Grossmunster Church in Zurich where Grebel attended while studying the Bible with Zwingli.

Conrad Grebel

Movement Radical Reformation
Born 1498
Died 1526
Significance Swiss radical reformer often called the "father of the Anabaptists." His baptism of George Blaurock in the home of Felix Manz was the first adult baptism in Zurich. He died of the plague in 1526.
Critiques by Grebel Grebel Attacks Luther's Resistance to Reform
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Conrad Grebel: The Father of Anabaptists

Two facts contribute to Conrad Grebel being considered the "father of Anabaptists." When he baptized George Blaurock, a married former priest, on January 21, 1525, at the home of Felix Manz, it was the first adult baptism of the reformation. Additionally, Zwingli referred to Grebel as the ringleader of the Anabaptist group in Zurich. Although his actions began the movement in Zurich, his influence was limited. He wrote no major treatises, only a few letters, and died of the plague less that two years after Blaurock was baptized.

Grebel was born about 1498 to a prominent Swiss family. His father would serve on the city council of Zurich. Grebel attended the University of Basel in 1514 and studied under humanist scholar Heinrich Loriti. The following year he attended the University of Vienna. After spending three years in Vienna he left for the University in Paris. As a result of his carousing and brawling in Paris, Grebel's father demanded that he return to Zurich. Thus, after almost six years of college, Grebel would return home without a degree.

In 1521 he joined a study group with Zwingli. They studied the Greek classics, the Latin Bible and the Greek New Testament. Grebel was soon converted and was enthusiastic about Zwingli's plan to reform the city of Zurich. In fact, on July 7, 1522 the council summoned Grebel and three of his friends and forbade them from speaking out against the monks during their sermons. The first sign of conflict between Grebel and Zwingli is seen in the Second Disputation in Zurich in October of 1523. Grebel was concerned about various aspects of the Mass. Grebel and Zwingli had several exchanges but Zwingli was successful in delaying any changes in the Mass.

Grebel wrote two letters to Thomas Müntzer in 1524 and wrote to Vadian, his good friend and brother-in-law, of his intentions to write Luther and Karlstadt. In his two letters to Müntzer, he demonstrated a strong anti-clerical bias but urged Müntzer not to take up arms to "protect the Gospel." The first letter contained praise for Müntzer's position on baptism, but it also rebuked him for including German chants in his liturgy.

On January 17, 1525 the conflict between Zwingli and Grebel reached its peak. In a public disputation on baptism Grebel, Manz and Wilhelm Reublin argued their case against infant baptism. Zwingli followed using arguments he would publish in Concerning Baptism, Rebaptism, and Infant Baptism. Zwingli's argument prevailed and on January 18, the council mandated that all infants be baptized within eight days. Three days later the council would demand that Grebel and Manz desist from arguing about infant baptism. As a result of these rulings Grebel, Manz, and others gathered in Manz's home on January 25 and witnessed the first adult baptism in Zurich. Grebel baptized George Blaurock after which Blaurock proceeded to baptize others present.

By the end of the month, Grebel had baptized Wolfgang Ulimann, a former monk, by immersion in the Rhine River. He would spend the next several months preaching the need for repentance and baptism with much success in the area of St. Gall. (Some estimate that as many as 500 persons were baptized in St. Gall.) In October of 1525 he was arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to life in prison. Friends helped him escape in March of 1526 and he continued his ministry until he died of the plague later that summer.