Weaver, John Denny. Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 2nd ed. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald, 2005.
JoWeaver, John Denny. Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 2nd ed. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald, 2005.
John Denny Weaver’s introduction to the Anabaptist tradition is a work with two primary emphases. He sought retell the narrative of the first generation of Anabaptists in the sixteenth century up to the death of Menno Simons and then to discuss the significance of that tradition in the contemporary context. As such, Weaver’s Anabaptism is not a history but also a continuing narrative as heirs of the tradition seek to live out their faith consistently with the principles developed over four hundred-fifty years ago.
The structure of the historical section is based on the polygenetic model of Anabaptist origins (168), covering the Swiss, South German/Moravian, and Low Countries lines. The telling of those stories is fairly standard fair, but Weaver did bring out several trends throughout that narrative. A recurring theme was the tendency toward giving a place to the disenfranchised (33, 46, 51, et al.). The general focus was on people and events, yet certain theological matters, e.g. community of goods and melchiorite Christology, received attention also.
Weaver did not tell the story of where Anabaptism went after these generations but rather skipped forward to the present day. His chief concern was to appropriate the meaning of the Anabaptist tradition for contemporary existence as the church in the world. Although Weaver fully embraced the polygenetic account as determinative for the historical origins of the movement, he nonetheless sought to go beyond that account and assign meaning to the movement with a greater sense of unity than that from which the historical diversity might draw attention (168). Also, Weaver does well to open the fountain of Anabaptism beyond those who come to the tradition by birthright (as Mennonites can claim a historical linkage) but also those from the outside who embrace the tradition. Both have a place in the continuing story of Anabaptism (161-163).
The Anabaptist Vision was the guideline for Weaver’s own vision of the central characteristics of Anabaptism. Weaver went on to put his own spin on the Vision, going beyond Bender’s three-part schema of discipleship, ecclesiology, and the love ethic characterized by nonresistance. While Bender would later refine the Vision to just discipleship, Weaver turned that discipleship, following Jesus, toward nearly being synonymous with nonresistance. He wrote, “Discipleship—Jesus as ethical authority—received a specific application in the _rejection of violence and the sword . . .. The voluntary community founded on discipleship to Jesus is perforce a peace church that rejects the sword of war—as Jesus did” (170). Weaver did highlight other distinctives, such as swearing of oaths, but the remainder of his discussion of the meaning of Anabaptism placed pacifism and nonresistance at the fore.
That nonresistance is played out within the Anabaptist conception of ecclesiology. That ecclesiology describes a church that is separated from society–sometimes antagonistically and at other times is a peaceful coexistence that Weaver terms “dualism.” These two modes of relating to the state is born out of Weaver’s understanding, following Gerald Biesecker-Mast, of the early Anabaptist tension between maintaining a dualistic relationship or an antagonism with the state. Just as Anabaptism has historically taken various “manifestations and expressions (176), so also must current outworkings take various stances on dualism and antagonism within particular contexts (204). The general rule, Weave described, is that “the church in benign and tolerant situations should pursue the more antagonistic strategy” (205).
Weaver constructed his idea of discipleship with its focus on pacifism as a way of following Jesus. Following Jesus, for Weaver, is to “loop back” to Jesus (177), which is to constantly return to the narrative of Jesus in matters of ethics. The Anabaptist biblicism in history was to read Scripture as the “source for the life and teaching of Jesus” (160). Beyond this, however, Weaver tended to ignore the biblicism that was characteristic especially of the early Swiss Anabaptists. It becomes not altogether clear whether the move of viewing Scripture as the means to knowing the story of Jesus is a move that instead justifies downplaying the biblical account of Christ in favor of “looping back” to a Jesus molded in the Anabaptist image. Weaver’s treatment of the exhortations to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile are reinterpreted not as mere nonresistance but as means of empowering the oppressed, who by these actions actually call attention to the inequality being imposed by the oppressor (182-184). Giving both the cloak and the coat as payment of a debt results in a nakedness that does not shame the one who is naked but rather the one to whom the debt was owed for having caused the nakedness by his unjust demand.
The book concludes with an essay on interpretation, which is essentially a response to C. Arnold Snyder’s interpretation of the core of Anabaptist theology. Snyder had identified the core of Anabaptism in three categories, areas of agreement with creedal orthodoxy, participation in the broader Reformation movement, and tenets exclusive to Anabaptism. Weaver gave multiple arguments against Snyder’s interpretative schema. He rejected Snyder’s starting point of identifying the core of Anabaptism with the strands of Christendom that came before it. For Weaver the more appropriate stating point was the differences with Christendom. Among them was pacifism, which, as the prominent characteristic of Weaver’s identification, he pointed out Snyder had omitted from the category of uniquely Anabaptist traits. Weaver’s preference for the core of Anabaptism was the acceptance of the authority of the life and teachings of Jesus, i.e. discipleship (230). In this he shows his affinity for Bender’s Vision. The implications of both Bender’s Vision and Weaver’s core are a voluntary ecclesiology and nonviolence. The difference between Bender and Weaver is the prominence Weaver gave to nonviolence.
The historical sections of the book serve as a sufficient introduction to the movement, but the later sections do not serve this purpose as well. They are more imbedded in contemporary debate over Mennonite identity that do not give a balanced enough perspective for readers at an introductory level, especially for those coming from an outside perspective. However, they do play an important role in viewing that debate when read in correspondence with the other perspectives....more
Baylor, Michael G. The German Reformation and the Peasants’ War: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2012. For students of theBaylor, Michael G. The German Reformation and the Peasants’ War: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2012. For students of the Radical Reformation, the Peasants’ War is a movement in the background that is not entirely understood, especially as it related to those involved with the rebellion who would later join the ranks of the Anabaptists. Dr. Baylor’s latest publication, intended for high school curricula but also appropriate as an introduction at the collegiate level before continuing on to broader treatments. The advantage of Baylor’s work is that the larger themes explaining the movement are not lost in detailed historical narrative. This is helpful for students whose focus is elsewhere but need a basic understanding of the war, which is often referenced but not fully explained in Radical Reformation scholarship. Several significant themes come to the fore. The sense of dissatisfaction among the peasants arose from changing population dynamics. In the late medieval period populations declined, resulting in feudal lords offering better working conditions in order to attract from among a smaller pool of labor. In the latter half of the fifteenth century, populations rebounded from earlier losses such that lords returned to many of the practices that had formerly worked to the peasants’ disadvantage (3ff). It was this loss of some of the privileges temporarily enjoyed that led to the discontent that fulminated in the mid-1520s. Baylor’s focus was on the peasants’ revolt’s relationship to the Lutheran Reformation. He recounted the polemic of the Catholics, who had blamed Luther’s teachings with fomenting social unrest yielding rebellion. Luther countered by insisting that he had consistently warned against violent action taken established governments (3). Also, the peasants sometimes saw themselves as a social movement but at other times saw themselves as enacting the teachings of the Reformation in their calls for social reform (15,21). The relationship with the Anabaptists was not described except to point forward toward the future involvement that many of the peasants would have in the then nascent Anabaptist movement (30). The discontent that was felt toward the Established churches that supported the princes was continued in the Anabaptist protest against those same Established churches. The bulk of the book consists of primary source documents, mostly abridged. They are divided into sections representing documents from before Luther’s Reformation, those representing the views of the Catholics and Protestants, those written by peasants and their supporters, and lastly those on the debate between the relationship between the German Reformation and the Peasants’ War. The documents contain a nice mix of texts and pictures. The abridgement does cause a problem in one place, though. The abridgement of Exsurge Domini skips between the third and eighteenth error listed in the bull without correcting for the change of anathematizing what is denied to what is affirmed (48). So, for the student not sufficiently acquainted with the differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine might be confused as to whether the doctrines from eighteen on are approved of or condemned by the bull. ...more
A republication of his 1960 Harvard dissertation, Beachy's work investigates the many facets of theology that grace effects within the thinking of a rA republication of his 1960 Harvard dissertation, Beachy's work investigates the many facets of theology that grace effects within the thinking of a representative sample of seven South German and Dutch Anabaptists. The central thesis is that the Anabaptist concept of grace was in conflict with the concept of grace among the magisterial reformers. For the latter, grace was viewed in terms of forensic justification whereby the believer, in accordance to the motto simul iustus et peccator, remained a sinner but was given the legal standing of righteousness. The Anabaptists, however, took an ontological view whereby the viator was not just declared righteous but was made actually righteous. This difference allowed the Anabaptists to make the move to righteous living as more than a believer's response to the act of grace but as the outworking of a changed nature.
Beachy also sought to show that the radical reformers taught a soteriology stressing divinization as was consistent with the theology of John's Gospel. He saw this as explicit in the teaching of all but two of the radical at whom he looked, including Hübmaier, Marpeck, Denck, Simons, Hofmann, Dirk Philips and Schwenkfeld. Aside from the relationship of Hübmaier to it, the Swiss movement is not represented.
Beachy made wide allowances in order to include some teachings into his scheme of interpreting radical reformation theology of grace as divinization. Although his thesis was clearer among some of those with more spiritualistic tendencies, this was not convincingly applicable to all. The normativity of the divinization scheme decreases especially if one were to include the more biblicist Swiss brethren. Further, the assumption that divinization is indeed the Johannine teaching of grace is not put to any critical analysis and might otherwise be contested. So, the suggestion that divinization is an integral part to the radical reformation's concept of grace must be taken with hesitation.
Beachy's central thesis that the radicals preferred an ontological interpretation of justification is enlightening to our understanding of radical reformation theology. It is unfortunate that this information has not been incorporated more into subsequent literature. This is likely due to this book being less accesible to a wider audience of students of Anabaptism. Further, this work is part of the early literature in support of the polygenesis paradigm, especially in the appendices added to the original dissertation material that forms the bulk of the book.
One last note about my copy of the book, which is a review copy that had been sent to Jan Kiwiet and might not be representative of all the copies, is that the typography got worse as the book went on. After about page 90, typos became frequent. Also, the front matter lists pages 1-381 as having been the dissertation. The book is only 238 pages and this note should have included only up into the appendices after the first bibliography....more
The primary aim of Snyder’s work, originally his doctoral dissertation, is to set out a new paradigm for Michael Sattler’s biography and a new interprThe primary aim of Snyder’s work, originally his doctoral dissertation, is to set out a new paradigm for Michael Sattler’s biography and a new interpretation of Sattler’s theological influences. Previous works had not critically attempted to put forward a detailed analysis of the source material in order to arrive at firm conclusion of biographical details. Snyder did not overturn all of the details he looked into but many of the details from the previous paradigm were challenged.
Snyder’s new paradigm describes Sattler’s life as follows. Having become a prior at St. Peter’s monastery, Sattler left the monastery when it was overrun during the peasant’s revolt in May of 1525, likely having accepted their critiques of monastic abuses. Sattler then become what might be called an Anabaptist seeker, with but not of the Anabaptists and fielding the questions raised within himself. As such a seeker, he attended the November 1525 disputation in Zürich but was still not committed to the Anabaptist cause. Snyder concluded that Sattler became involved, working as a weaver, with the Anabaptists of the Unterland, north of Zurich. He finally committed to Anabaptism, accepting baptism, in the Summer of 1526. After acting as an ardent yet amiable apologist for Anabaptism in Strasbourg later that year, Sattler headed the Schleitheim conference in February 1527, which yielded the confession bearing that name. Snyder lastly recites the already well-attested trial and execution account.
Further looking into Sattler’s thought, Snyder found traces of Benedictine influence in Sattler’s Anabaptist theological formulations. Though Snyder cautiously did not describe the whole of Sattler’s thought as having arisen from his monastic background, he does strongly posit the parallels between Sattler’s distinctive form of Anabaptism, especially against the Zürich Oberland group of Grebel and Mantz. Snyder drew stark differences between the Anabaptists north of Zürich and those of the south Zürich Oberland Anabaptists. The former he viewed as more willing to follow the state-church model until persecution precluded that possibility. The latter had far more separatist tendencies.
The separatist model of Anabaptism that Sattler taught, then, Snyder explains as having resulted from his application of the Benedictine rule of separation from the world into an Anabaptist framework. Snyder also saw similarities with the stress of the nachfolge and imitatio Christi themes. There is some attribution to non-Benedictine sources for Sattler’s thought, however, for Snyder viewed the early Anabaptists as responsible for Sattler’s understanding of the believer not as one headed toward righteousness as a viator but as one who is immediately made righteous as sancti (166).
The historical groundwork that Snyder has provided is appreciated but the journey from historical evidence to conclusions is not as firm as Snyder seems to present it. Snyder often states his conclusions as “obvious” and “clear,” even if they rest on not entirely certain ground. The entire paradigm has the feeling of being able to be disassembled at the dismissal of only a few pieces of evidences after further research or at the introduction of even the slightest bit of new, contradicting research. It is like a three-legged stool in that taking out one leg will tip over the stool but it is also unlike a three-legged stool in that there are far more than three legs. There may be better interpretation should new evidence be brought forward but the unfortunate case is that sources are not extensive. Though Snyder’s conclusion might not be as certain as he suggests, his paradigm does appear to be the most competent interpretation of the available data.
Snyder’s evaluation of Sattler’s theological thought primarily asks the question of influence. Investigations into key areas of Sattler’s thought lead Snyder to conclude that Sattler incorporated elements from monasticism, Protestantism and earlier Swiss Anabaptism. Snyder concluded that Sattler’s Benedictine past was the essential distinctive driving Sattler’s unique brand of Anabaptism and other elements were incorporated insofar as they were consistent with that monastic heritage (197, 199).
While Snyder does draw clear parallels between Sattler’s thought and its historical antecedents, Snyder might be too trusting of the assumption that historical precedence indicates theological influence by appearing too eager to label what might simply be parallels as the propagation of earlier systems. For example, Snyder’s analysis of Sattler’s soteriology concluded that Sattler’s regard for justification and sanctification being a single event internal to the believer was a continuation of the Catholic conception of the same rather than an acceptance of the reformer’s doctrine, which bifurcated the event in forensic justification, making justification an external act on the believer (177). Sattler’s agreement with the reformers on this point was rather that he accepted the Catholic conception but rejected the sacramental means of mediating that inward righteousness.
Two problems come to the fore, the first being particular to this aspect of Snyder’s evaluation and the second being more generally applied to Snyder’s overall conclusions. The first is that Anabaptists do not seem to have merely held on to the Catholic conception of the unity of justification and sanctification but seem to have been reuniting the two after the reformers had divided them and resulting in what the Anabaptists generally critiqued as an allowance for libertinism. Sattler’s agreement with then would then be derived from Anabaptism, which itself could be characterized not by a continuation of Catholic thought but a reaction against the Protestant overreaction to Catholic thought. The second problem is that Snyder did not give much consideration to the formation of Sattler’s thought directly from his reading of Scripture, even if Sattler’s Biblicism was not of the same humanistic vein that produced the initial group of Zürich Anabaptists. In raising the question of the origin of Sattler’s eschatology, Snyder only allowed for a unique contribution from Sattler only after not being able to find a historical antecedent. It would seem that Sattler’s Biblicism deserved greater weight.
Further, in identifying Sattler’s ecclesiology of a separated community as having stemmed from the Benedictine sense of separation (191-194), Snyder did not account for a significant difference between monastic separation and that of Anabaptism. In monasticism, the separation was within the church while Anabaptist separation was from the world. This essential difference does not indicate as strongly that Sattler was keeping Benedictine separation but could indicate that Sattler derived his understanding unmediated from Scripture. Essentially, the question is of which factors carry more weight, whether the similarity of separation or the difference of the separation as being within the church or being the church separated from the world. Snyder appears to occasionally assign weight to these factors arbitrarily in order confirm his broader thesis of asserting Benedictine priority in the formation of Sattler’s thought. This he does in his analysis of Sattler’s understanding of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit. He claimed that the structures of Sattler’s and Benedict’s portrayal of the struggle were the same while the aims and conceptions of each were different. It appears to be an arbitrary assignment of greater weight on the structures of those portrayals that lends evidence toward Snyder’s overall conclusion.
That discussion of separation was instrumental in the last of Snyder’s conclusions, which was to challenge the arguments that emphasized the socioeconomic concerns of Anabaptism. Those arguments were that Anabaptist separation resulted from the failed establishment of Anabaptist civil and societal reform. Only after those attempts failed did the movement pragmatically turn toward a separatist doctrine. Snyder labeled this a necessary condition but rejected that it was sufficient (201-202). Sattler’s Benedictine-inspired sectarianism, in Snyder’s view, was injected into the Anabaptist movement right at the time when the attempt at social reform failed. It was then Sattler’s sectarianism tat completed the Anabaptist turn toward sectarianism in the wake of the failure of social reform. Snyder thus offers a corrective to an interpretation that overemphasizes the social dimensions of the Radical Reformation. This further highlights the need to explore the normativity of Schleitheim for later generations of Anabaptists.
Regarding the debate that has followed the book, Heinold Fast challenged a key document that would seem to undermine Snyder’s paradigm in this way. Fast suggested that the Michal referred to in a letter dated May 21, 1526 was not Sattler but Michael Wüst, Bullinger’s cousin. That letter referred to this Michael as not having yet been rebaptized. Subtly pointing to Snyder’s overconfident tone, Fast concludes that this then takes away a key piece of evidence that suggests a later date for Sattler’s baptism, which then could have been at the earlier points of Sattler’s contact with Anabaptists in 1525 rather than Snyder’s date of late Summer of 1526. Fast was gracious to Snyder, allowing that the source material was not widely available at the time of Snyder’s writing but Fast still suggested that this left many new questions to be asked of Snyder’s paradigm.
Should Fast’s objection be sustained, this would not cause as grave of doubts as Fast suggested but would only leave yet more empty spaces. The stool might not fall over but it might wobble like your high school math desk. Snyder did respond, acknowledging the strength of Fast’s remarks but holding to his position. He offered that the Michaels of the letter could be the reverse of what Fast had argued, further proposing that Wüst could have been the “brother Michael in the white coat” who had been arrested in Zürich in March 1525. The answer to this debate may be lost to history and philology might never be conclusive, yet Snyder’s paradigm seems to hold in light of the available historical data and the most that could be at stake is a switching of a date while the order would likely remain.
Snyder’s work is valuable for understanding this significant figure and, because of its review of the previous literature, might serve well as a first in-depth look into Sattler’s life alongside the primary material of Yoder’s The Legacy of Michael Sattler. Again, Snyder generally seems surer of his conclusions than the evidence might warrant but a cautious reader expressing a critical reservation toward this end would greatly benefit from the discussion. Snyder has not given into the purely socioeconomic interpretation of Anabaptism but this work can be instructive for future students of the movement in that it does not display the over-idealism that is often presented in Anabaptist studies....more
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 neStayer’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
Friedmann, Robert. The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald, 1973.
Friedmann’s Theology of Anabaptism is a guideFriedmann, Robert. The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald, 1973.
Friedmann’s Theology of Anabaptism is a guide toward what he admits is a seeming oxymoron–Anabaptist Theology. The heart of the interpretation he presents is that Anabaptist theology is an implicit theology, unlike the explicit theology of the Protestant Reformers (21). Whereas the Lutheran Reformation was primarily doctrinal, the Anabaptists centered their efforts on what Friedmann terms existential Christianity (30 ff.).
That Anabaptist Christianity was existential was not intended to compare the movement to existentialism but rather to highlight the Anabaptist emphasis on how one acts as a Christian in a practical way. For this reason the Anabaptists were more concerned with right living than with right doctrine (31). As such, any theology would be implicit rather than explicit. However, Friedmann understood Anabaptism to be within the limits of creedal orthodoxy even if they understood the authority for their orthodoxy as having derived from Scripture rather than the early councils.
The other main point of Friedmann’s interpretation is that of setting the Anabaptists within the context of the Reformation. Friedmann saw Anabaptism as a third way (in agreement with George Huntston Williams) to approaching the questions of the day (18). The distinction of the Protestant and Anabaptist ways as reforms against the Catholic Church was between the doctrinal and existential forms of Christianities that each way sought to restore. Friedmann set this interpretation against that of Roland H. Bainton, whose portrayal of Anabaptism as a “left wing” of the Reformation Friedmann frames as the Anabaptists being an extension of the Reformation.
This does not fully capture the nuance of Bainton’s expression of the Reformation was not that there were two ways–Catholic and Protestant, of which Anabaptism was part. Bainton saw each localized attempt at reformation, whether that of Wittenberg, Zurich, Geneva or Canterbury, as unrelated in their geneses. His view was that they were sister movements rather than lineal descendents of a parent movement. Anabaptism, then, whether monogenetic or polygenetic, would not simply be the radical half of the Reformation but rather one way among many ways, each generally localized. The bulk of the book gives survey to the implicit theology systematically in the traditional categories. Two exceptions are notable. The first is the Anabaptist doctrine of Scripture. Generally an opening chapter to theology, Friedmann gave no full treatment of the Anabaptist use or understanding of the Scripture even though he acknowledged the role of the Bible in the formation of Anabaptist thought. Perhaps Friedmann passed this by due to the relative paucity of resources of this little-investigated area of Anabaptism. Also, the traditional order is reversed when ecclesiology is switched from last with ecclesiology taking the final position. That section, ecclesiology, is given the most space in the book, perhaps reflecting the emphasis of Littell of ecclesiology as the controlling character of the movement.
The systematic section had opened not with prolegomena but rather with the doctrine of the two kingdoms, which he titled the “heart” of Anabaptist theology. This must be compared to existential Christianity. It is not as though existential Christianity as the center of Anabaptist thought competes with the doctrine of the two kingdoms as the heart of Anabaptist theology. Rather, they exist on two levels–the theology, centered on the two kingdoms, behind the primary understanding of faith, which is as existential.
It becomes obvious at several points that Friedmann wrote with an Anabaptist audience in mind. He accepted a near equivocation of Anabaptist faith and practice with that of the apostolic era. For instance, Friedmann wrote that the ban was a third sacrament in the apostolic era and the Anabaptists thus imitated that model in their elevation of the practice of church discipline (144). This might work fine for a Mennonite or a Hutterite audience (Friedmann himself being a Hutterite) but those outside of the Anabaptist community may be thereby provoked to take some of Friedmann’s more idealistic claims with reservation.
For now, Friedmann’s work remains an excellent introduction to the topic. However, as the book nears the 40-year mark, a new project with the same goal but incorporating the wealth of research that has since been done would be of great help to future students of Anabaptism. Alongside Snyder’s Anabaptist History and Theology, Friedmann’s effort will go a long way toward directing the future of study in the movement. Though updates could be made, the power of the book lays in its interpretation of the broader ideas of Anabaptist theology as essentially an existential type of Christianity with an implicit theology that existed not as a radicalization of the Reformation but rather as a different type of Reformation altogether. In this way, The Theology of Anabaptism can continue to serve the discussion of students of the movement attempting to identify an essence, or even if there is an essence, of Anabaptism and trying to understand its place within the Reformation period and beyond....more