputation for cruelty and lack of honor in war. During the Ottoman conquest of the island of Cyprus, where over 56,000 Christian inhabitants were massacred or taken prisoner, and the island’s commander Marco Antonio Bragadin was mutilated and flayed alive despite Turkish assurances he and his men could leave upon surrender. Such accounts of atrocities became so frequent that that the Turks quickly gained reputation for cruelty and lack of honor in war. Bishop Johann Faber (1478 – 1541) of Vienna (1536–41) claimed that “there are no crueler and more audacious villains under the heavens than the Turks who spare no age or sex and mercilessly cut down young and old alike and pluck unripe fruit from the wombs of mothers”3).
3.3. In 1478 the Turkic (Tatar) Crimean Khanate became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. It became an important center of the slave trade. The Crimean Tatars’ invasions of the territory of the Grand Duchy of Moscow (Muscovy) began in 1507, after the death of the Moscow’s grand duke Ivan III who had been for quite a long time ally of the Crimeans in their mutual struggle against the Golden Horde. The main path for the invading forces to Moscow was the Muravsky Trail, running from the Crimean Isthmus of Perekop, between the basins of the Dnieper and Severskiy Donets rivers, and finally up to Tula. The Tatars would turn back only after extensive looting and kidnapping; they usually managed to penetrate 100–200 kilometers into Russian territory. Captives were subsequently sent to the Crimean city of Caffa to be sold into slavery.
4. The West European clerical elite advocated for the strategic union with the Grand Duchy of Moscow (on the 16th of January 1547 it was proclaimed as the Tsardom of Russia) that became the natural ally of the German (Holy Roman) Empire in the struggle against the Turkish expansion. Some positive aspects of Russian autocracy were strongly emphasized.
4.1. The would be bishop of Vienna Johann Faber, who sought alliance with Russia, wrote in 1526: “The religiousness and the aristocratic forms of government of Muscovites should be illustrative examples for the Germans” („die Frömmigkeit und die aristokratische Staatsform der Moskowiter den Deutschen als gutes Beispiel vor Augen.“4).
4.1.1. In spite of being a Catholic theologian, Faber sympathized at first with the Reformers; but having comprehended that followers of Martin Luther were eager to compromise with the dissentient invaders he broke with them and became their most consequent opponent. The German (Holy Roman) Emperor Ferdinand I deputed Johann Faber to Spain and to Henry VIII of England to seek support against the invading Turks. Having been appointed as a lecture at the University of Vienna, he was entrusted with combating the defeatist doctrine of Martin Luther.
4.2. In 1543 there are appeared in Europe a propagandistic leaflet, written by the ere-deceased Catholic theologian Albertus Pighius (1490–1542). He encouraged Pope Paul III to conclude a treaty with Moscow against the Turks. Some developments in the domestic politics of the potential alliance partner made Pighius believe that the young Grand Duke Ivan IV Vasilyevich wouldn’t just like that ignore the proposal to knot a military coalition against the joint enemy.
4.2.1. The second wife of Grand Prince Vasili III Elena Vasilyevna Glinskaya (1510 – 1538) belonged to the aristocracy of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; its rulers converted to Catholicism at the end of the 14th century. In 1533–1538 she was factually the regent of her under-aged son Ivan IV. Elena tried to cherish contacts with her motherland and educated the future “Tsar of All the Russians” correspondingly. Having come into power Ivan IV invited German specialists – and among them 4 theologians – to settle down in his realm. May be at that time he had been even brooding over the conversion to Catholicism or Protestantism. At the beginning of the 1540s for many in Western Europe the strategic union with Russia appeared to be quite feasible.
4.2.2. Albertus Pighius adhered to the opinion that Ivan IV „was a friendly disposed to us Christian Count” („ein uns freundlich gesinnter christlicher Fürst“5).
5. In his 1528 pamphlet “On War against the Turk” Martin Luther expressed tolerance for the Islamic faith (“Let the Turk believe and live as he will, just as one lets the papacy and other false Christians live”6) and even a kind of his admiration: “a smart Turk makes a better ruler than a dumb Christian.”7)
6. Andreas Osiander agreed to a certain extent with Martin Luther that the Turkish invasion were a “God’s punishment”. He wrote in his 1542 booklet “Instruction and warning how to pray and dispute against the Turks” (“Unterricht und Vermahnung wie man wider den Türcken beten und streiten soll”): “When God permits the Turks to rule and rage over the Christians, He does nothing other than to deprive by violence the false Christians of the holy Christian name which they still unreasonably keep and bear, who by a wild, rough, and heathenish life have long since despised Christ and through false doctrine lost and rejected Him, just as the badges are torn from a nobleman who has disgraced himself.”8)
5.1. But in the first lines of his screed he laid nevertheless emphasis on the atrocities committed by invaders, as if warning against the blind emulation of Lutheran dogmatism. Unlike Luther Andreas Osiander called the Turks the “sworn enemy of the downright Christian faith” (“Erbfeind des gemeinen christlichen Glaubens”9).
6. The religious teaching of Andreas Osiander, who is being called “a Man for All Churches in an Ecumenical Age”10), had provided a kind of spiritual foundation for the would be Russian-German rapprochement in the joint military and political efforts aimed at combating the Turkish invasion.
7. Quite understandably, the enemies of such a union also spared no efforts to nip the undesirable philosophy in the bud.
7.1. In 1503 the Turkish Sultan Bayezid II, who is most notable for evacuating Jews from Spain after the proclamation of the Alhambra Decree (31 March 1492) and resettling them throughout the Ottoman Empire, made the Grand Duke of Lithuania and also King of Poland Alexander I Jagiellon to sign a five-year coalition treaty.
7.2. Sigismund I of Poland also signed a treaty with Sultan Selim I in 1519 after he had lost Smolensk to the Russians.
7.3. After the Ottoman victory over the combined Christian army (Kingdom of Hungary, Kingdom of Croatia, Lands of the Bohemian Crown, Holy Roman Empire, Duchy of Bavaria, State of the Church, Kingdom of Poland) in the Battle of Mohács (1526) Poland refrained from confrontations with the Ottoman Empire.
7.4. Under Suleiman the Magnificent, two treaties were signed in 1525 and 1528, and a treaty of “perpetual” peace was cosigned in 1533. The endorsement of the latter is thought to have been motivated by the huge progress of the Turks in 1532 campaign against Vienna after the Siege of Vienna (1529). This strategic pact was again renewed in 1547 and in 1551 with the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund II Augustus. The alliance between strategic partners was prolongated in 1564. From the Turkish side it was signed by the future Sultan Selim II (1524 – 1574; reigned: 1566 – 1574), then still Imperial Prince in charge of the government of the Kütahya Province, situated in Western part of Anatolia.
8. The Duchy of Prussia, which had its capital in Königsberg, was established as fief of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, which was in personal union with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
8.1. Although Prussia was formally a vassal of the crown of Poland, it retained its self-government, its own army, the right for minting of its currency, a provincial assembly (Prussian Diet, Landtag), and had substantial autonomy in foreign affairs.
9. Taking into consideration the Prussia’s bright autonomy, it seems to be more than astonishing that Prussia “was not able” to settle down the domestic religious dispute between protagonists and antagonists of Osiander’s theology.
9.1. The suzerain of Prussia, King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland tried to avoid serious complications with the powerful Turks and sent in August 1566 a commission to Königsberg to investigate the religious dispute.
9.2. The Theologian Johann Funck (1518 - 28 October 1566), who was married to Osiander’s daughter, together with the city councilors Matthias Horst, Hans Schell, and Johann Steinbach, was charged with the opposition to the ecclesiastical and political governance of the state. The Polish commission directed that the case be tried by the court in Kneiphof - one of the three towns that composed during the Middle Ages the city of Königsberg. Funck, Horst, and Schell were condemned and executed in the marketplace before Kneiphof Town Hall on 28 October 1566. Steinbach had to leave the duchy.
9.3. After the execution of distinguished public figures, which objectively strengthened the spiritual union between Eastern and Western Christian churches, some followers of Andreas Osiander could have found refuge in the Tsardom of Russia (1547–1721) during the confusions of the Livonian war.
9.4. The “Tsar of All the Russias” Ivan IV Vasilyevich was tolerant at that time to Lutheranism and its interpretations. The emergence of the German Quarter (Немецкая слобода) in Moscow coincided with the persecution of the disciples of Andreas Osiander in the Duchy of Prussia.
10. It is plausible that the first Lutheran parish in Moscow might have been influenced by ideas of Andreas Osiander. The social and spiritual integration of the Germans who were at the military and civil services of the Russian state could have been facilitated due to the affinity of the religious beliefs of the Andreas Osiander’s devotees and those preached by the Russian Orthodox Church. The spiritual surveillance (such as the West European inquisition) was practically lacking, especially in fortresses and settlements along the Great Abatis Border (Большая засечная черта). The patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church was constituted only in 1589.
10.1. The German Lutheran community in Moscow appeared around 1560 – 1565. The wooden church was built in 1576; its first provost was theologian Brictius thon Norde, a Frisian by descent11).
11. With the establishment of the federative state “The Kingdom of Livonia- The Tsardom of Russia-The Khanate of Kazan” quite a number of the Livonian Germans decided to seek greener pastures in Eastern Europe.
12. In the Battle of Molodi (29 July - 2 August 1572) the united forces of the Russians and the Livonian knights defeated decisively the Turkish Sultan Selim II and his vassal the Crimean khan Devlet I Giray. They had to give up their ambitious plans of northward expansion into Russia forever.

The Release of this Contribution in Almanac «Religion. Church. Society». - Saint Petersburg: Saint Petersburg State University 2017


1. Stupperich, Martin. Osiander in Preußen. 1549 – 1552; Berlin, New York: Walther de Gruyter 1973; S. 160.
2. Kappeler, Andreas. Ivan Groznyj im Spiegel der ausländischen Druckschriften seiner Zeit. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des westlichen Russlandbildes; Frankfurt/M: Herbert Lang Bern Peter Lang 1972; p. 216.
3. “Turkey, Sweden and the EU Experiences and Expectations”, Report by the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies" (PDF). Sieps.se. April 2006. p. 6. Retrieved 2015-09-06.
4. Kappeler; p. 25
5. Ibidem.
6. Miller, William. The Ottoman Empire and Its Successors, 1801-1927; Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. 1966; p.
7. Carlson, A. J. Teaching the Reformation as World History; in: Roupp, Heidi. Teaching World History; Routledge 2015; p. 125.
8. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online: Osiander, Andreas (1498-1552); http://www.gameo.org/index.php?title=Osiander,_Andreas_(1498-1552); retrieved 2017.
9. Osiander, Andreas. Unterricht und Vermahnung wie man wider den Türcken beten und streiten soll; 1542; S. 1.
10. Fredrich, Edward C. Osiander – a Man for All Churches in an Ecumenical Age; report at the Metropolitan North-South Pastoral Conference November 17, 1980 St. James, Milwaukee.
11. Emil Dösseler: Soester auswärtige Beziehungen, besonders im hansischen Raum – Teil I, Einführung und Überblick; Soest: Westfälische Verlagsbuchhandlung Mocker & Jahn 1988; S. 123.