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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 102. The Anabaptist Controversy. Luther and Huebmaier.


Luther: Von der Wiedertaufe, an zwei Pfarrherrn. Wittenberg, 1528. In Walch, XXVII. 2643 sqq.; Erl. ed. XXVI. 254–294. Justus Menius: Der Wiedertäufer Lehre und Geheimniss, with a Preface by Luther, 1530. In the Erl. ed. LXIII. 290 sqq. Melanchthon: Contra Anabaptistas Judicium, "Corp. Reform." I. 953 sqq.

On the Baptist side the writings of Huebmaier, or, as he wrote his name, Huebmör, which are very rare, and ought to be collected and republished. Calvary, in "Mittheilungen aus dem Antiquariate," vol. I. Berlin, 1870, gives a complete list of them. The most important are Von dem christlichen Tauf der Gläubigen (1525); Eine Stimme eines ganzen christlichen Lebens (1525); Von Ketzern und ihren Verbrennern; Schlussreden (Axiomata); Ein Form des Nachtmals Christi; Von der Freiwilligkeit des Menschen (to show that God gives to all men an opportunity to become his children by free choice); Zwölf Artikel des christlichen Glaubens, etc.

On Huebmaier, see Schreiber in the "Taschenbuch fuer Gesch. und Alterthum Sueddeutschlands," Freiburg, 1839 and 40. Cunitz in Herzog’s "Encykl.," 2d ed. VI. 344. Ranke, II. 118, 126; III. 366, 369. Janssen, II. 387, 486.


All the Reformers retained the custom of infant-baptism, and opposed rebaptism (Wiedertaufe) as a heresy. So far they agreed with the Catholics against the Anabaptists, or Catabaptists as they were called, although they rejected the name, because in their view the baptism of infants was no baptism at all.

The Anabaptists or Baptists (as distinct from Pedobaptists) sprang up in Germany, Holland, and Switzerland, and organized independent congregations. Their leaders were Huebmaier, Denck, Hätzer, and Grebel. They thought that the Reformers stopped half-way, and did not go to the root of the evil. They broke with the historical tradition, and constructed a new church of believers on the voluntary principle. Their fundamental doctrine was, that baptism is a voluntary act, and requires personal repentance, and faith in Christ. They rejected infant-baptism as an anti-scriptural invention. They could find no trace of it in the New Testament, the only authority in matters of faith. They were cruelly persecuted in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic countries. We must carefully distinguish the better class of Baptists and the Mennonites from the restless revolutionary radicals and fanatics, like Carlstadt, Muenzer, and the leaders of the Muenster tragedy.

The mode of baptism was not an article of controversy at that time; for the Reformers either preferred immersion (Luther), or held the mode to be a matter of indifference (Calvin).

Luther agreed substantially with the Roman Catholic doctrine of baptism. His Taufbuechlein of 1523 is a translation of the Latin baptismal service, including the formula of exorcism, the sign of the cross, and the dipping. The second edition (1526) is abridged, and omits the use of chrisma, salt, and spittle.812812    See above § 45, p. 218, and the two editions of the Taufbüchlein in the Erl. ed. XXII. 157, 291. In both editions dipping is prescribed ("Da nehme er das Kind und tauche es in die Taufe"), and no mention is made of any other mode. The Reformed churches objected to the retention of exorcism as a species of superstition. The first English liturgy of Edward VI. (who was baptized by immersion) prescribes trine-immersion (dipping); the second liturgy of 1552 does the same, but gives (for the first time in England) permission to substitute pouring when the child is weak. He defeated Carlstadt, Muenzer, and the Zwickau Prophets, who rejected infant-baptism, and embarrassed even Melanchthon. Saxony was cleared of Anabaptists; but their progress in other parts of Germany induced him a few years later to write a special book against Huebmaier, who appealed to his authority, and ascribed to him similar views.

Balthasar Huebmaier, or Huebmör, was born near Augsburg, 1480; studied under Dr. Eck at Freiburg-i. -B. and Ingolstadt, and acquired the degree of doctor of divinity. He became a famous preacher in the cathedral at Regensburg, and occasioned the expulsion of the Jews in 1519, whose synagogue was converted into a chapel of St. Mary. In 1522 he embraced Protestant opinions, and became pastor at Waldshut on the Rhine, on the borders of Switzerland. He visited Erasmus at Basel, and Zwingli at Zuerich, and aided the latter in the introduction of the Reformation. The Austrian government threatened violent measures, and demanded the surrender of his person. He left Waldshut, and took refuge in a convent of Schaffhausen, but afterwards returned. He openly expressed his dissent from Zwingli and Oecolampadius on the subject of infant-baptism. Zwingli was right, he said, in maintaining that baptism was a mere sign, but the significance of this sign was the pledge of faith and obedience unto death, and such a pledge a child could not make; therefore the baptism of a child had no meaning, and was invalid. Faith must be present, and cannot be taken for granted as a future certainly. Instead of baptism he introduced a solemn presentation or consecration of children before the congregation. He made common cause with the Anabaptists of Zuerich, and with Thomas Muenzer, who came into the neighborhood of Waldshut, and kindled the flame of the Peasants’ War. He is supposed by some to be the author of the Twelve Articles of the Peasants. He was rebaptized about Easter, 1525, and re-baptized many others. He abolished the mass, and removed the altar, baptismal font, pictures and crosses from the church.

The triumph of the re-action against the rebellious peasants forced him to flee to Zuerich (December, 1525). He had a public disputation with Zwingli, who had himself formerly leaned to the view that it would be better to put off baptism to riper years of responsibility, though he never condemned infant-baptism. He retracted under pressure and protest, and was dismissed with some aid. He went to Nikolsburg in Moravia, published a number of books in German, having brought a printing-press with him from Switzerland, and gathered the Baptist "Brethren" into congregations. But when Moravia, after the death of Louis of Hungary, fell into the possession of King Ferdinand of Austria, Huebmaier was arrested with his wife, sent to Vienna, charged with complicity in the Peasants’ War, and burned to death, March 10, 1528. He died with serene courage and pious resignation. His wife, who had strengthened him in his faith, was drowned three days later in the Danube. Zwingli, after his quarrel with Huebmaier, speaks unfavorably of his character; Vadian of St. Gall, and Bullinger, give him credit for great eloquence and learning, but charge him with a restless spirit of innovation. He was an advocate of the voluntary principle. and a martyr of religious freedom. Heretics, he maintained, are those only who wickedly oppose the Holy Sciptures, and should be won by instruction and persuasion. To use force is to deny Christ, who came to save, not to destroy.

A few months before Huebmaier’s death, Luther wrote, rather hastily, a tract against the Anabaptists (January or February, 1528), in the shape of a letter to two unnamed ministers in Catholic territory.813813    He calls it in a letter to Spalatin, Feb. 5, 1528 (De Wette, III. 279), "epistolam tumultuarie scriptam." He alludes to it in several other letters of the same year (III. 250, 253, 263). "I know well enough," he begins, "that Balthasar Huebmör quotes me among others by name, in his blasphemous book on Re-baptism, as if I were of his foolish mind. But I take comfort in the fact that neither friend nor foe will believe such a lie, since I have sufficiently in my sermons shown my faith in infant-baptism." He expressed his dissent from the harsh and cruel treatment of the Anabaptists, and maintained that they ought to be resisted only by the Word of God and arguments, not by fire and sword, unless they preach insurrection and resist the civil magistrate.814814    The passage is quoted in § 11, p. 60. At the same time he ungenerously depreciated the constancy of their martyrs, and compared them to the Jewish martyrs at the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Donatist martyrs.815815    Letter to Link, May 12, 1528 (De Wette, III. 311): "Constantiam Anabaptistarum morientium arbitror similem esse illi, qua Augustinus celebrat Donatistas et Josephus Judaeos in vastata Jerusalem, et multa talia furorem esse Satanae non est dubium, praesertim ubi sic moriuntur cum blasphemia sacramenti. Sancti martyres, ut noster Leonardus Kaiser [a Lutheran of Bavaria who was beheaded Aug. 18, 1527] cum timore et humilitate magnaque animi erga hostes lenitatemoriuntur: illi vero quasi hostium taedio et indignatione pertinaciam suam augere, et sic mori videntur." He thought it served the papists right, to be troubled with such sectaries of the Devil in punishment for not tolerating the gospel. He then proceeds to refute their objections to infant-baptism.

1. Infant-baptism is wrong because it comes from the pope, who is Antichrist. But then we ought to reject the Scriptures, and Christianity itself, which we have in common with Rome. Christ found many abuses among the Pharisees and Sadducees and the Jewish people, but did not reject the Old Testament, and told his disciples to observe their doctrines (Matt. 23:3). Here Luther pays a striking tribute to the Roman church, and supports it by the very fact that the pope is Antichrist, and reveals his tyranny in the temple of God, that is, within the Christian Church, and not outside of it.816816    See above, p. 529 sq. By such an argument the Anabaptists weaken the cause of Christianity, and deceive themselves.

2. Infants know nothing of their baptism, and have to learn it afterwards from their parents or sponsors. But we know nothing of our natural birth and of many other things, except on the testimony of others.

3. Infants cannot believe. Luther denied this, and appealed to the word of Christ, who declared them fit for the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:14), and to the example of John the Baptist, who believed in the mother’s womb (Luke 1:41). Reformed divines, while admitting the capacity or germ of faith in infants, base infant-baptism on the vicarious faith of parents, and the covenant blessing of Abraham which extends to his seed (Gen. 17:7). Luther mentions this also.

4. The absence of a command to baptize children. But they are included in the command to baptize all nations (Matt. 28:19). The burden of proof lies on the Anabaptists to show that infant-baptism is forbidden in the Bible, before they abolish such an old and venerable institution of the whole Christian Church.

5. Among the positive arguments, Luther mentions the analogy of circumcision, Christ’s treatment of children, the cases of family baptisms, Acts 2:39; 16:15, 33; 1 Cor. 1:16.

Melanchthon quoted also the testimonies of Origen, Cyprian, Chrysostom, and Augustin, for the apostolic origin of infant-baptism.



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