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Gefahr oder Segen? Die Taufer in der politischer Kommunication.

Gefahr oder Segen? Die Taufer in der politischer Kommunication [Schriften zur politischer Kommunication, 5]. By Astrid von Schlachta. Gottingen: V & R Unipress. 2009. Pp. 484.

This book considers the long process of political interaction between Anabaptists and rulers that eventually secured the permanent presence of Anabaptists in several regions of Germanic Europe. It concentrates on the 200 years following the first wave of annihilating persecutions that threatened the very existence of Anabaptist congregations, extending to the full toleration of Anabaptists by Enlightenment governments and rulers at the end of the eighteenth century. The regional stories were very different from the Netherlands to the Hanseatic cities to the Rhineland, to the Prussian-Polish lands of the Vistula basin, to Switzerland and the Palatinate, to Hungary and Siebenbiirgen.

With the imperial mandate of 1529 Anabaptism was outlawed in the Holy Roman Empire, punishable by death or exile; the Reformed governments of Switzerland promulgated similar decrees. In fact, these decrees were often not enforced by Protestant authorities in the empire and executions became exceptional in all jurisdictions toward the end of the sixteenth century. Beginning in 1555, Lutherans as well as Catholics could exercise their religion freely in the empire; but most territories were uniconfessional according to the religious persuasion of the ruler; the Imperial cities were biconfessional. Hence the religious freedom of believers was for the most part limited to a right to emigrate to territories where their religion was practiced. Reformed Protestantism subsequently established itself unofficially in a number of German Lutheran territories; and at the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 Reformed, Lutherans and Catholics became the legally recognized religions of the empire. The Treaty of Westphalia also extended an ill-defined toleration to the private exercise of religion. Throughout this period Anabaptist congregations were in fact tolerated, as a matter of government privilege, in various territories. They were the major but not the only religious dissenters tolerated in regions of Germany--Schwenckfelders were present in Silesia from the early years of the Reformation; in the seventeenth century Quakers and Socinians appeared particularly on the fringes of Anabaptist congregations to which they had a certain appeal, and complicated the relations of Anabaptists and governments; later on Pietist conventicles challenged Protestant Orthodoxy, attracted Anabaptists and Anabaptist sympathizers, and often disturbed ad hoc arrangements that governments had made to tolerate Anabaptists.

The exceptional situation of Mennonite Anabaptists in the Netherlands from the 1570s onward transformed the circumstances of Anabaptist congregations in the northern parts of Germanic Europe. In the decades preceding the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain the Mennonites had been the most visible dissenters against the established Catholic Church and suffered the approximately 1,000 martyrdoms memorialized a century later in the Martyrs Mirror of Tieleman Jansz van Braght. The Reformed aristocrats and burghers who started the revolt against the Spanish crown were themselves a religious minority, at first no more numerous than the Mennonites, and they needed to rally the support of other dissidents, Lutherans, Mennonites and religiously unaffiliated to prevail against the larger number of practicing Catholics. In this way the religious pluralism of the young Dutch Republic came into existence; the Dutch Mennonites were beneficiaries and sympathizers of the new order. Liberal Anabaptists in the Netherlands like the Waterlander congregations made substantial monetary contributions to the war effort of William of Orange. Mennonites asked in prayers for God's blessing on the rulers of the new country. Eventually the Mennonites became a minority group (always divided by recurrent internal schisms) in the Netherlands, including persons of wealth, and devoted themselves to assisting Protestant refugees throughout Europe, some of them fellow Anabaptists, but also Schwenckfelders, Huguenots and Waldensians.

The most extensive parts of Astrid von Schlachta's book explore the efforts of the Dutch Mennonites, often seconded by the Dutch government, to help the Anabaptists of Switzerland against waves of persecution inflicted upon them throughout the seventeenth century and extending into the eighteenth century by the Reformed governments of Switzerland, particularly Zurich and Bern. The situation of the Swiss Reformed seemed precarious in a period of aggressive Catholic missionary activity. Their attitude towards the Swiss Anabaptists was not too different from that of Zwingli in the years after 1525--by setting up a "special church" the Anabaptists had deserted the cause of the Reformation in a time of great peril.

The matter of whether the Mennonites were to be considered "a kind of Protestant,' and whether the Dutch Mennonites and the Swiss Mennonites were of the same religious persuasion, became central to the different treatment they received in the seventeenth-century Netherlands and seventeenth-century Switzerland. Names were important in this respect; for the Swiss authorities their Anabaptists were Wiedertciufer (rebaptizers) involved in the German Peasants' War of 1525 and the rulers of communist and polygamous Munster for sixteen months in 1534 and 1535. For the Dutch their Anabaptists were Protestant "Mennonites" who had nothing to do with Muntzer and Munster, loyal citizens who made their contribution, primarily economic, to the common weal in the Netherlands. Astrid von Schlachta, whose specialty is Hutterite studies, is well acquainted with Anabaptist divisions and with the scholarship on the first fifty years of the Anabaptist movement that has emphasized these divisions. She traced the sympathetic accounts of the Anabaptists from their Spiritualist contemporary Sebastian Franck to the Pietist Gottfried Arnold's Unparteyische Kitchen- und Ketzer-Historie, which appeared in three volumes from 1699 to 1703. Arnold's work began a historiographical trend that pointed forward to Ernst Troeltsch and Harold S. Bender. Schlachta glides lightly over the inner-Mennonite controversies and divisions; and she does make the important point that the ignoring of these divisions was an important element in the self-defense of Mennonite spokesmen in the Netherlands and Switzerland. Recent scholarship has seen a dispute about the importance of the Seven Articles of Schleitheim (1527) in Anabaptist history. However important this early Swiss Anabaptist declaration may have been, some of its content left a permanent mark on the self-understanding of all early modern Mennonites (and Hutterites) and their relation to the governments under which they lived. Specifically, characteristic Schleitheim principles included: rejection of war and violence as non-Christian behavior; refusal to swear oaths; and the belief that the holding of government office was not permissible for Christians. These beliefs were adopted by Dutch Mennonites, but only with the circulation of the account of Michael Sattler's martyrdom shortly after the death of Menno Simons. Menno himself believed that rulers could be Christians; and later Mennonites had a markedly more positive view of the temporal authorities than did Swiss Anabaptists or Hutterites. The beliefs of Swiss and Dutch Anabaptists became increasingly similar in the seventeenth century, which amounted to a Swiss reception of the ideas of the better educated and more prosperous Dutch. A milestone in this spread of Dutch influence was the translation of the Dutch Dordrecht Confession (1632) into German in 1664. The Dordrecht Confession was closer to being a universally received Anabaptist statement than the Schleitheim Articles.

The seventeenth-century Swiss Anabaptists lived under a regime of unremitting persecution. In 1614 the Zurich government executed the 70-year-old Anabaptist leader, Hans Landis of Richerswil. The Zurich authorities were dismayed at the outrage this created but determined to totally crush their Anabaptist movement, even insisting that Anabaptist emigration could only take place with government permission. In Bern after 1657 Anabaptist families were imprisoned in the "orphanage," a sort of workhouse-prison devoted to cloth manufacturing and to the indoctrination of the children in the Reformed religion. There was internal controversy in Bern about the harsh treatment of the Anabaptists, and Dutch intercession achieved permission for Bern Anabaptists to emigrate to the Palatinate, where the rulers were seeking settlers to rebuild their agrarian economy, which was devastated by the Thirty Years' War. In Bern territories Anabaptist villagers continued to enjoy the sympathy and support of their neighbors, the "Halb-Taufer," who often were influenced by Pietist preachers. The fluid lines between Anabaptism and Pietism in the Bern villages made the Anabaptists even more of a threat to the Bern government's objectives of territorial control and religious uniformity. The different conditions of life in Bern and the Palatinate contributed to the Amish schism in the 1690s. Around the same time, because of a combination of religious and economic factors in the Palatinate, Protestant immigrants were not sought so assiduously as before. Consequently, emigration to Pennsylvania became more appealing in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to the mixture of Mennonites, Quakers and Huguenots living there. In connection with Mennonite resettlement to Pennsylvania, one of the last surges of persecution in Bern involved a project of forced deportation of Bern Mennonites through the Netherlands to Pennsylvania in 1710. The Dutch Mennonites had been assisting their Swiss and German coreligionists to settle in America; but they and the Dutch government refused to cooperate with the Bern authorities in removing Anabaptists from Europe. The Bern authorities were informed that the moment their dissidents set foot on Dutch soil they would enjoy full personal and religious freedom. The Swiss governments seem to have been more than a little uneasy about their stance against currents of freedom of conscience that became ever stronger as the seventeenth century moved into the eighteenth century. But they insisted that the Anabaptists' refusal to swear civic oaths and to defend their country in war made them bad citizens. The Dutch, on the other hand, compromised with the Mennonites, allowing formal affirmations in place of oaths and financial contributions in place of military service.

The Dutch toleration of the Mennonites became the model for a sort of Dutch Mennonite diaspora along the North Sea and Baltic coasts. In the early seventeenth century three new commercial cities, Friedrichstadt, Gluckstadt and Altona, were established on the basis of general religious tolerance and with the object of attracting the business techniques of immigrants from the Netherlands. The rulers who founded them sought commercial advantages, particularly against Lutheran Hamburg, but given the proximity of Altona to Hamburg, the barriers against Mennonites and other religious minorities were gradually relaxed in Hamburg itself. Further east the Lutherans had a similar privileged position in Danzig; but Mennonites established themselves in the suburbs and gradually became too prosperous to be excluded from the life of the urban center. In the Vistula valley Dutch settlers, Mennonites among them, became important as builders of dikes and drainers of wetlands, skills that they brought with them from the Netherlands. In eighteenth-century Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm I was torn between the advantages of Mennonites to his economy, most strikingly in the Rhineland center of Krefeld, and their unavailability for military recruitment. The success of Mennonites in the trades sometimes worked against them and led to their expulsion on specious religious grounds, as in the case of the riots against the Mennonites in Rheydt in 1694; but Rheydt's loss turned out to be Krefeld's gain. Increasingly in these northern European regions relations between Mennonites and governments were more a matter of economics than of religion.

But the author is well aware that economic rationality did not always win the day in early modern Europe. The forced conversion of the Hutterites in Slovakia in the 1750s and 1760s, during which their elders were confined in cloisters and "re-educated'' by Jesuit missionaries (and then pensioned, since their previous responsibilities rendered them unfit for ordinary work), occurred on the eve of the Enlightenment under Maria Theresa of Austria. At about the same time the Lutheran Siebenburgers, newly won to the Hutterite beliefs, made a dramatic escape over the Carpathian Mountains in 1767 to Wallachia and Russia, in order to escape a similar fate. When Maria Theresa's enlightened despot son and co-regent, Joseph II, published a patent of toleration for his lands in 1781, the only outcome was the vain attempt of a minority of younger Hutterite leaders in Slovakia to undo the damage of previous decades. As a case in point of the limits of forced conversion, we are given a brief description of the emigration of the Schwenckfelder dissidents from Silesia in the 1720s. There were not enough Catholics in Silesia for Habsburg absolutism working through Jesuit missions to succeed in its purpose; with the connivance of Lutheran neighbors, landlords and officials the Schwenckfelders sold their property and emigrated, eventually to Pennsylvania, without the permission and against the wishes of the government in Vienna.

Astrid von Schlachta has written an important book, based on an omnivorous study of the growing literature on Anabaptists and governments in the part of the early modern period in which religious toleration of dissidents was a real option but not a matter of course. She has shown in a study of printed materials, petitions and correspondence that the public was increasingly scrutinizing the actions of princes and magistrates. The Anabaptists were part of this public. They examined what was happening around them and to them on the basis of a strong historical memory. Others also judged them--Munster was important; had it not occurred Anabaptist martyrs would probably have become martyrs for Lutherans and Catholics, too, as can be inferred from the writings of Protestant observers and contemporaries on the martyrdom of Michael Sattler in 1527.

Queen's University JAMES M. STAYER
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Author:Stayer, James M.
Publication:Mennonite Quarterly Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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