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- The Rise and Fall of the Anabapists by Belfort Bax.
Proselytes joined it every day. The tendencies, embodied in the circle, began to acquire consistency and gradually took on the character of a distinct sect From among the newcomers two men now obtained a special influence among the -Brethren," or the "Spirituals" as they were termed. These were the above mentions Konracl Grebel, himself a young man sprung from a well-to-do family of Zurich burghers, who had studied in Paris and Vienna, and Felix Manz, also a Zurich burgher, and a friend of Grebel.
In the house of Manz s mother meetings of the sectaries were held. Like Grebel, Manz was a scholar and full of youthfu enthusiasm. Zwingli had, by this time, carried out new principles of the Reformation much. Not standing on the same theological ground as Luther, he had less hesitation and was prepared to carry on the work of destruction beyond the point at which Luther held his hand. The result was that in Zurich every semblance of Catholic ceremony was entirely swept away. Meanwhile the effect of the continuous theological wrangling of the Reformers amongst themselves, who showed themselves only thoroughly united in their attack on Catholicism and on certain catholic usages, was to detach large numbers of the non-learned classes from the positive dogmatic system that the learned were endeav ouring to set up in the place of the old Catholic theology.
The biblical text itself, now every where read and re-read in the German language, was pondered and discussed in the house of the handicraftsman and in the hut of the peasant with as much confidence of interpretation as in the study of the professional theologian. But there were also not a few of the latter order, as we have seen, who were becoming disgusted with the trend of the official Reformation and its leading representatives.
Seen in the dim religious light of a continuous reading of o o o the Bible and of very little else, the world began to appear in a new aspect to the simple soul who practised it. All things seemed filled with the immediate presence of Deity. He who felt a call pictured himself as playing the part of the Hebrew prophet.
He gathered together a small congregation of followers who felt themselves as the children of God in the midst of a heathen world. Did not the fall of the old Church mean that the day was at hand when the elect should govern the world? It was not so much positive doctrines as an atti- tude of mind that was the ruling spirit in Ana- baptism and like movements. Similarly, it was undoubtedly such a sensitive impressionism rather than any positive dogma that dominated the first generation of the Christian Church itself. How this acted in the case of the earlier Anabaptists we shall presently see.
It must not be forgotten that it was, in its earlier stages, emphatically a religi ous and non-political organization. This was the point which sharply distinguished Konrad Grebel and his friends from others whose tenden cies were similar, notably from Thomas Mlinzer. The little Zurich society would have nothing to do with carnal weapons. They would fight only with the sword of the spirit. In a letter under date September 5th, , written by Konrad Grebel and his friends to Munzer, they say : u The Gospel and its followers shall not be guarded by the sword, neither shall they so guard themselves, as, by what we hear from the Brethren, ye assume and pretend to be right.
They use neither the sword of the world nor war, for to kill is forbidden," etc. During the year the new sect grew rapidly in Switzerland. The idea also made great headway that the aim of the Church reformation was the re-establishment of primitive Christian condition, not merely in matters of theology, but of social practice. But for many months there was no open schism between the Brethren and the reforming party of Zwingli. They made it their task to endeavour to urge Zwingli forward in the direction of religious revolution and of such social changes as seemed to them demanded by Holy Writ.
Zwingli on his side confined himself to endeavouring to check the more extreme tendencies by gentle remonstrances. Yet the differences between the official reformation of Zwingli and that of the Brethren became more and more apparent every day, accompanied by an increasing bitter ness on both sides. The definite split did not occur before the end of June.
The Brethren became increasingly insistent on the immediate abolition of tithes and other ecclesiastical dues. Accordingly, on June 22nd, the Council passed a resolution condemning emphatic ally the idea of attacking the existing sources of Church revenue. This was for Zwingli a parting of the ways. He had to make up his mind either to throw in his lot completely with the Brethren, whose revolutionary tendencies he now dreaded a course that would have damned his influence with the wealthy Zurich burghers or to throw over the Brethren with their sub versive doctrines and attach himself definitely to the moderate party that found its expression in the majority of the Town Council.
He did not long hesitate. On June 25th, he delivered a sermon in favour of the Council, and thus definitely ranged himself on the side of the moderates. Henceforward he became the ac knowledged head of the official reformation in Switzerland. The u Spirituals," on their side, grew more decided in their tendencies.
But the rejection of infant baptism, strongly as it was insisted upon, was after all only a sign of vast divergencies otherwise from the Zwinglian Reformation. The Brethren, as representing the men of low estate, felt that they had not overthrown the Roman Church organization to hand themselves over, body and soul, to the secular authorities of the city, the u Ehrbarkeit " and wealthy guildmasters ofZiirich.
The theory that the Bible, interpreted by the inward light, was the only rule of faith, before which all human authority and institutions must bend, was now proclaimed with greater emphasis then ever. The result was as might have been expected. The truth of the saying that " you may prove anything out of the Bible" is sig nally illustrated by the subsequent history of the movement.
The most absolute non-resistance doctrine, the most fiery invocations of the sword to destroy the unbelieving occupant of place and power, the mortification of the flesh of the anchorite, and the unbridled lasciviousness of the libertine, alike found their place in the ranks of the Anabaptists and of the later sects of the 1 6th and i7th centuries that sprang from the Anabaptist root. The decisive crisis, however, was brought about by the debate in the City Council on October 26th, There had already been a similar debate on the ques tion of the Church reformation in the previous January.
On this occasion the reformed Evan gelical party had presented a solid front in their demands. Now it was otherwise, the only point upon which unanimity prevailed being the abo lition of the Romish cultus, of the Mass, images etc; the question as to what should take the place of these things led to violent altercations. Grebel denounced various matters connected with the Sacrament the mixing of the wine with water, the use of unleavened bread, its being received by the laity from the hands of the priests, etc. Zwingli would have none of these criticisms. The malcontents were inveighed against as a source of discord.
They on their side declared Zwingli to have betrayed the cause in agreeing to accept the decision of the Council on spiritual matters. This meant, of course, that the breach between the two parties could not be bridged over. The u Spirituals" formally repudiated the now offi cially established Zwinglianism and all its ways. But the new sect grew. The meetings of the small handicraftsmen and journeymen that were assembled under the leadership of Grebel, Manz, and their friends, were continually increased by the accession of new members.
In addition, the original strain of ecclesiastical radicalism, or anarchism if one likes, received an accession of strength from the sentiment of an oppressed class in which political and economic consider ations mixed themselves up with religious en thusiasm. By the end of the year Zwingli had already begun to call in the aid of the secular arm to repress the sect which was now a serious obstacle to him in his work of organizing the new Church polity.
Two months after the great debate in the City Council, Simon Stumpf was banished. Meanwhile progress was made by the Brethren in the adjacent country districts, a large number of peasants joining. Parents began to refuse to allow their children to be christened. At last an edict was issued forbidding the meetings of the body. Reublin, who had made himself particularly conspicuous in his at tacks on the orthodox baptismal theory, was arrested, and it was made compulsory for parents to bring their children to the font.
At the same time attempts were made, both in private inter views and public disputations, to convert the " Spirituals. Finally Zwingli issued a manifesto and announ ced a public disputation for January i8th, On this occasion, after having conclusively, as he deemed it, refuted the errors of the Brethren, he read out from the pulpit a new order of the Council visiting the refusal of infant baptism with expulsion from the city and its territory.
Three days later several of the principal leaders received notice to quit within a week. This was clone on the historical occasion referred to in the passage from the " Geschichtsbucher " quoted earlier in this chapter. At this meeting, as we have already seen, Blaurock rose and called upon Grebel to baptize him in the true Christian Faith, which ceremony having been accomplished, all present received baptism at the hands of Blaurock.
It appears to have been done with the object of showing their abhorrence of the idea of a hierarchy or of leaders at all. All who had been awakened to the true faith by the inward light, were entitled to receive baptism, and all who had received it were entitled to confer it on others. This event, which marks the beginning of the Anabaptist movement pro perly so-called, occurred on January 2ist, By the decision to constitute re-baptism a sign and seal of membership of their community, the "Brethren" definitely cut themselves loose from the rest of Christendom, Protestant no less than Catholic.
The notion of a community of the elect, surroun ded by a wicked world with which it was at war, was naturally fostered by the new devel opment things had taken. The change, slight as it seems to us, had an electrical effect. Many of the reforming party opposed infant bap tism. Indeed, Zwingli himself had originally favored this view ; and, although the Brethren gave it special prominence from the beginning, it cannot be regarded as, in any way, a tenet distinctive in the sense of exclusive. With re-baptism it was otherwise.
This had never been suggested before by any of the reforming parties. A sharp persecution now began. The Rath ordered a number of arrests, amongst them those of Manz and Blaurock. Even severer punishments were tried in order to suppress the new teachings, but without avail.
Suffering drew the Brethren closely together. A common fund was inaugurated from the wealthy members, out of which indigent Brethren might obtain what they liked. But the persecution succeeded in its imme diate object. The Brethren, or the Anabaptists, as we may now term them, were well-nigh all driven from Zurich, and the little community in its original form was broken up and dispersed. The result was only to carry the seed of the new doctrines over the whole of northern Switz erland and southern Germany.
Grebel repaired to Schaffhausen and Reublin to Waldshut. In the latter place Balthazar Hubmeyer definitely joined the new sect. This meant, of course, his separation from Zwingli and the orthodox Reformation. With Hubmeyer the reformed community of Waldshut was won over. Basel and Bern also became infected, while in St. Gallen and Appenzell the new teachings made a profound impression on the whole population. The excitement leading to the great outburst of the Peasants War was favorable to the pro paganda, but the war itself, especially the suc cesses of the insurgents in its earlier stages, successes which led many really to hope that the day of the peasant and the common man had at last come, and that he was in very deed about to crush the ecclesiastical and noble op pressor, was not favorable to a doctrine that, at this period, proclaimed non-resistance as one of its cardinal tenets.
During the course of the Peasant insurrection, to the great bulk of the population, the new Anabaptist preachers were confounded with the numberless theological agitators with which Germany then abounded. Zwingli and the Zurich Council, keenly alive to the danger of the new departure in theolo gical discipline, did not meanwhile rest satisfied with the mere expulsion of the sectaries from the town and territory. Hubmeyer replied in a trenchant manner from the Anabaptist standpoint. Zwingli rejoined with an abusive attack on Hubmeyer.
But in the end the clever theological disputant succeeded in establishing infant baptism and the heretical character of re-baptism on a dogmatic basis, which, if it did not convert the Anabaptists, at least proved satisfactory to his own followers. The question, said Zwingli, was not merely one of baptism, but of the introduction of schism and heresy generally into the Church. No one had any right, he continued, to leave the Church, but all were bound to submit to the decision of the majority in ecclesiastical matters, as in dicated by the supreme authority of the State. About midsummer, , at a time that nearly coincided with the first serious defeats of the peasants, a persecution again broke out against the Anabaptists in the new localities, where, for the last few months, they had been planting their seed in comparative peace.
In St. Gallen, notably, the Council began to take steps. First of all, it invited the new sectaries to a debate in the church of St. As might be imagined these measures led to nothing.
Münster rebellion - Wikipedia
Finally the Biirgermeister of the town, Joachim von Watt, who, according to the practice of the time was also known as Vadianus, took a determined stand in opposition to the new pro paganda. His standpoint was not so much that of theological opposition to the new tenets, for he had notably himself been opposed to infant bap tism, but rather that of a statesman, or u man of order," who feared the methods of the new pro paganda.
All ecclesiastical changes, he main tained, must take place gradually so as not to endanger political stability. The practice of re- baptism, erected into an institution, he denounced as contrary to the preachings of the Apostles, and to the precepts of Holy Writ. Both Zwingli and Grebel left no stone unturned to influence the decision of the St. Gallen Council in favour of their respective sides. At last, on the 5th of June, a manifesto of the Biirgermeister against the Anabaptists, together with a reply of the latter, was publicly read before the Council.
The result was a decree stringently forbidding re-baptism and also the " breaking of bread," the form of the sacrament adopted by the new Sect. The punishment for the re-baptiser was impri sonment and banishment, for the re-baptized a heavy pecuniary fine. The Rath then called together two hundred well-known citizens in order that they might be sworn in as a kind of special constables, to see to the carrying out of its decisions.
One only refused the oath, and he was at once, with his family, expelled from the town. Thereupon followed the suppression of the Anabaptist com munity in St. The persecution spread rapidly. In August Hochmeister was banished from Schaffhausen. He went, however, to Zurich and u ratted" to the Zwinglian party, receiving his reward in consequence from Zwingli, who gave him an appointment. At the same time Bern also exiled the new teachers.
In December, the town of Waldshut fell into the hands of the Austrian authorities, and there also the new doctrines and practices were suppressed. Hubmeyer, hotly pursued by the soldiers of the Archduke Ferdinand, fled in desperation to Zurich, where he was at once arrested and compelled to hold a public disputation with Zwingli. He was re-arrested, put to the torture, compelled to a triple recan tation in public of the views he had expressed, and after having; sworn an oath at once to o leave and never re-enter Zurich territory, was dismissed.
The persecution throughout the Swiss cantons continued during and It did not, how ever, succeed by any means in entirely stamping out the movement even in Switzerland, while it had the effect of the dispersal of the leading spirits far and wide throughout southern Germany. During , with the exception of Waldshut and a few places on the immediate confines of the Swiss territories, the movement had remained essentially local and Swiss.
But in the spring of , we already see signs of considerable Anabaptist activity in the southern provinces of the empire. Hubmeyer, leaving Zurich in April, repaired to Augsburg and later on to Nicolsburg in Moravia; where he settled down and once more took up the cause of Anabap- tism. The last of the leaders to forsake Switzerland was Blaurock, who, in the beginning of , was flogged through the streets of Zurich, and thrown out at the city gate. He went to sow the seed of the new doctrines in Tyrol. Not alone the leaders, but numbers of the rank and file, whose names are unknown, felt a call to go a-preaching.
Hatzer, after a period of wavering, settled clown in Strasburg, and in the summer of started an industrious propaganda in that city and in the Upper Rhenish districts generally. A former admirer of Thomas Munzer, Hans Hut from Hain in Franconia, was now won over to the new sect and to the doctrine of non-resistance. Hut, possessed alike of eloquence and untiring energy, proved a priceless acquisition to the movement.
At the same time the new elements that came in did not fail in the course of events, as we shall see, to change the character of the propa ganda. The movement, in its inception purely religious, took on an increasingly political colour. The purely voluntary communism in imitation of the supposed institutions of the early Christians, which the Zurich Brethren had instituted among them selves, became more and more raised to the position of a cardinal principle, whilst the non- resistance doctrine, in certain quarters began to fall into the background.
By the end of the new propaganda had done its work. The process of absorption was complete, and the great Anabaptist movement had entered upon its changeful and chequered career.
They brake bread with one another as a sign of oneness and love, helped one another truly with precept, lending, borrowing, giving : taught that all things should be in common and called each other l Brother. They increased so sud denly that the world did fear a tumult for reason of them. Though of this, as I hear, they have in all places been found innocent. As we have seen in the last chapter, after the suppression of the Peasants Revolt, the sect inaugurated by the Spiritual Brethren of Zurich rapidly absorbed all similar sects and tendencies. The process of conversion and absorption, as we shall see later on, at first confined to South Germany, began from the year onward to spread northward along the Valley of the Rhine.
Our task in the present chapter is to indicate the main lines of the tendencies charac terising the movement tendencies which main tained themselves with more or less constancy, but with varying fortune, throughout the course of its career. The Mtin- sterites, for example, seem to have rated the Old Testament higher than the New. We may fairly take the above doctrines given by Bullinger as representing, on the whole, what we may term the common ground of Anabaptism.
There were, however, numerous variations within the body. Bullinger cites in the first place the u Apostolic Baptists. Some of the offshoots of that order, it may be remarked in passing, like other of the earlier mediaeval communist sects, the u Paterines," u The Brothers and Sisters of the Spirit," u the Bohemian Brethren," and many others, anticipate many of the doctrines and tendencies which manifested themselves for the last time in religious form on a great scale in history in the Anabaptists of the 1 6th century.
Their repudiation of all personal property was emphatic ; they preached barefooted and in coarse garments, wherever they went. With a greeting of peace, they would enter a cottage and begin to expound the Bible to the inmates. The effect on their hearers, caused by their words glowing with enthusiasm, was oftentimes startling. It commonly required but a few hours to found a congrega tion. Having baptized a sufficient number of persons to constitute a nucleus, the Anabaptist apostle would take his staff in hand and journey farther to the next village or homestead. A peasant, Hans Ber of Alten-Erlangen, rose from his bed one night and began to put on his clothes.
She entreated him to stay, with the words: u What evil have I done thee? Stay here and help me nourish my little children. God bless thee. I will from hence, that I may learn the will of the Lord. They were obviously no more than the most enthusiastic and energetic members. A similar remark applies to more than one of the subse quent divisions into which Bullinger would par tition the Anabaptist party. II, pp. For a similar instance of the effect of religious exaltation on the mediaeval peasant mind, see German Society" Appendix B, p.
Its immediate occasion was an anti-Jewish campaign of Hubmeyer in his Catholic days. If they saw anyone merry, they would admonish him in the name of the Gospel. After his usual refutation of the particular "errors" in question, Bullinger passes on to his next "sect," which he terms the u Holy and Sinless Baptists.
They carried this point so far as to strike out of the Paternoster the words u forgive us our trespasses. The next of Bullinger s sects, " the Silent Brothers," held that preaching was no longer necessary and should be abolished. Through prayer, they maintain, all evil is to be averted. They claimed to see visions and to dream dreams, and generally to be the direct recipients of divine" revelations.
The Anabaptist Vision (1944)
When under the influence of the Spirit, their countenances were contorted, they made deprecatory gestures, fell on the ground as in a fit, and finally lay stretched out, as though they were dead. When they awoke from their trance, they related wonderful stories of what they had seen in the other world. Some of them alleged having seen Zwingli in hell.
They prefaced their utterances with the words: u The Father hath said it: it is the Father s will! They would rush through the streets, crying : " We proclaim the day of the Lord! They declared all serfdom and villeinage to be abolished, though there were some among them, adds Bullinger. Shame and disgrace must be borne for the sake of Christ, for had not Christ said that the publicans and the harlots should enter first into the kingdom of Heaven, before the righteous, by which was plainly meant that women should become harlots, as, by so doing they would rank in Heaven before those who were deemed by the world to be pious women.
The antinomian doctrine of course came in here, according to which, for the re-baptized, sin was impossible, as no bodily act could affect the soul of the believer. They regarded it also as indifferent, whether faith were confessed or not. If danger threatened, it was admissible to conceal one s faith, for, said they, if one have the truth in one s heart, it suffices before God, and what is proclaimed before men is indifferent. As a consequence it was, they said, useless for men to deliver them selves over to torture and death for the sake of their belief, for God is not made greater by our suffering, neither does he desire our death; nay, nor even that we forsake wife and child.
The corollary was obvious, to wit, that those who were at Rome, should do as Rome does, that the outward forms and observances enjoined by the authority under whose jurisdiction the be liever found himself, should be observed. The chief apostle of this doctrine was one David Georg, of whom we shall hear more later. The tenth u sect" in Bullinger s enumeration is the Hutian Brothers, that is the followers of Johan nes Hut.
The Lord, said he, will show them a proper time, when this work of his shall be accomplished. He and his followers were un tiring in proclaiming the approaching day of the Lord s Vengeance on the powers of this world. In accordance with this view, they took no thought for their property or liveli hood. The Communistic tendency, it need hardly be said, was strongly represented among them. Bullinger s u eleventh sect" is the u Augustin Baptists," taking their name from a preacher named Augustin Heling from Bohemia. Like the Hutians, says Bullinger, "they prefer dreams to the written word of God.
There is, say they, neither saint in Heaven nor godless in Hell, but each will be preserved, till that time, in a certain place, they knew not where. This terminates the series of the various doctrines and tendencies of the Anabaptist party, and of the sections embodying them. The u twelfth sect" of Bullinger, consisting simply in the great Anabaptist movement at Miinster, must be taken as expressing the various tendencies already enumerated, the greater num ber of which may be traced prominently in the course of the history of the Miinster insurrection.
Bullinger s thirteenth and concluding sect has nothing specially to do with the Anabaptists, but consists of Michael Servet and those who followed him in his denial of the dogma of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ ; among whom, Bullinger alleges, there were many Anabaptists. This was undoubtedly the case, since the tendency of Anabaptism generally was in the direction of breaking through trammels of all kinds, dogmatic, ceremonial, and ecclesiastical ; but we can hardly regard it as specially distinctive of the Anabaptist movement, since it was common to other reforming sects and does not seem to have been, as in their case, embodied in any definite formula or confession of faith.
We find certain tenden cies running through them all, and it would not be difficult to deduce the divergencies, even when they seem to contradict one another, from the fundamental positions of the Inner Light as the last court of appeal, from the right of private interpretation of Scripture, from the contempt for all human authority secular or ecclesiastical, and from the claim of the Brethren to be the chosen people separate from the world and under the immediate guidance of God alone.
The second chief contemporary authority on the doctrines and practices of the Anabaptists is Sebastian Franck. He agrees in the main with the account of Bullinger, always taking into consideration the fact that Bullinger was a o bitter opponent of the new sect in all its forms and manifestations. Franck, on the other hand, was less bitter in his hostility, at least to the milder aspects of Anabaptist theory and practice.
Sebastian Franck s account is contained in the chapter of his u Chronik " entitled : u Articles and doctrines of the Anabaptists condemned as heresies by the Pope as well as by diverse other sects. Others again, regarding themselves as saints and elect, form a special community, holding all property in common ; others again, confine themselves to a recognition of the duty of assisting Brethren in want. The Brother in want, however, is sup posed to be unwilling to receive this charity. Austerlitz, in Moravia, they have a common store from which the steward distributes to each that which he needs; but whether the distribu tion be just, Franck says, he has not investigated.
They denounce other Brethren, he says, whom they deem not to be walking in the right path, and this is common with them, since every community among them outlaws other Brethren, who do not subscribe to its views. Other Bap tists " hold the Brotherhood and common holding of goods we have just cited, as of no moment, deeming it needless and presumptuous on the part of those Brethren who give themselves out for perfect Christians and despise others. In this sect every man worketh for himself, and the members do help and question each other, and give their hand in a manner, as seemeth to me, to savour of hypocrisy, albeit I hold no man to blame who doeth such things with sin- o cerity.
At the first they pray for him, but if he be not speedily converted they cast him out. Many of them explain the Scriptures in such wise that to the pure all things are pure. Some will have nothing to do with the heathen; they have rules for fasting, feasting, living, eating, drinking and walking ; also as to clothes, as to how many folds are lawful in an apron. The greater part, he says, hold that the way to salvation is only through suffering and an ascetic life.
He also refers to the Silent Brothers, who do not be lieve in preaching ; the forerunners apparently of the English Quakers of more than a century later. This faculty they claim to have in common with the apostle Paul, who says he was carried into the third heaven. It will be seen that Sebastian Franck confirms in every respect Bullinger s statements with regard to the Anabaptist party.
From both writers it is clear that, as in the case of earlier sects having similar tendencies, such as the Taborites and Bohemian Brethren, there was a thorough-going or extreme, and a moderate or opportunist party. A domestic communism was one of the leading characteristics of the former, as the recognition of the rights of private pro perty up to a certain point, subject to the duty of almsgiving to needy Brethren, was that of the latter.
There was a certain body of the Brethren who, according to Franck, wished to carry their communism into the matter of wives, but, he says, they were soon suppressed by the other Brethren. Hans Hut and Ludwig Hatzer are stated to have held and propagated this view. Whether Franck refers to these same followers of Hut and Hatzer it is difficult to say. Similar doctrines and practices had also obtained among the u Adamites " in Bohemia the century before, as also among the " Brothers and Sisters, of the free Spirit" in the earlier Middle Ages.
The general arrangements of the Anabaptist communities were very simple ; re-baptism was a sign of reception into the Brotherhood of believers. Every community had its superin tendent, who was called Teacher or Shepherd. He was sometimes designated by the original founder of the brotherhood in question, and was sometimes chosen by the body of the members. Special persons were also appointed for looking after the poor, and those Brethren having the gift of oratory were often sent forth to spread the Word as apostles. The function of the Shepherd was teaching, exhortation and prayer.
He also had to perform the ceremony of bread-breaking and to pronounce the sentence of expulsion on recalcitrant members in the name of the com munity. These simple forms were, however, the outward indications. The rules relating to property, which always involved at least the duty of assisting the community alike individually and collectively, were obligatory upon every member. These rules ranged, as we have seen, from a kind of compulsory almsgiving to complete communism. Then there was prohibition of swearing, of the bearing of the sword, of the exer cise of any governmental function, of going to law.
To crown all, in a vast majority of Ana baptist communities, there was the express in junction upon all members to keep separate from the world, to have no part nor lot with the heathen, that is, with non-baptists. All who were without the fold were declared to be an abomination to God. This was carried so far that even the wine-shops and the guild-rooms were for the most part " taboo" to the Brother. The Anabaptists dressed simply in plain home spun, without ornament or trimming of any de scription.
Their sacrament of bread-breaking, which, with the exception of baptism, was their only ceremony, was regarded as symbolical of the renewal of the covenant with God, and the confirmation of brotherly love amongst them selves. This was usually preceded by a public confession of sins and by an exhortation on the part of the Shepherd, who, in extreme cases, would of his own initiative exclude a sinning member from the ceremony. After the bread- breaking followed the sermon with its exhor tation to mutual forbearance and to the regard ing of all things temporal or spiritual as a common possession of the Brethren ; to prayer for enemies, and to the returning of good for evil.
The ceremony of bread-breaking was frequently performed in times of persecution, and almost invariably when any great danger threatened.
From the foregoing it will be seen that the Anabaptists recognized no relation to the State as such. The State, in their opinion, belonged to the realm of darkness with which the Brethren had nothing in common. God as a scourge for true Christians. The Brethren should obey it rather too much than too little, should quietly bear tribulation and persecution, awaiting the day of the Lord, which was fast approaching. Its signs were everywhere apparent, the Gospel everywhere preached and persecution suffered for the name of Christ.
But owing to the want of united organization, to the heterogeneity of the elements which soon became absorbed into the party, to the nature of its fundamental dogmas and other causes, a tendency to rupture early showed itself. The doctrine of non-resistance and obedience to authority was, as already mentioned, by no means everywhere accepted in its literal sense. The question of property-holding was, as may be imagined, a great bone of contention.
That of the right or duty of cohabitation with a hus band or wife as the case might be who was outside the fold, was also hotly debated. In their theology it was the same with the Anabap tists.
Without the infringement of any recognized principle of the body, Johannes Denck could preach the doctrine of the ultimate salvation of the damned and Ludwig Hatzer his denial of the dogma of the divinity of Christ. As we have seen, there were even some communities or congregations who declared all ceremonies, not excepting bap tism and bread-breaking, the central and the only pillars of the Anabaptist cultus, as super fluous. So great, indeed, was the divergence, alike in doctrine and practice, between the diffe rent Anabaptist communities that Franck, with allowable exaggeration, intimates that they had as many different sects as they had shepherds or superintendents, and concludes with the ob servation : u There are many more sects and opinions, which I do not all know and cannot describe, but it seems to me that there are not two to be found who agree with each other on all points.
The communities frequently changed alike in member ship as in shepherds. The numerous peripatetic preachers or apo stles would in many cases enter a village or marketplace, a workshop or the public room of a hostelry, preach to all who would hear, found a congregation or community, few or many, as the case might be, baptize, u break bread," possibly appoint a shepherd or superintendent from among the more zealous of their converts, and after a few hours pass on their way to repeat the same process in the next town or village.
The communities thus left to themselves naturally developed various tendencies in accordance with the character of the leading spirit among them. The success of the itinerant missionaries of course pre-supposecl a soil well prepared to receive the seed, often sown in a very per functory fashion.
The doctrines they had to offer, belonged to the atmosphere of the time. Compare the remarks made on religious and political propaganda in the Middle Ages in u Ger man Society" pp. Kessler in his " Sabbata" a chronicle of the events between and , devotes considerable space to interesting details concerning the pro gress of the Anabaptists, especially in his native territory.
Gallen and Appenzell. His account may fairly be taken as typically illustrative of the nature of the new movement, and the effects produced by its doc trines on overwrought or unhinged temperaments so common in that period of religious excitement and exaltation. Ernst Goetsinger, St. Gallen, Gallen, who had previously preached against infant baptism, by chance met Konrad Grebel on a journey to Schaffhausen, and under the latter s instructions accepted the new doctrines with such enthusiasm that he was not satisfied with having a bowl of water emptied over his head in the usual fashion, but insisted upon undressing and upon his whole body being ducked in the Rhine by Grebel.
This was the origin of baptism by immersion. On his return home he boasted of revelations received, with the result of creating amongst various townspeople a violent curiosity to hear him. Day and place were fixed: the day, the ictli of March-, the place, the Weavers guild-room on the market place of St. A large number were assembled, when Wolimann,"entering, began his discourse with the declaration that the heavenly Father had revealed to him that he should not preach His Word in the churches, for, said he, "there is no truth preached, neither may the truth be preached there.
This, says Kessler, was the first split in the Evangelical Church of St. Gallen and the beginning of Anabaptism in that region. A few days later, Konrad Grebel, who, as we know, had been banished from Zurich in January, and had been for several weeks past proselytizing the northern territories of Switzerland, arrived himself in St. The followers of Wolimann, and indeed all those who were disaffected towards the official Protestantism, streamed out at the city gate on the Sunday, which happened to be Palm Sunday, to meet the famous sectary, which they did in a village hard by.
Many were there and then re-baptized. Grebel was then taken to the Weavers guild-room. The weavers were well to the fore in this movement as in other previous similar movements. Grebel held forth on infant baptism and the Bible. The St. Gallen communist soon began actual preaching in the neighbouring villages and small towns. The Evangelical preachers were denounc ed, and their hearers persuaded to drive them from their parishes. Here, as elsewhere, the great subject of the polemic was infant baptism. They swear not, nay, not even take they the civic oath to any authority; and should one of them transgress in this, he will be banished by them, for there is a daily purging of members among them.
They proclaim more insistently justification by works than even the Papists. Yet their numbers daily increased. Of the exterior circumstances of the Anabaptist Church of St. Gallen we have, however, spoken in the last chapter. We are here only concerned with the details of the inner life of the movement preserved for us by Kessler, as illustrating its character generally.
It is related how one of the new sect, a peasant, hailing from the village of Zollikon, near Zurich, appeared, demanding that all books should be burned as vain and pernicious products of mere human learning This he attempted to carry out; many persons bringing him their literary chattels to increase his bonfire. This same peasant, Hans Fessler by name, once rose up in the church at Zurich as Zwingli was preach ing, and shouted : u Zwingli, I adjure thee by the living God that thou dost declare the truth. One of the Zurich Brethren preached the new gospel far and wide in the Appenzell territory with the gloss of his own that as they would follow Christ they must obey his injunction that they were to become as little children, if they wished to possess the Kingdom of Heaven.
Accordingly many persons, especially women, began to conduct themselves as though they were children, aping childish ways, jumping up, clapping their hands, sitting down naked on the ground, letting themselves be washed like child ren, throwing apples at each other, stringing fir-cones on a piece of thread, and the better they succeeded in acting the part of children the more closely they believed themselves to be following Christ s word. The New Testament should be received in the spirit and not in the letter, said they.
Some of them even went so far as to throw their Bibles into the fire, saying that " the letter killeth, but the spirit maketh alive," and that u God would write his law in their hearts. For the same reason they refused to pray, saying that God would give them what was right without their asking. They neither greeted anyone nor answered a greeting, but went about in silence. Kessler goes on to relate cases of violent religious mania as occurring amongst the Ana baptists.
Margeretha Hattinger of Zollikon near Zurich, declaring that she was God, began to utter meaningless sounds. A native of St. After lying for two or three hours unconscious, one of them declared that she had heard God s living voice. This woman, with others, subsequently entered houses and workrooms, calling upon all to meet outside the town at a given place. Here the woman, Frena Bumenin by name, announced that she was destined to give birth to the Anti christ, and thereupon proceeded to divest herself of her clothing, and finally stood naked before the assembled crowd.
In the night she rushed forth, notwithstanding that it was mid-winter, with frost and snow on the ground, and plunged into the neighbouring brook. At last she was arrested and brought back into the town, shrieking continuously the while that the day of the Lord was at hand. The burgermeister and council having in vain endeavoured to persuade her to go home to Appenzell, her native place, she was imprisoned in a building just outside the town- walls.
Here her conduct was so outrageous that the worthy Kessler prefers to omit any mention thereof, in order "not to trouble the Spirit of the Christian reader. Many of these peasants destroyed their own property or cast it out of the door of their homesteads, saying that God would care for them. The whole territory seems to have been infected with an epidemic of mania. Women would rush without their clothes to the meetings of the Brethren, and only after some time become conscious that they were naked.
The suppression of the public assemblies only led to meetings being held by night in the home steads. The seizures, the fallings on the ground and ravings, repeated themselves again and again. One of those thus afflicted told Kessler that the convulsions, in most cases, occurred against the will of the patient, many children of tender years being also seized.
A certain man, Thomas Schugger by name, set up as a prophet, and after many extraordinary doings ended by persuading his brother Leonhardt to let him bind him. The following night Leon hardt declared to Thomas that it was the Lord s will that he should cut off his Leonhardt s head, which he did the next morning. Afterwards, covered only with a shirt, he rushed into the houses of certain eminent citizens. This did not prevent certain of his followers from continuing to represent the crime as inspired by Gocl. Kessler relates that many went from the extreme of simplicity in clothing to that of costliness.
He makes also startling statements as to the sensuality practised by the sectaries on the plea that their souls were dead to the flesh and that all that the flesh did was by the will of God. He relates that two young women were arrested and confessed to having prostituted themselves under the mantle of the Gospel. They appear to have recanted, but were never theless condemned to carry a large stone on a pole from gate to gate round the town to the Rathhaus.
It must not be supposed, however, although religious abberation, interspersed with cases of actual insanity and even acute mania, was undoubtedly common throughout the whole Ana baptist movement, that this represented the teaching and practices of the great mass of the Brethren. Gallen at some length, as that of a contemporary and in many cases an eye-witness.
It is especially interesting as such, but it must of course be remembered that, though his account may in the main be true, Kessler is a hostile witness. Even he him self admits that the original heads of the move ment, such as Konrad Grebel and Felix Manz, repudiated entirely much of the teaching and practice that had been grafted on to their doc trine. The Anabaptist theory, notwithstanding that it always had the tendency from first to last, like all similar movements, to run on oc casion into this class of excess, producing in susceptible subjects religious mania, moved, as a whole, within the limits of the general religious consciousness of the age, and represent ed a genuine attempt to carry out logically, principles of the Gospel-teaching and the idea of a return to a supposed primitive Christianity, common, more or less, at least theologically to all the leaders of the reformation.
It was thus pre-eminently a class-movement closely interwoven with the material conditions affecting vast sections of the population in that period of the closing Middle Ages. Like its immediate precursor, the movement which gave rise to the great Peasants War of , it appeared in a mediaeval garb ; but, as before said, the tenden cies, which in earlier periods of the Middle Ages had been sporadic and transitory, now became general and showed symptoms of ac quiring permanency.
The common characteristics of the network of Anabaptist communities or congregations, which between and spread themselves over the Germanic populations of the Continent, from Bern in the south to Amsterdam in the north, from Strasburg in the west to Vienna in the east, will be sufficiently apparent to the reader from the foregoing pages.
It will be readily seen from them that a centralised orga nization in the true sense of the word never existed. At most we find a loose federation between the communities of a district. The twenty- five propositions, enumerated by Bullinger, as constituting the common basis of the Anabap tist doctrine, were doubtless accepted by the vast majority of the religious communities of the Anabaptists. But, as Bullinger himself shows, there were not wanting individual leaders and even entire communities of the Brethren who dissented from many even of the tenets that were in general regarded as fundamental.
In fine, though the general tendencies of Anabap- tism were unmistakable, the specific doctrines held by its adherents presented many marked variations. AT first the attitude of the authorities towards the new sect was somewhat hesitating. It was expected, of course, that they should accept the refutations of the pastors and masters who were appointed for the purpose of refuting them.
When, as might have been supposed, the disputants having failed to come to an understanding, the Ana baptists would not repent and acknowledge themselves as beaten, resort had to be taken to other measures. Gallen, Basel and Bern, besides Zurich, tried the persuasive method of disputation without any tangible results.
The inevitable change to persecution followed. The Archduke Ferdinand of Austria issued on August 26th, , an Imperial mandate con demning Anabaptism and threatening the fol lowers of such doctrine with the punishment of death. On October i6th of the same year, he had more than two thousand copies of this mandate printed and distributed over the dif ferent provinces of the Empire. The Catholic territories and cities were, as might have been expected, the first to adopt extreme courses.
They were stimulated by another Imperial man date of January 4th, , reminding them that, according alike to the Spiritual and temporal law, re-baptism was punishable with death, and exhorting the authorities throughout the Empire to proceed with rigour in accordance with the legal provisions in the matter. Not that the heads of the official Reformation yielded one whit to the Catholics in the ill-will they bore the new comers, but the idea of starting a persecution on their own account by virtue of their local authority was as yet not quite familiar to them.
Hence a certain hesitancy and reluctance to leave the path of persuasion and argument. Various lights of the official protestantism were entrusted or entrusted themselves with the mission of controversially destroying the leading positions of the Anabap tists. In the discourses and literature that resulted, the to us unimportant but at that time essential question of re-baptism occupied the foremost place. But with all the disputation, spoken and written on the subject, little impression was made.
Martin Butzer of Strasburg, clever theological logic- chopper as he was, was forced to admit that, during four years almost exclusively devoted to this class of activity, he could only boast of one convert. The re membrance of the Peasants War and the part played in it by similar doctrines, doctrines now embraced, moreover, by the very same classes and in some cases even the very persons who had taken part in the great rebellion, naturally strengthened this way of looking at the matter.
In a pamphlet published at the time bearing the title: " Nene Zeitung von den Wiedertaufferen und ihrer sect, neulich erwachsen im Shifte zu Salzburg und an andern enden" etc. A report being spread that the brethren proposed on Christmas Eve, , to massacre all priests and monks, an ex-priest, who was one of their chief preachers, and thirty- two of his hearers were arrested not far from the town by five men-at-arms.
Five more, who confessed their errors, were executed with the sword.