Anabaptists (ἀνά, again, and βαπτίζω, I baptiz), a name given to those who reject infant-baptism, because they rebaptize such as join their communion; and who maintain that this sacrament is not valid if it be administered by sprinkling and not by immersion, and if the persons baptized be not in a condition to give the reasons of their faith. The name is sometimes given reproachfully to the modern BAPTISTS SEE BAPTISTS (q.v.); but, as they disclaim the title, it should not be applied to them.
1. The term Anabaptists, or Rebaptizers, is connected with the controversies of the third century. In Asia Minor and in Africa, where the spirit of controversy had raged long and bitterly, baptism was considered to be only valid when administered in the orthodox church." In the Western Church the great principle of baptism rested on the invocation of the name of Christ or of the Trinity; and, therefore, "any baptism administered in the nanme of Christ or of the Trinity, let it be performed by whomsoever it might, was held valid," so that heretics baptized by heretics, coming over to the Church, were received as baptized Christians. So high were the disputes on this question, that two synods were convened to investigate it, one at Iconium, and the other at Synnada, in Phrygia, which confirmed the opinion of the invalidity of heretical baptism. From Asia the question passed to Northern Africa: Tertullian accorded with the decision of the Asiatic councils in opposition to the practice of the Roman Church. Agrippinus convened a council at Carthage, which came to a similar decision with those of Asia. Thus the matter rested, till Stephen, bishop (if Rome, prompted by ambition, proceeded to excommunicate the bishops of Asia Minor, Cappadocia, Galatia, and Cilicia, and applied to them the epithets of Rebaptizers and Anabaptists, A.D. 253.
2. A fanatical sect of Anabaptists arose in Germany in the early part of the sixteenth century who broug'ht the name into great disrepute. It originated at Zwickau, in Saxony, in the yetr 1520, and its leaders, by their lawless fanaticism, completely separated themselves from the cause of the reformers, and with the subject of adult baptism connected principles subversive of all religious and civil order. The vast increase of their adherents from the year 1524, especially among the common people on the Rhine, in Westphalia, Holstein, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, was soon met by severe measures on the part of the magistrates. Imperial and ecclesiastical decrees were issued against them, and many were put to death, after being 'urged' to recant. But persecution produced its usual fruits. Still new associations were perpetually formed by itinerant prophets and teachers, whose doctrines consisted of the following propositions: "Impiety prevails everywhere. It is therefore necessary that a new family of holy persons should be founded, enjoying, without distinction of sex, the gift of prophecy, and skill to interpret divine revelations. Hence they need no learning: for the internal word is more than the outward expression. No Christian must be suffered to engage in a legal process, to hold a civil office, to take an oath, or to hold any private property; but all things must be in common." With such sentiments, John Bochhold, or Bockel, a tailor, of Leyden, aged 26, and John Matthias, or Matthiesen, a baker, of Harlem, came, in 1553. to Munster, in Westphalia, a city which had adopted the doctrines of the Reformattion. Here they soon gained over a portion of the excited populace, and among the rest, Rothmann, a Protestant clergyman, and the councillor Knipperdolling. The magistrates in vain excluded them from jthe churches. They obtained possession of the council-house by violence. Their numbers daily increased, and toward the end of the year they extorted a treaty, securing the religious liberty of both parties. Being strengthened by the accession of the restless spirits of the adjacent cities; they soon made themselves masters of the town by force, and expelled their adversaries. Matthiesen came forward as their prophet, and persuaded the people to devote their gold, and: silver, and movable property to the common use, and to burn all their books but the Bible; but in a sally Iagainst the bishop of Munster, who had laid siege to the city, he lost his life. He was succeeded in the prophetic office by Bochhold and Knipperdolling. The churches were destroyed, and twelve judges were set over the tribes, as in Israel; but even this form of government was soon abolished, and Bochhold, under the name of John of Leyden, raised himself to the dignity of king of New Zion (so the Anabaptists of Munster styled their kingdom), and caused himself to be formally crowned. From this period (1534) Munster was a theater of all the excesses of fanaticism, lust, and cruelty. The introduction of polygamy, and the neglect of civil order, concealed from the infatuated people the avarice and madness of their young tyrant and the daily increase of danger from a broad. Bochhold lived in princely luxury and niagnificence; he sent out seditious proclamations against neighboring rulers — against the Pope and Luther; he threatened to destroy with his mob all who differed in opinion I from him; made himself an object of terror to his subjects by frequent executions, and while famine and pestilence raged in the city, persuaded the wretched, I deluded inhabitants to a stubborn resistance of their besiegers. The city was at last taken, June 24, 1535, by treachery, though not without a brave defense, in which Rothmann and others were killed, and the kingdom of the Anabaptists destroyed by the execution of the chief men. Bochhold, and two of his most active companions, Knipperdolling and Krechting, were tort tured to death with red-hot pincers, and then hung up in iron cages on St. Lambert's steeple, at Minster, as a terror to all rebels. In the mean time, some of the twenty-six apostles, who were sent out by Bochhold to extend the limits of his kingdom, had been successful in various places; and many independent teachers, who preached the same doctrines, continued active in the work of founding a new empire of pure Christians, and propagating their visions and revelations in the countries above mentioned. It is true that they rejected the practice of polygamy, community of goods, and intolerance toward those of different opinions, which had prevailed in Munster; but they enjoined upon their adherents the other doctrines of the early Anabaptists, and certain heretical opinions in regard to the humanity of Christ, occasioned by the coritroversies of that day about the sacrament. The most celebrated of these Anabaptist prophets were Melchior Hoffmann and David Joris. The former, a furrier from Suabia, first appeared as a teacher in Kiel in 1527; afterward, in 1529, in Emden.: and finally in Strasburg, where, in 1540, he died in prison. He formed, chiefly by his magnificent promises of a future elevation of himself and his disciples, a peculiar sect, whose scattered members retained the name of Hoffmannists in Germany till their remains were lost among the Anabaptists. They have never owned that Hoffmann recanted before his death. David Joris, or George, a glass-painter of Delft, born 1501, and rebaptized in 1534, showed more depth of mind and warmth of imagination in his various works. Amid the confusion of ideas which prevails in them, they dazzle by. their elevation and fervor. In his endeavors to unite the discordant parties of the Anabaptists, he collected a party of quiet adherents in the country, who studied his works (as the Gichtelians did those, of B.hme), especially his book of miracles, which appeared at Deventer in 1542, and revered him as a kind of new Messiah. Unsettled in his opinions, he traveled a long time from place to place, till at last, to avoid persecution, in 1554, he became a citizen of Basil, under the name of John of Bruges. In 1556, after an honorable life, he died there among the Calvinists. In 1559 his long-concealed heresy was first made public. He was accused, though without much reason, of profligate doctrine and conduct, and the Council of Basil condemned him, and ordered his body to be burnt. A friend of Joris was Nicholas, the founder of the Familists, who do not, however, belong to the Anabaptists.
It must not be supposed that all the Anabaptists of Germany were engaged in the excesses above recited. In fact, between these excesses and the doctrines of the Anabaptists, properly so termed, there does not seem to be the slightest connection. The fanaticism of, some of the early Anabaptists is sufficiently explained by the obvious tendency which exists in human nature to rush into extremes. The iron hold of the papacy, which had cramped the church for ages, being suddenly relaxed, men had yet to learn what were the true conditions whether of civil or religious liberty. But these considerations were overlooked, and the reformed churches, with one consent, regarded the Anabaptists with horrorand disdain. The correspondence of the Reformers is full of allusions to the subject. They are seldom spoken of but with the severest reprobation, and no distinction is drawn between the sober Christians and the worst fanatics of the party. It is probable, at least, that their faults have been exaggerated even by the best writers. A modern writer on their own side asserts that "it has been proved by irrefragable evidence from state papers, public confessions of faith, and authentic books, that the Spanheims, Heidegger, Hoffmann, and others, have given a fabulous account of the German Baptists, and that the younger Spanheim had taxed them with holding thirteen heresies, of which not a single society of them believed one word; yet later writers quote these historians as devoutly as if all they affirmed were allowed to be true."
— Robinson, History of the Baptists; Marsden, Churches and Sects, 1, 81; Ottii Annal. Anabaptist. (Basil. 1672); Cornelius, Geschichtspellen des Bisthums Munster (Munst. 1853): Hase, Das Reich der Wiedertaufer (Leipz. 2d edit. 1860); Cornelius (Romans Cath.), Geschichte des Munzsterischen Aufruhrs (Leipz. 1860). SEE BAPTISTS; SEE DUNKERS; SEE HOFFMANN; SEE MENNONITES.