Monday, March 11, 2013

March 11 - Balthasar Hubmaier, Martyr, Reformer, Anabaptist


Balthasar Hubmaier had given up much to follow his own convictions and they led him on a path that led through reformation and ended in death. He had been a priest and student in the Church for many years but was fairly unexceptional in his parentage and education. We do know that he was unable to complete all of his education at one time because of financial difficulties. He finished his education but it took longer than expected because he didn't have wealthy parents willing to finance his educational pursuits--education was something he prized because it cost him dearly. After receiving his education he was assigned to a pastorate and began his work as a minister of the Christian faith.

In 1522 and 1523 he began to become acquainted with the early Anabaptists in Basel and Zurich. Zwingli was a powerful mentor in Balthasar's life and helped guide him through the process of living into the reformation of the Universal Church. Soon, he was involved in the public debates and disputations that were popular at the time and he became convinced that there was a significant problem with the Church process of baptizing an infant. Balthasar and the Anabaptists did not dispute that this had been an historic practice of the Church or that it was rooted within the tradition but they did dispute its place within the process of making disciples. It was easy for the Church and State to become synonymous when citizenship, birth, and baptism were bound together in one moment. Their great fear was that baptizing infants meant a disconnection between individuals and the faith that they were called to live out in their daily lives--without some separation between the rest of the world and the Church the Anabaptists feared that the Church would lose its identity. Soon after making his arguments, he was baptized as an adult with all the political implications.

He was forced to flee because of his decision--a decision to stand with those who loved the Church dearly enough to seek honestly its reformation even if it cost them much. He fled to Zurich and hoped that Zwingli would provide him refuge. Yet, when he got there he was betrayed by Zwingli and cast into prison. As a prisoner he requested a public debate on baptism. At the debate, he gathered the courage to confront Zwingli with some of the things Zwingli had said about baptism a while back. Zwingli surprised everybody when he insisted that he had been misunderstood. Balthasar was dumbstruck that his mentor had recanted and so he agreed to recant his position as his head swam with confusion. The next day he was called upon to recant the position in public but he had spent the night anguishing over his agreement to recant and now refused to deny it even if Zwingli had abandoned him. For his audacity he was placed upon the rack and tortured by those who hoped to gain agreement through torture. He recanted under duress. This would trouble him for years and he would repeatedly lament the moment his body had slipped and allowed his lips to utter words he did not believe.

When he returned to Austria and his opinions became known again he was once again arrested--along with his wife--and thrown into prison. He was asked to recant again and he refused again. They tortured him on the rack again before burning him to death in public as his mournful wife begged him to remain strong and steadfast in his convictions. He hoped to reform the Church and those who burned him hoped to enforce obedience to another power--temporary power in the world. His wife was martyred the following day by being drowned in the Danube river.

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