V. – THE ANABAPTISTS. – 40.-The Anabaptists; they refuse Baptism to Children. 41. -Their Leaders Seditions and Defeat. 42.-Are again defeated under their Chief, Munzer, who is converted at his death. 43. -They rebel again under John of Leyden, who causes himself to be crowned King, is condemned to a cruel death, and dies penitent. 44. -Errors of the Anabaptists. 45.-They are split into various sects.
40. The Anabaptists were likewise the spawn of Lutheranism. The chief doctrine of those heretics was, that children should not be baptized in infancy, as, not having come to the use of reason, they were incapable of real belief and salvation, according to the words of the Gospel : ” He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark, xvi, 16); hence they were called Anabaptists, as they taught that those who were baptized in infancy should be rebaptized. Now this error sprung from Luther himself, who asserted it was better to leave infants without Baptism, than to baptize them when they had no Faith of their own (1). These unfortunate persons, however, should remember, that in the text of the Gospel quoted it is adults are meant, who are capable of actual Faith, for infants, who are incapable of it, receive the grace of the Sacrament through the Faith of the Church in which they are baptized, and as, without any actual fault of theirs, they contract original sin, it is but just that they should receive the grace of Jesus Christ without actual Faith, for, as St. Augustine writes (2), as they are sick with the weight of another sin, they are healed by another’s confession, and are saved. Our Lord says, in St. Matthew, xix, 14 : ” Suffer little children to come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” As, therefore, little children can acquire the kingdom of heaven, so can they receive Baptism, without which no one can enter into heaven. The Church has received it as a tradition from the
(1) Gotti, Ver. Ed. t. 2, c.110, sec. 1, n. 1. (2) August. Serm. 176, alias 10, de Verb Apost.
Apostles so says Origen (3) to give Baptism to infants, and St. Irenæus, Tertullian, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Ambrose, St. Cyprian, and St. Augustine, all bear witness to the same practice. Hence, the Council of Trent, anathematizing those who asserted that persons baptized before they came to the use of reason should be re-baptized, uses the following words: “If any one should say that children having received Baptism should not be numbered among the faithful, because they have not actual faith, and, therefore, when they come to the years of discretion, that they should be re-baptized, or that it is better to omit Baptism, than to baptize in the faith of the Church alone those who have not actual faith, let him be anathema.” This Canon condemns most clearly both the Anabaptist and Lutheran heresies.
41. The chief of the Anabaptists was Nicholas Stork, or Storchius, sometimes also called Pelargus. He was at first a disciple of Luther, but soon the head of a new heresy, which he preached in 1522, saying it was revealed to him from heaven. Being banished from Wittemberg, he went to Thuringia, where, together with his first error, he preached many others, such as that all men enjoy universal freedom from restraint, that all property is common, and should be equally divided, and that all Bishops, Magistrates, and Princes, who opposed his true Church should be put to death (4). Here he was joined by Thomas Munzer, a Priest, a follower of Luther, also, who pretended to lead a most mortified life, and boasted of having frequent ecstacies and extraordinary communications from the Deity. He abused the Pope for teaching too severe a doctrine, and Luther for promulgating too lax a one. He everywhere censured Luther’s morals and conduct, accused him of debauchery and lasciviousness, and said it was impossible to believe God would make use of so wicked a man to reform his Church. Through Luther’s influence, he and all his followers were banished from Saxony (5). He then went to Thuringia, and preached the same errors as Storchius, especially in Munster, teaching the country people that they should not obey either Prelates or Princes.
(3) Orig. t. 2, p. 35, St. Iren. p 147, n. 4; Tertul. p. 231; St. Greg. Naz. t. 1, p. 658; St. Amb. t. 1, o. 349; St. Cypr. Epist. adFidum, n. 59; St. Aug. Serm. 10, de Verb. Apost. alias 177. (4) Nat. Alex. t. 18, art. 11, sec. 12; Gotti, loc. cit. n. 2.(5) Varillas, t. 1, l. 6, p. 266.
In a short time he rallied round him the great body of the Anabaptists, and led forth three hundred thousand ignorant peasants (6), causing them to forsake their spades for the sword, and promising them the assistance of God in their battles. These poor deluded creatures at first did a great deal of harm, but when regular troops were brought against them, they were soon, notwithstanding their immense numbers, completely routed, not being trained to the use of arms. Those who escaped the slaughter marched towards Lorrain, with the intention of devastating that province; but the Count Claude of Guise, brother to the Duke of Lorrain, slaughtered twenty thousand of them in three victories which he gained (7). Sleidan (8) says that these poor peasants, when they were attacked by the troops, appeared quite demented, and neither defended themselves nor fled, but began to sing a popular hymn, imploring the assistance of the Holy Ghost, whose protection, according to Munzer’s promises, they expected.
44. In the meantime, while Munzer, with his Anabaptist followers, were ravaging Thuringia, they were encountered by an army commanded by Duke George of Saxony, who promised them peace if they laid down their arms; but Munzer, thinking himself lost if the conditions were accepted, encouraged them, to refuse all accommodation, and to kill the officer who bore a flag of truce to them. This treachery infuriated the soldiers, who immediately attacked them; they made a stout resistance at first, encouraged by Munzer, who told them he would catch the balls of the enemy in his sleeve, and such was the effect this promise had on them, that many of them stood firm before the cannon of the enemy. This did not, however, last long; the greater part fled, and the rest were taken prisoners. Munzer fled with the rest, and, without being recognized, hid himself in Franchausen, pretending to be sick; he was there discovered, taken and condemned, along with Pfeiffer, an apostate Premonstratensian Canon, to have his head cut off in Mulhausen. This war lasted five months, and it is said cost the lives of a hundred and thirty-five thousand peasants (9). Pfeiffer died an obstinate heretic. Munzer’s death is related in different ways some say he died with the greatest boldness, and challenged the Judges and Princes, telling them to read the Bible, the word of God; and these were his last words.
(6) Varillas, p. 270; Hermant Hist. t. 2, c. 239. (7) Hermant, loc. cit.; Varill. p. 267. (8) Ap.Gottiibid,n.7, ex Sleidan, l. 5. (9) Nat. Alex. t. 29, cit. sec. 12, Gotti, cit, cap. 110, sec. 1, n. 1.
But the more general opinion is, and Noel Alexander says it can be relied on as fact, that previous to his death he retracted his errors, confessed to a Priest, received the Viaticum, and after offering up some devout prayers, bared his neck to the executioner’s sword (10).
45. Munzer’s death, and the slaughter of so many of the peasantry, did not put an end to this sect. In the year 1534, nearly nine years after his death, a number of people in West phalia rebelled against their Princes, and seized the city of Munster, when they elected, as their chief, John of Leyden, the son of a Dutch tailor. His first act was to banish the Bishop and all the Catholics of the city, and then pretending to have a revelation from heaven, he caused his followers to crown him King, saying he was elected to that dignity by God himself, and he called himself Rex Justitiæ hujus Mundi; he preached polygamy, and put it in practice by marrying sixteen wives, at the same time; he rejected the Eucharist, but, sitting at a table, distributed bits of bread to his followers, saying : ” Take, and eat, and ye shall announce the death of the Lord ;” and at the same time the Queen, that is, one of his wives, dispensed the chalice, saying : ” Drink, and you shall announce the death of the Lord.” He next selected twenty disciples, and sent them as Apostles of God, to preach his doctrine, but all these unfortunates were taken and condemned to death, along with himself, in the year 1535 (11). The mercy of the Lord be praised for ever, since he extended it to John of Leyden; he shewed himself a sincere penitent, and bore, with the most admirable patience, the cruel death and torments inflicted on him; he was three times tortured with pincers by two executioners for two hours, and he bore it all without a murmur, saying he deserved it for his sins, and imploring the Divine Mercy; his companions died in their obstinacy (12), and Hermant says, that his sect has spread its roots into many Christian kingdoms (13).
(10) Nat. Alex. loc. cit.; Gotti, n. 8; Varill. p. 288; Van Eanst, sec. 16, p. 313; Hermant, c. 239. (11) N. Alex. cit. a. 12, n. 2; Varill.p. 427; V. Ranst. p. 315; Her. c. 241. (12) Varill. p. 436. (13) Her. loc. cit.; V. Ranst, p. 314.
46. The errors of the Anabaptists were : First That children should not be baptized, but only adults capable of reason. Second That no Christian could be a civil magistrate. Third It is in no case lawful for Christians to swear. Fourth War is unlawful to Christians.
47. The Anabaptists soon split into several sects some say fourteen, some, even seventy. Some were called Munzerites, after Thomas Munzer; some who preferred voluntary poverty, Huttites, from John Hut; others, Augustines, from Augustine Boehem, who taught that heaven would not be opened till after the day of judgment; others, Buholdians. from John (Buhold) of Ley den, whose history we have just given these preached polygamy, and wished to destroy all the wicked; some Melchiorists, from Melchior Hoffman, who taught that Christ had but one Nature, that he was not born of Mary, and various other errors; some were called Mennonites, from Mennon these held heretical opinions regarding the Trinity; some Davidians, the followers of one George, who called himself the Third David, the true Messiah, the beloved Son of God, born of the Spirit, not of the flesh, the pardoner of sins; he died in 1556, and promised to rise again in three years. This vain prophecy had some truth in it, for three years afterwards, the Senate of Basle caused him to be disinterred, and his remains burned along with his writings. The Clancularists, when asked if they were Anabaptists, denied it; they had no churches, but preached in private houses and gardens. The Demonists, following the errors of Origen, said the devils would be saved in the end of the world. The Adamites appeared naked in public, having, as they asserted, recovered the pristine innocence of Adam. The Servetians, followers of Michael Servetus, joined to the errors of the Anabaptists, blasphemies against the Trinity and Jesus Christ. The Condormientes slept together without distinction of sex, and called this indecency the new Christian Charity. The Ejulants, or Weepers, said there was no devotion so pleasing to God as weeping and wailing. Noel Alexander and Van Ranst enumerate many other classes of these fanatics (14).
(14) Nat. Alex. t. 19, art. 11, n. 4; Van Ranst,p. 315, & sec.