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The Anabaptists in England
The Baptist Quarterly, 1924
By W. T. Whitley

      Allusions to these begin with 1528, and have been gathered together - by Baptist historians; they may be seen conveniently in Crosby, I, 38, and in Evans, Early English Baptists, volume I. At first we read of "all Dutch, certain Dutchmen, nineteen Hollanders, born in Holland, &c"; but in 1539 King Henry spoke of such foreigners having "seduced many simple persons of the King's subjects," and next year the French ambassador implied that twelve London citizens had adopted the opinions ot the Flemish Anabaptists. Bishop Ridley soon enquired of his clergy whether Anabaptists were holding conventicles, and he was actively concerned in the death of Joan of Kent, a Colchester woman, condemned for a characteristic Anabaptist doctrine. Fox refers often to the "Anabaptists lately springing up in Kent," with many details. Doctor Some, in 1589, declared that some persons of these sentiments had been bred at our universities, the Anabaptistical absurdities having been specified by him in 1588 as touching Magistracie, Ministerie, Church, Scripture, and Baptisme.

      When we find also that the new Articles of Religion take express notice of Anabaptist doctrines, it is clear that the continental immigrants had won English adherents, that there were now English Anabaptists. In 1562 Elizabeth ordered "the Anabaptists ... from the parts beyond the seas . . . [who] had spread the poison of their sects in England, to depart the realm within twenty days, whether they were natural-born

people of the land or foreigners." But the persecution by Alva sent more and more over, so that in 1575 there was a capture of a whole Flemish congregation.

      The question, then, is whether these English Anabaptists won by the continental immigrants have any continuity with the English Baptists. There may be continuity of external organization, quite compatible with remarkable changes, even of doctrine; an extreme case is the technical legal continuity of the Church of England despite the changes at the Reformation. Whoever would assert this as between the English Anabaptists and the English Baptists, must produce evidence. There is remarkable dearth of evidence after 1577, and as yet there is nothing to show that the English Anabaptists had any formal organization.

      Prohably more interest would be felt in a resemblance of doctrine or methods. There is a remarkable opening of communications to-day between the Church of England and the Orthodox Churches of the East, of which one after another is declaring that there is no bar to inter-communion; and possible relations with the Church of Sweden are being explored. Though no one would assert any external bonds for centuries, inner resemblances are being tested. So it is quite reasonable to examine what the English Anabaptists held.

      The last three Articles of Religion suggest that their enemies were struck with their communism, their objection to oaths, weapons and war. More important are two of their works, which have been printed in our Transactions, iv., 91, and vii., 71, showing views in 1557 and 1575. The earlier work is a lengthy criticism of Calvinism, especially the doctrines of reprobation and final perseverance. The later is a discussion whether it is lawful to revenge wrongs, by invoking the law or by using force; it widens out to object to judicial oaths, to acknowledge kings and magistrates, and incidentally grants authority to the Old Testament, in so far as it is not "abolished by the newe."

      These two works are not complete expositions of Anabaptist tenets, but they probably show what were the points that chiefly excited attention. To them we may add the view of Hoffmann imbibed by Joan of Kent, that our Lord's flesh was created in the body of Mary, and owed nothing physically to her. Then we have all the leading ideas that were held by the English Anabaptists, and they are all directly due to the continental Anabaptists or Mennonites.

      How long these views persisted in English circles it is not easy to say., They certainly were not widely spread, for Bishop Jewell in his Apology of 1567 said that England did not know the Anabaptists. But when the Separatist Church of 1586

largely migrated to Holland, where contact with the Mennonites was easy, we find that some of the English presently adopted Anabaptist views, and after a while were excommunicated. In 1597 John Payne published at Haarlem a warning as to eight views held by the English and Dutch Anabaptists in Holland: - Christ did not take his pure flesh of the Virgin Mary; The Godhead was subject to passions and to death; The infants of the faithful ought not to be baptized; Souls sleep till the resurrection; Magistrates ought not to put malefactors to death; Wars are condemned; Predestination and the Lord's day are condemned; Free will and the merit of works are held.

      This is good evidence that there were English Anabaptists in Holland at this time. Though the account of their tenets is from a hostile witness, we are able to compare with the confession drawn up by Hans de Ries in order to explain himself to another group of English, eleven years later. The emphasis is very different, but Payne's account is not incompatible.

      The points here mentioned are none of them characteristic of English Baptists: only in a single respect is there coincidence, the refusal of baptism to infants. As to the other points, on some of them Baptists were divided in opinion, on others they held the exact opposite. This comes out well in the familiar story of the intercourse of Smyth, Helwys and Murton with the Mennonites.


[From W. T. Whitley, The Baptist Quarterly, 1924, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp. 25-27. This is a portion of the essay. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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