Balthasar Hubmaier

1480-1528

The only Anabaptist theologian to complete theological studies leading to a doctor's degree.  He led reforms at Waldshut in South Germany (Bavaria) and Nikolsburg (Mikulov) in Moravia.  He and about sixty members of his Waldshut congregation were baptized by the Swiss Anabaptist Wilhelm Reublinon on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1525.  A popular preacher, Hubmaier is reported to have baptized around six thousand persons in Nikolsburg alone.  In 1528, he and his wife were arrested by Roman Catholic authorities, tortured, and tried for heresy.  On March 10, 1528, he was burned at the stake in Vienna.  Three days later his faithful wife was drowned in the Danube.

On Baptism

Regarding infant baptism Hubmaier wrote, "The meaning of this sign and symbol (baptism), the pledge of faith until death, in hope of the resurrection of life to come, is to be considered more than a sign.  This meaning has nothing to do with babes, therefore infant Baptism is without validity.  In baptism one pledges himself to God, in the supper to his neighbor." (Vedder, Balthasar Hubmaier, p. 108.)

In a pamphlet called The Christian Baptism of Believers (1525), Hubmaier defended the doctrine of believers baptism against challenges from Zwingli .  He saw baptism as the testimony of a good conscience before God:  "Every devout Christian who permits himself to be baptized with water should beforehand have a good conscience toward God through a complete understanding of the Word of God, that is, that knows and is sure that he has a gracious, kindly God, through the resurrection of Christ. . . . Then afterwards follows water baptism; not that through it the soul is cleansed, but the "yes" [of] a good conscience toward God, previously given inwardly by faith."  (Balthasar Hubmaier: Schriften, pp. 136-37).

On the New Birth, Free Will, and Predestination

Hubmaier was a thoughtful opponent to the doctrine of the bondage of the will and of predestination that was prevalent in thought of Luther, Zwingli and the Magisterial Reformers.  The thought of the new birth is at the heart of Hubmaier's teaching on the freedom of the will.  He believed that original sin renders the will completely impotent to do good until man is born again.  "Man's only hope "is to be born again by the Spirit of God and his living Word." (Schriften, p. 386)  The new birth liberates the will from its bondage to sin and restores the soul to its original health.  The flesh, however, is not regenerated and its sinful tendencies remain in conflict with the regenerated person's liberated will and redeemed soul.  The Christian life, therefore, necessarily involves a continuing struggle to overcome sin. 

For Hubmaier, the liberation of the will is the work of God through the preaching of the gospel, "Through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, it is liberated from its bondage to sin through the new birth." (Schriften, p. 322).  Through the gospel God takes the initiative in drawing men to himself.  As the gospel is proclaimed, God's Spirit convicts human hearts and leads them to confess Christ.  While God takes the initiative, he does not make the decision for man.  By His "attracting, drawing will" . . . God "wills and draws all men unto salvation.  Yet choice is still left to man, since God wants him without pressure, unconstrained, under no compulsion." (Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, p. 135)

Hubmaier's distaste for the doctrine of predestination is unconcealed.  He wrote, "It were a false God who should day words, "Come here," and yet in secret in his heart should think, "Sit yonder."  It would be an unfaithful God who should publicly offer grace to man, and should clothe him in new raiment, yet in secret take it away from him and prepare hell for him." (Vedder, Balthasar Hubmaier, p. 197.)

On Religious Liberty

His treatise, Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524), was the first treatise on behalf of complete freedom of religion produced in the sixteenth century.  He argued that the nature of the gospel precludes coercion and insisted that the state has no jurisdiction in religious matters.  He extended liberty even to law abiding atheists, "It is well and good that the secular authority puts to death the criminals who do physical harm to the defenseless, Romans 13.  But no one may injure the atheist who wishes nothing for himself other than to forsake the gospel." (Estep, Anabaptist Beginnings, p. 51)

On the Sword

Hubmaier differs from most Anabaptists in his view about the sword.  Unlike Anabaptists who forbid Christians from serving as magistrates because it required them to use the sword to uphold law and order and secure justice, Hubmaier suggested that the position of magistrate would be better held by a Christian than a pagan.  Also, Hubmaier was not an absolute pacifist.  He opposed war and would not permit a Christian to take up arms to overthrow a tryannical government, but he would permit a Christian to bear arms in defense of his country under certain conditions.  Many feel that this position puts Hubmaier more in line with later Baptists than with the Anabaptists who were his contemporaries.

 

 

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