Anabaptist Little-Knowns: Hans Zug
Concerning the greats of the Protestant Reformation, history is concerned with the “big people,” yet, in my blog, I like to bring out the “little people,” the everyday husbands and wives who may not have done anything spectacular in their lives but were giants in God’s eyes simply for keeping the faith and remaining courageous in the face of adversity. I like to showcase unknown Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries that perhaps would not otherwise be known, and one day I came across the story of Hans Zug.
The Anabaptists, like the Huguenots, were a martyr church. As the predecessors of the modern-day Amish and Mennonites, they were a peaceful people who did not believe in a government-like church hierarchy. They advocated a very simple lifestyle that took the idea of “reformation” further than the Calvinists and Lutherans had, and they wrote beautiful hymns expressing both their painful earthly lives and the hope and peace they felt in Christ. Hans Zug or Zaug was born in Switzerland, a country that, by the time of his birth in the 1630s, was already known as a haven for the persecuted French Huguenots.
Hans’ early life remains obscure. However, he married a woman of uncertain origin and subsequently became the father of several children. He is thought to have been an Anabaptist minister and thus more “dangerous” to the authorities than an ordinary believer. Both Catholics and Protestants found the Anabaptists’ doctrines offensive and saw them as annoying nonconformists. In 1659, Hans was taken prisoner in the Swiss city of Bern.
A Zug family history says that Hans’ prison had once been an orphanage and mentions that the manual labor to which the Anabaptist prisoners were subjected was grueling. Hans and his fellow prisoners bore ugly insults and physical altercations day after day until they were given a choice. The first choice was to convert. Like the French Huguenots who chose to die rather than abjure their Protestant faith, the Anabaptist Hans Zug ignored such requests.
The second choice was to subject himself to the galleys. Persecuted Huguenots would later share this particular torture after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Being a galley slave was, many said, worse than death, for being forced to row for years on end until one died of malnutrition or illness, having been beaten at every interval, was too infernal a fate to even imagine. The third choice was immediate martyrdom. Hans Zug survived his first prison sentence. It is uncertain how he managed to avoid these three choices, but it is known that he fled back to Switzerland after having been taken aboard ship, apparently to serve as a galley slave.
Many men would have remained in hiding after having survived such an ordeal. But Hans Zug refused to hide his light under a bushel. He stepped forth to attend a family gathering, and immediately upon doing so, he was ambushed and returned unceremoniously to prison. It is difficult to believe how long he was incarcerated the second time around: ten years. Ten years . . . and yet he never gave up his faith! It would have been easy. Perhaps the idea tortured him as he lay in fetid straw and heard the scuttling of rats hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year. But whether or not he was so tempted, he fought his temptations, fought the fight and kept the faith.
This time period began in 1661 and ended in 1671. Hans Zug’s release came about due to the compassion of distant Good Samaritans who took pity on his situation. The happy ending was marred by the authorities’ insistence that Hans should leave them all his property and emigrate from Switzerland. He was forbidden to return. Now he was not only persecuted for his Anabaptist faith, but he had no home. Yet he took the bull by the horns and chose a new place to settle. This was in Darmstadt, Germany.
At any time in his life, Hans Zug could have given up and accepted conversion. Ten long years in prison could have been avoided. But then we would not remember him, but he would have simply been “Hans, the man who followed societal norms.” We remember him because of his courage and because his hardships remind us of the “big God” he served. Martyrs’ and faith warriors’ stories always echo back to God. Just as they should.
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved