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9-08-2015, 15:31

The radical Reformation

Some individuals and groups rejected the idea that church and state needed to be united, and sought to create a voluntary community of believers as they understood it to have existed in New Testament times. In terms of theology and spiritual practices, these individuals and groups varied widely, though they are generally termed “radicals” for their insistence on a more extensive break with the past. Many of them repudiated infant baptism, for they wanted as members only those who had intentionally chosen to belong; some adopted the baptism of believers – for which they were given the title of “Anabaptists” or rebaptizers by their enemies – while others saw all outward sacraments or rituals as misguided and concentrated on inner spiritual transformation. Some groups attempted to follow Christ’s commandments in the gospels literally, while others reinterpreted the nature of Christ. Radicals were often pacifi sts and refused to hold any offi ce or swear oaths, which were required of nearly everyone with any position of authority, including city midwives and toll-collectors, as well as anyone involved in court proceedings. Some groups attempted communal ownership of property, living very simply and rejecting anything they thought unbiblical. Different groups blended these practices in different ways, and often reacted very harshly to members who deviated, banning them from the group, and requiring other group members – sometimes including spouses – to shun, or have no contact with, the offending member until he or she changed behavior and asked for forgiveness. Others, however, argued for complete religious toleration and individualism; that idea was especially common among those radicals who rejected the idea of the Trinity and viewed Christ as thoroughly human. Individuals known for their more radical ideas include Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (1486–1541), who taught with Luther at the University of Wittenberg and celebrated the fi rst communion service in German there; Conrad Grebel ( c . 1498–1526), an associate of Zwingli’s in Zurich who conducted the fi rst adult baptism in 1525; Kaspar von Schwenkfeld (1489–1561), a German nobleman who asserted that Christ worked directly in the human soul so that no external ceremonies were very important; Menno Simons ( c . 1496–1561), a Dutch pastor who developed a very Christ-centered theology and opposed the use of violence; Jacob Hutter (1500?–36), an Austrian hatmaker turned preacher who set up a system of complete communal sharing of property among his followers; Fausto Sozzini (1539–1604), an Italian reformer who saw the importance of Christ in his resurrection, not his divine nature, and thought that true religion was consistent with reason. Highlighting the role of specifi c individuals when looking at the radical Reformation may be even more misleading than focusing only on Luther in the magisterial Reformation, however, for the majority of those who accepted radical beliefs were not highly learned. They were artisans and peasants who opposed hierarchies within the church, wanted the congregation to have a more active role in the church service, and expected the second coming of Christ – predicted in the Book of Revelation – to be imminent. Many of them were women, and a key issue facing many Anabaptist groups became that of “mixed marriages,” that is, whether spouses who differed in matters of religion should be allowed – or even required – to divorce and remarry. In some cases eschatological ideas about the end of the world were linked with political insurrection. Some radical reformers, including Thomas Müntzer (d. 1525), supported the peasants in the 1525 German Peasants’ War (see below), for which he was eventually executed. In Münster, a city in northwestern Germany, several charismatic preachers gathered increasing numbers of followers when they predicted that the city would be the site of a New Jerusalem that would survive God’s fi nal judgment. In 1534 people streamed into Münster to be rebaptized, a city council sympathetic to these views was elected, and those who refused rebaptism were expelled. Material goods were redistributed, polygyny was introduced (justifi ed because the Old Testament patriarchs had several wives), and leaders in Münster proclaimed their city an independent kingdom. This attempt to transform society according to radical religious principles was absolutely unacceptable to both Catholic and Lutheran authorities, and combined armies successfully besieged the city and executed its leaders. The insurrection at Münster and the radicals’ unwillingness to accept a state church were both used as justifi cation for intense persecution. The emperor made Anabaptism a crime punishable by death in 1529, and both Catholic and Protestant religious and political leaders complied. Over the next century thousands of radicals were tortured and executed in many parts of Europe, often in very gruesome ways; Jacob Hutter, for example, was burned at the stake, and many female Anabaptists were drowned. Records of their trials are one of the few sources we have for the religious ideas of people who were illiterate. From these records, we learn that many unlearned men and women had memorized large parts of the Bible by heart and could argue complicated theological concepts. Anabaptists themselves compiled accounts of trials and executions, along with letters and other records, into martyrologies, which were published and read widely. Persecution also led radical leaders and their followers to migrate to parts of Europe that were more tolerant. Sympathetic nobles in the Empire sometimes allowed them to live in their territories, as did nobles in Moravia (in modern-day Slovakia and the Czech Republic), Silesia (in modern-day Poland), and other parts of eastern Europe. Eventually many of these groups were forced to move even further. In the seventeenth century Polish Socinians (the anti-trinitarian followers of Sozzini) went into exile in Transylvania (in modern-day Hungary) and Mennonites and Hutterites moved to southern Russia. In the eighteenth century Schwenkfelders went to Pennsylvania, and in the nineteenth century Hutterites moved to South Dakota, where they have survived to the present day. (The Hutterites in South Dakota migrated to Canada because they were persecuted for their pacifi sm during World War I; after the end of the war, they gradually returned to the United States, where they still live communally.) Many other religious groups, such as the Baptists, Unitarians, and Quakers, have their roots in the radical Reformation. The radicals’ notions that religious allegiance should be voluntary, and that church and state should be separate, later became part of the United States Constitution, and are widely accepted in Europe today.

SOURCE 13 Anabaptist hymns

Hymns were an important means of conveying religious ideas, and sometimes of memorializing heroic actions. The following is a hymn detailing and praising the martyrdom of a husband and wife, Jeroen Segersz and Lijsken Dircks, who were executed as Anabaptists in Antwerp. Segersz was burned at the stake in 1551, and Dircks was drowned in the River Scheldt several months later; her execution was delayed because she was pregnant at the time of her trial and the court waited until the child had been born to put her to death, a common practice for women who were executed. The hymn includes references to specifi c verses of the Bible; the Bible was extremely important to Anabaptists, and many of them had memorized large sections of it. 1 Most faithful is the Lord our God 2 Cor. 1: 4] Comforts his own from morn to night. When Jeroen, together with his Wife, From evil suffered sorrow great, So they [Josh. 1: 5, Heb. 13: 5] were not forsaken By God, in their sad, dark affliction, [Ps. 91: 15] Who in their need did come to aid them, Through his spirit most wondrously. 2 The Markgrave and his fellow Sophists, Put on a good show with their wares, But Jeroen spoke, with no dissembling, “And should the fool stand up right now, And say: ‘The power to leave is in your hands, All you need say is: “I regret it”’: From my course I would not want to stray, For I possess the truth, I know.” 3 Then Markgrave he spoke with fury wild: “I’ll have you thrown into the fi re Alive, if you won’t hear!” Jeroen laughed at all the ranting, Spake bravely: [Acts 21: 13] I’ll gladly suffer all Of what you might do unto me, For this my faith!” (For doing battle Well armed that Champion was). 4 Two Priests he once took on, together, Punished them so, with God’s own word, That they ought well to’ve been ashamed; For that they were angry and enraged, They burned with fury at Jeroen, Smashing their fi sts upon the table, Insisting that Peter had begun The papacy, the fi rst mass held by Andrew. 5 Well, these fi nally quit the fi eld, But Jeroen to the rack was brought, Much he suffered pain and torment, Gileyn’s helper racked him long, And while he lay there, bound up tight, With water Gileyn poured him full; The cruel Wolves about him stood, Expecting his need to make him speak. 6 When he had suffered all of this, And lay in strong walls imprisoned, He was indeed so much at peace, All his burden up and left him, For he could hardly get to sleep Through rejoicing and joy so great, Which he gleaned while in the Emperor’s chair, Granted to him by the Lord. 7 Thus did the Sheep the Wolf escape; But then he turned his craft on Lijsken, Thinking he would make that woman recant; But her pillar was the word of God, And she endured, remained [Matt. 24: 13, Mark 13: 13] fast standing Against the Anti-Christ’s rough rabble, Who so harshly did pursue her, Even coming around to Scripture. … 11 The Sophists and the Hypocrites, So very much were angered, That they could not tear to bits God’s children through their teachings false. And so the Council did decide That those dear lambs so sweet they would Cast out, away, to their deaths. That’s how they quenched their cruel hearts! 12 Jeroen, going to the sacrifi ce, Was very well prepared to die; Big Hendrik, standing there as well, Patiently waited for death with him. They stepped together, the two of them, Thus to the stake, and had no fear, For their Father they did long, [Ps. 31: 6, Luke 23: 46, Acts 7: 59] To whom they did commend their Spirit. 13 Jeroen had to leave his love, That was for him a sorrow great; For she was fruitful with their child. And when she had borne that child, In torment, with great labour, They threw that small sheep in the Scheldt. Take this example to further spread God’s praise to all tormented Brethren. (Hermina Joldersma and Louis Grijp, ed. and trans., “Elisabeth’s manly courage”: Testimonials and Songs of Martyred Anabaptist Women of the Low Countries [Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2001].)

 

 

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