Thursday, January 5, 2012

Baptism Lessons

Five hundred and eighty-five years ago today, at 3 in the afternoon on January 5th 1527, a 29-year-old Felix Manz was baptized to death, and not by accident. His last words were apparently "Into thy hands, O God, I commend my spirit."; which history would suggest was a popular last phrase for dying Protestants, especially Anabaptists, of which Felix was a founding member.

"Into thy hands, O God, I commend my spirit."

On march 7th of the previous year Zurich Protestants made adult baptism punishable by drowning. History suggests that they were purposefully ironic in their choice of punishment.

The Swiss executioners could, conceivably, have thrown Felix from a bridge. Zurich’s “vegetable bridge” had spanned the Limmat since the first century, but they chose to use a boat instead.

The crowd yelled encouragement to Felix as they rowed him out into the icy river:

Stand firm and suffer for Jesus' sake”.

Felix was accompanied in the boat by a clergyman who attempted to elicit a purportedly life-saving confession from him. Felix would have none of it, and continued to “preach” to the crowd assembled on the shore.

In the crowd were his mother and brother. Felix’s mother had intimate knowledge of the workings of Zurich’s churches as a canon in one of Zurich’s three main Protestant churches had impregnated her with the bastard child who grew to become the doomed man in the boat. The very church where her impregnator worshiped, and potential site of her impregnation, overlooked the river her son was soon to drown in.

The Grossm√ľnster or "great minster" is the heir to a commission for a church issued by Charlemagne himself, and a statue of the emperor with sword in hand adorns the church’s southern tower. The Grossm√ľnster, however, was not opened for 400 years after the emperor died so the link is a tiny bit more fragile than the statue commemorating it.

Both Felix’s mother and brother also shouted encouragement at him while he was taken out into the river to die. What does a mother shout at her doomed son in the hopes of convincing him to die for the sake of baptizing adults?

Go son, Show them how it’s done!!

Felix’s hands were bound and pulled behind his knees and a pole was placed between them.

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