Who Were the Earliest Anabaptists?

A rather colorful (read weird) bunch really. Samuel Simpson remarks

English: German Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier ...

Luther on his return to Wittenberg had practically succeeded in suppressing the Anabaptist movement in Germany. Thomas Münzer, the leader, was compelled to leave Saxony, and when driven out he sought an asylum in Switzerland. Here he fell in with Conrad Grebel, a young man descended from one of the best families of Zurich, brother-in-law of Vadian, and a former friend of Zwingli. He was a man of fine scholarship, having studied at the universities of Paris and Vienna; morally, however, his career had been anything but creditable. At school he had led a life of such wild dissipation as to ruin his health and squander a considerable fortune.

To be precise, Grebel picked up the ‘Parisian’ disease as it was called in polite company. That is, syphilis. As to his wasting of his family’s money, he was finally cut off from the family funds because they grew tired of him and his continuous purchase of prostitutes.

Felix Manz, the son of a canon, and a fair Hebrew scholar, also became one of the number. These men rather expected that Zwingli would find positions for them as teachers in the cathedral schools, but this Zwingli could not honorably do, nor had he such confidence in them as to be inclined to help them had the way been open.

Zwingli didn’t trust them- and rightly. They were the sort of people who were friends so long as they had a use for Zwingli. As soon as he wasn’t willing to do as they wished, they turned on him, proving true the words of Jesus – ‘do not give pearls to swine for they will only take it and turn to tear you to shreds’.

Defeated in one quarter, they sought to gratify their ambition in another. Several others joined their number, prominent among them Simon Stumpf, of Honegg, and George Blaurock, a monk, of Coire. In November of this year (1524), Andrew Carlstadt, Luther’s quarrelsome and erratic opponent at Wittenberg, came to Zurich. Münzer and he visited Balthasar Hubmaier, pastor of Waldshut, and in the course of the interview completely won him over to their views. Together they set to work to effect some sort of organization. It was decided to make rebaptism the distinguishing mark of the new society. … “It surprised us much,” remarks Zwingli, “that they were so zealous against [infant baptism], but at length we observed that it was for the reason that, on infant baptism being rejected, they might have a pretext for organizing their church under the banner of rebaptization.”

In other words, and Simpson is correct in this: the Anabaptists used baptism as nothing more than a reason to dissent because they were angry that they weren’t granted academic positions. They could just as easily have chosen cowls or the church calendar. They were looking for any reason to play the dissidents. That they latched on to baptism is simply incidental. So much, then, for real theological differences- their fragmenting themselves from the Reformation was only about power and their quest for control.

4 thoughts on “Who Were the Earliest Anabaptists?

  1. The early Anabaptists resented not getting jobs, so they committed a capital crime and immediately began successfully encouraging others to do the same? I sense a disconnect. The continuing existence of the Anabaptist movement would seem to disprove this theory that it was nothing more than a 16th century Occupy movement.

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    • i don’t see any disconnect at all. people disgruntled over their power, or lack thereof, frequently break the law without any interest in the consequences. and they also easily stir disgruntled others up to do the same.

      the anabaptist movement, as it existed in the mid 1500’s in zurich, doesn’t exist anymore. the anabaptism of menno does.

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