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The Anabaptist Vision1

  • Harold S. Bender (a1)

Extract

“Judged by the reception it met at the hands of those in power, both in Church and State, equally in Roman Catholic and in Protestant countries, the Anabaptist movement was one of the most tragic in the history of Christianity; but, judged by the principles, which were put into play by the men who bore this reproachful nickname, it must be pronounced one of the most momentous and significant undertakings in man's eventful religious struggle after the truth. It gathered up the gains of earlier movements, it is the spiritual soil out of which all nonconformist sects have sprung, and it is the first plain announcement in modern history of a programme for a new type of Christian society which the modern world, especially in America and England, has been slowly realizing—an absolutely free and independent religious society, and a State in which every man counts as a man, and has his share in shaping both Church and State.”

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2 Jones, Rufus M., Studies in Mystical Religion (London, 1909), 369.

3 The results of this research are best found in: Mennonitisches Lexikon, edited by Christian Hege and Christian Neff (Frankfurt a. M. and Weierhof [Pfalz] Germany, 1913 ff), now at the letter “N”; Correll, Ernst, Das Schweizerische Täufermenonitentum: Ein Soziologischer Bericht (Tübingen, 1925); The Mennonite Quarterly Review (published at Goshen, Indiana, since 1927); Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter (published at Weierhof (Palatinate) since 1936); Smithson, R. J., The Anabaptists, Their Contribution to Our Protestant Hcritage (London, 1935); Horsch, John, Mennonites in Europe (Scottdale, Pa., 1942); Smith, C. Henry, The Story of the Mennonites (Berne, Indiana, 1941); von Muralt, L., Glaube und Lehre der Schweizerischen Wiedertäufer in der Reformationszeit (Zurich, 1938). Cf. also: Pauck, Wilhelm, “The Historiography of the German Reformation During the Past Twenty Years; IV. Research in the History of the Anabaptists,” Church History (12, 1940), IX, 335340; Robert Friedmann, “Conception of the Anabaptists,” Ibid., 341–364; Bender, Harold S., “Recent Progress in Research in Anabaptist History,” Mennonite Quarterly Review (01, 1934), VIII, 317. Only three volumes of the great source publication, Quellen zur Gechichte der Wiedertäufer (Leipzig, 1930, ff.), published by the Verein für Reformationsgeschichte, have yet appeared.

4 Quoted in translation by Horsch, John, Mennonites in Europe, 325, from Bull- inger's Der Wiedertäfferen Ursprung, etc., Zurich, 1560. Bullinger reports these ideas, not in commendation but in condemnation, urging the need of severest persecution against those who hold them. After quoting them he attempts a point by point refutation, closing with the assertion that to put to death Anabaptists is a necessary and commendable service.

5 Horsch, 293, from Frauck's, SebastianChronica, Zeitbuch und Geschichtbibel (Strassburg, 1531.)

6 Bullinger, Heinrieh, Von dem unverschampten fräfel … der selbsgesandten Widertöuffern (Zurich, 1531), folio, 2v.

7 Roth, F., Augsburgs Reformationsgeschichte (Munich, 1901), I, 230.

8 Letter of Zwingli to Vadian, May 28, 1525, Huldreich Zwinglis Sämtliche Werke ed. Egli, , Finsler, , Köhler, , et al. (Leipzig, 1914), VII, 332.

9 The full official text of the decree may be found in Aller des Heiligen Roemischen Reichs gehaltene Reichstage, Abschiede und Satzungen (Mainz, 1666), 210, 211. It is also edited by Keller, Ludwig in Monatshefte der Comenius Gesellschaft (Berlin, 1900), IX, 5557. See the excellent discussion of Anabaptist persecution by Horsch, John in “The Persecution of the Evangelical Anabaptists,” Mennonite Quarterly Review (01, 1938), XII, 326. See also “Die Reichsgesetze über die Wiedertäufer” in Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer, I. Band Herzogtum Württemberg (Leipzig 1930), 1*10*.

10 Geschicht Buch der Hutterischen Brüder, edited by Rudolf Wolkan (Macleod [Alberta] and Vienna, 1923) 142, 181.

11 Ibid., 182–187. The following quotation is composed of extracts selected from this account without regard to the original order, chiefly from 186–7.

12 Gottfried Keller's Werke, ed. by Max Nussberger (Leipzig, n. d.), VI, 309. See Bender, Elizabeth Horseh, “The Portrayal of the Swiss Anabaptists in Gottfried Keller's Ursula,” Mennonite Quarterly Review, 07, 1943, XVII, 136150.

13 In Switzerland, this group was called “Swiss Brethren,” in Austria “Hutterites,” in Holland and North Germany, “Menists.” All these groups seriously objected to the name “Anabaptists” which was a term used to designate a punishable heresy and which after the tragic Münster episode (1534–1535) was a name of odius opprobrium. I use the term here only for custom's sake. The term “Mennonite” came into wider use in the seventeenth century and was applied to all the groups except the Hutterites.

14 Correll, Ernst H., Das Schweizerische Täufermennonitentum (Tübingen, 1925), “Allgemeine historisch-soziologische Kennzeichnung,” 3–10, gives an excellent concise surrey. See particularly 6, footnote 1. See also Kautsky, Karl, Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation (1897). Troeltsch rejected the theory of the socio-economic origin of the Anabaptists.

15 Ritschl, Albrecht, Geschichte des Pietismus (Bonn, 1880). Cf. Friedmann, R., “Conception of the Anabaptists,” Church History (12, 1940), IX, 351.

16 Keller, Ludwig, Die Reformation und die älteren Reformparteien (Leipzig, 1885). Cf. also Friedmann, op. cit., 352.

17 Göbel, Max, Geschichte des Christlichen Lebens, etc. (Coblentz, 1848), I, 134. Ritschl, op. cit., 22, characterizes Göbel's view as follows: “Die Wiedertauferei also soll nach Göbel die gründlichere, entschiedenere, vollständigere Reformation sein, welche als ‘Kind der Reformation’ Lutheres und Zwinglis zu erkennen aber von Luther seit 1522, von Zwingli seit 1524 aufgegeben worden wäre.” Ritschl (op. cit., 7) himself states the Anabaptist position as follows: “Nicht minder haben die Wiedertäufer sich dafür angesehen, dass sie das von Luther und Zwingli begonnene Werk der Wiederherstellung der Kirche zu seinem reehten Ziele führten.”

18 Horsch, op. cit., 298.

19 Letter of Conrad Grebel to Müntzer, Thomas, 09. 5, 1524, Thomas Müntzers Briefwechsel, ed. Böhmer, H. and Kirn, P. (Leipzig, 1931), 92; English translation, Rauschenbusch, Walter, “The Zurich Anabaptists and Thomas Münzer,” American Journal of Theology (01, 1905), IX, 92.

20 Taken from an unpublished manuscript in the Staatsarchiv des Kantons Bern, (Unnütze Papiere, Bd. 80), entitled Acta des Gesprächs zwüschenn predicannten und Touffbrüderenn (1538). Copy in the Goshen College Library.

21 Holl, Karl, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte (2nd and 3rd ed.) (Tübingen, 1923), 359.

22 Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum (Leipzig, 1911), II, 280f. See also Ecke, K., Schwenckfeld, Luther und der Gedanke einer apostolisehen Reformation (Berlin, 1911), 101f. See also the discussion on this topic in Horsch, J., “The Rise of State Church Protestantism,” Mennonite Quarterly Review (07, 1932), VI, 189191.

23 “Drei Zeugenaussagen Zwinglis im Täuferprozess” in Huldreich Zwinglis Sämtliche Werke (Leipzig, 1927), IV, 169.

24 Against this interpretation of Luther (and Zwingli) it may be argued that Luther never completely and consistently adopted the concept of a church of “earnest Christians only” which is here attributed to him, but that along with it he also retained the contradictory concept of the church functioning as a “corpus regens,” that is as an institution of social control. It may be agreed that Luther held the two concepts for a time and that he finally abandoned the former in favor of the latter, but the fact nevertheless remains that the former was for a time dominant, and that it is the implicit meaning of his whole basic theological position. The retention and eventual dominance of the second concept is an evidence of the carry-over of medievalism in Luther's thought. In regard to Zwingli, says, Wilhelm Hadorn: “It must be admitted that not only Zwingli but also other Swiss and South German Reformers, e. g., Oecolampad and Capito, originally held views similar to the Anabaptists” (Die Reformation in der Deutschen Schweiz (Leipzig, 1928), 104).Koehler, Walter, the best living authority on Zwingli says: “Es ist, wie bei Luther auch, die Kapitulation der autonomen Kirchgemeinschaft vor der Obrigkeit eingetreten.” (Zwinglis Werke (Leipzig, 1927), IV, 29).

25 Müller, Karl, Kirchengeschichte, II, 1, 476.describes, Müller the essential goal of the Anabaptists as follows: “Es bedeutete inmitten der Auflösung aller Verhältnisse genug, dass hier eine Gemeinschaft stand, die die Heiligung des Lebens allem anderen voranstellte und zugleich in den unteren Volksschichten wirklich Fuss gefasst, sie mit selbständiger Religiosität gefüllt hat.” (Kirchengeschichte, II, 1, 330.)

26 Kühn, Johannes, Toleranz und Offenbarung (Leipzig, 1923), 224, says: “With the Anabaptists everything was based on a central idea. This central idea was concretely religious. It was Jesus' command to follow Him in a holy life of fellowship.” Professor Alfred Hegler of Tübingen describes the Anabaptist ideal as “liberty of conscience, rejection of all state-made Christianity, the demand for personal holiness, and a vital personal acceptance of Christian truth.” Professor Pnul Wernie says, “Their vital characteristic was the earnestness with with which they undertook the practical fulfilment of New Testament requirements both for the individual and for the chureh.” These and other similar quotations are to be found in Horsch, , ”The Character of the Evangelical Anabaptists as reported by Contemporary Reformation Writers.” Mennonite Quaterly Review (07, 1934), VIII, 135.

27 Pilgram Marpeck, the outstanding writer of the Swiss and South German Brethren, is an example. See Wenger, J. C., “The Theology of Pilgram Marpeck,” Mennonite Quarterly Review (10, 1938) XII, 247.

28 The German (Luther) translation of I Peter 3:21 calls baptism “Der Bund eines guten Gewissens mit Gott.”

29 Bullinger, , Von dem unversehampten fräfel (1531), fol. 75r.

30 Jackson, S. M., Selected Works of Huldreich Zwingli (Philadelphia, 1901), 127.

31 Bullinger, , Der Widertäufferen Ursprung, fol. 15v.

32 Watt, Joachim von, Deutsche Historische Schriften, ed. Götzinger, Ernst (St. Gall, 1879), II, 408.

33 Cornelius, C. A., Geschichte des Münsterschen Aufruhrs (Leipzig, 1860), II, 52.

34 McGlothlin, W. J., Die Berner Täufer his 1532 (Berlin, 1902), 36.

35 Simler, J. J., Sammlung alter und neuer Urkunden (Zurich, 1757), I, 824.

36 Rembert, Karl, Die Wiedertäufer im Herzogtum Jülich (Berlin 1899), 564.

37 Müller, Ernst, Geschichte der Bernischen Taüfer (Frauenfeld, 1895), 88. Müller speaks (p. 89) of the mandate of 1585 as conceiving of “das Täuferwesen” as a just judgment of God on the church and the people of Berne.

38 Franck, Sebastian, Chronica, Zeitbuch und Geschichtbibel (Strassburg, 1531), folio 444v.

39 Schwenekfeld's, , Epistolar (1564), I, 203.

40 Bullinger, , Der Widertäufferen Ursprung (1561), fol. 170r.

41 Quellen zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer, I. Band Herzogtum Württemberg, ed. Gustav Bossert (Leipzig, 1930) 216f.

42 Ibid., 259ff.

43 Complete Works of Menno Simons (Elkhart, Indiana, 1871), II, 37b.

44 Handlung oder Acta der Disputation gehalten zu Zofingen (Zurich, 1532). fol. 22v.

45 Böhmer-Kirn, op. cit., 97.

46 Horsch, op. cit., 386.

47 Tschackert, P., Die Entstehung der Lutherischen und reformierten Kirchenlehre (Göttingen, 1910), 133, says of the Anabaptists that they were “a voluntary Christian fellowship, striving to conform to the Christian spirit for the practice of brotherly love.”

48 Johannes Kühn, op. cit., 231.

49 Ernst Müller, op. cit., 44. See Ernst Correll, op. cit., 15f., on the attitude of the various Anabaptist groups on community of goods.

50 Horsch, op. cit., 317.

51 Hulshof, A., Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden te Straatsburg van 1525 tot 1557 (Amsterdam, 1905) 216.

52 Bullinger, , Der Widertäufferen Ursprung, fol. 129v.

53 Horsel, John, The Huttererian Brethren 1528–1931 (Goshen, Indiana, 1931), gives the only adequate account in English of the Hutterian Brethren. It is of interest to note that Erasmus, Melanchthon, and Zwingli condemned private ownership of property as a sin. See Wernle, Paul, Renaissance and Reformation (Tübingen, 1912), 5455, for the citations of Erasmus and Melanchthon, and Horsch, Hutterian Brethren, 132, footnote 126, for the citation of Zwingli. Wilhelm Pauck says that Bucer's ideal state was that of Christian communism, “Martin Bucer's Conception of a Christian State,” in Princeton Theological Review, XXVI, 88.

54 Not all the Anabaptists were completely non-resistant. Balthasar Hubmaier for instance for a brief period (1526–1528) led a group of Anabaptists at Nikolsburg in Moravia who agreed to carry the sword against the Turk and pay special war taxes for this purpose. This group, which became extinct in a short time, was known as the “Schwertler” in distinction from the other Moravian Anabaptists called the “Stäbler,” who later became the Hutterites and have continned to the present. It is obvious that Hubmaier and the “Schwertler” represent a transient aberration from original and authentic Anabaptism. Bullinger, (Von dem unverschampten fräfel [1531 ] fol. 139v.) testifies that the Swiss Brethren considered war to be “das ergist uebel das man erdencken mag,” and (Der Widertäufferen Ursprung [ 1561 ] fol. 16r.) says “they do not defend themselves, there fore they do not go to war and are not obedient to the government on this point.” See also the extensive compilation of evidence by Horsch, John, in his booklet, The Principle of Nonresistance as Held by the Mennonite Church, A Historical Survery (Scottdale, Pa., 1927), 60 pages.

55 Letter of Grebel to Müntzer, Böhmer-Kirn, op. cit., 97.

56 (Pilgram Marpeck), Testamenterleütterung (n.d., n. p., ca. 1544), fol. 313r.

57 (Riedemana, Peter), Rechenschaft unserer Religion, Lehre und Glaubens, von den Bruedern die Man die Hutterischen nennt (Berne, Indiana, 1902), 105.

58 The Complete Works of Menno Simons (Elkhart, Indiana, 1871), I, 170b and 81b. The quotations were revised by comparison with the Dutch editions of 1664 and 1681.

59 Mennonites of Holland, Germany, France, and Switzerland gradually abandoned non-resistance in the course of the nineteenth century. The emigrant Mennonites in Russia and North America have maintained it. The Mennonites of the United States furnish forty per cent of all conscientious objectors in Civilian Public Service in the present war, and the Mennonites of Canada a still higher percent of the conscientious objectors in that country.

1 The Presidential Address delivered at the meeting of the Society in New York City on December 28, 1943.

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