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ANABAPTISTS IN ZURICH

SECTION IV. THE ANABAPTISTS

      It has been said, in speaking of Karlstadt, that some who once worked with Luther came to feel that he was but a half­way reformer. Such was even more largely Zwingli's experi­ence. Among those who had been most forward in favoring innovations in Zurich were Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, both from prominent families of the city. They and others soon came to feel that Zwingli's leadership in the application of the Biblical test to Zurich practices was far too conservative. This element first came into evidence at the second great de­bate, in October, 1523 (ante, p. 362), where it demanded the immediate abolition of images and of the mass — steps for which the cantonal authorities were not as yet fully ready. An abler participant in that debate was Balthasar Hubmaier (1480?-1528), once a pupil, then colleague and friend of Luther's oppo­nent, Eck, but now preacher in Waldshut, on the northern edge of Switzerland. Led to Evangelical views by Luther's writings in 1522, he was successfully urging reform in his city. As early as May, 1523, he had come to doubt infant baptism, and had discussed it with Zwingli, who, according to his testimony, then sympathized with him. His criticisms were based on want of Scriptural warrant for administration to infants. 1 By 1524 Grebel and Manz had reached the same conclusion,2 but it was not till early in 1525 that they or Hubmaier translated theory into practice.

      Their criticisms led, in January, 1525, to a public debate with Zwingli, as a consequence of which the cantonal authori­ties of Zurich ordered all children baptized — there had evi­dently been delay on the part of some parents — and in par­ticular directed Grebel and Manz to cease from disputing, and banished the priest of Wytikon, Wilhelm Roubli.3 To these men this seemed a command by an earthly power to act coun­ter to the Word of\ God. They and some of their friends
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1 B. J. Kidd, Documents Illustrative of the Continential Reformation, Oxford, 1911, p. 451.
2 Ibid., p. 452.
3 Ibid., pp. 453, 454.


[p. 367]
SPREAD OF THE ANABAPTISTS

gathered in a private house in Zollicon, near Zurich, on Feb­ruary 7, 1525, and there Manz, or Georg Blaurock, once a monk, instituted believers' baptism by sprinkling. A few weeks later a case of immersion occurred, and after Easter, Hubmaier was baptized in Waldshut by Roubli. 1

      These acts constituted the groups separate communions. By their opponents they were nicknamed "Anabaptists," or rebaptizers. Really, since they denied the validity of their baptism in infancy, the name was inappropriate, and "Bap­tists" would be the truer designation; but as a title consecrated by long usage to a remarkable movement of the Reformation age, the more common name is convenient. The Zurich gov­ernment, in March, 1526, ordered Anabaptists drowned, in hideous parody of their belief, and a few months later Manz thus suffered martyrdom.2 Zwingli opposed them with much bitterness, but with little success in winning them from their position.3

      In Waldshut Hubmaier soon gathered a large Anabaptist community, and was even more successful in propagating his opinions by his pen. In his view the Bible is the sole law of the church, and according to the Scriptural test the proper order of Christian development is, preaching the Word, hear­ing, belief, baptism, works — the latter indicating a life lived with the Bible as its law. Waldshut, however, was soon in­volved in the peasant revolt — in how far through Hubmaier is doubtful — and shared the collapse of that movement. Hub­maier had to fly, and the city was once more Catholic. Im­prisoned and tortured in Zurich, he fled to Moravia, where he propagated the Anabaptist movement with much success.

      These persecutions had the effect of spreading the Ana­baptist propaganda throughout Germany and the Netherlands. The movement soon assumed great proportions, especially among the lower classes, when the miserable failure of the peasant revolt had caused deep distrust of the Lutheran cause, now wholly associated with territorial princes and aristocratic city magistrates. In the still Catholic parts of the empire the Ana­baptist propaganda practically superseded the Lutheran. On the other hand, Anabaptist rejection of princely control but strengthened the hostility of the Lutheran and Roman authori­ties. In February, 1527, a meeting of Anabaptist leaders was
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1 Kidd, pp. 454, 455. 2 Ibid., p. 455. 3 Ibid., p. 456-458.


[p. 368]
BELIEFS OF THE ANABAPTISTS

held in Schlatt, where seven articles of faith were drawn up by Michael Sattler, an earnest and worthy former monk. In them believers' baptism was asserted. The church is regarded as composed only of local associations of baptized experiential Christians — united as the body of Christ by common observance of the Lord's Supper; its only weapon is excommunication. Absolute rejection of all "servitude of the flesh," such as the worship of the Roman, Lutheran, and Zwinglian Churches, is demanded. Each congregation is to choose its own officers and administer through them its discipline. While civil gov­ernment is still a necessity in this imperfect world, the Chris­tian should have no share in it, nor should he take any form of oath. Here were ideas which were to be represented, in varying proportions, by later Baptists, Congregationalists, and Quakers, and through them to have a profound influence on the religious development of England and America.

      The Anabaptist ideal implied a self-governing congregation, independent of state or episcopal control, having the Bible as its law, and living a rather ascetic life of strict conformity to a literal interpretation of supposedly Biblical requirements. The sources of these opinions are still in dispute. By some the Anabaptists are regarded as the radicals of the Reforma­tion period; by others as the fruit of new interest in Bible read­ing by the literal-minded; by still others as revivals of mediaeval anti-Roman sects. There is truth in all these theories. The Anabaptists themselves had no consciousness of connection with pre-Reformation movements; they made the Bible liter­ally their law, but many of their characteristics are undoubt­edly pre-Reformation. Such is their view of the Bible as a new law in church and state, through obedience to which God's favor is to be preserved. They had as little sympathy with Luther's conception of the Gospel as summed up in the forgiveness of sins, as with the Roman conception of salvation through the sacraments. Pre-Reformation is their ascetic view of the Christian life. So is their conception of the state as a concession to sin, and unworthy of the participation of a Christian hi its administration. Such, also, are their strong apocalyptic and mystical tendencies.

      The views which have been indicated were those of the overwhelming majority of Anabaptists; but a radical move­ment attracts extremists, and there were not a few who went


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ANABAPTIST MARTYRS

much further, but cannot be regarded as representative of the Anabaptists as a whole. Such was the learned humanist Johann Denk (?-1527), who taught an inner light superior to all Scripture, saw in Christ only the highest human example of love, and held that the Christian may live without sin. Associated with Denk in these opinions, was the learned Ludwig Haetzer, to whom was due, with Denk's aid, a translation of the Old Testament prophetical books, but who was beheaded for adulteries at Constance in 1529. The radical preacher, Hans Hut, to whose work much of the rapid spread of Ana­baptist views among the working classes of south Germany and Austria was due, declared himself a prophet, affirming that persecution of the saints would be immediately followed by the destruction of the empire by the Turks, following which event the saints would be gathered, and by them all priests and unworthy rulers destroyed, whereupon Christ would visibly reign on earth. In Hubmaier, Hut had a vigorous opponent, but Hut's preaching ended only with his death, in 1527 in Augsburg, through burns received in an attempt to escape from the prison by setting it afire. Some of the more radical Anabaptist leaders taught community of goods and social revolution.

      Everywhere the hand of the authorities, Catholic and Evan­gelical, was heavy on the Anabaptists — though most Prot­estant territories used banishment rather than the death penalty. Their leaders were martyred. In 1527 Manz met death by drowning in Zurich, while Sattler was burned and his wife drowned near Rottenburg. The next year Hubmaier was burned in Vienna and his wife drowned. Blaurock was burned in the Tyrol in 1529. With these leaders perished great numbers of their followers. Yet the movement con­tinued to spread, and by 1529 was exceedingly perilous for the Protestant cause, being looked upon by the Catholics as the legitimate outcome of revolt from Rome, dividing the forces of reform, and to the thinking of the Lutherans bringing the Evangelical cause into discredit. There can be no doubt that one important effect of the Anabaptist movement was to at­tach the Lutherans more strongly to the conception of prince and magistrate ruled territorial churches as the only guar­antee of good order and of effective opposition to Rome.

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[Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 1918, pp. 366-369. — Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]



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