Balthasar Hübmaier/Chapter 7
HÜBMAIER THE MARTYR
FROM the time of his election to the Margravate of Moravia (October, 1526), Ferdinand of Austria had been determined to make his authority as absolute in that province as in his own duchy of Austria. The Moravian nobles had long been accustomed to a semi-independence that they now resigned with great reluctance, but they could oppose no effective resistance to the force that Ferdinand could put into the field, and slowly, with an ill grace, they submitted. As there could be no open resistance, so there could be no flat disobedience—passive, sullen, disaffected if not disloyal, they obeyed when they must, and disobeyed when they dared.
Ferdinand was a loyal son of the Church, and was determined to suppress heresy everywhere in his domains. He was not ignorant of the fact that Moravia was, just then, the chief hotbed of heresy in Europe, and so soon as he could make his authority felt in the province he began to demand the co-operation of the nobles to suppress heresy and punish heretics. A general edict, bearing date August 28, 1527, required instant and strict enforcement of the decree of the Diet of Worms, and directed that special pains be taken by magistrates and governors to bring to punishment those who were practising rebaptism and denied the venerable sacrament of the altar. Special edicts relating to affairs in Moravia were issued later, but this was the one under which the arrest and prosecution of Hübmaier occurred.
The terms of the edict make it plain that, among all the heretics, the Anabaptists were singled out for especial severity. The writings that Hübmaier had been so industriously composing and circulating were now read far beyond the bounds of Moravia, and the hereditary domains of Ferdinand were beginning to feel the result of the evangelical agitation. Not only Moravia, but the Tyrol, Salzburg, and even Austria itself were swarming with heretics. From many sources it may be gathered that genuine and not unreasonable apprehension was caused by the rapid spread of Anabaptism. All the interests of the Roman Church demanded its immediate and effective repression. And every Catholic ruler was apprehensive lest the progress of heresy should mean the weakening of his own authority—that revolt from the Church would only be the prelude to a revolt from civil authority.
It would not require much time for the authorities to learn that Nikolsburg was the storm-centre of this new movement, and that the leader there was the same pestilent fellow who had already given them so great trouble at Waldshut, and upon whom they had been most anxious to lay hands for three or four years past. Copies of certain writings of his had been transmitted to the Austrian Government, which thereupon proceeded to act with decision. Early in July, probably, the lords of Lichtenstein were commanded to come to Vienna and bring with them this heretic and rebel, long a fugitive from Austrian justice. The command was obeyed, and Hübmaier and his wife were taken to Vienna and confined until arrangements could be made for their trial.
A preliminary examination seems to have been given him at once, for Ferdinand wrote, July 22nd, to Freiburg a letter in which he said:
"Since Dr. Balthasar a long time ago was pastor in our city of Waldshut, and through his preaching and misleading doctrine mischief, ill-will, disturbance and rebellion greatly increased among the common people in our borderlands, the city of Waldshut all but fell away from us and our house. When the city of Waldshut was afterwards conquered, he fled and came into our Margravate of Moravia. On account of all this we have circumspectly lain in wait for him, until we brought him to our royal prison here in Vienna, and have confined him in prison, and had him examined, yet without torture, on the enclosed list of questions. Now you were very active during the said disturbance at Waldshut, and that of the peasants, and know much about this business of the Doctor's, and no doubt remember it well. Since, therefore, the affair does not admit of postponement, we command you, speedily and without delay, to give thorough and diligent examination to the list of questions, with reference to the late hearing; also that you learn by thorough inquiry whatever else you can concerning all that is herein included, and give us your counsel regarding the same, that we may know in future how to perform our whole duty in the uprooting of evil, and by punishment to make so much the better example for others.
After this preliminary examination, which is distinctly stated to have been held in the royal prison at Vienna, Hübmaier and his wife were sent elsewhere for several months.
The place of their confinement is said by all the contemporary authorities to have been the castle of Greisenstein, or Grätzenstein or Greutzenstain, but there has been and is dispute as to the identification of this spot. Beck and Loserth think that the castle of Kreutzenstein is meant, on the ground that it is known to have been used in the sixteenth century as a State prison. Others have generally identified the place with Greifenstein, a castle still in possession of the Lichtenstein family, a few miles from Vienna on the Danube. This identification seems the more probable, and suggests that Hübmaier may have been left in the custody of his noble friends for a time, who, though powerless to protect him, might be able to alleviate his confinement somewhat.
In our ignorance of all the facts, the lords of Lichtenstein necessarily lie under the odious suspicion of having surrendered their chief preacher with altogether too much alacrity, for it does not appear that they made any attempt whatever to save him. It is possible, even probable, that it required all their power and social standing to secure their own immunity from prosecution. But the suspicion may, after all, do them an injustice. Much was made in the preliminary accusation, and throughout the process, of Hübmaier's alleged disloyal conduct at Waldshut. It was no uncommon thing, in those days, to arrest a man on a charge of sedition and condemn him for heresy, or vice versa. It may well be the case that the demand sent to Nikolsburg for the surrender of Hübmaier specified sedition as the chief offence—it may even have been the only offence then named.The circumstances all confirm this hypothesis.
CASTLE GREIFENSTEIN, AS IT APPEARS NOW.
But if everything thus points towards treason as the charge on which Hübmaier was surrendered, it is certain that when once Austria got her claws on him the charge of heresy was also raised and pressed. This was apparent in the preliminary examination given him at Vienna, before he was sent to Greisenstein, and his imprisonment there weighed heavily on his health and spirits, Hübmaier was not a man of great fortitude, as he had already shown at Zürich, and it is more than probable that the ardour of his labours at Nikolsburg, following the hardships he had previously experienced, had left him with a small stock of physical strength. In his bodily weakness, his soul began to quail at the prospect of torture and death, and he bethought him of expedients by which his life might again be saved. The intervention of his old schoolmate and friend, John Faber, now vicar-general of the Bishop of Constance, occurred to him as the thing most likely to be helpful. Accordingly he urgently requested the favour of an interview with Faber, and the request was granted. Faber hastened to Greisenstein, moved in part possibly by affection for his old school-fellow, but still more by hope of winning to the truth a heretic so distinguished. He took with him no books but the Bible, and had a long interview—or rather, a series of interviews—with Hübmaier, of which he has left a full account. It is open to suspicion in some particulars, but in the main bears the impress of truth.
Faber reached Greisenstein December 14th, and in his visit to his former friend was accompanied by Lord Mark of Leopoldsdorf and Ambrozius Salzer, rector of the Vienna gymnasium—neither of whom, however, seems to have taken any part in the discussion. Faber began with a long address, in which he expressed the sincere love he had never ceased to cherish for the comrade of his school-days, and promised his aid in any way that he could render it. But above all he was anxious to convince his friend of his errors, and lead him back to the truth. To this Hübmaier is said to have replied:
They differed at the very beginning, however, on the use and interpretation of the Scriptures, Faber urging the usual Catholic saying that the Scriptures are infallible only when interpreted by an infallible Church. But Hübmaier contended that any believer, led by the Holy Spirit, can discern the true sense of Scripture, at least so far as all things necessary to salvation are concerned. Obscure passages did not demand an authoritative interpreter, but only that they be compared with other passages less obscure; and thus the meaning of the text might be authoritatively obtained. When they went on to the chief tenets of the Anabaptists, agreement was still less possible. Faber could not convince Hübmaier from the Scriptures that infants should be baptised, nor that there is any change in the elements in the eucharist, nor that the mass is a sacrifice for sins. On other questions that were debated, if we may believe the account of Faber, Hübmaier was more tractable, and suffered himself to be understood as holding nothing that could be called heretical regarding intercession of the saints, the Virgin Mary, purgatory, fasts, justification by faith, free will, and the like.
The interview closed with this exhortation from Faber: "What I have said, I have said with a good, sincere purpose. Now see to it, and take care of yourself for your own good." To which Hübmaier's final reply was, "Everything that you have said I certainly accept with thanks, and your presence at this place is dearer than that of any one else in the whole world. I will consider everything in a becoming way, and whatever I find to be true in my conscience I will publish in a separate work dedicated to his Royal Grace. Be yourself, I pray, a faithful defender and intercessor for me in this matter."
These conversations were protracted through several days, and were of such interest to both parties that at least once the debate continued until two o'clock in the morning, and was resumed again at six o'clock! Their conclusion left Hübmaier in a decidedly more hopeful state—there seemed to him now a fair prospect that his life might be saved. He had made considerable concessions, it is true, but he doubtless persuaded himself that they were not of great moment and did not really compromise his integrity. On the main questions of the supreme authority of Scripture, the baptism of believers only, the rejection of transubstantiation, he could congratulate himself that he had stood firm. His ambiguous statements about what Melanchthon later called adiaphora, he probably believed to be of slight importance.
As a result of this conference and debate Hübmaier sent from his prison to Ferdinand, under date of January 3, 1528, a formal statement (Rechenschaft) of his beliefs, a document that has been called by some of his biographers a recantation. The following summary of these articles, mostly in the words of the author, will show how far this title is justified by the contents:
“1. Faith alone is not enough for salvation. We must prove faith with works of love toward God and our neighbour.
"2. Since mere faith does not suffice for salvation, good works must also be added to it.
"3. Whoso permits his faith to stand by itself and does not prove it by good works, he changes Christian liberty into liberty of the flesh. [This condemns Luther's doctrine.]
"4. In this miserable and dangerous life, it is most necessary to impress unceasingly on the people the fear of God, that in all their works they should keep God before their eyes.
"5. A man should take care of all his thoughts, words and acts, according to the plumb-line of the divine word, so that he can always preserve a good conscience towards God.
"6. All things do not come to pass of necessity.
"7. He who denies the free will of men and calls it an empty claim, is nothing in himself, nicknames God a tyrant, charges him with injustice, and gives the wicked excuse to remain in their sins.
"8. To avoid evil works and repent of our sins is the doctrine of the whole gospel.
"9. The blessed Virgin Mary is, and always was, pure and unspotted.
"10. Mary is the mother of God.
"11. Christ was truly God.
"12. Original sin is not only an infirmity or defect, as some write, but a condemnable sin, if we are not in Christ and live according to the flesh. It is the mother and root of all sins.
"13. I know in the Scripture no ground for a special purgatory, outside of heaven and hell. "14. Although Christ has given us many signs to know when the day of his coming is at our door, yet no one knows this day save God alone, I have firmly withstood John Hut and his followers, because they have named a specific time for the last day, namely, next Whitsunday, and have preached this to the people and led them astray [exhorting them] to sell house and goods, to leave wife and child, and have misled the simple to leave their work and run after them,—an error that has sprung from a gross misunderstanding of the Scripture.
"15. The prayers of Christ's faithful ones are advantageous.
"16. Concerning confession I have hitherto preached that the Scriptures teach three kinds of confession: one before God, another before the man whom we have wronged, and the third before the Church through acknowledgment of sins.
"17. The Church is an external assembling and community of believers in one Lord, one faith and one baptism.
"18. Whoever preserves his virginity, has a precious jewel. Aged widows should be received into the Church.
"19. Fasts ought to be observed.
"20. Sundays should be observed. Certain holidays—such as Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday—I am well contented [to observe], but not so large a number, as I disputed more than twenty years ago at Freiburg, De non multiplicandis festis.
"21. On the fast days one should eat no meat.
"22. The ten commandments should be frequently taught to the people in these troublous days. I have taught this in my catechism, where I have set down the ten commandments as the first beginning of a Christian life.
"23. Excommunication is a necessary medicine in Christianity.
"24. The intercessions of the saints in our behalf are not in vain.
"25, 26. Most illustrious, most mighty king, most gracious lord, I am strongly opposed to the teaching of John Hut and his followers regarding baptism and the sacrament, and shall oppose them in teaching and writings all my life so far as God gives me power. For I can say, on the ground of the divine word and with good conscience, that he has perverted both articles. I have no doubt that I should, with God's help, soon abolish his baptism and supper. I have taught nothing concerning baptism, save that it should be public confession with the mouth of Christian faith, also a renunciation one must make of the devil and all his works. Therefore the baptism I taught and Hut's baptism are as far asunder as heaven and hell. Also as to the supper, I trust in God I shall not bear his burden.
"But also, your royal majesty, see, further, that I am not stiff-necked and self-willed, since I offer to defer to the next [general] Council [of the Church] the two articles I have taught and others pertaining to faith, and as to these will gladly submit myself to the Church; and will in the meantime permit these articles to remain in abeyance, and as to the others will so show and conduct myself that your royal majesty will hereafter receive a special pleasure that I have laboured well and faithfully. But if your royal majesty will not await a council, then I beg to defend these articles with the Holy Scriptures before your majesty's honourable councillors and the university. Your majesty may then be judge. I would gladly so hold myself that I may remain safe before God in my conscience and can stand with my soul before the last judgment. I will also earnestly pray God day and night, that he will of his divine grace give me to know means and way through which your royal majesty and the whole of Christendom may come to Christian welfare and peace. God, who is with me in my distress, will hear me; and if your royal majesty should be well pleasing, I would gladly draw up and write an ordinance of Christian government, whereby with God's grace and the help of their imperial and royal majesties, we could come right soon to peace and unity.
"27. Respect and honour should be paid to the authority of magistrates and laws, as set forth in the book On the Sword; and all conspirators and rebels are to be condemned.
"Wherefore, O most mighty and most gracious king, I pray, by God and his mercy, that your royal majesty—as the merciful lord of Austria, of whom always and everywhere this praise and title of the Merciful has been written, and especially since Dr. John Faber, and Master Max Beckh, bishop in Austria, and Master Salzer, rector of the University of Vienna, have shown me so great grace and favour—may show grace and mercy to me, an imprisoned and afflicted man, who now lies in great sickness, cold and trouble. For with God's help I will so conduct, order and hold myself that your royal majesty shall have pleasure therefrom. The people I will with great earnestness and utmost diligence urge to devotion, fear of God and obedience, wherein I would always bring them. Your royal majesty and his brother need have no doubt regarding my pledge; my Yea shall be Yea, and so it will be found at the last day. So help me God. Amen."
On all but two points, baptism and the Lord's Supper, Hübmaier thus indicated his willingness to conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Faber adds in his statement that his friend denied that it was an article of faith that the body and blood of Christ are in the sacrament of the altar. If this statement is correct, it only shows that Hübmaier's strong point was not the history of the Church and its doctrines, which is abundantly shown by all his writings. His strength lay in his knowledge of the teaching of the Scriptures, and his ability to quote these freely in support of his contentions. Arguing from the Scriptures he was a Samson in controversy; when he began to speak of the Fathers and history he became as other men—and weaker than many.
Precisely what he expected to accomplish by composing such a statement and appeal as the foregoing, it is difificult to conjecture. He can hardly have had a serious expectation of saving his life, even by a complete recantation. If he became reconciled to the Roman Church, and so escaped burning as a heretic, there remained the charge of treason, for which his head must answer. After all the provocation the Austrian Government had received from him, now that it had him safely in its power it was little likely to permit him to escape. If Hübmaier could not see this clearly, he must have been blind indeed. Yet the only rational explanation of this strange affair seems to be that in his suffering and despair he clutched at the vain hope of mercy, and now once more (as formerly at Zürich) was prepared to deny much that he had taught, if not all, to save his life. Though he still holds to his belief about the sacraments, his profession of willingness to submit to the decision of an Ecumenical Council even in this makes one suspect that a promise of release would have drawn from him a still further concession.
Hübmaier's conduct in these closing months of his life is far from heroic. The praise of unswerving constancy to the truth cannot be awarded him. It is impossible not to draw a parallel between him and a more famous man of this period, Archbishop Cranmer. Their cases were strikingly similar, for both had been guilty of acts of rebellion and treason, as well as the advocacy of heresy. They were alike also in possessing more moral than physical courage—or perhaps it was only fortitude in which they were really deficient. Men differ greatly in their capacity to endure excruciating physical pain, and no one who has not had the experience can be quite certain how he would himself behave under torture. Savonarola is still a third example, and an eminent one, of failure to bear, as well as the average man, this cruel test; but the world has pardoned him this one defect in an otherwise heroic character. It has done the same in the case of Cranmer, rightly judging that his fortitude in the supreme hour out-weighs and all but obliterates his earlier shameful defection.
Shall the world do less in the case of Hübmaier? Should we not see in him one in whom the spirit was willing and only the flesh weak? He recanted no more of his former opinions, certainly, than did Savonarola and Cranmer, if as much. He cannot be proved to have denied anything that he had held to be fundamental in the teachings of the Scriptures. As to his political conduct, he had always maintained that to be blameless, and he never admitted himself to have been guilty of treason or sedition, even in hope of saving his life. And in the end, as to Cranmer and Savonarola, strength was given him to meet his doom with a constancy and calm fortitude that moved the admiration of all beholders.
Ferdinand was very far indeed from being moved by any feelings of pity or clemency towards Hübmaier or any of the Anabaptists. On the contrary, it could not have been long after the reception of the above appeal—supposing that he ever really saw or heard of it—that he began to prod his officials, and require them to show more zeal in the prosecution of such heretics as they already had in prison, and to search actively for others. Accordingly, on March 4th, his regent for Lower Austria sent an apology to the King, in which he recounted what had been accomplished, in spite of great difficulties, towards the detection and punishment of the heretics. The following paragraph from this document especially concerns us:
"As to the case of Dr. Balthasar Hübmaier, through the bishop and several judicious theologians we have made ample arrangements that he shall be dealt with according to the command of your majesty. That we have forwarded no report concerning his trial for so long a time is the fault of his fickleness. For though Hübmaier promised the bishop and the other doctors opposed to him, in the hearing that has taken place, to recant his teaching and belief, and to send such recantation to the bishop within a specified time, he has not yet kept his pledge, but has presented only an ambiguous statement (eine halbe Meinung), and no completely valid recantation. Wherefore the bishop was prevailed upon—against our earnest solicitation, according to your majesty's command for dealing with Hübmaier—to let him set down in writing his reasons for sustaining his doctrine concerning rebaptism and the venerable sacrament. With the composition of this writing Hiibmaier has busied himself up to last Saturday, the last of February. So soon as it comes to us through the bishop, we shall forward it to your royal majesty, and it ought to be already in your majesty's hands."
From this it appears that this final statement was finished February 29th. A few days elapsed for transmission of it to the King, and then the order came that Hübmaier should be brought back to Vienna. He arrived about March 3rd, and the final process began. Few details are known, but it is certain that he suffered on the rack, and possibly other tortures were applied. On this occasion, however, he remained firm; he could not be induced to retract his teachings regarding baptism and the eucharist. His double condemnation followed, as a matter of course. His friend, Dr. Faber, published immediately after his death a little pamphlet called the Reason Why the Patron and First Beginner of the Anabaptists, Doctor Balthasar Huebmayr, was Burned at Vienna on the 10th of March, 1528. In this is given, apparently from official sources, the record of the final condemnation, as follows:
"First, Dr. Balthasar Hubmayer has confessed that at Waldshut he preached rebellion against the government, which does not tend to peace, but is contrary to God, right and his conscience, whence arose much perversity and revolt against the government and great shedding of blood.
"Again, he has confessed how from Waldshut he had given counsel and written a letter to his royal majesty, which served better to promote rebellion than obedience."Again, he has also confessed that while at the aforesaid Waldshut he went into their houses and said to them that their cause was just, whether it should turn out that they died or recovered; he had also counselled and helped them to swear a league, to oppose all that would
VIENNA IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.
"Again, he has also confessed that he enlarged and expounded the articles of the peasants, which were sent to him from the camp, and that he imagined such as received the same to be Christian and reasonable. He confesses also that in this he erred and did wrong.
"Again, he has also confessed how it happened that many of the magistracy of the city of Waldshut went to Lauffenberg. There also Hans Müller, the architect, in place of the mayor, permitted the community to be called together in the council house, and he announced to them the decision of the Diet that according to the will of his royal majesty the city should be overwhelmed and the citizens should be punished, and advised all who would not suffer such things to withdraw from the city until affairs should be better. Upon that Dr. Balthazar publicly took leave of everybody, and went home and said he would not be in the report. Thereafter early in the morning he went out of the city, came by himself to Zürich, and was there imprisoned on account of the second baptism, since the same was opposed to Zwingli, to whom the people of Zürich adhere. He was also at Zürich racked on account of anabaptism, and compelled to testify who had led him into such baptism, and why he had baptised in their jurisdiction. Therefore he made a public recantation of his opposition to infant baptism.
"Again, he also confessed that he had so preached, and added counsel and deed, in order that he could thereby live a good life and be his own master! In all of which he confesses that he did wrong. Also their reason and object was to have no government, but only from their own number to draw out and elect one.
"Again, the aforesaid Doctor Balthasar confesses that he does not at all believe in the sacrament of the altar nor in infant baptism.
"Therefore, Doctor Balthasar, on account of this crime and condemned heresy is condemned to the fire."
Though urged to confess to a priest and receive the last rites of the Church before his death, Hübmaier steadfastly refused. On March 10th, he was led forth to his death, his wife (of whom it is related that "she was hardened in the same heresy, more constant than her husband ") exhorting him to fortitude. The story that he was borne through the streets to his execution on a cart, while his flesh was torn by red-hot pincers, does not rest on the best authority. We have the testimony of an eye-witness to his end, and the details are self-evidencing. As he was led to the place of execution, he from time to time repeated for his own consolation verses of Scripture, and remained to the last "fixed like an immovable rock in his heresy." He was accompanied by an armed troop, and a large crowd, and as he came to the pile of fagots he lifted up his voice and cried in the Swiss dialect:
"O gracious God, forgive my sins in my great torment. O Father, I give thee thanks that thou wilt to-day take me out of this vale of tears. With joy I desire to die and come to thee. O Lamb, O Lamb, that takest away the sins of the world! O God, into thy hands I commit my spirit."
To the people he said, "O dear brothers, if I have injured any, in word or deed, may he forgive me for the sake of my merciful God. I forgive all those that have done me harm."
While his clothes were being removed: "From thee also, O Lord, were the clothes stripped. My clothes will I gladly leave here, only preserve my spirit and my soul, I beseech thee." Then he added in Latin: "O Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit," and spoke no more in Latin.
As they rubbed sulphur and gunpowder into his beard, which he wore rather long, he said, "Oh salt me well, salt me well." And raising his head, he called out: "O dear brothers, pray God that he will forgive me my guilt in this my death. I will die in the Christian faith."
When the wood was kindled and he saw the fire, he said with a loud voice: "O my Heavenly Father, O my gracious God!" As his hair and beard burned he cried out, "O Jesus, Jesus!"
And then, overwhelmed with smoke, he breathed out his soul. The one who relates his death, no friendly and sympathetic observer, adds that he felt more joy than pain in thus witnessing his faith with his life. Three days later his devoted wife, with a great stone tied to her neck, constant to the very last in testifying to her faith, was thrown into the waters of the Danube.
- Loserth, p. 171, from the State archives. Cf. Beck, Geschichts-Bücher, p. 60, n. i.
- Of the three different, and even conflicting, accounts in Anabaptist chronicles of the period, the above is the most probable. Hoschek simply gives the various accounts (ii., 253) without attempting to reconcile them or decide between them; while Loserth (p. 173) gives the above, but does not hint that there is any conflict on this point. See Beck, Geschichts-Bücher, pp. 52, 53.
- Quoted by Loserth (p. 174) from the State archives at Innsbruck.
- So Loserth (p. 173), who says persecution for heresy did not begin in Moravia until March, 1528.
- Quoted by Hoschek, ii., 255.
- Hoschek, ii., 259.
- In the less important articles abridged, but for the most part in Hübmaier's own words, as preserved in MS. in the archives of the Ministry of Justice, discovered by Beck, and first printed by Loserth, pp. 176–180. A similar abstract, less full and correct, in Hoschek, ii., 504, 505.
- Nothing further is known of this last writing of Hübmaier's, except that it could have contained no recantation. Further search may discover it among the Austrian archives. The document from which the above extract is taken was found by Dr. Beck in the archives of the Ministry of Justice, and is given by Loserth, p. 183.
- Loserth, Beilage, No. 10.
- Stephan Sprügel, dean of the philosophical faculty in the University of Vienna. Quoted by Loserth, pp. 185-187.