« Prev The Baptismal Controversy Next »

§ 25. The Baptismal Controversy.

The opposition to the mixed state-church or popular church, which embraced all the baptized, legitimately led to the rejection of infant baptism. A new church required a new baptism.

This became now the burning question. The Radicals could find no trace of infant baptism in the Bible, and denounced it as an invention of the pope127127    They derived it from Pope Nicolas II. (A.D. 1059-’61), whose pontificate was entirely under the control of Hildebrand, afterwards Gregory VII. The reference shows the prevailing ignorance of Church history. Pedobaptism is much older than the papacy. and the devil. Baptism, they reasoned, presupposes instruction, faith, and conversion, which is impossible in the case of infants.128128    Hübmaier, when in Waldshut, substituted first a simple benediction of children, in place of baptism, but baptized when the parents wished it. See Gieseler, III. A. p. 210, note. Voluntary baptism of adult and responsible converts is, therefore, the only valid baptism. They denied that baptism is necessary for salvation, and maintained that infants are or may be saved by the blood of Christ without water-baptism.129129    The Augsburg Confession (Art. IX.) condemns the Anabaptists for teaching "pueros sine baptismo salvos fieri." But baptism is necessary for church membership as a sign and seal of conversion.

From this conception of baptism followed as a further consequence the rebaptism of those converts who wished to unite with the new church. Hence the name Anabaptists or Rebaptizers (Wiedertäufer), which originated with the Pedobaptists, but which they themselves rejected, because they knew no other kind of baptism except that of converts.

The demand of rebaptism virtually unbaptized and unchristianized the entire Christian world, and completed the rupture with the historic Church. It cut the last cord of union of the present with the past.

The first case was the rebaptism of Blaurock by Grebel in February, 1525, soon after the disputation with Zwingli. At a private religious meeting, Blaurock asked Grebel to give him the true Christian baptism on confession of his faith, fell on his knees and was baptized. Then he baptized all others who were present, and partook with them of the Lord’s Supper, or, as they called it, the breaking of bread.130130    Füssli, II. 338. The report of a Moravian Baptist chronicle, quoted by Cornelius (II. 26 sq.), is as follows: "Und es hat sich begeben, dass sie bei einander gewesen sind, bis die Angst auf sie kam und sie in ihren Herzen gedrungen wurden; da haben sie angefangen ihre Kniee zu beugen vor dem höchsten Gott im Himmel, und ihn angerufen, dass er ihnen geben wolle, seinen göttlichen Willen zu vollbringen. Darauf hat Jürg [Blaurock] sich erhoben und um Gottes willen gebeten, dass Conrad [Grebel] ihn taufe mit der rechten wahren christlichen Taufe auf seinen Glauben und seine Erkenntniss; ist wieder auf die Kniee gefallen und von Conrad getauft worden; und alle übrigen Anwesenden haben sich dann von Jürg taufen lassen. Hiernächst hat derselbe, seinem eigenen Bericht zufolge, damit die Brüder des Todes Christi allweg eingedenk wären und sein vergossen Blut nicht vergässen, ihnen den Brauch Christi angezeigt, den er in seinem Nachtmal gehalten hat, und zugleich mit ihnen das Brot gebrochen und den Trank getrunken, damit sie sich erinnerten, dass sie alle durch den einigen Leib Christi erlöst und durch sein einiges Blut abqewaschen seien, auf dass sie alle eins und je einer des anderen Bruder und Schwester in Christo ihrem Herrn wären."
   Cornelius adds to this report: "Diese Dinge haben sich wenige Tage nach der Disputation des 18. Januar zugetragen, und rasch, noch ehe dieVerbannten ihren Abschied genommen hatten, ist, zum Theil mit ihrer Hülfe, der Gebrauch der Taufe und des Herrn Brodes nach Zollikon und über die ganze Genossenschaft verbreitet worden."
Reubli introduced rebaptism in Waldshut at Easter, 1525, convinced Hübmaier of its necessity, and rebaptized him with about sixty persons. Hübmaier himself rebaptized about three hundred.131131    So Hübmaier testified before the magistrate at Zurich (Egli, Actensammlung, p. 431): "Da käme Wilhelm (Reubli) und toufte ihn (Hübmaier), und liessend sich uf dasselb mal mit ihm bi 60 personen toufen. Darnach habe er die Osterfirtag für und für und ob 300 menschen getouft." Nothing is said about the mode. Soon afterwards (July 5, 1525), Hübmaier published his book, Von dem Christlichen Touff der Gläubigen against Zwingli, but without naming him. Zwingli replied November, 1525. See A. Baur, Zwingli’s Theol., II. 137 sq., 141 sqq.

Baptism was not bound to any particular form or time or place or person; any one could administer the ordinance upon penitent believers who desired it. It was first done mostly in houses, by sprinkling or pouring, occasionally by partial or total immersion in rivers.132132    Nitsche, p. 30: "Wenn über jemand der Geist Gottes kam, beklagte und beweinte er seine Sünden und bat den ersten besten, ihn zu taufen; dieser bespritzte oder überschüttete ihn unter Nennung der drei göttlichen Personen mit Wasser. Einem förmlichen Untertauchen, wie es später wohl vorkommt, begegnen wir zunächst nicht …Meistens wurde die Taufe in irgend einem Hause vollzogen; aber auch im Freien wurde getauft: so Rudolph Breitinger bei Gelegenheit eines Spazierganges am Neppelbach, ein anderer beim Brunnen zu Hirslanden." Egli, p. 23 sq.:, Wie es scheint, war Blaurock der eigentlich populäre Täufer und wandte den Gebrauch allgemeiner an auf den ersten Besten, der weinend zu ihm kam."

The mode of baptism was no point of dispute between Anabaptists and Pedobaptists in the sixteenth century. The Roman Church provides for immersion and pouring as equally valid. Luther preferred immersion, and prescribed it in his baptismal service.133133    See vol. VI. 608, note, and my book on the Didache, p. 41 sqq. In England immersion was the normal mode down to the middle of the seventeenth century.134134    Edward VI. and Queen Elizabeth were immersed, according to the rubric of the English Prayer Book. Erasmus says, "With us" (on the Continent) infants have the water poured on them; in England they are dipped." It was adopted by the English and American Baptists as the only mode; while the early Anabaptists, on the other hand, baptized by sprinkling and pouring as well. We learn this from the reports in the suits against them at Zurich. Blaurock baptized by sprinkling,135135    In the trial of fourteen Anabaptists, Feb. 7, 1525, Marx Bosshard testified that Hans Bruggbach of Zumikon, after the reading of a portion of the New Testament in a meeting, confessed and deplored big sins, and requested, as a sign of his conversion, to be sprinkled in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; whereupon Blaurock sprinkled him. "Darauf habe ihn Blaurock bespritzt." Egli, Actensammlung, p. 282. Manz by pouring.136136    In the same suit Jörg Schad said, "er habe sich lassen begüssen mit Wasser, und syg [sei] Felix Manz töifer gesin [Täufer gewesen]." Ibid., p. 283. The first clear case of immersion among the Swiss Anabaptists is that of Wolfgang Uliman (an ex-monk of Coire, and for a while assistant of Kessler in St. Gall). He was converted by Grebel on a journey to Schaffhausen, and, not satisfied with being "sprinkled merely out of a dish," was "drawn under and covered over in the Rhine."137137    Kessler, Sabbata, I. 266 ("in dem Rhin von dem Grebel under getrückt und bedeckt"). Comp. Barrage, 105. On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1525, Grebel baptized a large number in the Sitter, a river a few miles from St. Gall, which descends from the Säntis and flows into the Thur, and is deep enough for immersion.138138    Burrage, p. 117. I was informed by Mr. Steiger of Herisau (Appenzell) that the modern Baptists in St. Gall and Appenzell baptize by immersion in the Sitter; but their number has greatly diminished since the death of Schlatter. The Lord’s Supper was administered by the Baptists in the simplest manner, after a plain supper (in imitation of the original institution and the Agape), by the recital of the words of institution, and the distribution of bread and wine. They reduced it to a mere commemoration.

The two ideas of a pure church of believers and of the baptism of believers were the fundamental articles of the Anabaptist creed. On other points there was a great variety and confusion of opinions. Some believed in the sleep of the soul between death and resurrection, a millennial reign of Christ, and final restoration; some entertained communistic and socialistic opinions which led to the catastrophe of Münster (1534). Wild excesses of immorality occurred here and there.139139    As in St. Gall and Appenzell; see Cornelius, II. 64 sq.

But it is unjust to charge the extravagant dreams and practices of individuals upon the whole body. The Swiss Anabaptists had no connection with the Peasants’ War, which barely touched the border of Switzerland, and were upon the whole, like the Moravian Anabaptists, distinguished for simple piety and strict morality. Bullinger, who was opposed to them, gives the Zurich Radicals the credit that they denounced luxury, intemperance in eating and drinking, and all vices, and led a serious, spiritual life. Kessler of St. Gall, likewise an opponent, reports their cheerful martyrdom, and exclaims, "Alas! what shall I say of the people? They move my sincere pity; for many of them are zealous for God, but without knowledge." And Salat, a Roman Catholic contemporary, writes that with "cheerful, smiling faces, they desired and asked death, and went into it singing German psalms and other prayers."140140    A. Baur, who sides altogether with Zwingli, must nevertheless admit (II. 187) that "the majority of the Swiss Anabaptists were quiet and honorable people of earnest character and unblemished reputation as citizens."

The Anabaptists produced some of the earliest Protestant hymns in the German language, which deserve the attention of the historian. Some of them passed into orthodox collections in ignorance of the real authors. Blaurock, Manz, Hut, Hätzer, Koch, Wagner, Langmantel, Sattler, Schiemer, Glait, Steinmetz, Büchel, and many others contributed to this interesting branch of the great body of Christian song. The Anabaptist psalms and hymns resemble those of Schwenkfeld and his followers. They dwell on the inner life of the Christian, the mysteries of regeneration, sanctification, and personal union with Christ. They breathe throughout a spirit of piety, devotion, and cheerful resignation under suffering, and readiness for martyrdom. They are hymns of the cross, to comfort and encourage the scattered sheep of Christ ready for the slaughter, in imitation of their divine Shepherd.


The Anabaptist hymns appeared in a collection under the title "Aussbund Etlicher schöner Christlicher Geseng wie die in der Gefengniss zu Passau im Schloss von den Schweitzern und auch von anderen rechtgläubigen Christen hin und her gedicht worden," 1583, and often. Also in other collections of the sixteenth century. They are reprinted in Wackernagel, Das Deutsche Kirchenlied, vol. III. (1870), pp. 440–491, and vol. V. (1877), pp. 677–887. He embodies them in this monumental corpus hymnologicum, as he does the Schwenkfeldian and the Roman Catholic hymns of the fifteenth century, but under express reservation of his high-Lutheran orthodoxy. He refuses to acknowledge the Anabaptists as martyrs any longer (as he had done in his former work on German hymnology), because they stand, he says (III. 439), "ausserhalb der Wahrheit, ausserhalb der heiligen lutherischen Kirche!" Hymnology is the last place for sectarian exclusiveness. It furnishes one of the strongest evidences of Christian union in the sanctuary of worship, where theological quarrels are forgotten in the adoration of a common Lord and Saviour. Luther himself, as Wackernagel informs us, received unwittingly in his hymn book of 1545 a hymn of the Anabaptist Grünwald, and another of the Schwenkfeldian Reusner. Wackernagel is happily inconsistent when he admits (p. 440) that much may be learned from the Anabaptist hymns, and that a noble heart will not easily condemn those victims of Rome and of the house of Habsburg. He gives first the hymns of Thomas Münzer, who can hardly be called an Anabaptist and was disowned by the better portion.

Burrage, in Baptist Hymn Writers, Portland, 1888, p. 1 sqq., gives some extracts of Anabaptist hymns. The following stanza, from a hymn of Schiemer or Schöner, characterizes the condition and spirit of this persecuted people:—

We are, alas, like scattered sheep,

The shepherd not in sight,

Each far away from home and hearth,

And, like the birds of night

That hide away in rocky clefts,

We have our rocky hold,

Yet near at hand, as for the birds,

There waits the hunter bold."

« Prev The Baptismal Controversy Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection