Luther and the Anabaptists


#1

In the vein of Violent Reformers…

I had heard from someone who seems to be a good historian that Luther took up arms against the Anabaptists. Is this so? I brought this up on another message board but no one seems to be able to find anything. I know we have pretty good historians here so I thought I’d drop the question.


#2

Probably they’re thinking of the Peasants’ War and the Münster Rebellion (the latter of which, by the way, was attempting to set up a theocracy.) The leaders of each movement, which happened within Protestant territory in Luthor’s own lifetime, had some points of contact with Anabaptists, but aren’t necessarily regarded as being the same. Depends on which theory of Protestant development one adheres to.

It isn’t simply a case of Luthor oppressing them, though; arguably they took up arms first against ruling princes in the area, although just as arguably they felt like they had been provoked into doing it. Luthor had to agree with putting them down. I don’t gather he was happy about it. (His successor Zwingli, on the other hand, definitely persecuted Anabaptists explicitly.)

It’s also important to keep in mind that, by the understanding of practically everyone at the time (including the Anabaptists), only baptized people could go to heaven; yet the Anabaptists were, despite their name, not just insisting on a second believer’s baptism at an age of responsible consent, but were outright forbidding babies to be baptized at all. So to everyone else, the Anabaptists were practicing something actually worse than murdering children.

Consequently, everyone (even the chief Protestant Reformers) decided that the Emperors Theodosius I and Justinian I were both correct to order that “Donatists” (which the Anabaptists were somewhat identified with) should and would be executed.

It was a nasty piece of business–and while it can plausibly be laid at the feet of the belief that there must be some kind of hopelessness which must be avoided at all costs (so also at the cost of any act which would otherwise be decried as barbaric injustice), there’s a cautionary moral for universalists in there, too, or for some of us anyway. (Not the ultra-u’s I guess.) Because after all, when they were torturing Anabaptists (and each other), they were trying to ‘lead sinners to repentance’ in an explicitly purgatorial fashion.

Hopefully, God does a more nuanced and finely-tuned job of that (unless ultra-u is true.)


#3

I meant to add that Wikipedia has a good, detailed, historically balanced article with links on the Anabaptist movement(s).


#4

Wow. Ok, great info, thanks. I imagine my source just got some of his history mixed up then.


#5

Hi Jason -

I’ve been reading your information here on the persecution of the Anabaptists. (And I’ve read many of your other posts with enjoyment of your Biblical Scholarship). I understand that Zwingli had Anabaptists drowned in parody of the rite of rebaptism – absolutely horrible - and Luther found this hard to stomach and admired them for the resolve with which they died.

What you have to say bears upon something I am thinking through at the moment regarding the context of the abrogation of the 42nd article in the Elizabethan Prayer Book for Rev Drew’s thread. I’m sure the 42nd article in Cramner’s prayer book was aimed primarily at the Anabaptists. It was rumoured that they taught universal salvation and it was thought that this belief threatened the peace of the state - if people stopped believing in hell they would becoming violent and seditious (current scholarship seems to agree that the evidence for explicit universalism being taught by the early Anabaptists is scant). However, it seems remarkable that the 42nd article was abrogated by the Elizabethan Church because there was still plenty of fear around about Anabaptism (which seems to have been grossly exaggerated since their numbers were insignificant in England at the time) and at least two Anabaptists were, controversially, burnt at the stake in the 1580s as heretics. I am still thinking about this - it’s a real historical puzzle.

You say in this thread that -

It’s also important to keep in mind that, by the understanding of practically everyone at the time (including the Anabaptists), only baptized people could go to heaven; yet the Anabaptists were, despite their name, not just insisting on a second believer’s baptism at an age of responsible consent, but were outright forbidding babies to be baptized at all. So to everyone else, the Anabaptists were practicing something actually worse than murdering children.

That’s interesting and I wondered if you have evidence of the Anabaptist views of the fate of babies and children who had died to before reaching the age at which they could be baptised – what you say makes complete logical sense, and it may well have been one of the reasons that mainstream Protestants saw as evidence of their perfidy. I know Augustine was quite prepared to think that unabaptised children were automatically numbered with the damned and I would think that the mainstream Augustinian inspired Reformers would have followed suit. Catholics during the Reformation period would have believed in Limbo on the authority of Aquinas as the destiny of the unbaptised - a place where souls were deprived of the ultimate joy of the Beatific vision, but in which there was no suffering or torment. This was a comparatively reassuring idea – but I’m overjoyed that the current Pope has finally abolished Limbo (it has still been the cause of much suffering).

All the best

Dick


#6

It should be noted that the rejection of secular politics is the most definitive departure of anabaptist-Christianity from all others. The anabaptists largely rejected paedo-baptism because it was politically imposed. It is highly unfair to call the Münsterites “anabaptists” when they embraced secular politics (the use and security of violent force) just as the Catholics and Reformers did.

Anabaptists have traditionally believed that children can have no faith, because they cannot bear fruits. For they/we believed we are saved by faith that works, and rejected the reformed view of ‘sola fide’ of which, they felt, was detrimental to genuine Christian living. However despite this, the Anabaptists believe children are preserved within the “age of accountability” under the promise in Christ. The biblical evidence, in my view, is rather scant. But this has been a long-held view amongst the Anabaptists (and has become popular amongst the Reformed today) and can be recognized within the formal teachings of Saint Menno Simons, as roughly quoted from ‘Christian Baptism’ (1539) in ‘The complete writings of Menno Simons c. 1496-1561’ (1984) below.


#7

In the beginning, Luther said that the Anabaptists were to be pitied (he considered them inferior). But later he persecuted them.

The same with Jewish people of his day. He was first kindly toward them, and later persecuted them. He wrote a dissertation called “Lies of the Jews”.


#8

space saving


#9

space saving


#10

Peace!