Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 31

Nearly 470 years ago today, an Anabaptist minister named Offrus Greizinger was martyred after refusing to cast aside his faith, which both Catholics and most Protestants alike regarded as heretical. Anabaptists -- forbears of the Hutterite, Amish and Mennonite communities among others -- rejected infant baptism and practiced “non-resistance,” as evidenced by the hundreds of believers who were tortured and killed by various authorities over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Greizinger’s tale was among those collected by the Dutch Anabaptist Tieleman Jansz van Braght, who published The Bloody Theater or Martry’s Mirror in 1660. A minister in the Earldom of Tyrol, Greizinger ran afoul of the local Catholic authorities who -- by posing as seekers of the faith -- managed to capture and transport him to the Italian city of Brixen. There, he was “sorely tried in manifold ways, and much threatened with the torture” if he would not squeal on those who shared his beliefs and had aided him while he was a fugitive from the Church.

Greizinger’s response was not heartening:
[H]e said to them, “I have resolved to endure all pain and suffering which man can endure, even unto death, through the power of God, before I shall tell you this, and become a traitor. I well knew beforehand that this would be my fate. You have me in your power, do whatever God will permit you to do; if you want to tyrannize over me, you may do so; God will find you. I have nothing to say or to show.” They then assailed him with threats, and urged him that if he had the truth, they would admonish him in the name of the truth, to show and speak the truth. Then Brother Offrus said, “I know you and your truth; you have heard what I said.”

They also asked him whether it was not true that if our numbers should increase, we would rise up against and kill them, if they would not come over to our side? He told them that if we should do this, we would not be Christians, but only such in name; adding, “If you were true Christians you would not torture or kill any one.” Hence they bound him, and drew him up, but speedily let him down from the torture, and threatened him, asking why he would have his members thus torn asunder. He replied, "I am in your hands; do with me, whatever God will permit you to do; you can take from me no more than my life." They then despaired of accomplishing anything with him.
After eight days, his interrogators returned and tortured him again, to no apparent avail. Disappointed, they left him alone for another week. After a third round of “suffering and tribulation,” Greizinger was tossed into a fire and “burned to ashes” on Halloween 1538. More than a century later, Van Braight reported that while Greizinger “wrestled hard with death, yet when he went forth unto death, he was glad and joyful in his heart.”

It is doubtful that the same could be said of Harry Houdini, who died of gangrene and peritonitis -- brought on by a ruptured appendix -- on this date in 1926.

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