Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528), Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524)
Quick Introduction: Hubmaier was one of the early leaders of what would quickly become known as the Ana-Baptist movement, which was an off shoot of the reformation. What makes this guy so significant is that he wrote one of the earliest pleas for religious toleration that we have to date. In this short disputation he argues that those who burn heretics, are in reality heretics themselves. Because he was one of the key leaders in a 16th movement that believed in the separation of church and state, and that everyone should be able to choose their own religion, in a time when the state and church were intricately connected, and chose the state religion for everybody else, the way his life ended was one of terrible irony: he was burned at the stake in March 1528. But his legacy lives on. We take religious freedom for granted in the west, but in fact, we have religious freedom in the west, because of men like Hubmaier, who took Jesus’ teaching literally, when Jesus said don’t pull out the tares with the wheat, and that Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save.
Here is his brilliant line of reasoning on why it is heretical to kill or persecute the heretic:
1. Heretics are those who wickedly oppose the holy scriptures, the first of whom was the devil, when he said to Eve, "Ye shall not surely die", (genesis 3:4) together with his followers.
2. Those also are heretics that cast a veil over the scriptures and interpret them otherwise than the holy spirit demands; as those who everywhere proclaim a concubine as a benefice, pastoring and ruling the church at Rome, and compelling us to believe this talk.
3. Those who are such one should overcome with holy knowledge, not angrily but softly, although the Holy Scriptures contain wrath.
4. But this wrath of the scriptures is truly a spiritual fire and zeal of love, not burning without the Word of God.
5. If they will not be taught by strong proofs or evangelic reasons, then let them be, and leave them to rage and be mad (Titus 3:2,3), that those who are filthy may become more filthy still (Rev. 22:11).
6. The law that condemns heretics to the fire builds up both Zion in blood and Jerusalem in wickedness.
7. Therefore will they be taken away in sighs, for the judgments of God (whose right it is to judge) either convert or harden them, that the blind lead the blind and both the seduced and the seducer go from bad to worse.
8. This is the will of Christ who said, “Let both grow together till the harvest, lest while ye gather up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them” (Matt. 13:29). “For there must also be heresies among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).
9. Though they indeed experience this, yet they are not put away until Christ shall say to the reapers, “Gather first the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them” (Matt. 13:30).
10. This word does not teach us idleness but strife; for we should unceasingly contend, not with men but with their godless doctrine.
11. The unwatchful bishops are the cause of the heresies. “When men slept, the enemy came” (Matt. 13:25).
12. Again, “Blessed is the man who is a watcher at the door of the bridegroom’s chamber” (Prov. 8:34), and neither sleeps nor “sits in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1).
13. Hence it follows that the inquisitors are the greatest heretics of all, since, against the doctrine and example of Christ, they condemn heretics to fire, and before the time of harvest root up the wheat with the tares.
14. For Christ did not come to butcher, destroy, and burn, but that those that live might live more abundantly (John 10:10).
15. We should pray and hope for repentance, as long as man lives in this misery.
16. A turk or a heretic is not convinced by our act, either with the sword or with fire, but only with patience and prayer; and so we should await with patience the judgment of God.
17. If we do otherwise, God will treat our sword as stubble, and burning fire as mockery (Job 41:29).
18. So unholy and far off from evangelical doctrine is the whole order of preaching friars (of which variegated birds our Antony is one), that hitherto out of them alone the inquisitors have come.
19. If these only knew of what spirit they ought to be, they would not so shamelessly pervert God’s Word, nor so often cry, “To the fire, to the fire!” (Luke 9:54-56).
20. It is no excuse (as they charter) that they give over the wicked to the secular power, for he who thus gives over sins more deeply (John 19:11).
21. For each Christian has a sword against the wicked, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), but not a sword against the malignant.
22. The secular power rightly and properly puts to death the criminals who injure the bodies of the defenseless (Rom. 13:3,4). But he who is God’s cannot injure anyone, unless he first deserts the gospel.
23. Christ has shown us this clearly, saying, “Fear not them that kill the body” (Matt. 10:28).
24. The [secular] power judges criminals, but not the godless who cannot injure either body or soul, but rather are a benefit; therefore God can in wisdom draw good from evil.
25. Faith which flows from the gospel fountain lives only in contests, and the rougher they become so much the greater becomes faith.
26. That everyone has not been taught the gospel truth is due to the bishops no less than to the common people – these that they have not cared for a better shepherd, the former that they have not performed their office properly.
27. If the blind lead the blind, according to the judgment of God, they both fall together into the ditch (Matt. 15:14).
28. Hence to burn heretics is in appearance to profess Christ (Titus 1:10,11), but in reality to deny him, and to be more monstrous than Jehoiakim, the King of Judah (Jer. 37:23).
29. If it is blasphemy to destroy a heretic, how much more is it to burn to ashes a faithful herald of the Word of God, unconvicted, not arraigned by the truth.
30. The greatest deception of the people is a zeal for God that is unscripturally expended, the salvation of the soul, honor of the church, love of truth, good intention, use or custom, episcopal decrees, the teaching of the reason that come by natural light. For they are deadly arrows where they are not led and directed by the Scriptures.
31. We should not presume, led away by the deception of our own purpose, to do better or more securely than God has spoken by his own mouth.
32. Those who rely on their good intention and think to do better, are like Uzziah and Peter. The latter was called Satan by Christ (Matt. 16:23), but the former came to a wretched end (1 Chr. 13:10).
33. Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah acted wisely in withstanding Jehoiakim, the kind of Judah, when he cast the book of Jehovah into the fire (Jer. 35:25).
34. But in that, after one book was burnt, Baruch by the express direction of Jeremiah, wrote another much better (Jer. 36:27-32), we see the just punishment of God on the unrighteous burning. For so it shall be that on those who fear the frost, a cold snow falls (Job. 6:16).
35. But we do not hold that it was unchristian to burn their numerous books of incantations, as the fact in the Acts of the Apostles shows (Acts 19:19). It is a small thing to burn innocent paper, but to point out an error and to disprove it by Scripture, that is art.
36. Now it is clear to everyone, even the blind, that a law to burn heretics is an invention of the devil. “Truth is immortal.”