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Anabaptism

ANABAPTISM

ANABAPTISM. Anabaptism is the name for several related branches of continental European lay Protestantism. These groups first began emerging after 1525 and were most prominent in (but not limited to) German- and Dutch-speaking territories. In German and Dutch the terms Wiedertäufer and wederdooper (rebaptizers) carry old, negative connotations. By contrast, Täufer or dooper (baptists), Taufgesinnten or doopsgezinden (the baptism-minded), and Mennonites (strictly speaking a group-specific term that is sometimes applied loosely as an umbrella category for all later Anabaptists except the Hutterites) are used more widely today. In current scholarly English the name Anabaptist ("one who baptizes again") is widely accepted as a neutral term that has lost its older, polemical sense. While the first Anabaptists were often baptized twice, once as infants in the medieval church and again as adults in the early years of the Reformation, the overwhelming majority throughout the early modern era were baptized only once as adults, after first confessing their faith publicly.

There were some features common to most Anabaptist groups throughout the early modern period. Like other Protestants, Anabaptists rejected papal authority in favor of biblical authority. However, while most other Protestants began establishing new professional clerical elites soon after the initial ferment of the Reformation, Anabaptists maintained their reliance on lay leadership much longer, and it was not uncommon among early groups to believe that ordinary men and women could receive direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Like other Protestants, Anabaptists emphasized the importance of grace for salvation, but they also placed a great deal of emphasis on the need for true faith to result in the transformation of believers' lives. And like other Protestants, Anabaptists accepted only two sacraments, communion and baptism. Their symbolic, commemorative understanding of communion was similar to that held by Reformed Protestants. But unlike the majority of other major Christian communities, Anabaptists rejected child baptism in favor of believers' baptism as practiced by the earliest Christian communities.

INTERPRETING ANABAPTISM

One of the dominant twentieth-century interpretations of Anabaptist history was outlined by the Mennonite historian Harold Bender in an influential essay from 1944 entitled "The Anabaptist Vision." In it he argued that "Anabaptism proper" had a single point of origin (Zurich) and an unchanging core of ethical features (discipleship, brotherhood, and nonresistance) that defined it. The reason for this narrow definition was to establish a clear distinction between true and false Anabaptists. The latter were those who, although they practiced believers' baptism, also participated in revolutionary politics and/or held mystical, spiritualist beliefs. From the point of view of church historians trying to establish an appropriate pedigree for modern Mennonites, these kinds of "fanatics" were not appropriate forebears.

By contrast, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Marxist historians were among the first sympathetic interpreters to raise the theme of radical politics to prominence in Anabaptist studies. They were interested in Anabaptists as defenders of an ideology of the poor at a crucial stage of the Reformation when mainstream reformers were allying themselves with the interests of capital and the feudal ruling class. Few historians of Anabaptism today are Marxists, but issues the Marxists addressedthe social character of Anabaptist groups and the centrality of revolutionary events like the German Peasants' War of 1525 and the period of Anabaptist rule in Münster from 1534 to 1535continue to be prominent.

Scholars since the 1960s and 1970s have generally rejected these interpretations. If the older Mennonite scholarship has influence today, it is mainly in the general interest in ethics and beliefs. Scholars since the later twentieth century have continued to investigate these themes, usually without imposing modern denominational assumptions about "Anabaptism proper." In part because of the influence of Marxist research, most acknowledge today that the first Anabaptists held a wide range of views about the use of force, as well as the proper relationship between believers and secular rulers. The newer social and intellectual history has shown that regional diversity was one of the hallmarks of Anabaptism. The way ideas spread among Anabaptist groups plus the important role of women in early Anabaptist groups have also received more attention in recent scholarship.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century it was common to write about Anabaptism as part of the "Radical Reformation." In the 1960s George Williams had defined this term in contrast to the "Magisterial Reformation" and the "Counter-Reformation" and gave it a meaning that emphasized intellectual and theological features. By contrast, in the 1970s the German historian Hans-Jürgen Goertz had proposed defining as "radical" those groups and individuals who broke with the social, political, and ecclesiastical norms of their day. In Goertz's interpretation, anticlericalism and laicism were key impulses shared by the first reforming movements in the early 1520s. By the mid-1520s rifts developed among reformers. Those who founded mainstream Protestant churches moderated their once radical positions when it became possible to establish alliances with secular authorities. Anabaptist groups were among the early campaigners for radical reforms who refused to compromise with authorities and therefore eventually found themselves forced to the margins of society. The early coalitions of radicals included not only Anabaptists, but also spiritualist opponents of child baptism. While leaders at first could campaign for a complete Anabaptist reformation of society, separatism became the main option left open to those proponents of adult baptism who were active a few years after the Peasants' War and the period of Anabaptist rule in Münster. The focus on radical reform is significant, because it integrates Anabaptist history into the main currents of early Reformation studies.

After the first stage of the Reformation, Anabaptist groups underwent a transformation from dynamic early reforming movements to more established communities. The concentration of Anabaptist and Radical Reformation studies on the period until about 1550 has meant that the character of institutionalized Anabaptism of the early modern period remains largely unexplored.

EARLY ANABAPTIST GROUPS

Throughout Europe the first generation of Anabaptists included men and women from a wide range of social backgrounds. University-educated scholars, former priests and monks, and artisans and other commoners were among their first leaders. Even the educated, many of whom quickly fell victim to executioners, tended to hold anti-intellectual prejudices, preferring the simplicity of a life lived according to Christ's example to the intricacies of academic theology. Like medieval dissenters and reformers, most early Anabaptists emphasized active holiness and ascetically disciplined lives as prerequisites for salvation, and they frequently held apocalyptic, prophetic, spiritualistic, mystical, and anti-institutional understandings of their connections with God. Radical reformers like Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, Thomas Müntzer, and Kaspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig were among those who rejected child baptism before 1525. Although they never baptized adults, their influence on Anabaptist groups was strong.

Ever since Klaus Depperman, Werner Packull, and James Stayer published the essay "From Monogenesis to Polygenesis" in 1975, it has been common to make distinctions among three regional forms of Anabaptism: Swiss, southern German and Austrian, and northern German and Dutch. The authors' further research has shown that there were many interactions and exchanges connecting groups, especially in Swiss, southern German, and Austrian territories. Nonetheless, it remains useful to chart differences, as well as interactions, between regional cultures of Anabaptism.

In Swiss, southern German, and Austrian territories there was a strong affinity between the Peasants' War and Anabaptism. In the aftermath of the conflicts of 1525, disillusioned activists sought to give religious expression to the ideals that the peasants and commoners had fought for earlier. The Anabaptist practice of community of goods emerged as a result.

The first adult baptisms began in Swiss territories in early 1525. The Swiss Brethren included many of Huldrych Zwingli's early supporters, who had become dissatisfied with his conservative turn. Key leaders in this branch included Konrad Grebel (14981526), Balthasar Hubmaier (14851528), Felix Mantz (14981527), and Wilhelm Reublin (c. 1484after 1559). Their Christianity tended to be legalistic, literal, and scriptural in character. The Schleitheim Articles of 1527 are a famous expression of Swiss Anabaptism in its most radically separatist mode.

Compared to Swiss Anabaptists, southern German and Austrian Anabaptist groups were influenced much more strongly by Thomas Müntzer's brand of spiritualism and mysticism. Apocalyptic expectations among believers were also especially strong into the later 1520s. Key leaders in this branch included Hans Denck (c. 15001527), Hans Hut (d. 1527), Pilgram Marpeck (14921556), and Melchior Rinck (c. 14931553?). After the 1520s these groups became indistinguishable from the Swissexcept for Marpeck's group, which was prominent for publishing ventures in which writings by such diverse figures as Luther and Schwenckfeld were edited to serve Anabaptist doctrinal objectives.

Anabaptists were faced with often severe persecution. From an anti-Anabaptist point of view, the baptism of adults was an anti-Christian rebaptism that threatened to disrupt unity and order in the Christian polity. Thus, sixteenth-century rulers tended to interpret the act of baptizing adults as an act of rebellion and heresy. Although Anabaptists amounted to only a small minority in most territories, the attention paid them by authorities meant that their impact was much greater than their numbers might suggest. At the 1529 Diet of Speyer rebaptism was declared a capital crime in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire. Both Catholic and Protestant governments executed unrepentant Anabaptist men and women.

Anabaptist responses to persecution varied. In the immediate aftermath of the Peasants' War a small minority chose to fight back, though futilely. Some believers recanted when threatened with punishment, while others stayed steadfast in the face of hardship, hoping for rescue upon Christ's imminent return. When confronted with the choice, some preferred martyrdom over the betrayal of their faith; about two thousand died for their faith, about as many as the martyrs drawn from the far more numerous Protestant churches. Another option was Nicodemism, hiding their forbidden faith from central authorities while pretending to conform. Many chose exile.

One region where persecution was particularly intense was the Catholic Habsburg Tyrol. Here Anabaptism in the late 1520s was the main form of popular reform. Jakob Hutter (d. 1536) and other leaders arranged the relocation of large numbers of believers from the Tyrol to Moravia, where some members of the local nobility were willing to provide the Anabaptists with land to live in peace. The relative safety of Moravia also attracted many refugees from Switzerland and southern Germany. In the Moravian sanctuaries, competing branches melded into new hybrid forms of Anabaptism.

In Dutch and northern German territories, where the Peasants' War was of little consequence, Anabaptism had a largely (although not entirely) separate history. Melchior Hofmann (c. 14951543/1544) began baptizing believers in these territories in 1530. In 1531, after harsh repression, he decided to suspend baptisms until the End Times, which he felt were then soon approaching. The suspension of adult baptism did not halt the movement's spread. A turning point came in February 1534, when an Anabaptist faction won elections in the Westphalian city of Münster. By that time the city had become a New Jerusalem for believers from the surrounding region and the Netherlands after baptisms had resumed. Catholic and Protestant authorities in neighboring territories reacted by laying siege to the city. Under the stresses of the siege, community of goods and polygamy were practiced. The siege armies broke through the city's walls in June 1535. The captured leaders, including Jan van Leyden, the self-styled Anabaptist king, were executed in gruesome fashion.

Dutch and northern German Anabaptists after 1535 had to come to terms with the shock of the Münster years. Melchior Hofmann's distinctive belief in Christ's nature untainted by human corruption remained a characteristic of successor groups for many decades. A number of leaders vied for influence among the Melchiorite remnant after 1535. These included Jan van Battenburg, who led a militant minority; David Joris (1501/15021556), whose brand of spiritualism attracted many adherents before 1540; and Menno Simons (14961561), a former Catholic priest who advocated the formation of disciplined, separatist communities of nonresistant believers as an alternative to the excesses of Münster. The Mennonites were the most successful faction after about 1540.

LATER DEVELOPMENTS

The character of Anabaptist groups went through some significant transformations over the course of the early modern era. While the first Anabaptists were voluntary converts to the new faith, most Anabaptists after the middle of the sixteenth century were born into established communities of faith. They accepted both adult baptism and political discrimination as part of their inheritance. It was only after the first generation of the Reformation that nonresistance (which denominational historians emphasized in their interpretations) rose to the central position that it enjoyed throughout most of the rest of the early modern period. Over the course of the sixteenth century the separatist Anabaptists' radical rejection of mainstream society diminished, and secular governments tended to be more accepting of the peaceful, withdrawn dissenters the Anabaptists had become.

In southern territories, persecution forced believers to relocate from cities and towns to the more secluded countryside. Anabaptists in the Swiss highlands were hunted by authorities until the middle of the eighteenth century. The Amish, followers of Jakob Amman (c. 1644c. 1730), formed in the 1690s, in part to try to establish pure communities of the faithful without any compromises. Many emigrated eventually to North America. Unlike the single-family households the Swiss Brethren preferred, a unique feature of Moravian Anabaptism was that a portion of its members organized themselves in large social, religious, and economic cooperatives that have remained typical of Hutterite communities (named after Jakob Hutter) to the present day. Hutterites thrived in Moravia beside other non-communitarian Anabaptist groups until the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, when they lost noble protection and migrated to new havens in Slovakia, after which they were driven farther east, until in the late nineteenth century they joined the wave of Russian emigration to North America.

Anabaptist groups thrived in the Protestant Netherlands and northern German territories, largely because they had received special privileges from secular authorities after the 1570s. Mennonites, the dominant group of Anabaptists in these regions, had strong communities in the Dutch countryside (as in Friesland) and in urban centers like Amsterdam, and even as far east as Danzig (Gdańsk). Under the stresses of war and persecution, Anabaptists had left the southern Low Countries in the sixteenth century for the relative safety of Protestant-controlled territories to the north. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, new Anabaptist communities formed. These included groups known as Waterlanders, Flemish, Frisians, and High Germans, and later also Lamists and Zonists. Although their ecclesiastical affairs were organized mainly locally and congregationally, conferences or synodal structures did emerge in the seventeenth century to link communities. The Dutch and northern German Mennonites were the first Anabaptists to employ professional, university-trained clergymen.

Most Mennonites were what we might call "conforming nonconformists." They were religious nonconformists in their unique practice of believers' baptism, as well as in their refusal to swear oaths or bear arms. In the seventeenth century, they (like other Protestant groups) commonly expressed their desire to preserve a unique confessional identity by using confessions of faith. In these statements, they also typically emphasized their adherence to the basic doctrines of the Christian creeds, and their politically conformist view that true Christians were obedient subjects. As communities they paid taxes, even war taxes. In some jurisdictions Mennonites held minor political offices, but in most cases they accepted exclusion from positions of public authority.

Early modern Mennonites were instrumental in creating a sense of pan-Anabaptist identity. They argued that their Anabaptist forebears were not fanatics, heretics, or rebels, as many Catholic and mainstream Protestant polemicists alleged. Rather, they were believers who had been especially faithful to Christ's teachings. A rich martyrological tradition emerged in which Mennonite writers memorialized executed believers from groups all across Europe. Significant numbers of Mennonites prospered economically in the early modern era, and some were able to establish substantial merchant enterprises. They used part of their wealth to support coreligionists suffering hardships in other regions.

In the eighteenth century, Dutch Mennonites tended to be well integrated into their societies, and some even participated in Pietist or Enlightenment circles. In the 1780s a significant proportion were active in the Dutch Patriot Movement during its rebellion against the Orange regime. Some even gave up the principle of nonresistance to bear arms against the government. After the early nineteenth century this radical phase was eagerly forgotten.

See also Leyden, Jan van ; Münster ; Patriot Revolution ; Peasants' War, German ; Pietism ; Reformation, Protestant ; Zwingli, Huldrych.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Driedger, Michael D. Obedient Heretics: Mennonite Identities in Lutheran Hamburg and Altona during the Confessional Age. Aldershot, U.K., and Burlington, Vt., 2002.

Dyck, Cornelius J., ed. An Introduction to Mennonite History: A Popular History of the Anabaptists and the Mennonites. Scottdale, Pa., 1993.

Goertz, Hans-Jürgen, ed. Profiles of Radical Reformers: Biographical Sketches from Thomas Müntzer to Paracelsus. Scottdale, Pa., and Kitchener, Ont., 1982.

The Mennonite Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Work on the Anabaptist-Mennonite Movement. 5 vols. Hillsboro, Kans., 19551990.

Mennonite Quarterly Review. Goshen, Ind., 1927. One of the key forums for scholarship on Anabaptism. Includes important essays like "The Anabaptist Vision" and "From Monogenesis to Polygenesis."

Packull, Werner O. Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments during the Reformation. Baltimore, 1995.

Snyder, C. Arnold. Anabaptist History and Theology. Kitchener, Ont., 1997.

Snyder, C. Arnold, and Linda A. Hecht. Profiles of Anabaptist Women: Sixteenth-Century Reforming Pioneers. Waterloo, Ont., 1996.

Stayer, James M. Anabaptists and the Sword. 2nd ed. Lawrence, Kans., 1976.

. The German Peasants' War and Anabaptist Community of Goods. Montreal, 1991.

. "The Radical Reformation." In Handbook of European History, 14001600: Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. Vol. 2. Edited by Thomas A. Brady Jr., Heiko A. Oberman, and James D. Tracy. Leiden and New York, 1995.

Stayer, James M., and Werner O. Packull, trans. and eds. The Anabaptists and Thomas Müntzer. Dubuque, Iowa, 1980. A collection of influential essays and excerpts from books, many translated from German and Dutch.

Williams, George Huntston. The Radical Reformation. 3rd ed. Kirksville, Mo., 1992.

Michael D. Driedger

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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).

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Anabaptists

Anabaptists (‘re-baptizers’) Various radical or left-wing Reformation groups who reinstated the baptism of believers on profession of personal faith. Two Zürich Reformers, Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, formed the first congregation at Zollikon in 1525 (later called ‘the Swiss Brethren’). Others were established in Moravia, led by Jacob Hutter (so Hutterites), in S. Germany, led by Balthasar Hubmaier and Hans Denck, and in NW Germany and the Low Countries, inspired by Melchior Hoffmann, a leader who combined unorthodox christology and millenarianism with deep piety. Forced by persecution to leave their homes, many Anabaptists came to regard baptism as initiation into Christian suffering, with Christ as the proto-martyr of their faith. Some Anabaptist exiles, influenced by the fanatical views of Jan Matthys and Jan Bockelson ( John of Leyden), introduced polygamy in the city of Münster (1533–5) which was eventually besieged. The episode was not only a stigma on Anabaptism, but led inevitably to increased persecution with the loss of many thousands of lives. The Münster débâcle also issued in a fresh definition of Anabaptist thought by writers such as Dirk Philips, and especially Menno Simons, whose spirituality, pacifism, and social ideals continue to be treasured by the Mennonites.

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anabaptists

anabaptists or re-baptizers held that baptism should be postponed until people were capable of understanding the promises made and obligations accepted. But the hatred and persecution they encountered stemmed from the widespread belief that they intended to overthrow the whole social order. There were different groups within the movement but those anabaptists who held power in Münster 1533–5 were radical, advocating common property and practising polygamy. This served to smear the whole movement and ‘anabaptist’ became a term of abuse. Henry VIII thought them ‘a detestable sect’ and burned a number: James I in the preface to Basilikon Doron denounced them as ‘a vile sect’ and burned more. Their doctrinal influence was on the Brownists, baptists, Hutterites, and Mennonites.

J. A. Cannon

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Anabaptists

Anabaptists Radical Protestant sects in the Reformation who shared the belief that infant baptism is not authorized by Scripture, and that it was necessary to be baptized as an adult. The first such baptisms were conducted by the Swiss Brethren sect in Zürich (1525). The sect were the first to completely separate Church from State, when they rejected Ulrich Zwingli's Reformed Church. Aided by social upheavals (such as the Peasants' War) and the theological arguments of Martin Luther and Thomas Münzer, Anabaptism spread rapidly to Germany and the Netherlands. It stressed the community of believers. The communal theocracy established by John of Leiden at Münster was brutally suppressed (1535).

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Anabaptists

Anabaptists the doctrine that baptism should only be administered to believing adults, held by a radical Protestant sect which emerged during the 1520s and 1530s, following the ideas of reformers such as Zwingli. Anabaptists also advocated complete separation of Church and state and many of their beliefs are today carried on by the Mennonites.

Recorded from the mid 16th century, the name comes via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek anabaptismos, from ana- ‘over again’ + baptismos ‘baptism’.

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Anabaptism

An·a·bap·tism / ˌanəˈbapˌtizəm/ • n. the doctrine that baptism should only be administered to believing adults, held by a radical Protestant sect that emerged during the 1520s and 1530s. DERIVATIVES: An·a·bap·tist n. & adj.

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Anabaptists

ANABAPTISTS

ANABAPTISTS. SeeBaptist Churches .

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