Erasmus of Rotterdam's influence upon Anabaptism: The case of Balthasar Hubmaier

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Reformation historians have long debated the question of Erasmus' influence upon Anabaptism. Research, however, has paid insufficient attention to Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1 528)' the earliest Anabaptist theologian, and no one has attempted a substantial analysis of Erasmus' influence on him with attention to the problem of influence. Hubmaier's formal theological training and popularity as a preacher made contact possible with humanists and Erasmus. Evidence from his Waldshut pastorate indicates a rejection of scholasticism in favour of humanism and special esteem for Erasmus. He met Erasmus in Basel in 1522 at a decisive point of his religious conversion and referred to him in his later writings, indicating knowledge of his major works. Hubmaier was clearly in a position to be influenced by Erasmus. Erasmus' Paraphrase on Matthew (1 522) attracted contemporary criticism and modern speculation for its supposed Anabaptist tendencies. In an attempt to determine Erasmian influence, this study compares Erasmus' and Hubmaier's interpretations of important passages in Matthew and places them within the context of key patristic, medieval, and sixteenth-century commentators. Erasmus' exegesis of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) stresses prebaptismal instruction in ways uncommon in the exegetical tradition and Hubmaier employed the same interpretation to oppose infant baptism. Unlike most commentators, Erasmus interpreted the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43) as promoting the toleration of heretics and the same argument formed the basis of Hubmaier's On Heretics (1 524). Erasmus' interpretation of the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:15-20; 18:15-20) deemphasized the primacy of Peter, connected the keys with Christian initiation, and laicized the process of excommunication, but Hubmaier underscored other aspects of the passage. Comparative exegesis suggests Erasmus influenced Hubmaier's interpretation of the Great Commission and the parable of the tares, but not his view of the keys of the Kingdom. Erasmus was not an Anabaptist, nor was he responsible for Anabaptism, but the evidence highlights the potentially radical ramifications of his biblical exegesis and raises again the issue of reception as important to a full appreciation of his legacy. Recourse to Erasmus' exegesis could illumine other aspects of Hubmaier's thought and help explain elements of Anabaptism.

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Department of History - Simon Fraser University
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Thesis (Ph.D.)