Honorius, Emperor of Rome, became the first emperor of the Western Roman Empire at the age of eleven, upon the death of his father, Theodosius I (d. 395). He was educated monastically and was later completely controlled by his surroundings. During his childhood the church acquired its great influence on legislation. Only two months after he assumed the reign the bishops were given jurisdiction over ecclesiastical affairs and heresy was declared a civil crime. Severe measures were undertaken to suppress the Manichaeans and Pelagians (Buchberger, 2016).
A law passed in 413 in the reign of Theodosius II of the Eastern Roman Empire, who succeeded his father on 1 May 408 as a seven-year-old, forbidding rebaptism, was used by the Protestant theologians of the 16th century to suppress the Anabaptists. In their official opinions to the rulers the German reformers advocated punishing Anabaptists with death; this was done by Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, and Cruciger in their opinion of Landgrave Philip of Hesse, on 5 June 1536 (Hochhuth, 563), and Urban Rhegius on the same occasion (Hochhuth, 575); also Dr. Eisermann at the diet at Cassel, 7 August 1536.
The decree of the two emperors specifies, "If anyone is denounced or seized in baptizing again any of the servants of the Christian Church, he shall be punished with death together with the one who has carried out this criminal act, in so far as the one who was persuaded is by his age capable of crime." Thus there was no consideration of a universal punishment of a repetition of baptism. Johannes Brenz had as early as 1528 in his Unterricht Philips Melanchthon widder die leere der Widderteuffer stressed that this imperial decree did not have reference to all Christians who were baptized a second time, but only to servants of the church; the regulation was merely intended to prevent a repetition of baptism in those cases where the baptism already administered was beyond doubt. This was assumed as certain in the case of church officials. That many members of the church at that time were uncertain whether or not they had actually been baptized in infancy is seen in the discussions of the fifth council of Carthage in 401. It was decided here that all who did not definitely know that they had been baptized should be baptized again (Sachsse, 37).
A regulation similar to that of Honorius and Theodosius had already been issued by the emperors Valentinianus (died 375) and Gratianus (died 383), which specified, "We hold as unworthy of the priestly office the bishop who has improperly re-baptized" (Brenz). But the terrorizing method of capital punishment was not yet employed.
Buchberger, Michael. Kirchliches Handlexicon: Ein Nachschlagebuch über das Gesamtgebiet der Theologie und ihrer Hilfswissenschaften. Munich: Allgemeine Verlag, 1907.
Codex Theodosianus, Book 16, chap. 6 (Ne sanctum baptismaiteretur).
Hartmann, J. Johann Brenz. Hamburg, 1840: 304.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: II, 343 f.
Hochhuth, K. W. H. "Mitteilungen aus der protestantischen Secten-Geschichte in der hessischen Kirche," in Zeitschrift für die historische Theologie, 1858.
Sachsse, Carl. D. Balthasar Hubmaier als Theologe. Berlin: Trowitzsch & Sohn, 1914.
Sohm, Walter. Territorium und Reformation in der hessischen Geschichte 1526‑1555. Marburg: N.G. Elwert (G. Braun), 1915.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 804. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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APA style: Hege, Christian. (1956). Honorius (384-423). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/honorius_384_423.