A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE ANABAPTIST PROTEST

How it is best to use the term 'Anabaptism' is not altogether an easy matter to decide. Speaking strictly and with reference to the derivative meaning of the word, it should be used only of those who insisted on an adult baptism as necessary for reception into the Church. But there are serious objections to the use of the term in this narrow sense. Terms are but labels and it would be pedantic so to restrict the use of this one, unless such a use corresponds to a real and sharp division among those who were called Anabaptists. I do not think that this was the case. It is true that no two types of religious men could seem much more unlike than were the philosophic mystic Hans Denck and the lunatic Jan Matthys. The narrow use of the term Anabaptist would exclude both of them. But Denck, it seems, was 'rebaptized', and to say that the fanatics of Münster were not Anabaptists is to ignore altogether the contemporary use of the term. For the sixteenth century it was Matthys and Bockelson and their followers who were the Anabaptists par excellence.

'Anno 1524 and 1525 is God's word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ come into all Germany after the Peasants' War.'1 'Rebaptism,' in fact, first appears at Zurich in 1525; but the little group of enthusiasts who then adopted it and who included Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and Balthazar Hubmaier, had been gathered at Zurich since 1522. On the other hand, as early as 1521 had appeared the 'prophets of Zwickau', the portentous Nicholas Storch and the yet more portentous Thomas Muntzer. The teachings of these last played a considerable part in the Peasants' Revolt, which was far from being a mere revolt of peasants. It was indeed the part played in that affair by such men as Muntzer and Pfeiffer that turned Luther's semi- sympathetic attitude into one of unmitigated hostility. Quite early, in fact, in the history of the Reformation in Germany, the phenomena roughly classed under the heading Anabaptism begin to appear.

From 1525 onwards there was going on a rapid multiplication of

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1
Beck, Geschichtsbücher der Wiedertäufer in Osterr.-Ung., II, p. 11 ( Vienna, 1883). From an Anabaptist writing.

-35-

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