Tag Archives: 16th century

Review: A History of the Anabaptists in Switzerland

Rating: ★★★★

Author:

Henry S. Burrage was an American clergyman who wrote several books about the Civil War, as well as the history of baptism.

Overview:

A History of the Anabaptists in Switzerland (1882) is concise, but researched; informative, but compelling. If you are studying the Reformation as a whole, D’Aubigne is much larger in scope, but this little book by Burrage tops my list of recommendations on Reformation history. He covers in passing:

  • The entry of missionaries into Switzerland (7th c.)
  • Stirrings toward reform (15th c.)
  • Zwingli’s move against indulgences and his sympathizers
  • Luther’s rejection of offered brotherhood
  • Split between Zwingli and the radical reformers (chiefly Grebel and Hubmaier)
  • The move to persecute, execute, or banish those who rejected infant baptism

Theologically, many issues rise to the surface:

  • Infant baptism vs. believers’ baptism
  • State church vs. free church
  • Open communion vs. church discipline
  • Treatment of “heretics”
  • Use of images
  • Abolition of “mass” as an offering
  • Nonresistance theology

The key question to be answered was:

Having separated from the Church of Rome, they naturally asked, what should take its place? (loc. 672)

Here, rather than writing of what I liked about the book, I will set apart some space for historical facts gleaned from this little book.

Key Moments in the History of Baptism:

1. Stirrings Against Corruption

In August 1518, an indulgence seller named Bernard Samson came to Switzerland. Zwingli, quoting Matthew 11:28, called it “the most presumptuous folly” to lay such a burden on Christian people. (loc. 314) Others had preceded him, such as Reuchlin, who instructed Melanchthon, and Wittenbach, who attacked indulgences. (loc. 190-198) Wittenbach believed a new era of Christian learning would dawn.

“In Zurich . . . Zwingli was continually growing in popular favor. . . . Only gradually, however, did Zwingli break with the Church of Rome.” (loc. 390-395)

2. The Reformation Organizes—”Magisterial” & “Radical”

The First Zurich Discussion was held January 29, 1523, in which Zwingli defended himself against rumors of heresy. Only one man defended invocation of the saints, and when the others appealed to sola scriptura, he had little to say. “Zwingli had won an easy and decisive victory.” (loc. 549)

The Second Zurich Discussion was held October 26-28, 1523, after an outbreak against Christian images. Hubmaier, Grebel, and Stumpf appealed against the use of images and the offering of the Mass, but Zwingli took a more moderate course of reform:

“Especially was it an occasion of dissatisfaction with them that the churches in and around Zurich, which had broken away from the grasp of Rome, should thus be made dependent upon the State. ‘It stands ill with the gospel in Zurich,’ wrote Grebel to Vadian, ‘and Zwingli no longer acts a shepherd’s part.’ From this time the reform party was hopelessly divided.”

Stumpf was significant in re-evaluating the meaning of “church.” He said it should be believers only, and he was dismissed by the Zurich Council. (loc. 665)

3. The Magisterial Reformation Works Against the Radical Reformation

Grebel, Reublin, and others were teaching believers’ baptism by March 1524 and in August 1524 a fine was ordered for those who didn’t baptize their children. Hubmaier, after being pressured to resign his pastorate, wrote to the Council:

Divine truth is immortal, and although for a while it may be arrested, scourged, crowned, crucified, and buried, it will, nevertheless, on the third day rise victorious, and rule and triumph forever and ever. (loc. 734)

On January 16, 1525, Grebel wrote, “Christianity will not prosper unless baptism and the Lord’s Supper are brought back to their original purity.” A call was issued to discuss infant baptism on January 17, 1525. On January 18, banishment was ordered for those with unbaptized children. Several leaders, Hetzer and Reublin, left.

Here follows a description of an early Anabaptist conventicle:

After a season of prayer, the Scriptures were read, Grebel and Mantz translating from the original Hebrew and Greek for the benefit of those who were unacquainted with the ancient tongues. The meaning of the sacred Word was then unfolded, under the guidance, as it was believed, of the Holy Spirit. (loc. 895)

Around this time, several preached conversion in the streets of Zurich, using apocalyptic language and shouting “woe to Zurich!”

On March 7, 1526, drowning was ordered for re-baptizers (“Anabaptists”). When Falk and Rieman were arrested in May 1526, “they confessed that they had been baptized, and that, atlhough they knew the penalty was death, they had baptized others, and would do so again.” (loc. 1545)

The above edict was confirmed November 17, 1526, and Mantz was drowned on January 5, 1527.

It was soon found that persecution increased rather than diminished the membership of the Anabaptists Churches. (loc. 1642)

4. Leaders in the Radical Reformation & Their Practices

A key figure in believers’ baptism was Conrad Grebel. Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock on January 21, 1525—the first adult baptism of the Reformation. Conrad Grebel also baptized Wolfgang Ullmann in the Rhine—the first adult baptism by immersion of the Protestant Reformation. (He died of the Plague in 1526.)

Grebel also taught non-resistance theology.

“In lonely cottages in the valleys and along the mountain slopes, the people were quietly summoned together. The Bible was read, its divine lessons unfolded, and sinners were urged to flee from the wrath to come. It was a new gospel to thousands . . .” (loc. 987)

Another leading figure Balthasar Hubmaier. Hubmaier was a “Schwertler” (sword-bearing) Anabaptist, as opposed to the total non-resistance theology of others. He chose to write in vernacular German; “the death of the Lord should be preached after any land’s tongue.” Hubmaier was burned at the stake publicly on March 10, 1528, and his wife was also executed. He had endured considerable torture during his imprisonment.

Hubmaier practiced child dedication. (loc. 1023) There is also some mention that children “belong to the Kingdom.”

“For I am wholly of a different view from those who bind the Kingdom of God to the ceremonies and elements of the world.” (Denk, loc. 1712)

Bones:

It almost goes without saying that the writer of this book had a great disdain for the Magisterial Reformation represented by Zwingli, and does not present them in a positive light! In fact, Zwingli defended several Reformation principles—sola scriptura, the Lord’s Supper, etc.—that all Protestants today would consider indispensable.

Read for Free: The Internet Archive (pdf).