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February 1, 2011

Pedro de Soza

451 years ago today, Pedro de Soza was secretly murdered by the inquisition in Antwerp.

The official method of execution for “heresy” of being a male Anabaptist was being burt to death.  However, the people of Antwerp didn’t like it when the foreign government killed innocent people. Many protestants, free thinkers and tolerant Catholics could revolt at the sight.  

This solidarity didn’t make heretics more safe.  Yes, burning by fire brought out a big light, and attracted attention.  So, the accused were often drowned in secret.

Some so-called Anabaptists were probably really Calvinists, but Calvinists were meant to be protected by treaty.  Anabaptists were considered a dangerous cult of communists and polygamists, although there is no evidence that Pedro or any of the other Anabaptists in Antwerp were engaged in either activity.

Pedro first heard about the Anabaptists in Spain.  There, he met a few Dutch workers who told him about the new religion.  So, Pedro went to Antwerp to practice it freely.

As Spain was the colonial power, some thought Pedro was a spy.  The local Anabaptists were very reluctant to accept Pedro as one of their own.  Eventually though, Pedro showed his sincerity.  Pedro was accepted, and he was baptised as an adult.  And this re-baptism was the heresy that Pedro and others like him were killed for.

A year after Pedro was drowned, the Anabaptist leader was tortured.  He was offered a full pardon if he gave up names of other Anabaptists. but Joos Verbeck refused to give up any of his fellow religionists.  He proved, among other things, that the pain of torture is not as strong as the power of sincere faith and true friendship.  And Joos was burnt at the stake.

But his story doesn’t end there.  When they tied Joos up for the first public execution since the treaty of Cateau Cambrésis, he didn’t go down screaming with terror.  Joos refused to “recant” of his so-called heresy.  Instead, he sang hymns and recited scripture.  His performance was so moving that the executioner trembled and almost failed to kill him.  But, you got 30 stivers for executing a heretic in those days, and the only reason anyone would be an executioner was because they needed the money.  So, like Pedro before, his leader was killed.

In 1991, I first came to Brussels.  There, I attended the International Baptist Church.  Like the Anabaptists before them, the International Baptists also believed in baptism of adults at the age of 18 and did not believe in the baptism of infants.  I half-considered myself a member of their group, but as a teenager, I could not be baptised.  When I became 18 I didn’t go through with the ritual. And so, even if the Inquisition were in place, they probably wouldn’t have drowned me (although they may have tortured me to find out who the other International Baptists were.)

Well, the International Baptists weren’t communists or polygamists, at least not the ones I met.   They seemed strongly against both things, even against churches that hadn’t practiced either for 100 years. 

The punishment for being baptised one too many times was being pushed under water yet again.  And the punishment for those who condemned the “heretics” on paper is that they are condemned by history.