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The Radical Reformation was a 16th century response to what was believed to be both the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church and the expanding Magisterial Protestant movement led by Martin Luther and many others. Beginning in Switzerland, the Radical Reformation birthed many Anabaptist groups throughout Europe. Although the proportion of the European population rebelling against both Catholic and Protestant churches was tiny, the literature on the Radical Reformation is vast, partly as a result of the proliferation of the Radical Reformation teachings in the United States.[1]



Unlike the Roman Catholics and the more Magisterial Evangelical (Lutheran) and Reformed (Zwinglian and Calvinist) Protestant movements, the Radical Reformation generally abandoned the idea of the "Church visible" as distinct from the "Church invisible." Thus, the Church only consisted of the tiny community of believers, who accepted Jesus Christ and demonstrated this by adult baptism, called "believer's baptism".

While the reformers wanted to substitute their own learned elite for the learned elite of the Roman Catholic Church, the Anabaptists rejected church authority almost entirely. It was unavoidable that as the search for original and purely scriptural Christianity was carried further, some would claim that the tension between the church and the Roman Empire in the first centuries of Christianity was somehow normative, that the church is not to be allied with government, that a true church is always subject to be persecuted, and that the conversion of Constantine I was therefore the great apostasy that marked the end of pure Christianity.[2]

Early forms of Anabaptism

Some early forms of the Radical Reformation were millenarian, focusing on the imminent end of the world. This was particularly notable in the rule of John of Leiden over the city of Münster in 1535, which was ultimately crushed by the forces of the Catholic Bishop of Münster and the Lutheran Landgrave of Hesse. After the fall of Münster, several small groups continued to adhere to revolutionary Anabaptist beliefs.

The largest and most important of these groups, the Batenburgers, persisted in various forms into the 1570s. The early Anabaptists believed that the Reformation must purify not only theology but also the actual lives of Christians, especially in what had to do with political and social relationships.[3] Therefore, the church should not be supported by the state, neither by tithes and taxes, nor by the use of the sword; Christianity was a matter of individual conviction, which could not be forced on anyone, but rather required a personal decision for it.[4]

Later forms of Anabaptism

Later forms of Anabaptism were much smaller, and focused on the formation of small, separatist communities. Among the many varieties to develop were Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites. Typical among the new leaders of the later Anabaptist movement, and certainly the most influential of them, was Menno Simons (1496-1561), a Dutch Catholic priest who early in 1536 decided to join the Anabaptists.[5]

Menno Simons had no use for the violence advocated and practiced by the Münster movement, which seemed to him to pervert the very heart of Christianity.[6] Thus, Mennonite pacifism is not merely a peripheral characteristic of the movement, but rather belongs to the very essence of Menno's understanding of the gospel; this is one of the reasons that it has been a constant characteristic of all Mennonite bodies through the centuries.[7]

Other movements

In addition to the Anabaptists, other Radical Reformation movements have been identified. Notably, George Huntston Williams, the great categorizer of the Radical Reformation, considered early forms of Unitarianism (such as that of the Socinians, and exemplified by Michael Servetus), and other trends that disregarded the Nicene christology still accepted by most Christians, as part of the Radical Reformation. With Michael Servetus (1511–1553) and Faustus Socinus (1539–1604) anti-Trinitarianism came to the foreground.[8]


See also


  1. ^ Euan Cameron (1991). The European Reformation. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-873093-4.  
  2. ^ Justol L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought (Abingdon: Nashville, 1975)
  3. ^ Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 88.
  4. ^ Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 88.
  5. ^ Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 96.
  6. ^ Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 96.
  7. ^ Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 96.
  8. ^ Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 101.

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