Europe's Hapsburg rulers were convinced that the Anabaptist sect was dangerous to the peace of the Empire. And with good reason: a peasant revolt, led by extreme Anabaptists, destroyed the peace of central Europe. The Hapsburgs determined to eradicate the Anabaptists from their kingdom. They drew no distinction between peaceable Anabaptists and radicals.
In July, 1527, King Ferdinand's men arrested an Anabaptist leader who was halfway between the peaceable and radical factions. This was Balthasar Hubmaier. The authorities extradited him to Vienna where he was burned at the stake on this day, March 10, 1528. Three days later they tied a stone around his wife's neck and threw her into the Danube river to drown.
But although he was dead, Balthasar's influence continued through the writings he left behind. He had been educated in the University of Freiburg, where he showed brilliance and received his doctorate the same year as Martin Luther. In 1520 he went to Waldshut where he began reading the writings of Paul, Erasmus, and Luther. He said that "Christ was starting to sprout in me," and by 1522, he became a Protestant. At Waldshut, Balthasar, supported by the town council, began to change the order of worship. When Archduke Ferdinand (who was a Catholic) threatened to send troops to bring Waldshut into line, Balthasar left so that the town would not be invaded.
Balthasar wrote an argument for toleration which became the first work on religious liberty to spring from the Reformation. In it he said, "It is well and good that the secular authority puts to death the criminals who do physical harm to the defenseless (Romans 13). But no one may injure the atheist who wishes nothing for himself other than to forsake the gospel." While Archduke Ferdinand was distracted by war, the Anabaptist leader returned to Waldshut to implement further reforms. On Easter Sunday, 1525, he and sixty others were rebaptized; three hundred soon followed their example. (They considered that baptism as babies was meaningless.) Balthasar wrote a work on believer's baptism which was the most exhaustive treatment of the subject in the sixteenth century.
After the Hapsburg troops defeated the peasants, they moved on to Waldshut, and the townsfolk converted back to Catholicism rather than face reprisals. Balthasar fled in the night to Zurich. There Zwingli's torturers made him recant some of his Anabaptist views. But Balthasar's thinking had not really changed. Once released from their clutches, he settled in Nikolsburg, where he again defended Anabaptist beliefs and baptized about six thousand people. He continued to publish works on Christian life and church discipline until his arrest a year later.
When the Council of Trent met in 1645 and condemned the works of the Reformers, Balthasar Hubmaier was grouped with Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin as a heretic to the Church of Rome.
- Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story by Diane Severance, Ph.D.
- "Balthasar Hubmaier." http://www.hccentral.com/gkeys/hbmier.html
- "Balthasar Hubmaier." http://www.mainstreambaptists.org/hubmaier.htm
- "Hubmaier, Balthasar." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
Last updated June, 2007