Why were the sixteenth-century Reformers so vehemently opposed
to the Anabaptist movement?
By Avril Smith
Finally Zwingli succeeded in having twenty men, widows, pregnant women, and young girls thrown into misery in a dark tower. They were to be shut up with only bread and water and see neither sun nor moon for the rest of their lives, condemned to remain in the dark tower - the living and the dead together - to suffocate in the stench, to die and rot, until not one of them was left...At the same time severe mandates were issued at Zwingli's instigation: from now on, any person in the district of Zurich who was baptized should be thrown into the water and drowned without any trial or judgment.
The Anabaptists were arguably the most severely persecuted movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thousands were drowned, beheaded or burnt to death, and their enemies came in every religious hue, from the most convinced Roman Catholic to the fiercest professor of Protestant doctrine. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Melancthon may have disagreed on many things, but this one belief united them; that Anabaptists everywhere must be rooted out and destroyed as vermin. This essay will attempt to determine just what it was about the Anabaptist movement that so infuriated the Reformers. Chapter One will give an overview of Anabaptist belief and practice, with some reference to those who were labelled as Anabaptists, but would have been unwelcome additions to the congregations of those whose beliefs were most closely bound up in the Scriptures. Chapter Two will deal with the response of Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli to the Anabaptists who sprang from his Swiss Reformation. Chapter Three will consider the attitudes of Luther and Melancthon, and Chapter Four will deal with Calvin’s Treatise Against the Anabaptists. Chapter Five will seek to determine what conclusions...