committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER II.

German Baptists—Thomas Munzer—The Peasant War—Michael Satler—Hans Schlaffer—Salzburg—Wolfgang Brand—Hueber—The Burggraf of Alzey—Imperial Edicts.

 

On the 10th of December, 1520, Luther burnt the Pope’s bull against him, together with the decretals and other Papal documents, without the walls of Wittenburg, in the presence of an immense concourse of people. By that act he severed himself from the Church of Rome, and proclaimed the advent of a new order of things. The Baptists hailed it with joy, rightly judging that it indicated a great and favorable change of public opinion. They availed themselves of the advantages thus offered, and immediately engaged in active operations for the spread of truth. Luther had freed himself from the Pope: they pro?claimed freedom from Luther, and from all other human authority, so far as religion was concerned, and called on their fellow-countrymen everywhere to demand their rights.

This was more than Luther intended. Great and good man as he was, he had his crotchets, like some other great men. He was willing that others should think for them?selves, so that they thought as he thought. If they did not, he looked on them with suspicion, and they soon found it best to keep out of his way. His followers and flatterers regarded him with an awe bordering on superstition. Sleidan, the historian, was struck with surprise at the boldness of Thomas Munzer, who, said he, “not only began to preach against the Roman Pontiff, but against Luther himself!”1  Doubtless that was “an iniquity to be punished by the judge.” Reference to the earthly judge, in religious affairs, was too common in those days.

Believer’s baptism and martyrdom were closely con?nected. The first witnesses for God in Germany, in the Reformation age, were Baptists. Hans Koch and Leonard Meyster were put to death at Augsburg in the year 1524.

The reader will find in most church histories doleful accounts of the German Anabaptists. Storck and Stubner, the writers tell us, pretended to prophesy, and demanded submission on the ground of their Divine calling. They advocated a wild millenarianism, maintaining that the day of God’s vengeance was at hand, and that the saints would put down all worldly rule, and possess the earth. And Thomas Munzer, they say, not only held similar senti?ments, but also headed the insurrection of the peasants, which brought so much misery on Germany, and ultimately on the poor peasants themselves.

Now, we have no desire to defend anything foolish or wrong. Granted, if you please, that the men just spoken of were visionaries, and that their conduct was in some respects indefensible; but let it be further granted that they were not the Baptist body, and that for their follies that body was by no means responsible. As for the Peasant War, Gieseler justly remarks that “no traces of Anabaptist fanaticism were seen” in it.2This is honorable and important.

But it is necessary here to repeat the observation, that our accounts of these men are mainly derived from their enemies. Thomas Munzer is blackened in P?obaptist histories. The reader of those histories would think him the very incarnation of all evil. Yet what are the facts? Just these;—that he was a pious, learned man, and an eloquent preacher, whom the people followed amazingly; and that he was driven from place to place, because as fast as he learned the truth he preached it, sometimes to the great annoyance of Luther and his friends, whose misconceptions and errors, as he deemed them, he was not backward to expose. Let us listen to Robert Robinson:—

“He had been a priest, but became a disciple of Luther, and a great favorite with the Reformed. His deportment was remarkably grave, his countenance was pale, his eyes rather sunk as if he was absorbed in thought, his visage long, and he wore his beard. His talent lay in a plain and easy method of preaching to the country people, whom (it should seem as an itinerant) he taught almost all through the electorate of Saxony. His air of mortification wore him the hearts of the rustics; it was singular then for a preacher so much as to appear humble. When he had finished his sermon in any village, he used to retire, either to avoid the crowd, or to devote himself to meditation and prayer. This was a practice so very singular and uncommon, that the people used to throng about the door, peep through the crevices, and oblige him sometimes to let them in, though he repeatedly assured them that he was nothing, that all he had came from above, and that admiration and praise were due only to God. The more he fled from applause, the more it followed him; the people called him Luther’s curate, and Luther called him his ‘Absalom,’ probably because he stole the hearts of the, men of Israel.”3

The Peasant War was an ill-advised, badly manage thing. But the peasants had right on their side. Their manifesto was a plain-spoken, noble document. It told a sad tale of oppression. The historian Robertson epitomizes it thus:—The chief articles were, that they might have liberty to choose their own pastors; that they might be freed from the payment of all tithes, except that of corn; that they might no longer be considered as the slaves or bondmen of their superiors; that the liberty of hunting and fishing might be common; that the great forests might not be regarded as private property, but be open for the use of all; that they might be delivered from the unusual burden of taxes under which they laboured; that the administration of justice might be rendered less rigorous and more impartial; that the encroachments of the nobles upon meadows, and commons might be restrained.”4The conclusion is admirable. We copy it from Gieseler, who has inserted, the entire paper. “ In the twelfth place, it is our conclusion and final resolution, that if one or more of the articles here set forth is not in agreement with the Word of God, we will recede therefrom, if it be made plain to us on scriptural ground. Or, if an article be now conceded to us, and hereafter it be discovered to be unjust, from that hour it shall be dead and null, and have no more force. Likewise, if more articles of complaint be truly discovered from Scripture, we will also reserve the right of resolving upon these.”5It is said that Munzer assisted in preparing this document. If so, it does him honor. Whatever silly or extravagant opinions he fell into, he may be excused, for in those days very few public men escaped connection with some weakness or other. His conduct in joining the insurgents has brought heavy censure upon him. But he paid dearly for it. Taken prisoner after the battle in which the peasants were defeated, or rather slaughtered, for it was no fight, he was subjected to cruel tortures, after the fashion of the times, and put to death.

Though the Peasant War was not in itself a Baptist affair at all, occasion was taken from Munzer’s connection with it to raise a storm of indignation against the Baptists, as if they were all rebels. The persecution raged fiercely, and it never wholly ceased during the period. Baptists worshipped God and preached the Gospel at perpetual hazard of liberty and life. Still they held on their way. Sometimes they met in buildings far removed from general observation; sometimes in the woods; and not unfrequently long intervals passed between their meetings, so hot was the pursuit after them. One effect was produced which proved advantageous to their cause:—they were “scattered abroad,”—eastward, to Moravia, Hungary, and the adjoining countries—westward, to Holland. Everywhere numerous. churches sprang up.

Sebastian Franck, a trustworthy historian of those times, affirms that “within a few years not less than two thousand Baptists had testified their faith by imprisonment or martyrdom.”6A few of the details shall be placed before the reader.

Michael Satler had been a monk. He was converted to God, and became a preacher. He was put to death at Rottenburg, May 26, 1527. Thus ran his sentence:—“That Michael Satler be delivered over to the executioner, who shall bring him to the place of execution and cut out his tongue; he shall then throw him upon a cart, and twice tear his flesh with red-hot pincers; he shall then be brought to the city gate, and shall have his flesh five times torn in like manner.” This fiendish sentence was executed, and the body was afterwards burnt to ashes. Satler’s wife and several other females who were arrested at the same time were drowned. A number of brethren who shared the imprisonment with them were beheaded.7Rottenburg was celebrated for such scenes. In 1528, Leonard Schoener was beheaded and burnt there, and shortly afterwards about seventy more. Schoener had been six years a barefooted monk, but had left the convent through disgust at the wickedness of the order. He learnt the tailor’s trade, and so gained his livelihood. After his conversion he joined the Baptists, and spent the remainder of his life in preaching the Gospel and baptizing throughout Bavaria.8

At Schwatz, eleven miles from Rottenburg, Hans Schlaffer, who had been a Romish priest, was beheaded. “He was put to the test by cruel tortures, and examined by the priests concerning infant-baptism; but he answered them from the Divine Scriptures, and showed, both by argument and by texts of Scripture, that it is commanded, and will be found throughout the New Testament, that men should first teach the Word of God, and they alone that hear, understand, believe, and receive it, should be baptized. This is the Christian baptism, and no re-baptism. The Lord has nowhere commanded children to be baptized. They are already the Lord’s. So long as they are innocent and inoffensive, they are in nowise to be condemned. They also asked him on what foundation the sect of the Anabaptists properly rests. To which he answered, Our faith, actions, and baptism rest on nothing else than the commandment of Christ” (Matthew 28:18, 19; Mark 16:15).9

Leopold Snyder was beheaded at Augsburg in the same year. The sufferings in that city were very severe. “Not only were they beaten with rods, but their backs were branded, and one had his tongue cut out for his so-called blasphemy. The few who recanted were adjudged to a yearly fine, and were forbidden for five years the exercise of civil rights.”10

Eighteen persons were burnt in one day at Salzburg. Many more suffered in that city. Among them was a lovely young maiden of sixteen, who, refusing to recant, was taken in the arms of the executioner to the trough for watering horses, thrust under the water, and there held till life was extinct. The Baptists there “were called garden-brethren, from their custom of meeting by night in the gardens and solitary places of the town, to escape the notice of their foes.”11

Wolfgang Brand-Hueber and Hans Nidermair, both Baptist ministers, with about seventy others, were put to death at Lintz. “As to the said Wolfgang Brand-Hueber, there are still writings in the Church which show how faithfully he taught the Christian community; likewise, that obedience and submission should be rendered to magistrates, in all things not contrary to God. He held fast the true baptism of Christ, and the Supper of the Lord; rejecting the baptism of infants, the sacraments [that is, the Romish sacraments], and other anti-Christian abominations, as his writings (still extant) sufficiently declare.”12

Nearly three hundred and fifty persons suffered in various ways in the Palatinate, in the year 1529. The Burggraf of Alzey was particularly active on the occasion. But his victims were steadfast. “While some were being drowned, or about to be led to execution, the rest who were to follow, and were awaiting death, sang until the executioner came for them. They remained altogether steadfast in the truth they had embraced; and, secure in the faith they had received from God, they stood like valiant warriors. By them the nobles of this world and its princes were put to shame. On some, whom they would not altogether condemn to death, they inflicted bodily punishment; some they deprived of their fingers; others they branded with the cross on their forehead, and inflicted on them many cruelties; so that even the Burggraf said, ‘What shall I do? the more I condemn, the more they increase.’”13

These persecutions were the fruits of royal and imperial edicts. Ferdinand, King of Hungary and Bohemia, issued an edict in 1527, denouncing death to the Baptists. The priests were commanded to read it publicly in the churches four times a year for ten years. The Emperor Charles was equally embittered against them. The Edict of Worms, by which Luther was condemned, did not meet the case; but the deficiency was supplied at the Diet of Spires, in 1529. By the edict in which the decisions of the Diet were embodied, it was “clearly ordained that all and every Anabaptist, or rebaptized person, whether male or female, being of ripe years and understanding, should be deprived of life, and, according to the circumstances of the individual, be put to death by fire, sword, or otherwise; and whenever found should be brought to justice, indicted, and convicted; and be no otherwise judged, tried, or dealt with, under pain of heavy and severe punishment.”14

At the time of the publication of this edict, a number of Baptists (“nine brethren and three sisters”) were in prison at Alzey. “The mandate was then read to the prisoners, and, as they would not yield, they were, without further trial, in fulfilment of the Emperor’s edict, led to execution; the brethren by the sword, but the sisters by being drowned in the horse-pond. While they were yet in confinement, a sister came to the prison to comfort the female prisoners. She said to them that they should valiantly and firmly cleave to the Lord, and not regard this suffering, for the sake of the everlasting joy that would follow. This visit becoming known, she also was speedily apprehended, and afterwards burned, because she had comforted and strengthened the other prisoners.”15

“But,” says Sebastian Franck, “the more severely they were punished, the more they multiplied. Peradventure many were moved by the steadfastness with which they died, or perhaps God marked the endeavors of rulers and tyrants to root out heresy with the sword.”16

 

1  De Statu Religionis, lib. v. p. 265. Ed. 1785.

2  Ecclesiastical History, v. p. 352.

3  Ecclesiastical Researches, chap. xiv.

4  Charles V., book iv.

5  Ibid. v. pp. 347-349.

6  Baptist Martyrology, i. p. 49.

7  Baptist Martyrology, p. 27

8  Ibid. p. 47.

9  Ibid. p. go.

10  Baptist Martyrology, p. 54.

11  Ibid. p. 57.

12  Ibid. i. 103.

13  Baptist Martyrology, p. 118.

14  Ibid. p. 116.

15  Baptist Martyrology, p. 117,

16  Ibid. p. 125.

 
 
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