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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. Newton Brown
From Memorials of Baptist Martyrs, 1854
In the time of Zwingli lived the famous Balthazar Hubmeyer of Friedburgh a learned and eloquent man, who while yet among the Catholics, had been called a Doctor of the Holy Scriptures.
He was first a reader and preacher at Ingoldstadt, and afterwards removed to Regensburg, where he preached with great power. By the illuminations of the Holy Spirit, he was so convinced of the abominations of Popery, and that following the counsel of God, he separated himself from it. He afterwards rejected, with other errors, their self-invented infant baptism, and taught with all possible zeal the baptism of believers according to the command of Christ. But the dark world could not bear the light of the holy gospel, and the testimony thus given to their false faith and evil works; therefore Hubmeyer, with many others, was hated and persecuted by the world.
After many trials, banishments, and imprisonments, he removed to Niclasburg, in Moravia, and was there, together with his wife, apprehended, and taken to Vienna, in Austria, where, after various trials, and long imprisonment, endured with great steadfastness, he was burned to ashes, and his wife drowned; both thus confirming by their deaths, the faith they had received from God.
Some interesting particulars of the life and death of this excellent man may be given. He was one of the earliest coadjutors and intimate friends of Zwingli. He was born in Friedburg, near Augsburg, in Bavaria, not later than the year 1480, and thence often called Friedburgher, or, in its Latinized form, Pacimontanus. By the Cardinal de Sandoval, in his "Index of Prohibited Books," he is ranked by name with Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Schwenckfeld, standing fourth on the list as a principal leader in the Reformation.
Beneath the shadow of the beautiful minster of the High school of Friedburg, Hubmeyer acquired, under the renowned controversialist and theologian, Eck, his knowledge of the ancient tongues. His first intention was to become a physician, but he soon exchanged medicine for theology. Barely supplied with the means of subsistence, he was for a time compelled to suspend his studies, and assume the office of schoolmaster at Schaffhausen. The friendships he there formed were continued to a later period of his life, especially with an eminent physician of the name of Adelphus.
In 1511, he graduated at Friedburg, and in the following year, on account of his erudition and eloquence, became professor of Divinity and principal preacher in the Maria Kirk at Ingoldstadt, a fortified city in Bavaria, by the appointment of that ancient university. For three years and five months he continued his eloquent and instructive labors, and by his earnest and powerful preaching revived the decayed spirit of Catholicism.
His fame reached Regensburg, the modern Ratisbon, and one of the most ancient cities of Germany. Early in 1516, he removed to that city. The inhabitants flocked to the grand but gloomy cathedral to hear his denunciations of the vices of the times, and the soft blue colored light which fell upon the waving mass, from windows richly painted, helped to increase the superstitious awe and enthusiasm which his eloquence inspired.
The Jews were the especial objects of his denunciations. He treated on the evils of Judaism, but particularly on the damage received by the entire German nation from the Jewish usury. The enraged senate sought from the emperor an edict of banishment against them, and on the last day of February the Jews were driven from the city, their goods plundered, and their synagogue with other buildings leveled to the ground.
In its stead arose a chapel dedicated to Maria Formosa, and before the door was set up a wonder-working stone statue of the Virgin! Pilgrimages were made to it. Its fame spread on every side. The chronicler hints that the clergy were not sparing of incantations and magical arts to attract the vulgar that they might be enriched by the liberality of the congregated multitudes.
Laborers engaged at their work, when they saw the long lines of people pass by—woodmen, tailors, and maidens—to the Virgin's fane, would shoulder their axes and reaping hooks, hasten to join the devout procession, and wildly cast themselves at the feet of the goddess of Regensburg.
To this infatuation Hubmeyer contributed, until the noise of Luther's strife with Tetzel, and of Zwingli's bold proclamation of the gospel at Enisidlin, awoke his suspicions, and led him to see the errors of that church which he had so zealously served.
While yet a Romish priest, Hubmeyer had sought to revive the ancient spirit of religion, to render the services of his church more intelligible, and to awaken the lost devotion of the common people. He appears to have gladly hailed the dawn of better days. His course, as a reformer, was begun by translating the gospels and epistles into the German tongue, and he read the mass in the language of the common people. He next altered the canon of the mass, and celebrated it under both the forms of bread and wine. He now taught the true doctrine concerning it, that Christ was not bodily present in the bread, and that after the consecration it continued to be bread.
His hearers, to whom for two years he had preached, were directed to reverence the blessed Virgin and the saints no more, and the use of the "Ave Maria" was abolished. Fasts were set aside, and permission given to eat meats without distinction. He laid aside the chalice and the robes worn at mass, and sold the sacred utensils. He clothed himself in a coat made of a black camlet priest's cloak. He lifted up his voice against images in churches, broke some into pieces and burnt them, and called their worship idolatry. It was at a later period that he rejected the baptism of infants.
Thus changed in opinion, he left Regensburg, and for a time abode at Schaffhausen. About the year 1519, he received the appointment of preacher at Waldshut. There he investigated with diligence the Holy Scriptures, and led many of the people to abandon the superstitions of Rome. He also formed an intimacy with Erasmus, who then resided at Basle. In a letter to his friend, the physician, John Adelphus, of Schaffhausen, June 23, 1522, he testifies of this learned man, that he spoke boldly but wrote timidly.
Meanwhile, Hubmeyer's return to Regensburg was longed for by many of his former hearers, and in 1522, he returned for a year to minister among them as a teacher of the doctrines of the Reformation. In March, 1523, he ventured to Waldshut, and in May, visited Zwingli at Zurich, with whom he enjoyed much Christian intercourse. His mind was at this time unsettled on the subject of infant baptism, and it formed one of the topics of their conversation. Zwingli and Oecolampadius were in a similar state of doubtful opinion.
To carry on the great work of the Reformation, Hubmeyer preached the gospel, and with amazing success, in St. Gall. As the church could not hold the crowds who assembled to hear him, he preached on the place in the open air. He there contracted a friendship with the eminent Dr. Joachim Von Watt, afterwards burgomaster of St. Gall, who, at a later period, offered him a refuge from the persecutions he endured.
It was at the second great disputation, held in October of this year, that Hubmeyer appeared side by side with Zwingli and Leo Jude, as the maintainer of the word of God against the priests of Rome. The assembly was convened in the large hall of the town house of Zurich, in the presence of the members of the great council. Three hundred and fifty priests, chiefly from the cantons of Schaffhausen and St. Gall, were there, with more than nine hundred spectators.
Joachim Von Watt and two others were named presidents of the assembly. The subject of the first day's discussion was the worship of images—a question then of pressing interest. But a few weeks before, a citizen of Zurich animated with zeal had ventured to dash into pieces a crucifix that was held in high estimation at Stadelhofen. The publication of a small pamphlet by Louis Hetzer, had deepened the feeling of intense hatred towards the use of images. In this tract, Hetzer adduced the condemnation pronounced in Scripture against idolatry, and its approval of the iconoclastic zeal of Hezekiah.
Hubmeyer, on the first day, appears to have spoken but once, and then briefly. He spoke of the Christian's duty by command of God to assist his brother if he should have fallen into error, and if possible, to enlighten him upon those mistakes and idolatrous abuses which, in the course of centuries, had disfigured the church. In all the disputed matters the clear word of God, contained in both testaments, which God has himself sanctified, is the sole judge. That word must be made known. It testifies of Christ.
Holy Scripture alone is the true light and lamp, by which every human argument and darkness must be illumined. Christ hath himself taught us to take in hand the lamp of his saving word, that when the Bridegroom cometh we may enter with him to the wedding. By this alone can errors relating to images and the mass be destroyed, and what is built thereon will last forever, for the Word of God is immortal. Thus he proclaimed the supremacy of God's Word, and none was found to answer him.
The second day's disputation was on the subject of the sacrifice of the mass. It was opened by Zwingli and Leo Jude, who met with but few and feeble opponents among the assembled priests. After a pause, Hubmeyer arose. He referred to the decision of the preceding day. It was well and truly established from Scripture that images ought not to be used, and he wished that images had never come into use among Christians. The laws of Moses were clear and explicit in their condemnation. God commanded them to be burnt, and they who made them were accursed,—"And all the people shall say, Amen." The hall echoed with many voices, saying, "Amen."
“Either images were commanded to be honored, or they were not. If they were commanded, let the text of Scripture be produced,—that would settle the question. If they were not commanded, they were unnecessary. What God teaches, whether by word or works, is useful and profitable. But whatever plant he hath not planted shall be plucked up. Were they useful, God would have commanded them. It is blasphemy to send sinners to images to pray, to draw and invite them to exercises of devotion.
“For it is Christ who calls the sinner, who invites him to the wedding feast; he alone moves men to embrace that which is good, and God the Father disciplines those who come to Christ. Thus did this eminent man clearly perceive, that not only were those devices in the worship and institutions in the church to be laid aside that were clearly forbidden by the Word of God, but those also which could not be maintained by the direct command or authority of Scripture.”
The discussion on the mass was renewed on the following day. After a few words from Conrad Grebel, asserting the existence of various abuses, Hubmeyer proceeded at some length to refer to them, and point out how far the practices of Rome had departed from the institution of Christ. He would prefer to lay aside the term "mass," and call the ordinance the testament of Christ, or a memorial of his bitter death. It was the greatest abuse of all to call it a sacrifice.
His dear brethren in Christ, Ulrich Zwingli, and Leo Jude, had well shown its contrariety to the Word of God. Thence it followed that it could be no sacrifice for the living or the dead. As we cannot believe for another, neither can we offer a sacrifice or mass for another. The institution of Christ was given to strengthen the faith of the believing. The pure, clear word of God ought to be announced with the ordinance of which it is a sign, and the whole service be observed in the language of the people. The Lord's people should, moreover, communicate in both kinds; he who does otherwise, does wrong to the directions of Christ, which he has given in his last testament.
Hubmeyer nobly continued:
"These are my opinions, which I have gathered from the Scriptures, upon images and the mass. If they are not right and Christian, I pray you all, by Jesus Christ our only Saviour—I entreat you by the last judgment, that ye will instruct me in a brotherly and Christian spirit from the Scriptures. For I may err: I am a man, but a heretic I cannot be. I wish from my heart to be instructed, and I will promise gratefully to confess my error. Most cheerfully I submit in all obedience to the word of God, and will faithfully follow you as ye are followers of Christ. I have spoken; judge ye; teach me. To Christ I will pray, that he may grant us his grace to do his will."
A brief colloquy ensued between Zwingli and Grebel, the latter urging the abolition of abuses, the former admitting their existence, but referring the subject to the mandate of the magistracy! The disputation closed, but not without the magistrates committing to prison, or banishing, the men whose zeal against idolatry had given rise to the discussion. The Reformation halted, and waited the pleasure of the ruling power—and Zwingli would have it so.
Hubmeyer returned to Waldshut. Early in 1524, he published eighteen propositions to his companions in office in the chapter, inviting them to a discussion, to be closed with a fraternal meal at his expense. Some of these propositions follow:
1. Faith only justifies us before God.
2. Those works only are good which God hath commanded; those only are evil which he hath forbidden.
3. The mass is no sacrifice, but a solemn memorial of Christ's death, for which reason it cannot be offered for the living or the dead.
4. As every Christian believes and is baptized for himself, so should every one, according to the Scriptures, for himself judge whether he is fed by the pastor of his soul.
5. As Christ alone died for our sins, and as we all are baptized into his name, so must he alone be addressed as our Intercessor and Mediator.
6. The time is at hand, indeed has already come, that no man shall be regarded as a priest who does not announce God's Word.
7. The fellow-believers are bound to maintain, and properly to support, with food and clothing, those who preach to them purely and plainly the Word of God.
8. He who labors not for bread with the sweat of his brow is excommunicated.
Other propositions condemned fasting, images, and purgatory, and thus show that Hubmeyer was prepared to forsake the entire circle of Romish doctrine. The chapter met early in 1524. The truths advanced were vigorously discussed, until but one priest, a young nobleman, remained steadfast to the old communion. From this time the reformation rapidly advanced in Waldshut, under the wise guidance of the chief pastor Hubmeyer.
The governing powers of Austria now interfered. Rumors of the approaching peasant-war began also to utter their voices amid the revelry and reckless atrocities of the feudal lords. Revolution and Reformation appeared to be synonymous words, and the imperial power drove Hubmeyer from his home. His refuge was Schaffhausen, a town of Switzerland, not far north of the forest towns.
Soon were found in that free city men prepared to sacrifice the exile, for political favor with the emperor, and he was again constrained to return to Waldshut. His safety was of brief duration. The men of Zurich, who in their reforming zeal had hastened to Waldshut with arms to aid the reformation so early stayed by Austria, were compelled to return, and soon after, Hubmeyer sought an asylum in the houses of some faithful men of Zurich. His appearance in that city was with very different feelings and results to his former visit. Now he was a Baptist, a proclaimed adversary of Zwingli, —a hunted bird, that quickly fell a prey to the arts of the fowler.
Two years before, the question of infant baptism had excited much interest among the leading reformers of Switzerland; several of Zwingli's early coadjutors had already seceded from his side, opposing his indiscriminate church constitution, and its alliance with the state. Early in 1524, Hubmeyer had opened a correspondence with Zwingli on the subject, and was accustomed to affirm that he possessed an early writing of Zwingli, in which he expressed himself against the baptism of infants. The people of Waldshut were advised not to bring their babes to the font. Hubmeyer was sure that infant baptism had no authority from the word of God, but was not quite sure that it was right, in opposition to the advice of Zwingli and Oecolampadius, to abolish it altogether. The parents were therefore spoken with, and not until their entreaties were very urgent did our Reformer yield to the celebration of the rite.
In December of this year he wrote this sincere and earnest note to Zwingli:
"Write to me again, for God's sake, on baptism. And if I shall have offended thee and Leo, the fault is unawares. Pardon me. Farewell. Salute Leo. From our nest at Waldshut.
"Margaret will answer the request of Leo."
From this time his views rapidly matured, and he was soon treated as a bitter foe by his eminent correspondent. So, late as November, 1524, Hubmeyer wrote of Zwingli as his "brother in Christ;" but early in 1525 he complains to Oecolampadius that Zwingli and Leo had forsaken him. Would the Reformer of Basle forsake him too? Would he not from friendship, for the sake of Christian peace, and for God, hasten to correct his errors, and to restore the wandering sheep? For openly did Balthazar teach the institutions of Christ:
“Who, asked he, “instituted Baptism?”
-“In the last chapter of Matthew.”
“In what words?”
-"Go ye into all nations and teach them, and baptize them into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
“Altogether right. Why, therefore, do we baptize children?”
-“Baptism,” they say, “is a mere sign. A sign truly it is, and a symbol instituted by Christ in most pregnant and august words. But it cannot be made to apply to babes; therefore is infant baptism without any authority whatever.”
"I believe and know," he concludes, “that Christendom shall not receive its rising aright, unless baptism and the Lord's Supper are brought to their original purity."
Thus simply and clearly, assuming Zwingli's views of a sacrament to be correct, did Hubmeyer reason. The answer of Oecolampadius was to the effect, that as all children are born in original sin—since some have even in the womb been sanctified—since also the Most Merciful will listen to the prayers of the church, seeking the salvation of the offspring of the faithful—and as otherwise the children of Christians would be worse off than the children of the circumcision; therefore it was right to bring them to the sacred font.
These, and such like arguments, did Oecolampadius now use, though, in another letter, he admitted that the New Testament gives no authority for infant baptism. Such arguments, however, failed to convince Hubmeyer, as they have many others, that infant baptism is an institution of the Saviour; and at Easter, at a retired village not far from Waldshut, in company with one hundred and ten persons, he was baptized by William Roubli, one of the earliest of the Swiss Baptists, and for some time a pastor at Basle.
The matter was now public. Hubmeyer himself baptized some three hundred persons in the few following months. Great excitement everywhere prevailed. He published a work on Baptism, which brought in the autumn a violent and virulent reply from Zwingli. Some of the Baptists were cast into prison - and so cruel were the proceedings, that even the populace complained that injustice was done to them. The public opinion was so strong that at the persuasion of the ministers, a public conference was called at Zurich, in which Zwingli took a leading part. It failed, however, to convince the Baptists of their errors, which many of them were made to atone for by imprisonment and fines.
Hubmeyer published a tract, in which he complains of Zwingli and his followers—that they had proceeded so far as at one time to throw into a dark and miserable tower, twenty persons, both men and pregnant women, widows and young females, and to pronounce the sentence upon them—that thenceforward they should see neither sun nor moon for the remainder of their lives, and be fed till their days were ended with bread and water. And that they should remain in the dark tower together, both the living and the dead, surrounded with filth and putrefaction, until not a single survivor of the whole remained.
He tells us, farther, that some of these persons would refuse to take even a mouthful of bread for three days in succession that the rest might have the more to eat. "O God!" he writes, "What a hard, severe, cruel sentence upon pious Christian people, of whom no one could speak evil; only that they had received water baptism in obedience to the command of Christ!"
About July, 1525, Hubmeyer entered Zurich, and sought a refuge at the Green Shield with a few friends and faithful followers. His coming was soon known among his fellow-believers, and soon also to the council of Zurich. He was sought out, and immured in the cells of the courthouse. For many days and weeks Zwingli and his old associates endeavored to shake his adhesion to the truth. At last the torture was applied. Protestant historians say that a promise of recantation was willingly given, and written with his own hand. Alas! How willingly! The pains of the rack were the sharp and effectual arguments.
On the 22d of December, he was led to the minster, and placed at a desk facing that from which Zwingli long and vehemently declaimed against the heresies which his friend was there come to confess. The sermon was over, and every eye turned to the rising form of the sick Balthazar. Though not old, his trials have told on his robust frame; and with a quivering voice he begins to read from the paper of recantation before him. As his articulation becomes distinct, he is heard to affirm that infant baptism is without the command of Christ. As the words continue to flow, and add certainty to the incredulous ears of the crowd in the thronged cathedral, murmurs float ominously in the resounding roof, increasing by degrees to audible expressions of approbation or of horror. Zwingli's voice rises above all. He quiets the coming storm, and Hubmeyer is rapidly conveyed to his cell in the Wellenburg.
Redoubled efforts were afterwards made to recall the mischief that had been done. Probably renewed tortures were applied or threatened; for in a few months, the sufferer is said to have made a public recantation both at Zurich and at St. Gall; but with so little satisfaction to his persecutors, that although released from prison, he was kept in the town under strict surveillance. About the middle of the year 1526, by the aid of distant friends, he succeeded in escaping from Zurich, and after preaching at Constance for a short time, he journeyed to Moravia, passing through Augsburg on his way. There he freely proclaimed the gospel, and in all the region round about, baptizing many, and forming churches of Christ according to his Word.
In the year 1528, he was arrested, probably at Brünn, where he was teacher of the church, at the command of King Ferdinand, and sent to Vienna. After some days he was thrown into the dungeons of the castle of Gritsenstein. At his own request he was visited by Dr. Faber, of Gran, in Hungary, who had been in former days his friend. Their interviews, at which two other learned men assisted, lasted the greater part of three days.
The substance of their discussions Faber afterwards published, and hints that on several points Hubmeyer yielded to the cogency of his arguments. It is impossible, however, to gather from Faber's book what Hubmeyer's sentiments really were. A written exposition of his views was afterwards sent to King Ferdinand, by Hubmeyer himself; and it is impossible that any important change could have taken place, as he was immediately sentenced to death. The sentence was read to him in presence of many thousand men. He courageously went to the stake, on the 10th of March, 1528.
The partner of his life was also partner of his sufferings; imprisoned with him, she too was led to Vienna, and there condemned to death by drowning. This faithful woman in the river Danube found a watery grave. What a meeting must these noble martyrs of Christ have had in heaven in the presence of their Lord!