The Anabaptists were displeased with the pace of Reform in the Cantons and they vented their displeasure at Zwingli and the other clergy of Zurich. The situation came to a head on the 17th of January in 1525 when the City Council ordered a public disputation.
Philip Schaff picks up the story-
Grebel was opposed to it, but appeared, together with Manz and Reubli. They urged the usual arguments against infant baptism, that infants cannot understand the gospel, cannot repent and exercise faith. Zwingli answered them, and appealed chiefly to circumcision and 1Co 7:14, where Paul speaks of the children of Christian parents as “holy.” He afterwards published his views in a book, “On Baptism, Rebaptism, and Infant Baptism” (May 27, 1525). Bullinger, who was present at the disputation, reports that the Anabaptists were unable to refute Zwingli’s arguments and to maintain their ground.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of the trouble-making. So, as Schaff continues
Another disputation was held in March, and a third in November, but with no better result. The magistracy decided against them, and issued an order that infants should be baptized as heretofore, and that parents who refuse to have their children baptized should leave the city and canton with their families and goods. The Anabaptists refused to obey, and ventured on bold demonstrations. They arranged processions, and passed as preachers of repentance, in sackcloth and girdled, through the streets of Zurich, singing, praying, exhorting, abusing the old dragon (Zwingli) and his horns, and exclaiming, “Woe, woe unto Zurich!”
This sort of anarchy didn’t sit well with the magistrates, so
The leaders were arrested and shut up in a room in the Augustinian convent. A commission of ministers and magistrates were sent to them to convert them. Twenty-four professed conversion, and were set free. Fourteen men and seven women were retained and shut up in the Witch Tower, but they made their escape April 5.
More than likely, I’ll add, they were allowed to ‘escape’ with the assurance that they would never return to the city. Unfortunately for themselves, though,
Grebel, Manz, and Blaurock were rearrested, and charged with communistic and revolutionary teaching. After some other excesses, the magistracy proceeded to threaten those who stubbornly persisted in their error, with death by drowning. He who dips, shall be dipped, — a cruel irony.
They did in fact continue in their ‘error’. And they suffered the consequences.
It is not known whether Zwingli really consented to the death sentence, but he certainly did not openly oppose it.
Six executions in all took place in Zurich between 1527 and 1532. Manz was the first victim. He was bound, carried to a boat, and thrown into the river Limmat near the lake, Jan. 5, 1527. He praised God that he was about to die for the truth, and prayed with a loud voice, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!” Bullinger describes his heroic death. Grebel had escaped the same fate by previous death in 1526.
Grebel mercifully had succumbed to the syphilis which he had contracted as a student in Paris…
The last executions took place March 23, 1532, when Heinrich Karpfis and Hans Herzog were drowned. The foreigners were punished by exile, and met death in Roman Catholic countries. Blaurock was scourged, expelled, and burnt, 1529, at Clausen in the Tyrol. Haetzer, who fell into carnal sins, was beheaded for adultery and bigamy at Constance, Feb. 24, 1529.
Haetzer, like many of the Anabaptists, went nuts. Driven by the ‘spirit’ (just not the Spirit of God) his ilk were responsible for the Muenster disaster and the denunciation of the Re-Baptizers all across Europe. This fringe element is exactly why the Anabaptists had nothing but a bad reputation in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Huebmaier, who had fled from Waldshut to Zurich, December, 1525, was tried before the magistracy, recanted, and was sent out of the country to recant his recantation. He labored successfully in Moravia, and was burnt at the stake in Vienna, March 10, 1528. Three days afterwards his faithful wife, whom he had married in Waldshut, was drowned in the Danube.
Hubmaier was the worst of the lot- a man without conviction and a coward to boot.
Just think, it all started with a disputation which the Anabaptists lost in 1525, on the 17th of January. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.