The New International Encyclopædia/Anabaptists

Edition of 1905.  See also Anabaptist on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

AN'ABAP'TISTS (Gk. ἀναβαπτίζειν, anabaptizein, to rebaptize). A term applied generally in Reformation times to those Christians who rejected infant baptism and administered the rite only to adults; so that when a new member joined them, he or she was baptized, the rite as administered in infancy being considered no baptism. Still, because all other branches of the church considered this a second baptism, the term Anabaptist, i.e., one who baptizes again, was naturally applied to them. The name is, however, not now used by the present Baptists.

The primitive baptism was doubtless of adults only, but infant baptism early became the Church practice. Opposition to it was kept up by a number of minor and obscure sects in the Middle Ages. When the Reformation unshackled the popular mind it came into prominence. Unfortunately, it was linked with other unpopular ideas of a revolutionary character, and adopted by a set of fanatical enthusiasts called the prophets of Zwickau, in Saxony, at whose head were Thomas Münzer (q.v.) (1520) and others. Münzer went to Waldshut, on the borders of Switzerland, which soon became a chief seat of Anabaptism, and a centre whence visionaries and fanatics spread over Switzerland. They pretended to new revelations, dreamed of the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth, and summoned princes to join them, on pain of losing their temporal power. They rejected infant baptism, and taught that those who joined them must be baptized anew with the baptism of the Spirit; they also proclaimed the community of goods, and the equality of all Christians. These doctrines naturally fell in with and supported the “Peasant War” (q.v.) that had about that time (1525) broken out from real causes of oppression. The sect spread rapidly through Westphalia, Holstein, and the Netherlands, in spite of the severest persecutions. The battle of Frankenhausen (see Münzer) crushed their progress in Saxony and Franconia. Still scattered adherents of the doctrines continued, and were again brought together in various places by traveling preachers. In this capacity Melchior Hoffmann, a furrier of Swabia, distinguished himself, who appeared as a visionary preacher in Kiel in 1527, and in Emden in 1528. In the last town he installed a baker, John Matthiesen, of Haarlem, as bishop, and then went to Strassburg, where he died in prison. Matthiesen began to send out apostles of the new doctrine. Two of these went to Münster, where they found fanatical coadjutors in the Protestant minister Rothmann, and the burghers Knipperdolling and Krechting, and were shortly joined by the tailor Bockhold, of Leyden, and Gerrit Kippenbrock, of Amsterdam, a bookbinder, and at last by Matthiesen himself. With their adherents they soon made themselves masters of the city; Matthiesen set up as a prophet, and when he lost his life in a sally against the Bishop of Münster, who was besieging the town, Bockhold and Knipperdolling took his place. The churches were now destroyed, and twelve judges were appointed over the tribes, as among the Israelites; and Bockhold (1534) had himself crowned king of the “New Sion,” under the name of John of Leyden. The Anabaptist madness in Münster now went beyond all bounds. The city became the scene of the wildest licentiousness, until several Protestant princes, uniting with the bishop, took the plan, and by executing the leaders put an end to the new kingdom (1535).

But the principles disseminated by the fanatical Anabaptists were not so easily obliterated. As early as 1533 the adherents of the sect had been driven from Emden and taken refuge in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam the doctrine took root and spread. Bockhold also had sent out apostles, some of whom had given up the wild fanaticism of their master; they let alone the community of goods and women, and taught the other doctrines of the Anabaptists, and the establishment of a new kingdom of pure Christians. They grounded their doctrines chiefly on the Apocalypse. One of the most distinguished of this class was David Joris, a glass painter of Delft (1501-56). Joris united liberalism with Anabaptism, devoted himself to mystic theology, and sought to effect a union of parties. He acquired many adherents, who studied his book of miracles (Wunderbuch). which appeared at Deventer in 1542, and looked upon him as a sort of new Messiah. Being persecuted, he withdrew from his party, lived inoffensively at Basel, under the name of John of Bruges, and died there in the communion of the Reformed Church. It was only in 1559, when his heretical doctrines had come to light, that the council of Basel had the bones of Joris dug up and burned under the gallows.

Contemporary with these fanatical Anabaptists there were those who united denial of the validity of infant baptism with mystical views, and even with denial of the deity of Christ. But in Switzerland and South Germany the Antipædo-Baptists, who date from 1523, and were dominated by the theological views of Balthazar Hubmeier, though reckoned with the other Anabaptists and cruelly persecuted and suppressed, held only at worst defective political views, but had no part or parcel with any immoral practices. Their creed can be learned from Zwingli's attack upon them. See the English translation in Jackson's Selections from Zwingli, pp. 123-258 (New York, 1901). This humble folk were treated like criminals, because the authorities recognized that their principles, though in no way sinful, were subversive of the tyrannical government they exercised. Anabaptists must die because they would not submit to the established order. To this day the advocates of the State Church look askance at them. At first among them the mode of baptism was not considered important, and so not much discussed. It was by pouring or sprinkling.

A new era for the Anabaptists begins with Menno Simons. (See Menno.) Surrounded by dangers, Menno succeeded, by prudent zeal, in collecting the scattered adherents of the sect, and in founding congregations in the Netherlands and in various parts of Germany. He called the members of the community “Gods congregation, poor, unarmed Christians, brothers;” later, they took the name of Mennonites, and at present they call themselves, in Germany, Taufgesinnte; in Holland, Doopsgezinden — corresponding very nearly to the English designation Baptists. This, besides being a more appropriate designation, avoids offensive association with the early Anabaptists. Menno expounded his principles in his Elements of the True Christian Faith in Dutch. This book is still an authority among the body, who lay particular stress on receiving the doctrines of the Scripture with simple faith, and acting strictly up to them, setting no value on learning and the scientific elaboration of doctrines. They reject the taking of oaths, war, every kind of revenge, divorce (except for adultery), infant baptism, and the undertaking of the office of magistrate; magistracy they hold to be an institution necessary for the present, but foreign to the kingdom of Christ; the Church is the community of the saints, which must be kept pure by strict discipline. With regard to grace, they hold it to be designed for all, and their views of the Lord's Supper fall in with those of Zwingli; in its celebration the rite of feet-washing is retained. In Germany, Switzerland, and Alsace their form of worship differs little from the Lutheran. Their bishops, elders, and teachers serve without pay. Children receive their name at birth, baptism is performed in the place of worship, and adults that join the sect are rebaptized. (See Mennonites.)

Almost the only split among the early Continental Baptists on doctrinal grounds was that which took place in Amsterdam in 1664. Arminianism had not been without its influence, especially among the Waterländers, originally more liberal in their views. A leading congregation accordingly divided into two parties, one (Galenists, from Galenus, their leader) advocating freer views in doctrine and discipline; the other ( Apostoolists, from Samuel Apostool) adhering to absolute predestination and the discipline of Menno. The liberal party rejected creeds as of human invention, adopted much of the philosophy and theology of England, and exercised no little influence on the intellectual progress of Holland. These two parties gradually absorbed the other sections of the Baptists in the Netherlands; and about the beginning of the nineteenth century a union took place by which all the congregations now belong to one body.

For the modern denomination called Baptists, which continues the same protest against infant baptism, but has little, or, as some claim, no genetic connection with the Anabaptists, see Baptists.