Named after Caspar Schwenckfeld; b. Ossig, principality of Liegnitz, Silesia, Germany, 1489; d. Ulm, Dec. 10, 1561. He was of noble rank, studied at various universities, experienced the influence of Martin luther in 1518, and entered the service of Friedrich II of Liegnitz, persuading him to launch an evangelical movement in Silesia. He was thrice a visitor in Wittenburg, but was rejected by Luther because of his peculiar view of the Lord's Supper. He moved closer to the more radical reformers and sacramentarians and became a chiefexponent of evangelical spiritualism. Advising the suspension of the outward Eucharist (1526) and emphasizing an inward feeding on the celestial flesh of Christ, he developed his own theological views regarding the Lord's Supper, Baptism, Christology, the Church, and other doctrines. Since he favored a "standstill" with regard to the use of the Sacraments, waiting for the time when a general agreement could be reached, he did not become an organizer of another evangelical church. Expelled from Silesia, he spent some time in Strassburg, Ulm, and other places in southern Germany. In Strassburg he met Melchior hoffman and Pilgram marbeck. With the latter he entered into a considerable literary exchange of views.
Schwenckfeld was a prolific writer. His writings were read by his followers in reading circles, which was the primary reason that the group survived despite its small numbers. He had followers in Silesia and in southern Germany. Promoters of his views were Adam Reusner and Daniel Sudermann. In southern Germany, followers of Schwenckfeld were found up to 1660. In Silesia they underwent severe persecution. Between 1725 and 1736 more than 500 Schwenckfelders fled, finding refuge on the estate of Nikolaus zinzendorf, in Saxony. With the help of some Dutch and German mennonites, some 212 of them migrated to southeastern Pennsylvania in 1734 and settled in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Berks, and Lehigh counties.
The first minister was George Weiss, and the first meetinghouse was built in 1789. In 1909 the group incorporated as the Schwenckfelder Church with a congregational church polity. Since 1877 the Lord's Supper and (adult) baptism, which were discouraged by Schwenckfeld, have been observed. The Schwenckfelder Board of Missions was organized in 1895 and the Board of Publication in 1898. The Schwenckfelder Library at Pennsburg, Pa., and the Perkiomen School (1891) belong to the church.
Bibliography: g. maron, Individualismus und Gemeinschaft bei Caspar von Schwenckfeld (Stuttgart 1961). h. w. kriebel, The Schwenckfelders in Pennsylvania (Lancaster, Pa. 1904). p. l. maier, Caspar Schwenckfeld on the Person and Work of Christ (Assen, Neth. 1959). s. g. schultz, Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig (Norristown, Pa. 1946). g. h. williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia 1962). f. s. mead, s. s. hill and c. d. atwood, eds., Handbook of Denominations in the United States (Nashville 2001).