Mennonites Hutterites

History of the Radical Anabaptists

A.) Zürich and environs 1522-1527

In 1522 HULDRYCH ZWINGLI successfully, with the backing of the ZÜRICH City Council, defied the authority of the Bishop of Konstanz over the community of Zürich. Zwingli and the Zürich city council, in the following years, implemented the reformation which was concluded early in 1525.
A group of radical reformers centered on KONRAD GREBEL and FELIX MANZ, later called ANABAPTISTS, was dissatisfied with the slow progress of the reformation. They denied the Zürich city council to have the authority to interfere in the reformation. They believed in the APOCALYPSE and Judgment Day being forthcoming and expected to implement a quick, thorough reform based on scripture. The radicals then opposed infant baptism; after a disputation between Grebel and Zwingli, the Zürich city council decided for Zwingli and infant baptism, which was declared mandatory. Grebel and his followers defied the city council and openly practiced ADULT BAPTISM; now the city council took to repressive measures; Felix Mantz, unwilling to recant, was executed by drowing (1526). The Anabaptists left the city and settled in the countryside, ZOLLIKON in the Canton of Zürich the first Anabaptist community on record. Men such as MELCHIOR HOFMANN, mostly with a simple background (craftsmen) took up a life of wandering Anabaptist missionaries.

B.) The German Peasants' War

The GERMAN PEASANTS' WAR of 1524-1525 was closely connected with the radical reformist movement (at least a major branch of which) soon was to become known as Anabaptist. Among the demands of the Alsace peasants was to be given the right to elect their own preachers. THOMAS MÜNTZER and HANS HUT preached and agitated among the rebelling peasants.
The authorities therefore identified the radical preachers with the rebellion; after the peasants were easily defeated, Müntzer was executed; Hut escaped with a great deal of luck. From 1525 onward, in most parts of the HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE, the authorities looked out for Anabaptists, who when caught and refusing to recant, were executed.

C.) Münster 1534-1535

In 1534 a group of Dutch Anabaptist refugees under JAN MATTHIJS and JAN VAN LEIDEN was accepted into the city of MÜNSTER, where a considerable group of the city council and citizenship joined them; they took control of the city, renaming the latter NEW JERUSALEM. Believing the Apocalypse was imminent, they introduced common property and polygamy, enforced a rigid discipline on the inhabitants (those who failed to comply were ousted). Jan van Leiden was crowned King of Münster.
After a year-long siege the city fell to the troops of the Bishop of Münster; the Anabaptist leaders were executed. With them, the attempt to establish an 'Anabaptist state church' ended; the remaining Anabaptist communities, the HUTTERITES, MENNONITES, turned isolationist and explicitly pacifist. They also gave up the concept of an immediate apocalypse.

REFERENCE Mark Greengrass, The Longman Companion to the European Reformation c.1500-1618, Harlow (Essex): Longman 1998, pp.101-112, KMLA Lib.Sign. 374.06 GB 121
Die Territorien des Reichs im Zeitalter der Reformation und Konfessionalisierung (The Territories of the Empire in the Era of Reformation and Confessionalization, 1500-1650); Vol.5 : Der Südwesten (the South West), Münster : Aschendorff 1993, pp.287-288, in German

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 16th 2003, last revised on November 15th 2004

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