Little Bits of History

Drowning One’s Troubles

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 5, 2015
Artist's depiction of Felix Manz demise

Artist’s depiction of Felix Manz’s execution

January 5, 1527: Felix Manz is executed by drowning. He was born in Zürich around 1498 where his father served as a canon in the local church. Manz was believed to have had a liberal education and could speak/read Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. He became a follower of Huldrych Zwingli, a Catholic priest turned reformer, around 1519 when the rebel came to Zürich. Conrad Grebel joined the reform group in 1521 and he and Manz became friends. The two questioned many religious doctrines including the liturgy, the nature of church and state connectedness, and infant baptism. The two men were joined by several others and pled their case for their understanding of Christianity. Several parents chose to not have their infants baptized and on January 17, 1525 a public debate between Zwingli and Manz was held and the former was declared victor.

After the council’s decision, the reformers were ordered to desist from their preaching and have their children baptized within eight days. The dissenters gathered at the Manz house on January 21. The adults were baptized in a new faith; the Swiss Brethren had made a complete break from the other reformers. The Radical Reformation was formed and the movement spread rapidly. As a derisive name, they were called Anabaptists by their foes. The word comes from the Greek term anapabtista or “one who baptizes over again”. The Swiss Brethren did not call themselves this as they felt it was necessary for someone to have reached the age of reason and choose baptism so that the early infant baptisms had been meaningless and the adult baptism was not a repeat event, but the only baptism.

Manz was very active in the religion and used his language skills to translate texts into something the local people could read or hear and understand. He was an enthusiastic evangelist and was arrested several times between 1525 and 1527. On March 7, 1526 a law was passed by the Zürich council which made adult rebaptism a capital offense with the punishment death by drowning. On this day, the law was enforced and Manz became the first Swiss Anabaptist to be martyred at the hands of other Protestants. He was taken by boat out onto the River Limmat. His hands were tied and then pulled behind his knees and a pole placed to secure them. He was tossed overboard.

The Anabaptists are the precursor religion of the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. The origins of the religion has been shrouded in some mystery due to the corruption of early documentation. Enemies were determined to slander the new religion while early adopters were hell bent on defending their beliefs. It was usual for early writings to lump any dissenter into the same group and tarnish those who had been less radicalized. Later corrections were often overzealous and created a more pristine image which is not the exact picture as well. There is debate over which version of the past most resembles the actual times when this new belief system came into being.

Into thy hands, O God, I commend my spirit. – Felix Manz’s last words

I wish to bring together those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps, to unite with these by baptism, and to purchase the rest in their present conviction. – Felix Manz

I have never taught Anabaptism. …But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ. – Balthasar Hubmaier

True Christian believers are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter… Neither do they use worldly sword or war, since all killing has ceased with them. – Conrad Grebel

Also on this day: Ford Motor Company Wages – In 1914, wages are more than doubled for Ford Motor Company workers.
Louis XV Lives – In 1757, a failed attempt was made on King Louis XV’s life.
Getting What You Give – In 1993, Westley Allen Dodd was executed for his murder of three children.
Prague Spring – In 1968, Alexander Dubček came to power in Czechoslovakia.
YGG – In 1925, Nellie Ross stepped into the role of Governor of Wyoming.


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