Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Balthasar Hubmaier

It was my church history professor and mentor in seminary, W. R. Estep that first introduced me to Balthasar Hubmaier. The first time I saw his name in writing I thought, "how do I prounce it?" But, it didn't take too many class sessions in Dr. Estep's course on the Anabaptists before the name became so common that all of us knew how to pronounce it.

The brilliant Hubmaier was born around 1481 in a small town called Friedberg just outside of Augsburg. He attended the University of Freiburg and there came under the tutelage of the great Catholic theologian Dr. John Eck. Hubmaier completed both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees then followed Eck to the University of Ingolstadt where he received the Doctor of Theology degree. Eck once called Hubmaier the most brilliant student he'd ever been associated with. Because of his great preaching ability and keen theological mind he accepted appointment as preacher at the cathedral in Regensburg in 1516. Five years later he became a parish priest in Waldshut and there came into contact with Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation. Two years later, he became publicly identified with Zwingli’s reform in Zurich, but soon developed Anabaptist ideas.

Along with his preaching, Hubmaier’s pen became a powerful voice for spreading Anabaptist ideas. Soon, he came into conflict with Zwingli and in late 1525 Zwingli had both Hubmaier and his wife arrested. He was forced to enter the pulpit of the Fraum√ľnster in Zurich and recant publicly. As he began to speak instead of recanting he said, “Oh what anguish and travail I have suffered this night over the statements which I myself have made. So I say here and now, I can and I will not recant.” Zwingli immediately stopped Hubmaier and had him arrested again. This time he underwent torture at the hands of Zwingli and eventually produced a written statement recanting of his Anabaptist ideas.

In early 1526 he left Zurich for Nikolsburg in Moravia where once again he took up the Anabaptist cause, this time with greater force than before. Moravia was one of the most tolerant regions in Europe and Hubmaier had a great amount of freedom to preach Anabaptist ideas there. It is estimated that more than 6,000 were baptized in the one year of Hubmaier’s ministry in Nikolsburg. But this year of relative peace was not to last long. The fortune of Anabaptists in Moravia soon changed and Hubmaier was arrested, taken to Vienna, and burned at the stake on March 10, 1528. Although tortured mercilessly for several days before his death, this time he refused to recant. He was urged to confess to a priest and receive last rites before his execution but he steadfastly refused. An eyewitness to his execution described Hubmaier’s death this way:

To the people he said, “O dear brothers, if I have injured any, in word or deed, may he forgive me for the sake of my merciful God. I forgive all those that have done me harm.”

While his clothes were being removed: “From thee also, O Lord, were the clothes stripped. My clothes will I gladly leave here, only preserve my spirit and my soul, I beseech thee!” Then he added in Latin: “O Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” and spoke no more in Latin.

As they rubbed sulphur and gunpowder into his beard, which he wore rather long, he said, “Oh salt me well, salt me well.” And raising his head, he called out: “O dear brothers, pray God that he will give me patience in this my suffering.”

As his beard and hair caught fire, he cried out, “O Jesus, Jesus.”

Associated Baptist Press has this story today about the original writings of Hubmaier:

It seems that in just a few months all the writings of Hubmaier are going to be accessible on the internet. Great news about this nearly forgotten Anabaptist reformer! I have told my classes for years that if Hubmaier had lived out his full lifespan his influence in the 16th century might have rivaled that of Luther and Calvin.

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