Why were the teachings of the Anabaptists threatening to both Protestant groups and the Catholic Church after the Reformation?

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Anabaptists' teachings—especially pacifism and the separation of Church and State—threatened the power of both Protestant and Catholic European rulers, who generally believed that religion gave them the right to rule.

The Anabaptists formed one of the first Protestant groups (people who broke away from the Catholic Church) after the Protestant...

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Anabaptists' teachings—especially pacifism and the separation of Church and State—threatened the power of both Protestant and Catholic European rulers, who generally believed that religion gave them the right to rule.

The Anabaptists formed one of the first Protestant groups (people who broke away from the Catholic Church) after the Protestant Reformation. 

Like most Protestant groups, Anabaptists believed that people should rely on their own reading of the Bible for religious understanding. This is in contrast to the Catholic Church at the time. At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Church affirmed:

...that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,--in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, --wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,--whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,--hath held and doth hold...

(See this source.)

In other words, while Anabaptists and other Protestants believed that each Christian should read the Bible and interpret it for himself, Catholics believed that only the Catholic Church should be allowed to interpret the teachings of the Bible.

However, Anabaptists were even more threatening to Catholic teachings than other Protestant groups. Even other Protestants found them to be too radical. Why?

Anabaptists believed in the separation of Church and State (government), and they were pacifists, meaning they did not fight in wars. To a ruler of any faith this was a threat.

In the late 1500s in Europe, nearly all rulers—Catholic and Protestant—believed that religious laws should also be the law of the land. Furthermore, most Catholic and many Protestant groups (such as the Calvinists and Anglicans), believed in Divine Right—the idea that God has chosen certain people to rule. The Anabaptist idea that Church and State should be separate threatened this claim to power.

Additionally, a ruler would have trouble defending his nation if his citizens were pacifists, like the Anabaptists. During the 16th century, it was common for ordinary people to have to fight to defend their nation. There were not necessarily large, professional armies like there are today.

Today’s Mennonites and Amish trace their roots to the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists also influenced the Quaker and Baptist religions. Anabaptists get their name from a Greek word meaning “baptize again,” because they believed in adult baptism (instead of baptizing babies as soon as they are born).

For more information about the Reformation, check out these eNotes Critical Essays: The Literature of the Protestant Reformation and The Literature of the Counter-Reformation. 

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