Journal Article

‘They had said nothing about rebaptism’: The Surprising Birth of Swiss Anabaptism

Paul Brand

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 22, issue 2, pages 155-180
Published in print April 2004 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online April 2004 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
‘They had said nothing about rebaptism’: The Surprising Birth of Swiss Anabaptism

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Anabaptism, the major movement of radical dissent in the early Reformation, was born in Zürich on 21 January 1525, when a small group of those who had become disillusioned with the course of reform in Zürich met and rebaptized each other. Historians have usually explained this event in one of two ways: one is to look backwards from the baptisms, and to see their roots in the early Reformation debate concerning the validity of infant baptism; the other is to look forward, and to see in the baptisms hints of the theological and institutional developments of the later Anabaptist movement. This essay suggests that neither approach offers a very satisfactory explanation as to why the baptisms took place, and that such an explanation should in fact be sought in the immediate background to the baptisms, namely the official procedure against the group by the Zürich Council. By applying some aspects of the anthropological study of ritual to the practice of believers’ baptism, the essay attempts to show that the baptisms are best understood as a spontaneous act, a reaction to the threat of persecution, and a way of spiritually emboldening the besieged group of Zürich radicals.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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