The rulers who’d joined the pro-papacy Swabian League were eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the Roman church. Since the Reformation had grown so large, they could not destroy it. But they could discourage its growth by striking fear into all their subjects. They singled out individuals and poured out their hatred in the most vicious forms of violence.
Gaspard Tauber of Vienna was arrested and thrown into prison for distributing Luther’s writings and for himself writing against praying to saints, purgatory, and transubstantiation – the teaching that at the priest’s words, the communion wafer is transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ.
He was brought out of prison to make his recantation, but when he said that he was not convinced of his error, he was attacked, beheaded and burned.
A Bookseller in Hungary
In Hungary, a bookseller who was selling Luther’s New Testament in German, was arrested. His books were piled around him and set on fire. He died in the flames declaring it a joy to suffer for Christ.
Priests who preached the Gospel were chased from their churches. Town officials who accepted the evangelical faith were banished from Swabian League territories. Nobles were driven from their castles. Spies were everywhere. No one could be trusted.
Spies and Danger Everywhere
Bernard Fichtel[i] a magistrate, or law court officer, was sent by the duke to Nuremberg on a business errand. Along the way, he met an acquaintance, Francis Burkhardt, a professor at Ingolstadt who was a friend of Dr. Eck’s. The two traveling companions had supper together and Professor Burkhardt started to talk about religion. Fichtel reminded him that it was now against the law to discuss religious matters. The professor assured his companion that it was quite safe.
“I don’t think this law can ever be enforced,” said the lawyer, Fichtel and added that he thought it was horrible to punish people with death simply because they had different religious beliefs.
“What could be more just than to cut off the heads of all these Lutheran rascals!” Professor Burkhardt argued and straightaway, he went and reported Fichtel to the authorities.
Fichtel was arrested and thrown in prison. But since he was not a deeply religious man, he rejected the evangelical teachings when he was interrogated. He had no interest in dying as a martyr for the cause of Christ.
Henry von Zutphen
Others, like Henry von Zutphen[ii], would not give up the Word of God even when threatened with death. Von Zutphen, born in the Netherlands in 1488, studied at the University of Wittenberg and was a friend of Luther’s. He returned to the Netherlands and was appointed director of an Augustinian monastery when he was only 28 years old. He was there for only four years before being driven out because of his Gospel preaching. He spent most of his short career as Gospel preacher moving from place to place.
He was arrested by the Inquisition in the Netherlands, but the people protested and he was released. He was probably on his way back to Wittenberg when a priest in Bremen implored him to preach the Gospel there. He won many converts to the reformed teachings and went on to Denmark. He faced great opposition from the director of a monastery there, who stirred up the people. On the night of December 10, the signal was given – the ringing of the Ave Maria bell – and 500 drunken peasants dragged Henry from his bed. With great Christian patience, this true disciple of Christ suffered horrible abuse from the maddened mob. He was brutally murdered and burned.
Upon the news of Henry’s death, Melanchthon composed a hymn and Luther wrote a letter of sympathy to the Christians of Bremen. Luther said, “The wild beasts rage, but the blood which they shed will soon stifle their fury.” [iii]
Wonder of wonders that in the name of a Christian church such atrocities should be committed! A beastly power alone, and not the church of Christ, could inspire such demonic fury. Jesus had prophecied of this fearful time: ”They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2).
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 564.
[ii] John McClintock, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. 6, 443. https://books.google.ca/books?id=1uVOrP2tgG0C&pg=PA443&lpg=PA443&dq=henry+von+zutphen+martyr&source=bl&ots=AKjRRadUHl&sig=8RlvJWsZBzdjyyVMFLhrRUJcUhU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj8q73EipvUAhUp9YMKHWGyARoQ6AEINTAE#v=onepage&q=henry%20von%20zutphen%20&f=false
[iii] John Fry, A Short History of the Church of Christ: from the Close of the Sacred Narrative to Our Own Times, 301; https://books.google.ca/books?id=3_EtAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA350&lpg=PA350&dq=henry+van+zutphen+martyr&source=bl&ots=bGwavkwf92&sig=7uCyxLZjgPnJg9c4j1XDa6BkbXY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjagbLbiJvUAhWK8YMKHVxuAbY4ChDoAQgzMAM#v=onepage&q=henry%20%20zutphen&f=false