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“If all the world were like us,” wrote a humble hatmaker, “there would be no war.” Those simple words cost Jacob Hutter his life.
Hutter was among the first Anabaptists. The term Anabaptism means to baptize again, originally a term of contempt used by opponents, referring to the Anabaptist belief that state-sponsored baptism of infants was unscriptural. The movement had its beginnings when those impatient with the pace of Zwingli’s Reformation in Zurich separated from the state church and baptized themselves on January 21, 1525. Persecuted by both Catholics and Reformers, many of them fled to Moravia (in modern Czechoslovakia) where government officials seemed more tolerant. They lived in communes, and Jacob Hutter was attracted to their cause.
Hutter was a hatter. His scant education in Prague had been in the trade of hatmaking, and he traveled widely making and selling hats until he had come in contact with Moravian Anabaptists and eventually became their leader. But in 1536 King Ferdinand I ordered the Moravian Anabaptists from homes and communes into the open fields where they lived under the sky and in caves. Hutter appealed to the governor: Now we are camping on the heath. We do not want to wrong any human being, not even our worst enemy. Whoever says that we have camped on a field with so many thousands as if we wanted war or the like, talks like a liar and a rascal. If all the world were like us there would be no war. We can go nowhere. May God himself show us where to go.
Hutter’s letter so inflamed the authorities that he and his pregnant wife were captured and taken to a nearby fortress. For three months, Hutter was tortured with a rack, whip, and freezing water. He refused to recant, and on this day, February 25, 1536, he was tied to a stake, doused with brandy, and set on fire. He was about 36. After Hutter’s death, his followers, calling themselves by his name, began spreading their faith. Eighty percent of all Hutterite missionaries died a martyr’s death, but today groups of Hutterites still live in pockets of Europe and in several western states in America.
I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves. Watch out for people who will take you to court and have you beaten in their meeting places. Because of me, you will be dragged before rulers and kings to tell them and the Gentiles about your faith. (Matthew 10:16-18)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 25.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1796 – Samuel Seabury, first bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America., first bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America died in New London, Connecticut.
1880 – Johann Blumhardt, leader of revival in Germany and founder of Bad Böll, a spa for people with mental, spiritual, and physical ailments died.
1921 – Lutheran deaconess Elizabeth Fedde who had established a great medical and ministerial work in New York before returning to her homeland died in Egersund, Rogaland, Norway.
1936 – Sir Leonard Woolley ends his archaeological dig at Ur, having uncovered much information that would help Christians understand the ancient texts of Scripture.
1940 – Mary Mills Patrick, who was an educational missionary to Turkey died in Palo Alto, California. She turned a girl’s school into the Constantinople Women’s College and kept it open through two wars and a revolution. The courses she offered included dentistry and medicine.