Karl Kautsky

Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation

Chapter 5
The Anabaptists

I. The Anabaptists before the Peasant War

At the period of the German Reformation one centre of the communist movement lay in Saxony. Another existed in Switzerland – that peculiar conglomeration of peasant and urban republics, which had concentrated themselves round the central mass of the Alps for united defence against their common enemies.

They had completely freed themselves from the German Empire, and had succeeded in setting limits to Papal spoliation.

This new and independent commonwealth, however, had not at that time become a unified state. Almost the only bond of union between its constituent parts was the knowledge that each, by itself, was powerless against its princely neighbours. But with this common interest, there existed others of an antagonistic nature between the rustic, primitive cantons, where economics were behind the age, and the rich cities which were far advanced in that respect.

This antagonism was manifested clearly during the Reformation, in which movement the primitive cantons had no interest. Papal exploitation, already materially diminished in the confederation, pressed lightly, as a rule, on these poor districts. On the other hand, they had every reason for remaining on a good footing with the Catholic Powers (France, Milan, Venice, the Pope, and the Hapsburgs), as these were the chief consumers of the only valuable commodity which the peasants and petty nobility of Switzerland could at that time bring into the market, namely, their warlike sons. Reislaufen, or mercenary service, was the chief source of revenue for the country folk, especially in the mountain cantons. A union with the Reformation movement boded a breach with the Catholic Powers, and threatened this source of wealth with exhaustion. Hence the honest country folk had held fast to the faith of their fathers.

The towns were differently situated. Their middle-class citizens had no interest in mercenary war service; on the contrary, they disliked it, as it strengthened the power of their enemies, the nobility, and increased the warlike capacities of the lower classes from whom they derived their wealth. For the Swiss mercenaries were not homeless tatterdemalians, but sons of peasants, who, after the completion of their war service, returned to their native land.

The towns, indeed, had every reason for animosity against the Catholic Powers. Moreover, though Papal exploitation was more restricted in Switzerland than in Germany, that covetous Power held more tenaciously to its rights in the towns than in the poor mountain districts. The antagonism to the Catholic princes (par excellence, the Hapsburgs) was every whit as great as the enmity to the Papacy. The German Reformation was a revolt, not only against the Pope, but in like manner against the Emperor, i.e., the House of Hapsburg, and it was so regarded in Switzerland also.

The House of Hapsburg had long ceased to be the “hereditary enemy” of the primitive Swiss cantons, which were already too firmly established to be threatened by that dynasty; and while having nothing to gain by opposition to it, they had nothing to lose in the way of war-pay and bribe-money. Quite otherwise was it with the cities of North Switzerland bordering on the territories of the Hapsburgs, which, menaced and coveted by that House, were in constant enmity to it. Zurich, in particular, had the liveliest interest in the struggle with that line of monarchs, and was the pioneer of the Reformation in Switzerland; while the primitive cantons made cause with Catholicism, the successors of Tell allying themselves with the Hapsburg Ferdinand.

In Switzerland, as in Germany, the Reformation brought a communistic movement to the surface; but as the circumstances of the confederation were quite different from those of Saxony, the character of the communism in the two countries also differed greatly.

While in Saxony the movement was materially influenced by Taborite tradition, in Switzerland these exercised hardly appreciable power. The movement, however, had for a long time been considerably exposed to the influences of the Waldenses and Beghards; the former coming from Southern France and Northern Italy, and the latter from the Netherlands along the Rhine valley, finally reaching Bâle by way of Cologne and Strassburg.

In contrast to the Taborites, who favoured violent measures, the Waldenses were peacefully inclined. This contrast alone must have resulted in producing other sentiments among the communists of Switzerland than those prevalent in Saxony, as well as different ideas and actions. But the character of a social movement in any country is determined much less by imported doctrines, than by its peculiar social and political circumstances. Saxony was distinguished by its mining industry, especially by its silver mines. While this industry was favourable to the growth of the power of its princes, it also created a strong and defiant proletariat among the miners, living together, as they did, in large masses. It encouraged production for the markets in the agricultural districts, but, at the same time, engendered a thirst for land among the landlords, and intensified to the highest degree all the social antagonisms of that epoch.

It was quite otherwise with Switzerland, where there was no mining industry and hence no warlike proletariat. Agriculture to a large extent was still at a very primitive stage. Land communism was very strong, and there was not the least vestige of absolute princely power. We find rather a collection of peasant and town republics, with a peasant and urban democracy, which, so long as it felt itself weak and menaced, was in sympathy with communism, whose nearest enemy was its enemy also.

All this must have tended to strengthen the peaceable tendencies of the Waldenses and Beghards in Switzerland and to make class antagonisms less acute than in Saxony, where the movement acquired more of a proletarian character. In Münzer’s time there were very few communists in Saxony belonging to the upper classes. This is one of the reasons why Münzer towered to such a height above the nameless masses who supported him and made him feared, but among whom there were no prominent combatants able, by their writings, to hand down their memory and personality to posterity.

It was quite otherwise with the Swiss communists and those influenced by them, who counted numerous men of social prominence and culture in their ranks. It is impossible to keep our glance long fixed on any individual, for we are confused by the brilliant constellation of their interesting and characteristic men of talent. Though the Swiss movement is feebler than the Saxon, and from an historical point of view less important, it is more valuable to literature, and stands on a higher intellectual plane.

We have perhaps said enough as to the generic character of the movement.

Numerous traces of the Waldenses and Beghards are to be found in Switzerland during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; but they are only blood traces; in other words, executions. The sects were chiefly composed of people from the lower classes, such as craftsmen, proletarians, and peasants, who preached communism secretly in hidden confederacies. Together with this proletarian movement however, a sort of salon-communism seems to have been instituted at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

While Zurich was the Wittenberg of the confederation, Bâle played the same role in Switzerland that Erfurt did in Saxony, as it was the headquarters of Swiss Humanism. A circle of free-thinking savants and artists was formed in the town, of which the central figure, after 1513, was Erasmus, the bosom friend of Thomas More. All sorts of novel ideas were discussed in this coterie, including probably many peculiar to the later order of Anabaptists; for among the “erudite men” gathered at that time in Bâle, we find several who subsequently became leaders of that sect. Conrad Grebel, the son of a Zurich patrician, and already “a distinguished defender of the Gospel”, was there in 1521 and 1522; Dr. Balthasar Hubneir, from Waldshut, was in frequent communication with the circle; and among its members were the Swabian Wilhelm Reublin, pastor of St. Albans, Bâle, and Ulrich Hugwald, a Bâle professor, who, as we have seen, had joined Oekolampadius in requesting Münzer to agitate. We also find Ludwig Hatzer, the bookbinder Andreas auf der Stülzen, Simon Stumpf, and others, all of whom were subsequently zealous agitators among the Anabaptists.

We may also mention the significant fact that Thomas More’s Utopia had at that time aroused marked attention in Bâle.

The first edition of this work (which was written in Latin) appeared in Louvain, in the year 1516, under the supervision of More’s friend Erasmus, who was then staying in that town. In 1518 it became necessary to issue a new edition, which came out in Bâle and was produced by the celebrated printer, Froben. We can see from a letter written by Beatus Rhenanus to Pirkheimer [1] how eagerly Utopia was discussed in Bâle.

In 1524 the German translation by Claudius Canticula was also published in Bâle: this was the first translation of the book into any language.

Nothing positive, however, is known about the communistic movement in Bale; and it has hitherto been impossible to remove the veil of obscurity covering the infancy of the Anabaptist order, or rather its connection with the earlier communistic movements. The first clear indication of the new sect appeared in Zurich at the time of Zwingli’s Reformation.

The Lutheran Reformation began with the resistance to one of the most active means of taking money from Germany to Italy – the sale of indulgences. Zwingli’s activity in the direction of reform (first as pastor in Glarus from 1506 to 1516, then as parish-priest in Einsiedlen from 1516 to 1519, and lastly as pastor in Zurich) began with a struggle against the means by which the money of the Papacy was brought into Switzerland, viz., mercenary war service. Luther began as a theologian, Zwingli as a politician, his first attacks being directed, not against Catholic dogmas, but against the neighbouring Valois and Hapsburg dynasties. In 1519, he was still so high in favour with the Vatican, that when he fell ill with the plague, the Papal legate hastened to send him his body-physician. Not until the waves of the German Reformation reached Switzerland, did the conflict in that country with the temporal power of the Pope become one against Catholicism (1522). As soon, however, as the Zurichers had entered this path, they went rapidly forward without encountering any serious obstacles.

Though Zwingli surpassed Luther in perspicuity and consistency, the Zwinglian Reformation movement none the less followed, in one respect, the same direction as the Lutheran. Like the latter, it exerted itself at the beginning to bring about the co-operation of all the classes who were dissatisfied with existing ecclesiastical conditions. In Zwingli’s case, however, as in Luther’s, the united struggle was followed by a rupture. Each of the allied parties and classes sought to profit by the victory in the furtherance of its own interests, and in accordance with its own views. The leader of the movement, the reformer, who had hitherto been supported by all classes, was now forced to decide in favour of one of these in opposition to the others, and thus to turn against a part of his former co-workers. This is a peculiarity of all revolutionary movements which are accomplished by the co-operation of different classes having opposing interests. When the conflict with the ruling Church began in Zurich, the communistic sectarians of that place no longer deemed it necessary to maintain strict secrecy. As early as the spring of 1522, it came to the knowledge of the authorities that an “heretical school” existed in the town; an association in which the bookseller, Andreas auf der Stülzen (who had belonged to the Bâle circle) acted as teacher. This association had not yet been proscribed; on the contrary, we find its members in friendly intercourse with Zwingli.

Late in the autumn of 1522, Conrad Grebel returned from Bâle to Zurich, and immediately joined the “heretical school.” Independent and wealthy from his earliest years, he had studied in Vienna and Paris, acquiring some fame as a savant, but also seriously impairing his health by the excesses of his student life.

On his return to his home in Zurich, he devoted himself with enthusiasm to the cause of the Church movement, and became one of the “Brethren,” though continuing to be on the best of terms with Zwingli.

He was followed by many of his associates in the Bâle circle, to whom Zurich seemed a freer field for their activity. Wilhelm Reublin left his living in Bâle and received one in Wietikon; Simon Stumpf became pastor in Hongg, near Zurich; and Ludwig Hatzer, an erudite young priest from Thurgau, who had also been in Bale, was to be found in Zurich in 1523.

The associates who thus flocked in from abroad were joined by numerous proselytes from the town itself. Among these the most prominent was Felix Manz, a philologian, who with Grebel was soon in the front rank of the “Spirituals”, as the Zurich Brethren were first called.

The community continued to grow, and at length began to feel its strength. Zwingli cast loving glances at it. The chief concern of the association was now to urge him onward along the path of social reform; the effort, however, resulting in a quarrel, which became more and more bitter.

The Brethren demanded the abolition of Church imposts – tributes and tithes; a step which Zwingli himself had openly advocated. But he now grew apprehensive of the league. On the 22nd of June, 1523, the Great Council of the town pronounced emphatically against the idea of attacking the Church tithes; a hint which was apparently not lost on Zwingli, for three days latter he delivered a sermon in the cathedral, in which he sided with the Council. This showed that he intended to sever his connection with the Brethren.

Meanwhile this did not make the Brethren yield. They invited Zwingli to organise the Church in such a way as to make it independent of the State. The answer was the introduction of the State Church in the autumn, and the decision that all Church affairs should in future be referred to the Great Council, i.e., to the governing classes.

This arrangement was a great blow to the “Spirituals”, who had not begun the struggle with the Papal Church merely to place a compliant instrument of power in the hands of the wealthy. The conflict between them and Zwingli now became a bitter one; but while the “Spirituals” fought with words only, Zwingli had the whole power of the State at his disposal, and made abundant use of it. As early as the end of 1523, the Brethren began to be arrested and banished, Simon Stumpf being among the first victims, in December.

The persecution, however, did not overawe the Brethren; it rather increased their zeal, and bound them more closely together. The sect grew rapidly both in the town and country, as the exiles carried their doctrines into the neighbouring cantons, where they soon gained a following. At the same time the Brethren began to dissociate themselves more and more from the mass of the population, and the condemnation of infant baptism gradually came to the fore, as their distinguishing tenet.

Such was the state of affairs in the beginning of the year 1525.



II. The Doctrines of the Anabaptists

Up to the year 1525 the theorists of the Anabaptists had not spoken, their deductions dealing chiefly with the theological confirmation and amplification of their doctrines. The fundamental features of these doctrines were sufficiently evident at the beginning of the Peasant War. This seems the fittest place for explaining them, before proceeding with the account of the external affairs of the sect.

That which most strikes the observer concerning the Anabaptists is the great diversity of opinion prevailing among them. In his Chronica, which appeared in 1531, Franck (who knew and understood them thoroughly and sympathised with them on many points, although sceptically and timorously) says in regard to them: “Although dissensions exist in all sects, yet are the Baptists peculiarly disunited and split up; in so much that I know not what certainly and finally to write about, them.” [2]

Bullinger writes in the same strain in his work against the Anabaptists. “Many hold,” he says, “that it is impossible to give an accurate account of all the distinctions and antagonistic opinions, and pernicious, horrible sects or factions existing among the Anabaptists. In truth, few communities will be found which are unanimous in their views, and have not each its own mystery, i.e., its own fantasy.” For that reason he refrains from attempting to describe all the sects, and limits himself to a recapitulation of their most important tendencies. [3]

Dissensions and divergences of views were not peculiar to the Anabaptists. They are in part due to the same tolerance in matters of faith which had enabled the most diverse sects to dwell together peaceably in Tabor, and in part to the circumstance that the various sects only rarely acquired a stable, recognised organisation. Hence the conception of what an Anabaptist really was remained, perhaps, quite as uncertain as that of a “Nihilist” of today in Russia. Contemporary historians include among them partisans of the most varied modes of thought. On the other hand, it is natural that every revolutionary – and hence critical – movement should maintain a critical attitude, not only towards its opponents, but also towards its adherents. This makes it liable to disruption in its very infancy, and so long as it is feeling its way without firm foothold. The Anabaptists (at least in Germany) never passed beyond this stage.

Bullinger is more minute than Franck in his account of the different factions among the Anabaptists, but also more bitter. We shall confine ourselves to Franck’s narrative, and give a few of its details.

Many of the distinctions given by this author are of a subordinate character, and relate to differences of natural temperament or idiosyncrasy; in which category we may place the various views held in regard to revelations and dreams. Other points deal with certain tactical matters of little import.

But even on weighty questions and first principles there was no perfect unanimity among the Anabaptists.

Foremost of all stood the fundamental question of private proprietorship.

“Some,” says Franck, “regard themselves alone as holy and pure. Holding themselves aloof from others, they have all things in common; no one calls anything his own, and the possession of any property is a sin.

“Others have all things so far in common that they allow no one among them to suffer want. Not that one can seize another’s goods, but that in case of necessity the goods of each belong in common to the sufferer; and no one is allowed to hide anything from another, but must keep open house. While, however, the giver should be ready and willing, the receiver should be unwilling, and, as far as possible, spare his brother, and avoid being a burden to him. But herein there is much hypocrisy, deceit, and lying, as they themselves well know.

“In some places, e.g., at Austerlitz in Moravia, they have Oeconomos, or stewards, and a common kitchen-sack, from which each one is given what he is in want of; but whether this is really so, and the distribution just, I do not inquire. These anathematise other Brethren who do not walk in what they consider the right way; and this often happens, since each community puts a ban upon other brotherhoods who do not subscribe in all things to its tenets ...

“Other Baptists lay no stress on the brotherly feeling and community of goods just mentioned, and esteem it unnecessary and arrogant on the part of the Fraternities which call themselves perfect Christians and despise all else. In this sect each works for himself, and the members help, question each other, and shake hands in a way quite hypocritical (to my thinking), although I lay no blame on those who do these things in sincerity.”

Hence among the Anabaptists, as among the Taborites and Bohemian Brethren, we find two parties: one strict, taking communism seriously, abolishing all private rights in property, and supporting the Brethren from the common “kitchen-sack”; and, at the same time, the more moderate faction which recognised private proprietorship, and only demanded that each should so possess “as if he possessed nothing.” The appearance of these two parties nearly simultaneously is not an accidental, but a typical phenomenon, consequent, by the very nature of things, on the communistic movement, so long as it adhered to the basis of communism in the means of consumption.

The question of marriage is intimately connected with that of private proprietorship.

According to Franck, some taught that no one should live in family life with those of another faith; and many wedlocks were broken up in this way. Others held opposite views.

Some thought it a duty to forsake house and family after the example of the apostles (St. Luke xviii. 28-30), while many preached the contrary.

“There was also a sect among them the members of which wished, together with all things else, to have their wives in common; but they were soon suppressed by the other Brethren of the community, and driven out. Many inculpated Hut and Hätzer as leaders of this sect. If this be true, these men at all events atoned for their sin.”

Ludwig Hätzer of Thurgau is already known to us. Not only was he opposed to the bolder thinkers of his party on questions of marriage, but he was one of those Baptists who denied the divinity of Christ, and maintained that He was only a teacher and example, not an “idol.” We do not know how far his views were shared by others. In 1529 he was put to death at Constance, for adultery.

Hans Hut, of Franconia, was a bookbinder, and a zealous partisan of Münzer (who was himself far from advocating the community of wives). After the suppression of the Peasant Insurrection in Thuringia, he joined the South German Anabaptists.

The tendencies for which he and Hätzer were condemned call to mind those of the Adamites in Bohemia and the Brothers and Sisters of the Free-Spirit; and it is noteworthy that Bullinger speaks of a sect of “Free-Brothers” among the Baptists, who not only in name but in their opinions showed a close kinship with the Brothers of the Free-Spirit. We cannot decisively say whether this similarity rests upon tradition, or whether under the same conditions, but without any connection with their forerunners, like events led to like consequences.

“The Free Brethren,” says Bullinger “(whom nearly all other Baptists call the rude, wild Brothers, and curse and scorn) make the eighth sect of this people. From the very origin of the order they were rather numerous in various localities, especially in the Zurich highlands. The Baptists interpreted Christian freedom in a fleshly sense, wishing to be above all laws, because Christ had made them free. They also imagined themselves exempt from the payment of rents and tithes, and furthermore from the duties of labour. Some of the more discreet, however, teach that although these things are not incumbent as between the Brethren, yet should the heathen be paid, that they may have no cause for complaint, and may not revile the doctrines. Nevertheless serfdom should cease among Christians. Some of these Free Brothers (abandoned dissolute knaves) convinced wanton women that unless these hazarded their honour, it would be impossible for them to be saved. To this end they blasphemously abused the Word of God, which says that he cannot be saved who is not willing to forfeit and lose all that he holds dear. In like manner all ignominy and disgrace must be suffered for Christ’s sake. Because Christ said that publicans and harlots should enter the kingdom of heaven before the righteous, therefore women are to turn harlots, yielding up their honour, and thus be greater in heaven than virtuous wives. Others are more subtle; for they teach that as all things are held in common, so should the wives be also. Some affirm that after they have been rebaptized they are born again, and cannot sin; the flesh alone can and may sin. In this way great scandal and wantonness were caused by many false pretences and lies, since they dared to say concerning all these things, that they were in accordance with God’s will. Certain wanton knaves among them instituted what they called spiritual marriage; wives were told that they committed heinous sin with their husbands if these had not been rebaptized, since in that case they were no better than heathens; but that with Baptists they did not sin, there being a spiritual marriage between them.” [4]

We have, unfortunately, been unable to discover any further contemporaneous information concerning the Free Brethren. Bullinger’s polemical treatise is by no means an unprejudiced source; but in all essential points we may rely upon the accuracy of its representations of the sect, particularly on points in which their doctrines touch upon those of the Brothers and Sisters of the Free-Spirit; namely, their “freelove”, “communistic anarchism”, and their sinlessness based on the assumption that what they did was God’s will.

Though the Anabaptists were no more unanimous in their opinions about government or public authority than in those concerning private property and marriage, they all agreed that they would have as little as possible to do with the Government. They wished to know nothing of it; at the same time they deprecated violent resistance, and preached the duty of suffering obedience.

Franck informs us that they taught the duty of unresisting submission to violence. A Christian should fill no office; “he may not have any kind of servant; neither may he go to war, or clench his fist.” Let vengeance be of God.

Some among them proclaimed that no one should take an oath. “Furthermore no Christian may take an official position in which his duty would oblige him to sit in a criminal court and judge matters of life and death, or concern himself with war.” Others at least tolerated necessary self-defence. “Nevertheless they all with one voice teach obedience to the authorities in things that be not contrary to God’s will; and the giving not only of rent and taxes, but of the cloak with the coat, and all that is not absolutely needful. They also say that they are ready to suffer violence, and even to obey tyrants ... So far as I have discoursed with the latter, they have replied to me that they are here to suffer with patience for Christ’s sake, not to fight with impatience; because the precepts and demands of the gospel were defended and established by suffering and martyrdom, not by violence; as the peasants had it in mind to do.”

Much as they agreed with the Zurich Brethren in other matters, their views on the subject of violence were the main cause of their separation from Münzer and the majority of German communists before the Peasant War.

A letter is still extant which was addressed to Münzer on the 5th of September, 1524, by Grebel, Manz Andreas von der Stülzen, Hans Okenfuss, Heinrich Aberli, and others. They affirm that they are at one with him in many things, and that “you and Karlstadt are esteemed among us as the purest proclaimers and preachers of the purest Word of God.” They rejoice that “we have found one who is of the same Christian understanding as ourselves. We who are poor in spirit have been taught and strengthened beyond measure by your tracts.” But he is not radical enough in his doctrines, and they exhort him “seriously to bestir himself, and preach without fear godly words only; to set up godly usages ... and to reject, hate, and curse all human designs, words, usages, and opinions, and even your own.” They attack his German Mass, which they consider too far removed from apostolic simplicity, and also inveigh against his advocacy of violence. Whosoever will not believe, and struggles against God’s Word “should not be put to death, but be esteemed a heathen and a publican. The gospel and its believers are not to be protected with the sword, nor should the latter so protect themselves; yet this, from what we have gathered from our Brethren, is your opinion. True, believing Christians are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter; they must be baptized in anguish and want, in tribulation and persecution, in suffering and death; by these must they be proved, and obtain the home of everlasting rest, not by physical, but by spiritual strangling. Moreover, they must not make use of the sword of the world, nor of war, as killing is an entirely bygone thing with them.”

We do not know whether Münzer received this letter, nor what reply he gave to it; but soon after its composition we find him on the Swiss frontier in communication with the Swiss Anabaptists. We are limited to conjecture respecting the nature of this intercourse, though the events which transpired after Münzer’s return to Thuringia, lead us to infer that no agreement was arrived at concerning the employment of violent measures.

The question of such measures was a crucial one with the Anabaptists, as it had previously been with the Bohemian Brethren. This is seen from the fact that in spite of their tolerance in other matters, and the existence among them of the. most diverse tendencies, they always protested against Münzer’s being considered one of them. Moreover, that reformer’s partisans held aloof from the Baptists. Franck tells us: “It is said that Münzer still has (1531) a large number of secret followers in Thuringia, who are not Baptists. Furthermore, as far as I have been informed on trustworthy authority, he has not even rebaptized.”

This last circumstance is not in itself any proof that Münzer did not belong to the Baptists. Like these, Münzer publicly declared against infant baptism. In his Protestation he writes: “In the days of the apostles care was taken that the adversary should not mix the tares with the wheat. For that reason adults only were admitted as members of the Church, after long instruction ... Ah! What shall I say? In all the books of the Fathers of the Church from the earliest extant, there is not one single word which discloses or indicates the true mode of baptism. I ask all who are learned in letters to point out to me the place in Holy Writ in which it is asserted that a single child under age was baptized by Christ and His messengers, or which may be adduced in support of infant baptism.”

At the end of January, or beginning of February, 1525, the Zurich Brethren had begun to introduce the practice of rebaptism; at a time when Münzer had probably left to take part in the great revolutionary war, and when that sort of sectarian controversy must have seemed to him trivial and of absolutely no importance.

The idea of rebaptism (or rather late baptism) was not new. It sprang up at a very early date among the Waldenses, and was afterwards especially prominent in the early days of the Bohemian Brethren. Peter Chelcicky was of the opinion that “it were better to baptize adults only, after the manner of the ancient Church, i.e., those who could confirm their faith by their works.” While not wholly repudiating infant baptism, he preferred that the rite should be limited to adults only. When the community of Bohemian Brethren was formed at Lhota in 1407, their first act was rebaptism, which was performed on all who were present; and late baptism maintained itself among the fraternity until the rise of the Anabaptists. At that time the Bohemian Brethren had acquired the character of middle-class people, and did not wish to be confounded with the Anabaptists, who bore the same features as the original followers of Chelcicky. Adult baptism now became a dangerous symbol, and for that reason the dislike to it in the Bohemian sects continued to increase until a synod held at Jungbunzlau in 1534 (the year of the Münster uprising) put a final end to the practice. [5] Hence it was no new principle, the acceptance of which gave the Zurich Brethren their name. In fact the opposition to infant baptism was a logical consequence of the opposition to the State Church.

So long as the Catholic Church in Occidental Christendom was truly Catholic, baptism implied the reception into general society. At that time there was nothing contrary to common sense in infant baptism. It was quite otherwise after the formation of opposing heretical parties, who contested the claim of the Catholic Church, that it comprised the whole of society. When other ecclesiastical organisations had been instituted, the demand was naturally advanced that each individual should not be involuntarily apportioned to a designated Church through the accident of birth, but remain free to decide until he was able to think for himself.

This conclusion, however, was not arrived at by all the Protestant sects. The Protestantism of the ruling classes consisted merely in the effort to get possession of the Church as a means of government, and to incorporate it in the State. The Church became a part of the State – the State Church; and the Government in those countries to which the Reformation spread determined to what Church – to what “faith” – the citizens of the State should belong. This was afterwards displayed in the most marked manner in monarchical Germany, where the principle was formulated: cuius regio, ejus religio; and where the subjects of a prince were obliged forthwith and uncomplainingly to change their faith, if their sovereign for any reason changed his, or bequeathed, gave, sold, or ceded them to another monarch of a different belief.

In democratic Protestant commonwealths the power of the State Church did not lead to such absurd consequences as in monarchies; but the consequences became apparent sooner, and first of all in Zurich, where, as we have seen, Zwingli had introduced the State Church in 1523. The baptism of adults was incompatible, however, with the inauguration of a National Church. As every individual belonged by birth to a particular country, so in those countries having a State Church, he belonged by birth to a particular confession. Adult baptism implied a denial of State authority; the denial of its right to fix the belief of its native-born citizens. As administrator of the State of Zurich, Zwingli could not recognise late baptism, although earlier, and as long as he was in the opposition he avowed himself to be in favour of the practice.

On the other hand, the Brethren were made to adhere more firmly to the right of adult baptism by the increasing severity of the persecution, and the growing consciousness that they were in the minority and must renounce all hope of getting the government into their hands. They saw that they could vindicate their claims only by separating from the mass of the people and organising themselves into a peculiar community of “saints” and “elect” – two appellations which sound very arrogant, and only show that the Brethren had abandoned the hope of ever constituting the mass of the population.

Thus the question of adult baptism (or as its opponents said, re-baptism) came more and more to the front. It was just as far from being the objective cause of the struggle as was the question of Communion in both kinds among the Hussites. [6] But as was the case with the lay chalice, circumstances caused rebaptism to be the standard round which the Brethren gathered-a token by which they recognised each other, and from which they received the name they have borne in history. [7]



III. The Fortune and Fate of the Anabaptists in Switzerland

The first decisive blow received by the Anabaptists fell upon them before the outbreak of the Peasant War.

Inflamed by their preachers, and especially by Reublin, many parents refused to have their children baptized. In vain did pastors and Councilmen exert themselves to persuade the recalcitrants to yield. On the 18th of January, therefore, the Council issued an order for the compulsory baptism of children, at the same time enacting the punishment of exile to any one transgressing the decree. The execution of the order began three days later, by the banishment of Reublin, Hätzer, Andreas von der Stülzen, together with Brodli, from Graubunden, who acted as preacher in Zollikon, but supported himself by manual labour.

The answer to this blow was fit and bold. An assembly was convened of the Brothers remaining in Zurich, at which Jürg Blaurock, at one time a monk in Chur, rose and asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him with the true Christian baptism. After the ceremony had been performed, Jürg baptized all others present at the meeting. From that time rebaptism, or late baptism, was the recognised symbol of admission to the league of Brethren. An attempt was made to arrive, at the same time, at a practical realisation of communism. [8]

When the Zurich Brethren espoused the doctrine of rebaptism, they did so with the full consciousness of what awaited them.

“The Council caused many to be thrown into prison, among whom were Manz and Blaurock. Interdictions, trials, and punishments followed; then more imprisonments, conferences, and severer punishments. But this people had a spirit which mocked at the theology of Zwingli, and as wind spreads the fire, so did violence spread the name of their Church far and wide.” [9]

In fact the exiles from Zurich soon sowed the seed of their doctrines throughout all German Switzerland, their greatest success being achieved on the German frontier, in Waldshut, Schaffhausen, and St. Galle.

In these and other towns of Switzerland and South Germany, the Zurich Reformation movement met with an active response; and, as in Zurich, there also appeared a radical Anabaptist party, who wished to go beyond the reform of Zwingli, and who were more successful than their coadjutors had been in the capital, where the population was less plebeian in character.

The wholesale expulsions from Zurich at the beginning of the year 1525 helped to stir up the above-mentioned towns. Grebel repaired to Schaffhausen; Brodli began to preach at Hallau, in the vicinity of the same town; and Reublin finally went to Waldshut. In Schaffhausen the new doctrines made but slow progress; but Hallau was soon won over, as well as Waldshut, where the leader of the movement was Dr.Balthasar Hubmeier, who, as we know, had had dealings with the Bâle circle.

This man merits a somewhat closer view. Born in Friedberg, near Augsburg, in 1480, he had devoted himself to a scholastic career; and had been made professor in the University of Ingolstadt, of which he was appointed Pro-Rector in 1515. He passed the following year at Regensburg, where he was preacher in the cathedral, and became conspicuous chiefly for his agitation against the Jews, whom the handicraftsmen accused of causing the decay of the town and the crafts. In 1519 the Jews were banished, and soon after Hubmeier also left. What drove him away we do not know; perhaps his participation in the Reformation movement. He betook himself to Waldshut, which was at that time in the possession of the Hapsburgs, and there he soon acquired an important influence as a preacher, especially among the common people. This influence was increased when, owing to the impulse given to the movement in Waldshut by the Zurich Reformation, a democratic agitation began against the ruling dynasty. This agitation, which finally led to the insurrection of the town against the Hapsburgs on the eve of the Peasant War, was headed by Hubmeier, whose role was the same as that played in Zurich by Zwingli, with whom he was in constant communication.

As we have already remarked, the success of this movement was coincident with the prosperity of the Anabaptists in Waldshut.

When Zwingli took up the cudgels against the Brethren, Hubmeier was forced to a decision. In Waldshut the common people had more power than in Zurich, and were in closer proximity to the rebellious peasants of South Germany. Hubmeier separated himself from Zwingli, and with his community went over to the Baptists, with whom he had previously been in sympathy, and was on many points in accord. When Reublin came to Waldshut, Hubmeier was baptized by him (Easter, 1525). More than three hundred citizens followed his example, and with Hubmeier the town was soon won over to the cause. This rebellious city became “a rock of the Baptist Church; a centre whence revival preachers and missions were dispatched in all directions” (Cornelius).

A rapid increase took place simultaneously in the St. Galle community, and all Appenzell was soon roused to excitement.

Manz carried the Baptist doctrines to Graubünden; others spread them in Bâle and Berne; while in the canton of Zurich itself the agitation did not stagnate, in spite of all the measures taken by the authorities. For a long time it was particularly successful in the highlands of the Grüningen.

These great successes would have been impossible without the Peasant War, which stirred up the people of Switzerland and Southern Germany. But when this great war was at an end; when the rebellious German peasantry lay in the dust, bleeding from a thousand wounds, the position of things in the confederacy was altered for the Baptists. The lower classes now grew faint-hearted and despairing, while the rulers became more arrogant, their thirst for blood fired by the famous example of their German neighbours. In the second half of the year 1525 the persecution of the Anabaptists became general throughout Switzerland, and all the more bitter and cruel in proportion to the increase of danger threatening from the communistic sectarians, under the aegis of the Peasant War.

As early as the beginning of June the Council of St. Galle was roused from its lethargy and decreed the prohibition of rebaptism. Burgesses were forced to swear unconditional obedience to the authorities, under penalty of banishment from the town. In July Manz was arrested by the Council of Chur and handed over to Zurich, while in August the Council of Schaffhausen gained the mastery over the Anabaptists. October saw the arrest of Grebel and Blaurock, and in November Berne enacted the penalty of banishment on the advocates of Anabaptism. Finally Waldshut, the rock of the Anabaptists, fell into the hands of the Austrian Government without resort to arms, and Hubmeier, to whom all other loopholes of escape were closed, fled to Zurich, where he was seized and imprisoned.

This year, which during its first half had been so full of brilliant success for the Anabaptists, ended in the complete overthrow and dispersion of the entire league.

Most of them fled to Germany, e.g., Rueblin, Hatzer, and Blaurock.

Others repented and renounced their errors, among whom the best known was Hubmeier. After he had recanted and sworn never again to enter the canton of Zurich, he was mercifully set free (April, 1526). “Nevertheless,” mourns Bullinger, “however reasonable and right-minded the simple erring folk were made by this act of Dr. Balthasar, there were many Baptists who neither by this nor by any other means could be induced to better themselves.” [10]

The authorities pursued them with corporal punishments of increased severity. As early as March 7, 1526, the Council of Zurich had decreed that all who obstinately adhered to the Anabaptist cause “should be laid in the tower, kept on bread and water, and left to die and rot,” women and maidens as well. Moreover, it threatened with rigorous punishment all who might shelter an Anabaptist or supply him with food and drink. Finally, the death penalty was ordained for those who should relapse, the first to suffer being Felix Manz. He was drowned on the 5th of January, and his property confiscated.

Persecution however did not succeed in suppressing the doctrine of Anabaptism in Switzerland; and indeed no communistic sect has hitherto being annihilated by violent measures. But circumstances no longer favoured the sect, and hence, after the overthrow of the German peasants, the communistic movement in the Swiss confederacy was soon forced back to the level at which it stood before the beginning of the Reformation, viz., that of a secret league, boding no danger to the governing classes but in the highest degree dangerous to its members – a league whose existence was made known only by occasional law proceedings and executions. As far as publicity was concerned, the movement had vanished.



IV. The Anabaptists in South Germany

It would be natural to presume that the suppression of the Peasant insurrection, producing, as it did, so violent a reaction against the Baptists in neighbouring countries, must have made any success of that order in Germany itself quite impossible. But while this view would accord with the circumstances of a modern, centralised government, it does not take into account the feudal, local separatism so strong in the German Empire at that time. If this separatism increased the difficulty of combining all the revolutionary or rebellious parties into one common movement, it also diminished the energy of the reactionary blow, which did not fall on all these classes simultaneously or with equal force.

The majority of the large free cities of the Empire had confronted the Peasant insurrection with great coolness. Not only did the higher classes of burgesses – the patricians – stand in a position of enmity to the peasants, but the middle and lower classes of the urban population – the town democracy – entertained only a lukewarm sympathy for the rural population; a lukewarmness which was often not far removed from aversion.

But as the democracy of the large towns had refrained from strengthening with their power the insurrection of the peasantry, they were not affected – or at least directly affected – by the overthrow of that insurrection. The democracy of most of the imperial cities of south Germany was unbroken after the Peasant War. But at that period an acute character was given to the conflicts between this democracy and the urban aristocracy on the one hand, and, on the other, between the whole body of the urban population and the princely powers who were aspiring to the rule and exploitation of the towns – conflicts which indeed never wholly ceased in those centuries.

The mass of the population in the Imperial cities had welcomed Luther’s resistance to the Pope with joy, and given it their support, their enthusiasm, however, diminished in proportion to Luther’s increasing lukewarmness towards the democracy.

At the same time that Luther began to sever himself from the democracy, there arose in Zurich a form of Church Reformation which quite coincided with the interests of the urban guild-democracy. It soon excited the attention of the Imperial towns of South Germany, where it gained a footing; without, however, at the outset, placing itself in opposition to Lutheranism. But the two parties were bound to come into antagonism as soon as Luther and his followers declared themselves against the democracy. And thus the epoch of the Peasant War precisely indicates the period of the beginning of the great struggle between Luther and Zwingli; seemingly only a conflict over a word; a battle to decide whether Christ said: “This” (the bread) “is my body,” or “This signifies my body”; but in reality a battle between middle-class democratic reformation and princely reformation, fought out with theological arguments, but concerning very mundane matters.

All Germany had been full of the struggle since 1525, but it was carried on most eagerly in the South German Imperial cities of Strassburg, Ulm, Constance, Lindau, Meinningen, Augsburg, &c. As had already been the case under similar conditions, the communists were the tertius gaudens. By their conflict with the Wittenberg pope, they now acquired room and light for a freer development, just as they had previously done, by their struggle with the Roman Pope. The adherents of Zwingli in South Germany were in a position to use the Anabaptists as a tool against the Lutherans; hence they tolerated that sect during the years immediately following 1525, Zwingli himself, now their persecutor in Zurich, having, indeed, very recently favoured them.

South Germany became the asylum of political refugees from the free republic, who went there in large numbers and rapidly gained many adherents. Their peaceable intentions, which repudiated all resort to violence, exactly harmonised with the universal frame of mind among the lower classes after the suppression of the Peasant rebellion. Some who had previously been partisans of Münzer, went over to them; e.g., Hans Hut, the bookbinder, and Melchoir Rinck. Rinck was at one time schoolmaster at Hersfeld, and afterwards pastor at Eckartshaufen in the jurisdiction of Eisenach. He had, moreover, fought at Frankenhausen, but, more fortunate than Münzer, escaped with his life.

The subsequent increase among the order of the Anabaptists in Germany was so rapid that it was thought by many in that country that the order had, generally speaking, come into existence either during or after the Peasant War. The Baptists themselves encouraged this view, hoping thereby to refute the accusation that they had plotted that insurrection, as was firmly asserted by their opponents. In support of their denial they could appeal to the fact that the adoption of rebaptism as a symbol of the Brotherhood, their outspoken severance from the Zwinglian Church, and their constitution as a separate religious community took place no earlier than the beginning of the year 1525.

Sebastian Franck accepts this representation, exerting himself most zealously to prove that they were in nowise rebelliously inclined.

At all events, Franck’s view is nearer the truth than the one still more widely disseminated and adopted by Bullinger – that Münzer was the founder of the Baptist sect. Bullinger had, it is true, seen the beginnings of Anabaptism in Zurich, but the Zurich pastor must have been desirous of shifting the birthplace of the inconvenient order from the home of Zwinglianism to that of Lutheranism.

The headquarters of the Baptist order in South Germany were Augsburg and Strassburg, two weaver towns in which Beghardism was very strong.

Another centre was Nurenberg, where we know Münzer found many congenial spirits, although the patrician element was too strong to admit of a successful popular movement at that time.

At the end of the year 1524 (perhaps immediately after Münzer’s arrival in the town) a number of “heretics” were thrown into prison at Nurenberg, among whom were Dürer’s pupil, Jorg Penz, and Hans Denck, who had been appointed Rector of the school at Sebald, on the recommendation of Oekolampadius at Bâle.

The chief personages among the accused were exiled, including Denck, who went to Switzerland, where the cause of the Brethren was beginning to be highly prosperous. At the commencement of the year 1525 we find him as proofreader in a printing establishment at St. Galle; but the autumn of the same year saw him once more at Augsburg in Germany. In this town the enmity between Lutheranism and Zwinglianism was beginning to show itself in its acutest form; there the battle fought at that time between the two parties raged at its fiercest, and consequently the Baptists came under conditions which were most favourable to them.

The community grew rapidly. According to Urbanus Rhegius it already numbered 1,100 members in 1527. This increase is chiefly ascribed to the agency of Denck, “who, with his vagabonds (wandering agitators), wished to establish his new Baptist order, and hid himself in a corner, where he secretly poured out his poison,” over this Urbanus Rhegius laments in a pamphlet against Denck. [11]

Denck was certainly much favoured by circumstances in Augsburg; but a large part of the success he attained must be attributed to his zeal and intelligence. He and Hubmeier stood in the front rank of the vanguard of the Brethren. Peter Gynoraus, who lived in Augsburg in 1526, speaks of him as the “head of the Anabaptists.” Bucer calls him the “pope”; and in a letter to Zwingli of December 2, 1527, Halter calls him the “Apollo of the Anabaptists”.

As an able man of erudition and a philosopher, Denck directed his activity above all to divesting the Baptist doctrines of all that was material or “fleshly,” and to making them more “spiritual.” He was one of the foremost representatives of the more moderate (or perhaps more practical and placable) party among the Anabaptists, who chafed under the burden not only of the strict enforcement of the principle of community in goods, but of complete passivity towards the Government. It is true that the antagonism between the two parties did not attain to its full development in Germany; it first reached its climax in Moravia, where the community found more elbow-room, and could better allow itself the luxury of internal quarrels. But a new practical party in opposition to the old Zurich faction was beginning already to be conspicuous in Germany and especially in Augsburg, where the Brotherhood was exceedingly prosperous, and where also it included among its members representatives of the higher classes: of whom we may mention Eitelhans Langenmantel, “a burgess belonging to one of the first families in Augsburg.” [12]

As was the case with the Bohemian Brethren, the larger part of the educated members of the Anabaptist community belonged to the moderate party. Next to Denck, the most prominent of these was Hubmeier, who, it is true, deserted the sect in Zurich, but again joined it as soon as he knew that the walls of Zurich were behind him.

Meanwhile there were men of education on the other side, e.g., Eitelhans Langenmantel, who, if the Short Discourse on the True Community is justly ascribed to him, made cause with the stricter form of communism.

The most determined advocate of the rigorous party was the bookbinder and accountant, Hans Hut, who, as we have seen, had been through the Münzer school, and was accused of being a member of the “Community of Wives in Common”.

Denck and Hut had already encountered each other at the second Augsburg Congress of the Brethren

Augsburg was so important a place that the two primary synods of the Baptists were held there. Among those who took part in the first of these, convened in the spring of 1526, were Hans Denck, Hans Hut, Ludwig Hätzer, and Balthasar Hubmeier. This Congress sanctioned the introduction of late Baptism into Germany, the practice having hitherto been confined to Switzerland.

Greater importance, however, attaches to the second Congress in August, 1527, which was attended by more than sixty delegates from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Its chief task was the organisation of the propaganda work, the sending of “apostles” into different districts, and perhaps also the settling of the programme, or “Confession”.

“ Unfortunately,” says Keller, who is our authority with regard to these two Congresses, “we are not in possession of the protocols of the resolutions passed by this assembly. It is certain, however, that after long debate (in which a difference arose between Denck and Hut) the delegates unanimously embodied their resolutions; and it was Denck’s propositions which carried the day.” [13]

Together with the delegates to these two Congresses from the South Germany of that period, we meet with some from Austria, to which country Anabaptism had also penetrated; first of all to the parts of Tyrol bordering on Switzerland and the neighbouring mountain regions.

Tyrol at that time played a much more important part in economics and politics than she does to-day. In that province and in the district bordering on its eastern frontier, the mining industry was more highly developed than in any other land with the exception of Saxony and Bohemia. It could boast not only of rich iron and copper ores and salt deposits, but also of numerous veins of gold and silver. The large output of these mines must have contributed to the intensification of indigenous social antagonisms, though this effect was less evident in its mountainous regions than in those of Saxony. The chief cause of this difference lay in the inaccessibility of the country and the isolation and sterility of its lonely valleys. The inhabitants of the side valleys were untouched by the influence of the few commercial routes traversing the lofty mountain passes. Their wants remained those of olden times, and the ways and means of satisfying them had not changed. No prospect of gained allured the merchant into their pathless wilds, and the peasant produced no surplus for barter.

The wealth produced by the mining population, especially in the gold and silver mines, contributed but slightly to the encouragement of manufacture, for the chief shareholders of the mines of Tyrol were non-Tyrolese, the most important being the Fuggers and Hochstetters of Augsburg. Moreover, Spaniards also were among those who worked the Tyrolese mines. Even the share that fell to the sovereigns of the land, the Hapsburgs, did not remain in the country, but was scattered abroad in support of their foreign policy, going into the pockets of mercenaries from Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Spain, and enriching the ministers of various Courts whom it was necessary to bribe, as well as the German Electors and their officials.

Hence in Tyrol, though some districts were highly developed in economics, we find others which were very backward. The old constitution of the Markgenossenschaft still prevailed to a very great extent, and there was but little exploitation of peasants – at least north of the Brenner. The climax of class-antagonism was reached only in the towns and mining localities and their environs.

Hence when the waves of the Peasant War of 1525 beat upon the Tyrol and Salzburg Alps and created a stir among the population of those districts, it was not the peasants but the miners who stood at the head of the insurrection. [14]

The military strength of the miners then became evident, and proved how dangerous the uprising in Thuringia might have been if the miners of that province had thrown themselves heartily into it. The rebellions of 1525 in Northern Tyrol and the Salzburg district were the only ones which were not suppressed by military force. They were conquered by moral means, i.e., by broken promises and by utilising the narrow spirit of local separatism, exhibited quite as plainly among the Salzburg miners as among the Mansfelders. A few of the more dangerous uprisings were subdued by the reform of some all too flagrant abuses, and a free hand was thus obtained for dealing with the other insurgents. After these had been defeated and time gained for the massing of troops, it became possible to subdue those districts which had remained unconquered.

Subjugated and depressed, yet without having suffered military defeat, the lower classes of Tyrol were every whit as discontented and ill-disposed after the Peasant War as those of South Germany, though not so disheartened.

This was the frame of mind in which they were found by the Anabaptist preachers from Switzerland and Bavaria, to whom it soon became clear that Tyrol offered a fertile soil for the growth of their doctrines.

The Baptist sect achieved its greatest success in the mining districts. Before the Peasant War these localities had gladly embraced Lutheranism, which in the countries of the Catholic Hapsburgs had borne the character of direct enmity to the ruling powers. “In addition to the clergy, laymen, and even miners, clerks of Court, students and others had the audacity to preach the new Gospels ... Enthusiasm for the new doctrines sprang up in all directions, the nucleus of the adversaries of the ancient Church being the Brotherhood at Schwaz, with its numerous adherents from the mining population.” [15]

The year 1525 saw the beginning of the alienation of the democratic classes from Luther’s doctrine, which had emerged from its chrysalis as an enemy to their order; and, as soon as the doctrines of the Baptists became known to them, these classes eagerly went over to that sect.

As early as 1526 there were reports of certain “Brethren” in the valley of the Inn, among whom was Pilgrim Marbeck, a judge in the Court of Mines in the mining district of Rattenburg. In 1527, other centres of Anabaptism had been formed in Schwaz, Kitzbichel, Sterzing, Klauzen, &c., where the miners were the most zealous partisans of the Fraternity. [16]

It may be incidentally mentioned that the number of weavers among the Tyrolese Baptists was surprisingly large; but there was no lack of members from other labouring classes, and they even had a few adherents belonging to the nobility.

The number of Baptists in Tyrol increased with extraordinary rapidity in the years immediately following the Peasant War, as it also did in the towns of South Germany.

But the period of unrestricted propagation in all these districts was extremely short; for hardly had the sect begun to get a noticeable following when the municipal and State authorities united in instituting a persecution against it. It was of no avail to the Baptists that even on the admission of their enemies) they led a submissive and peaceable life, and repudiated all tumults; these doctrines would, it was asserted, inevitably lead to a revolution. We find this argument used in a pamphlet against them written in the year 1528. (Ein kurzer Unterricht) [17] “It is true,” the writer says, “that the Anabaptists enjoin obedience to the authorities; but this is only an artifice. They have devised their devilish doctrines for the sole purpose of making themselves great and powerful, and as soon as this object is attained they will set themselves up against the authorities and pursue their vile wantonness. He who teaches that all things are in common, has naught else in his mind than to excite the subjects against the rulers ordained by God, the poor against the rich, and to cause discontent and tumult.”

This argument must have met with cordial support from the ruling classes at the end of the third decade of the sixteenth century, when the remembrance of the Peasant War was still fresh. An additional cause for opposition to the Anabaptists lay in the fact that they threatened danger, not to the small villages, but to the rich and powerful cities; and finally it must not be overlooked that, in spite of their peaceableness a large contingent of the Anabaptists, and especially the proletarian adherents of Hut, could not conceal a vein of strongly rebellious sentiment. It is true that they all denounced every attempt at an armed insurrection as foolish and sinful; nevertheless many of them were convinced that the fall of the governing class was at hand, though they no longer relied on an internal uprising for the realisation of their wishes, but put their trust in a foreign war.

Even Hut built his hopes on the impending invasion of the Turks, which he proclaimed would result in the destruction of the Empire. While this was in progress the associates were to keep hidden, but show themselves as soon as the Turks had done their part in the work to be accomplished. He even went so far as to give an exact date for the beginning of the millennium, viz., Whitsuntide, 1528.

This was no chimera. The Turks really were approaching. The Sultan Suleiman came in 1529 instead of 1528; but though he succeeded in seizing Hungary he did not penetrate so far as Germany. He was driven back before the walls of Vienna, to the affliction not only of the zealous Anabaptists, but also of the more energetic among the Emperor’s princely opponents, especially Landgrave Philip of Hesse, so much extolled by patriotic historians.

The communists, therefore, were not the only “traitors to their country”.

The sympathy for the Turks shown by a section of the Anabaptists did not make public sentiment more favourable to them, above all in countries under the sway of the Emperor.

Persecution of the Anabaptists was the chief after-effect of the Peasant War; for it had aroused the thirst for blood and revenge among the ruling classes quite as much as it had terrorised them, and after its close they looked upon every sympathiser with the lower classes, however submissive and peaceable he might be, as a deadly enemy, who could not be too bitterly resisted or too cruelly punished.

Protestants and Catholics emulated each other in their persecution of the unfortunate sect. “The greatest amount of blood flowed in Catholic countries,” writes Cornelius (Münsterischen Aufruhr, ii. p.57). “In Germany the Protestants surpassed even the Catholics in rigorous and bloody persecution,” says Beck (Die Geschichtsbücher der Wiedertäufer, xviii.). Neither of the two parties, indeed, could boast of gaining the advantage in this respect.

Though in the year 1526 the persecution of the Baptists was limited to a few isolated cases, it increased in rigour with the accession of adherents to the sect. The year 1527 saw many executions of the. Brethren, but the universal, cruel chase really began in the following year, with an Imperial mandate of the 4th of January, which imposed the death penalty on all who espoused Anabaptism. This mandate was ratified by the Reichstag of Speir in 1529 – the one at which the evangelical party protested against every act of intolerance directed against them, and thus led to their being called “Protestants.”

In pursuance of the sixth clause in the decree of this Reichstag, the Baptists were to be killed like wild beasts as soon as captured, without the sentence of a judge, and even without judicial inquiry!

This decree did not remain a dead letter; indeed certain States added to its severity while carrying it out.

“Some,” writes one of the chroniclers of the Anabaptists, “were racked and drawn asunder; others burnt to ashes and dust; some roasted on pillars, torn with red-hot pincers or locked in together and burnt. Others were hanged on trees, beheaded with the sword, or thrown into the water. Many were gagged so that they could not speak, and in this manner led to their death.

“They were led to the slaughter and the shambles like sheep and lambs. Some either starved or rotted in darksome prisons; very many, before they were killed, being tormented with all sorts of torture. Some who were deemed too young for execution were whipped with rods, and many lay for years in dungeons and prisons. Numbers had holes burnt in their cheeks, and were then sent away. The remainder, who had escaped from all these things, were hunted from one country and place to another. Like owls and ravens, which dare not fly by day, they were often compelled to dwell in, and hide among rocks and clefts, in wild forests, or in caves and pits. In some places their Scriptural books were interdicted, and in many burnt.”

We may judge of the fury of the persecution from the fact that, with the exception of those who escaped by a natural death, nearly all the prominent Baptists came to a violent end. Among those who avoided this fate were the invalid Conrad Grebel, who died in Graubünden, in the summer of 1526, and Denck, who was carried off by the plague in Bâle at the end of the year 1527.

As has already been mentioned, the first martyr to the cause was Felix Manz; to be followed on May 21, 1527, by the erudite Michel Sattler of Staufen, in Breisgau, who had been a monk, but had joined the Brethren in 1524. He was taken prisoner at Rothenburg on the Neckar, “torn with redhot pincers and afterwards burnt, steadfast in God”. Hans Hut met his fate in Augsburg while attempting to escape from prison; and in 1528 Brödli and Hubmeier suffered a martyr’s death. In 1529 Langenmantel was executed, Blaurock burnt at the stake at Klausen in Tyrol, and Hätzer beheaded at Constance.

All who were sentenced to death met their end steadfastly and courageously; even Hubmeier, who, it is true, had previously exhibited considerable weakness. He was seized at Nikolsburg, in Moravia, in the summer of 1527, and dragged to Vienna, at the instance of Ferdinand (brother to the Emperor Charles), who had been in possession of the power of the Hapsburg House in Germany since 1521, and King of Hungary and Bohemia since 1526. In imitation of his conduct at Zurich in 1525 Hubmeier now sought to save himself by a recantation of his errors; even declaring his willingness to submit to the judgment of a Church Council as regards Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and simultaneously offering his good services to Ferdinand, the persecutor of heretics. In a memorial – his “account” – to the King, of January 3, 1528, after lauding Ferdinand’s well-known clemency, he prays that “Your Majesty would graciously and compassionately pardon me, an imprisoned and afflicted man now lying in a dungeon, in great.sickness, cold, and tribulation; for with God’s help I will so conduct, dispose, and restrain myself that it shall meet with your Royal Majesty’s approval. I promise with exceeding earnestness and diligence to direct the people to devotion, godly fear and obedience, as I have always prevailed upon myself to do.” [18]

But all petitions and promises were in vain. As leader of the Waldshut opposition, Hubmeier had been a rebel to the Hapsburgs, and this was a crime never forgiven by that House.

When Hubmeier saw that his doom was sealed, he took courage, inspired by his brave wife Elizabeth, daughter of a burgess of Reichenau, on Lake Constance, whom he had married at Waldshut in 1524. She exhorted him to be brave, and he perished at the stake in Vienna, steadfast in his faith (1528). Three days afterwards his faithful wife was thrown into the Danube and drowned.

The weakness displayed by Hubmeier was very rare among the Baptists. One is astonished at the firmness and joy with which as a rule they went to their death. The Baptists glory in their heroes quite as much as Christian writers, who point to the noble deaths of the martyrs of primitive Christianity in proof of the sanctity and sublimity of their cause.

All this steadfastness and heroism, however, had but one consequence – viz., the enormous increase of Anabaptist martyrs, who, according to Sebastian Franck, already numbered 2,000 in 1530.

It is commonly asserted that ideas cannot be stamped out by violence. There are many proofs of the truth of this dictum, and it is comforting to all who are persecuted; but in this unqualified form it is not true. Admittedly, an idea itself cannot be annihilated by violence; but by itself alone an idea is a mere shadow, without any effective force. The. strength to which a social ideal attains – and it is only this kind of ideal which is under consideration – is dependent upon the individuals who uphold it – i.e., upon their power in society. If it is possible to annihilate a class which upholds a given idea, then that idea will perish with its advocates.

The sixteenth century belonged to governmental absolutism. Even in the few free cities, the power of the executive authority amongst the lower classes became continuously more unlimited. If absolutism had succeeded in mastering, the opposition of the knights, peasants, and petty burgesses, it could easily have crushed the communistic agitations of a few proletarians and powerless idealists. Anabaptism vanished in South Germany quite as suddenly as it had arisen. Relentless persecution was one of the causes, and indeed the most active cause of its rapid disappearance; but this was aided in no small degree by the circumstance that at the very moment the persecution began the Baptists found, outside of Germany, an asylum to which they flocked in large numbers. This asylum was Moravia – the America of the sixteenth century.




1. Given in my Thomas More und seine Utopie.

2. Chronica, Zeytbuch und bibel von anbegyn biss inn diss gegenwartig, MDCXXXI. jar, Strassburg 1531. Fol.445.

3. Der Widertäuffer Ursprung, furtgang, Sectenwäsen frömemen und gemeine vier leer Artickel etc., Zurich, 1531, p17.

4. Wiedertäufer, fol.32.

5. Gindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, i. pp.36 and 224.

6. Zwingli himself says this in a letter to Vadian of May 28, 1525, in which he designates the conflict with the Baptists as one of the severest he had ever carried on. All previous struggles had been comparatively child’s play. But resistance was necessary, as it was not merely a question concerning baptism, but of insurrection, destruction, and contempt of authority. (Egli, Züricher Wiedertäufer, p.34)

7. “Rebaptists” or “Anabaptists”; from the Greek Ana, a particle containing the idea of repetition. The members of the sect protested against this appellation. They did not baptize twice, but maintained that infant baptism was no real baptism; being, as Hubmeir calls it, only a child-bath. (In a work entitled, Vom Christenlichen Tauff der Gläubigen, 1525.)

8. We have it on the evidence of an eye-witness, Heini Frei (called Gigli), that: “It was thought that all things should be in common and be heaped together; and that what any one lacked and asked for, he should take from the heap, as far as his actual needs demanded. It was also thought that persons of wealth and high family should be gladly admitted, and be induced to join” (Egli, Züricher Wiedertäufer, pp. 24, 97).

9. Cornelius, Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs, ii. pp.29, 30.

10. Der Widertäuffer Urspruug, p.13.

11. Wider den newen Taufforden. Notwendige Warnung an alle christglaubigen durch die Diener des Evangelii zu Augsburg, 1527.

12. Beck, Die Geschichtsbücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich Ungarn, Vienna 1883, p.36.

13. Die Reformation, p.429.

14. This is fully dealt with in my treatise Die Bergarbeiter and der Bauernkrieg, Neue Zeit, 1889, p.508 sqq.

15. Loserth, Der Anabaptismus in Tyrol von seinem Anfängen bis zum Tode Yakob Hutters, Vienna 1892, p.21.

16. Loserth, op. cit., p.37, and many other passages. Compare also Beck, Die Geschichtsbücher der Wiedertäufer, pp.80, 81.

17. The full title runs Ein kurzer vnterricht den Pfarherrn vnd Predigern Inn meïner gnedigen Herrn der Marggrafen zu Brandenburg, &c. Fürstenthumben und Landen hientden in Franken vnd auf dem Gebïrg verordnet, wes sie das volck wider etliche verfürische lere der widertauffer an den Fevertägen auff der Cantzel zum getreulichsten und besten aus Götlicher schrifft vermanen und vnterrichten sollen.

18. Quoted by Loserth in Dr. Balthasar Hubmeier und die Anfänge der Wiedertäufer in Mähren, Brunn 1893, p.180.


Last updated on 23.12.2003