Saturday, June 14, 2008

Felix Manz, first to be baptized in blood

Felix Manz, as I've mentioned before, was a kind of co-founder with Conrad Grebel of Anabaptism. Like him he was an educated young man in Zurich. They broke with Zwingli on separation of church and state, and infant baptism and so were imprisoned in a tower and put on bread and water. But they escaped. Manz was in and out of prison as he would travel around baptizing people upon their confession of faith. He appeared in several disputations arguing against Zwingli's views. Eventually the Zurich council decided to increase the penalty, and so finally in January 1527 he was drowned in the Limmat River, near the current Rathaus bridge.

Above is a picture of the location of the commemorative plaque that Zurich put beside the river in 2004. It says: "Here in the middle of the Limmat from a fishing platform Felix Manz and five other Anabaptists were drowned in Reformation times between 1527 and 1532. The last Anabaptist who was executed in Zurich was Hans Landis in 1614."

The second photo is an illustration of the Felix Mantz drowning found in the book written by Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli's successor after Zwingli went off and fought in a battle and got himself killed. Thomann copied and illustrated Bullinger's book with these beautiful illustrations.

I just read a review of a 1999 book called Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe by Brad Gregory. Gregory covers the about 5000 martyrdoms that took place in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. For Mennonites with our strong martyrdom tradition it is important to note that this covers Protestant and Catholic martyrs also, Anabaptists were not the only martyrs of the time. Catholics killed both Protestants and Anabaptists and Protestants executed both Catholics and Anabaptists. Of course in both cases Anabaptists don't come out well.
I am interested in the question of whether Anabaptist created any martyrs. Many Mennonites are unfamiliar with the Muenster episode, when Dutch Anabaptists took over the city of Muenster and made a mess of things.
In any case, when you learn that 40 - 50 percent of the martyrs during this time were Anabaptist, and when you consider that we are roughly .001 % of Christians today, you can see why for us this has figured as an essential part of our story. To be a Mennonite is to inherit the story of martyrdom. It is both gruesome and heroic, a testimony to inhumanity and a testimony of faith.

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