The Cooper’s Confession*

Hans Blietel

(Ried, Bravaria, Germany: 1545)

 

1989 Herald Press, 2000  Dave Jackson

 

Eight men and six women sat on some dead logs that had been rolled together to form a semi-circle deep in the forest, not far from the town of Ried. Three other members of the church were stationed as lookouts some distance away lest the authorities should surprise them. In front of those seated on the logs stood a shabby man and woman. There was still evidence of severe wounds on the man’s head, and the woman’s left hand was heavily bandaged with a stinking old rag.

            “Is this where you always meet?” asked the shabby man in a nervous manner.

            There was silence. Then one of those seated growled, “We seldom meet in the same place twice, for obvious reasons. Why do you ask?” Then he turned to the group’s leader. “Brother Oswald, I don’t think we should have brought these people here. Do you know who they are?”

            “Oh, he didn’t mean anything by his question,” pleaded the woman with the bandaged hand. “We are truly repentant for what we did and would never tell anyone of your meeting.”

            Then the quiet thin leader spoke. “I am Brother Oswald. I serve as the elder of the fellowship in Ried. Why don’t you sit down and tell us exactly what you did and why you now repent. Start with telling us your names.”

            The couple sat on the two boulders to which Oswald had pointed. “I am Michael Dirks, and this is my wife, Rachel. As several of you know, I am a cooper in Ried, and we . . . well, we haven’t had enough money of late to feed the family.”

            “And why is that?” asked Brother Oswald. “Certainly in a market town like Ried there is plenty of call for good barrels.”

            “I am not the only cooper in town,” said Dirks.

            “So?”

            Dirks bit his lip and looked at the ground. “It is rumored that my barrels are the first to leak,” he mumbled. “And sometimes . . . well sometimes they complain that I don’t finish my orders when they’re promised.”

            “Is that so?”

            “Yes.”

            “Go on,” said Brother Oswald.

            “I had heard of the offer made by the authorities to pay a handsome sum of money to anyone who would surrender Hans Blietel, the preacher who came from Moravia. So, thinking that I might ease our financial burden somewhat, I kept my eye out for this missionary, and one day he came by and sat down right under the tree in front of my shop.

            “I went out and engaged him in conversation as though I were interested in converting. Then I invited him home, claiming I wanted to hear more. But when he entered my house, I locked the door and announced that he was my prisoner.

            “ ‘God forbid that you should do this,’ he said. ‘Haven’t I come to you for good?’ Well, of course he had, but we were in desperate need, so I offered to release him if he would pay a ransom. He wouldn’t hear of it, so I went off for the authorities.”

            Rachel Dirks then interrupted. “As soon as Michael had gone, I too offered to release Blietel. I asked only fifteen guilders, but he said he wouldn’t pay even one farthing but would trust in God to help him face whatever came.”

            “When I came back,” continued Michael, “things did not work out as I expected. I brought a large number of armed men, but the first thing they did was search Hans Blietel. When they found almost no money on him, they accused us of having taken it from him, so they bound us with ropes and straps as well as the preacher.”

            “And when we got downtown,” inserted Rachel, “they beat and whipped us as much as Blietel. I was screaming at the top of my lungs when they put the clamp on my hand. Blood was squirting out everywhere. I’ll probably never use it again. But the preacher didn’t cry out—not once—no matter what they did to him.”

            “Finally they let us go,” said Dirks. “But of course not Blietel.

            “Some four or five weeks later—in late June, about St. John’s day, I think—he was being led out of town to be burned alive, when I happened along the same street going the other direction. He saw me and broke into a big smile and waved his hand. Then he pointed toward heaven.

            “I was so shocked that the man could smile on his way to his death in the fire, that I just stood there staring.”

            “When Michael came home,” said Rachel, “and told me with what kindness and good cheer Blietel had greeted him, I could not believe it at first. But he was certain that there was no mistake.”

            “Yes,” said Dirks. “I assured her that he couldn’t have meant to greet anyone else. There was no one else near me, and we were close.”

            “As you can imagine,” said Rachel, “I told Michael that the man must have been delirious from the torture and was just behaving in a crazy way. ‘Or maybe he was mocking you,’ I said. Nobody smiles on their way to the fire. But Michael insisted that the missionary was as sane as any of us. And to prove it, he made me go with him to the execution to see for myself.”

            “When we got there,” said Michael Dirks twisting his hat in his hands, “they had already kindled the fire and had tied Blietel to a ladder that they were to tip up and over, dropping him right into the middle of that raging blaze. And like I said, Blietel was stone sober and praising God with joyous hymns.

            “Just as they were tipping him up on the ladder, Blietel called out in a clear and loud voice to the whole multitude that was gathered there. Thinking that he wanted to recant, the bailiff ordered the men to hold steady while Blietel spoke. There he was, balanced on that ladder above the heads of the whole crowd like Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. Sparks were rising up behind him in the darkening sky like the very fireworks of hell itself. Then Blietel said, ‘Is there anyone here, who has the courage to tell the church of God in Moravia, that I, Hans Blietel, was burned for the gospel at Ried in Bavaria?’ But there was not an answer. Finally, he said, ‘Is there no one?’

            “I could not stand it.” At that, Dirks stopped and took several deep breaths. When he continued, his voice was pinched and hardly audible: “I knew this was a just man dying because of my sin, and I could not deny him his last request. I tried to get through the crowd to assure him secretly that I would do his bidding, but I could not. So, not caring who should identify me, I called out and said that I would most certainly carry his message to Moravia. It seemed the least I could do.

            “Blietel spotted me in an instant, and again gave me that same smile as he said, ‘Thank you, brother.’ ” Dirks looked up from one to another of those sitting on the logs before him. “Yes, he called me, ‘brother.’ Then Hans Blietel said to the rest of the crowd: ‘This my faith is the divine truth. Repent, reform, and desist from your unrighteous, wicked, and vicious life; for if you do not do this, the eternal God will visit you for your sins and punish you with the everlasting pain which is prepared for all sinners, and he shall require the innocent blood at your hands and punish you for it.’

            “Then they tipped the ladder into the fire. It was strange; there wasn’t a sound in the crowd, but for a long time we all could hear Blietel singing from the flames before he finally expired. I think everyone was shaken. In a while we all drifted away in silence, and not one person took any notice of us as I thought they might for having spoken up.

            “Three days have now passed. My wife’s grief is so great that she has not eaten a thing. We have sold our shop and everything we own and have paid all our debts. We have just enough to make our journey to Moravia, but we need your help. We have no idea how to contact the church there or who to ask for.”

            Rachel Dirks then spoke up. “More than that, we wish to be baptized and join the church. We seek God’s forgiveness and yours as well.”

            No one in the little circle answered for some time. Finally, Brother Oswald stood up: “This is the first complete report we have had of Brother Hans Blietel’s witness. We thank you for that. We had heard a rumor of his request and that someone had offered to fulfill it, but not knowing who it could have been, we were deciding among ourselves who should convey the news to the brothers and sisters in Moravia. But it would be a very hard and dangerous trip”

            Then Brother Oswald stepped carefully over some brush and rocks and came over to the Dirks. Taking them each by the hand, he lifted them to their feet: “As to your request for forgiveness, God has already forgiven you, and we do likewise. We greet you, Brother Michael and Sister Rachel, and are eager to instruct you in the faith and baptize you as you request. And we would be honored if you would convey the news of Hans Blietel’s death to the church in Moravia”

            One after another, the other Christians got up and gave Michael and Rachel the kiss of peace.

 

The End

 

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* A slightly different version of “The Cooper’s Confession” by Dave Jackson is published in On Fire for Christ (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1989), pp. 57-61. This story is posted with permission of Herald Press, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, 15683. On Fire for Christ can be purchased at Provident Bookstores.