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Brethren in Christ

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Kreuzenstein, its grim towers and battlements overlooking the Danube a few miles from Vienna, is the very epitome of an old castle. Deep in the dungeons Balthasar Hubmaier and his wife Elizabeth spent most of the last few months of mortal life. They were there when Hut's ludicrous 'trial' -- referred to earlier - was held.

Hans Hut and Balthasar Hubmaier were very different personalities. In Mikulov they had not always seen eye to eye, especially on the question of relationships with the state -- to what extent protection could be sought from the temporal authorities. But they were brethren; they had campaigned together and published their tracts on the same secret presses. Hans Hut's passing must have affected Hubmaier and his wife very deeply, knowing that their turn would be very soon. There was little else to cling to but the glorious hope of the Kingdom, as Hubmaier expressed it in his characteristically glowing style:

"Truly, though my temporal honour, my goods, my body and life be taken from me, I shall receive the true armour from God, an indestructible estate, an immortal, glorified body that cannot suffer pain. I shall receive eternal life when God's liberating, joyful Kingdom shall come and my body shall rise again. O my God, after this distressful life, You will give to your faithful and chosen ones life everlasting. All our wishes will be satisfied in Your eternal peace, eternal joy, eternal blessedness. What bliss, what felicity that will be no man can express or conceive! [128]

The two men chiefly responsible for putting the Hubmaiers in Kreuzenstein were Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and his personal chaplain and confessor, Archbishop Johannes Fabri of Vienna.

Fabri is largely forgotten in fast-living Vienna today. Not even the guides who shepherd tourists around St. Stephen's Cathedral where Fabri is buried know his monument, far less what he did to lovers of God's Word. But his tomb is there for any to see, in a dark, dusty alcove of this vast church. The stone face of a persecutor stares from the tomb slab (Plate 8) and below is an epitaph: "Johannes Fabri . . . chaplain and confessor to Ferdinand, divine emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and king of Bohemia; most severe persecutor of the heretics; proclaimer of the gospel. Note "the divine Ferdinand". The Emperors maintained the blasphemous claim of their pagan Roman antecedents to be gods.


Four Roman Catholic persecutors

PLATE 8: Four Roman Catholic persecutors: Pope Gregory; Archbishop Fabri of Vienna; Cardinal Hosius of Poland; Cardinal Pazmany of Hungary. All sought to eliminate those who followed Bible teaching or even owned Bibles.


Despite attempts by the Catholic church and its Protestant daughters to obliterate all memory of the Brethren in Christ and burn the evidence, many documents have in fact survived, although conveniently forgotten for centuries by biased ecclesiastical historians. Even today Austrians, faithful Catholics for the most part, are acutely sensitive to this part of their past and have as keen a predisposition to gloss it over as Germans have with their Nazi record.

But the evidence is there. In the vast archives of the National Library in Vienna (Plate 4) are hundreds of documents, perhaps ten million words in all, which tell eloquently of faithful witness by those of whom the world was not worthy. In discussing those faithful who witnessed in sackcloth, those who through the ages of papal darkness had endeavoured to "keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus" (Revelation 12:17), John Thomas mentions that it was in the "Austrian states" in particular that "the witnesses were overcome and put to death". He also contrasts the true witnesses and their persecutors. Of the faithful remnant he says: "these are neither fanatics, nor furious and desperate rebels; neither are they hardened against the feelings of humanity, nor do they seek to avenge themselves". Then he describes the agents of the harlot woman: "the furious and desperate fanatics, steeled against the divine law, and the feelings of humanity, are the serpents, the generation of vipers, in place or power, 'the spirituals of the wickedness in the heavenlies', who counsel and execute the sanguinary ferocity of the Dragon and the Beast". 264

The interpretation of the Apocalypse followed by John Thomas in Eureka, sometimes known as the "continuous historic" approach, is based upon that of the 16th century Brethren in Christ. Its main outlines and much of the detail were fuplate9lly laid down in their writings at that time. Typical is the work illustrated in Plate 9. Some of the subsequent development of their theory of interpretation is briefly outlined by John Carter in The Faith in the Last Days (Birmingham 1949, p.35-41) although he omits its earliest and most important exponents as they were unknown to him.

Most such works had to be anonymous, printed secretly and distributed very circumspectly if all involved were to survive. It is not at all difficult to understand how the Brethren, studying the Apocalypse intently, came to identify the "divine" Ferdinand on his imperial throne in Vienna as "the dragon", the Pope as Antichrist and


PLATE 9: Booklet above and opposite (undated, but mid-16th century) entitled "Exposure of the harlot of Babylon and of the Antichrist of the Old and New Mystery and Abomination. Also about the Victory, Peace and Reign of the true Christians, how they are to be obedient to magistrates, carrying the cross with Christ in patience and love, without rebellion and resistance, brought to the light of day for God's praise and to the service, strength and furtherance of all who seek God's truth." 7


the apostate whore riding the imperial beast, and themselves as the witnesses, persecuted and slain for faithful testimony to the Truth. Much later, John Thomas realized that there had been a witness which had been cruelly extinguished, although most of the facts and personages involved were unknown to him, and he concurred in applying Revelation 11:7 to this persecution. Not surprisingly therefore, he viewed further efforts to propagate Bible Truth in the early 19th century, with which he himself was subsequently associated, as a fulfilment of Revelation 11:11.


Any 16th or 17th century publication by the Brethren was banned. The papal authorities drew up lists of banned books, in particular the Indicis Librorum Expurgandorum, and these provide clues to works which are unknown now because they were systematically destroyed. But someone had to read the publications in the first place to see how heretical they were. So here and there, for example in the great monastery libraries like that at Melk, built as bastions of Catholicism against the real or imagined threat posed by simple Bible believers, individual copies of some works have survived (Plate 5).

In addition, we have the testimony, biased as it is, of the enemies of the Brethren. Persecutor Fabri himself has left us several very readable booklets written to oppose their teachings. One of these was in fact composed to bully the imprisoned Hubmaier into recantation. It is remarkably modern in style and typography, considering its early date (Plate 10). It presents the usual familiar argument of the Roman Catholics that there is only one church, the one founded by Peter and maintained by his successors, and all who leave it are incorrigible heretics. Therefore it is that church's duty to save their immortal souls from damnation, any means to that end being legitimate, including burning of the body to ashes. A very fine line is drawn between religious heresy and political treason. Indeed, a charge of sedition was just as likely to be laid against any of the Brethren as one of heresy; in the 16th century the penalty was likely to be the same either way.


On a hilltop a little way south of Mikulov, but on the Austrian side of the border and visible for miles around, are the hulking ruins of Falkenstein castle, once one of the bastions of Europe. Though there is no indication there today, these crumbling ruins have a story to tell. On December 6th, 1539, more than hundred and fifty Brethren were imprisoned here. Let one of their number recount what happened (see THE PRISONERS OF FALKENSTEIN).



PLATE 10: Bullying 'appeal' by arch-persecutor Johannes Fabri of Vienna to Balthasar plate10Hubmaier imprisoned in Kreuzenstein 1528.