Anabaptists

Anabaptists (ăn´əbăp´tĬsts) [Gr.,=rebaptizers], name applied, originally in scorn, to certain Protestant sects holding that infant baptism is not authorized in Scripture and that baptism should be administered to believers only. A convert if baptized in infancy must be baptized again as an adult (Anabaptists did not consider adult baptism to be a repetition, as their critics charged, since infant baptisms were annulled).

Anabaptists were prominent in Europe during the 16th cent., forming part of the "radical" wing of the Reformation; they were harshly condemned and persecuted under Protestants and Catholics alike. Their principal centers were in Germany, Switzerland, Moravia, and the Netherlands. They baptized converts for the first time near Zürich in 1525 in protest over the city council's decree ordering the baptism of all unbaptized children. These Swiss Brethren, as they were called, separated themselves from the control of the state church established by Ulrich Zwingli in Zürich (and developed in other centers of the Reformation). Thus they became the first to practice the complete separation of church and state.

They modeled their new church after the Christian community of apostolic times, depicted as a free gathering of convinced believers dedicated to leading the saintly life in strict accord with Scripture. Other factors contributing to the development and spread of Anabaptism include the peasant movement (see Peasants' War) and the revolutionary rhetoric of Thomas Münzer, late medieval mysticism and asceticism, and the writings of Andreas Carlstadt and Martin Luther (whose reforms the Anabaptists felt went only halfway).

Although they were never united either politically or doctrinally, three distinct subgroups of Anabaptists can be discerned. The revolutionary Anabaptists, represented by the short-lived theocracy established at Münster (c.1534–35), sought to bring about the New Jerusalem predicted in Scripture using force. Anabaptism is more often associated with the evangelical Anabaptists who were avowed pacifists (the "ban" replaced the sword). The Schleitheim Confession (1527) is a principle statement of their beliefs. They are exemplified by the communitarian followers of Jacob Hutter (see Hutterian Brethren) and Menno Simons (see Mennonites). Finally there are contemplative Anabaptists like Hans Denck (c.1500–1527). Denck submitted to adult baptism but believed the presence of the inner Word in believers precluded any visible organization of the Christian life.

See studies by G. H. Williams (1962), C. P. Clasen (1972), K. P. Davis (1974), and J. D. Weaver (1987).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism
William R. Estep.
William B. Eerdmans, 1996
Early Anabaptist Spirituality: Selected Writings
Daniel Liechty; Hans J. Hillerbrand.
Paulist Press, 1994
The German Peasant's War and Anabaptist Community of Goods
James M. Stayer.
McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994
Elisabeth's Manly Courage: Testimonials and Songs of Martyred Anabaptist Women in the Low Countries
Hermina Joldersma; Louis Grijp; Hermina Joldersma; Louis Grijp.
Marquette University Press, 2001
Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation
Karl Kautsky.
Russell & Russell, 1959
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "The Anabaptists"
Reformation Studies: Essays in Honor of Roland H. Bainton
Franklin H. Littell.
John Knox Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: "Augsburg and the Early Anabaptists" begins on p. 212
Freewill or Predestination: The Battle over Saving Grace in Mid-Tudor England
Andrew Penny.
Boydell Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Anabaptists and Sectaries in the Reign of Henry VIII"
A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century
J. W. Allen.
Methuen, 1951 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "The Anabaptist Protest"
Noble Daughters: Unheralded Women in Western Christianity, 13th to 18th Centuries
Marie A. Conn.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Anabaptist Women Martyrs: Images of Radical Commitment"
Infinite Boundaries: Order, Disorder, and Reorder in Early Modern German Culture
Max Reinhart.
Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Anabaptists: The Partially Invisible Other" begins on p. 254; "Anabaptist Women-- Radical Women?" begins on p. 313
Triumph over Silence: Women in Protestant History
Richard L. Greaves.
Greenwood Press, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "God's Powerful Army of the Weak: Anabaptist Women of the Radical Reformation"
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