E. Belfort Bax. Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists.

Chapter II.
The Anabaptist Doctrines and Practice.

SEBASTIAN FRANCK in his Chronik (III, fol. 188) observes, respecting the spread of the new movement, “the course of the Anabaptists was so swift, that their doctrines soon overspread the whole land and they obtained much following, baptized thousands and drew many good hearts to them; for they taught, as it seemed, naught but love, faith and endurance, showing themselves in much tribulation patient and humble. 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 ‘Brother.’ They increased so suddenly 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. They are persecuted in many parts with great tyranny, cast into bonds and tormented, with burning, with sword, with fire, with water, and with much imprisonment, so that in few years in many places a multitude of them have been undone, as is reported to the number of two thousand, who in divers places have been killed.” “And,” he adds, “they suffer as martyrs with patience and steadfastness.” This judgment of a contemporary, as to the general impression made by the new party, for by the end of the second decade of the century it had attained dimensions which entitled it to be called so, is amply confirmed from other sources.

As we have seen in the last chapter, after the suppression of the Peasants Revolt, the sect inaugurated by the Spiritual Brethren of Zürich 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 1527 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 characterising the movement — tendencies which maintained themselves with more or less constancy, but with varying fortune, throughout the’ course of its career.

Heinrich Bullinger in his book against the Anabaptists, (“Der Wiedertaüferen Ursprung, Furgang, Secten, Wesen,” etc., pp.17-55), the first edition of which was published in 1531, and the second in 1560, enumerates thirteen distinct sects, as he terms them within the Anabaptist body. The general tenets of the organization he gives in the form of twenty-five propositions, which may be summarized as follows: — They regard themselves as the true Church of Christ well pleasing to God; they believe that by rebaptism a man is received into the Church; they refuse to hold intercourse with other Churches or to recognize their ministers; they say that the preachings of these are different from their works, that no man is the better for their preaching, that their ministers follow not the teaching of Paul, that they take payment from their benifices, but do not work by their hands; that the Sacraments are improperly served, and that every man who feels the call, has the right to preach; they maintain that the literal text of the Scriptures shall be accepted without comment or the additions of theologians; they protest against the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone; they maintain that true Christian love makes it inconsistent for any Christian to be rich, but that among the Brethren all things should be in common, or at least all available for the assistance of needy Brethren and for the common Cause; the preachers of the official Reformation, they maintain, mix up the Old Testament with the New, unmindful of the fact that for the Christian the New Testament has superseded and abolished the Old;[1] they declare it untrue, as the Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers allege, that the soul flies from the body straight to heaven, for it sleeps until the Last Day; they maintain that the preachers rely too much on the secular arm ; that the attitude of the Christian towards authority should be that of submission and endurance only; that no Christian ought to take office of any kind; that secular authority has no concern with religious belief; that the Christian resists no evil; and therefore needs no law-courts nor should ever make use of the tribunals; that Christians do not kill or punish with imprisonment or the sword, but only with exclusion from the body of believers; that no man should be compelled by force to believe, nor should any be slain on account of his faith; that Christians do not resist, and hence, do not go to war; that Christians may not swear; that all oaths are sinful; that infant baptism is of the Pope and the Devil; that rebaptism, or, better, adult-baptism, is the only true Christian baptism; that the Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers make no distinction of persons, allowing sinners, as well as others, to receive the Sacrament, which should be reserved for the elect, that is, for such as by being re-baptized are received into the community of the saints.

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 “Apostolic Baptists.” These, he says, “wander through the land without staff, shoe, satchel or money, glorifying their heavenly call to the office of preacher.” “They wash each other’s feet,” Franck tells us, “saying that they would become as the true children.” They literally followed the precept that he who would be a disciple must leave house and home, wife and child. Here we have plainly, as Bullinger himself remarks, an after-glow of the tendencies which three centuries earlier called the friars into being, and notably the Franciscans.

Some of the offshoots of that order, it may be remarked in passing, like other of the earlier mediaeval communist sects, the “Paterines,” “The Brothers and Sisters of the Spirit,” “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 16th 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 congregation. 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.

Out of many we quote one instance of how the sudden sense of a call to preach would sometimes affect these new converts. A peasant, Hans Ber of Alten-Erlangen, rose from his bed one night and began to put on his clothes. “Whither goest thou?” asked his wife. “I know not, God knoweth,” was his answer. She entreated him to stay, with the words: “What evil have I done thee? Stay here and help me nourish my little children.” “Dear wife,” he replied, “harry me not with the things of time. God bless thee. I will from hence, that I may learn the will of the Lord."[2]

Bullinger is clearly wrong in reckoning the “Apostolic Baptists,” as he terms them, as representing any special section of the body. They were obviously no more than the most enthusiastic and energetic members. A similar remark applies to more than one of the subsequent divisions into which Bullinger would partition the Anabaptist party.

The next of Bullinger’s so-called Anabaptist sects he terms the “Separate Spiritual Baptists.” These, he says, carry their aloofness from the world to the extent that, like a new order of monks, they regulate their clothes alike as to their form and size, they reject all costly clothing, they make also rules as to eating, drinking, sleeping, resting, standing and walking. 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 “Holy and Sinless Baptists.” Their special distinction consisted in the dogma that the elect could not sin. They carried this point so far as to strike out of the Paternoster the words “forgive us our trespasses.” They appear to have held a kind of antinomian doctrine, which has often appeared in the history, of theologico-ethical speculation, to the effect that the baptized believer might do what he liked, since, if he sinned, it effected the body alone, with which his soul had no more to do than with any of the other things of this world.

The next of Bullinger’s sects, “the Silent Brothers,” held that preaching was no longer necessary and should be abolished. “This is the time,” said they, “of which the apostle Paul speaketh when he saith: ‘there is a time to be silent.'” “Accordingly,” says Bullinger, “if any man should ask them aught of religion, they would be silent and give him no answer.”

The next “sect” designated by Bullinger is the “Praying Baptists,” who, he says, do nothing else but pray. Through prayer, they maintain, all evil is to be averted.

What Bullinger calls the seventh “sect” (really the sixth according to his enumeration) are the “Ecstatic Brothers,” also called “enthusiasti” and “ecstatici,” who, he says, were very numerous in the early stages of the movement. They claimed to see visions and to dream dreams, and generally to be the direct recipients of divine revelations. 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. Amongst other admonitions was, of course, always the assurance that re-baptism alone was pleasing to God, but infant baptism a service of the devil, and that none that were not re-baptized could enter the kingdom of God. Some of them alleged having seen Zwingli in hell. They prefaced their utterances with the words: “The Father hath said it: it is the Father’s will!” They all agreed in declaring that the Day of the Lord was at hand, some of them venturing even to give the date and the hour of the Last Judgment. They would rush through the streets, crying: “We proclaim the day of the Lord!”

We next come to the “Free Brothers,” called by Bullinger the eighth “sect.” They took the idea of Christian freedom in its literal sense, holding it as unchristian to pay tithes or interest or even the principal of debts. They declared all serfdom and villeinage to be abolished, though there were some among them, adds Bullinger, “who, to be more modest, thought that, although not justifiable or obligatory in itself, yet that one should observe these things toward the heathen, to the end that they might have no ground or cause for blaspheming the Word.” All were agreed, however, that amongst Christians villeinage had ceased to exist. Among these Free Brethren, according to Bullinger, there were those who persuaded credulous women that it was impossible for them to be saved without sacrificing their virtue, for, said they, the Lord hath said, that only he who was willing to lose all he held dear might enter the kingdom of Heaven. 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. “For the women did sin in having intercourse with their husbands, who were still heathens, but they did not sin when having intercourse with ‘brethren’, because in that case there was a spiritual bond between them. “Those who held these views, however, were called by many of their co-religionists wild brothers.”

Bullinger’s ninth order of the Anabaptists consists of another sort of Free Brothers, who preached that all outward forms were to the believer indifferent; public worship, preaching, sacraments were all of no effect, and for those who were saved, so much useless lumber. 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 themselves 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 believer found himself, should be observed. The chief apostle of this doctrine was one David Georg, of whom we shall hear more later.

The tenth “sect” in Bullinger’s enumeration is the Hutian Brothers, that is the followers of Johannes Hut. Johannes Hut soon abandoned the original non-resistance doctrine of the Anabaptists, in favor of the theory, that they, as the living representatives of the Chosen People; were commissioned like the Israelites of old to root out the heathen that then ruled the world, as the Israelites had once destroyed the godless Canaanites. The Lord, said he, will show them a proper time, when this work of his shall be accomplished. He and his followers were untiring 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 livelihood. The Communistic tendency, it need hardly be said, was strongly represented among them.

Bullinger’s “eleventh sect” is the “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.” They hold that Heaven remains closed till the Day of Judgment. 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. At the last day of judgment, however, they will be severally relegated to their own place. This terminates the series of the various doctrines and tendencies of the Anabaptist party, and of the sections embodying them.

The “twelfth sect” of Bullinger, consisting simply in the great Anabaptist movement at Münster, must be taken as expressing the various tendencies already enumerated, the greater number of which may be traced prominently in the course of the history of the Münster 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.

It will be observed that many of these divisions, as given by Bullinger, overlap each other in more ways than, one. We find certain tendencies 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 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. This, as the reader will have already seen, was in the last resort simply a recrudescence over a wider area, and on an extended scale, of tendencies and even actual doctrines, that we meet with springing up in different places and at different times throughout the Middle Ages, and which were increasing in intensity and in frequency from the beginning of the last half of the 15th century onwards till the great upheaval known as the Reformation.

Sebastian Franck’s account is contained in the chapter of his “Chronik” entitled: “Articles and doctrines of the Anabaptists condemned as heresies by the Pope as well as by diverse other sects.” Franck does not adopt Bullinger’s classification of the various Anabaptist sects; but his account, in substance, tallies almost down to the minutest detail with that of Bullinger. Some, he says, recognizing re-baptism as essential, will not acknowledge anyone as brother who has not been re-baptized. 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 supposed to be unwilling to receive this charity. “But there is in this matter,” says Franck, “much hypocrisy, faithlessness and lying, as they themselves are well aware.” In some places as in Austerlitz, in Moravia, they have a common store from which the steward distributes to each that which he needs; but whether the distribution 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 Baptists, “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 sincerity.” God hath stopped the ears of him, they say, who doth not answer “yea” to all their doctrines. At the first they pray for him, but if he be not speedily converted they cast him out. Some, says Franck, will not make merry on the Sunday because they hold it a feast-day and ordination of Antichrist, while others again do not object to the customary spending of Sunday, but keep it for the love of man, and deny that the Scripture says that they should separate themselves in this way from the rest of the world. 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. They quote Romans XII: “Ye shall not conform to this world, for friendship with the world is enmity with God.”

Franck goes on to notice other sects (treated of by Bullinger), as his so-called Apostolic Baptists, who aim at practising Scripture literally, washing each other’s feet, and journeying about from place to place preaching, etc.; and the Free Baptists, who maintain that, being saved, they can commit no evil, etc. 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 believe in preaching; the forerunners apparently of the English Quakers of more than a century later. He also speaks of those who go into ecstacies and trances, and who, on recovering, prophesy and profess to have been translated into another world. 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 property 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 Hätzer are stated to have held and propagated this view. We have already seen what Bullinger has to say as to the views on sexual matters of certain of the Brethren. Whether Franck refers to these same followers of Hut and Hätzer it is difficult to say. Similar doctrines and practices had also obtained among the “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 superintendent, 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 community. These simple forms were, however, the outward indications. Behind the meetings of the community for Bible reading and mutual exhortation, behind the breaking of bread, the Anabaptist “Sacrament,” were duties and obligations and a general regulation of life on the basis of the common principles, a regulation enforced by the moral influence of the community upon each member. 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 exercise of any governmental function, of going to law. To crown all, in a vast majority of Anabaptist communities, there was the express injunction 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 homespun, without ornament or trimming of any description. They called each other “brother” and sister,” and employed as their greeting the words “Peace be with thee,” accompanied by the holy kiss.

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 themselves. 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 exhortation to mutual forbearance and to the regarding 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. It was only designed by 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. The fig tree was blooming, they said, the summer was nigh and the Kingdom of God at hand (Cornelius, “Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs,” II, pp.8-51).

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 husband 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 Anabaptists. They were not bound together by any formal theological confession of faith. 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 Hätzer 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 baptism and bread-breaking, the central and the only pillars of the Anabaptist cultus, as superfluous. So great, indeed, was the divergence, alike in doctrine and practice, between the different 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 observation: “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 Anabaptist Church or party was, owing to the conditions of the time, kept in a continual state of flux as regards its constituents. The communities frequently changed alike in membership as in shepherds. In the most favorable case it was exceedingly difficult to hold any number of different communities together, even imperfectly, while with the rapid spread of the sect anything like cohesion of the body became out of the question.

The numerous peripatetic preachers or apostles 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, “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-supposed a soil well prepared to receive the seed, often sown in a very perfunctory 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 “German Society,” pp.87-91).

Although not so systematic in his attempt to delineate the theories and practices of the Anabaptists as either Bullinger or Franck, we have a third most important and interesting eyewitness of events connected with the movement in Johannes Kessler, a well-known theologian of the time and a native of St. Gallen. Kessler in his “Sabbata,” a chronicle of the events between 1523 and 1539, devotes considerable space to interesting details concerning the progress of the Anabaptists, especially in his native territory.[3]

After describing the origin of Anabaptism in Zürich and its general character, in terms similar to those of Bullinger and Franck, Kessler proceeds to relate incidents in its career in St. 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 doctrines on overwrought or unhinged temperaments so common in that period of religious excitement and exaltation. A certain Wolfgang Wolimann, a citizen of St. 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 10th of March; the place, the Weavers’ guild-room on the marketplace of St. Gallen. 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.” Thereupon a discussion arose, in which it was pointed out that the Apostles were willing to preach the word in the temple and synagogues; that hence there was no reason why Wolimann should not do so; but Wolimann was obdurate and succeeded in convincing a certain number of those present, who, henceforward shunned the churches as the portals of hell, holding their meetings in houses, fields, and woods. 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 Zürich in January, and had been for several weeks past proselytizing the northern territories of Switzerland, arrived himself in St. Gallen. 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. He seems, however, to have been averse to anything like disputation, alleging that those who wished to have converse with him should come to him “naked” as he expressed it, by which he meant with a humble and teachable disposition and not with a desire to dispute.

The St. Gallen communist soon began actual preaching in the neighbouring villages and small towns. The Evangelical preachers were denounced, and their hearers persuaded to drive them from their parishes. Here, as elsewhere, the great subject of the polemic was infant baptism. “Because,” says Kessler, “they are themselves unlearned, they despise all learning, proclaiming that revelation and the inner light come only to the simple and ignorant.” At the same time he admits that their “walk and conversation are throughout pious, holy, and blameless.” They avoided costly apparel; despising luxurious eating and drinking, clothed themselves with rough cloth, covering their heads with slouch hats Their way and their manner were humble. “They carry no weapon, neither sword nor dagger, save it be a broken bread-knife, declaring that the sheep durst not wear the wolf’s clothing. 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. In speech and disputation they are grim and bitter and are withal so stubborn that they are willing to die for that which they maintain. They proclaim more insistently justification by works than even the Papists.” (“Sabbata,” III, p. 232). 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 Zürich, 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 Zürich as Zwingli was preaching, and shouted: “Zwingli, I adjure thee by the living God that thou dost declare the truth.” Zwingli at first took no notice, going on with his discourse; but as Fessler continued the disturbance Zwingli finally answered: “So then I will declare the truth unto thee, that thou art a rude, ill-bred tumultuous peasant.” This seemed to be regarded by the congregation as a distinct score of Zwingli, and, according to our author, the conduct of the interrupter did harm to the cause in Zürich.

One of the Zürich 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 children, 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. Women cut their hair off round their ears like men, holding it for vanity and foolishness to plait their tresses, “but,” observes Kessler, “there was more vanity displayed, and more needless labor given in the endeavour to hold the ends together behind the ears with silk ribbons than though they had worn their hair like other women.”

Other prophets arose among the Brethren, emphasizing various points or starting new interpretations. 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 “God would write his law in their hearts.” Thereupon they would sit still, declaring that men had no free will, but that God worked everything in them, and that they would wait till God spoke to them. 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 Anabaptists. Margeretha Hattinger of Zollikon near Zürich, declaring that she was God, began to utter meaningless sounds. A native of St. Gallen, Magdalena Müller by name, declared that she was Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Two companions of hers also became infected, falling on the ground and raving. 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 Antichrist, 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 townwalls. 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.” On being liberated, she roamed through the Appenzell territories, joining herself to the already excited peasants who came in her way. 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 homesteads. 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 Leonhardt 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. He was arrested and executed eight days subsequently outside the walls. This did not prevent certain of his followers from continuing to represent the crime as inspired by God.

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 nevertheless 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 Anabaptist movement, that this represented the teaching and practices of the great mass of the Brethren.

We have given the substance of Johannes Kessler’s account of the Anabaptists in northern Switzerland and especially in St. 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 himself admits that the original heads of the movement, such as Konrad Grebel and Felix Manz, repudiated entirely much of the teaching and practice that had been grafted on to their doctrine. The Anabaptist theory, notwithstanding that it always had the tendency from first to last, like all similar movements, to run on occasion 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 represented 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 a movement constituted in the main of, the disinherited classes of the time, the peasants, the poorer handicraftsmen and the journeymen of the towns, to whose oppressed position, economically and politically, it powerfully appealed. 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 1525, it appeared in a mediaeval garb; but, as before said, the tendencies, which in earlier periods of the Middle Ages had been sporadic and transitory, now became general and showed symptoms of acquiring permanency.

The common characteristics of the network of Anabaptist communities or congregations, which between 1525 and 1530 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 organization in the true sense of the word never existed. At most we find a loose federation between the communities of a district. The only real bond uniting these widely-spread fraternities, with the possible exception of their characteristic ceremonies of adult baptism and bread-breaking, was rather a common sentiment and intellectual tendency than any hard-and-fast system of dogma or ritual. The twenty-five propositions, enumerated by Bullinger, as constituting the common basis of the Anabaptist 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 Anabaptism were unmistakable, the specific doctrines held by its adherents presented many marked variations.

1. This doctrine was certainly not universal. The Münsterites, for example, seem to have rated the Old Testament higher than the New.

2. Cornelius, “Geschichte des Müinsterischen aufruhrs,” II, pp, 48, 49. For a similar instance of the effect of religious exaltation on the mediaeval peasant mind, see “German Society,” Appendix B, p. 270. Its immediate occasion was an anti-Jewish campaign of Hubmeyer in his Catholic days.

3. We here quote from the edition of the “Sabbata” edited by Dr. Ernst Goetsinger, St. Gallen, 1870. The facts relating to the Anabaptists referred to in the text will be found in Book III, pp.225-305.