Felix Manz – Execution in Icy Waters
A student of Zwingli and a good friend of Grebel, Felix Manz (1498 – 1527) was the cofounder of the first congregation of Anabaptist Swiss Brethren. The son of a Catholic cleric, Manz, like Grebel, had a well-rounded sixteenth-century humanist liberal arts education that included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Like Grebel, he was imprisoned for preaching his new-found faith and for challenging the Zurich city council on the matter of believers’ baptism.
In March of 1526, only months before Grebel’s death of the plague, the Zurich city council had enacted a law making believers’ baptism (rebaptism) a capital offence punishable by drowning. Manz would become the first Anabaptist martyred for this offence. Insisting that he was not seeking to prevent Reformers from baptizing infants, he argued that his only motive was “to bring together those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps, to unite with these by baptism, and to leave the rest in their present conviction.” But Zwingli and the city council were determined to make Manz’s death a deterrent. Just two days before his drowning, Zwingli wrote to a fellow Reformer: “The Anabaptist, who should already have been sent to the devil, disturbs the peace of the pious people. But I believe, the axe will settle it.”
But Manz would not be axed to death. Rather, officials execute him by his own baptismal prescription—immersion of an adult believer. His death is ridiculed as the third baptism: infant, believers, and drowning—”He who dips shall be dipped!” The story is chilling. Bullinger describes the scene: On a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in January of 1527, “Manz was taken out of the Wellenberg prison and led to the fish market there by the Limmat [River]. There his death sentence was read. He was taken to the butcher shop, and then forced into a boat, in which the executioner and a pastor were standing.” A crowd of onlookers, including his mother and brother, had accompanied him. Offered an opportunity to recant, he publicly proclaims his faith, encouraged by his family and other supporters. He is then rowed some distance from shore, where he is pushed into the icy water, declaring his faith in Christ until the water engulfs him. Among the writings that he leaves behind is a hymn, the first lines offering his own testimony:
With gladness will I now sing;
My heart delights in God,
Who showed me such forbearance
That I from death was saved
Which never hath an end.
I praise Thee, Christ in heaven
Who all my sorrow changed.
In the weeks and months that follow, six more Anabaptists suffer a similar fate.