Imperial Recesses (Reichsabschiede) against the Anabaptists. The legislation of the diet or parliament (Reichstag) of the Holy Roman (German) Empire against the Anabaptists is an important source of information for Anabaptist history. Furthermore, the mandates passed by the diet had considerable influence on the legislation of the subsidiary units of the empire against the Anabaptists, although because of the weakness of the imperial executive authority the mandates were not always executed by the component states. As the supreme legislative body of the Empire the position taken by it, to be sure, had great weight in setting the tone for Europe as a whole in this matter of the Anabaptists, namely, one of harsh persecution intended to effect the complete destruction of the movement. The entire text of all the recesses 1528-1566, together with the imperial mandates based upon them, has been published by Gustav Bossert, Sr., in his edition of the Anabaptist documents for Wurttemberg. The contents of the most important recesses is given in the following paragraphs.
The recess of Speyer of 1529, Sections 6 and 7, deals with Anabaptism, which is called an ancient heresy: "Each and every Anabaptist and rebaptized person, man or woman of an accountable age, shall be sentenced . . . and brought from life to death by fire, sword, or the like according to the occasion and the person. And the seditious revolutionaries of the notorious blasphemy of rebaptism will ... by no means be pardoned. But he who confesses his error to recant it, and is willing to accept the punishment and show penitence for it, and would ask for mercy, he may, according to his condition of rank, nature, and youth, be pardoned. But he who disregards these in the opinion that infant baptism is naught, he shall, if he persists therein, be considered an Anabaptist and subject to the above imperial mandate. And none shall be pardoned and be assigned to other places, but shall be bound to stay in his country, which, then has to exercise diligent watchfulness that none of these converts backslides. Whoever gives the Anabaptists shelter or help, does not treat them sternly and tolerate them, falls under the ban of the empire." The mandate of Charles V of April 1529, with the same content, then follows.
Section 11 of the imperial recess of Augsburg of 19 November 1530 has the following to say about the Anabaptists: "Some have taught that infant baptism is naught, but that every person when he comes to understanding shall be baptized again; also they do not consider baptism a sacrament. Thereby some have given up all the Christian order and prayers, which are held at baptism, and have made others." Section 10 says: "Regarding the Anabaptists we will retain the decisions and decrees that have been issued, which we want to have renewed here with the counsel and the consent of the electors, princes, and nobility, and decree that children everywhere be baptized . . . ."
The recess of Worms of 25 April 1535, concerns principally the Münster Anabaptists and their "accursed teaching," the tyranny of the tailor who was made their king, the siege of the city and the assistance offered in the siege by the estates to punish the unchristian tyranny. This is the tenor of all the 60 paragraphs. Thus Sections 42 and 43 say that if the temporal authorities do not have sufficient power, the neighboring estates are to assist them, with the exception of those who are in need of help themselves. Paragraph 44, concerning "prevention of future sedition," states that it had been decided in the name of the electors, princes, and other estates for the prevention of these accursed sects and the avoidance of further mischief, because the Anabaptists move from land to land, that neither electors nor princes or other estates shall accept such foreign unknown persons as subjects and citizens in their dominions, without having first ascertained that they are not followers of rebaptism. Section 45 commands that no writings, books, or other material that might promote the accursed sect of Ana-baptism shall be printed or offered for sale, but the transgressor shall be severely, quickly punished.
The recess of Speyer of 10 June 1544, Section 74, orders, that since the dangerous and seductive sect of Anabaptists is gaining the upper hand in the Holy Roman Empire Charles has made an agreement with the estates to this effect that whether in the cities or in the country, if one has the duty of denouncing and another the duty of arresting; if the denouncer is negligent, the one who has the duty to arrest shall have the authority to seize the Anabaptists and proceed against them in accord with the decrees. Also the negligent denouncer shall be punished. But all authorities in whose domain such persons are arrested shall diligently strive to have them converted through their scholars and theologians.
The imperial recess of Augsburg of 14 February 1551, states in Sections 87-94 that all Anabaptists of accountable age who do not obey the authorities and swear the required oaths, or are unwilling to recognize any authority shall be executed by fire, sword, or the like. The leaders and preachers of the vice of rebaptism shall by no means be pardoned, but shall be earnestly dealt with, both those who persist in their error and those who fall back into it. But those who confess their error and are willing to recant may, according to rank, nature, youth, and other circumstances, be pardoned.
The imperial recess of Augsburg of 25 September 1555, Section 17, states that all other creeds with the exception of the Catholic and the Augsburg (Lutheran) are not meant in the religious peace, but are wholly excluded. Therewith the general imperial recesses against the Anabaptists close. Concurrently there are, however, the much more numerous mandates and decrees of the individual rulers and imperial cities, issued on the basis of the above recesses or on their own initiative.
Bossert, Gustav. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer I. Band, Herzogtum Württemberg. Leipzig: M. Heinsius, 1930
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. 4 v. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: II, 450 f.
Koch, E. A. and H. C. von Lenckenberg. Neue und vollständigere Sammlung der Reichsabschiede. Frankfurt, 1747.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 17-18. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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