The Anabaptists. E. Belfort Bax


THE present volume, the third of the series, concludes our studies of the social side of the Reformation in Germany. Anabaptism was essentially a German product and did not take root in the Latin countries. But the importance of this great movement in all lands possessing a strong Teutonic clement, not even excluding England, has been little realised by the average historian. The latter has been inclined for the most part to dismiss this tremendous upheaval of the disinherited classes, at the close, of the Middle Ages with a few paragraphs of abuse and often misrepresentation. We may regard Anabaptism as the culminating effort of mediaeval Christian Communism, which saw in the communisation of worldly goods (understanding by this the economic products designed for consumption’ the farthest goal of man’s social existence. The modern notion of the socialisation of the means of production was not as yet thought of; as it was not even conceivably possible at the then stage of economic evolution.

Among, the various authorities on the subject of the Anabaptist movement which have been consulted in the declaration of the present volume may be especially mentioned:

(1) Of first-hand sources, the “Geschichtsbücher der Wiedertaüfer in Oestreich-Ungarn”, edited by Dr. J. Beck; the “Neue Zeitung von den Wiedertaüfererischen Sect”, 1528; various original documents published as an appendix in Cornelius’s Work, in Ludwig Keller’s history, in Bouterwek’s Zur “Litteratur und Geschichtsbücher der Wiedertaüfer” etc; the “Geschichtsquellen des Bisthums Münster”, issued by the “Verein für Vaterlandische Geschichte und Altertumskunde”, especially the volume containing Gresbeck’s account of the Münster Kingdom of God and the confessions of the Münster Anabaptists obtained under torture, etc., also the volumes of Kerssenboick’s “Anabaptistici Furoris Monasterium Inclitam Westphaliae Metropolim Evertentes Historica Narratio,” published in the same series; in addition, of course, to such publications of the Anabaptists themselves as are still obtainable.

(2) Among modern works first and foremost come the two volumes (all that was completed at the time of his death of Cornelius’s “Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs,” a mine of accurate scholarship and careful historical criticism. Keller’s “Geschichte der Wiedertaüfer” is also a valuable compendium of original research, and his “Ein Apostel der Wiedertaüfer,” (a life of Hans Denk; is noteworthy as a sketch of Anabaptist life and manner. Loserth’s works on the subject, especially his “Wiedertaüfer in Mahren’ and his “Balthasar Hubmayer,” are of considerable value to the historian. Kautsky’s account of the Anabaptists contained in the first volume of the “Geschichte der Socialismus” may be mentioned as a striking historical appreciation. As regards older works dealing at second-hand with the history of the Anabaptists, one of’ the most widely read in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when it passed through several editions, was F. Catrou’s “Histoire des Anabaptistes,” published in Paris. A contemporary German medley on the, subject was compiled by various hands and published at Cöthen, in Anhalt. The English “Fanatick History” by Blome, issued in the reign of Charles II. is a polemical essay directed against contemporary Quakers and dissenters generally, and holding up the Münster Kingdom of God as a terrifying example, a policy more than once adopted by theological disputants at that time.

The recent English literature on the Anabaptists is scant, the most important contribution, being perhaps the articles from the pen of Mr. Richard Neath, scattered through the numbers of the “Contemporary Review” between 1890 and 1900.

In the following chapters the writer believes that the subject will be found to be presented in a fairly complete outline.