THE ANABAPTISTS AND THE CATHOLIC REFORMATION
Though it is not uncommon to think of the Reformation as a movement more or less exhausted by the two main schools of the 'Magisterial Reformation' - the Lutheran and the Calvinist - it was in fact a larger and more diverse historical phenomenon. Not only was reform not limited to the institutions of the German and Swiss Protestant churches; it was not confined to Protestantism. If Lutheranism and Calvinism together constituted the 'broad middle' of the Reformation, to their 'left' lay a number of more radical Protestantisms, and to their 'right' the reform movement within the Catholic Church.
[The Protestant reforms of Huldrych Zwingli, pictured a 1531 engraving by Hans Asper, were not sufficiently rapid or far-reaching for Konrad Grebel. Grebel broke with Zwingli in 1524 and founded the Swiss Brethren.]
The name commonly applied to the majority of 'radical' or 'free' Protestant reformers was 'Anabaptists', which means 'Re-baptizers'. The name derives from the fact that these reformers taught that baptism — being the emblem of a sincere conversion of the heart to faith in Christ - could be undertaken only by adults; hence they performed baptisms on persons who had already been baptized as infants. (This was, incidentally, a capital crime for baptizer and baptized alike.) They rejected the term Anabaptist, however, on the not unreasonable grounds that, according to their beliefs, they had never truly been baptized before they themselves freely consented to the ritual.
As a rule, this branch of the Reformation — at least in its earliest forms — was deeply influenced by Zwingli's theology. Its followers therefore felt no great anxiety in withholding baptism from their own children, since they believed that no guilt could attach to the soul before the age of reason. Unlike Zwingli, however, Anabaptist communities tended towards political and social separatism, and regarded civil allegiances, litigations, military service and civil oaths as contrary to genuine Christian adherence. Some of them were political radicals as well, inspired by a theocratic Messianism, but in general they were non-violent on principle. And, inasmuch as their views were repugnant to Catholic and Protestant authorities alike, they were persecuted by both. If any 16th-century Western communion could identify itself with the 'Church of the martyrs', it was theirs.
The Swiss Brethren
One of the earliest Anabaptist communities was the Swiss Brethren, founded in Zurich by the humanist scholar Konrad Grebel (c. 1498—1526), an early admirer of Zwingli who became disenchanted with the graduality and moderate nature of the latter's reforms (and his acceptance of infant baptism). In January 1525, in defiance of the admonitions of the city council, Grebel began administering baptism to persons 'already' baptized. His movement spread, but he was twice
[Menno Simonsz, an early leader of the Anabaptist movement in Holland. His moderate leadership and pacifist beliefs helped to unify the non-violent wing of the Dutch Anabaptists]
prosecuted and jailed, was constantly harassed and died young. His example, though, inspired Balthasar Hubmaier (1485-1528), a German Anabaptist who in 1521 became one of the leaders of the Swiss movement - only to be arrested in Zurich in 1525 and forced to recant - and then became a leader of the Anabaptist movement in Moravia (where conditions were not so adverse). He was burned at the stake in Vienna in 1528.
A more radical and less peaceful strain of Anabaptism drew inspiration from the teachings of Melchior Hoffman (c. 1495-1543), the German lay theologian - originally an ally of Luther and promoter of the German Reformation - whose conviction that he was living at the end of time led him to evolve a particularly eschatological interpretation of the reform movement, and finally to embrace Anabaptism. His beliefs, however, were eccentric even among the Anabaptists: he prophesied that Christ would return in 1533, and that he - Hoffman - would establish the New Jerusalem in Strasbourg.
That very city, evidently insensible of the honour it had been accorded, placed Hoffman in prison, where he died a decade later. Nevertheless,
[Persecution of Anabaptists by Catholics and Protestants was even more severe than that of the early Christians by pagan Rome. The 'heretics' were subjected to imprisonment, torture and even execution, often by burning alive. An illustration depicts Anneken Henriks, a 16th-century Dutch Anabaptist martyr, being tied to a ladder and hoisted towards the fire]
his teachings won some particularly zealous adherents, with occasionally violent consequences — such as the brief, bloody history of the 'kingdom' founded by Anabaptist radicals in Munster in 1534 - which served only to provoke fiercer persecutions of the Anabaptists in both Catholic and Protestant lands.
Yet the Anabaptists were, by overwhelming majority, convinced pacifists. Typical of the movement was Menno Simonsz (1496-1561), the Dutch founder of the Mennonites. Menno was ordained a priest in 1524, but by 1528 had become convinced of the validity of many Reformation principles, and ultimately came to embrace the doctrine of adult baptism. There were radicals among the Dutch Anabaptists, however, some of whom were involved in insurrectionary activities leading, in 1535, to an engagement with Dutch soldiers that left several persons dead. Menno openly denounced the behaviour of the radicals, arguing that violence was forbidden to Christians, and that all baptized men and women were called to lives of charity, even under persecution.
Menno himself probably submitted to 're-baptism' in early 1537. About the same time, he was ordained as an Anabaptist pastor and took a wife. Thereafter, branded a heretic in every nation, he lived the life of a fugitive. Men could be executed if convicted of sheltering him. In 1542, Emperor Charles V put a price on his head. And yet Menno continued to write and preach with a rare eloquence, and died of natural causes 25 years after his 'apostasy'.
THE KINGDOM OF MUNSTER
After Melchior Hoffman's imprisonment in Strasbourg, one of the few German cities to which his followers and other Anabaptists could safely retreat was Munster in Westphalia.The influential Lutheran preacher in the city, Bernhard Rothman (1495-1535), had Anabaptist leanings, and as a result of his teachings the city council became a majority Anabaptist assembly in 1533.
The radicals who came to Munster were led by two Dutch Anabaptists, Jan Mathijsz (d. 1534) and John Beuckelszoon (d. 1536) - better known as 'John of Leiden' - who declared the city the New Jerusalem and introduced adult baptism in January 1534. The next month, the radicals seized control of the city hall, appointed one of their own - Bernhard Knipperdolling (c. 1495-1535) - as mayor, expelled many 'infidels', instituted a theocracy and began to proclaim their intention of conquering the world (with God's help, of course).
The region's prince bishop, Franz de Waldeck, laid siege to the rebellious city. In April, on Easter Sunday, Mathijsz prophesied that God would use him as an instrument of heavenly justice against the enemies of the New Jerusalem, and with a retinue of 30 men rode out against the besieging army. He and his men were all promptly killed. His body was decapitated and castrated, his head impaled on a pole outside the city walls, and his genitals nailed to the city gate.
Undeterred, John of Leiden declared Munster a 'kingdom of a thousand years' and the new 'Zion of God', proclaimed himself its king (after the order of King David), and instituted such 'Christian' ordinances as the dissolution of all private property, in favour of a community of goods, and polygamy. He himself took 16 wives (one of whom, however, he was obliged to behead with his own hands in the public square, on account of some transgression or other).
June 1535, the city was taken by a combined force of Catholic and Lutheran soldiers.The following January, three of the Anabaptist leaders of the city - including King John of Leiden were hideously tortured and put to death; their flayed bodies were then displayed in iron cages suspended from the steeple of St Lambert's Church, and left there until only bones remained.
(SO MUCH FOR A SO-CALLED "CHRISTIANITY" THAT COULD BUTCHER PEOPLE IN HIDEOUS WAYS, AS WELL AS JUST OUTRIGHT WAR AGAINST EACH OTHER....... A HISTORY THAT SHOULD MAKE ANY SANE PERSON CONSIDER THEIR CHRISTIANITY AS FALSE AND DEMONIC - Keith Hunt)
The Catholic Reformation
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Catholic Church instituted changes in Church discipline, undertook liturgical reforms, rooted out internal corruption and abuses, and promulgated a number of clarifications of its doctrines and practices. This
[The Spanish theologian St Ignatius Loyola was an influential figure of the Catholic Reformation, founding the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1534. Education of the laity and the common clergy was one of the stated goals of the Society, together with total devotion to the pope as the only earthly authority to which it answered]
movement for spiritual and institutional renewal is often spoken of as the 'Counter-Reformation', but this is a misleading term; for, though many of the Catholic doctrinal pronouncements of the time were responses to Protestant theological claims, the movement for reform in the Church antedated the schisms of the 16th century, and the advocates of reform within the Church had not disappeared as a result of those schisms. Many in the Catholic hierarchy and in the ranks of the educated laity deplored clerical malfeasances, 'superstitions', hypocrisies and spiritual sloth no less than the Protestant Reformers, but did not share the latter's theological convictions or understanding of the Church.
Men like the Dutch Catholic humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536) and his friend the English humanist and statesman Sir Thomas More (1477—1535) —both contemporaries of Luther — were strong champions of Church reform, but were equally strong opponents of schism and of the severe late Augustinianism of Luther's understanding of sin and grace. Erasmus was inspired especially by the writings of the Greek Church Fathers, and by their spiritual exegesis of scripture. He detested the corruption of the papacy, excessive clericalism, sectarian persecution, ecclesial peculation and the obscurantism of many established forms of Catholic piety, but he disliked fanaticism and division as well. He and Luther were early admirers of one another, but they disagreed fundamentally in their reading of St Paul and on the issue of the freedom of the fallen will. Thomas More — famously 'martyred' under King Henry VIII (1491—1547) — shared Erasmus' enthusiasm for biblical and patristic scholarship and for Church reform, but was far more censorious of Luther and his fellow 'schismatics'.
The work of Church reform, however, was largely the work not of humanists, but of monks and nuns. New religious orders and renewals of existing orders were the chief engines of a spiritual regeneration that spread throughout the Catholic world in the 16th century, producing men such as St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) or the great Spanish Carmelite mystic (and Spain's greatest lyric poet) St John of the Cross (1542—91) or the Jesuit spiritual writer St Francis de Sales (1567—1622). And the great zeal for missions abroad inspired by this revival ultimately helped lead to the global ubiquity and immense demography of the modern Roman Catholic Church.
The great institutional renewal of the Roman Church, though, began when Pope Paul III (1468-1549) convoked the Council of Trent in 1545. This council continued (with occasional interruptions) under a number of popes until 1563. It instituted a massive reform and regularization of the Western liturgy, dealt systematically with a number of clerical abuses, forbade the sale of indulgences, prescribed the proper pastoral duties of bishops and priests, established definitively the canon of the Bible and dictated the sort of education to be provided for priests. The council also, however, reaffirmed many doctrines controverted by the Protestant reformers: Purgatory, Christ's real presence in the Eucharistic elements (by 'transubstantiation' rather than by 'consubstantiation'), the existence of seven sacraments, the supremacy of papal authority and so on. Most importantly, the council rejected Luther's teachings on justification, asserting the reality of human freedom in the work of redemption, the indispensability of good works and the need for the co-operation of the will set free by grace. Moreover, it did this with so thorough and plenteous an exposition from scripture that no Protestant theologian — however much he might disagree with the council's conclusions — could plausibly doubt the centrality of the Bible in its deliberations.
[The Council of Trent, the subject of a fresco painting, played a vital role in the Catholic Reformation. As well as issuing wide-ranging decrees on reform, it also clarified existing Catholic doctrine]
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE NEW WORLD, THOUGH WORKING WITH RELATIVELY FEW PRIESTS AND NUNS, BROUGHT MILLIONS INTO THE CATHOLIC FAITH. BUT EVEN THESE ZEALOUS WORKERS, THE PRIESTS, WERE NOT AGAINST TORTURE AND KILLING, IF THEY FELT NATIVE PEOPLES HAD ONLY PRETENDED TO BE ROMAN CATHOLIC.
SEE THE LAST LECTURES BY PROFESSOR EAKIN OF "THE CONQUEST OF THE AMERICAS" FURTHER DOWN IN THIS SECTION OF MY WEBSITE - Keith Hunt