The Problem of Balthasar Hübmaier and My View of Christianity

Out of all the Anabaptists particularly of the Swiss variety, I have issues with Balthasar-HubmaierBalthasar Hübmaier (1480?-1528). Yet concurrently I am tempted to look into this notorious character. Hübmaier may be one of the best-known Anabaptists even more so than Michael Sattler and Conrad Grebel who is counted as the “Father of Anabaptism”.[1] Some regard Hübmaier as one of “the most highly educated and respected theologians among Anabaptists”.[2] William Roscoe Estep said Balthasar Hübmaier was one of the most “brilliant stars in the Anabaptist firmament.”[3] Estep even goes as far as to call him “the Simon Peter of the early Anabaptist disciples.”[4] Baptists and other Protestants generally highly admire Hübmaier. This is the first of several issues that I have with him.

From the perspective of education, yes the man was in fact highly educated. The Bavarian born Hübmaier was viewed as being creative and “well trained in scholastic theology and patristics.”[5] He acquired his doctorate in theology in 1512. He served as a chaplain and in a pastoral role and was applauded for his oratory skills and he was an accomplished author. He was the 16th century edition of the “celebrity pastor”. All of these things embody that which I find myself holding a disdain for at this time in my life.

I have in my possession a number of academic degrees in the fields of Biblical Studies, Theological Studies, Christian Ministry, and Christian Education.[6] Looking back, I must ask myself what was the point in acquiring these things. Ever since I began to study Anabaptistica my view of the Bible and Christianity in general has become more simplistic and less cluttered. My writings and mind are no longer encumbered with elaborate and abstract theological terminology and concepts. I no longer celebrate those things and I no longer view myself as a systematic theologian. Now I just see myself as A.O. the Anabaptist.

My second is that he may have been one of the “false brothers” spoken of in the cover letter in the Schleitheim Brotherly Union. This reads:

A very great offense has been introduced by some false brothers among us, whereby several have turned away from the faith, thinking to practice and observe the freedom of the Spirit and of Christ. But such have fallen short of the truth and (to their own condemnation) are given over to the lasciviousness and license of the flesh. They have esteemed that faith and love may do and permit everything and that nothing can harm nor condemn them, since they are “believers.”

Lastly, my issue with Balthasar Hübmaier lies in his views and practices. The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online says of Hübmaier, “Although he was not a thorough-going pacifist, neither was he the militant advocate of war he has at times been represented. He did hold the possibility of a Christian magistrate and argued further that a Christian would make a better magistrate than a non-Christian.”[7] To me these above issues are parts of the core of Anabaptist belief and practice. The same source goes on to tell us that even though Hübmaier strayed away from Anabaptist thought in certain key areas such as nonresistance or a Christian’s relationship to the State he supposedly in “all other major doctrines . . . was in step with the majority of Anabaptists.”[8]

To a degree, I even question that, from what little I have read over the years Hübmaier dabbled in the so-called Church Fathers and the historic creeds and confessions. Whereas the other Anabaptists:

never attached the weight to creeds or confessions given to them by the remainder of Christendom; they were biblicists who produced a large number of confessions, not as instruments to which the laity or ministry subscribed ex anima, but as instructional tools for the indoctrination of their young people and as witnesses to their faith for distribution in society or as a means of better understanding between differing groups.[9]

Nonetheless, to his credit Hübmaier did say on a particular occasion that he would trust those sources “just as far as they use the Holy Scripture, and not more.”[10] On another instance, he said, “You speak to me much of Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Augustine, councils, histories, and old customs. I must somehow think that you lack the Scriptures, which do not want to come out of the quiver.”[11] While these are admirable sentiments, the “Fathers” are just too problematic and created a lot of confusion and harm within Christianity.

Yet in the end, I may look into Balthasar Hübmaier a little more than I have in the past for the very reason that I find that many of the proto-Anabaptists that I do trust borrowed some of Hübmaier’s arguments. He can function as a source that I will visit sporadically.


[1] Ruth A. Tucker, Parade of Faith: a Biographical History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 266.

[2] Ibid., 270.

[3] William Roscoe Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 1996), 77.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] I turned my degree in Christian Education into a Masters of Divinity that I am three courses away from completing as of the writing of this post.

[7] Johann Loserth and William R. Estep, Jr., eds., Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1990), s.v. “Hubmaier, Balthasar (1480?-1528),” accessed March 19, 2014, http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hubmaier,_Balthasar_%281480%3F-1528%29#1990_Update.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Christian Neff et al., Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1989), s.v. “Confessions, Doctrinal,” accessed March 19, 2014, http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Confessions,_Doctrinal.

[10] Balthasar Hubmaier, “On Infant Baptism Against Oekolampad,” in Classics of the Radical Reformation, ed. and trans. H Wayne Pipkin and John Howard Yoder, vol. 5,Balthasar Hubmaier, Theologian of Anabaptism (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 280.

[11] Ibid., 290.

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