Men of conviction, value systems, faith, resilience, and unwavering nature to situation that has a threatening or upheaval nature of death, lay unforgettable history thereby leaving legacies perpetual which serve as roadmaps for posterity to take responsibilities of the same in order to foster such ideologies to lead and to redirect followers to the desire dream in order to accomplish a goal; in reference, the Anabaptists set a stage meaningfully of what it means to believe in God based on values and convictions. In conjunction to explore such Anabaptism, this paper clearly delineates the persecution of the Anabaptists and the methods used for persecuting them.
The emergence of the Anabaptists during the 16th Century Reformation era in Europe resulted into the severity of persecutions by beheading, burning at the stake, and drowning as they refused to adhere to Roman Catholicism and their institution of believer baptism.
The movement was born as the result of ideologies resulted from radical thinking by the leaders who thought that the Reformation initiated by Luther and Zwingli was not going faster and implementing those things that indicated radical reforms. The leaders (Conrad Grebel, Simon Stumpf, Wilhelm Reublin, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock) of the movement broke away from Zwingli who compromised with the dogmas and traditions of Roman Catholicism. The Protestant reformers (Luther and Zwingli), who were looked at to bring about religious liberty and the abolishment of dogmas of Roman Catholicism, compromised and formed a coalition with the Roman Catholic Church to wage persecution against the Anabaptists.
Despite of the persecution, Anabaptism spread with such speed that there was no reason to fear that the majority of the common people would join the movement. Large portions of the population were openly sympathetic toward the Anabaptists. This is the reason in some states; it was hard to execute the bloody decrees against them. According to the “Mennonite Quarterly Review”, Horsch writes.
“In various sections of Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, the evangelical Anabaptist movement easily surpassed inherent strength of the Lutheran and Zwinglian movements in those states whose government accepted the Reformation of the state church type.”
Despite of the inhumane treatment, the Anabaptists did not recant their belief systems and values. They were not in readiness to recant. Anyone will wonder why such people, will God allow their opponents to murder them in cold blood. How would God allow the wicked to prevail against individuals who stood for the truth? If God were good and powerful, how would he allow this kind of inhumane act to be carried
out against the Anabaptists? Such questions are usually raised by ideological humanistic and philosophical minds of humanists and atheists who tend to question God’s characters, being, and sovereignty.
The Anabaptists believed God and they did not give up their struggle against the dogmas of men which were against Biblical lines of scripture. As the result of their beliefs, the God given characters which do not retaliate and give up in the face of provocation or surrender or succumb under trial were at work in these believers. As the result of God’s work in them, the Anabaptists were able to endure much suffering and consequently became people of love, faith, humility, and patient.
One of the things associated with martyrdom is the call to suffer and not many Christians will desire this gift regarding the call to suffer. In my opinion everyone who decided to become an Anabaptist, God graced and empowered them to suffer. This kind of gift to suffer allows individuals to undergo suffering with pleasure and perseverance because God is at work in them glorifying himself through the life of the sufferers. Craig S. Farmer writes.
“For they taught nothing but love, faith, and the need of bearing the cross. They showed themselves humble, patient under much suffering; they broke the bread with one another as an evidence of unity and love. They helped each other faithfully, called each other brothers. They increased so rapidly that the world feared an uprising by them; though, I have learned that this fear had no justification whatsoever. They were persecuted with great tyranny, imprisoned, branded, tortured, and executed by fire, water, and the sword.”
The subjects of Anabaptism were beheaded, burned at the stake, and drowned. It was a capital crime to be an Anabaptist; therefore, those who gave food and shelter to Anabaptists were considered criminals of the states. Every enemy for the Anabaptists had adopted ways to carry out execution. The Catholics had adopted the method to burn them at the stake. The Lutheran and the Zwinglian beheaded and drowned them respectively. Alejandro Zorzin writes.
“Anabaptism was made a capital crime. Prices were set on the heads of Anabaptists. To give them food and shelter was made a crime. In Roman Catholic states even those who recanted were often executed. Generally, however, those who abjured their faith were pardon except in Bavaria, Austria and the Netherlands. The duke of Bavaria, in 1527, gave orders that the imprisoned Anabaptists should be burned at the stake, unless they recanted, in which case they should be beheaded. King Ferdinand I of Austria issued a number of severe decrees against them, the first general mandate being dated August 28, 1527. In Catholic countries, the Anabaptists, as a rule, were executed by burning at the stake, in Lutheran and Zwinglian states generally by beheading and drowning.”
The Anabaptists suffered indeed severity of persecutions that is unimaginable. The Anabaptists persecution went beyond boundaries to the extent that parents who refused to baptize their children off schedule were accused of criminal offense against the state and they
would face the death penalty. Hell was on the rampage against the Anabaptists and their sympathizers. Troy Osborne writes in his article “New Direction in Anabaptist Studies”.
“Emperor Charles V of Germany issued a general mandate against the Anabaptists on January 4, 1528, which was read from the pulpits of all cities, towns, and villages, decreeing that not only those who had recovered baptism but all parents who did not have their children baptized in good time were guilty of criminal offense deserving death.”
This kind of decrees forced parents to baptize their children immediately. This order was the mean of enforcing Roman Catholicism on the people. The protestant Churches
that compromised on this dogma of infant’s baptism were used as weapon against the Anabaptists. Anabaptists were not only executed, but their dwelling places in towns
and cities were burned or raced to the ground. David Earle Anderson writes.
“Not only were the Anabaptists to be executed by fire, but their dwellings also should be burned, unless they were located into towns or cities in which case they should be raced to the ground. In certain provinces their homes were not destroyed but confiscated. Speaking of Northern Germany, Menno Simons relates that in 1546, a small house of four rooms was confiscated because the owner had rented it to Menno and his family.”
In spite of the severe persecution accompanied by systematic executions, thousands of Anabaptists refused to deny their faith in humiliation and atrocities. When all efforts were being
made to kill the movement, but no avail, armed executioners and mounted soldiers were sent to hunt down any Anabaptists and kill them without trial. Gary K Waite writes.
“Thousands sealed their faith with their blood. When all efforts to have the movement proved vain, the authorities resorted to desperate measures. Armed executioners and mounted soldiers were sent in companies through the land to hunt down the Anabaptists and kill them on
the spot without trial or sentence. The old method of pronouncing sentence on each individual dissenter proved inadequate to exterminate the faith.”
The resilience of the Anabaptists during the persecution indicates God’s presence with the people. The persecutors’ intent was to kill the movement; unfortunately, they would not
do so because God ordained it to happen this way. They could not stop this faith because in my opinion God himself had planted the movement before time began. No man is able to stop
something that God had ordained. In the same manner, the more the Anabaptists were killed, the more their number increased. The Anabaptists were ready to die. Denying their faith was a taboo for them. Jeremy Garber writes.
“The court of Alzey, in that province, after having put many to death, was hard to exclaim: What shall I do? The more I kill, the greater becomes their number.”
The Anabaptist faith was detestable to countries where the Catholics, Lutheran and Zwinglian movements were prevalent. Emperors of such countries were used to execute judgment on the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were declared as heretics in these countries that had Catholic influence. Harold S. Bender writes.
“In the first week of Lent, 1528, while Hubmaier was in prison at Kreuzenstein, King Ferdinand of Austria commissioned a company of executioners to root out the Anabaptist faith in the lands. Those who were overtaken in the highway of he fields were killed with the sword; others were dragged out of their houses and hanged on the door posts.”
After this decree, Anabaptist persecution continued in the land especially those places that the opponents had great influence. Craig S. Farmer writes.
“In the province of Swabia, in South Germany, four hundred mounted soldiers were sent out to put to death all Anabaptists whom they could lay hands on. Somewhat later, the number of soldiers so commissioned was increased to eight hundred and then to one thousand. In many provinces, many Anabaptists were put to death.”
The Anabaptists suffered lost and many were killed during the Reformation. Many were burned at the stake, drowned into river, and beheaded. They were slaughtered like animals. They were dehumanized by their enemies. They slaughtered them at Ensisheim and they burned, drowned, and beheaded them at Linz in Austria. Gary K. Waite writes.
“At Ensisheim, “the slaughter house of Alsace,” as it was called; six hundred were killed within a few years. Within six weeks thirty-seven were burned, drowned, or beheaded at Linz in Austria.”
The persecution of the Anabaptists serves as embarrassment to the present day Lutheran Churches. In 2010, the Lutheran World Federation asked for forgiveness. According to the article entitled “Lutheran to Apologize for Anabaptists Persecution”, and I quote.
“The Lutheran World Federation is preparing formally to ask for forgiveness from Anabaptists-Mennonites, Amish and Similar believers-for the 16th century persecution, including torture and killings.”
The emergence of the Anabaptists can not be divorced from the instrumentality of the Zurich Movement led by Ulrich Zwingli when the symptoms for the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther and amplified by John Calvin through his scholastic influence in literature got on the way; meanwhile, the values and conviction of the Anabaptists as they sacrificially exercised their resilient faith and religious tolerance in the face of provocation remains forever in history to affect the emergence of present and future Churches and ministries in Christendom as it relates to religious freedom, values, and belief systems.
Barber, Jeremy. Reading the Anabaptists: Anabaptist Historiography and Luther Blissett’s Q, 1984.
Bender, Harold S. Conrad Grebel: The Founder of Swiss Anabaptism, 1954.
Farmer, Craig S. Reformation-Era Polemics against Anabaptist Oath Refusal, Milligan College: National Endowment, 2007.
Horsch, John. The Persecution of the Evangelical Anabaptists: The Mennonite Quarterly Review, Volume XII, Number One, January, 1934.
Osborne, Troy. New Directions in Anabaptist Studies, January 2007.
Waite, Gary K. Staying Alive: The Method of Survival as Practiced by an Anabaptist Fugitive, David Joris, 1954.
Zorzin, Alejandro. Reformation Publishing and Anabaptist
Propaganda: Two Contrasting Communication Strategies for the Spread of the
Anabaptist Message in the Early Days of the
Swiss Brethren, Oct. 2008.
John Horsch, The Persecution of the Evangelical Anabaptists: The Mennonite Quarterly Review, Volume XII, Number One, January, 1938, 3.
Craig S. Farmer, Reformation-Era Polemics Against Anabaptist Oath Refusal, Milligan College: National Endowment, 2007, 207.
Alejandro Zorzin, Reformation Publishing and Anabaptist Propaganda: Two Contrasting Communication Strategies for the Spread of the Anabaptist Message in the Early Days of he Swiss Brethren, Oct. 2008, 503.
Troy Osborne, New Directions in Anabaptist Studies, January 2007, 43.
Gary K. Waite, Staying Alive: The Method of Survival as Practiced by an Anabaptist Fugitive, David Joris, 1954, 46.
Jeremy Barber, Reading the Anabaptists: Anabaptist Historiography and Luther Blissett’s Q, 1984, 83.
Harold S. Bender, Conrad Grebel, The Founder of Swiss Anabaptism, 1954, 157.