The Anabaptists were a radical religious group that developed during the Protestant Reformation. Although the movement took its inspiration from Zwingli and Luther, the Anabaptists were rejected by both reformers who thought they were too radical. Despite finding support across Europe, the Anabaptists were persecuted by Protestant and Catholics alike.
The main features of Anabaptists’ beliefs were:
The Anabaptists never gained widespread popularity because there was no central organisation. Anabaptists were spread across Central European making it difficult for any leaders to assert authority.
Anabaptism started in Switzerland as an offshoot of Zwingli’s church reforms. A few of Zwingli associates, including Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, believed that the Reformation was not going far enough. They didn’t want to reform the church; they wanted to completely restore it to its original purity. Zwingli bitterly opposed the fact that Anabaptists were being baptised in rivers in Zurich. He issued a decree in 1526 announcing that Anabaptists should be killed by drowning. This wiped out the Anabaptists and even in Strasburg they were considered too radical and driven out by Martin Bucer.
Small groups of Anabaptists appeared throughout Western Europe. Its lack of central leadership meant that support was limited to local, isolated areas.
An Anabaptist community grew in Minster in Germany in 1534. The community enforced strict moral standards be bringing in the death sentence for adultery and disobedience and making polygamy legal. In 1535, Munster was taken over by the authorities and the leaders of the community were executed. By 1566, roughly 3,000 Anabaptists were killed because of their faith.
Some Anabaptists fled from the Netherlands to England to escape persecution, but even here they risked coming to the same fate as in Europe. Two Anabaptists were burned at the stake in 1575 in London.
There are three main reasons why the Anabaptists were persecuted.
They held beliefs that were unacceptable to both Catholics and Protestants, for example, they permitted polygamy.
Anabaptists also seemed to threaten social stability. Peasants and the poor were primarily attracted to the group, which threatened the social hierarchy.
The Anabaptists were seen as a threat because they held views thatchallenged other Protestant beliefs. If the Anabaptists were allowed to spread, it would have almost certainly been at the expense of other Protestant faiths.
See also: John Calvin
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