John Oecolampad, the Zwinglian reformer of Basel, was at one with Zwingli’s earlier opinion on infant baptism. In his Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans which was published in the early autumn of 1524 he wrote: “But the Lord, when he says in the last chapter of Mark: He who believeth and is baptized, etc. demands of us confession through baptism and requires unconditional faith. For he who would not be baptized, will neither confess Christ.”
In the autumn of the same year, at the time of Thomas Munzer’s visit in Basel, Oecolampad would not defend infant baptism; he held it an open question. On November 21, 1524, he wrote to Zwingli that he was not disinclined to accept Carlstadt’s arguments against infant baptism, although he had not entirely discarded the doctrine of the church-father Augustine that baptism is the means of cleansing from original sin.
Oecolampad, in a letter to Balthasar Hubmaier, gave expression to his attitude on the question of infant baptism. Hubmaier wrote to him on January 17, 1525 (before he united with the Anabaptists), informing him that he no longer taught infant baptism nor administered baptism to infants, except when parents demanded it, in which instance he was willing “to be weak with the weak.” He further said that instead of infant baptism he had introduced the public consecration of infants. To this letter Oecolampad replied praising openly the position of Hubmaier on the question of baptism. “The rite which you observe in the church [the consecration of infants, instead of baptism]” he wrote in his reply, “pleases me very much; may it be generally approved.” But upon his request, he received instruction from Zwingli on the point in question and decided in favour of infant baptism. In a letter to William Farel, dated February 6, 1525, Oecolampad complains that many would not accept his arguments for this practice.
The Zwinglian reformers of Strasburg, Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito, for a considerable period did not insist on the practice of infant baptism. Capito wrote in the autumn of 1524: “We do not make it a question at what time or at what age children should be baptized. — Where we have no clear word of Scripture, we do not inquire further.” To Zwingli, he wrote on December 31, 1524: “The question of infant baptism we shall investigate more thoroughly … We shall endeavour to go hand in hand with you in this matter.”
Martin Bucer says in December of the same year: “In the primitive church no one was baptized and received into the church, except those who fully surrendered themselves to Christ’s word.” “Among the ancient the confession of sin preceded baptism, for as a rule those who had come to an age of understanding were baptized, and not the infants.” He held that baptism should be considered “free,” hence the baptism of infants would not be invalid. “But if someone would desire to put off baptism [instead of baptizing the infants] and if he could do this without destroying the love and unity of those among whom he lives, we would not for this cause withdraw from him or condemn him.” To Martin Luther he wrote in December of the year 1524:
“Although the baptism of adults alone would probably be far more in accord with the practice of the early church and also with the teachings of Scripture which order that those who know Christ should be baptized, confessing Christ in baptism after they have been taught the doctrine of godliness; and by baptizing adults only would also be destroyed a deceptive trust in baptism … nevertheless, for the sake of general harmony we should be willing to yield the point to this extent that we would baptize the infants, provided that when those whom we have baptized reach an age enabling them to comprehend the doctrine of Christ, arrangements should be made for instructing them in religion.”
These sentences show that Bucer recognized the unscripturalness of infant baptism but maintained it for reasons of expediency.
Joachim von Watt, called Vadian, the leading Zwinglian of St. Gall, according to the testimony of his biographer, “was in fact [in his earlier years] not disinclined to the doctrine of the Anabaptists; in common, with them, he held infant baptism to be an abuse.” As late as in May, 1525, Conrad Grebel (his brother-in-law) says, Vadian assented to the leading Anabaptist principle. The reasons which led him finally to oppose the Anabaptists, says Staub. are to be found in the ecclesio-political domain rather than the field of doctrine. Sebastian Hofmeister of Schaffhausen, the friend of Zwingli, according to the altogether trustworthy testimony of the Council of Schaffhausen, publicly defended believers’ baptism; he preached: “Baptism, if administered to the infants, is useless and out of place.” This agrees with Hubmaier’s testimony, who says: “Doctor Sebastian wrote to me in particular that he stood in Schaffhausen publicly before the Council and asserted that Master Ulrich [Zwingli,] erred in point of infant baptism, and the said doctor would not have his own child baptized, and this he [Hubmaier] also was led to decide against infant baptism.” Berthold Haller of Bern asked Zwingli in November, 1525, to warn Hofmeister of Anabaptism.
It has been generally asserted that the opposition to infant baptism in Switzerland and the subsequent practice of believers’ baptism can be traced to the influence of Thomas Miinzer, the Saxon enthusiast. The fact has been overlooked that, if this supposition were correct, Zwingli also must have been influenced by Munzer, for he agreed with those who considered infant baptism unscriptural.
The movement for the abolishment of infant baptism among the Zwinglians in Switzerland antedates their acquaintance with Munzer and his pertinent writings. As early as the first part of the year 1522 Ulrich Hugwald of Basel, who somewhat later accepted the office of a professor in the university of that city, wrote a number of theses in which he demanded the practice of baptism upon the confession of faith. On July 21, 1523, Benedict Burgauer, the leading minister of St. Gall, stated in a letter that he had encountered those who “would not baptize infants that have no faith.” Early in 1524 Urban Rhegius learned that there were at Constance “those who do not desire to have their children baptized, asserting that the Scriptures teach baptism on the confession of faith.” Zwingli’s opposition to infant baptism, as is evident from the above quotations from his writings, dates back to an earlier time. Max Staub, a Zwinglian, says: “The current against infant baptism was general as early as 1523. It begins not with [the Anabaptist Roublin, but with Zwingli. At Zollicon, Basel, Strasburg and other places many followers of Zwingli decided against the baptism of their own children in infancy.
At Zurich there were instances in which infant baptism was omitted in the early spring of the year 1524. The earliest trace of Zwingli’s unfavourable opinion on infant baptism dates back to December, 1521, when the canon Conrad Hofmann of Zurich complained that he taught: “The unbaptized infants are not condemned.”