Felix Manz, First Anabaptist Martyr (presented by Margaret Ediger)
I want to tell you about Felix Manz. He was born and died in Zurich, Switzerland, the first Anabaptist to be martyred for his faith. He was very well-educated with a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He translated portions of the Bible, and met for Bible study with other like-minded men.
Felix Manz was one of the young men who joined Ulrich Zwingli in 1521 in his protest against the Roman Catholic Church for certain practices and doctrines not supported in the Bible, resulting in the formation of the Reformed Church in Switzerland. He along with Conrad Grebel and others wanted Zwingli to take the reform of the church further, returning to its biblical roots, especially with regard to baptism and the relation of the church to the state. From their study of the Bible, they believed that baptism should only be given to adults upon their confession of faith in Jesus Christ. They were also convinced that the church should be separated from the state.
Since both Zwingli and the political leaders of the ciry of Zurich objected to their more radical stance, the City Council ordered a series of public debates between these dissidents and Zwingli, and consistently declared Zwingli to be the winner. The day following another public disputation on January 17, 1525, the City Council mandated that the dissidents submit to the council and have their children baptized within eight days.
Four days later, on January 21, sixteen men met for Bible study in the home of Felix Manz and his mother. They concluded that they had no other option but to break with the Reformed Church. That night they were all baptized upon confession of their faith. Thus initiated the Radical Reformation of the 16th Century. Their enemies and detractors called them “Anabaptists” (re-baptizers). They simply called themselves “Brethren”.
Felix Manz was very active in this rapidly-spreading movement, preaching and translating biblical texts into the language of the people. Between 1525 and 1527 he was arrested on numerous occasions because of his teachings.
Shortly afterward, on March, 1525, the City Council decreed that the baptism of adults was punishable by drowning. Felix Manz, immoveable in his convictions, persisted in declaring publicly that his goal was to bring together all those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Scriptures, and follow in Jesus’ footsteps, symbolizing their union with Him by baptism.
He was arrested and imprisoned on various occasions.several times. Finally, after another arrest and imprisonment both Zwingli and the City Council accused Manz of “obstinately refusing to recede from his error and caprice” and condemned him to death.
At 3 p.m. on January 5, 1527, as he was manacled and led on foot from the prison to the Limmat River, which passes through the centre of the city, Manz praised God and proclaimed his beliefs to the onlookers. A Reformed minister accompanied him, trying to silence him and persuade him to recant. All the while his mother and brother encouraged him to stand firm and to suffer for Jesus’ sake.
Taken by boat into the middle of the river, his executioners bound his hands, pulled them over his knees and placed a pole between them, then threw him overboard. Manz called out to God, “Into Your hands I commend my spirit!” , echoing Jesus’ words from the cross.
Thus Manz became the first Anabaptist to die for his faith. He was only twenty-eight years old at the fime. Many more martyrs followed. As the saying goes, “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.”
I am Margaret Ediger, member of the First Mennonite Church in Kelowna, B.C.