Sixteenth-century Anabaptists were ardently disliked and despised. This fact is nowhere more aptly illustrated than in the nasty nicknames given them. Indeed the name Anabaptist itself, which means “rebaptizer,” was probably designed to these people under the penalties of Roman civil law—which, in a series of imperial edicts from approximately 390 to 420 A.D., decreed death to those who rebaptized or were rebaptized. The Reformers had destroyed or disregarded canon law and judicial procedures, which had been developed over many centuries by the Roman Church. In order to draw up laws more suitable to their view of Scripture and the church, Reformers chose edicts and patterns of jurisprudence ready at hand in the Justinian Code, compiled under Roman Emperor Justinian’s orders in the 530s. On the basis of those edicts, therefore, the Reformers and princes decreed the death penalty for rebaptizers, thereby giving the name Anabaptist itself an unfavorable reputation. Indeed, second generation German Marxist Karl Kautsky has concluded that “Anabaptist” in the sixteenth century bore the emotional stigma of the term “Bolshevist” in the early twentieth-century West.

There were other naughty nicknames: (1) Fanatics (Schwarmer) or people with bees in their bonnets, who followed no rational order of social behavior but upset every social convention by stubbornly insisting on a radical separatist religious existence, as if they alone understood divine matters or even God himself; (2) Corner-preachers (Winkelprediger), who conducted their illegal religious enterprises in secret hideaways and spurned the light of open, forthrightly-public pronouncements of their views. The fact of early edicts banning their private religious gatherings ...

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