Featley: The Sweet Dipper (Part 4)

As noted previously, Featley’s volume, Καταβαπτιστοι καταπυστοι, which he politely translated as Dippers Dipt, was subtitled, The Anabaptists Duck’d and Plung’d over Head and Ears, at a Disputation at Southwark.1 This record of the event went through two editions in 1645 and I am working from the fifth edition published in London in 1647 and held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. According to the publisher, to this edition was added (1) “several speeches delivered before this Assembly of Divines” and (2) “The famous History of the Frantick anabaptists. Their wild Preachings and Practices in Germany. Together with an Application to this Kingdom; especially to London.”2

In the First London Confession (1644), the Particular Baptists had replied implicitly to the allegation that they were really just Anabaptists when they wrote, “As likewise for the taking off those aspersions which are frequently both in Pulpit and Print (although unjustly cast upon them).” In the 1646 revision, what was implied was made explicit:

A Confession of Faith of the seven Congregations or Churches of Christ in London, which are commonly (though unjustly) called Anabaptists, published for the Vindication of the Truth, and Information of the Ignorant; likewise for the taking off of those Aspersions which are frequently, both in Pulpit and Print, unjustly cast upon them.3

So, it is notable that either Featley or his publisher decided to double down on that identification of the Baptists with the Anabaptists by seeking to tie them to the calamitous events in Münster a century earlier (1534–35). The intent of the present series, however, is not to repeat Featley’s allegation that the Baptists were, in every way, Anabaptists. They were not. There were important ways in which the Baptists were not Anabaptists. For example, First London Confession article 9, and more clearly, Second London Confession (1677) chapter 8, clearly align the Particular Baptists with the ecumenical orthodoxy over against the heretical Melchiorite “celestial flesh” Christology. The Particular Baptists clearly affirmed the Reformation doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and the formal principle of the Reformation, sola Scriptura, even if they understood it differently and drew inferences from it that the magisterial Protestants had not. They also rejected the Anabaptist view of oaths, pacifism, government service, etc.4 It is also true that most of those who aligned with the emerging Particular Baptist movement did not come from the Anabaptist congregations. They came principally from Congregational churches.

Nevertheless, the Baptist movement did not drop out of the sky de novo and immaculate. English Congregationalists, specifically Brownists, placed in jeopardy by the Religion Act of 1592 and the Conventicle Act of 1593 (one or more of which were renewed in the 1603 Millenary Petition) fled to the Netherlands.5 William Henry Brackney writes that they may have been influenced by Dutch Mennonites.6 Robert G. Torbet wrote of the “Anabaptist Heritage” of the Baptist movement.7 “It is safe to say that the latter [Baptists] are the spiritual descendants of some of the former [Anabaptists].”8 James Edward McGoldrick points to Brownists (Congregationalists with a highly realized eschatology) who already in 1581, seeing the handwriting on the wall, had fled to the Netherlands and found connections to the Anabaptists there.9 John Smyth (c. 1565–1612), often credited as the father of the English General Baptists,10 came to agree with the Dutch Anabaptists, and like them re-baptized himself and others among the exiled English Congregationalists.11 McGoldrick writes, “Mennonite influence could have been decisive in this regard, or he might have formed his opinion simply through personal study of the New Testament. It is evident that Smyth’s adoption of believer’s baptism was followed by a growing interest in the Mennonites.”12 By 1608, Smyth had embraced the Mennonite view and rejected the Reformation doctrine of justification.13 The General Baptists did not all remain in the Netherlands. Some of them returned to England in 1611 and formed the first English (General) Baptist congregation.14 The first Particular Baptist congregation emerged from a separatist congregation formed by Henry Jacob (1563–1624), who himself had been in Leiden in 1610. Jacob left England for the New World in 1622.15 In 1633, a segment of that congregation formed the first Particular Baptist congregation under John Spilsbury (1593–1668).16 Sometime around 1649, the congregation sought out connections with the Dutch “Remonstrant Restorationists,” sending a man to learn Baptist practice.17

In view of the modern (post-nineteenth century) Particular Baptist selfidentification as Reformed, it seems worthwhile to consider how Reformed contemporaries of the early Particular Baptist movement identified them.18 As an example, Timothy George observes that Presbyterian Robert Baillie, in A Dissuasive From the Errors of the Time (London, 1645), considered the Brownists to be descended from the Anabaptists.19 Further, in 1647, he published a second part of Dissuasive Errors as Anabaptism, the true fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antinomy, Familisme, and the most of the other errours, which for the time doe trouble the Church of England, unsealed.20 There, he referred to “the tenets which the most of them are likely to ac­knowledge, be these which seven of their best Churches did offer in print to the Parliament, as their common sense.” 21 This seems rather clearly to be an allusion to the churches who originally published the First London Confession of 1644.

Featley dedicated Καταβαπτισοι (hereafter, Dippers), from prison, to the “Honorable Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses now assembled in Parliament.”22 The Knights were those of the landed nobility. Citizen denotes “one possessing civic rights and privileges.”23 Burgess denotes

a person possessing the full municipal rights to which inhabitants or residents of a borough fulfilling certain criteria are entitled, or on whom such rights have been conferred, or a person possessing the freedom of a borough. Even when used in a more general sense the word usually suggests relatively high status or respectability.24

Featley begins by invoking Calvin’s preface in his Institutes to Francis I. In the marginal note, the Latin quotation is given: “Here is, as it were, a certain characteristic of the divine Word, that it never comes forth while Satan is at rest and sleeping.”25 Featley wrote that whenever the gospel appears, “as it were, above the water,” “Satan’s watchful eye is upon it.”26 He warned Parliament that they had to arm themselves, metaphorically, with justice “to cut off superstition and idolatry on the one side, and profaneness and sacrilege on the other.”27 Ever since the beginning of the Reformation, the “mortal enemy of our immortal souls sets on work all sorts of heretics and schismatics to hinder, disturb, and (if it were possible) destroy this excellent work.”28

He highlighted three regards that should cause Parliament to look into the “Anabaptists” and to see them “punished severely . . . if not utterly exterminated and banished out of the church and kingdom.”29 First, their affinity with “many other damnable heretics, both ancient and later,” for example, “the Millenarians” (i.e., Chiliasts or historic premillennialists), the Marcionites, the Cathars or Novatians, the Donatists, and the “rabble of heretics in the later ages, namely, the Apostolici, Adamites, the Enthusiasts, the Psychopannychists, the Polygamists, the Jesuits, the Arminians, and the Brownists.” The ancient heretics are well known, although the Novatianists (third century) were one thing and the Cathars (thirteenth century) another and separated by a millennium of history. The Marcionites radically separated the Old and New Testaments. The Donatists refused to allow those who had lapsed during the persecutions to be readmitted to the church. There were Adamites in the fourth and fifth centuries—nudists who sought to return to paradise. “In more recent times, small groups among the Waldenses, Dutch Anabaptists, and others, also calling themselves ‘Adamites’, have advocated similar doctrines and practices.”30 There were two groups known as “Apostolici” or “Apostolic Brethren,” one a restorationist group in the third century AD and the second, a thirteenth-century group influenced by Joachim of Fiore, which was condemned as heretical.31 “Enthusiasts” was a generic term encompassing a range of radical groups within the radical reformation, including mystics and others. The Psychopannychists taught soul sleep after death and attracted Calvin’s attention early (1534) in his ministry.32 Polygamists is self-explanatory, as are the Jesuits. We have already encountered the Brownists. So, we have already seen two Reformed writers, one Anglican and the other Presbyterian, who have associated the Particular Baptists with a series of radical groups.

For Featley, as for Baillie, the very stability of English society and the English state itself was at stake. After all, the Anabaptists hold conventicles (small groups separate from the established church) and they “preach, and print their heretical impieties openly.”33 They pollute the rivers with their baptisms.34 The printing presses “sweat and groan under the load of their blasphemies.”35 They not only publish Anabaptism but “other damnable doctrine.” He accused them of embracing Familism, a sect founded in the Netherlands c. 1540. They were subjectivists who believed in the “inner light” (as opposed to the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura). The group was banned by Elizabeth I in 1580 but they continued and even flourished under Cromwell, hence their repeated mention in this connection.36

Featley even accused the “Anabaptists” of bizarre conspiracies; but the thing that frightened him most was the notion that

it is the will and command of God that since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries; that civil states with their officers of justice are not governors or defenders of the spiritual and Christian state and worship; that the doctrine of persecution in case of conscience (maintained by Calvin, Beza, Cotton and the Ministers of the New English churches) is guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.37

To put a fine point on it: Featley might not have been a great supporter of the American experiment and the first amendment to the American Constitution. For Featley, what was at stake in the continued existence of the Anabaptists, whether in their original form or in their contemporary Baptist manifestation, was the continuation of Christendom, that ancient union of church and state dating to Theodosius I (AD 380).

Notes

  1. On the title, see part 1, note 1. Southwark is a borough of London. It is south of “the city” (the financial district—like Manhattan in New York), across the Thames.
  2. Daniel Feately, Dippers Dipt: Or, The Anabaptists Duck’d and Plung’d over Head and Ears, at a Disputation at Southwark (London: N. B. And Richard Royston, 1647).
  3. James M. Renihan, ed. True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family (RBAP: Owensboro, KY, 2004).
  4. James Edward McGoldrick, Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History. ATLA Monograph Series, no. 32 (Lanham, MD: American Theological Library Association and the Scarecrow Press, 1994), 128.
  5. William Henry Brackney, The Baptists (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), 3.
  6. Brackney, The Baptists, 3.
  7. Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists (Chicago: The Judson Press, 1950), 35–60.
  8. Torbet, A History of the Baptists, 54.
  9. McGoldrick, Baptist Successionism, 2, 125–26.
  10. Though Torbet disagrees in A History of the Baptists, 54.
  11. McGoldrick, Baptist Successionism, 127.
  12. McGoldrick, 127.
  13. McGoldrick, 128.
  14. McGoldrick, 129.
  15. McGoldrick, 130.
  16. McGoldrick, Baptist Successionism, 130; Brackney, The Baptists, 6.
  17. McGoldrick, Baptist Successionism, 132.
  18. For more on the relations between this discussion and the broader cultural theme of identity politics, see R. Scott Clark, “A House of Cards? A Response to Bingham, Gribben, and Caughey,” in Matthew C. Bingham et al, On Being Reformed: Debates Over A Theological Identity, Christianities in the Trans-Atlantic World, ed. Crawford Gribben and Scott Spurlock (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018), 70–72.
  19. Timothy George, John Robinson and the English Separatist Tradition, Dissertation Series, no. 1 (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1982), 3. Baillie argued that the Brownists are the theological children of the Anabaptists and that, when the Brownists became Anabaptists, they were returning to their roots. See Robert Baillie, Anabaptism, the true fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antinomy, Familisme, and the most of the other errours, which for the time doe trouble the Church of England, unsealed (London, 1647), 49.
  20. Robert Baillie, Anabaptism, the true fountaine of Independency, Brownisme, Antinomy, Familisme, and the most of the other errours, which for the time doe trouble the Church of England, unsealed (London, 1647).
  21. Robert Baillie, Anabaptism (London, 1647), 48.
  22. Page 1 of the unpaginated Epistle Dedicatory. He mentions his imprisonment in his dedication to John Downame, Featley, Epistle, Dippers, 7.
  23. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., “Citizen,”
  24. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., “Burgess.” The OED connects this to the German Burgher.
  25. “Est hic divini verbi quidam quasi genius, ut nunquam emergat, quieto ac dormiente Satana:
    John Calvin, Institutio Christianae Religionis, vol. 1 (Berolini: Gustavum Eichler, 1834), 19; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2 vol., ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 1.27–28 (§7 of the prefatory).
  26. Featley, Dippers, Epistle, 1. Italics original. Because, as C. S. Lewis argued in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), archaic spelling and punctuation tends to send the signal to modern readers that older writers were unintelligent, they have been modernized for this series.
  27. Featley, Dippers, Epistle, 1.
  28. Featley, Dippers, Epistle, 1–2. The entire preface is in italic typeface and those words that are emphasized are in Roman typeface. Because this, in addition to the archaic spelling, is likely to be distracting to the reader, the quotations appear in Roman typeface.
  29. Featley, Dippers, Epistle, 1.
  30. F. L. Cross and Elizabeth Livingstone, ed. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), s.v., “Adamites.”
  31. Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v., “Apostolic Brethren.” Accessed March 6, 2024. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Apostolic.
  32. John Calvin, Pyschopannychia in Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 3, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 419–89.
  33. Featley, Dippers, Epistle, 3.
  34. Featley, Epistle, 3.
  35. Featley, Epistle, 3.
  36. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, s.v., “Familists.”
  37. Featley, Dippers, Epistle, 3.

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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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