Summary of the Following Work
This work comprises two books, each of them containing a different and independent topic. The first is a treatise of the holy baptism and of that which pertains to it. The second is a historical account of the holy martyrs who suffered on account of baptism, or, generally, for the testimony of Jesus Christ. These two topics have been briefly, yet not less clearly, treated, throughout, in every century, from the days of Christ up to our present time; and this order has been followed: through every century first an account is given, through faithful and authentic authors, of the subject of holy baptism, and the proper administration of the same during that time; to which we have each time added our own comments, explanations, refutations of objections, etc, then every century is again taken up, and an account given of the holy martyrs who suffered during that time. So that each century treating of holy baptism is followed by a century treating of the holy martyrs; and thus from beginning to end. This, then, is a summary and the order of the following work; which we shall directly explain more fully, and give our reason for doing so.
Of the Title of this Word: The Bloody Theatre of the Anabaptists, etc.
The first part of the title, consisting of the words, THE BLOODY THEATRE, will, we think, not be subjected to any serious criticism, since no one can dispute that all that is treated here, so far as the martyrs are concerned, is a representation or exhibition of the blood, suffering, and death of those who, for the testimony of Jesus Christ, and for their conscience’ sake, shed their blood exchanging their life for a cruel death. But the second part, consisting of the words, “OF THE ANABAPTISTS,” may easily meet with some opposition, because some will not admit that the Anabaptists, or those who maintain such a confession as they do, have existed through every century, from the days of Christ up to the present time; and, what is still more, that they have had their martyrs. But in order to treat the matter systematically and in the best manner, we shall first speak of the name, and then of the thing itself.
Of the Name: Anabaptists[The word “Anabaptist” is here used to signify the same as “Taufgesitmte” in the German, and “Doopsgesinde” in the Dutch language, for which the English language affords no better term, the literal signification of “Doopsgesinde” being “baptism-minded.] The name “Anabaptist” was really not accepted by them by choice or desire, but of necessity; for their proper name, if we consider well the thing in connection, should be, Christ-minded, Apostle-minded, or Gospel-minded, Gal. 3:26, 27,29, as they were called of old, yea, many centuries ago, because their religion agreed with the doctrine of Christ, the Apostles, and the holy Gospel; which appears from the confession of faith which they from time to time have published, and which we, as far as we know them, are ready to defend, if necessity requires it; of which also others boast; but how they prove it, they may answer for themselves, and the impartial and intelligent may judge. The name Anabaptists which is now applied to them, has but lately come into use, deriving its origin from the matter of holy baptism, concerning which their views differ from those of all, so-called, Christendom. In what this difference consists, we will now briefly, and in the sequel more fully state. We could have wished that they had been called by another name, that is, not only after the holy baptism, but after their whole religion; but since it is not so, we can content ourselves with the thought that it is not the name, but the thing itself, which justifies the man. For this reason we have applied this name to them throughout the work, that they may be known and distinguished from others. [Ancient Israel was called the circumcision because all Israelites were circumcised. I Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6; 6:15.]
Of Holy Baptism, and Why We have Preferred it to All Other Articles, in Our History
We have chosen holy baptism in preference to any other article of the Christian and evangelical religion:
1. Because it is the only sign and proof of incorporation into the visible Christian church, without which no one, whoever he be, or whatever he may profess, or how separated and pious a life he may lead, can be recognized as a true member of the Christian church. This is fully, yet without controversy, shown and confirmed in the following history. [Paul asked the Church at Rome, whether they did not know that as many as were baptized (or incorporated through baptism) into Jesus Christ, were baptized into His death? Rom. 6:3. Compare with Gal. 3:27; I Cor. 12:13.]
2. Because it is, beyond contradiction, the only article on account of which others call us Anabaptists. For, since all other so-called Christians have, yet without true foundation, this in common that they baptize infants; while with us the baptism only which is accompanied by faith and a penitent life, according to the word of God, is administered, to adults; it follows, that with us such persons are baptized who have received baptism in their childhood, without faith and repentance; who, when they believe and repent, are again, or at least truly baptized with us; because with us their previous baptism, being without true foundation, and without the word of God, is not considered baptism at all. [Notwithstanding Philips of Marnix; then, F. Beza: then Men so Alting; then, Abr. A. Doreslaer; and then, the latest translators of the Bible, have come to another conclusion concerning the rebaptizing of the twelve Ephesian disciples who had been baptized by John, Acts 19:1-3; there has, nevertheless, as far as we have been able to discover, before the time of P. Marnix, yea, (or more than fifteen hundred years, never been a single Greek or Latin divine who doubted that those Ephesians were baptized again, because the first time they had been baptized without having a knowledge of the holy Ghost.]
3. Because the imperial decrees (when some so-called Christians began to tyrannize) in the days of Theodosius and Honorius, A.D. 413, were issued and proclaimed everywhere expressly against the Anabaptists and those who were rebaptized; namely against such who maintained the aforementioned article, as the Anabaptists of today do; which was also the case in the last persecution, during the reign of Emperor Charles V., more than eleven centuries afterwards, A.D. 1535; when all who, having been baptized in infancy, had been rebaptized upon their faith and repentance; or who maintained these views, were punished with a severe death, as may be seen in our account of baptism, and of the martyrs, for the years 413 and 1535.
4. Because it would not have been possible to write in detail of all the other articles of the Christian faith and worship of God, as they, through all the centuries from the days of Christ up to the present time, have been believed and practiced according to the manner of the Anabaptists of this day; without going beyond the bounds of the largest book; since no book could possibly be printed or planned on so large a scale, as to contain all this; wherefore we have been obliged to observe moderation in writing, throughout, so as not to become diffuse, or overstep the bounds of a reasonable book.
The Reason Why We have Pointed Out the Article of Holy Baptism, and the Adherence of Anabaptism, from the Days of Christ to the Present Time
For more than a century up to the present day, people have been made to believe that the Anabaptists contemptuously so-called, have but recently sprung from some erring spirit,—some say, from the Munsterites; whose fabulous faith, life and conduct, the true Anabaptists have never recognized; for no one will ever be able to show with truth, so far as we have been able to ascertain, that the articles of religion of those Munsterites, whereby they have drawn the attention of the world upon themselves, and which consist in commotion, rebellion and such like, have ever been adopted or acknowledged as good, much less professed and lived, by any formal church of the Anabaptists, or by any well known member of the same. But, on the contrary, they have from that time on and ever since declared that they would have neither lot nor part with them or their transactions; and admonished one another, not to follow such ways, because these could not stand the test before God and His Word, nor before the mind of a true and meek Christian, as being contrary to the Gospel of Christ, and the most holy faith.[Aside from the fact, that the Anabaptists did not spring from the Munsterites, but have existed through all the times of the Gospel, as has been sufficiently shown, we would, moreover, state that the pernicious and evil proceedings which took place at Munstcr about the year 1534, can, according to the truth, not be laid to the charge of the Anabaptists, who at that time, like innocent doves fleeing before the talons of the hawk into clefts of the rock, or into hallow trees, had to hide themselves but must be placed to the account of some Lutheran preachers, to whom a certain “Jan van Leyden” had recommended and taught Anabaptism. According to old and authentic authors these proceedings happened as follows: In the year 1532, Bernaert Rotman, a Lutheran (at that time called Evangelical) preacher, began to preach at Munstcr in St. Maurice church, against the doctrine of the Papists; when, however, the Papists of Munster came to know this, they bribed him with money, to go away. But a few months afterward repenting of it, he came back, and drew such crowds, that he, being sustained by some of the chief men of the city of Munster, erected his pulpit in the entry of the church. He also sought to have other churches opened in order that this doctrine might be propagated the more widely;—if this were not done, they should be opened by force, etc. In the mean time, on the 14th of February, 1533, there arrived at Munster, Jan van Leyden, a strange, odd and opinionated man, who, though he maintained baptism upon faith, yet in most other points never agreed with the Anabaptists. To be brief, after much controversy he brought the matter so far, that not only Bernaert Rotman, who had at first opposed him, but also his colleague, H. Stapredc, and various others, began to preach against the practice of infant baptism. On the other hand, Jan van Leyden learned from them, especially from B. Rotman, the doctrine that one might defend and propagate his religion with external weapons. In the mean while, the magistrates, apprehending serious mischief which might be expected to spring from this, forbade those who they thought were giving the most occasion to it, the city. They, indeed, left the city, yet on the instigation of B. Rotman, entered it again by another way. Finally matters came to such a pass, that the aforementioned, and other supporters of the Lutheran (or miscalled. Evangelical) doctrine, who had become agreed with Jan van Leyden, in the article of baptism collected together and resolved to bring about a total restoration of religion; deciding also, that to this end, as it could not be effected quietly, it should be done by force of arms; further, that in Munster the beginning should be made. Jan van Leyden was constituted the leader; and through B. Rotman’s proclamation much ignorant and simple people from the surrounding places were summoned, to help carry out said restoration, which however was not made known to them at first. These were promised that, in Munster, they should receive tenfold for their goods which they had to abandon on this account. Without loss of time they opposed the power of the bishop. They erected fortifications, seeking not only to defend themselves, but also to exterminate their opponents, that is, the true adherents of Rome and the Pope. But matters took quite a different turn from what they had intended: they were defeated and the bishop and those of the city triumphed. Rotman himself, (notwithstanding that his associates were in equal distress) despairing of his life, ran to the enemies to be killed by them; so that he might not, like Jan van Leyden, be taken alive, and come to a shameful end. This, then, was the tragedy enacted at Munster; the instigation, progress and execution can and may not be attributed to the so called Anabaptists, but to the first-risen Lutherans, especially to B. Rotman and his followers. Had this restoration been successful, the Lutherans would not have been ashamed of it; on the contrary they would have boasted of it, and never would have let the honor of it remain in the hands of the Anabaptists. To this alludes the following old ditty: Had successful been the glorious restoration, Never would the much-despised Anabaptists, Have obtained the honor: Luther, or some other, By the sword of Rotman, lord would have been crowned.]
Were we disposed to pay them in their own coin, we might say: The Munsterites were fellow members of those who sanction war and claim that one must propagate and defend his religion with the sword. For this is what they did; but we speak against it with heart, soul, and mind. Nevertheless, the people were made to believe these things; and therefore, many simple people without experience or knowledge have adopted the above opinion, simply because their pastor, preacher, or teacher told them so; hence, many slanders have sometimes been, and are still, spewed out like bitter gall, against the so-called Anabaptists, who are despised and rejected by everybody.
In order to show that the doctrines of the Anabaptists, especially that article on account of which they are called Anabaptists, did not originate with the Munsterites, or any other erring spirits who have arisen in these last times, but have proceeded from the source of truth—Christ and His apostles, we have placed their origin in the time of Christ, and shown that at that time already, this article, with other articles of the Christian religion, was taught and practiced; and also after the death of the apostles, through every age, even to the present time.
Now the point will be to give the reasons why we have called this whole work, with all the persons contained therein, after the Anabaptists; from which, as the second question, might be asked: whether all the persons mentioned, confessors as well as martyrs, none excepted, confessed the same as what the Anabaptists of this day confess? or whether any believed, practiced, or maintained higher or lower, more or less, in this or that article? We shall treat these matters separately, and one after the other, giving the reasons as well as the answers.
Reason Why We have Called this Whole Work after the Anabaptists
The reason which has induced us is twofold:
1. Because, as we have shown clearly, there have been persons in every century, from the beginning of the Gospel all along, who have believed and taught the article of holy baptism, with other articles noted in the margin—on account of which the Anabaptists have received this name—in the very same manner as the Anabaptists, and have, each in his time, instructed, engrafted, and confirmed their contemporaries therein, as may be seen in the whole history, especially in the first fifteen centuries.
2. Because we have not found mentioned in the writings of authentic authors anything concerning those persons whom we have noted as true witnesses, which conflicts with the above mentioned doctrines of the Anabaptists. And whenever something has been laid to their charge, which is not in harmony with the uprightness of the faith professed by them, we have shown that the witnesses to such charge were not authentic or acceptable; or that the things brought against them, were committed by them not after but before their conversion; or that, if they at any time have fallen into them, they truly forsook them before their death, and from which all this appears. But whenever we have found that any, as regards the faith professed, were actually guilty of serious errors, offensive misconceptions, or bad actions, for which the above excuses could not be brought forward; we have dropped such entirely, and not mentioned them; that the pious and most holy witnesses of Jesus Christ might not be defiled with their unclean and unholy leaven.
Answer to the Question, Whether All the People Mentioned in this Work, None Excepted, have Confessed the Same that the Anabaptists of this Day Confess
Concerning this we say that a distinction must be made between the first and last martyrs;—not that they have differed in the faith, for this we have not found; but because they were not all examined in regard to the same articles of faith; and consequently did not reply in one and the same manner; and this from the fact, that some suffered among pagans, some among the Jews and the Mohammedans, and some among the false Christians, that is, the Romanists.
Those who suffered among the pagans were, for the most part, examined concerning the first article of the Christian faith, wherein we confess: “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth,” etc.; and if the apprehended Christians confessed only this, viz., that they believed in one God, they were condemned to death: for the pagans recognized many gods. Those who suffered among the Jews or the Mohammedans were examined concerning the second article, wherein we confess: I believe “in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, our Lord, who was conceived of the holy Ghost,” etc. When they had confessed this, they had also forfeited their lives; for the Jews and the Mohammedans do not acknowledge Christ as the Son of God, much less as His only begotten (or own) Son, and that He was conceived of the Holy Ghost. On account of this article many believers were killed among the Arians. Those who suffered among the false Christians, especially among the Romanists, were examined concerning nearly all the articles of faith, in regard to which difference of opinion existed between us and them, viz., the incarnation of Christ, the office of the secular authorities, the swearing of oaths, etc., but above all others, the article of holy baptism, namely, whether they were denied infant baptism? Or, whether they were rebaptized? Which latter principally caused their death; as sentence of death was immediately passed upon them, and their life taken. Besides these articles (on account of which they also had to suffer among the followers of Zwingli and Calvin) the Papists laid before them also, either for denial or for confession, the manifold papal institutions, which at different times and above and contrary to the most holy faith and life, had originated, and been forced, as necessary articles for salvation, upon the innocent plain, and orthodox people, that they should believe, and live according to them, such as the invocation of deceased saints; sacrifices for the dead; pilgrimages to the sepulchres of the saints; the worshiping and salutation of images made with hands; masses; vigils; ceremonial night watches; choral prayers whether paternosters, Ave Marias, or rosaries, or others; the making the sign of the cross; sprinkling with holy water; the tonsure; the wearing of white, gray, black, or other clothes; the chasuble; and innumerable other things which it is almost impossible to mention.
When the orthodox martyrs were examined by the Papists concerning these and similar matters, they must necessarily express their opinion in regard to them, and, therefore, unfold the articles of their own faith, which were opposed to them; so that on such occasions frequently the whole foundation and all the particulars of the saving faith which they held in common with us, were discussed. This is the reason, therefore, that only those martyrs who suffered among the false Christians, especially among the Papists, made confession of nearly all the articles of faith; while all the others, though faithful and sincere confessors of the evangelical truth, who sacrificed their lives among the pagans, Jews, or Mohammedans, confessed but very little thereof: because they were not examined concerning them. Moreover, at first there were not so many articles of faith concerning which different opinions prevailed, than there were in later times; for which there was a reason; for, since in the beginning there were not so many apostates and different sects than in later times; the points which had to be asserted against those who disputed them originally, were fewer than afterwards, when many churches began to spring up, and each defended his own; from which the true believers had to distinguish themselves by their confession of the controverted articles of faith.
No true Christian of the Anabaptists of this day will stumble at the fact that the first martyrs have not confessed so many articles of faith as the last ones, or as are confessed now; which, as has been said, is founded on a satisfactory reason. However we have found, and are fully satisfied therewith, that although, for the reason already mentioned, some have confessed more, and others less, of the articles of faith, they notwithstanding did not differ from each other in regard to their purpose and meaning; we speak with reference to those things which are of considerable importance, and may be considered as necessary for salvation. But should it nevertheless be true, that one or the other (whereof one have not heard), on account of the earliness, degeneracy, or darkness of preceding times, was not truly enlightened; either in the faith or in the knowledge of it, or possessed some serious weakness or deficiency; but nevertheless, keeping the true foundation of salvation, that is, Christ, [“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11). On this foundation built all the true martyrs, of whom wt have given an account; and unanimously kept it.] though weak and frail, died, sacrificing his life through a violent death, with a good purpose, to the honor of God, the edification of his fellow brethren, above all, to the preservation of his own soul; such a one should, according to the nature of love, be excused, and counted a true martyr, [For this reason a considerable error, which could not be allowed in a common member of the church not laboring under trial and oppression, might be tolerated in a martyr.] because of his entirely good intention, and his total renunciation, even unto death, of his possessions as well as his own self; for which the Lord has promised everlasting life, yea, the crown of life, Matt. 19:29, compared with Rev. 2:10: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of Life.”
This is what we have thought proper to call attention to in regard to the title and contents of these two books; but before we dismiss the subject, it behooves us to make a brief statement in regard to the preceding or old work.
Statement in Regard to the Old Work
It was our intention to leave the second book, that is, the history of the martyrs from the year 1524 to 1614, unaltered, just as it was published before to the service of our fellow brethren in the faith; except that we proposed to add a few more martyrs of the same faith, inserting them where it might be suitable. But our original design in this matter has been far transcended, since we, besides the writing of the whole first book, have added not only a few, but many, martyrs to the second book; and as many of the death sentences of the martyred persons, which we have recently obtained, did not agree in date and other circumstances with the respective accounts contained in the old book, some of them differing very greatly from each other; which came from the fact, that, when the martyrs were put to death, the rest of the believers of the place were frequently scattered on account of the existing danger, in consequence of which neither the time nor the manner of their death could be recorded: therefore we have, whenever we discovered such discrepancies, rewritten the original accounts and ordered them according to the time and manner indicated in the death sentences recorded by the papal and other clerks of the criminal court; in order that even the adversaries, if possible, might become convinced by their own testimony of the shedding of the blood of the saints.
This was no small task and burden for us; yet we have labored through and finished it (thanks be to the Lord for His grace). But how this was accomplished, we let the impartial and intelligent judge. However, we consider it certain, that we shall not escape criticism; the world, being evil, is wont to criticize everything good. Besides, we have not aimed to please everybody, but to write the truth; and this we think, we have done without passion, prejudice, or partiality. [Justus Lipsits says in the preface to his first book of “Steadfastness”: “Few readers will suffice me; one suffices me; none suffices me also: for I have written this for myself.” Hut this we leave to him, who had written it only for himself.] If anybody is displeased with this book, he may know that we have written it only for ourselves and for the well disposed. With the evil-minded we have nothing to do. Therefore we shall console ourselves in regard to whatever we may meet with on this account. God and a good conscience shall be our support.
The captious I cannot escape,
Who fault will always find;
But yet, my heart shall never fear,
Since God my purpose knows.
Yea, Lord! Thou knowest all my thoughts;
To Thee my cause I trust.
I care not what my haters say,
So free my conscience is.
Far be it from us, however, to acquit ourselves of all liability to err. No man in this world is so infallible, that he may not at some time err. [“Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly” (II Cor. 11:1). says the apostle Paul, with whose wisdom we should not compare ours in the thousandth part.] We consider it to be certain, therefore, that we, here and there (though not intentionally, but innocently), have erred; and this the more, as we have compiled and written this to a great extent while we were in distress, severe illness, yea, on the bed of sickness, when death threatened us; for which reason we ought to be the more excused, though we, for truth’s sake, do not seek it.
If any one, therefore, no matter who, provided he does it in sincerity and good faith, can point out to us any errors, [It is always easier to criticize a thing than to do it better. Therefore Katel van Mauder, at the completion of a great work, adds these words: “Ye stiff-necked critics must first consider that too great a mountain lies between doing and saying, before you accuse a free conscience with your audacious babbling. Many have mouth enough to contemn the work of everybody; but not the hands to make something better. Saying is mere wind: but doing I esteem.” We say the same, and will let the matter rest here.] we will consider the matter, forsake the evil, and follow the good. But if it is apparent to us, that not sincerity and faithfulness (that is, love of truth), but envy and ill will caused by prejudiced partiality against our faith, are the prime motors in the case, we shall not very easily be induced to give it closer consideration; but it shall only the more confirm and assure us of the truth of what we have written and do believe.
No one must expect, that if he, for the purpose of refuting or assailing with the pen, attacks this book (that is, as far as the work which we have written is concerned) in one or the other point, and not in its entire extent; we shall readily answer or oppose him; for we do not consider such a procedure worth the trouble of replying to it. But should the whole work be attacked or contested, yet so that no alteration is made in the language, nor anything essential left out, we would state, that, if God will spare our health and grant us strength, we will attend to the matter; since, for the sake of our brethren and companions, we shall, like Paul, not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, either to reply to, or refute the things advanced, or to do anything else we may deem necessary to the service of the defenseless and oppressed little flock of Christ. But judgment shall return unto righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it. Psalm 94:15.
Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. [“Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeli and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer” (that is, stone of help), “saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (I Sam. 7:12). Thus say we in reference to our history.] We have longed much for the hour that would bring us to the conclusion of our work. This hour has come; and therefore we will now rest. Receive this according to the nature of love. We have had naught in view, but that it should promote the honor of God, and your, our, and the salvation of all men. Your and our days are drawing to a close. Oh, may God grant, that the end of your and our life may be the beginning of the true and blissful life; that the setting of your and our days which are but misery and vanity, may be the rising of the eternal and glorious day of immortal glory. [The end of our work must remind us of the end of life; and what we may yet lack in this, we shall ask of the Lord, “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am” (Psa. 39:4).]
O Lord, bless us and all who may read this work; that they and we, in the true faith and with a godly conversation, may spread abroad Thine honor, and afterwards, being honored by Thee, receive a like reward. We look forward with joy to the day which can bring us consolation. It will deliver us from this evil and perverse world. It will bring us to the true rest, where unrest will be no more. It will give us what our heart desires. O that this time had come already!
The Lord Almighty calleth me:
My earthly work is done; and now
I long to get away from thee,
O world so vain! O house of pain!
For though my flesh in thee yet moves,
The soul immortal heavenward tends.
This was spoken by one of the ancients, when he thought that he had finished a good work, and that the hour of departure was near at hand. Certainly a great confidence springing from a well-meaning heart. We say in the same manner: Our earthly work is now finished. We do not know that we shall be able to do much more good upon earth. But as long as we are here, we hold ourselves bound to our Creator, being confident that we have not lived in vain. We have, in our weakness, done what we could for the promotion of our own and the welfare of our fellow men.[Then say we with Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see Cod; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another,” (Job 19:25-27) and with Paul: “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven” (II Cor. 5:1, 2). This caused John to say: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). The grace of our Lord be with us all.]
Be then, O God, gracious unto the least of Thy servants, and grant that none of his natural or spiritual kindred, or of those who have been instructed by him, may be lost; but that they all may come to the rest of Thy saints and be eternally saved. With this, beloved reader, whoever you may be, we commend you to the Lord ; and to you we commend the consideration of the things which you will find here; feeling assured that if you will do so, you will certainly receive that for which we have prayed the Lord in your behalf.
Yours very affectionately, as seeking your soul.
Thielem J. Van Braght
Don, July the 31st, 1659.
Thieleman J. Van Braght (1625-1664) was an Anabaptist who is best known for writing a history of the Christian witness throughout the centuries entitled “The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660” (1660).