HÜBMAIER AT NIKOLSBURG
IT is not difficult to conjecture why Hübmaier chose Nikolsburg as his next residence. Moravia was almost the only province in Europe where he could hope to find more than a temporary refuge. Not only did this region promise a comparatively safe haven, but it is probable that a large number of Anabaptists had already gone thither. Here was not only safety, but the most fruitful field of labour known to him. That he should proceed at once to Moravia, and begin his labours with redoubled energy is precisely what we should expect of such a man. His activity would be stimulated, no doubt, by memory of what he had experienced at Zürich, and especially by recollection that physical weakness and love of life had led him to deny the truth.
He must have felt that the lines had fallen to him in pleasant places. The Nikolsburg of to-day is a delightfully quaint town, of a pronounced mediæval flavour. It is out of the beaten track of globetrotters, difficult of access, and hence seldom visited by the ordinary tourist. The old walls have disappeared, but the city has availed itself little of its liberty to straggle into the fields. The houses are grouped as of old about the steep, rocky hill, whose summit is occupied by the castle and the church—houses low and long, built flush with the street and entered from the street level, or at most by one or two rude stone steps; houses solidly built of stone, with red-tiled roofs, from which little, wicked-looking windows wink at the foreigner as he passes by. The bright and curious costumes of the peasants who throng the streets on a gala day are an added touch of mediævalism, for they are the same that have been worn for countless generations. Little but German is spoken in the town, and the people are mostly devout Roman Catholics, though a small and new Lutheran church stands on the outskirts. No relics remain of the short-lived reformation here, and the name of Hübmaier has completely faded from recollection. The historian of the town, an antiquarian of some repute, had never heard the name.We know as yet from original sources too little about the religious history of Moravia prior to 1526; but that the influence of Hus had been deeply felt there is certain. There was a strong evangelical party in the province before the arrival of Hübmaier, which had gained many adherents among prelates, clergy, and noblemen, as well as among the people at large. The Unitas Fratrum, though originating in Bohemia, could almost claim Moravia as the twin land of their birth, and later they became so identified with it as to bear, to this day, the name Moravians. The political circumstances were such as to favour an evangelical revival. Since the twelfth century Moravia—a small territory of only 8,500 square miles, a little larger than the State of Massachusetts—had been a Margravate held by the younger sons of the kings of Bohemia,
A GENERAL VIEW OF MODERN NIKOLSBURG.
The people of Moravia were at this time mainly Germans, though there was among them a large proportion of that Czech (Slav) race which in early times had settled both this region and Bohemia. At the present day less than twenty per cent. of the Moravian people are Czechs, but it is probable that in the Reformation era the proportion was much larger. Evangelical views seem to have made progress equally among both peoples, but, if we may draw safe inference from the names that continually appear in the records, the Anabaptists were from the first and continued to be mostly Germans.
By the evangelical Christians of Moravia Hübmaier was kindly, even warmly, received. He became a guest in the home of Oswald Glaidt, who was then the coadjutor of the chief evangelical preacher, Hans Spitalmaier, both natives of Bavaria. This common nativity was an additional bond between them and Hübmaier, who praises both "because they bravely and faithfully held up the light of evangelical purity, and put it on the candlestick, so as he had known the like in no region." Glaidt was soon won to Anabaptist views by his eloquent and persuasive guest, and was baptised. Spitalmaier must have been gained at about the same time, for shortly after this we find him also a co-worker with Hübmaier. A still more important convert was Martin Göschel, who had once been sub-bishop of Olmütz, and later provost of a nunnery at Kanitz. This latter position, with its large income, he attempted to hold in spite of his adoption and advocacy of evangelical doctrine, and he had only recently been ousted from it, resisting to the last.
But a yet greater triumph was to follow. Nikolsburg was in the domains of the barons of Lichtenstein, a Moravian noble family tracing its lineage back to the twelfth century, of which house there were then two brothers, Leonard and John. They had been well disposed towards evangelical doctrine, and it was due to their encouragement that the gospel had already made so great progress at Nikolsburg, They also soon came under the influence of Hübmaier, became convinced by his presentation of the truth, and were publicly baptised on confession of their faith. Other noblemen of the region were well disposed to evangelical preaching, and from the fact that Hübmaier dedicated to them many of his treatises we may fairly infer that he expected at least their favour and protection, and was not without hopes of winning them also to his party. Such men were John of Brunnstein and Helfenstein, Governor-General of Moravia, to whom The Reason Why Every Man should Receive Baptism was inscribed; Lord Arkleb of Boskowitz, Chancellor of Moravia, to whom was dedicated the treatise On the Sword; Lord Burian, of Kornitz, whose name heads The Form of the Supper; Frederick of Silesia, the patron of The Second Book on the Will; Jan Dubcansky, to whom the preface of The Form of Baptism is addressed in such terms as to make it certain that Hübmaier had great hopes of his adhesion to Anabaptism.
Here was a new experience indeed for the Anabaptists! Everywhere they had been despised, persecuted, counting themselves fortunate if barely permitted to live: here they not only found themselves tolerated, but saw their rulers actually embracing their faith, publicly avowing it, and using their wealth and power to promote the preaching of a pure gospel. The golden age seemed to have come for them—pity it should have endured for so short a time! Little more than a twelvemonth was Hübmaier permitted to carry on this work, but into that space he condensed the labours of many a lifetime. So great was the progress of the Anabaptists that within this single year not fewer than six thousand persons were added to them by baptism—some say double that number, but that seems hardly credible.
It must not be inferred, of course, that this was all the result of one man's labours. There were a multitude of other fervent preachers of the gospel; indeed, it is little exaggeration to say that every Anabaptist was an apostle and missionary. Hübmaier was, however, the acknowledged leader. In learning, in character, in eloquence, he was not less fitted for leadership than Luther or Zwingli; and had continued opportunity been offered him, there can be little doubt that he would have here accomplished that which would have left his name by the side of the greatest preachers and reformers of the age. If Luther had been crushed at Worms as Hus had been at Constance, we might now read as little of him as we do of Hübmaier.
Not only was he active as preacher and organiser, but his pen was incessantly busy. It was a fortunate circumstance for him that a printer of Zurich, Simprecht Sorg, surnamed Froschower, had been compelled to flee from persecution, and had made his way to Nikolsburg, with the outfit of a printing establishment, and had arrived there at about the same time with himself. Froschower now became the regular publisher of Hübmaier's tracts, which flowed from the press in a steady stream. No fewer than seventeen pamphlets and treatises bear date of Nikolsburg, 1526 and 1527, though several of these we know to have been composed earlier. A few of these are quite brief, while others are booklets of some size. While we have no precise information as to the number of these publications issued and circulated, we know that it was very large, that they were read far and wide, and that they had a profound influence upon those into whose hands they fell. The greatest efforts were made to secure and destroy these pamphlets, and with measurable success, for only a few copies of each issue survive, in some cases a unique specimen only.
Of these Nikolsburg writings eleven are concerned with the Christian sacraments, or the ordinances of the Church, and no fewer than six of them with the ordinance of baptism; four are apologetic and polemic; while two are contributions to systematic theology. Quotations have already been made from three of the first class of pamphlets (Op. 10, 17, 18) to give an idea of their nature and contents; and the passages that are of personal interest have been cited from one of the apologetic tracts (Op. 13). The others are utilised in a similar manner in a later chapter of this book, on the teachings of Hübmaier. Only a few general remarks, therefore, about this remarkable literary output of two years are in order here.
As a man of letters, Hübmaier deserves to be ranked along with Erasmus and Melanchthon,—as a man of letters, be it noted, not as a scholar. He has no claim to be ranked among the first of the humanists—his taste was for theology rather than for the classics, and his learning was learning in the Scriptures. There he was the peer of the best scholars of his age. How thorough was his knowledge of the original tongues, especially of the Hebrew, we have no means of determining; but somehow, whether from originals or from translations, he had managed to acquire such a comprehensive and minute acquaintance with the Scriptures as would have made him a divine of mark in any age. And a ready memory kept these stores of knowledge ever at his command. He was never at a loss for a passage to support any contention of his own or to confute what he supposed to be an error of an adversary.
But while this mastery of the Scriptures is creditable to Hübmaier, and entitles him to a certain consideration as a theologian, it is not his chief distinction. It is his power of expression, his sense of literary form, his art of putting things, that sets him alongside of Erasmus. His style, considered as mere Latinity, is faulty enough—indeed, every college student now knows that the Latinity of the great Erasmus himself, loudly as it was praised by unscholarly contemporaries, was very bad measured by the classical standards. But as an instrument for expressing thought, Hübmaier's Latin demands no criticism, and his use of it shows him one who would have been a clever literary craftsman in any language. In this literary characteristic, he has a note of modernity found in comparatively few of the writers of his age.
The great bulk of Hübmaier's writing, however, is in his mother tongue, the German then spoken in Bavaria. It differs somewhat, possibly for the worse, from the German of Luther, but is unspeakably better than the crabbed Swiss dialect in which Zwingli wrote many of his books. In the best of the tongues then spoken, Erasmus would have disdained to write even an ordinary letter, to say nothing of a book for the scholarly. But Hübmaier did not write for the scholarly alone or chiefly; he wrote for the common man, and he had the same kind of power with the masses that Luther showed in his address To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. The tracts that poured forth from the Nikolsburg press are among the best specimens of religious literature produced by the sixteenth century—strong, eloquent, persuasive, vital.
The ethical tone of Hübmaier's writings also marks him for distinction among the writers of his age. He is scrupulously fair to his adversaries— always fair in intention, and usually fair in deed. He never charges misconduct and heresy upon his adversaries with that light-hearted carelessness of fact which is characteristic of his age and of most of its writers—of Luther and Zwingli, for example. And the difference in tone between his controversial writings and those of the period is marvellous. To read an average pamphlet of Luther's, written to confute some adversary,—Wider Hans Wurst, for instance, or Contra Henricum Regem,—and then to turn to any writing of Hübmaier's, is like escaping from the mephitic odours of a slum into a garden of spices. It is not merely that scurrilous abuse has been exchanged for courteous speech,—the whole atmosphere is different. There is a "sweet reasonableness" in Hübmaier's attitude toward men and truth, a confident belief that he is right, but a genuine willingness to be instructed, which is rare in any age and was unique in his. Of a brilliant English scholar it was said, as his fitting epitaph, "He died learning"; and of Hübmaier it may be said with equal truth that each year of his life saw him take a long stride forward, not only in knowledge of the truth, but in that love that is not easily provoked and thinketh no evil.
The success of Hübmaier's work was considerably marred, if not seriously hindered, by controversies among the brethren themselves. The fact has already been recognised that there were considerable differences among the Anabaptists from the first. One of the most fair-minded contemporary writers, Sebastian Franck, says of them that he had found no two who exactly agreed. But up to this time we may say of them, with some confidence, that if there was any tenet in addition to the baptism of believers on which they agreed it was the duty of non-resistance. Many, but not all, drew from this the corollary that a Christian man could not lawfully be a magistrate, for the civil ruler must bear the sword and use it when necessary against evil-doers. This is especially true of the Swiss Anabaptists, with whom Hübmaier had been most closely allied.
But there was now coming into the Nikolsburg community a man who taught a contrary doctrine wherever he went. This was Hans Hut, a native of Franconia, and said to be of Waldensian descent, who, as early as 1521, had gotten himself into prison for refusing to have his babe baptised. On gaining his freedom, he went to Nürnberg, where he learned the trade of bookbinder and made the acquaintance of John Denck. A little later he was a bookseller at Wittenberg, and when the Peasants' War broke out he made his way to Thomas Münzer at Mühlhausen. Captured at the battle of Frankenhausen, where Münzer and his peasants were overthrown, he obtained his liberty by convincing his captors that he was in the camp as a book-peddler and not as a soldier. His plea may have been true, but there is plenty of evidence in his subsequent career that he had fully made his own the chiliastic and anarchistic principles of Münzer. To the preaching of these he gave the rest of a stormy and checkered life.
He joined Denck for a time in Augsburg, in the spring of 1526, and was baptised by this Anabaptist preacher, who had himself but a little before been baptised by Hübmaier. Up to this time, though opposed to the baptism of infants, Hut was not definitely connected with the Anabaptists; henceforth his labours were confined to that sect—or, more properly speaking, to one party among the Anabaptists. There had always been certain of these who rejected the tenet of non-resistance, to this extent at least—that the godly might use the sword against the ungodly, in setting up the kingdom of God. In other words, there was always a chiliastic wing of Anabaptists, who believed that the kingdom of heaven comes not only with observation but by violence. By these Hut was speedily hailed as a prophet, and had no hesitation in proclaiming himself to be such. He was a man of striking appearance and powerful personality, nearly illiterate but a master of popular eloquence. While really ignorant of the Scriptures, he had that glib command of such texts as bore on his own favourite themes which often passes with those who know still less for wide and deep Biblical knowledge. Wherever such a man went, he was sure to be a firebrand.
Such he proved to be in Nikolsburg, where he made his appearance toward the close of the year 1526, or early in 1527. He proclaimed that the day of the Lord was at hand. He was the prophet sent by God to warn the ungodly that their overthrow was near. To the saints he announced that their mission was that of a chosen people—to root out the wicked who then ruled the world as the Israelites destroyed the people of Canaan. The time of the persecution of the saints was nearly at an end; the two-edged sword of God's vengeance would soon be put in their hands. It was a curious feature of the teaching of these fanatical Anabaptists, that while they denied the right of the sword to magistrates and denounced all war as "carnal," they believed that when Christ should begin his millennial reign it would be not merely the right but the duty of his subjects to take up the sword and put the ungodly to slaughter.
Even before Hut's coming, a small party of fanatical Anabaptists had found refuge in Nikolsburg, holding views differing from his, but harmonising with them wondrous well—a remnant, perhaps, of Münzer's following, who escaped the slaughter of Mühlhausen and wandered from place to place until they reached Moravia. The leading spirit among these was Jacob Widemann, and his pet vagary was community of goods among Christian brethren as a cardinal principle of the gospel. He had taught an extreme form of non-resistance, insisting that Christians are forbidden to use the sword in self-defence or as magistrates, and, as a corollary to this, that Christians ought not to pay taxes, since these are used for the support of governments and the waging of war. He and his followers called taxes "blood money." Of the antecedents of Widemann—who was popularly known by the nickname of "One-eyed Jacob"— little is known, except the statement of an old chronicle that he came from the land of Ens (Salzburg), and had first made Hut's acquaintance at Augsburg.
Widemann and Hut speedily joined forces. Widemann and his adherents found little difficulty in grafting Hut's doctrine of the sword, as the exclusive perquisite of the saints, upon their previous tenet of non-resistance; while Hut and his followers were not slow to perceive that if the end of the age was at hand there was little use in private property. There was a natural affinity between the two parties—and, besides, they both found themselves confronted by the same formidable opponent, Hübmaier.
He was too well versed in the Scriptures, and too well ballasted with common sense, to be carried away by this fanaticism. He had never held to community of goods, though this charge had been falsely made against him, as well as against certain of the Swiss Anabaptists. But this was when Zwingli and his helpers were more anxious to discredit the Anabaptists than to discover and tell the precise truth about them; and Hübmaier had consistently denied the imputation. He was in favour of such community of goods, he said, as prevailed in the church at Jerusalem, when not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but sold their lands and houses that distribution might be made to those who had need. So, he held and taught, Christian believers should hold all property subject to the needs of the brotherhood, available for the assistance of needy brothers—a very different thing from what is generally meant by communism. Nor had he ever taught the extreme doctrine of non-resistance, forbidden Christians to be magistrates, or to pay their taxes. Above all, he had no chiliastic delusions, he had proclaimed no wild exegesis of the prophetic writings, he had not taught his followers to look for the immediate second coming of Christ and the setting up of his millennial kingdom.
It is not hard to understand the fascination that these teachings of Hut and Widemann had for a despised and down-trodden people. To have it apparently proved from Scripture that the time was at hand when Christ would appear in the heavens, set up his kingdom on earth and rule with his saints a thousand years, and that all enemies should be speedily put under his feet, was fitted to carry away the ignorant and simple-minded, and even some of sufficient learning to have known better. Or, if any have difficulty in comprehending how ideas so absurd (to them) should find so easy and so wide acceptance, let them recall the reception given to precisely similar teaching in one of the most intelligent communities of our own land, no longer ago than fifty years. William Miller and Hans Hut were theological twins, and there is a most instructive similarity in the character, reception, and results of their teaching. Like Miller, Hut was rash enough to set an exact day for the ending of the old order and the coming of the new kingdom—the second anniversary of the battle of Frankenhausen. When May 15, 1527, came and the world still stood, he was, again like Miller, quite undismayed by the failure of his prediction, and proceeded to make another with equally cheerful confidence, this time fixing the catastrophe for the day of the summer feast, Whitsunday, 1529. Many so completely believed him, in spite of his first failure, as to forsake their homes, sell their goods, and throng him from place to place, awaiting the great day of their Lord's coming.
Of Hut's preaching during this time, one choice specimen has been preserved:
"Then [shortly before the end of the age] all the godless will be destroyed, and that by true Christians; if their number [the true Christians] shall be sufficient, they will go from Germany to Switzerland, and to Hungary, and have no regard to princes and lords. Then some thousands of them shall assemble, and every one shall sell his goods and take the money with him, so as to be sure, meantime, of food; then they shall wait until the Turk comes. If the Turk fails to strike down any of the princes, monks, priests, nobles, or knights, they will then be stricken and slain by the little company of true Christians. But if the godless shall march against the Turks, then the true Christians shall remain at home; but, if many of the princes or many of the lords remain at home too, and do not march against the Turks, they shall be struck down a little while afterwards. Then it will come to pass that the true Christians will have no one, but God alone, and God himself will be and remain their lord."
As this action of Lichtenstein was apparently approved by Hübmaier, the accusation was at once brought against him, and has been repeated to this day, that he thus proved himself an inconsistent advocate of religious liberty, and was a persecutor when he had the opportunity. The action of the ruler, however, seems quite justified by the facts as we know them. Hut was plainly teaching sedition and murder—sedition as a present duty, murder as a duty in the near future. No principle of religious liberty requires that a government shall leave such a firebrand to go about in the community. There was so much excitement in the city following this action of the Prince, and so vehement charges were made against him for this action, and the conduct of the other preachers was so violently questioned, that Hübmaier was constrained to call the whole church together and make them a long oration on the matter. The other preachers stood by him, and eventually the church seem to have been satisfied that the proper course had been pursued. In the meantime Hut made good his escape from the castle. One suspects that the Prince was not averse to this solution of the matter; at any rate, some friendly hands let the preacher down with a rope over the walls by night.
Hut made his way back to the city of Augsburg, but this town had ceased to be a safe refuge for Anabaptists. Many were arrested and imprisoned, among them Hut, against whom the authorities had been previously warned by the council of Nürnberg. While imprisoned in the tower, he is said to have suffered severe tortures. His death was mysterious. He was found one day in his cell, badly burned and in a dying condition. An old chronicle says that the careless jailer left a light near the straw, which took fire. The enemies of the Anabaptists circulated a story that he attempted to escape by setting fire to his cell and was fatally burned in the attempt. It is impossible to determine which account is true; but what seems to be beyond question is that his dead or moribund body was hastily taken into court and ordered to be burned; and at sound of the alarum-bell, his body was carried to the gibbet beyond the walls, and there burnt to ashes.
Widemann, as the less dangerous man of the two, seems not to have been imprisoned or otherwise troubled. He continued to lead the party opposed to Hübmaier, and, in spite of the latter's opposition, the sentiment in favour of community of goods continued to grow in Nikolsburg, and ultimately this led to the division of the church and the emigration of the communistic element, but not during Hübmaier's lifetime. A more immediate result was the composition and printing of the treatise On the Sword, in which Hübmaier set forth his ideas on civil government with the utmost clearness, fulness, and frankness.
This was the last, and in some respects the most important, of his Nikolsburg pamphlets. It is a less ambitious performance than his two treatises on the Freedom of the Will, but it has a practical value that does not always pertain to academic discussions in theology. The existence of the Nikolsburg church, and the permanence of the reformation in Moravia were seriously threatened. The division in the church pointed towards its speedy disintegration, unless the strife provoked by Hut and Widemann could be ended. What was perhaps more serious was that, if the Moravian nobles should become convinced that the majority of Anabaptists sympathised with the fanatical ravings of Hut, they would look upon the entire sect as seditious and dangerous persons, to be suppressed and even punished, rather than encouraged. This was the charge that had everywhere been brought against the Anabaptists by their enemies, and at that day it was generally believed outside of Moravia. Recent German investigators, like Cornelius and Keller, have done much to free the Anabaptists from these (in the main) undeserved imputations. But still more recently, certain English writers, themselves advocates of modern socialistic theories, have represented the whole Anabaptist movement as a splendid but unfortunate attempt to realise a complete socialistic programme, a radical overturning of existing institutions, almost an entire anticipation of the teachings of Lassalle and Marx.
While the motives of the recent writers are far more laudable than those of their predecessors, the result is almost precisely the same. The contemporary writers wished to load the Anabaptists with obloquy; their English historians wish to crown the Anabaptists with honour, as the first to attempt the application of a theory yet destined to be the salvation of mankind; but in either case the Anabaptists are equally misrepresented, and the opinions of a few are attributed to the whole. The misrepresentation is most serious when the violent measures advocated by Hut and afterwards put in practice at Münster are represented either as the convictions of the majority or the legitimate consequences of the views prevalent in the body.
It was, therefore, to neutralise the effects of this misrepresentation throughout Moravia, no less than to win to sounder ideas concerning the teaching of the Scriptures the erring Anabaptists themselves, that this treatise On the Sword was composed. As the entire document is given in the Appendix, it is necessary to do no more here than call attention to its chief characteristics, and briefly summarise the argument. And, first of all, it is worth while to note carefully its tone and temper. Hübmaier found himself in practically the same dilemma that confronted Luther a few years earlier, at the time of the peasants' revolt. The peasants appealed to Luther's writings as affording justification for their claims, if not for their deeds, and the Catholic writers hastened to charge upon him the moral responsibility of the revolt. If the princes and rulers of Germany had taken this view of the case, no doubt there would have been a speedy end of Luther's reformation. What did Luther do under these trying circumstances? He lost his head completely, and instead of trying by expostulation and argument from the Scriptures, for which he professed so great respect, to win the peasants from their errors and bring them back to their loyalty and obedience, he hastily composed and printed his pamphlet, Against the Murdering and Robbing Bands of the Peasants. The violence and coarseness of the abuse that he poured upon the peasants,—the justice of whose cause he had explicitly approved a short time before, —his eager advocacy of a policy of extermination by the princes, the bloodthirsty exhortations to the nobles to show no compassion, but to smite as long as they could move a muscle, disgusted and disconcerted his own friends and closest adherents. Ever since that crisis, admirers of Luther have been compelled to apologise for and extenuate his conduct as best they might. But Hübmaier makes no such demands upon his biographer. His tractate, On the Sword, is temperate in language and thoroughly Christian in its tone. He said nothing for which he need blush or we apologise. No contrast could be greater.
VIEW OF NIKOLSBURG IN 1678.
FROM AN OLD PRINT.
- If they did not actually precede Hübmaier, they must have arrived in large numbers at about the same time, for a few months afterward they were estimated at twelve thousand (Loserth, p. 127). That these were all converts, and not in large part immigrants, is incredible.
- See the Anabaptist chronicles quoted by Beck, Geschichts-Bucher, p. 48.
- This Froschower, or Froschauer, was the printer of Zwingli's early tracts, but had become an Anabaptist, and could no longer remain and conduct his business at Zürich.
- The Schleitheim Confession is strong on this point, and Kessler's testimony is conclusive. Sabbata, i., p. 232.
- This and what follows is an allusion to an impending invasion of Austria by the Turks, which indeed happened, not in 1527, but two years later.
- Quoted by Hoschek, ii., 231, 232.
- The insinuation of Hoschek (ii., 234), that the intention was "perhaps to have burned him at the stake," is quite gratuitous.
- Newman, in his History of Anti-Pedobaptism, says December 7, 1527, but the Anabaptist chronicles make the year 1529. Beck, Geschichts-Bücher, p. 34, cf. p. 50.
- Richard Heath, Anabaptism, from its Rise at Zwickau to its Fall at Münster, 1521-1536; E. Belfort Bax, Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists.
- Luther's German Works, Erlangen ed., xxiv., 287 sq. Walch ed., xvi., 91 sq. This appears in an English version in Historical Leaflets, No. 4, edited by Henry C. Vedder, Crozer Theological Seminary, 1901.
- Luther's German Works, Erlangen ed., xxiv., 257 sq. Walch ed., xv., 58 sq. An English translation may be found in Michelet's Life of Luther (Bohn ed.), pp. 161-180.