Professor of Church History in Newton Theological Seminary.
Dr. Whitsitt's positions are that the earliest English Anabaptists were Dutch, that none of the Dutch Anabaptists immersed before 1620, that few Anabaptists of the interior continent ever immersed, and that none of these immersers ever came to Holland. I shall not stop to inquire as to the English Lollards (who were not Dutch); nor as to the Dutch martyrs during the early reign of Henry VIII. (who could not have been Mennonites); but confine myself to the examination of the question as it concerns the Anabaptists of the continent, and especially of Holland. As to these, I venture the assertions 1. That it is yet too early to attempt a positive account of their doings, and wholly impossible to verify sweeping negations concerning them.
2. That the evidence thus far establishes a closely derivative relation between the Anabaptists of Holland and those of South Germany and Switzerland, among whom immersion was practiced.
3. That the early literature of the Anabaptists of Holland, as well as elsewhere, distinctly and strongly insists upon immersion. As to the first point, I refer to Cornelius ("Berichte" &,c. LXXXIV.), who says that the inner life of the Anabaptists has remained almost neglected; that the whole evangelical part of the uprising and the development of the germs of evil in it, lie yet in darkness; that the only writer who at-tempts an account of the movement at Munster (Kerssenbroeck) knows "nothing complete of the conduct of the magistrates, &c.", and of many of the parties themselves "has not even a suspicion, not to say knowledge." "To fill these gaps will require weary plodding through archives, letters, diaries, &c." I add some words from Bouterwek ("Zur Literatur," &c., 1864): "The Anabaptist agitation in the United Principalities and Lands pioneered the way of, and inwove itself into, the midst of the Reformation on the Lower Rhine. To demonstrate this on the authority of original Mss. irrefutably, is for the present, while the widely scattered, distracted material lacks gathering into a single hand, as good as impossible. Still will the evidence appear, in the following given events, that a history of the Reformation in our lands is to be
expected only when its relation with the progress of baptism is kept clear” (p. 1).
To the same effect is the language of Keller ("Geschichte der Widertaufer," 1880) who, deploring the sneering indifference of historians toward this movement, affirms that the central notion of the Anabaptists furnished the pivotal point of partition between the Catholic and evangelical churches.
The eminent American Congregationalist writer, Dr. W. E. Griffis, in a recent article on the Anabaptists in the New World magazine (Dec. 1895) declares of them that "They were crucified by the Caiaphas and Pilate of their time. In history they are judged almost wholly by their murderers." The constitution of the United States he characterizes as "an Anabaptist document." He adds that "In Anabaptist confessions, oral and written, we discover the seed-bed of the great truths now held by us as most precious" (italics mine).
When scholars wholly outside Baptist ranks thus begin to recognize, beneath the refuse heap of historic misrepresentation and causeless malediction, the form and features of men "of whom the world was not worthy," and to vindicate the principles for which they stood as supplying the germinal force of the Reformation itself, we may well hesitate before unintelligently hastening to admit in advance of satisfactory proof that they compromised those principles, even in the slightest or most indirect way. Our word "dip" is only the Dutch "Doepen," the German "Taufen," transferred. When first introduced in Bible translation everybody dipped. Nobody pretended that departure from that custom, when it began, was justifiable except on sacerdotal authority. Vernacular translations were first due chiefly to the Anabaptists, and they wore, as Milman calls them, "Biblical Anti-Sacerdotalists." It seems absurd to reckon them leaders in trampling on the Word they had rescued from priestly perversion.
As to the second point (the origin of the Holland Anabaptists), Barclay affirms that Ubbo Philips, whose church Menno first joined, had been sent out by Melchoir Hoffman, and he by dissenters from Zwingle's Swiss church (at Strassburg), "thus all goes back to Switzerland" (p. 79). Keller ("Geschicte" &c.) affirms that the "Lower Rhine-lands, bound by the great commercial high-way of the Rhine closely with Switzerland, could not easily hold itself free from the influx of ideas that came to victory there." Kron ("Geschichte der Fanatischcn," &c., pp. 20-1) represents Grebel and Manz as themselves visiting Munster in 1523; thinks Hoffman and Rink had both been for half a year in Zurich, and that they had been disciples of Grebel and Manz. I find no contradiction among the original authorities of the frequent statement that the Anabaptist movement in Holland came directly from Switzerland. Now we
know that Grebel at least immersed, that immersion prevailed at Zurich, and Hoffman and Rink were the "fathers" of Holland Anabaptism.
As to the third and final point. One of the first principles of justice is involved in Agrippa's words to Paul, "Thou art permitted to speak for thyself." This permission has not yet been availed of by the early Anabaptists. Almost the only account of their life and teachings thus far offered us has proceeded (as above stated) from the pen of bitter partizans; and it is especially noticeable that the individual cases in which sprinkling, and sometimes the marking of the forehead with a cross, are attributed to them, are largely from inquisitorial records. Without questioning their truthfulness, in the main, there is often indicated a disposition to caricature or sneer at the transaction (as where some are said to have been baptized from a "wine glass," or from a "hole"), and the instances specified are usually the acts of isolated individuals, from which it would hardly be fair to judge the great body of the community and the churches.
Beginning with the Mennonites, Hunziger, Mennonite pastor at Wimpffen ("Religion, Church and School Ways of the Mennonites," 1830) affirms (p. 130) that the "Mennonites as well as the Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists have departed from the early baptismal form." Tracing the origin of the Mennonites to the "early Baptists and Waldenses," he remarks that "Koch and Meister, men of good birth who had heard the Bohemian and Moravian Waldenses, began to preach their doctrines in Augsburg while Menno was yet a monk (1524)." "Many who held this faith were put to death in Germany, Austria, Bavaria, Netherlands, Alsace, Moravia, Styria, Swabia, &c." (pp. 7; 8). Spanheim (Controv. de Relig., 1757,) says (p. 66) that Menno and the many sects of Anabaptists had a common name because they all "immersed anew" ("denuo tinxerunt").
Let us turn to Menno himself, whose "most definite expression concerning baptism." Dr. Whitsitt, apparently resting on the authority of Prof. Scheffer, finds in a passage describing the act as "to receive a handfull of water." I cite from the translation of his works published in Elkhart Ind., in 1811, carefully comparing the translation with the original (Amsterdam, 1631) (p. 26): "Beloved Reader, take heed to the word of the Lord, for this also Paul teaches, who received not his gospel of men, but of the Lord himself: even as Christ died and was buried, so also ought we to die unto our sins, and be buried (begraben) with Christ in baptism: we are not to do this after we are baptized, but we must commence to do all this beforehand" (cites Romans 6:5-7 in full). * * *"Again, Paul calls baptism the washing of regeneration." ("water badt der wedergeboren"). O Lord! How lamentably thy word is abused. Is it not greatly to be lamented, that men are attempting, notwithstanding these plain passages, to maintain their idolatrous invention of infant baptism, and set
forth that infants are regenerated thereby, as if regeneration was simply a plunging into the water ('een in duckinge int' water')" In the passage cited by Dr. Whitsitt (the only one I have discovered that is in the least equivocal) he contrasts a "handful of water" with the "whole ocean," which he declares could not wash the unrepentant clean.
Menno's citation of Romans 6, as determining the form of baptism, is characteristic of Anabaptist literature in all its early stages. We find it in the "Protocol" of Embden, 1578 (published in 1579); in that of Franckenthal (1571, published same year), where it is explained as meaning that "baptism is a symbol of death and new-life;" in the Confession of Jacques d'Auchy-Leeuwarden, 1559 (Cited in Ten Cato "Geschiedenis Der Doopsgezinden"). In the Munster "Restitution" (issued 1634), baptism is described as the "burial of the sinful flesh" (begravinge unses sundtliken fleisches). In the Berne "Disputation" (1532) the "Touffer" says, "Baptism is always a symbol of a renewed man entombed (vergraben) into the death of Jesus Christ" (cites 1 Peter 3). ==============
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