Hosius on the Anabaptists

Hosius on the Anabaptists
Stephen duBarry
May 5, 2009

Baptists historians have often cited the hostile testimony of Stanislaus Hosius concerning the Anabaptists. Hosius was a Polish Roman Catholic who became prince-bishop of Warmia in 1551, rose to cardinal in 1561, and was one of five papal legates who presided over the third period of the Council of Trent from 1561 to 1563.1 His distinguished rank and illustrious reputation among Catholics of the Reformation period give his remarks on the Anabaptists, though hostile, particular weight in the consideration of Baptist history.

A typical quote in relation to the history of the Baptists is found in a letter to the editor published in the Baptist Magazine in 1826:

It is well known that these good people (the foreign Baptists) were formerly most severely and barbarously persecuted; and it may not perhaps be unacceptable to many of your readers, to see a few instances of their sufferings, which I have selected from “Brandt’s History of the Reformation;” and which I shall preface in the words of Cardinal Hosius, one of the Pope’s Presidents at the Council of Trent, who said thus of them: “If the truth of religion were to be judged of, by the readiness and chearfulness which a man of any sect shows in suffering, then the opinion and persuasion of no sect can be truer or surer than that of the Anabaptists; since there have been none for these twelve hundred years past, that have been more grievously punished, or that have more cheerfully and steadfastly undergone, and even offered themselves to the most cruel sorts of punishments, than these people.”2

Abraham Booth cites Hosius’ opinion that the Waldenses were Anabaptists in his 1829 book Paedobaptism Examined:

I will here add the following testimony from cardinal Hosius, who was president of the Council of Trent. “The Anabaptists are a pernicious sect; of which kind the Waldensian Brethren seem also to have been. Concerning whom it appears, that not very long ago they rebaptized persons; though some of them lately, as they testify in their apology, have ceased to repeat baptism. Certain it is, however, that in many things they agree with the Anabaptists. . . .Nor is this heresy a modern thing; for it existed in the time of Austin.”3

Another passage is given by Edward Bean Underhill in his Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Liberty, first published in 1851:

Let a catholic reply, the president of the famous council of Trent. “If you behold their cheerfulness in suffering persecutions, the anabaptists run before all their heretics. If you will have regard to the number, it is like that in multitude they would swarm above all others, if they were not grievously plagued and cut off with the knife of persecution. If you have an eye to the outward appearance of godliness, both the Lutherans and Zuinglians must needs grant that they far pass them.

“If you will be moved by the boasting of the word of God, these be no less bold than Calvin to preach, and their doctrine must stand aloft above all the glory of the world, must stand invincible above all power, because it is not their word, but the word of the living God. Neither do they cry with less boldness than Luther, that with their doctrine, which is the word of God, they shall judge the angels. And surely, how many soever have written against this heresy, whether they were catholics or heretics [reformers], they were able to overthrow it, not so much by the testimony of the scriptures, as by the authority of the church.”4

These quotations are all taken from Hosius’ Latin work “Verae, christianae catholicaeque doctrinae solida propugnatio,” first published in Cologne in 1558.5 The first section of the book, entitled “De origine haeresium nostri temporis” (“The beginning of heresies in our time”), features his discourse on the Anabaptists. An English translation by Richard Shacklock of “De origine haeresium nostri temporis” was published in 1565 under the title “The Hatchet of Heresies.”6 While some of the quotes given by Baptist authors appear to derive from original translations of Hosius’ Latin, many are taken from Shacklock’s translation. The following appendix gives the full text of Hosius’ discussion of the Anabaptists given in “The Hatchet of Heresies.”

Appendix: Text of Hosius on the Anabaptists

The following are the two main passages in which Stanislaus Hosius discusses the Anabaptists in “De origine haeresium nostri temporis,” the first section of his 1558 book “Verae, christianae catholicaeque doctrinae solida propugnatio.” The text is taken from Richard Shacklock’s 1565 translation entitled “The Hatchet of Heresies.” Archaic spellings have been modernized.

Hosius first describes the Lutherans and the Zwinglians. He then continues:

You think peradventure, that these two sects be they only, which in this our miserable world durst challenge unto themselves the name and authority of the Gospel. But you be deceived, if you think so. For beside these, there is another third sect more perilous, the which, because it baptizeth again those which were lawfully baptized of the Catholics, is called the sect of the Anabaptists: of which sort the brotherhood called, Waldenses, seemed to be, who without peradventure of late did rebaptize, although some of them but even the other day, as they declare in their Apology, have given over that manner of twice baptizing: notwithstanding, as sure as God, they agree in many articles with the Anabaptists. Which Anabaptists truly, Antonius Corvinus doth write in his Dialogues, to have chiefly issued out of Zwinglius’ sect, no otherwise than the deceitful Grecians did out of the wooden horse, which they did bring traitorously into Troy. But if any man will search this matter more deeply, although they be of one opinion with the Zwinglians, concerning the Sacrament of the altar, yet shall he find, that they have sucked their Anabaptism out of Luther’s paps, that is out of Luther’s books. Certainly Balthasar Pacimontanus, which seemeth to have first sowed this sect, doth triumph, that Luther was of his mind: as Luther himself confesseth in a book which he did write to two Parish Priests concerning Anabaptism. Bucer also doth witness, that the Anabaptists’ Gospel came, from whence Luther’s doctrine did come, that is to say, out of Saxony. At what time Luther did write to the Waldenses, among other their articles, he found great fault with this, that they baptized young children, in hope of that faith, which they should obtain, when they came to years of discretion. He saith therefore, that it were better not to baptize young children at all, than to baptize them without faith: because the sacraments neither ought, neither can be received without faith. And if you receive any sacrament without faith, you shall receive it to your great damnation. We lay against your doctrine (saith he) this saying of Christ: He which believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. Hereof did the Anabaptists take occasion of their heresy. For whereas Luther’s opinion seemed to them to be against all reason, as in very deed it is, that young children have faith of their own, they thought it a more sure way to let them alone unbaptized: and not to Christen them, till such time as they could believe for themselves, because they said, this was grounded upon the word of God, which word they cried with loud voice, should endure forever, and against which word they did make their boast, that hell gates should not be able ever to prevail. Among whom one Menno Phrisius, who seemeth to pass all the sort of them in learning, saith in this wise: Certainly, o heavenly Father, I cannot be deceived in this matter with thy word: I have believed, and that have I received by the holy Ghost, as the word of truth. And within few lines after: I know certainly and surely, that with this my doctrine, which is the word of God, in the day of rightwise judgment, I shall judge not only Lords and Princes, not only the world, but also the Angels themselves. Thus doth he magnifically make his vaunts of his doctrine, as though it were God’s word, with no less confidence and courageousness than Luther did of his doctrine. Notwithstanding Luther did as hotly inveigh against this sect, as he did against the sect of the Sacramentaries, and writing a book to two Plebanes, as before I have made mention, among other sayings he useth these words: Whereas the Anabaptists say, that we find in no place of scripture, that infants either have faith, or that they ought to be baptized, we grant indeed that it cannot be proved by any scripture which saith plainly and evidently in these or such like words: You ought to baptize young children. for they do believe, if any man be earnest with us to show any such text, we must needs give him place, and grant him the victory, for we find it not in the whole Bible. But good and reasonable Christians do demand no such things of us: that is the fashion of brabblers, and obstinate persons, to the intent that they may be accounted wise. But they for all their Bible babbling, and crying for scripture, allege for themselves no scripture, which saith, you ought to baptize those which be of years of discretion, but not infants and young children. By and by after, by the tradition of the Apostles always observed in the church of God, he teacheth, that young children are to be baptized, albeit no scripture doth give any such commandment. And like as before in defending the Sacrament of the altar, so now in maintaining Christening of young children, he doth chiefly lean upon the authority of the church: which authority for all that he will not let us lay in his way (for fear of giving him a fall) so often as he requireth scripture of us, for proof of any one thing be it that it hath been received and allowed of the church never so many years.

This therefore is the third Gospel, much more pestilent than the other twain. For beside that it taketh clean away the sacrifice of the Mass, and the order of Priesthood with the Lutherans, and denieth the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar with the Zwinglians, it hath many other articles, both blasphemous and also seditious. For it forbiddeth the public ministry of God’s word, it defendeth that Christ took not man’s nature upon him of the blessed virgin, it reneweth the error of the Chiliasts, it despiseth rule, and will not have men subject to lawful authority. Therefore, wheresoever this sect taketh place, it raiseth up great uproars and seditions. Examples of this we have many cities in Germany, and especially the city of Munster. For as Henry Dorpius a Lutheran, and he which translated his history out of the German tongue into Latin John Sleidane a Zwinglian, have written in their Chronicles, above four and twenty years ago, there came first thither certain preachers, to declare unto the people instead of Christ’s Gospel, the doctrine of Luther, whom when the Catholic Priests thought in no wise to be suffered, Bernard Rothman with his companions, whom Philip the Landgrave of Hessia had sent to further and advance Luther’s learning, did that which all heretics use to do: that is, choosing and appointing out certain chief learned men of the catholic faith, they provoked the Catholics to join with them in disputation: and that before a lay Magistrate, whom they appointed to be their judge, and before whom they promised to prove the doctrine which the Catholics held, to be false and erroneous. But when the Catholic Priests refused to dispute with them, they departed the city, after that they were forbidden to execute their office of preaching the word of God. After this departure of the Catholics, before a year was come fully to an end, the Anabaptists likewise began in the same city to sow the seeds of their doctrine, under the name of Christ’s Gospel. And when they had provoked one another to set foot to foot in disputation, but on the selfsame condition which before was offered to the Catholics, which was, that nothing should be alleged but Canonical scripture: behold, Bernard Rothman, the chiefest trumpeter in all that city of Luther’s Gospel, who making the like law a little before, had challenged the Catholics to come to disputation, now would admit no such condition. So it came to pass, that the Lutherans, which not long before had thrust the Catholics out of the town, they themselves fearing to meet or encounter in disputation with the Anabaptists, were shortly after by them banished the same town. No marvel, though they were so handled. For the Senators also were pulled down from their judgment seats, the churches were spoiled and burned: and whosoever would not take part with the Anabaptists, perforce was driven out of the city. As for Bernard Rothman, Henry Roles, Godfry Stralen, sent out of Hessia, as they of Christians grew to be Lutherans, so of Lutherans they became Anabaptists, and with tooth and nail furthered the Gospel of Anabaptists, showing us the experience how true that is which is written in the Scripture: The wicked man when he cometh into the depth of sin, careth not what he doeth. For if any man do once forsake Christian Religion, unto whatsoever sect he doth afterward incline, he maketh it but a pastime to leap from one heresy to another.

And this sect truly of the Anabaptists, is divided into many sections. For they agree not in the principal points of their doctrine. In certain cities of Germany some did run about naked, as though they had a bumble bee in their breech, exhorting the people to repentance, seeking in the meanwhile busily, how they might find any opportunity to set the people together by the ears. Neither did this heresy begin yesterday, or the day before, for it reigned also in saint Augustine’s time. And as the most part of all other heresies be, so was this in the beginning divided into many other parts. For some were called Donatists, other Rogatists, other Maximianists, other Circenses, who at length were converted from the sect of the Donatists (for their name was more famous than the rest) to the unity and fellowship of the Catholic church: other some were called Circumcellions, which no otherwise than the Munsterians in our days, did go beyond all other in mischievousness, as saint Augustine in sundry places recordeth, and Possidonius also, who did set out a book of saint Augustine’s life, testifieth the same. And at this day this Hydra hath no fewer horns and heads, than it had in saint Augustine’s time. For some be called Munsterans, some Orantes, that is to say, Prayers, some Silentes, that is to wit, keeping silence, Somniantes, that is, sleepers, Pueris similes, that is, like children, Synceri, that is, pure, Impeccabiles a Baptismo, that is, not sinning after Baptism, Liberi, that is, free, Binderlians, Sabbataries, Maderans, Hoffmanites, and other which sprung up after them, Circumcisi: and it is like enough that the Adamites do pertain to the Anabaptists. Some authors do father the beginning of Anabaptism rather upon Thomas Muntzer than upon Balthasar. Which Muntzer above two and thirty years ago, made a commotion of countrymen in Thuringia: for the which fact, when he was worthily punished, before his head was chopped off, he is reported to have lamented pitifully, for that he had seduced the people: moreover, to have recanted all his errors, and confessing his fault after the catholic custom, to have received the honorable sacrament of the body and blood of Christ under one kind. But one Philip, which writeth a story of his life, doth make no mention that he taught to rebaptize those which were once baptized. This sect of the Anabaptists, I am assured, is a pestilent and and abominable sect, whatsoever any other sect else is. And yet for all that, they which have embraced this sect, do steadfastly believe, and assure themselves as well as the Lutherans, or Zwinglians do, that their sins be forgiven them for Christ’s sake, that they be in God’s favor, and that they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven: and they be very precise that all they which follow their race, should certainly and steadfastly believe the same. (fol. 28v-33v)

Hosius digresses here to refute Luther on saving faith. He then returns to the former thought:

Albeit the Anabaptists be more mischievous than the Lutherans, or the Zwinglians, yet do these with no less audacity than both they steadfastly believe, and persuade themselves surely, that for Christ’s sake their sins be forgiven them, that they be in high favor with God, that they shall possess the kingdom of heaven. And this they do not only brag of in words but also they declare in their deeds. For they be much more ready, than either the Lutherans or the Zwinglians to suffer death, to abide most cruel punishments for the maintenance of their faith. For they run to all kind of horrible torments, with no less courage, than they should go to feasts and banquets: for if any man thereof would gather an argument, either of the truth of their doctrine, either of the certainty of their being in favor with God, he might easily be brought into this mind, that he should believe, that there were none other sect, which had so true faith, or were so sure of the favor of God. But true it is, which Saint Paul saith, Although I shall give my body so that I burn, and have not charity, it doth me no good. But he hath not charity, which divideth unity. Such saith Saint Cyprian, Although they were killed for confessing the name of Christ, yet can they not wash out this soot with their blood: the sin of discord staineth so deeply, and is so unable to be cleansed, that by very death it may not be purged. He cannot be a Martyr which is not in the church, he cannot attain to the kingdom of heaven, which forsaketh her which shall reign in the kingdom of heaven. Christ gave peace unto us, he commanded us to agree and to be all of one mind: He charged us to keep the bonds of love and charity uncorrupted, and unbroken. He cannot offer up himself a Martyr, which hath not held fast brotherly charity. Blessed are they, which suffer persecution, saith Christ, but he addeth, for righteousness’ sake. Therefore saith Saint Augustine, they be true martyrs which suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, not they which be punished for iniquity and wicked division of Christian unity. Our Lord himself was crucified with thieves, but as one passion did join them, so diversity of cause did separate them: the punishment of the wicked may be like, but the cause of Martyrs is unlike. And that it is which maketh Martyrs, not the punishment, as Saint Augustine repeating it often in divers places teacheth us. Wherefore it is to no purpose, that Calvin doth so highly praise him and his for this cause, and that in this respect he judgeth them to be preferred before the Lutherans, because they be more pressed and ready to suffer all kind of punishment. For if so be, that as every man is most ready to suffer death for the faith of his sect, so his faith should be judged most perfect and most sure, there shall be no faith more certain and true, than is the Anabaptists’, seeing there be none now, or have been before time for the space of these thousand and two hundred years, who have been more cruelly punished, or that have more stoutly, steadfastly, cheerfully taken their punishment, yea or have offered themselves of their own accord to death, were it never so terrible and grievous. Yea in Saint Augustine’s time, as he himself saith, there was a certain monstrous desire of death in them. For at what time the worshipping of Idols did as yet continue, he writeth that great throngs of Donatists did come to the solemnities of the Pagans, that they might be killed of the Idolators. Also he saith, that some there were which leaped among the harnessed soldiers, as they passed by, to the intent they might be slain of them: terribly threatening to wound them, unless they were dispatched out of their lives by them. Some time they did by violence compel the judges to command the tormentors and the justicers to kill them, insomuch, that one is reported to have mocked them in this sort, that he commanded them to be pinioned and led away, as though execution should have been done of them; that so he might escape their fury without bloodshed, and harmless: moreover they made it but a May game to throw themselves down headlong from ragged rocks, to drown and to burn themselves. Neither was there such foolish hardy heretics in Saint Augustine’s time only. For four hundred years ago, at what time S. Bernard lived, there were Anabaptists, which were no less prodigal to spend their life, than were the Donatists, some (saith he) did marvel that they were led to their death not only patiently but as it seemed very frolic and merry. But such marvelled at them which consider not well, what power the devil hath, not only upon the bodies of men, but also upon the hearts, in the which by the sufferance of God, he only hath gotten possession. Is it not a greater matter for a man to kill himself, than to suffer that willingly at another man’s hands? Experience teacheth us, that the devil hath been so strong with many, that they have drowned and hanged themselves. For example sake: Judas hanged himself no doubt by the suggestion of the devil. Yet for all that I think it a thing more to be wondered at, that he could put this in his heart to betray his master, than to hang himself. Therefore there is no likelihood between the steadfastness of Martyrs, and the stubbornness of these heretics. Because godliness in them, but hardness of heart in these, doth work contempt of death. Neither have the Anabaptists of our time swerved from their predecessors, neither have they been less stout and cheerful in sustaining all kind of death in the behalf of their faith, as among other one Justus Menius an eyewitness of this thing hath left in writing, in that book in the which he confuteth their heresies. So by and by even at the beginning, the Anabaptists’ heresy began to be very hot of spirit, and afterward so often as it burned, the heat of it was nothing cooled or abated. But so was it not with the Sacramentaries, whose chieftain and first founder whereas one Berengarius was, about five hundred hears ago, so far off is it that his disciples did offer their life with like cheerfulness to all kind of hazard and adventure, that we read how their great Doctor himself did twice recant and forswear his error, who not long after being taken with a deadly disease, lying on his death bed, at the point of death showed himself to be marvelously sorry, that he had led so many people into so foul an error: and the report is that he uttered these words deeply sighing: O my God today shalt thou appear to me either to my salvation, as I hope through my repentance, or else to my grievous damnation, as I fear, for them whom I have deceived with my perverse doctrine, whom I could not reclaim back again to the true way of the Sacrament: as John Gerson doth declare, writing against Romantius de Rosa. They have begun first of all in these our days to brag and boast of their Martyrs, whom notwithstanding both for their number and also for the commendation of their sufferance and patience in punishment, the Anabaptists of old time have excelled, and these of our age do so far surmount, that if they would make a Martyrology of their brethren, they might make greater volumes than the Sacramentaries. It is to no purpose therefore, that Calvin boasteth of the certainty of his doctrine, because the truth of it maketh men to fear neither the terror of death, neither the judgment seat of God. It is not worth a straw, that he vaunteth himself of the persecutions which he suffereth, and that he calleth his flock silly sheep appointed to the slaughter. For the Anabaptists do speak more braggly, and do more stoutly all these things, and have done it many years ago, before any man heard tell of the Sacramentaries. Read who that listeth the epistle of the Petilian, which saint Augustine confuteth, he shall see, how many complaints he made for the persecution of his brethren: how he calleth the Catholic Priests bloody butchers, which made means to the Emperors, to deal so cruelly with his innocent lambs, whom he glorieth to buy and purchase heaven with their punishments and bloodshedding: Let him read also the epistles of Gaudentius, against the which S. Augustine wrote two books, he shall find there, that he writeth how his disciples rejoiced, that for the faith of Christ they suffered the persecutors, that for the comfort of their congregation they abuse the sayings of Christ and of S. Paul: Blessed be they which suffer persecution. They which will live Godly in Christ Jesus, do suffer persecution. But it is to be noted, that Saint Augustine saith: If it were alway laudable to suffer persecution, he would not add, for righteousness. Again: if it were alway blameworthy to do persecution, it should not be written in the holy scriptures, A slanderer of his neighbor privily, him did I persecute. Therefore, sometime he that doth suffer it is unrighteous, and he which doth practice it is righteous. But without doubt, the evil men have alway persecuted the good, and the good have persecuted the evil men. They, hurting by doing of injury, these seeking amendment by discipline. They outrageously, these discreetly: they giving place to their malicious affection, these applying themselves wholly to charity. For he which murdereth, careth not how he teareth: but he which healeth taketh advisement how he lanceth: for he cutteth the whole and sound parts, but this cutteth the rotting and festering parts. The wicked men killed the Prophets, and the Prophets killed the wicked men: the Jews scourged Christ, and Christ scourged the Jews. Men gave up the Apostles to man’s power and authority, and the Apostles gave men up to the power and thraldom of the devil. In all these doings what is to be marked, but which of them did strive for the truth, which of them for iniquity, which of them minded to hurt and avoy, which of them purposed to amned and redress. Therefore not the likeness of punishment maketh Martyrs: for an heinous offender may have like punishment to a martyr, but yet an unlike cause: Three hanged on the cross, one a Savior, the second to be saved, the last to be damned. Therefore whoso departeth from the church to heretics and Schismatics, although afterward he be killed for the name of Christ, being out of the bounds of the church, and divided from charity, he cannot, saith S. Cyprian, be crowned when he dieth: They cannot remain with God, which would not live agreeably in the church of God. Although they be thrown into the fire and burnt, though they be torn in pieces with wild beasts, that shall be no crown of faith, but a punishment of infidelity. That shall be no honorable end of religious virtue, but a destruction for desperation. Such an one may be killed, but he cannot be crowned. Therefore they have no right to challenge unto them the glory of Martyrs, which be so far from the cause and quarrel of Martyrs, which have not doubted to suffer death for devilish division. So then now you have three Gospels, and them greatly disagreeing among themselves. If you behold their cheerfulness in suffering persecutions, the Anabaptists run far before all other heretics. If you will have regard to the number, it is like that in multitude they would swarm above all other, if they were not grievously plagued, and cut off with the knife of persecution. If you have an eye to the outward appearance of godliness, both the Lutherans and the Zwinglians must needs grant, that they far pass them. If you will be moved with the boasting of the word of God, these be no less bold than Calvin to preach, that their doctrine must stand aloft above all the glory of the world, must stand invincible above all power, because it is not their word, but the word of the living God. Neither do they cry with less loudness than Luther, that with their doctrine which is the word of God, they shall judge the Angels. And surely how many so ever have written against this heresy, whether they were Catholics or heretics, they were able to overthrow it not so much by the testimony of the scriptures, as by the authority of the Church. (fol. 44v-49v)


1. Ott, Michael. “Stanislaus Hosius.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.
2. Theognis. “Sufferings of the Dutch Baptists in the Sixteenth Century.” The Baptist Magazine. Vol. 18. London: Wightman and Cramp, 1826. p. 278.
3. Booth, Abraham. “Paedobaptism Examined.” Vol. 2. London: Ebenezer Palmer, 1829. p. 284.
4. Underhill, Edward B. “Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Liberty.” New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co. 1858. p. 88-89.
5. Ott, op. cit.
6. J. Pearson & Co. “Two Hundred and Fifty Manuscripts Books & Autographs.” London: J. Pearson & Co. 1914.

This paper is in the public domain.