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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

244 So far as the Netherlands are concerned


understand sympathetically that multiform movement which was called in the sixteenth century _Anabaptism_, it is necessary to remember that it was not created by the Reformation, although it certainly received an impetus from the inspiration of the age. Its roots can be traced back for some centuries, and its pedigree has at least two stems which are essentially distinct, and were only occasionally combined. The one stem is the successions of the _Brethren_, a mediaeval, anti-clerical body of Christians whose history is written only in the records of Inquisitors of the mediaeval Church, where they appear under a variety of names, but are universally said to prize the Scriptures and to accept the Apostles' Creed.[243] The other existed in the continuous uprisings of the poor--peasants in rural districts and the lower classes in the towns--against the rich, which were a feature of the later Middle Ages.[244]

So far as the Netherlands are concerned, these popular outbreaks had been much more frequent among the towns' population than in the rural districts. The city patriciate ordinarily controlled the magistracy; but when flagrant cases of oppression arose, all the judicial, financial, and other functions of government were sure to be swept out of their hands in an outburst of popular fury. So much was this the case, that the real holders of power in the towns in the Netherlands during the first half of the sixteenth century were the artisans, strong

in their trade organisations. They had long known their power, and had been accustomed to exert it. The blood of a turbulent ancestry ran in their veins--of men who could endure for a time, but who, when roused by serious oppression, had been accustomed to defend themselves, and to give stroke for stroke. It is only natural to find among the artisans of the Flemish and Dutch towns a curious mingling of sublime self-sacrifice for what they believed to be the truth, of the mystical exaltation of the martyr occasionally breaking out in hysterical action, and the habit of defending themselves against almost any odds.

So far as is known, the earliest Anabaptist martyrs were Jan Walen and two others belonging to Waterlandt. They were done to death in a peculiarly atrocious way at The Hague in 1527. Instead of being burnt alive, they were chained to a stake at some distance from a huge fire, and were slowly roasted to death. This frightful punishment seems to have been reserved for the Anabaptist martyrs. It was repeated at Haarlem in 1532, when a woman was drowned and her husband with two others was roasted alive. Some time in 1530, Jan Volkertz founded an Anabaptist congregation in Amsterdam which became so large as to attract the attention of the authorities. The head of the police (_schout_) in the city was ordered to apprehend them. Volkertz delivered himself up voluntarily. The greater part of the accused received timely warning from the _schout's_ wife. Nine were taken by night in their beds. These with their pastor were carried to The Hague and beheaded by express order of the Emperor. He also commanded that their heads should be sent to Amsterdam, where they were set on poles in a circle, the head of Volkertz being in the centre. This ghastly spectacle was so placed that it could be seen from the ships entering and leaving the harbour. All these martyrs, and many others whose deaths are duly recorded, were followers of Melchior Hoffman. Hoffman's views were those of the "Brethren" of the later Middle Ages, the _Old Evangelicals_ as they were called. In a paper of directions sent to Emden to assist in the organisation of an Anabaptist congregation there, he says:

"God's community knows no head but Christ. No other can be endured, for it is a brother- and sisterhood. The teachers have none who rule them spiritually but Christ. Teachers and ministers are not lords. The pastors have no authority except to preach God's Word and punish sins. A bishop must be elected out of his community. Where a pastor has thus been taken, and the guidance committed to him and to his deacon, a community should provide properly for those who help to build the Lord's house. When teachers are thus found, there is no fear that the communities will suffer spiritual hunger. A true preacher would willingly see the whole community prophesy."

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