Hans Hut died in prison on December 6, 1527. He is known as the apostle of the Anabaptists in Upper Austria and in just a few years he had done more to build the Anabaptist movement than all of his peers combined.
The date of Hut’s birth is uncertain. A native of Thuringia (southern Germany), Hans was a bookbinder by trade, owning property in the village of Bibra. From 1513 he was a sexton in the service of two knights in Bibra. He then travelled extensively, selling books. In that process he also distributed literature promoting the new Lutheran faith. Hut’s travels took him as far as Austria and frequently to Wittenberg.
Reformation Europe had two strands of evangelicalism, Lutheran and Reformed. Hut was a major player in the establishment of a third strand, the Anabaptists, of which it was said, “The highest and chief leader of the Anabaptists is Johannes Hut”.
Hut’s involvement with the Anabaptist movement started in 1524, when he argued with two other craftsmen who objected to infant baptism, which was practiced by both the Lutheran and Calvinist churches. Hut sought clarification on his next trip to Wittenberg but was unsatisfied with the explanations given.
His own study of the Bible confirmed that Christ and the disciples never baptised children, only believers. He was also troubled that the theologians in Wittenberg did not manage to prompt reformation in the lives of their adherents.
On his return to Bibra, Hut refused to have his infant child baptised. The lords of the village demanded that he baptise the child or leave the village. He chose to leave, taking with him his wife and five children. Shortly after he met Hans Denck and Wolfgang Vogel, and he later baptised Vogel and two others after preaching in Vogel’s village.
In 1525 he was impressed by the preaching of Thomas Müntzer, in favour of the peasants’ uprising, which was at that time engaged in what is called the Peasants’ War. Hut even marched toward the battle with the peasant army, but fled when the fighting became fierce. He escaped any recourse from his association at that time, while others were executed for taking part.
Hut was baptised at the hands of Hans Denck on 26 May 1526.
At the time of the defeat of the peasants the Turks were continuing their advance through Europe. There was an apocalyptic sense about the hour and Hut came to believe that the end of all things was at hand. He eagerly preached the need for baptism and the imminent return of Christ. He also spoke out against those who held power and used it to oppose the true gospel. Anabaptists also emphasized the separation of Church and State, which the other protestant movements had not done.
As a result, “No group of early Protestants suffered greater persecution than the Anabaptists … Throughout Europe they were strangled, beheaded, or burned alive, by Lutherans(!), Calvinists(!), and Catholics alike” (The Progress of the Protestants”, by J. Haverstick, page 50).
It is said of Hans Hut, “Perhaps no-one among them was more successful in preaching and baptizing than Hans Hut” (The Anabaptist Story, by W. Estep, page 80).
Another writer tells us that he was responsible for more converts than all the other Anabaptist leaders combined (Christian History magazine, Volume IV, No 1, page 14).
It is only fair to say that his theology was somewhat offbeat. Convinced that the Second Coming was about to take place in two years’ time (in 1528), “he embarked on a feverish missionary journey to recruit 144,000 saints needed for the millennial kingdom”.
Hut’s daughter was among the many Anabaptist martyrs. She was drowned in Bamberg on 25 January 1527, a martyr to her faith.
Hut’s first arrest and trial (16 September 1527) followed his visit to Augsburg, where he participated in the “Martyrs’ Synod” of 1527.
He was imprisoned and tortured for four months, including the rack. The inquisitors were determined to exact a complete confession of his doctrine and the scope of his activities. They learned that he had indeed taken his message to a vast area. On the eve of his sentencing he “died of asphyxiation from a fire of unknown origin”. His son attests that he was dumped in his cell, virtually dead, from the rack. A candle left near his body ignited the straw and causes suffocating smoke.
His accusers could only pronounce their sentence on his corpse. The officials took the dead body to court on a chair, tied the chair to the executioner’s cart, sentenced it to die, and burned it at the stake on 7 December.
Ironically, some of his hymns found their way into Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinistic) hymnals (Estep, page 81).
And after his death the Anabaptist movement continued to prosper, with less emphasis on extreme millennial views. The Hutterites trace their origin to Hans Hut.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com