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§ 26. Persecution of the Anabaptists.
We pass now to the measures taken against the separatists. At first Zwingli tried to persuade them in private conferences, but in vain. Then followed a public disputation, which took place by order of the magistracy in the council hall, Jan. 17, 1525. Grebel was opposed to it, but appeared, together with Manz and Reubli. They urged the usual arguments against infant baptism, that infants cannot understand the gospel, cannot repent and exercise faith. Zwingli answered them, and appealed chiefly to circumcision and 1 Cor. 7:14, where Paul speaks of the children of Christian parents as "holy." He afterwards published his views in a book, "On Baptism, Rebaptism, and Infant Baptism" (May 27, 1525). Bullinger, who was present at the disputation, reports that the Anabaptists were unable to refute Zwingli’s arguments and to maintain their ground. Another disputation was held in March, and a third in November, but with no better result. The magistracy decided against them, and issued an order that infants should be baptized as heretofore, and that parents who refuse to have their children baptized should leave the city and canton with their families and goods.
The Anabaptists refused to obey, and ventured on bold demonstrations. They arranged processions, and passed as preachers of repentance, in sackcloth and girdled, through the streets of Zurich, singing, praying, exhorting, abusing the old dragon (Zwingli) and his horns, and exclaiming, "Woe, woe unto Zurich!"141141 Zwingli, Opera, III. 364.
The leaders were arrested and shut up in a room in the Augustinian convent. A commission of ministers and magistrates were sent to them to convert them. Twenty-four professed conversion, and were set free. Fourteen men and seven women were retained and shut up in the Witch Tower, but they made their escape April 5.
Grebel, Manz, and Blaurock were rearrested, and charged with communistic and revolutionary teaching. After some other excesses, the magistracy proceeded to threaten those who stubbornly persisted in their error, with death by drowning. He who dips, shall be dipped,—a cruel irony.
It is not known whether Zwingli really consented to the death sentence, but he certainly did not openly oppose it.142142 Egli (Die Zürcher Wiedertäufer, p. 93) thinks that if he consented, he did it with reluctant heart, not, like Calvin in the case of Servetus, with a strong sense of duty. Keller (Die Reformation, p. 407, note) asserts, on the strength of Hübmaier, that Zwingli preached in 1525 that Anabaptists should be beheaded "according to the imperial laws," but there is no proof of this, and Baur (II. 180) denies it. Comp. the correspondence of Capito with Zwingli on the case of Manz, Opera, VIII. 16, 30, 44. Capito of Strassburg was disturbed by the execution of Manz, who had died so heroically, as reported (mortem obiise magnifice, p. 16); but Zwingli assured him that the magistracy condemned him to death reluctantly and from necessity (quam coacte Senatus judicis partem tandem usurpavit). This is, of course, unsatisfactory. Banishment in this case, as in that of Servetus, would have been severe enough.
Six executions in all took place in Zurich between 1527 and 1532. Manz was the first victim. He was bound, carried to a boat, and thrown into the river Limmat near the lake, Jan. 5, 1527. He praised God that he was about to die for the truth, and prayed with a loud voice, "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!" Bullinger describes his heroic death. Grebel had escaped the same fate by previous death in 1526. The last executions took place March 23, 1532, when Heinrich Karpfis and Hans Herzog were drowned. The foreigners were punished by exile, and met death in Roman Catholic countries. Blaurock was scourged, expelled, and burnt, 1529, at Clausen in the Tyrol. Hätzer, who fell into carnal sins, was beheaded for adultery and bigamy at Constance, Feb. 24, 1529. John Zwick, a Zwinglian, says that "a nobler and more manful death was never seen in Constance." Thomas Blaurer bears a similar testimony.143143 Burrage defends Hätzer against the charges of immorality (p. 200 sqq.) but Keim and Cornelius (II. 59) sustain them. Hübmaier, who had fled from Waldshut to Zurich, December, 1525, was tried before the magistracy, recanted, and was sent out of the country to recant his recantation.144144 Baur, II. 173 sq. Zwingli’s letter to Capito, Jan. 1, 1526, published by Rud. Stähelin, Briefe aus der Reformationszeit (Basel, 1887), p. 20. He labored successfully in Moravia, and was burnt at the stake in Vienna, March 10, 1528. Three days afterwards his faithful wife, whom he had married in Waldshut, was drowned in the Danube.
Other Swiss cantons took the same measures against the Anabaptists as Zurich. In Zug, Lorenz Fürst was drowned, Aug. 17, 1529. In Appenzell, Uliman and others were beheaded, and some women drowned. At Basle, Oecolampadius held several disputations with the Anabaptists, but without effect; whereupon the Council banished them, with the threat that they should be drowned if they returned (Nov. 13, 1530). The Council of Berne adopted the same course.
In Germany and in Austria the Anabaptists fared still worse. The Diet of Speier, in April, 1529, decreed that "every Anabaptist and rebaptized person of either sex be put to death by sword, or fire, or otherwise." The decree was severely carried out, except in Strassburg and the domain of Philip of Hesse, where the heretics were treated more leniently. The most blood was shed in Roman Catholic countries. In Görz the house in which the Anabaptists were assembled for worship was set on fire. "In Tyrol and Görz," says Cornelius,145145 l.c. II. 67 sq. "the number of executions in the year 1531 reached already one thousand; in Ensisheim, six hundred. At Linz seventy-three were killed in six weeks. Duke William of Bavaria, surpassing all others, issued the fearful decree to behead those who recanted, to burn those who refused to recant.... Throughout the greater part of Upper Germany the persecution raged like a wild chase.... The blood of these poor people flowed like water so that they cried to the Lord for help.... But hundreds of them of all ages and both sexes suffered the pangs of torture without a murmur, despised to buy their lives by recantation, and went to the place of execution joyfully and singing psalms."
The blood of martyrs is never shed in vain. The Anabaptist movement was defeated, but not destroyed; it revived among the Mennonites, the Baptists in England and America, and more recently in isolated congregations on the Continent. The questions of the subjects and mode of baptism still divide Baptist and Pedobaptist churches, but the doctrine of the salvation of unbaptized infants is no longer condemned as a heresy; and the principle of religious liberty and separation of Church and State, for which the Swiss and German Anabaptists suffered and died, is making steady progress. Germany and Switzerland have changed their policy, and allow to Baptists, Methodists, and other Dissenters from the state-church that liberty of public worship which was formerly denied them; and the state-churches reap the benefit of being stirred up by them to greater vitality. In England the Baptists are one of the leading bodies of Dissenters, and in the United States the largest denomination next to the Methodists and Roman Catholics.
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