Imagens das páginas

of the Anabaptists, because it was the profounder, the more universal truth. Luther by his roughness hardened the hearts of these seekers after truth, and turned mysticism into fanaticism, and a desire for justice into a cry for vengeance. He had delivered the people from the priests, but now he wanted to hand them over to the custody of the theologians. They cried out by the voice of the Anabaptists that they would have neither the one nor the other, but that they would be guided by the Spirit of God, for in that alone would there be liberty.

The founders of Anabaptism were Nicholas Storch and Max Thomas, variously described, but who probably were cloth-makers; Max Stubner, at one time a student lodging with Melanchthon, and Thomas Münzer.

Born exactly three centuries before the terrible year of vengeance, Münzer is the prophet of Revolution. As his birthplace, the Hartz Mountains, it is only when seen in the gathering storm, or when the damp mists of fanaticism ascending, the great spectre of insurrection surged above a nature supposed to be the peculiar abode of diabolic influence, that Münzer appears grand. Yet this thorny, irritable, restless man, had, as his native hills, a head of granite and a heart full of precious ore. He loved truth, justice, and the Cause of the Poor with a passionate vindictiveness which rendered him guilty of the very errors he most detested. His father had been hanged by the Graf von Stolberg, for what reason does not appear. Nor are we told how he came to be a priest and a reformer. He was at first a follower of the Wittenberg school, but finding Luther's doctrine of inspiration too nairow, he set up the standard of revolt. The idea of a permanent inspiration led him to study the works of Joachim of Calabria, who in the middle age had been regarded as a prophet. They taught a doctrine which was afterward mysteriously described as the Eternal Gospel." It spoke of the reign of the Holy Spirit, when the letter of human erudition would pass away, and the Spirit would Himself write his words on men's hearts, so that a true society of brothers and sisters would arise, the godly among men becoming the organ

[ocr errors]

of the Spirit; such words as priests and clergy would no longer be heard. This doctrine worked on Münzer like the interior fires in a volcanic land. The mingled ore and dross soon burst forth in destructive lava. Münzer preached a social revolution.

And he was but a type of Germany itself, for the whole land was soaked with this same doctrine and believed implicitly in it. The various sects in the Catholic Church reproached each other with it, their guilt being exactly in proportion to the light and heat of their faith. The Franciscans were probably the most inclined to believe with Joachim of Calabria, and although the old and the new sects were often bitter foes, there was at bottom a profound unity in the work of the Franciscans, the Lollards, the Beghards and the Hussites. It was through their common influence that Germany was so saturated by a doctrine which was no other than that of the Eternal Gospel, and which after all is no misnomer.

For in reality this Eternal Gospel is but the quintessence of the Bible. And at this very moment, 1522-23, Luther's translations of the New Testament and of the Pentateuch had appeared and were being widely made known to a people who, up till then, had only seen the "Biblia Pauperum," a sort of picture-book of Christian doctrine.

When the seething heart of Germany heard, as something almost new, of the constitution and laws of the free commonwealth which Moses founded, it must have responded to the cry of the Psalmist: "I rejoice at thy word as one that findeth great spoil.". For it was great spoil indeed to find that God's word gave them the right to a far happier and nobler society than that in which they groaned. The Pentateuch told them of a state of which the Author was no other than the Eternal Himself, where every man was free, and where each family had its inalienable right in the land.

In the New Testament they learnt that those among whom this divine commonwealth had been founded had proved unworthy, and another people had been chosen, taken from among all nations. No words could exceed in strength those of the New Testament

when it spoke of the honor and privilege of this elect race. Foreknown, predestinated, regenerated, justified, a chosen generation, an holy nation, a peculiar people, kings and priests unto God, it was they who were finally to reign on the earth.

The writings of Luther and other of the reformers, disseminated far and wide in the form of little tracts or booklets, illustrated with cuts by Cranach, had taught thousands of poor men that this high honor was assured to those who exercised repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be dull indeed if we cannot imagine the elevation of spirit such a faith would produce in any man. The children of generations of downtrodden serfs needed a strong tonic to enable them to struggle with the descendants of those who had been their masters for ages, and who still possessed all the wealth, power, and culture of this world. As in every movement, there were two sections-the one moderate, averse to the sword, wishing to conquer by endurance; the other, extreme and eager to proclaim the war. In its original and final phases Anabaptism, with the exception of its maintenance of the ordinances, very closely resembled the views of the Society of Friends. But at this crisis the moderate party was gradually drawn into the vortex, and supported the insurrection.

Certain Anabaptist confessions of faith give us an idea of the beliefs of the two sections of the popular party; that of the most peaceable may be gathered from the principles taught by Gabriel, who was a disciple of Jacob Hutter, founder of the Herrnhutter, who was a disciple of Nicholas Storch, the first of the mystics of Zwickau. The points of the Gabrielist confession of faith were : -an elect people ordained to reign over the earth that they may extirpate evil; community of goods; no alliance with the unregenerate either in worship or marriage; adult baptism; the Lord's Supper, a fraternal communion and memorial of Christ's death; faith, a gift of God; no compulsion in matters of faith; prayer worthless unless inspired; capital punishment, pleadings in courts of law, oaths, all absolute power incom patible with the Christian faith.

Of the views of the more extreme party we have a summary by Melanchthon, their enemy. He describes them as teaching that sin is not in infants; that they do not need any baptism; that innate weakness is not sin, sin only existing when a reasonable man tolerates and favors his weaknesses; that every infant, no matter whether it be Turk of Pagan, enters heaven without baptism, for all that God has made is good; that a Christian who rules by the sword can neither be prince nor regent, nor exert any authority whatever; that Christians recognize as their superiors only those who are servants of the Word of God; that a Christian ought to possess no property, but live in fraternity and community, as did the apostolic society; that there can be no marriage between one who has faith and one who has not, such a marriage being prostitution.

These two summaries of the Anabaptist faith, as held in the sixteenth century, give a very good idea of its spirit. But they are undoubtedly imperfect, and are rather to be regarded as accentuating the points of their witness than as giving a full account of their creed. What they held in common with other Christians was not the least important part of their faith. For Anabaptism was simply the outcome in the sixteenth century of that undercurrent of Christian faith and Christian tradition which had probably never ceased among the oppressed and suffering classes since it first flowed from the heart and the lips of the Divine Man who appeared in the form of a poor and unlettered Carpenter of Nazareth.

In this very doctrine of a permanent inspiration, the Anabaptists were manifestly of the same faith as Thomas à Kempis, Francis of Assisi, and Joachim of Calabria, while they appear in nearly all particulars the direct descendants of the Brethren of the Unity, the Taborites, and the Lollards.

This faith, which has been filtering into the hearts of the poor and suffering European people for fifteen centuries, and which had burst forth time after time to renovate the established and visible Church, was now working with such power that the people felt courage enough to demand justice. A manifesto appeared in the form of Twelve Arti

cles, setting forth the popular griefs. The first Article claimed the right to elect their own pastors; the second an arrangement of the tithes in the spirit of their institution in the Old Testament; the third is a good specimen of the scope and spirit of the whole :

"In the third place, it has been the custom until now to oblige us to be bondsmen, which is a miserable state of things, seeing that Christ, by His oblivion-making blood, has released and ransomed the lowest shepherd as well as the mightiest potentate, none being excepted. Therefore, it is written in the Scriptures that we are free, and we will be free. Not that we will have no magistrates; that is not what God has taught us. We are bound to live according to the law, and not in wantonness; to love the Lord our God, and in our neighbors to recognize Him; to do to them all we would have done to ourselves, as our God in the Supper has commanded us in a parting word."

By the fourth it is affirmed to be contrary to justice and charity that the poor should have no right to take game or catch birds or fish in the streams. They add that in conformity with the Gospel, those who have bought such rights ought to receive an indemnity. The fifth claims the woods and forests as the property of the commune; the sixth complains of the aggravation of the services demanded-the peasants would serve as their fathers according to the Word of God; the seventh requires strict maintenance of the agreements having reference to rent and taxes; the eight suggests a tribunal of arbitration to settle differences between the lords and the peasants; the ninth demands impartiality in justice and the maintenance of old customs; the tenth, that fields. and pasture-lands taken unjustly from the commune be restored; that the tax on the goods of deceased persons should cease, as weighing heavily on widows and orphans; and, finally, the twelfth declares that they will give up any of the Articles proved not to accord with the Gospel and the Word of God.

This manifesto appealed so directly to the Christian conscience of the land, which Luther had done more than any before him to awaken, that all Germany -kings, nobles, peasants, friends, and enemies-looked to him to take the position of arbiter.

[ocr errors]

He re

[ocr errors]

courage at this supreme moment, or of being untrue to his calling. buked the tyranny of the lords, affirming that they had no one to thank for the terrible eruption which threatened Germany but their own luxury and pride. "You are, he said, as secular authorities, butchers and bloodsuckers of the poor people. You sacrifice everything to your outrageous pride. until the people cannot and will not endure you any longer." To the people. he spoke more tenderly, admitting the justice of many of their claims, but assuring them that they would be terribly in the wrong if in the name of the men they Gospel and as Christian thought of revolt. "The Christian,"

[ocr errors]

he said, "is a martyr; it is his business to endure all wrongs; cease, then, to talk about Christian right, and say rather that it is natural right you vindicate; for the Christian religion commands you to suffer in all things and to complain only to God."

So far Luther was right; both among Catholics and Heretics, among peasants as well as among princes, all kinds of evil had come from confusing the laws of the visible world with those of the kingdom of Heaven. But he himself shows how deeply this error is implanted in Christendom, since throughout his remonstrance he falls into the same mingling of the two spheres. To introduce into this great social and political struggle one of the laws of the kingdom of Heaven the most opposed to the laws of Nature: Resist not evil, but if a man strike thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other also ;" to quote texts enforcing Christian patience on men enduring a load of injustice, which had crushed the life out of them and their ancestors for ages; to cry, To suffer, to suffer, the cross, the cross, behold what the law of Christ teacheth," was to show that the great Doctor of the Bible had not himself understood its teaching, but was still enthralled in medieval confusions.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The doctrine of Grace, which he as well as all great Christián teachers in every age have proclaimed, ought to have made it clear to him that these admonitions of the New Testament were only intended for those who have reHe cannot be accused of wanting ceived grace to understand and obey

them; and that to represent them as binding on other men is the surest way of destroying all their influence in the world. His remonstrance, therefore, instinct as it is with a fervent desire for the glory of God, the peace of Germany, and the welfare of its oppressed people, really proposed that the sword of justice should be sheathed, and that the greatest criminals should be left unpunished simply because they were the masters. It was endorsing, at a supreme crisis in European history, Wiclif's frightful paradox, "God must serve the Devil." Anabaptism of the fiercer type was the reply to this monstrous proposition, and is another instance of the truth of the words, "By thine own sins will I correct thee."

What drove the Christian conscience into still more inextricable confusion was that Luther owed his extraordinary position to the fact that he had taught with unusual force the doctrine called Evangelical," and had therefore inand had therefore intensified the idea that all who were not justified by faith were the thralls of Satan, more or less his instruments, and certainly doomed to perdition. Were Christians to obey such men-were they to allow their rulers to snatch the very Bread of Life out of their mouths, and so force them and their children into the kingdom of darkness? It was no want of charity to call rulers like Ulrich of Würtemberg, and Pope Alexander II., limbs of the devil. Could St. Paul's admonitions not to resist the power refer to such? "The Eternal Gospel offered a deliverance from this dilemma. It was not the letter of a former inspiration, but a present, ever-living, everteaching Spirit that was to be their guide. Besides, the last age of the world had come, the long-expected Vindicator of Divine Justice was at hand, and that time the Bible prophecies should be ushered in by a great war, in which the saints should take the kingdom and possess it for ever and ever.

[ocr errors]

This idea of the "Reign of the Saints," this thought that the time was at hand when Christ would take unto Himself His great power and reign, and that His saints were to prepare the way by taking a two-edged sword in their hand and executing vengeance on the rulers of a doomed world, was the


[ocr errors]

secret source of the strength of the great revolt which now ensued. Leaders arose, generally preachers or old soldiers; but every class in society was represented, the wealthy middle class by the desperado, James Rohrbach, familiarly called Jacquet, the perpetrator of "the Terror at Weinsberg;" the higher class by the Chancellor Wendel Hipler, who was the statesman of the movement; and by the young noble, Florian Geyer van Geyersberg, its Bayard.

Who can touch pitch and not be defiled? The very spirit of Justice itself cannot work through human nature without the Spirit of Love having to weep over much outrageous injustice and many acts of desperate cruelty. No movement of this kind has ever taken place without the friends of Justice finding themselves allied with brigands and double-dyed traitors. If the commander-in-chief, Goetz, the Knight of the Iron Hand, cannot be thus stigmatized, he at least had no real sympathy with his army, and was only drawn into the movement by the hatred he shared in common with the German nobility against the clergy and the burgher class. Under the influence of leaders like Jacquet, the war became sanguinary; all the villagers were forced to join, and the peasant hordes ranged over Germany like a new invasion of Huns and Goths. From the French frontier to the Danube all Germany was up there were at least a hundred thousand peasants in arms.

A moment of possible victory came when the peasant armies surrounded Seneschal Georg, the general of the troops of the Suabian Confederation; but it was lost, and quickly after the peasants were defeated in the battle of Boeblingen. The lords took signal vengeance, and in expiation of the "Terror," Weinsberg was set on fire. During four days and four nights a sea of flames rose toward heaven. Two thousand people saved themselves; but all else-women, children, cattle, and houses-fell a prey to the devastating elements. As a foreground, Jacquet and the Black Hofman, the Hecate of the war, underwent the agony of being slowly roasted.

Münzer was in despair, and his letters and his manifestoes are the wild

curses of a man who knows that both he and his cause are lost. He met the German princes with eight thousand followers at Frankenhausen. At the end of an hour the battle was lost, and five thousand peasants lay dead or wounded on the field. Münzer was taken, and after being tortured was put to death. On the scaffold he exhorted the princes who were present to be good, just and equitable to the poor and feeble, often to read the Bible, and especially the Book of Kings. 'Do not think,' he said, this will last forever. One day, unless you are enlightened, I shall be avenged. A man like me does not die.'


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

But they took no heed of the prophet. The peasants were slaughtered by hecatombs. The Seneschal Georg travelled over the country accompanied by twelve executioners. From Ulm, where the citizens had foreseen the demand and had apprenticed persons to the executioner's art, the leader of its mercenaries ran through Suabia and Franconia, putting all to death who fell into his power. All who uttered the word "Gospel ' were hanged; this Berthold Archelin by name, boasted that he had hung twenty peasants a day. No doubt the 'prentice hands made the most of the practice. The Margrave of Baireuth and Anspach travelled from village to village with moving gibbets. In order not to lose time, he generally seized the first hundred peasants and decapitated or blinded about twenty, cutting off the wrists of the others. But nothing, perhaps, gives a more terrible idea of the horrible brutality of the soldiery the German nobles employed to maintain their power than the fate of Münzer's wife, a poor young woman of humble birth. On the eve of becoming a mother, she was dragged into the camp of the Princes, to whom she had been surrendered by the inhabitants of Mulhouse. Exposed to every outrage, she asked for a weapon to kill herself. She was violated in the presence of the army and died on the spot.

The slaughter of the sheep did not end with the first few months of vengeance. Four years after the battle of Frankenhausen, Charles V. issued a decree, ordaining that every Anabaptist,

[ocr errors]

no matter of what sex or age, must be put to death either by the sword or by fire, or by any other means, and without any previous judicial inquiry. After this, Anabaptist martyrdoms are continually occurring. In more than one case the victims were undoubtedly Christians of the highest order. George Wagner, who suffered at Munich, was a man of such irreproachable conduct that even the prince was dolorously affected at having to send him to the stake. His wife, holding her children in her arms, threw herself on her knees, and begged him with sobs to let them save his life. But he, But he, turning his eyes toward Heaven, said, "My Father many things here below are dear to me. I love my wife, I love my children, my friends, my life; but Thou art still more dear than wife, children, friends, or life. Nothing shall separate me from Thy love.

I am Thine, body and soul.

I am ready to die for Thee and the truth Thou alone art the life. Another was Balthasar Hübmeier, who was burned at Vienna, in 1528; his wife, who encouraged him at the stake, being drowned three days afterward in the Danube. Hübmeier, a pupil of Dr. Eck, and one time professor of Catholic theology at Ingolstadt, is believed to have been the first who taught the principle of universal religious liberty. In this he was centuries before his age, and of course far in advance of all "the Reformers," who, to quote the words of Dr. Schaff, in his "History of the Creeds," "felt the extermination of the Anabaptists necessary for the salvation of the churchly Reformation and of social order. Luther, who showed more heart than Melanchthon, writes to his brother-in-law: "It is a lamentable thing that they should finish up in this way with these poor people. But what is to be done? God intends that it may spread a terror in the people. Otherwise, Satan would do worse than the princes do now."


God intends that it may spread a terror in the people. Here is the secret of the long and doleful history of Christendom, ending after nineteen centuries in its people being almost entirely alienated

« AnteriorContinuar »