Saturday, June 14, 2008

Conrad Grebel, founder of the Anabaptists

Conrad Grebel was born into a fairly wealthy, leading Zurich family. The first photo is of his house in Zurich. It is a large and beautiful home. It is currently a small theater called Theater am Neumarkt. There is a plaque on it that says: "1508 - 1514 and 1520 - 1525 in this house lived Conrad Grebel, who together with Felix Manz founded Anabaptism."
Conrad was well-educated. His father used his political connections to gain what we would call scholarships today. Conrad first went to Vienna to study, through a scholarship through the Holy Roman Emperor, who ruled what would roughly be Germany today. There he was a student of Joachim von Watt, or Vadian. Through the years Conrad wrote many letters to Vadian, who eventually married Conrad's sister, and many of these letters were preserved.
After Vienna Conrad transferred to Paris, now under the auspices of the King of France. He was a studen of Glarean, another Swiss in a foreign setting. But there Conrad had much conflict with Glarean and eventually abandoned his studies. Glarean apparently thought Conrad was spoiled, and in my mind not without reason. He moved out of his lodgings with Glarean because they were too cold. But Glarean also played favorites and was hard to get along with.
In Paris Conrad got into other kinds of trouble as well. He was part of a group of Swiss students that became involved in a brawl that killed two Frenchmen. Apparently the French were attempting to rob the Swiss, so it was considered self defense. Conrad also admitted that he frequented prostitutes. He also suffered from an illness already at this time, something we hear about again and again, but not with enough details to know what it was.
So Conrad came home. But then his father got another scholarship for him, this time from the Pope to study in Rome. Now at this time the Pope was not just spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, but also political leader of the Papal states, much of northern Italy. So in other words Conrad's father managed to get money from each of the major countries that surrounded Switzerland at that time. This is part of the reason that Conrad's father was eventually executed, not for religious reasons but for treason.
But Conrad didn't have the heart to go to Rome and so stayed in Switzerland. He was a bright student, knew Latin as well as Greek. He wrote poetry that was published in Vadian's books.
It was only as he joined a study group with pastor Ulrich Zwingli, Felix Manz, and others that he began to have a spiritual awakening. He became more serious about life and about God. With Zwingli he believed that the church should be reformed according to the Bible. But as he read the Bible he didn't agree with all of Zwingli's ideas.
His greatest problem with Zwingli became infant baptism. He believed that baptism should follow a declaration of faith. That was the Biblical pattern.
The second photo is an illustration of the baptism disputation in Zurich. This comes from a handwritten copy of Heinrich Bullinger's Reformation History. The book was handwritten for political reasons, to not upset the Catholic cantons of Switzerland. The Swiss after all had battled each other over religion. The copyist painted these beautiful pictures. While the artist did not necessarily actually attend the events, he was drawing the rooms and places as they appeared at the time. In this picture the lords of the council are on the left, the clergy on the right, and the Anabaptist party are the ones standing at the front of the picture.
This is the disputation that the Anabaptists lost, where the council decided to maintain infant baptism, and to force parents to have their children baptized. As I already mentioned, the group soon thereafter decided to baptize each other as adult believers.

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