Balthasar Hübmaier/Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI

THE TEACHINGS OF HÜBMAIER

1524-1527

A PREACHER of the gospel and for the most part a writer on practical questions, not a speculative theologian, Hübmaier nevertheless held a well-reasoned system of theology. Of his writings that resemble a systematic statement of his beliefs, one[1] is no more than an amplification—it can hardly be called an exposition—of the Apostle's Creed, while the other[2] is a catechism. His only other writings that may be called theological, in the strict sense, are his two treatises on the Freedom of the Will. Elsewhere in his published works he frequently discussed theological questions, but in an incidental and fragmentary way, as might be expected of one whom choice and circumstances had combined to make preacher and reformer rather than thinker and doctor. He was not by any means a religious opportunist; he did not lack definite theological ideas because he restrained himself from giving them expression. To his apprehension, truth presented itself in sharp and clear outlines; it was a well-defined body; he did not refrain from systematic statement of doctrine because his ideas were hazy, or because he was indifferent, but because other matters seemed to him of more pressing importance. In times more quiet he would have given more attention to theology.

We shall not waste time, then, if we undertake to dissect out of Hübmaier's writings a skeleton of doctrine, which underlies all his teaching and gives it consistency, coherence, and firmness. And we shall do well to begin at the point where he himself began; for he was led to his clear views of Scripture truth, as we have seen, by the independent study of the Scriptures themselves. Prior to 1522 he had been content with the scholastic theology of which his old master and friend, Eck, continued to the last to be so ardent and eminent an exponent. The authority of the Fathers and great doctors of the Church was sufficient for the master, but the disciple was led by study of the Bible to the rejection of dogma and Fathers, and indeed to an entirely different estimation of the Scriptures themselves. As a Catholic he had always, in a vague and careless and ignorant way, regarded these as the foundation of the faith, but his personal acquaintance with them gave him a new apprehension alike of their spiritual value and of their religious authority. Thenceforth, the rejection of all human authority in religion, and of every usage of human origin as well, and the substitution therefor of the faith and order of the Scriptures, seemed to him the only possible and defensible course for Christian men to take.

"We should inquire of the Scriptures," he says in one of his Dialogues,[3] "and not of the Church, for God will have from us only his law, his will, not our wrong heads or what seems good to us. God is more concerned with obedience to his will than with all our offerings and self-invented church usages. … Thou knowest, Zwingli, that the Holy Scripture is such a complete, compacted, true, infallible, eternally immortal speech, that the least letter or tittle of it cannot pass away."

And he will by no means admit that some things are essential and other things unessential:

"For an earnest command demands an earnest obedience and following. 'Verily, verily, I say unto you,' Christ has not used such precious words for a matter that may be done or left undone, as each pious Christian can see for himself. But it is just the way of human wisdom to hold as of least weight that which God highly regards or commands."[4]

The most explicit and elaborate statement of this supremacy of the authority of Scripture is contained in the already quoted theses in which Hübmaier challenges his master Eck to debate.[5] But, after all, his belief on this subject is shown less by any of his formal declarations than by his constant attitude towards the Scriptures, which is one of reverence and obedience. His writings contain little but quotations from the Bible,—exegesis and exposition. His continual inquiry, as each point is discussed, is, What do the Scriptures say about this? And his treatment of the text is candid. His exegesis is nearly always right—modern scholarship finds little to quarrel with in his interpretations—and even when he is wrong he is honestly, not perversely, wrong. There are few writers in the history of the Church who have searched the Scriptures with a greater zeal to discover their teaching, or have come to the study with a more open mind, or who have bent fewer texts from their plain meaning to support a favourite theory.

The method of interpretation avowed and practised by Hübmaier is simple in the extreme. It is to take a plain text in its plain meaning, applying to its exegesis the principles of grammar and ordinary common sense. In only one case does he yield to the tendency to allegorise, and in that case his exegesis is worthy of reproduction as a curiosity, though it has no other value. He is attempting to prove from Scripture that the fall of the body is irrecoverable and fatal, while that of the soul is half recoverable and innocuous, and he does it thus:


"Adam, the image (figur) of the soul, as Eve is the image of the body, would rather not have eaten of the fruit of the tree. He was not tempted by the serpent, but Eve was tempted. He knew that the speech of the serpent contradicted the word of Clod, and yet he chose to eat of the fruit against his own conscience (gwissen), so as not to grieve his rib and his body. Eve, but he himself would rather not have yielded. Since he then obeyed Eve rather than God, he lost the knowledge of good and evil, so that he cannot will or choose the good, and cannot reject or renounce the evil. Consequently nothing pleased him except that which pleased his Eve, that is, his body."[6]

Emphatic and absolute was his repudiation of the Romanist's contention that an infallible interpreter (the Church) is necessary, or else the Scriptures will lead men astray. The Church is only the collected Fathers and doctors, and if these individually do not know the Scriptures they do not and cannot collectively know them. "They well know," he says, "that a single woman—such as the pious Christian woman Argula von Stauff—knows more of the divine word than such red-capped ones will ever see and lay hold of." The humblest believer is able to understand the Scriptures, so much at any rate as is necessary to salvation, and it is his duty to learn this by his own study of the word, not to take it at second-hand from anybody. The possibility of error in thus interpreting the divine word is admitted, but this is due for the most part to the obscurity or brevity of certain passages. The remedy is to recognise that Scripture can be interpreted only by Scripture. If we put beside these obscure or brief passages other passages on the same subject, and bind them together like wax candles, and light them all at once, then the clear and pure splendour of the Scriptures must shine forth.[7] In this way, the believer who surrenders himself to the guidance of the Spirit of God will be led into all the truth.

In Theology proper—the doctrine of God—Hübmaier was orthodox according to the standards of Nicæa and Chalcedon. There is no trace in his writings of the anti-Trinitarian theories taught by Denck and attributed to Hätzer.[8] He declares his belief in God, the Father Almighty, the highest good, all-wise and all-merciful—his wisdom and power shown in his creation and ruling of the world, his mercy in the sending of his only begotten Son. This Son, Jesus Christ, is true God and man, conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of Mary, the pure and ever chaste Virgin; and the Son of the living God thus became man that through him we might become children of God. After his passion and death, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of his Father, "in the same power, glory and praise with the Father, as our only intercessor, mediator and propitiator before the Father. There he sits, mighty and strong, to help all believers who put their trust in him, and it is in vain to seek another Advocate."[9] This is the longest single passage in Hübmaier's writings on the subject of Christ's divinity, and he puts into it matters commonly discussed under the head of Soteriology, as well as those that immediately pertain to Christ's relation to the Father. Of the Holy Spirit he only says that he "proceeds from the Father and the Son, and yet with them is the only and true God, who sanctifies all things, and without him is nothing holy," and who teaches believers all truth.

The election of grace is not formally discussed in any writing, but is often touched upon in the treatises on the Freedom of the Will. There seems to be some confusion of ideas, however, and it is tolerably plain that the subject had not been thought through with the thoroughness characteristic of the Institutes of Calvin. It is indeed only fair to bear in mind that until that wonderful theological treatise appeared, the Reformation theology had not become clear and consistent on this matter. Where even Melanchthon hesitated and stumbled, we need not be surprised that another's utterances should be equivocal. Hübmaier teaches that all things take place according to the will of God, but a distinction is drawn between the "benevolent" and the "permissive" will. The benevolent will of God is the will of his mercy—he wills all men to be saved; the permissive will is that those who will not hear Christ he leaves to the consequences of their refusal. If God has specially elected some to salvation, this is a secret decree, and it is vain for us to probe the divine secrets. It is blasphemous to maintain that men sin and are lost in fulfilment of a divine decree, and not of their own choice. This view he sustained by exposition of the Scriptures, and he did not shrink from those that seem opposed to his position:


God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens' (Rom. ix., 18). These words are the utterances of the almighty and secret will of God, which is pledged to no one, nor anything, and therefore he can without injustice have mercy on whom he will, or condemn whom he will. This will the schoolmen call the 'omnipotent' will, a will that no one can resist. Yes, God has the power and the right to make of us a vessel, either for honour or dishonour, without our being able to reply and say, 'Why hast thou made us so?' Besides this will, however, we find another revealed will of God, according to which God wills that all men should be redeemed and come to the knowledge of the truth. Christ himself has plainly made known this will in the words, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life' (John iii., 16). 'He suffered for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. He is also the true light, that lights every man that comes into the world. To them that received him he gave power to become sons of God.' Therefore he has commanded us to preach the gospel to every creature, that every one who receives it, who believes and is baptised may be saved. Hence it follows that according to his revealed will God hardens, darkens or condemns no one and nobody, unless it be one who of his own will and wickedness will be hardened, darkened and condemned, and that is those people to whom Christ comes as to his own and they receive him not. When, therefore, it is said in the Scriptures that no one can resist God's will, the reference is not to the revealed, but to the secret will of God. But any one who does not observe this distinction gets into many difficulties and errors. "The revealed will of God the schoolmen call the 'ordered' will, not as though the secret will were without order, for everything that God wills and does is right and good, but he himself is subject to no rule, but his will itself is the rule of all things. The schoolmen call that will ordered, because it is fulfilled according to the word of Scripture, in which he has revealed his will; and so we speak also of the 'secret' and 'revealed' will of God, not as though there were a double will in God, but the Scripture speaks so in order to accommodate itself to human weakness, that we may know that although God is almighty and can do all things by his power, yet he will not deal with us poor creatures according to his omnipotence, but according to his mercy, which he has shown by his Son. God wills that all men should be saved (1 Tim. ii., 4). Who then can resist the will of God? 'Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him who formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? ' (Rom. ix., 20). If then God wills that all men should be saved, it must be done according to his will, and therefore the question is whether we will or not."[10]


It will not seem entirely inexplicable to one who has read carefully this extract, that Hübmaier should be claimed as an advocate of their theologies, with equal confidence, by both Arminians and Calvinists. In the tenet that afterwards became the shibboleth of Calvinism, an atonement limited to the elect, the sympathies of Hübmaier would certainly seem to be plainly with the Arminians. He would, however, find himself in congenial company among those who to-day call themselves "moderate" Calvinists. One thing is certain, he was not an antinomian:


"Grace comes to us, not from us, so that no one can boast except of the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever maintains that God will have sin, does not know what sin is. If any one says, 'If God did not will it, I would not sin,' I affirm, on the contrary, that God does not will that we sin. We set ourselves in opposition to his revealed will. We ought not to sin in order that the mercy of God may be more richly displayed, but we ought not to sin that we may not make ourselves unworthy of mercy, and expose ourselves to the penalties of divine justice.[11]

"… The people have learned only two things, without bettering their lives: the first, in that they say, 'We believe, faith saves us'; the second, 'By ourselves we can do no good.' Now both are true. But under the cloak of these half-truths all wickedness, unfaithfulness and unrighteousness has won the upper hand, and brotherly discipline in the meantime has grown more cold in many than before in a thousand years. Yea it is true and is fulfilled, the common proverb: 'The older the worse.' 'No better, but much worse.' 'The older the colder.' 'The longer the world stands the worse it is.' This stroke we must suffer from the godless, but it cries to God that we suffer this because of our own guilt. For we would all be Christians and evangelical by taking wives and eating flesh, never sacrificing, never fasting, by blasphemy, usury, lying, deceit, oppression, trickery, compulsion, driving, stealing, robbery, burning, playing, dancing, banqueting, idleness, whoring, adultery, seduction of girls, tyranny, strangling, killing. The lightness and freedom of the flesh sits on the topmost bench; on the uppermost seat the pride of this world reigns, sings and triumphs in all things. No Christian shines forth among all men. Brotherly love and faith is wholly extinguished, and all this, sad to say, takes place under the seeming of the gospel.

"For, as soon as you say to such evangelical people, 'It is written, brother, "Cease from evil and do good,"' he immediately answers, 'It is written, "We cannot do anything good." All things take place by the destiny of God and of necessity.' They mean by this that it is permitted them to sin. If you say further, 'It is written, "Those that do evil shall go into eternal fire,"' straightway a girdle made of fig-leaves is found to cover their crime, and they say, 'It is written, "Faith alone saves, and not our works."' With such subtleties we are nevertheless good evangelicals, and know how to quote, flourish and bounce around in a masterly way with the holy Scriptures—as the friends of Job, yea as the devil (Matt, iv.)—for the defence of our freedom and the sauciness of the flesh."[12]


To comprehend Hübmaier's Anthropology, it is necessary to understand at the outset that he believes the Scriptures to teach clearly the trichotomous nature of man. Here for once he falls into an exegesis that is puerile. "And I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. v., 23) is his favourite text. And he does not hesitate to argue from this that the spirit is in different case from the body and soul since the fall, because the apostle says here "the whole spirit," but does not say "the whole soul" or "the whole body," for what has once fallen and been broken to pieces is no longer whole! It was not Hübmaier's fault but his misfortune that he was not a Greek scholar,[13] yet a glance at the Vulgate from which he generally quoted should have been quite sufficient to show the untenableness of such exegesis: uit integer spiritus vester et anima et corpus sine querela in adventu Domini nostri Jesu Christi servetur—this, equally with the Greek, should be rendered, "may your spirit and soul and body be preserved whole, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

This is a bad beginning, and what follows is not much better. Adam, says our author, was created pure, and entirely free in the choice of good and evil, but when he sinned he lost this freedom, not only for himself, but for all his descendants. But fully to understand what this implies, we need to distinguish a threefold will: the will of the body, the will of the soul, the will of the spirit. The body became by Adam's sin corrupted, so that it can do nothing but sin. The soul also participated in this fall: it became so wounded and sick that it cannot of itself choose the good and resist the evil. The spirit participated in the effects of the fall, since it is a prisoner in the corrupted body, but it did not participate in the offence of Adam, for it did not yield to the sin of disobedience. In his catechism, where this question is of necessity more briefly discussed, there is a summary of his fundamental doctrine regarding human nature that is admirable in its point and clearness:


"To sum up then: God made us free in body, soul and spirit. This freedom and goodness became, by the disobedience of Adam, captive in the spirit, wounded in the soul, and corrupted in the body. Hence, we are conceived and born in sin, children of wrath. If we are to become again free in spirit, sound in soul, uninjured in body, in consequence of the fall, it must be through a new birth, without which, Christ says, we cannot enter the kingdom of God."[14]


It is evident that what Hübmaier sought was escape from the paralysing Augustinianism of Luther; and he attempted to work out a theory that should make a reality and not an empty form of the preaching of the gospel. This he believed he had secured by making the spirit an unwilling partner in the sin of Adam, and therefore exempted in a measure from the results of sin. Hence, while the will of the body and the will of the soul are no longer free, the will of the spirit is free. It is only so that deliverance from his sinful state is possible to man, through the hearing of the gospel, as he goes on to argue at length:


"'But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged by no man' (1 Cor. ii., 14, 15). Here you see, Christian reader, the perfection of the human spirit, since it judges all things, even the wounds of the soul. Likewise you see that the body and the soul are severely wounded, and that the spirit only has preserved the hereditary righteousness in which it was created from the beginning. In relation to man who is redeemed by Christ, we find that the body is still wretched, but that the spirit is joyful, willing and devoted to every good thing, yet the soul is sad and troubled because it stands between the body and the spirit and does not know which way to turn, as though blind and not understanding heavenly things by natural faculties. But when it is awakened by the word of God from the Heavenly Father, and when it is encouraged and led through much consolation, and is held by the Son of God and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, it discriminates between good and bad, has its lost freedom again, can also freely and willingly obey the Spirit, and will choose the good as once when it was in Paradise.

"All this the word of God effects in the soul. Therefore David exclaims: 'He sent his word and made them whole' (Ps. cvii., 20). Therefore Christ says: 'If ye continue in my word, ye are truly my disciples; and ye will know the truth and the truth will make you free' [John viii., 31, 32]. Therefore let every one who has ears to hear, hear that we have become free again by the word and truth sent to us from God through Christ. In this way real health and liberty are restored to man again. Now, too, the soul is free and can obey either the spirit or the body, but if it obeys the body it becomes body, if the spirit, spirit. Further, it can command the body, and tame it to make it go into the fire for the sake of Christ's name with the soul and spirit, though against its own desire. And although we find in all our conduct many weaknesses and imperfections, the soul is not responsible for them, but the body, that is an evil instrument and a vessel empty of all that is good.

"The commandment is given to the spirit as a help, a witness against sin; to the soul as a light to learn the way of piety, and to the body for the knowledge of sin. But when the body hears the law it is terrified, and from fright all the hair stands on end. The spirit is in a jubilee of joy, and the believing soul thanks God and praises him for giving him a light to its feet. However, if our spirit is to be free and our soul well, and the fall of the body harmless, all this must necessarily be accomplished through the new birth in Christ. If that is not accomplished, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God. According to the apostle, God creates us freely by the word of truth, that we may be the beginning of creation, that is, the first fruits of the creation, and in this word we are again free and sound, so that there is no longer anything worthy of condemnation in us. Christ has made the fall of Adam entirely harmless to us, and therefore no one should complain any more of Adam, and excuse his sins by his fall, as everything has been recovered for us that we lost by the sin of Adam. For Christ has merited by his Spirit that our spirit's prison (the body) does it no harm. By his soul he has merited for our soul, that it is enlightened by his divine word; and by his body for our body, that after the resurrection it shall be glorious and immortal. For this reason, whoever sins now himself bears the penalty of his sins, because he has himself to blame for them, and not Adam or Eve, body or sin, death or devil, for all that has been bound and vanquished in Christ."


This is the sum of the first book on the Freedom of the Will. In his second treatise on the subject Hübmaier goes at large into the exegesis of the Scripture passages that bear on the subject, and makes plainer than before his desire to give reality to the preaching of the gospel. The doctrine taught by Luther and his followers was that in spiritual things the unregenerate man is wholly blind, unable to work the righteousness of God, and his will has become utterly hostile to God, so that he cannot by his own powers give any assistance or co-operation towards his own salvation. He is as a man in the rapids of Niagara, being swept towards destruction, not only unable to do anything to help himself, but unable even to grasp the rope thrown to him by a friendly hand,—nay, not even desiring to be saved, and must against his will be dragged ashore, kicking and struggling against his rescuer to the last. It was thought necessary to teach such a doctrine of the will in order to magnify the divine grace in man's salvation, and to represent man as having any power of co-operation was thought to be a minimising of God's grace and a bringing back again of the idea of salvation by works. But to Hübmaier it seemed clear that God's veracity and good faith were no less at stake in this matter than the might of his grace. For what purpose are all the invitations of the gospel, if man cannot possibly heed them?

"Only a foolish king could place a goal before his subjects and then say, 'Now run that you may get there,' when he already knows beforehand that they are bound in iron and that they cannot run. It were certainly a cunning God, who invites all men to the supper, and really offers his mercy to every one, if he after all did not wish the invited to come. It were a false God who should say in words, ' Come here,' and yet in secret in his heart should think, 'Sit yonder.' It would be an unfaithful God who should publicly offer grace to man, and should clothe him in new raiment, yet in secret take it away from him and prepare hell for him. Cursed be he who maintains that God has commanded us impossible things, for everything that is impossible to our strength is possible by the word which God has sent.... As the human eye is capable of seeing light, and yet cannot see it unless the light streams into the eye, likewise man has the power to see the light of faith through the word of God, yet he cannot see this light unless by the heavenly illumination it is borne into his soul.... Whoever denies the freedom of the human will, denies and rejects more than half of the Holy Scriptures."

From the passages already quoted, it will be seen that Hübmaier's theory regarding original sin is very nearly, if not exactly, that now called the realistic. When Adam fell the race fell, since the race was potentially in him. The imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, that great subject of quarrel among theologians, does not engage his thought, nor does he go at any length into the nature of sin itself, but what he does say is very much to the point. He defines sin to be "every motion or desire against the will of God, whether in thought, word or deed," in which he evidently comes nearer to the profound truth than those modern theologians who would limit sin to conscious trangression of the law.

The group of doctrines usually treated by theologians under the head of Soteriology receives scant attention in Hübmaier's writings. Not that he had any doubt regarding any of them, but the circumstances under which he wrote were such as to call for no extended treatment. Of the atonement, for example, as the means of salvation, he speaks definitely but once; and if his words were literally interpreted they would show that he was satisfied with the theory of satisfaction as taught by Anselm, or possibly as developed by Aquinas. As to the execution of the divine election, the means by which men are actually saved, "effectual calling," he declares that this calling is twofold:


"Leonard.—How does God call or draw men?

"John.—In two ways, inwardly and outwardly. The outward drawing takes place by the public proclamation of his holy gospel, which Christ commanded to be preached to every creature, and is now made known everywhere. The inward drawing is wrought by God, who enlightens the soul within, so that it understands the undeniable truth, and is so thoroughly convinced by the Spirit and the preached word, as to confess from the conscience that these things must be so, and cannot be otherwise."[15]


Of this calling through the word Hübmaier makes much in all his writings, believing evidently that it is the chief means by which God has appointed men to be saved. Hence the importance, in his estimation, of the preaching of a "pure, true, clean gospel," words that flow from his pen so often as to become a sort of formula.

The result of this calling, of this hearing the word, is faith,

"a perception of the unspeakable mercy of God, of the gracious favour and good-will which he bears to us through his well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, whom he did not spare, but gave to death on account of our sin, that sin might be paid and we be reconciled with him, and be able to say to him with assurance of heart, Abba, Father, 'our Father, who art in heaven.' " (Op. 11.)

This faith is something more than mere belief; if genuine, "living," it will manifest itself by bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit. Faith is the human side of this transaction, and in consequence of faith, or in connection with it, the Spirit of God works a complete change in man's affections and will:

"I believe and trust that the Holy Spirit has come in me, and the power of the Most High God has, as with Mary, overshadowed my soul, that I may conceive the new man, and so in thy living, indestructible word and in the Spirit be born again and see the kingdom of God.[16]

"If we are to become again free in spirit … it must be through a new birth, without which, Christ says, we cannot enter the kingdom of God. 'Of his own will begat he us with the word of his power' [James i., 18]. In him alone do we really get free and sound again. So Christ says, 'The truth will make you free indeed' [John viii., 32]."[17]

There is no mention of justification in Hübmaier's writings, even where we might fairly expect to find it,—in his catechism; and of course no distinction between justification and sanctification. This omission cannot be explained like many others; the importance that these doctrines assumed in the Reformation period, and the amount of attention given them by all writers, preclude any explanation, on grounds of lack of necessity, inadvertence, and the like, for their absence from the carefully elaborated and deliberately printed works of any man of the time. The omission must be deliberate, calculated, wilful. An omission of such character can be accounted for only on one ground, that Hübmaier was anxious to mark clearly his divergence from Luther in some matters that the latter reckoned cardinal in the Protestant theology. Beyond this we are utterly in the dark.

From his treatment of faith and regeneration Hübmaier passes naturally to the discussion of Ecclesiology, and, as we might expect from the circumstances that called forth his writings, this is the subject that receives by far the largest amount of space. Having heard the word, having believed in Christ, having been born again by the Spirit, one is fitted for the next step, which is to receive baptism. The baptism of the Spirit is already his: it is fitting and natural, therefore, that he should have the baptism of water:

"Water baptism . . . is an external and public testimony of the inward baptism of the Spirit, set forth by receiving water. By this not only are sins confessed, but also faith in their pardon, by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, is declared before all men. Hereby also the recipient is externally marked, inscribed and incorporated into the fellowship of the churches, according to the ordinance of Christ. Publicly and orally he vows to God, by the strength of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that he will henceforth believe and live according to the divine word, and in case he should be negligent, that he will receive brotherly admonition, according to the order of Christ in Matt. xviii. Such are the genuine baptismal vows, which we have lost for a thousand years, Satan meanwhile crowding in with his monastic and priestly vows, and putting them in place of the holy.[18]

"The third error, that we have called the water of baptism, as well as the bread and wine of the altar, a sacrament, and have so regarded them; though not the water, bread or wine, but the vow of baptism or love-plight properly and rightly is a sacrament; which in Latin is an oath-plight and promise with joining of hands, which the baptised make to Christ, our invincible leader and head, that he will contend manfully under his flag and banner in Christian faith until death."[19]

But while thus careful to disclaim all sacramental efficacy for baptism, he will not admit that it is a mere negligible form:

"Read the history of the apostles and you will find that the Samaritans believed Philip and afterwards were baptised. So also Simon and the chamberlain of Queen Candace believed and afterwards were baptised. Paul believed and afterwards was baptised. Cornelius and his household believed, received the Holy Spirit and afterwards were baptised with water. Lydia, the seller of purple, and the jailor, believed and were baptised. Who would or can think that all these would have been baptised, if the order and earnest command of Christ had not moved and constrained them to it? Truly, they might indeed have said, 'We have believed the word of God, and we have in part received the Holy Spirit: what need have we of baptism? Faith saves.' Nay, not so, but he who believes is baptised and does not dispute, for he sees the order of Christ before his eyes and performs it, where water and a baptiser may be had; but when the two cannot be had, there faith is enough. Take an example. Had the chamberlain, sitting beside Philip and believing, died straightway before they came to the brook, he were no less saved before the baptism than afterwards. This is the meaning of Christ when he says, 'He that believes and is baptised shall be saved, but he that believes not is condemned'; for no doubt many thousands have been saved who have not been baptised, for they could not obtain it. But as the chamberlain had both the baptiser and the water together, he was bound by the command of Christ to be baptised. Had he not done it, Christ would have held him as a despiser and transgressor of his words, and as such he would have been punished."[20]

But though he insists thus strenuously on belief before baptism, and on the duty of every believer to be "baptised rightly, according to the order of Christ, even though he be a hundred years old," he will not for a moment admit that he is rightly called an Anabaptist:

"I have never taught Anabaptism. I know of none, except that in Acts xix. But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ, and a misuse of the high name of God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, altogether opposed to the institution of Christ and to the customs of the apostles. [21] "But since this oath [in the pledge of baptism] is made to Christ himself, who abides in eternity, the once baptised should not be rebaptised, as the Novatians and Hemerobaptists. Yet since the invented infant baptism is no baptism, those who have received water baptism according to the order of Christ cannot be charged with rebaptism, though in their childhood and in the blindness of their forefathers they were formerly bathed in water. "[22]

According to the Scriptures baptism is in some way connected with the remission of sins. In some cases Hübmaier so states this connection as to permit the inference from his words that he would have agreed with Alexander Campbell and his followers. But it is evident, on reading farther, that this is merely an unguarded and careless expression of his belief. Elsewhere he defines more strictly what this connection is:

"Water baptism was given for the forgiveness of sins. Acts ii., 38; 1 Pet. iii., 21. It is all contained in the ninth and tenth articles of Christian belief, where we confess a universal Christian Church, a communion of saints and forgiveness of sins, which was the understanding and conclusion set forth by the Nicene Council, with these words, 'I confess one only baptism to the remission of sins.' Therefore, as much as one is concerned about communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yea, also about communion with the heavenly host and with the whole Christian Church, also about the forgiveness of his sins, so much should he be concerned about water baptism, by which he enters and is incorporated in the universal Christian Church, out of which there is no salvation. Not that the remission of sins is to be ascribed to the water, but to the power of the keys which Christ by his word has given to his Spouse and unspotted bride, the Christian Church, in his bodily absence, and hung at her side when he said to her, 'Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins ye loose they are loosed, and whose sins ye retain they are retained.' John XX., 22, 23. Just so Christ speaks in another place to the Church, 'Verily I say to you, Whatsoever ye bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' Matt, xviii., 18. Here one sees plainly that the universal Church has the same power to loose or to bind sins now on earth which Christ himself as a man aforetime bodily here on earth had. He who believes the word of God enters the ark of Noah, which is a true figure of baptism, that out of this ark he be not drowned in the flood of sin."[23]

By baptism, it is said in the last quotation, the believer becomes incorporated in the Church. That naturally raises the question, What does Hübmaier understand by the Church? in what sense or senses does he use that word? The answer to this question is not obscurely hinted at in the above paragraph, but it is well to see what are the more explicit definitions:

". . . The people . . . have with public confession of Christian faith and with reception of water baptism been inscribed, marked and incorporated with the assembly of the universal Church, out of which is no salvation, as there was none out of the ark of Noah. Out of this people there has now become a separate and outward church, and a new daughter born of her mother—as the mother, that is, the universal Church, does the will of her husband and spouse, who is Christ Jesus, the Son of the living God, whose will he performed unto death—in order that the will of God the Father by his beloved Son, the mother and daughter, be maintained on earth as it is in heaven."[24]
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·

"Leonard.—Seeing you have now assured the church of your faith by your baptism, go on and tell us what is the church.

"John.—The Church is sometimes taken to include all men who are congregated and united in one God, in one Lord, in one faith and in one baptism, and confess the faith with the mouth, wherever they may be on earth. That is the universal Christian Church, the body and communion of saints, that meets only in the Spirit of God, which is named in the ninth article of the creed. Sometimes the church is taken to include a particular external congregation, parish or people, that belongs under one pastor or bishop, and comes together bodily for doctrine, baptism and the supper. The church as daughter has equal power with the mother, the universal Church, in binding and loosing upon earth, as long as she uses the keys according to the command of Christ, her spouse and husband.

"Leonard.—What is the difference between these two churches?

"John.—The particular church may err, as the papal Church has erred in many things, but the universal Church cannot err. She is without spot or wrinkle, is ruled by the Holy Spirit, and Christ is with her to the end of the world. God always keeps for himself seven thousand who have not bowed their knees to the idol of Baal.

"Leonard.—Upon what is the Christian Church built?

"John.—On the oral confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This external confession, and not faith alone, makes a church, for a church has power to bind or to loose, is external, is a body, while faith is eternal. Although faith alone justifies, it does not by itself save. Public confession must be present as we read plainly in Matt, xvi., 18: 'On this rock (to wit, the preceding confession) I will build my church.' See also Matt, x., 32; Luke xii., 8; Rom. x., 10."[25]

Christ has girded his bride, the Church, with two bands: the second of these is the Supper, which is the pledge of brotherly love and the memorial of Christ's sufferings. The bread and wine are real bread and wine: but they are also the body and blood of Christ, yet only in the sense of memorials. Hübmaier asserted an important difference between his teaching and Zwingli's, and reproached the latter for falsifying the Scriptures in saying "This is my body" is equivalent to "This signifies my body." Not even Luther is more emphatic in rejecting this exegesis of the Swiss reformer, and insisting that "is" must be taken in the plain sense of " is" and nothing else. But then he immediately argues away that for which he has so valiantly contended, in a manner more creditable to his ingenuity than to his good sense and good faith.

"This is my body," he says, is immediately followed by "Do this in remembrance of me." It is a well-known rule that every subject must be understood by its predicate. Hence, "This is my body" must be taken to mean, This bread is the body of Christ that was crucified for us. But, as matter of fact, the bread was not crucified, did not die for us. Therefore the bread must be the body of Christ not in reality but in remembrance, for the words "in remembrance of me" qualify all the preceding words. Hence the breaking, distributing, and eating of the bread is not an actual breaking, distributing, and eating of the body of Christ, but a remembrance of his passion, an eating in faith that he did this for us.[26]

Whether Hübmaier's exegesis or Zwingli's is the better may be a fair question, but what is perfectly plain is that they reach exactly the same result. One cannot resist the conclusion that this difference between the two teachers amounted to just nothing at all, and that on Hübmaier's part it was nothing more than a survival of that subtle, hair-splitting method of debate learned by him in the universities, from which he never completely emancipated himself. He had no grounds, certainly, to condemn Zwingli, and he shows too much eagerness to find a cause of accusation against one who had indeed wronged him, but against whom he was not therefore permitted to seek vengeance in this way.

If the Form of the Supper which he published is to be construed literally, then Hübmaier was in favour of surrounding the service with much ritual; with its homilies and prescribed prayers it is extremely liturgical. The actual administration is, however, very simple:

" Now the priest takes the bread into his hand, breaks it, and gives it to those present, and says, ' The Lord Jesus the night on which he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and said, " This is my body that is given for you, do this in remembrance of me." Take and eat this bread, brothers and sisters, in memory of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he gave us when he died for us.' And when all have eaten, the priest takes the cup with the wine and says, with eyes lifted, ' God, to thee be the honour and praise.' Then he passes it to them and says, ' In like manner the Lord Jesus took the cup when he had supped, saying, "This cup is a new covenant in my blood; do this as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me." Therefore take the cup and drink out of it all of you, in remembrance of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, that was shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins.' And when all have drunk the priest says, 'As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord's death, till he come.'"

It is also clear that Hübmaier was what in these days would be called a "close communionist"; that is, he held that baptism should always precede the communion, and as there was but one baptism, the baptism of a believer, those who had received only the so-called baptism bestowed on them in their infancy were not entitled to come to the Lord's table. This view he clearly sets forth in his Form for Baptising in Water:

" Everywhere the supper of Christ has been held, and men have communicated under both forms (as they call it), and yet no baptism has preceded, against the clear Scripture, which shows this order: first, preaching; second, faith; third, confession; fourth, water baptism; fifth, breaking of bread (Acts ii. and other places). But Satan can well suffer it that one builds up something to-day, and in a little time breaks it down again; for thereby many people are so greatly weakened, mazed and vexed, that they do not at all know what they should believe and hold."

One of the characteristics of the Anabaptists generally was the importance they attached to discipline and the Ban, or excommunication. This may be seen in the Schleitheim Confession and many of their extant documents. Hübmaier does not differ from the general body in this respect; indeed, he would make this the doctrine of a standing or falling church. Again and again he uses language like this:

"Yea, God lives and himself testifies that I speak the truth: unless brotherly discipline be restored, received and used according to the earnest command of Christ, it is impossible that it can be right and well with Christians on earth. Although we all with all our might cry, write and hear the gospel, yet crying, labour and toil is in vain and unprofitable—even water baptism and the breaking of bread are in vain and to no purpose and without fruit — where brotherly discipline and Christian excommunication do not accompany them."

To this subject he has devoted two entire treatises, but the briefest statement of his views is in his catechism:

"Leonard—What is fraternal discipline?

"John—When one sees his brother sin, he should go to him in love and admonish him fraternally and privately to leave off such sin. If he does leave off, his soul is won. If he does not, then two or three witnesses should be taken, and he may be admonished before them a second time. If he yields it is well; if not, the church should hear it. He is brought before her and admonished the third time. If he leaves off his sin the church has won his soul.

"Leonard—Where does the church get its authority ?

"John—From Christ's command, given in Matt. xviii. 18; John xx., 23.

"Leonard—By what right may one brother use his authority over another ?

"John—By the baptismal vow, which subjects every one to the church and all its members, according to the word of Christ.

"Leonard—Suppose the admonished sinner will not correct his course?

"John—Then the church has the power and right to exclude and excommunicate him, as a perjurer and apostate.

"Leonard—What is excommunication ?

"John—It is exclusion and separation to such an extent that no fellowship is held with such a person by Christians, whether in speaking, eating, drinking, grinding, baking, or in any other way, but he is treated as a heathen and a publican, that is, as an offensive, disorderly and venomous man, who is bound and delivered over to Satan. He is to be avoided and shunned, lest the entire visible church be evil spoken of, disgraced and dishonoured by his company, and corrupted by his example, instead of being startled and made afraid by his punishment, so that they will mortify their sins. For as truly as God lives what the church admits or excludes on earth is admitted or excluded above.

"Leonard—What are grounds for exclusion ?

"John—Unwillingness to be reconciled with one's brother, or to abstain from sin.

"Leonard—For what should we exclude ?

"John—Not for six shillings' worth of hazel nuts, as our papist friends have been wont to do, but on account of an offensive sin, and for the sake of the offender, that he may reflect, know himself and abstain from sin.

"Leonard—If he abstains from the sin, avoids the paths by which he might again fall, and does better, what position is the church to take?

"John—She is to receive him again with joy, as the father the prodigal son, and as Paul the Corinthian, opening heaven to him and welcoming him to the fellowship of Christ's supper."

On the question of singing hymns the Anabaptists were as much troubled and divided as some modern Presbyterian sects. Some opposed the use of anything but the psalms for this purpose, yet on the other hand some of the oldest Anabaptist compositions extant are hymns. Hübmaier took a moderate and sensible view of this, as of most practical questions.

"With singing and reading in the churches I am well contented (but not as they have hitherto been conducted), when it is with the spirit and from the heart and with understanding of the words and edification of the church as Paul teaches us (1 Cor xiv., 15; Col. iii., 16; Eph. v., 19). But otherwise God utterly rejects it and will have none of our Baal cries (Mal. ii., 17; Ezek. xxxiii., 31, 32)."[27]

The Anabaptists were likewise greatly divided on the question of the community of goods, some holding it to be an inseparable part of church order that the brethren should have all things in common, as in the church at Jerusalem. In his writings Hübmaier does not deal with this question, for he does not appear to have been brought into personal contact with Anabaptists who held this theory till the closing months of his life. There is no reason to doubt that the explanation he made to the Zürich council, already quoted in full, correctly represented both his private views and his public teaching, not only up to that time, but to the end of his life. The fact that at Nikolsburg he found this doctrine closely associated with Hut's chiliasm and denial of the right of the sword, would not be likely to incline him to its acceptance, to say the least. We may, without fear of hasty conclusion, set Hübmaier down as a disbeliever in this doctrine as a necessary part of Christianity.

As to eschatology, Hübmaier held precisely those beliefs that were then and are still reckoned orthodox. He taught the resurrection of the body, a final judgment, an everlasting life with God for the redeemed, and an eternal retribution for those dying in their wickedness. He treats all these points briefly and with reserve, but so as to make clear his full acceptance of them all, because he believed them to be taught in the Scriptures. There is not a trace of the restorationism found in the teachings of Denck. On one question about which some of the Anabaptists were more outspoken, he is inclined to make no positive pronouncement, namely, the fate of those dying in infancy. The Romanists and some Protestants settle this question easily, by saying that all infants who are baptised are saved, while others are lost. The Calvinist used to be ready with his answer, that all elect infants are saved, leaving it to be certainly inferred that non-elect infants are lost. Hübmaier will go no farther than the Scriptures go. He cannot find in these an explicit declaration that all infants are saved, therefore he will not assert it; nevertheless he makes it plain that he considers the salvation of all infants to be an opinion wholly consonant with what the Scriptures do say, and there he leaves the matter, trusting to the love and mercy of God, and confident that He will do right. And what more can any one do who founds his theology strictly on the Scriptures?

Of Hübmaier's teachings regarding liberty of conscience, the relations of the religious and the civil powers, and the like, enough has been said. The question of oaths he discusses very slightly, but here he must have disagreed positively with the more austere Anabaptist groups. If magistrates and courts are according to the order of Christ, judicial oaths can be no less so. Nor need we linger over the negative and polemic side of our author's teachings, interesting though these frequently are, and racy though his language often is. Hübmaier was frequently at his best in polemic writing. He is less abusive, less scurrilous, than the major part of the writers of the period. He could write against an opponent without dipping his pen in gall and vitriol, though he sometimes offends against a modern sense of propriety in speaking of and to his adversaries.

In spite of all that we have found in this man that demands our reprobation, have we not found much more that has moved us to admiration? Notwithstanding his wavering at Zürich, does not Hübmaier seem to us to stand forth as one of the heroic figures of the Reformation age? He might have taken for his own, words that Addison has put into the mouth of his Cato:

" 'T is not in mortals to command success,
But we'll do more, Sempronius—we'll deserve it."


  1. The Twelve Articles of Christian Belief, Op. 18.
  2. The Table of Christian Doctrine, Op. 11.
  3. A Conversation of Balthasar Hübmaier, Op. 10.
  4. Ground and Reason, Op. 16.
  5. Supra, p. 89 sq.
  6. Freedom of the Will, Op. 23.
  7. Simple Explanation of the words, "This is my Body." Op. 9.
  8. The book said to contain Hätzer's heretical views was burned by Capito, and it is impossible now to judge whether the accusation was just or not.
  9. Twelve Articles, Op. 18.
  10. Freedom of the Will, Op. 23; Hoschek, ii., 154.
  11. Freedom of the Will, Op. 23.
  12. On Brotherly Discipline, Op. 21.
  13. It is claimed in his behalf that he knew both Greek and Hebrew, but it is certain that he made little or no use of the original texts.
  14. Ein Christennliche Leertafel, Op. 11.
  15. Table of Christian Doctrine, Op. 11; Hoschek, ii., 266.
  16. Twelve Articles, Op. 18.
  17. Freedom of the Will, Hoschek, ii., 265.
  18. Table of Christian Doctrine, Op. 11; Hoschek, ii., 254.
  19. Form for Baptising, Op. 19.
  20. Ground and Reason, Op. 16.
  21. Short Apology, Op. 13.
  22. Form for Baptising, Op. 19.
  23. Ground and Reason, Op. 16.
  24. Concerning Brotherly Discipline, Op. 21.
  25. Table of Christian Doctrine, Op. 11; Hoschek, ii., 202.
  26. Simple Explanation, Op. 15; Hoschek, ii., 134 sq.
  27. Short Apology, Op. 13.