Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Wife's Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather Was An Anabaptist Martyr

Herald Press 1157 pages
In the opening chapter of the 1390-page book, "The Earth Is The Lord's" (an extensive history of Pennsylvania Mennonites), historian John Ruth writes about the execution of Anabaptist pastor Hans Landis, 1553-1614.

His crime? Holding illegal church meetings in his home and providing pastoral care to members of the free church movement in and around Zurich, Switzerland.

We have just learned that Landis, one of thousands of sixteenth and seventeenth century free church advocates in Europe who died for their faith--in jurisdictions controlled by Reformed, Lutheran and Catholic state churches alike-- is an ancestor of my wife, ten generations removed.  

Here is part of the story of his death as recorded in the Martyrs Mirror, pp. 1103-05 (discretion advised for use with children):

Hans Landis was a tall, stately person, with a long black and gray beard, and a manful voice. 

When he, cheerful and of good courage, was led out by a rope to the Wolfsstadt (being the place made ready for his execution), the executioner, Mr. Paull Volmar dropped the rope, and lifting up both of his hands to heaven, spoke these words: 

'O that God, to whom I make my complaint, might have compassion: that you, Hans, have come into my hands in this manner; forgive me, for God's sake, that which I must do to you.

Hans Landis comforted the executioner, saying that he had already forgiven him: God would forgive him, too; he well knew that he had to execute the order of the authorities; he should not be afraid and see that there was no hindrance in his way. Thereupon he was beheaded.  

After his head had been struck off, the executioner asked: 'Lord bailiff of the Empire, have I executed this man rightly according to imperial law and sentence?'   

Otherwise it was customary to say: 'This poor fellow,' etc. As though he believed that he died saved and rich. 

The people were of the opinion, that the executioner by dropping the rope meant to indicate to Hans that he should run away,  it was also generally said: that if he had run away, no one would have followed him to stop him. 

Needless to say, we were profoundly moved by the faith and courage of this man. Had Hans Landis made the easier choice of giving up his convictions, he and his family might have lived a long and good life among his Reformed neighbors in Zurich, and his later descendants would not likely have emigrated to the New World--or at least not to escape religious persecution. 

And our own history would have been completely altered.
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