It has been noted in the previous chapter that though the leading thinkers of the Protestant Reformation at the outset showed a clear tendency to waver about including in their doctrinal system the dogmas with which we are here most concerned, yet they were before long led by force of circumstances to affirm them with the utmost positiveness. Orthodox Protestant theology did indeed divest itself of the current scholastic terminology, but it retained without wavering the Nicene and Athanasian form of doctrine. After the leading reformers had abandoned any plan for a thorough and consistent reform of the Christian doctrines, and had become absorbed in other aspects of Protestantism, there remained, however, an unorganized but by no means uninfluential minority of those that continued to follow that quest. These were forerunners of the movement whose history we are here tracing, though it was not until a generation later that it assumed a coherent, organized form. These forerunners were found in two separate camps, quite different in composition and character, and widely separated in space, though in the ultimate development they were destined to unite and bear fruit as the one fertilized the other.
The one group was found among those known as Anabaptists. Although among their leaders there were a few able scholars, their following as a rule was among the humbler classes both intellectually and socially. Originating in Switzerland, they spread northward into Germany and Holland, and eastward into Moravia and Poland, and to a small degree into northern Italy. They had an enormous number of adherents. In temperament they were mystics, fervent in piety, and for the most part they had little interest in doctrinal theology. Their primary concern in religion was practical, and their aim was to live Christian lives, and form a Christian community which should strictly conform to the commands of Jesus and the practice of the primitive Church. The other group was found among the Humanists south of the Alps. They were cultivated intellectuals of high social position and superior education. At first they were still in nominal communion with the Roman Church; and it was not until the Inquisition began to put them in peril that they fled from Italy and sought refuge in Switzerland, Moravia or Poland. They were relatively as few in number as they were important in influence. In temperament they were rationalists, and their primary interest in religion was intellectual. The Christian religion was to them a system of philosophy, and the Church a school of definite and reasonable opinions.
It will at once be imagined that if these two groups could in the course of time and by natural processes be somehow fused, a very interesting religious movement might result, and one stronger than either of its component parts. Such a fusion was in fact destined to take place in Poland, where, as we shall see, these two strains eventually coalesced, Anabaptist elements furnishing the most of the material, and Italian liberals providing the stimulus and leadership, for a nascent Socinianism. Before we arrive at that point, however, it is necessary to give a little further consideration to these two contrasted lines of development, and to the ground of their conflict with the conservative majority.
The Protestant Reformation early began in another respect to develop in two radically different directions. On the one hand were the more conservative spirits, who wished to form out of those that had left the Roman communion a new Church, in which of course the abuses of the old one should be corrected, but with the general form, purpose and spirit very much the same as of old. It was to be systematically organized, its worship was to be sacramental, its faith was to be strictly defined, and membership in it was to be conditioned on conformity to an orthodox standard of belief, and to accepted usages. On the other hand were those that wished a spiritual fellowship of free spirits, with little formal organization, with no prescribed form of worship, with no inflexible standard of belief, but with primary emphasis upon personal religious experience in a direct communion of the soul with God. Out of the former tendency came the Lutheran and Reformed Churches; out of the latter, the Anabaptist movement.
It lay in the nature of things that in the former case individual freedom would be considerably restricted by the spirit of the organization, that tradition would weigh more heavily than reason, and that there would be little tolerance of those that did not conform to the accepted standards; and that if spiritual freedom were to be found and reason and tolerance to be widely exercised, it would be rather in the other camp. Moreover, it might naturally be expected that in case of conflict between the two contrasted systems, the churches of organization and discipline would prevail over a movement that preferred freedom of the individual soul to a regime of discipline and restraint. It would have been well for the history of Christianity in Europe had both types of religion been able, or been permitted, to exist normally side by side, each making its contribution to the total of Europe’s spiritual life. The persecution and repression of the Anabaptist movement, therefore, though no doubt in the circumstances unavoidable, is one of the most regrettable phases of the history of the modern Church.
The very widespread but ill-defined body that came to be known as Anabaptists were called by this name because what seemed to the common mind most conspicuously to distinguish them from other Christians was the fact that they rejected infant baptism, and insisted that the rite should be administered only to adults upon confession of personal faith in Christ. This involved that any that had been baptized in infancy must upon reaching maturity be re-baptized: hence the name Ana-baptists, which they themselves never accepted, since they did not admit that baptism of infants was real baptism at all. The spiritual roots of this very important movement lay far back of Protestantism, in circles of devout mystics and humble believers in the bosom of the Catholic Church, such as had in the Middle Ages given the world devotional classics like the Imitation of Christ and Theologia Germanica. Never regarded with too much favor in ecclesiastical circles, they were stimulated by the Reformation into fresh vitality and activity. After a few years this movement, which was essentially one devoted to the cultivation of personal religious experience and the development of Christian character, became in certain quarters more or less infiltrated and blended with a strain of a quite different origin and character: a movement of the poor and oppressed classes, whose primary interest in religion seemed to be social and political, and whose aim was, along with the Reformation to bring about a radical reconstruction of the social order.
This phase of the Anabaptist movement soon attracted to it a large and unruly following; and as they had no leader strong enough and wise enough to guide them or to hold them in restraint, they presently got out of hand, and in the belief that the millennium was soon to come they ran into the wildest excesses of superstition, fanaticism and immorality. The Peasants’ War and the social chaos at Münster followed, and had to be mercilessly checked by the sword in 1535. The result upon the whole movement was that Anabaptism, which at the outset had great merits and no little promise, became deeply discredited, and was all but utterly wrecked by the impatience and excesses of its radical elements; so that Anabaptists were more bitterly hated and more harshly persecuted than the adherents of any other religious movement in the sixteenth century. The scattered remnants that survived persecution were at length gathered into an organized body under the sober leadership of Menno Simons in Holland, from whose followers have descended the Mennonites or Doopsgezinden in Holland, and the Baptists of England and America, who still continue many of the best traditions of the earlier Anabaptism.
Our concern here is with Anabaptism as a purely religious movement. It may fairly be said to have begun its separate existence as an outgrowth of the Reformation at Zurich, in 1525, when Zwingli’s church there decided to enforce the practice of infant baptism, and banished the leaders of the party that opposed it. These therefore withdrew and organized a separate church of their own. The matter of baptism, however, was only an incidental and superficial symptom of more fundamental differences. Zwingli wanted to form a strong Protestant State Church; the Anabaptists demanded a church absolutely independent of the State. He wished to reform the old; they, to build something entirely new. He tolerated all that had been members of the old Church; they wanted a church of believers only.(1) They were diligent in their study of the Bible, were severely strict in their lives and in their church discipline, and tried in everything to conform to the precepts and practice of the New Testament as they understood it. Their views of a reformed Christianity corresponded to a desire very widely felt, and their movement spread with great rapidity. Holding strictly to the teaching of Scripture, they interpreted it according to what they deemed an inner light, upheld freedom of conscience, opposed religious persecution, cared little for speculative doctrines or outward ceremonies, and nothing for creeds or councils except as those agreed with Scripture. As they held aloof from the existing Lutheran or Reformed Churches, which were trying to unite the forces of Protestantism against Catholic opposition, and were often sharply critical of them, they incurred their bitter hatred, and were widely persecuted, even unto death, as turbulents dangerous to the very existence of Protestantism. In their relations to civil society their views varied according to locality and to the leaders they followed; but they were in general non-resistants, opposed military service, oaths, courts, capital punishment and usury, and often advocated community of goods. Such views brought many of them into collision with the State, and relentless persecution followed. At the Diet of Speyer in 1529 death was decreed against all Anabaptists, and during half a century large numbers of them were put to death with all imaginable cruelty in all the countries of Europe.
Inasmuch as the Anabaptists rejected all external authority in religion save Scripture, which each explained according to his own inner Conviction, the way was open for wide differences of opinion as to matters of belief; and these depended upon whether they tended to fall in with current modes of thought, or to think independently of inherited tradition and prevailing usage. Hence it is not surprising that we find a tendency stronger among them than elsewhere to call received dogmas in question, and to favor other views as more agreeable to Scripture, more in accordance with reason, and more helpful to piety. Such independent thinkers would naturally be in the minority, and the free spirit of the movement, with its inclination to emphasize the conduct of life far more than details of belief, would discourage organized effort to enforce this doctrine or that. In tracing the progress of thought we shall therefore have to do not with the whole body of Anabaptists, but with individual members of it. These individuals, however, may stand as signs of a widespread ferment of thought which, when conditions become favorable, will cohere into the movement with whose history we are here concerned, and of which they were the earliest pioneers.
Antitrinitarian views early made their appearance in Protestant circles. At Nürnberg in the autumn of 1524 and the following January several (presumably Anabaptists) were arrested for teaching that there is only one God, and that Jesus Christ is not God. The Council sought counsel of Luther as to their punishment. He ascribed their doctrines to the influence of the radical Anabaptists, Münzer and Karlstadt, and replied that he regarded them not as blasphemers but as Turks and apostates.(2) A little latter the Humanist Andreas Althamer complains in a little book,(3) ‘And now comes Satan with a new rabble who say that Christ was only a prophet and a mere man and not very God, who also deny the whole New Testament; and some of these I have myself heard, and more or less known.’ It is not certain whom he had in mind.
The first known Protestant, however, to express such views in print was Martin Cellarius.(4) He was born at Stuttgart in 1499, became an accomplished Hebraist at Tübingen under Reuchlin, studied philosophy at Heidelberg, and then proceeded to Wittenberg where he enjoyed the friendship of Melanchthon. Here, however, he embraced Anabaptist views, had a heated quarrel with Luther, and leaving in 1525 went to East Prussia, where he defended Anabaptism in print, and was for a time held in prison for his radical views. When released the following year he went to Strassburg, was befriended by Capito, leader of the Reformation there,(5) grew more conservative, and in 1527 published there a little book, De operibus Dei. In this he remarks, though only in passing, that Jesus is God because he shared fully in the deity which dwelt in him bodily, and in the Holy Spirit which he had without measure; but he adds that we too are all Gods and sons of the Most High, by our sharing in the same deity and Spirit.(6) This book was so highly esteemed by those that a generation later were just launching a Unitarian movement in Transylvania, that they republished a part of it there together with the commendatory preface by Capito.(7) Cellarius continued his studies at Strassburg, and won such a reputation that in 1536 he was made professor at the University of Basel, where he successively taught Rhetoric, Oratory, and the Old Testament, and was twice Rector.(8) Though discreet in expressing his views, he used in his Commentary on Isaiah (Basel, 1561) numerous expressions as to God and Christ which the early Unitarians adopted bodily, claiming him for one of their own.(9) He died of the plague at Basel in 1564.
A far more significant influence was that of Johann (or Hans) Denck,10 the most important of the South-German Anabaptists. Outcast and persecuted in his own time, he has more recently come to be appreciated as one of the most gifted and noblest characters, and one of the profoundest religious thinkers, of the sixteenth century. Impressive and handsome in appearance and dignified in bearing, he made a favorable impression on all that heard him; and both his followers and his opponents bore testimony to his talents, spotless character and influence. His teachings were widely accepted in the Rhine cities, Franconia, Bavaria, Switzerland and Moravia; and leading conservative reformers styled him the Abbot or Pope of the Anabaptists.11
He was born probably in Bavaria about 1495, studied at Ingolstadt, and while earning his living as corrector for the press won a higher degree at Basel in the time of Erasmus’s residence there, and established a reputation for his mastery of Latin, Greek and Hebrew. On the recommendation of his friend Oecolampadius, leader of the Reformation at Basel, he was appointed Rector of St. Sebald’s School at Nürnberg, a position of much importance. He was at the time nominally a Lutheran, but he had already been much impressed by such mystical writings as Theologia Germanica, the sermons of Johann Tauler, and the Imitation of Christ. As his thought ripened he found himself growing out of sympathy with some of Luther’s central doctrines, and into sympathy with some of the views of Anabaptist leaders. When Osiander, the leader of the Lutheran church at Nürnberg, learned of this, he had Denck called to account before the city Council. Denck discussed his views before them with ability, but was required to submit a written confession of his beliefs. The outcome was that toward the end of January, 1525, he was suddenly ordered to leave the city before nightfall and never to come near it again. He obeyed the order, and during the remaining three years of his life was hounded from place to place as a homeless wanderer.
The rumor at once spread that he had been banished as a dangerous man, who held revolutionary ideas, disbelieved the Scriptures, and denied cardinal doctrines of Christianity. After a few months he appeared at St. Gallen in Switzerland, where he lived in the Anabaptist circle, maturing and discussing his views of religion. When trouble arose here, he removed to Augsburg, where the Anabaptists were very numerous. Here he was baptized into their communion and presently became a leader of great influence among them. The leaders of the Lutheran church felt their work much imperiled by the competition of another movement, for Denck was privately making many converts. They challenged him to a public debate, forbade his preaching at private meetings, and made bitter attacks upon him. Their power was too great for him to withstand successfully, and after a little more than a year he took the course of safety and left Augsburg for Strassburg, which was at the time the most hospitable place for free thought in religion. Here also the Anabaptists were numerous, and Capito, one of the leaders of the Protestant forces, which were still wavering between Luther and Zwingli, was well-disposed toward them. He had already given Cellarius a kind reception, and at first he showed himself friendly to Denck, whose irreproachable life and earnest moral teachings won him great respect. But Butzer, the other leader of the Protestants, feared that the whole Protestant cause there would be imperiled by further growth of Anabaptism. He therefore challenged Denck to a public debate, and then procured his banishment from the city after but two months’ residence.
Leaving Strassburg the day before Christmas, 1527, Denck made his way down the Rhine valley, stopping for brief missionary efforts at two towns on the way, until he came to Worms. The Anabaptists here were engaged in a struggle with the Lutherans, and had already converted Jakob Kautz and another of their ministers. Denck quietly threw his strength into the struggle, but used his pen with good effect. He here found Ludwig Haetzer, an Anabaptist friend of earlier days. Both of them accomplished scholars, they brought to completion a translation of the Old Testament Prophets which had been begun at Strassburg.12 This work was one of fine scholarship, and was made more or less the basis of the translation by the Swiss theologians in 1529, and of that by Luther three years later. It was so highly esteemed that within four years seventeen different editions of it appeared.13 Though at Worms Denck had not come out in public, Kautz, fervent in his new faith, challenged the city preachers to a debate. The usual trouble followed. The Elector Ludwig intervened, the leaders of the movement had to leave the city, and within a short time several hundred of their followers were put to death in the Palatinate.14
Denck left Worms in July, and by midsummer was again at Augsburg, presiding over a gathering of Anabaptist leaders, and trying to organize the movement and to check the extreme tendencies toward which it was rapidly drifting. In this effort he apparently became discouraged, for at the end of September he addressed a pathetic appeal to his old friend Oecolampadius at Basel, begging that he might be suffered to stay there in quiet, undisturbing and undisturbed. His appeal was granted, and he now enjoyed a few weeks free from fear of persecution, during which he had many earnest conversations with Oecolampadius. But the plague was abroad, it seized upon a body worn by hardships and anxieties, and he died before the end of the year, hardly thirty-two years old.
During the three years of his public activity Denck published five little tracts, widely circulated in their time, though now extremely rare.15 It is chiefly from these that we may learn his views. His view of religious truth was mystical: that God reveals it to us through an Inner Word, which Scripture may confirm but did not originate. Hence religious experience is a continuous revelation of God, and even Scripture can not be rightly understood save when illuminated by this inner authority. He thus gave a radically new interpretation of religion, setting up inner experience as superior to external authority or tradition. As against Luther, he defended freedom of the will, and held the Church to be not an external organization of all that hold the accepted doctrine, but a spiritual fellowship of all in whom the Spirit of God dwells. He also taught the ultimate salvation of all men.16 In various other respects he set forth views that were little heeded by the dominant churches of his time, but have been more and more adopted since. Had he lived long enough to develop his thinking into a consistent system, and to spread it without being hindered by persecution, the Apostolic Brethren, as these moderate Anabaptists liked to call themselves, might have contributed to the Protestant movement of the sixteenth century a third form, along with the Lutheran and the Reformed Church, which would have had a wide and profound effect of the most wholesome sort upon the religious and moral life of Europe. Such freedom did at length come, to a restricted degree, to Menno Simons and his followers in Holland; but it was then too late for the Church of the Inner Experience to make the wide appeal that it had once bid fair to make, and the moral and spiritual life of Europe has therefore remained forever the poorer.
It was charged in his own time, and has been said repeatedly since, that Denck was an Antitrinitarian; but this can not be stated without reservation. In the confession that he presented at Nürnberg, and in a similar document drawn up just before his death for Oecolampadius, and published by the latter under the misleading title of Widerruf (Recantation), his views as to God and Christ are not included, though as his dissent from the prevailing views had been most marked on other topics of belief, it is perhaps of no particular significance that he did not touch upon the former. In the tenth chapter of his Ordnung Gottes, speaking of the Trinity, Unity, and Unity in Trinity of God, he says indeed that omnipotence, goodness and righteousness are the one and only Trinity of God;17 but this must probably be taken rather as a symbolical expression than as a definite doctrinal statement. On the other hand, Capito wrote to Zwingli that Denck was banished from Nürnberg for his doctrine about the Trinity;18 Butzer wrote to him that Denck held that Christ is only an example for our imitation;19 and Urbanus Rhegius, with whom he held a public disputation at Augsburg in 1526, bore similar testimony.20 These charges can not be substantiated from any of his extant writings; but unless it is presumed that they are wanton fabrications of theological opponents, it may be believed that they are based upon what he had said in private conversation or public discussion. Such an inference is encouraged by his significant silence in his public writings as to doctrines which, if believed at all, should hold too important a place for them to be quite ignored; and further by the fact that he was on terms of intimacy with Haetzer and Kautz, whose rejection of these doctrines was well known. The fact that they lack quite satisfactory scriptural support would, to one holding his view of Scripture, be sufficient reason for leaving them out of account. It is therefore probably not unfair to consider Denck as having been (even if not in a positive and aggressive way) one of the pioneers of our movement.
In Denck’s contemporary and fellow-worker Ludwig Haetzer (Hetzer) we find a man of more outspoken views, though of less stable character and of more tragic history.21 He was born about 1500 at Bischofszell in Switzerland, not far from Constanz, and even before the Reformation was probably brought up as a Waldensian, and hence predisposed to join the Anabaptist movement when that arose. He perhaps studied at the German University of Freiburg, and knew his Hebrew uncommonly well. He began his public career as preacher at the charming village of Wädenschwyl on the Lake of Zürich. Zwingli at Zürich was beginning his efforts for the reform of the Church, and Haetzer took an active part with him; but he became dissatisfied that the reform was not pushed faster and further, and his sympathies were with the radical reformers who were soon to be exiled or put to death. He soon left Zürich for Augsburg, where he found influential friends. Before long he was again at Zürich actively siding with the Anabaptist radicals; and when they were driven out early in 1525 he returned to Augsburg where he found a party of radical Anabaptists now in full swing, and passionately espoused their cause. It was the tumultuous year of the Peasants’ War, with which he sympathized, though he took no part in it. The Anabaptist cause grew amazingly, and was dreaded as dangerous. The religious authorities challenged him to a public disputation, at that time the usual means for settling doctrinal controversies. He failed to appear, and was therefore banished as a turbulent and dangerous man, but he left as a result of his mission the most numerous congregation of Anabaptists in all Germany.
Banished from both Zurich and Augsburg, Haetzer now turned to Basel, where he sought the friendship of Oecolampadius, and was taken into his house, where he lived for the best part of a year, broken by three visits to Zürich in the hope of a reconciliation with Zwingli. For a time he appeared to be wavering in his Anabaptism, but at length his mind was cleared, and he threw himself into the movement heart and soul. Late in the summer of 1526 he left Basel for Strassburg, where he found shelter in the home of Capito. He already had a reputation for eloquence and for fine scholarship, and did not here openly associate with the Anabaptists. Instead, he labored on a translation of the prophecy of Isaiah, in which he was assisted by Denck after the arrival of the latter in the autumn; and this work grew under their hands until it embraced all the Hebrew Prophets, as related above. Meantime the Anabaptist movement at Strassburg was assuming such proportions that the leaders of the city churches were alarmed. If Protestantism were to succeed in the face of the powerful Catholic opposition, it must have support from the civil government; but if Anabaptism grew much stronger this could not be hoped for. Prompt measures had to be taken. The usual course was followed. A public discussion was arranged, and on the basis of this Denck, as leader of the movement, was banished as we have already seen, and the Anabaptists were later put under the ban.22 It was now time to take sides. Capito, who had hitherto sympathized with the Anabaptists enough to make him non-committal, now ranged himself along with Butzer against them; while Haetzer, who had hitherto remained inactive, took the part of Denck and soon followed him to Worms. What took place there during the next six months has already been told in connection with Denck. When the Protestants of the city had been all but won over to Anabaptist views, the Elector intervened, the movement was crushed, and its leaders had to flee for their lives. The two went up the Rhine, quietly doing missionary preaching on the way, visited Nurnberg,23 were present at the gathering of Anabaptist leaders of which mention has been made, and then separated, Denck going to Basel where he was soon to die.
Haetzer after a year’s wanderings, and having again to flee from Augsburg, returned to his old haunts in Switzerland, and finally in the summer of 1528 came to Constanz. The little group of Anabaptists here had been severely persecuted, but he sought their company. After a few weeks he was arrested, not however as an Anabaptist, but unfortunately charged with flagrant and repeated breaches of the moral code. Legend greatly exaggerated his offences, but it probably must be admitted that his was one of those ill-assorted natures in which religious exaltation sometimes co-exists with weakness in face of temptation. The evidence against him was convincing, and he was condemned to death by beheading, and was executed February 4, 1529. His behavior in the last hours of his life was such as to win the sympathy and admiration of all that observed it, and even to persuade some then and since that he could not have been guilty as charged.24
Being by nature less reserved and moderate than Denck, Haetzer expressed his views more distinctly. Doubtless under Denck’s influence, he denied the vicarious atonement, and rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment.25 In a fragment of a hymn or poem of his entitled Reime unter dem Kreuzgang Christi which has been preserved to us, is a most explicit denial of the doctrine of the Trinity:26
Haetzer is also said to have been the first to attack the doctrine of the deity of Christ, in a book which Zwingli suppressed,27 and in which, according to Franck, he held that Christ was not equal to God, nor of one essence with the Father. This book remained in manuscript until Haetzer’s death, after which at his request it was destroyed by Ambrosius Blaurer in 1532.28
The effect of views like these of Denck and Haetzer is seen in the publication at Nikolsburg in Moravia in 1527 of the so-called Nikolsburg Theses which were there proposed for discussion. The authorship of them was ascribed to Balthasar Hubmaier (Hübmeier, Hubmör), who belonged to the same circle as Denck and Haetzer. They proposed, inter alia, that Christ was born in sin; Mary was not mother of God but only mother of Christ; Christ was not God, but only a prophet to whom the word of God was committed; Christ did not make satisfaction for all the sins of the world.29 Such views were calculated seriously to prejudice the Protestant cause in the eyes of the Christian world at large, and positive steps were taken to disown them. At once in 1530, therefore, the Augsburg Confession takes the first opportunity to say in the name of the reforming party (Article I., De Deo), ". . . Damnant et Samosatenos, veteres et neotericos, qui, cum tantum unam personam esse contendant, de Verbo et de Spiritu Sancto astute et impie rhetoricantur, quod non sint personae distinctae, sed quod Verbum significat verbum vocale, et Spiritus motum in rebus creatum."30
At Worms we found associated with Denck and Haetzer one of the city pastors, Jakob Kautz, a gifted and extraordinarily eloquent young preacher from Bockenheim.31 He was a restless, fiery spirit, inclined to be radical, and had already two years before received as his guest the radical Anabaptist Melchior Hofmann, and been influenced by him. He and his colleague Hilarius had withdrawn from the Lutheran Church a few days before Denck and Haetzer arrived. They stayed at his house, and the three worked together in translating the Prophets and in making converts to their cause. Emboldened by success, Kautz early in June posted theses32 on the cathedral door, challenging the Lutherans to a debate. Besides the characteristic Anabaptist positions, he proposed to defend the eternal salvation of all men, and declared that Christ’s death made satisfaction for our sins only by showing us how to walk in the way of life. Whoever believes otherwise about him makes him an idol. The Lutherans presented opposing theses, and they and the Catholics banded together to oppose the Anabaptism which threatened to sweep the city. The Elector supported them with his power, the leaders of the movement fled for their lives, many of their followers were put to death, Anabaptism in Worms was crushed, and for a time all Protestantism as well. Kautz betook himself to Augsburg, where he again met Denck and Haetzer, and thence went to Rothenburg an der Tauber and perhaps to Moravia.
Meantime report of the doings at Worms had reached Strassburg and aroused no little concern among the reformers there. At the beginning of July therefore they issued a "Faithful Warning of the Preachers" (presumably written by Butzer) against the theses lately put forth by Kautz, and the serious errors of Denck and other Anabaptists.33 The warning did not suffice as yet to stem the rising tide. Toward the end of the following year Kautz and a companion preacher came to Strassburg, as still the most tolerant of the Rhine cities,34 and the most promising for spreading their views. They preached on the streets, and raised such a disturbance that they were soon lodged in jail. They asked for a public debate with the preachers, in which to defend their views, but in the circumstances this was not deemed expedient. A written discussion was had, but to no purpose, and they were both required to leave the city.35 Again in 1532 Kautz sought permission to return to Strassburg, promising to keep the peace; but the Magistrate was suspicious of him, and the preachers doubted his being able to keep his promise.36 He did not return.
Not long after the events above related of Anabaptist leaders in southern Germany and along the middle Rhine, a leader arose among the Lutherans in northern Germany and along the lower Rhine who attracted considerable attention and exerted influence for well-nigh a century. This was Johannes Campanus.37 He was born about 1500 at Naeseyck in what is now the northeastern corner of Belgium, and was educated at Düsseldorf and Cologne, where he had a reputation for scholarship and high character, though for favoring Luther’s ideas of reform he was finally dismissed from the University. He may well have got his start in heresy from radical Anabaptists who were at this time active in the Netherlands;38 but if so he kept his own counsel, and until 1530 was apparently a sincere and ardent Lutheran. In 1528 he went to Wittenberg where he studied for nearly two years, esteemed for his gifts and earnestness; but he disagreed with Luther about the Eucharist, and sought an opportunity to lay before the conference at Marburg in 1529 a view that he felt sure would reconcile Luther and Zwingli and prevent a division of the Protestant movement. He was not admitted, and soon left Wittenberg and went to the home of Georg Witzel, preacher at Niemeck, and engaged in study of the Fathers. Here he was ere long charged with unsoundness as to the Trinity. He himself made a hasty escape, and suspicion was transferred to Witzel who, though in fact innocent of the charge, was imprisoned, and so unfairly treated that he presently returned to the Catholic Church and became a determined foe of Luther’s movement.
Campanus had meanwhile embraced Anabaptist and antinomian as well as antitrinitarian views. The Elector therefore caused his arrest, and for a time held him in confinement.39 This treatment did not alter his opinions, and in 1530, when the Elector was preparing to go to the Diet of Augsburg to lay the reformers’ views before the Emperor, Campanus ventured to present to him a written statement of his doctrines, which he desired to have publicly debated. His request was not granted, though the Elector was impressed, and took the statement with him to Augsburg. It denied, among other things, the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of original sin, and Melanchthon thought it a wicked lot of doctrines.40 Melanchthon would have had him arrested, but the Elector refused. He for his part felt that Luther’s reformation went only half way, while the Lutherans on the other hand henceforth regarded him as a fanatical blasphemer. Melanchthon wrote to the court at Cleve a letter of earnest warning against Campanus, and an edict was consequently issued against him as an Anabaptist; though so many of the nobles in his vicinity favored Anabaptist views that his agitation of them was long tolerated, and his fame spread so far that Sebastian Franck in 1531 sent him from Strassburg a long letter expressing sympathetic appreciation of his efforts.41
Other avenues of approach to the Lutheran world being now closed to him, Campanus took up his pen and wrote a book entitled, Against the whole world since the Apostles.42 Though this circulated rather widely in manuscript, it is not known to have been printed; but it was presently followed in print by an abridged version in German.43 The little book covers Campanus’s whole system of theology, discussing the various points in the light of Scripture, and is distinctly anti-Lutheran. Luther thought the work not worth paying any attention to, and advised that the writer be not complimented with an answer; but Melanchthon was more agitated by it, and expressed the opinion that the author deserved to be hanged, and he so wrote to the Duke of Jülich.44 Campanus’s view of the Trinity is but a small part of the whole system of doctrine by which he proposed to restore the purity of Apostolic Christianity, though it is the most original part, and the one with which he sets out. The case of Adam and Eve, who though two persons were declared to be one flesh, is taken as a symbol of the Divine Being, in which there are two persons but only one God. One of these bears, the other is born. The Son is not eternal like the Father, but was born from the essence of the Father before all worlds; but he was not eternally begotten, and is subordinate to the Father. Scripture knows of no third person; and the Holy Spirit is the common being of Father and Son, the nature and power of God which inspires in us true faith and holy life.
Campanus continued for some twenty years to spread his notion of a reformed Christianity along the lower Rhine. Melanchthon kept watching him and writing the authorities letters against him; but his unbounded contempt for the Lutheran system won him favor and indulgence among a population largely Catholic. He gradually became more fanatical, and when at length he encouraged the peasants to quit work and live at ease in view of the approaching end of the world, he was arrested and imprisoned in the ducal castle at Angermund, about 1553.45 Here he was kept in easy confinement for some twenty years until his death or release, after which he disappears from history.
It was noted above that when he was at the height of his activity in behalf of a purer reformed religion Campanus received a sympathetic letter of encouragement from Sebastian Franck of Strassburg. Franck is one of the most engaging figures of his time, at once a mystic and a humanist, a keen observer and broad-minded judge of men and movements, an unsatisfied critic of all the reforming movements of his age, but addicted to none of them, though most sympathetic toward the Anabaptists. His soul was like a star that dwelt apart.46 He was born in 1499 at Donauwörth in Bavaria, educated at Ingolstadt and Heidelberg, was for a short time a priest, then for a year or two was Lutheran preacher near Nürnberg, and for the rest of his life devoted himself to literary pursuits, writing numerous books on history or religion, and generally making them the medium for his own religious views. His books were among the most widely read in the Reformation age. At Nürnberg he was much influenced by the Anabaptists, and though he never joined their brotherhood he was inclined to them most of all the sects. Coming to Strassburg in 1529 he published his Chronica,47 which had extraordinary popularity, and was often reprinted. It had escaped the vigilance of the censor, but its strong sympathy with heretics, its extracts from their writings, its espousal of the cause of the Anabaptists and its advocacy of unrestricted freedom of speech and of tolerance for them, gave so much offence that he was imprisoned, then sent away in perpetual banishment, and sale of the book was forbidden. The next eight years he lived as a wanderer, banished from place to place, unsuccessfully trying to make his living as a soap-maker, and devoting his spare time to his books. He came to rest at last at Basel as a printer, and died there in 1542 or 1543. In his beliefs he was a pronounced liberal, as appears most distinctly in his letter to Campanus. In this he speaks of Servetus, who had just published his book On the Errors of the Trinity, and was at Strassburg at this very time. Franck will certainly have known him personally, and he expresses approval of Servetus’s doctrine of the Trinity.48 He held that for pious Christians the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments are enough.
In his letter to Campanus, Franck speaks in warm terms of commendation of Johannes Bünderlin,49 a moderate, spiritually-minded Anabaptist. Very little is known of his life. He was from Linz in upper Austria, educated at the University of Vienna, and a good scholar. At first a Lutheran preacher, he became associated with the Anabaptists at their Augsburg conference in 1526, probably under the influence of Denck, though he later separated from them. We come across traces of his activity as an Apostle of the Anabaptists at Strassburg (where he was twice imprisoned) and Constanz, in Prussia and Moravia; but we lose track of him after 1533, when it is thought that he may have been put to death as a heretic. He published four little books, of which one was on the incarnation. He was in general agreement with Denck and Entfelder (see below), though it is hard to say decisively whether he was an Antitrinitarian. In his exposition of the doctrine of God he does not indeed deny the Trinity, but it seems significant that he wholly ignores it and avoids using the terms connected with it.
Of Bünderlin’s contemporary and friend, Christian Entfelder,50 even less is known. He was a disciple of Denck, was an Anabaptist preacher in Moravia, was with Bünderlin at Strassburg, and after separating from the Anabaptists was of some influence at the ducal court at Königsberg. Of his three published writings, one deals with the doctrine of the Trinity.51 Dunin Borkowski calls this the first attempt to dissolve the dogma of the Trinity into a purely philosophical speculation. Entfelder is not such an Antitrinitarian as Campanus and Haetzer, for he tries to retain the doctrine in an intelligible form. He regards God as a three-fold power: first, as the power underlying all things — his Essence, the Father; second, as the power manifested in creation — his Activity, the Word or Son; third, as the divine spirit of love immanent in all creation — the Holy Spirit. It is an ingenious speculation, but a travesty of the historical doctrine of the Trinity.
Pilgram Marbeck also, a Tyrolean who was one of the active leaders of the Anabaptists at Strassburg in 1531, and after a discussion with Butzer suffered the usual fate of being banished from the city,52 while he tries to retain at least a shadow of the doctrine by employing the traditional terms, uses the words in another sense than the current one, though he calls no attention to the fact.
Another Anabaptist is of a type so extreme that he deserves only passing mention, though like the rest he illustrates the doctrinal ferment of the time. One Conradin Bassen53 of Heilbronn was arrested at Basel in 1530 for preaching that Christ was not our Savior, and was not God and man, nor born of a virgin; and also for not believing in prayer or the New Testament or a future life. As he would not recant, he was condemned to be beheaded, his head was impaled, and the rest of his body burned.
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