The death of a great man of God and his wife

On March 3, the condemned man was taken to Vienna and once again tortured on the rack; but this time no recantation was forthcoming. The weaknesses that had been his at Zürich, and to a lesser degree at Kreuzenstein, had been replaced by a hitherto unknown fortitude. When urged to confess to a priest and receive the last rites of the church before his execution, he refused. Seven days after returning to Vienna and tribulations known only to God, Dr. Balthasar Hubmaier was led forth to his death on March 10, 1528.

An eyewitness account of Hubmaier’s execution was given by Stephen Sprügel, dean of the philosophical faculty at the University of Vienna. Hubmaier, he said, was “fixed like an immovable rock in his heresy.” With his wife exhorting him to fortitude, he was taken to the place of execution. When the company reached the pile of fagots, he cried in the Swiss dialect:

“O gracious God, forgive my sins in my great torment…”

To the people he said, “O dear brothers, if I have injured any, in word or deed, may he forgive me for the sake of my merciful God. I forgive all those that have done me harm.”

While his clothes were being removed: “From thee also, O Lord, were the clothes stripped. My clothes will I gladly leave here, only preserve my spirit and my soul, I beseech thee!” Then he added in Latin: “O Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” and spoke no more in Latin.

As they rubbed sulphur and gunpowder into his beard, which he wore rather long, he said, “Oh salt me well, salt me well.” And raising his head, he called out: “O dear brothers, pray God that he will give me patience in this my suffering.”

As his beard and hair caught fire, he cried out, “O Jesus, Jesus.” Suffocating from the smoke, he died. Three days later the execution of his wife by drowning in the Danube followed.

Having put the leading Anabaptist preacher to death, the Catholic authorities now had to reckon with the truth for which he died. His works were burned whenever discovered by the authorities. However, almost a hundred years later they were still in circulation. In 1619 they were felt to be such a threat that they were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum) drawn up for the Spanish Inquisition. Hubmaier is mentioned four times in this seventeenth-century document. “His name stands forth among the hereticorum capita aut duces, preceded only by those of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. Schwenckfeld is the only other heretic named.”

Estep, W. R. (1996). The Anabaptist story: an introduction to sixteenth-century Anabaptism (3rd ed., rev. and enl., pp. 103–104). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

About the author

Austin Gardner is pastor of Vision Baptist Church in Alpharetta, GA. Previously he was church planting missionary in Peru for 20 years.

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