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© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Anabaptists: Selected full-text books and articles

Early Anabaptist Spirituality: Selected Writings By Daniel Liechty; Hans J. Hillerbrand Paulist Press, 1994
The German Peasant's War and Anabaptist Community of Goods By James M. Stayer McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994
Elisabeth's Manly Courage: Testimonials and Songs of Martyred Anabaptist Women in the Low Countries By Hermina Joldersma; Louis Grijp Marquette University Press, 2001
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
The Blackwell Companion to Religion in America By Philip Goff Wiley-Blackwell, 2010
Librarian's tip: Chap. 27 "Anabaptists"
Reformation Studies: Essays in Honor of Roland H. Bainton By 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 By 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 By 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 By Marie A. Conn Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Anabaptist Women Martyrs: Images of Radical Commitment"
Triumph over Silence: Women in Protestant History By 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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