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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 24. Zwingli’s Conflict with Radicalism.


Comp. Literature in vol. VI., § 102, p. 606 sq.


I. Sources:


In the Staatsarchiv of Zurich there are preserved about two hundred and fifty documents under the title, Wiedertäuferacten,—*Egli: Actensammlung zur Gesch. der Zürcher Reformation, Zürich, 1879 (see the Alph. Index, p. 920, sub Wiedertäufer). The official reports are from their opponents. The books of the Anabaptists are scarce. A large collection of them is in the Baptist Theological Seminary at Rochester, N. Y. The principal ones are the tracts of Dr. Hübmaier (see vol. VI. 606); a few letters of Grebel, Hut, Reubli, etc., and other documents mentioned and used by Cornelius (Gesch. des Münsterschen Aufruhrs); the Moravian, Austrian, and other Anabaptist chronicles (see Beck, below); and the Anabaptist hymns reprinted in Wackernagel’s Deutsche Kirchenlied, vols. III. and V. (see below).


Zwingli: Wer Ursach gebe zu Aufruhr, wer die wahren Aufrührer seien, etc., Dec. 7, 1524. A defence of Christian unity and peace against sedition. (Werke, II. A. 376–425.) Vom Touff, vom Wiedertouff, und vom Kindertouff, May 27, 1525 (in Werke, II. A. 280–303. Republished in modern German by Christoffel, Zürich, 1843. The book treats in three parts of baptism, rebaptism, and infant baptism). Answer to Balthasar Hübmaier, Nov. 5, 1525 (Werke, II. A. 337 sqq.). Elenchus contra Catabaptistas, 1527 (Opera, III. 357 sqq.). His answer to Schwenkfeld’s 64 Theses concerning baptism (in Op. III. 563–583; Comp. A. Baur, II. 245–267). Oecolampadius: Ein gesprech etlicher predicanten zu Basel gehalten mit etlichen Bekennern des Wiedertouffs, Basel, 1525. Bullinger (Heinrich): Der Wiedertäufferen ursprung, fürgang, Sekten, etc. Zürich, 1560. (A Latin translation by J. Simler.) See also his Reformationsgeschichte, vol. I.


II. Later Discussions:


Ott (J. H.): Annales Anabaptistici. Basel, 1672.

Erbkam (H. W.): Geschichte der protestantischen Secten im Zeitalter der Reformation. Hamburg und Gotha, 1848. pp. 519–583.

Heberle: Die Anfänge des Anabaptismus in der Schweiz, in the "Jahrbücher fur deutsche Theologie," 1858.

Cornelius (C. A., a liberal Roman Catholic): Geschichte des Münsterschen Aufruhrs. Leipzig, 1855. Zweites Buch: Die Wiedertaufe. 1860. He treats of the Swiss Anabaptists (p. 15 sqq.), and adds historical documents from many archives (p. 240 sqq.). A very important work.

Mörikofer: U. Zwingli. Zürich, 1867. I. 279–313; II. 69–76. Very unfavorable to the Anabaptists.

R. von Lilienkron: Zur Liederdichtung der Wiedertäufer. München, 1877.

*Egli (Emil): Die Züricher Wiedertäufer zur Reformationszeit. Nach den Quellen des Staatsarchivs. Zürich, 1878 (104 pp.). By the same: Die St. Galler Täufer. Zürich, 1887. Important for the documents and the external history.

*Burrage (Henry S., American Baptist): The Anabaptists in Switzerland. Philadelphia, 1882, 231 pp. An account from the Baptist point of view. Comp. his Baptist Hymn Writers, Portland, 1888, pp. l-25.

Usteri (J. M.): Darstellung der Tauflehre Zwingli’s, in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1882, pp. 205–284.

*Beck (JOSEPH): Die Geschichtsbücher der Wiedertäufer in Oestreich-Ungarn ... von 1526 bis 1785. Wien, 1883. Publ. by the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna.

Strasser (G.): Der schweizerische Anabaptismus zur Zeit der Reformation, in the "Berner Beiträge," 1884.

Nitsche (Richard, Roman Catholic): Geschichte der Wiedertäufer in der Schweiz zur Reformationszeit. Einsiedeln, New York, Cincinnati and St. Louis (Benziger), 1885 (107 pp.). He gives a list of literature on pp. vi.-viii.

Keller (Ludwig): Die Reformation und die ältern Reformparteien. Leipzig, 1885, pp. 364–435. He is favorable to the Anabaptists, and connects them with the Waldensian Brethren and other mediaeval sects by novel, but arbitrary combinations and conjectures. He mistakes coincidences for historical connections.

Baur (Aug.): Zwingli’s Theologie, vol. II. (1888), 1–267. An elaborate discussion and defence of Zwingli’s conduct towards the radicals, with full extracts from his writings, but unjust to the Baptists.


The monographs of Schreiber on Hübmaier (1839 and 1840, unfinished), Keim on Ludwig Hätzer (1856), and Keller on Hans Denck (Ein Apostel der Wiedertäufer, 1882), touch also on the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland. Kurtz, in the tenth ed. of his Kirchengeschichte (1887), II. 150–164, gives a good general survey of the Anabaptist movement in Germany, Switzerland, and Holland, including the Mennonites.


Having considered Zwingli’s controversy with Romanism, we must now review his conflict with Radicalism, which ran parallel with the former, and exhibits the conservative and churchly side of his reformation. Radicalism was identical with the Anabaptist movement, but the baptismal question was secondary. It involved an entire reconstruction of the Church and of the social order. It meant revolution. The Romanists pointed triumphantly to revolution as the legitimate and inevitable result of the Reformation; but history has proved the difference. Liberty is possible without license, and differs as widely from it as from despotism.

The Swiss Reformation, like the German, was disturbed and checked by the radical excesses. It was placed between the two fires of Romanism and Ultraprotestantism. It was attacked in the front and rear, from without and within, by the Romanists on the ground of tradition, by the Radicals on the ground of the Bible. In some respects the danger from the latter was greater. Liberty has more to fear from the abuses of its friends than from the opposition of its foes. The Reformation would have failed if it had identified itself with the revolution. Zwingli applied to the Radicals the words of St. John to the antichristian teachers: "They went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 John 2:19). He considered the controversy with the Papists as mere child’s play when compared to that with the Ultraprotestants.122122    He wrote to Vadian, May 28, 1525 (Opera, VII. 398): "omnes pugnae priores lusus fuerunt pro ista."

The Reformers aimed to reform the old Church by the Bible; the Radicals attempted to build a new Church from the Bible. The former maintained the historic continuity; the latter went directly to the apostolic age, and ignored the intervening centuries as an apostasy. The Reformers founded a popular state-church, including all citizens with their families; the Anabaptists organized on the voluntary principle select congregations of baptized believers, separated from the world and from the State. Nothing is more characteristic of radicalism and sectarianism than an utter want of historical sense and respect for the past. In its extreme form it rejects even the Bible as an external authority, and relies on inward inspiration. This was the case with the Zwickau Prophets who threatened to break up Luther’s work at Wittenberg.

The Radicals made use of the right of protest against the Reformation, which the Reformers so effectually exercised against popery. They raised a protest against Protestantism. They charged the Reformers with inconsistency and semipopery; yea, with the worst kind of popery. They denounced the state-church as worldly and corrupt, and its ministers as mercenaries. They were charged in turn with pharisaical pride, with revolutionary and socialistic tendencies. They were cruelly persecuted by imprisonment, exile, torture, fire and sword, and almost totally suppressed in Protestant as well as in Roman Catholic countries. The age was not ripe for unlimited religious liberty and congregational self-government. The Anabaptists perished bravely as martyrs of conscience.123123    Luther called them martyrs of the devil; but Leonhard Käser, to whom he wrote a letter of comfort, and whom he held up as a model martyr to the heretical martyrs (see Letters, ed. De Wette, III. 179), was not a Lutheran, as he thought, but the pastor of an Anabaptist congregation at Scherding. He was burnt Aug. 18, 1527, by order of the bishop of Passau. See Cornelius, II. 56.

Zwingli took essentially, but quite independently, the same position towards the Radicals as Luther did in his controversy with Carlstadt, Münzer, and Hübmaier.124124    On Luther and the Radicals see vol. VI. 375 sqq. and 606 sqq. Luther, on the contrary, radically misunderstood Zwingli by confounding him with Carlstadt and the Radicals. Zwingli was in his way just as conservative and churchly as the Saxon Reformer. He defended and preserved the state-church, or the people’s church, against a small fraction of sectaries and separatists who threatened its dissolution. But his position was more difficult. He was much less influenced by tradition, and further removed from Romanism. He himself aimed from the start at a thorough, practical purification of church life, and so far agreed with the Radicals. Moreover, he doubted for a while the expediency (not the right) of infant baptism, and deemed it better to put off the sacrament to years of discretion.125125    Hagenbach (p. 857), on the strength of Hottinger, states that the Council of Zurich, at the advice of Zwingli, by a mandate of Jan. 17, 1525, allowed a delay of eight years for the baptism of children. But this must be an error; for on the eighteenth of January, 1525, the Council, after a disputation with the Anabaptists, commanded the baptism of all unbaptized children within eight days, on pain of the banishment of the parents. Egli, Actensammlung, p. 276. He rejected the Roman doctrine of the necessity of baptism for salvation and the damnation of unbaptized infants dying in infancy. He understood the passage, Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," as applying only to adults who have heard the gospel and can believe, but not to children. On maturer reflection he modified his views. He learned from experience that it was impossible to realize an ideal church of believers, and stopped with what was attainable. As to infant baptism, he became convinced of its expediency in Christian families. He defended it with the analogy of circumcision in the Old Testament (Col. 2:11), with the comprehensiveness of the New Covenant, which embraces whole families and nations, and with the command of Christ, "Suffer little children to come unto Me," from which he inferred that he who refuses children to be baptized prevents them from coming to Christ. He also appealed to 1 Cor. 7:14, which implies the church-membership of the children of Christian parents, and to the examples of family baptisms in Acts 16:33, 18:8, and 1 Cor. 1:16.

The Radical movement began in Zurich in 1523, and lasted till 1532. The leaders were Conrad Grebel, from one of the first families of Zurich, a layman, educated in the universities of Vienna and Paris, whom Zwingli calls the corypheus of the Anabaptists; Felix Manz, the illegitimate son of a canon of the Great Minster, a good Hebrew scholar; Georg Blaurock, a monk of Coire, called on account of his eloquence "the mighty Jörg," or "the second Paul;" and Ludwig Hätzer of Thurgau, chaplain at Wädenschwyl, who, with Hans Denck, prepared the first Protestant translation of the Hebrew Prophets,126126    Their translation of the Prophets appeared at Worms in 1527 (and often), and preceded that of the Zurich Bible (in 1529), and that of Luther, which was not completed till 1532. and acted as secretary of the second Zurich disputation, and edited its proceedings. With them were associated a number of ex-priests and ex-monks, as William Reubli, minister at Wyticon, Johann Brödli (Paniculus) at Zollicon, and Simon Stumpf at Höng. They took an active part in the early stages of the Reformation, prematurely broke the fasts, and stood in the front rank of the image-stormers. They went ahead of public opinion and the orderly method of Zwingli. They opposed the tithe, usury, military service, and the oath. They denied the right of the civil magistracy to interfere in matters of religion. They met as "brethren" for prayer and Scripture-reading in the house of "Mother Manz," and in the neighborhood of Zurich, especially at Zollicon.

The German Radicals, Carlstadt and Münzer, were for a short time in Switzerland and on the Rhine, but did not re-baptize and had no influence upon the Swiss Radicals, who opposed rebellion to the civil authority. Carlstadt gradually sobered down; Münzer stirred up the Peasants’ War, seized the sword and perished by the sword. Dr. Hübmaier of Bavaria, the most learned among the Anabaptists, and their chief advocate, took part in the October disputation at Zurich in 1523, but afterwards wrote books against Zwingli (on the baptism of believers, 1525, and a dialogue with Zwingli, 1526), was expelled from Switzerland, and organized flourishing congregations in Moravia.

The Radical opinions spread with great rapidity, or rose simultaneously, in Berne, Basle, St. Gall, Appenzell, all along the Upper Rhine, in South Germany, and Austria. The Anabaptists were driven from place to place, and travelled as fugitive evangelists. They preached repentance and faith, baptized converts, organized congregations, and exercised rigid discipline. They called themselves simply "brethren" or "Christians." They were earnest and zealous, self-denying and heroic, but restless and impatient. They accepted the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice, and so far agreed with the Reformers, but utterly broke with the Catholic tradition, and rejected Luther’s theory of forensic, solifidian justification, and the real presence. They emphasized the necessity of good works, and deemed it possible to keep the law and to reach perfection. They were orthodox in most articles of the common Christian faith, except Hätzer and Denck, who doubted the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ.

The first and chief aim of the Radicals was not (as is usually stated) the opposition to infant baptism, still less to sprinkling or pouring, but the establishment of a pure church of converts in opposition to the mixed church of the world. The rejection of infant baptism followed as a necessary consequence. They were not satisfied with separation from popery; they wanted a separation from all the ungodly. They appealed to the example of the disciples in Jerusalem, who left the synagogue and the world, gathered in an upper room, sold their goods, and held all things in common. They hoped at first to carry Zwingli with them, but in vain; and then they charged him with treason to the truth, and hated him worse than the pope.

Zwingli could not follow the Anabaptists without bringing the Reformation into discredit with the lovers of order, and rousing the opposition of the government and the great mass of the people. He opposed them, as Augustin opposed the schismatical Donatists. He urged moderation and patience. The Apostles, he said, separated only from the open enemies of the gospel, and from the works of darkness, but bore with the weak brethren. Separation would not cure the evils of the Church. There are many honest people who, though weak and sick, belong to the sheepfold of Christ, and would be offended at a separation. He appealed to the word of Christ, "He that is not against me, is for me," and to the parable of the tares and the wheat. If all the tares were to be rooted up now, there would be nothing left for the angels to do on the day of final separation.



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