In the late 1520s persecution drove many Anabaptists to Moravia where, throughout the sixteenth century, they continued the commoners' resistance to privilege in church and state. Stayer argues that in Münster, however, where there had been no Peasants' War and where urban notables were prominent in the Anabaptist leadership, Anabaptist communism was badly corrupted. The hIn the late 1520s persecution drove many Anabaptists to Moravia where, throughout the sixteenth century, they continued the commoners' resistance to privilege in church and state. Stayer argues that in Münster, however, where there had been no Peasants' War and where urban notables were prominent in the Anabaptist leadership, Anabaptist communism was badly corrupted. The historical continuities which Stayer establishes between the Peasants' War and Anabaptism in Switzerland, south Germany, and Moravia can in part explain this contrast....more
Paperback, 258 pages
January 10th 1994
by McGill-Queen's University Press
(first published May 1991)
Stayer’s work is a collection of essays on the two common topics mentioned in the title. Some of the essays had been published earlier but most are new and investigate different portions of the relations of those two topics. As such, the unity of the book is not from a defense of a singular thesis or research purpose but rather in that the essays derive from his interest in the topics and that they all operate from his paradigmatic understanding of the social aspects of the more radical elementsStayer’s work is a collection of essays on the two common topics mentioned in the title. Some of the essays had been published earlier but most are new and investigate different portions of the relations of those two topics. As such, the unity of the book is not from a defense of a singular thesis or research purpose but rather in that the essays derive from his interest in the topics and that they all operate from his paradigmatic understanding of the social aspects of the more radical elements of the Reformation period. The two keys of this paradigm that tend to control his view appear to be that the connection between the German Peasants’ War and Anabaptism was greater than previously believed by more conservative scholarship and that the community of goods had greater normativity among Anabaptists than accounts recognized. The crucial link in Stayer’s view is that the Anabaptist community of goods, as a cohering principle in the Anabaptist movement was derived from many of the concerns of the peasants’ revolt.
Stayer went to great lengths to demonstrate that the revolt was the expression of the Reformation in rural lands, especially appropriating Reformation anticlericalism as the peasants strove against clerical landlords and the attendant abuses (35, 43, 60). Since the clergy had a social hold over the peasants and villagers (Stayer pointed out that “peasants’” war is somewhat of a misnomer since the dissenters included many of the artisan class [9, 19]), the Reformation therefore took on a social tone over the theological priorities in the cities and universities. After Luther took the side of the obrigkeit against the peasants, the peasants became disillusioned with the Reformation as well, thus explaining why they had a tendency toward radical elements that would later arise.
Another issue at hand was that of territorial authority versus the autonomy of villages. In the peasants’ revolt, which Stayer regards as less of a war and more of a festive protest that did not turn violent until obrigkeit sought to put it down (21), this took the form of the peasants’ demand for localized control of territorial rights, thus decentralizing the control held by the larger regional cities. Peasants later resonated with the Anabaptist insistence on congregational autonomy as various villages sought to appoint their own pastors rather than accept the appointments of cities like Zurich (62). As some of the more militant radicals taught apocalyptic beliefs that emphasized the punishment of the wicked, i.e. the obrigkeit, his teaching became a recruiting tool that gained the sympathies of he peasants who still held resentment against their landowners (90). This coincides with Stayer’s statistical findings of the involvement of Anabaptist leadership in the Peasants’ War, a revision of Claus-Peter Clasen’s earlier analysis of the same. Stayer’s analysis revealed a greater involvement among Anabaptist leadership than Clasen had found (ch. 3). This findings would not only apply to the leadership of the movement but probably were true of the movement ranks unless those ranks were composed of groups that inexplicably gravitated to a group of Peasants’ War veterans without those ranks having been involved with the war themselves (91).
The second half of the book concerns itself with several loci of the community of goods–among the Swiss brethren, Müntzer, Münster and among Moravian Hutterites. Stayer’s general purpose was to deny the general ethos of interpretations of Anabaptism that relegate the community of goods as a idiosyncrasy among the Hutterites and fringe practice, like the non-Anabaptist events of Münster. Stayer found a concerted effort to follow Acts 2 and 4 among the Swiss brethren and it is any attempt to follow that model of the early church that Stayer had defined as the practice of the community of goods (9). Müntzer, given weight as a predecessr to the Anabaptists, had anticipations of the community of goods, especially alongside his support for the Peasants’ War. The Münsterite movement, as a genuine Anabaptist movement, also had its participation in the community goods as well as the Moravians. The force of these depictions is to portray the practice of the community of goods as a normative part of Anabaptist identity rather than an irregularity practiced among a few among them.
This second half, however, is more problematic than the first and some of those problems are definitional. For instance, Stayer’s definition of the community of goods as the attempt to follow Acts 2 and 4 is too broad. It allows for one to ignore the distinction between groups whose that practiced the community of goods voluntary and those groups for whom he practice was a requirement of community involvement a necessary indicator of one’s Christian nature. Stayer indeed made too little of this distinction, although shadows of that distinction to come out from time to time as they do in the epilogue, where he speaks of mutual-aid, or “barn-raising,” community of goods against the reflection of Michael Gaismair’s Landesordnung (160, 162). If Stayer’s paradigm rests on the essential commonality of the peasants’ program with the Anabaptist community of goods, then if all attempts to follow the early church model were compulsory the relationship with the peasants’ program would be much more clear. However, since the peasants’ program sought an institutionalized purity rather than a voluntary one, a distinction between compulsory and voluntary practice of the community of goods would weaken the ties since a voluntary practice would have an essential difference from the peasants’ program. It might have been a successful avenue of research to question whether social pressure in groups where the community of goods was voluntary may have led to a de facto community of goods as newcomers may have felt compelled to participate as a social norm within the group even though the practice may not have been institutionalized.
Another point of contention is Stayer’s identification of the Münster episode of 1535 as genuinely Anabaptist (123). This would be an objectionable label to most conservative scholars of the movement. Stayer attempted to show that Münster was not a city that had been overcome by Dutch outsiders, who high jacked the city’s leadership but rather that it was a city whose Anabaptist contingent rose to power under the influence of those Dutch prophets and retained a great deal of its authority throughout the entire siege. The power was never fully in the hands of the foreigners. Be that as it may, Stayer’s record of leadership merely shifts the problem one step so that it was not the city that had been overcome by the Dutch but rather the city’s pre-existent Anabaptist movement that had been taken over by the Dutch. Further, when Stayer mentioned off hand that Sebastian Franck was not an Anabaptist (132), which raises the perennially frustrating question of the categories into which different people and movements fit. Why are the Münsterites in this case Anabaptists while Franck is not? If there is no consensus to say that the Münsterites were genuine Anabaptists it takes away from Stayer’s case that the community of goods was a significant part of Anabaptist identity.
An interest item was raised in Stayer’s work that would apparently demand further question. Stayer mentioned that Hübmaier had baptized nearly the whole adult population of Waldshut (64) and repeated the testimony of Hans Schlaffer that Hübmaier’s Nikolsburg baptisms were “perfunctory mass affairs that gave little evidence of individual regeneration” (140). Stayer went on to call Hübmaier’s brand of Anabaptism a “magisterial Anabaptism.” This follows Stayer’s generally positive acceptance of Snyder’s work, which includes the thesis that the Anabaptism of the Unterland was of a more state-church variety.
Stayer’s work will likely be hard to challenge considering the depth of his research into the literature on the Peasants’ War, a field generally not as well known among Anabaptist scholars. This is especially true of new students in conservative circles, for whom the Peasants’ War can seem a shadowy subject, its relationship to Anabaptism being obscured, if not denied. However, the significance of his findings remains up to debate. While Stayer’s work cannot allow for an underestimation of the place of the community of goods in Anabaptist practice, that practice must neither be overestimated....more