Thomas More’s “little, true book, not less beneficial than enjoyable, about how things should be in a state and about the new island Utopia” – more commonly known as just Utopia – imagined a society based on common property, with full equality, no poverty, and an abundance of daily necessities for all. First published in 1516, this fictitious tale outlined a seemingly perfect commonwealth, providing a stark contrast to contemporary economic inequality and social misery.1
How could Utopia’s citizens achieve such a phenomenal economic performance leading to seemingly universal welfare? There was no idleness, for one, as everyone was expected to work and contribute to society’s well-being. As the character Raphael Hythloday explains to his puzzled listeners, “if they all were put to work—and useful work at that—you can easily see how little time would be enough and more than enough time to produce all the goods required for human needs and conveniences.”2 Moreover, Utopians did not pursue their own interest in their economic activity but tried to serve the general need. But it was especially the principle of common property that allowed the island to establish such a beneficial commonwealth. As Hythloday summarizes:
For elsewhere they always talk about the public good but they are concerned with their own private welfare; here [in Utopia], where there is no private property, everyone works seriously for the public good. And for good reason in both places, for elsewhere is there anyone who does not know that unless he looks out for his own personal interest he will die of hunger, no matter how flourishing the commonwealth may be; therefore necessity causes him to think he should watch out for his own good, not that of others, that is, of the people. On the other hand, here, where everything belongs to everyone, no one doubts that (as long as care is taken that the public storehouses are full) nothing whatever will be lacking to anyone for his own use. For the distribution of goods is not niggardly; no one is a pauper or a beggar there, and though no one has anything, all are rich.3
How utopian is such an economic world in the context of modern capitalism, an age usually associated with individual profit maximization, competitive markets, self-interest and greed? In other words, is it at all possible for the infamous homo economicus to break out from the real world to create something even vaguely similar to Thomas More’s Utopia?
A rare glimpse into the diary of a German traveler to the American and Canadian West in the years 1930-31 offers such an alternative perspective. It was in the midst of the Great Depression that hit Germany even harder then North America, inflicting political turmoil and contributing to the rise of the Nazi Party. The diary’s first entry dates from July 18, 1930, the day when German Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg dissolved the Weimar Republic’s last parliamentary government. The following election campaign was marked by ever increasing unemployment rates, strong antisemitic and anti-democratic sentiment from the extremist left and right. In the September election, the Nazi party won a landslide victory, a key milestone on Hitler’s ascent to political power that he finally achieved in January 1933.
The lone German traveler, who sympathized with Christian socialism and who was a staunch pacifist, thus had much to ponder on his journey. With his home country in turmoil and witnessing the Great Depression’s disastrous impact on America, his final destination must have appeared to him like a true Utopia. Nestled in the South Dakota plains, the visitor experienced the vision of a small-scale society based on communal property. There, all able-bodied members worked, including women and older children, contributing to the community’s overall welfare.4 In this setting, the communities produced sufficiently to sustain their membership, and it seemed to serve their commonwealth well. The traveler’s diary does not report a single issue that plighted Depression-era America: neither starvation, homelessness, unemployment, nor social deprivation.
It does probably not to come to the surprise of this blog’s readers that the communities in question were the Hutterite Bruderhöfe, scattered across the Northern Plains in the United States and Canada. The traveler was Eberhard Arnold, who had experimented with communal living in the 1920s and founded the Rhön Bruderhof in 1926. His trip to America served the purpose of connecting the newly founded community in Germany to the historical Hutterite church. Being well versed in Anabaptist history and belief, Arnold enthusiastically wrote that “[u]p till today the complete communism in production and consumption of every single Bruderhof […] and also the absolute unity of faith of all 35 Bruderhöfe is as good as completely unshaken; one can almost say is preserved absolutely pure.”5 This “purity” of the Bruderhof community was firmly based on Anabaptist-Hutterite religious principles, in particular the central tenant to forgo individual property and to “have all things common” (Acts 4:32).
The Hutterite communal economics not only provides a seemingly stark contrast to its capitalist surroundings; it also exemplifies how moral values decisively shape economic thinking, institutions and practice. This is the core of the current scholarly debate on moral economy, an interdisciplinary field of research that has grown from humble beginnings to prominence in the last decades.6
In The Moral Economists,7 intellectual historian Tim Rogan places the debate’s origin to T.H. Tawney, a British economic historian who published the influential book Religion and the Rise of Capitalism in 1926. Tawney found much at fault with modern capitalism, and it is in the context of his fundamental moral critique that he referred to Thomas More’s Utopia. Tawney was no mere academic confined to his ivory tower. He engaged in workers’ education, sympathized with Christian socialism and was politically active. Likely Tawney never learned about the Hutterites; otherwise he surely would have been keenly interested in this form of Christian communism.
Other academics, however, took note of the Hutterite communal economy. One was historian Victor Peters who in the 1965 book All Things Common provided one of the first systematic analyses of the Hutterite economic way of life in the context of modern American capitalism. It is no coincidence that the book’s opener immediately refers to Thomas More’s Utopia, for Peters considered the Hutterite Bruderhof as
literally utopian, for it was Thomas More who wrote: “For what can be more rich than to live joyfully and tranquilly without any worry, not fearful for his own livelihood, nor vexed and troubled with his wife’s importunate complaints, not dreading poverty to his sons, nor anxious about his daughter’s dowry? But instead to be secure about the livelihood and happiness of their wives, children, grandchildren, and their posterity which they handsomely assume will be a long time.”8
And yet, not all seems to have been as ideal and idealistic in practice. Twenty-five years before Peters’ scholarly account, Eberhard Arnold admiringly wrote about the impressive agricultural operations he observed, including a “very large mill,” a “gigantic thresher” and “the most modern motors.” While this sophisticated (and likely quite expensive) modern equipment at first glance appeared to be highly beneficial for improving efficiency in production, a somewhat puzzled Arnold also noted a counter perspective. It was voiced by an elder at Rockport Bruderhof who did not praise the progress, but rather was worried about decay, lamenting “the no longer Hutterian school, the economic rationalization of the Bruderhöfe, the influence of the world and diminishing unity in the style of life and the waning influence of elders.”9
From Eberhard Arnold’s perspective, trying to find an escape from the troubled circumstances in Germany, his puzzlement seems understandable. At the same time, the Rockport elder’s concern is highly plausible from a more distant analytical viewpoint. By 1930, American Hutterites were far from isolated, even if their remote settlement location would appear to be. The Bruderhöfe were instead tightly connected with their environment, particularly in economic terms. Hutterites produced for the market and were in turn susceptible to volatile prices, took out loans, bought machinery, and in many other ways relied on exchange with the outside world.
It thus should not surprise us that Hutterites were confronted with beliefs, ideologies, and rationales that competed with or were in direct opposition to their own Anabaptist beliefs. How should a Hutterite discern the logic of economic growth, profit-maximization, expansion, and efficiency gains in a competitive environment? How could Hutterite moral values be compatible with the requirements of modern capitalism? And how would this eventually shape the seeming “purity” of the Bruderhof community that Arnold so greatly admired in the following decades? Answers to these questions, I am convinced, will not only enhance our understanding of Hutterites in the context of the modern world. It would also offer a viable contribution to the much wider debate on the relationship between moral values and the economy.
1. It is important to note, however, that Utopia was not without flaws, at least from a 21st century perspective. These include the institution of slavery, as well as imperial wars of aggression against the island’s neighbors. Katherine Hill recently addressed More’s Utopia in a different context in her post on this blog: https://anabaptisthistorians.org/2020/12/21/utopian-imaginations/
2. Thomas More, Utopia, with the assistance of Jerry Harp, and Clarence Miller, Second edition (New Haven, Conn, London: Yale University Press, 2014), 63.
6. From the extensive current literature see for example: Ute Frevert, “Moral Economies, Present and Past: Social Practices and Intellectual Controversies,” in Moral Economies, ed. Ute Frevert et al., Geschichte und Gesellschaft Heft 026 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019); Norbert Götz, “’Moral Economy’: Its Conceptual History and Analytical Prospects,” Journal of Global Ethics 11, no. 2 (2015); Andrew Sayer, “Approaching Moral Economy,” in The Moralization of the Markets, ed. Nico Stehr, Christoph Henning and Bernd Weiler, first paperback printing (New Brunswick, NJ, London: Transaction Publishers, 2010).
7 Tim Rogan, The Moral Economists: R.H. Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E.P. Thompson, and the Critique of Capitalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018).
After the 1694 expulsion and dispossession of Mennonites from the city of Rheydt, negotiations were both urgent and extensive. (For the narrative of this event, as reported by Rheydt Mennonites themselves, please see my post from May 4, 2021.) The protracted aftermath – hundreds of letters, petitions, and memos sent between Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm and his commissioners, representatives of the Dutch States General, King William III of England and Stadtholder of the Netherlands, and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold III – ultimately demonstrated a small but significant rhetorical space that had been carved out through years of piecemeal economic toleration.1 Indeed, these high-level epistolary discussions often included appeals for de facto tolerance based on Mennonite economic usefulness or political obedience.
Though decisions happened primarily in these diplomatic debates, other Mennonite groups also took it upon themselves to urge intercession on behalf of the Rheydt community. These appeals often turned upon an argument for a shared Christianity, while at the same time defending against ongoing accusations of heresy – and we’ll look at one such letter today. The collective “baptism-minded” [tauffgesindt] community of the duchy of Cleve had been involved in raising funds to free the imprisoned Rheydt Mennonites in the summer of 1694, and subsequently petitioned their elector, Frederick III of Brandenburg, to plead on the Rheydt community’s behalf. They began a September 1694 letter by declaring “that those, who are of our opinion in the matter of baptism but otherwise faithful to Christian beliefs based on God’s Word” had been “attacked without warning.”2 This affront had occurred despite the community’s adherence to a faith that did “not in any way challenge the common ground of Christian religion.”3These Mennonites were those for whom “the carrying of weapons among them was held to be prohibited, but that nothing else was sought other than to live a quiet and peaceful life under their Christian authority, to honor themselves by honest dealings, to live in Christian love and unity with their neighbors and to contribute to the common good all that appertains to a faithful subject and citizen,” and that such obvious virtues had led, “not only in England and Holland but also in various provinces of the Holy Roman Empire [to]…freedom of residence, trade and commerce like other Christian inhabitants.”4 They therefore insisted on a common Christianity, but ultimately grounded their appeal for toleration in practical, economic successes in nearby communities and territories.
This mix of theological inoffensiveness and practical economic appeal became even more clear as the Cleve community dealt with the issue of the Peace of Westphalia. The 1648 Peace of Westphalia had redefined the relationship between Christian communities, Christian authority, and the Holy Roman Empire. Calvinism now joined Lutheranism and Catholicism as legitimate official religions, and, importantly, rulers who mandated one were no longer allowed to expel dissenting believers from the other two groups. Mennonites, however, were not included in this expansion of imperial toleration. The Cleve community acknowledged that they had heard others talk about their exclusion from the treaty: “In the meantime, we hear that we, not belonging to the three religions admitted to the Roman Empire, are to be feared as heretics and therefore our property, wherever it may be, is to be confiscated.”5 The community was forced to acknowledge the invectives thrown against them, and the economic penalty that had long attended charges of heresy.6 The Cleve community therefore identified the vulnerability that their extra-Westphalian status accentuated, even as they pushed back against the conflation of non-tolerated and “heretical” groups. They stopped short, however, of making any claims on Westphalian identity: “So it should be noted that we are not looking for any rights dedicated to these three religions in the same statutes, but rather we are asking for nothing more than what we, under your Serene Elector’s Merciful protection live peacefully…so that our mere things, without some fault of our own, may not be taken.”7 This plea was underscored by the accusation that the commerce available even to “heathen, Turks and Jews” had become impossible for Mennonites – a claim that they were owed at least the same, if not more, protection than these other exogenous groups.
The Cleve Mennonites’ insistence on their common Christian status under the Peace of Westphalia is striking, especially when considered next to their still-requisite denial of any connection to the 1534/5 Kingdom of Münster. The community was unsurprisingly explicit in its denunciation, acknowledging “a certain sect of people, which one calls re-baptizers, that also committed varying severe errors, and in particular have tried to bring about turmoil and insurrection [unruhe und Emperung] in ecclesiastical and secular rule […] out of which formed in the city of Münster a terrifying example.”8 These “pernicious heretics” had been dealt with justly according to the laws of the empire, the Cleve community emphasized, with strict punishments doled out to both ringleaders and followers.9 It was moreover well known, they argued, that Menno and all peaceable Anabaptists who followed him had willingly chosen a faith and a life that distinguished themselves from their “unruly” brethren – and exonerated them, in turn, from these lingering accusations of heresy. “[Menno] does not have the slightest community with those of Münster,” they argued, and “instead they have as their first and main maxim that they do not interfere with matters of spiritual or secular rule, and prove themselves to be against all turmoil [unruhe].”10 This letter from the “baptism minded” of the duchy of Cleve was longer than most other petitions in the aftermath of the Rheydt dispossession, perhaps indicating both the gradually increasing space for, and the ongoing character of, negotiations around Anabaptist identity.
Rheydt Mennonites would be portrayed by secular authorities throughout the negotiations as either a heretical threat or an economic boon, or perhaps some mixture of the two. This malleability in their identity had proved essential to their survival thus far, but also inherent to their persecution. Although the targeting of a flourishing religious minority group was far from a unique tactic, in the case of dispossessed Rheydt Mennonites it occasioned another semi-public discussion about who was and was not a Christian – and would eventually develop into a debate over who was and was not a “Protestant.”
1. Achieved through the exchange of protection fees [Schutzgeld] for the issuance of protection letters [Schutzbriefe]. For an example of Schutzgeld payments as recorded in the registers of the city of Emden, please see my post from May 28, 2020.
2. Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz[GSPK], I. HA Rep. 34 Nr. 2112, 6r.
6. The 1532 Constitutio Criminalis Carolina had codified laws concerning heresy, criminality, and property for application within the Holy Roman Empire. For the language of the Carolina, see “Appendix B. CONSITUTIO CRIMINALIS CAROLINA,” in Prosecuting crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany, France, edited and by John H. Langbein (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), 259-308.
While I was completing my doctoral coursework, I read Steven Ozment’s When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe, in which he described the magisterial reformers’ exaltation of marriage as an opportunity for women to take up their roles as mothers of the house, a position of “high authority and equal respect” to that of the patriarch.1 While Lyndal Roper and others have criticized Ozment’s rosy portrayal of Reformation-era gender relations, which failed to account for the vast gulf between the rights and privileges enjoyed by husbands and those afforded to wives, there is no doubt that many sixteenth-century Protestant writings emphasized marriage and motherhood as the primary opportunity for Christian faithfulness offered to most women.2 As wives and as mothers, they could obey the Scriptures and bring up their children in the fear of the Lord. Catechizing their own children was the primary mode of spiritual authority available to them.
At the same time, for my Radical Reformation field, I was reading Adam Darlage’s article on sixteenth-century Hutterite women, which emphasized the communal nature of child-rearing in Hutterite colonies. Hutterite mothers were not expected to be their children’s primary spiritual teachers—instead, children were housed separately from their parents as soon as they were weaned and received both spiritual and practical instruction in junior and then senior schools run by the community.3 Reading these works in parallel made me wonder whether sixteenth-century Anabaptists had qualitatively different views of motherhood than their magisterial counterparts. On the one hand, the radical reformers, like the magisterial reformers, rejected celibacy as an ideal and encouraged marriage instead. And the Swiss Brethren and the Mennonites, at least, would not have objected to mothers viewing childrearing and raising their children in the faith as an important spiritual task. But, at the same time, Anabaptist women faced a far more imminent threat of martyrdom than most other Protestant women, and so motherhood was, at best, their second-most pressing spiritual challenge. Their obedience to Christ was more likely to involve hostile interrogations and the threat of death, and to be willing to suffer death or imprisonment for Christ was of necessity to be willing to leave one’s family behind and to entrust the raising of one’s children to someone else.
In another life, I might have written a dissertation on sixteenth-century Anabaptist ideals and realities of motherhood. In the end I didn’t, though I think someone should! But for now, I thought I’d begin by looking at depictions of motherhood in one of the best-known early modern Anabaptist sources: the Martyrs Mirror. The first depiction of motherhood in the Martyrs Mirror that came to my mind was the iconic image of Anna Jansz, who was drowned in Rotterdam in 1539, searching the crowd for someone to raise her son Isaiah. The engraving shows the baker who finally stepped forward and agreed to raise him. He also agreed to give him a letter she had written to him, and the text of the letter became part of the Dutch martyrological tradition that culminated in the Martyrs Mirror.4 Also interspersed throughout the text are letters from five other mothers about to be martyred—Soetgen van den Houte, Maeyken Boosers, Maeyken van Deventer, Maeyken Wens, and Janneken Munsdorp—written to their children, in a last attempt to provide them with spiritual guidance. Soetgen and the three Maeykens left behind children old enough to remember them, and even to write back, so their letters reaffirmed values they had already taught their children over the years. They were deeply conscious that, after years of trying to teach their children, they were now setting the ultimate example by dying for their faith. They hoped that their children, too, would choose to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Christ on the narrow path that led to life. They took great comfort in the children who wrote back to them, confirming their intentions to live faithful lives. Maeyken Boosers even sent her children’s letters back to them, as a reminder of the promises they had made to her.5 The content of the children’s letters, and the faith most of their children adopted as adults, is not known, but the Martyrs’ Mirror does relay the story of Maeyken Wens’ fifteen-year-old son Adriaen, who went to witness her execution along with his youngest brother Hans (whom Maeyken, in the most touching part of her letter, had instructed Adrien to hug now and again on her behalf). He fainted when the pyre was lit, and when he came to only ashes remained. He sifted through them, found the tongue screw her torturers had used, and kept it as a memento. By the time this account was published in the mid-seventeenth century, Maeyken had several surviving grandchildren who had been named in her honor.6
Anna Jansz and Janneken Munsdorp, on the other hand, were both writing to babies so young that their letters would be their children’s only memory of them. Anna instructed Isaiah to take the fear of the Lord as his father and wisdom as his mother, a phrase that surely resonated with others as the letter circulated, since Maeyken van Deventer repeated it to her children 34 years later.7 While the rest of Anna’s letter was mostly filled with apocalyptic language about the evils of the current age and exhortations to live a righteous life, Janneken’s letter gave voice more fully to the anguish of being separated from such a young child and the deep pain she felt at not being able to live long enough to raise her. She and her husband Hans had been married less than a year when they were both apprehended, and he preceded her in death when the authorities discovered she was pregnant, since it was customary to wait until after pregnant women had delivered their children to execute them.8 She recounted how difficult it was to experience pregnancy in prison, knowing this separation was imminent. “Now that I have abided the time, and borne you under my heart with great sorrow for nine months, and given birth to you here in prison, in great pain, they have taken you from me,” she lamented.9 She held on to a sliver of hope, almost despite herself, that God might yet miraculously deliver her and return her to her daughter, but she realized that this was not the most likely outcome. “Oh, that it had pleased the Lord, that I might have brought you up; I should so gladly have done my best with respect to it; but it seems that it is not the Lord’s will.”10 Since she could not bring her daughter up in the faith herself, she hoped for one of two outcomes: “that [God] will keep you, and you grow up in His fear, or that He will take you home in your youth.”11 In a letter to her sister, she confessed to a preference for the latter outcome, so that she might be reunited with her child even sooner.12
Janneken was not the only woman in the Martyrs Mirror to give birth while imprisoned and awaiting death. Five other women gave birth under similar circumstances: Christina Haring, a woman named Lyntgen, Lijsken Dircks, Mary Joris, and the unnamed wife of Adriaen Pan. Christina, Lijsken, and Adriaen’s wife were each executed after giving birth.13 Mary Joris died in childbirth, a fact that the account of her death interpreted as deliverance, and as for Lyntgen, “the pain of delivery so affected her, that she became utterly deranged in her mind; after this she laid for a long time at Amsterdam, in a little house, in which also died.”14 There is no doubt that this experience of pregnancy in the worst possible conditions, with the certain knowledge that only death and separation from their children awaited them, was deeply traumatic for these women.15
Mothers who nursed infants at the time of their arrest were sometimes able to keep the child with them in prison, though the authorities did not hesitate to use the child to punish the mother. The Martyrs’ Mirror recalls the story of Paul Vandruynen and his wife, who had a nine-month-old child with her in prison until the authorities took the child and had it baptized. Another woman,Claudine le Vettre, suffered increasingly harsh interrogations while nursing her infant in prison, and, when these tactics failed the authorities took the child away and gave it to a wet nurse in a last attempt to coerce her into recantation. This attempt was unsuccessful, but it was “the greatest affliction she suffered during her imprisonment.”16 Mothers of slightly older children likewise found separation from their families the hardest loss to contemplate as they faced martyrdom. A woman named Claesken, who left behind two daughters and a son, became indignant when her inquisitor accused her of being confused and insufficiently familiar with the New Testament. “Do you think,” she retorted, “that we run on uncertainties? We are not ignorant of the contents of the New Testament. We forsake our dear children, whom I would not forsake for the whole world, and we stake upon it all that we have. Should we run on uncertainties yet?”17 For Claesken, the fact that she and other Anabaptists were willing to do something as impossible as leaving behind their beloved children was proof that they had been imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit.18 In addition to the mothers I have detailed so far, the Martyrs Mirror mentions three more mothers of minor children who were imprisoned: Hadewijk of Leeuwarden, Levina of Ghent, and Grietgen de Raet. Hadewijk escaped and lived out the rest of her life in Emden, but Levina and Grietgen were both executed.19 Two mothers of Anabaptist ministers, Janneken Walraven and Sijntgen Vercoilgen were also mentioned, but it seems that their sons were already adults by the time they were martyred.20 It is, of course, likely that other women in the Martyrs Mirror left behind children who simply were not mentioned in the accounts of their deaths.
Finally, the Martyrs Mirror recounts five stories of mothers who were martyred alongside one of their children: the wife and son of a man named Arent Jacobs, Neeltgen and Trijntgen of Maastricht, Lijngten Joris and her daughter, who was named either Catharina or Trijntgen, the wife and daughter of a man named Hans de Ruyter, and Anneken Botson and her daughter Janneken. While most of these accounts are cursory, the story of Neeltgen and Trijntgen describes how the two women spoke encouraging words and strengthened each other’s resolve in prison.21 The story of Lijntgen and her daughter, meanwhile, shows how the authorities attempted to pit mother and daughter against each other in order to force a recantation. On the day of their execution, they brought the daughter out of earshot of the mother and tried to tell her that her mother had recanted and she should as well. Their ploy did not work and the two women were executed together.22
The Martyrs’ Mirror, of course, self-selects for women who, however much it broke their hearts to leave their children behind, ultimately felt that martyrdom was a higher calling than motherhood. They entrusted their children to God and went bravely to their deaths. If they wavered, if they even briefly considered recanting in order to return to their families, the sources have not preserved these doubts. Overwhelmingly, it seems, they felt that their greatest task as mothers was to set a good example of faithfulness for their children. If they denied Christ in order to be restored to their children, paradoxically, they would fail at this task. It would be interesting to see what less hagiographic sources reveal about women who recanted, and how many of them cited their children as a reason for doing so.
1 Steven Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 54.
2 See Lyndal Roper, The Holy Household: Women, Religion, and Morals in Reformation Augsburg (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).
3 Adam Darlage, “Double Honor: Elite Hutterite Women in the Sixteenth Century,” Church History 79:4 (2010): 769.
Over the course of his career, Gary Waite has published widely on Dutch Anabaptism, witchcraft, Jews and Muslims in Early Modern Europe and taught courses on the same at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. In March, I had a conversation with him, excerpted below, about how he sees these topics reflected in the modern QAnon movement.
On Anti-Semitism in Premodern Europe and in QAnon
GW: As an historian of anti-Semitism and its development, I see all of these things interconnecting in QAnon. It’s not that the members of QAnon or whoever is the leader of QAnon is aware of all of these predecessors, but they’re clearly continuing to shape how these people are thinking. And some of the some of the stuff in the Q Anon is hundreds of years old and goes back to the medieval anti-Semitic tropes of a vast global conspiracy of Jews plotting the overthrow of Christendom.
CM: Now with space Laser Tech.
GW: Now with space lasers and drinking the blood of children. They’ve just made it a more modern version with this extract from children’s blood that the celebrities of Hollywood, i.e., the Jewish conspiracy group, are supposedly consuming to extend their lives.1 Jews were accused of ritual murder of Christian infants starting in the twelfth century in England and spreading from there to the continent and continuing on into the twentieth century. In case after case after case, a Christian child may go missing or someone says a child’s gone missing, it may not actually be a real child, and the Jews are rounded up and tortured into confessing that they have kidnapped his child, that they do this globally as an organized conspiracy against Christendom. They pick one place in Europe every year to kidnap a Christian child and that child stands in for Christ. And according to these Christians, that child represents Christ by virtue of its innocence, and therefore the Jews want to kill Christ over and over again. But they also want the blood of the infant for their various nefarious things, so they bleed it to ritually murder the child, and then they are almost always caught afterwards. Even the use of the of the blood is very similar to what I see in the QAnon propaganda, that fear that children are being kidnapped for their blood to extend the life of the drinker. It’s the same kind of argument made against Jews that they needed it to, not so much extend their life, but to remove the odor that they were apparently born with, to remove the horns that Jewish males were supposed to be born with and that sort of thing. Just absolutely bizarre beliefs that were taken seriously by Christians and led to the deaths of countless numbers of Jews and the destruction of Jewish communities. The expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 was based largely on ritual murder accusations. The last known ritual murder accusation in Europe was in 1948 in Poland. So it even survived the Second World War and the Holocaust.2 So that’s just one strand.
How did that get to modern America to such an extent that parents, all these adults who joined QAnon think there’s a grand conspiracy against their children, even though the children aren’t disappearing in the numbers that are alleged? Well, it’s become part of—I won’t say subconscious, but I think it’s just wrapped up into the fabric of European/North American discourse and beliefs. It’s in fairy tales and it’s also there in a lot of Christian preachers who disseminate this kind of conspiratorial thinking. It’s kept alive in the propaganda of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which still is a best seller in parts of the world. So all this stuff resides below the surface, all this anti-Semitism and all this conspiratorial thinking, and it just keeps popping up almost every generation we see a new variant, and this is just the latest one.
There’s also elements of racism in Q Anon. It arose when there was a black president in power and a lot of what’s been happening is a reaction against having a person of color in the highest office of the land. And of course—and this is one of the points I make in one of my books on Christian views of Jews and Muslims in the seventeenth century—one of the major determinants of how a population responds to others such as Jews or Muslims is the attitude and the statements made by those at the top, the political elite.3 And in the Dutch case, the Regents and magistrates of the realm said, “yeah, it’s okay to have Jews, they’re fine as long as they don’t cause any trouble, and we’ll start negotiating with Muslims” and they set a tone of acceptance of religious diversity, which included Mennonites and Catholics even to a point, and various others. Refugees started flooding into the Dutch Republic because of this and the magistrates said: “we will treat everyone equally, even though they are not all citizens, we will treat them as if they are.” And they said that about Jews. Jews could not be citizens, “but we will treat them as if they are,” and that really set a tone. So when I went through all of the propaganda and pamphlets and the news sheets and so on of the period, I found very little of the kind of anti-Semitism that you can see from the English side or the German side, and it’s the leadership at the top. And when you get a guy like Trump who believes in conspiracy theories, who’s got a racist, white supremacist streak through him, who loves to cater to the worst of American fears and anxieties, then of course you’re going to get all of these conspirators, white supremacists, racism suddenly coming back up to the surface where it had been suppressed beforehand. It’s people’s desire to know the future, to have someone to lead them in a way that they can feel confident in the future.
And the pandemic…Disease outbreaks almost invariably lead to targeting of others, typically the Jews. I just lectured this week on the Jews being targeted as responsible for disease outbreak in southern France in 1321, and the King of France used that to get money from the Jews. Then when the plague strikes in 1347, 1348, suddenly it’s the people who are saying the Jews are responsible and without any kind of organization they go to the Jewish communities and they burn them down. So this notion that others are to blame whenever there’s an epidemic of any kind is still with us, and I think that has really exacerbated everything. And it’s interesting, it’s nerve wracking to be an historian watching this stuff happening on the news every night. It is really, really strange. I like to study the past. I don’t want to live the same kind of stuff that I study though.
On QAnon and Early Modern Fears of the Devil and Witches
GW: I think Q Anon comes out of that particular form of American evangelicalism, which emphasizes the literal interpretation of prophecies and the Scriptures themselves, and especially the devil, or Satan…I know most modern people don’t believe the devil is real, but I think a lot of people still fear that there is this malign figure. And as Elaine Pagels wrote years ago in her book, The Origin of Satan, the devil was created by Christians in the way that we know him—there was Lucifer and Satan before in the Old Testament—but the devil that the Christians developed and that really became big in the later Middle Ages and in the early modern period is a creation of the need of Christians to target another group, the Jews, to prove to the Romans that it’s the Jews that deserve to be punished in AD 70 because of their father, the devil, and that Christians are distinct from it.4 And the devil plays that role. The devil allows one group to create a self identity that we are of the good, we are of God, you are of the devil. There seems to be a need for people to have these binary opposites so that we’re good and they’re evil, and so the groups that emphasize the reality of the devil—if you believe that the devil is real, as I said before, just about anything can be possible.
CM: And it allows you to say, if you have, you know family members or people you really love on the other side, it allows you to say “it’s not that they’re fundamentally evil. They’re taken over. It’s not them, it’s Satan.” And you need to try to rescue them.
GW: There were, even in the early modern period, as you know with the witch hunts, they identified two sets of victims of the devil—there were several, but two relating to witchcraft. One were witches who made a voluntary pact with the devil and therefore didn’t deserve any mercy. But there were those who were possessed by demons involuntarily, and therefore they were treated differently. So there were a lot of times when the jurists and the preachers and the medical personnel were trying to distinguish, is this person possessed by demons, and therefore we treat them with an exorcism? Or is this a person who’s made a pact with the devil? And we would like to think we don’t ask those questions anymore, but we do. In the Atlantic magazine just recently there was a long article on the rise of demonic possession and how the demand for exorcism in the United States is on the increase.5 And then this pandemic has simply escalated those anxieties that there is some malign thing out there that is causing this and we need to do something to protect ourselves and our children. And QAnon—every time I see all their signs saying that there are pedophiles who are drinking the blood of children I say here we go again, because in the witch hunts it was fears of what was happening to children, mysterious deaths of children, kidnapping of children, that led to parents and the authorities taking this very, very seriously, when otherwise they wouldn’t take these accusations seriously. I mean, these are learned people who, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries actually came to believe that women were getting on broomsticks—I know this is part of the stereotype, but this is this is in court records and learned discourse—and flying to a distant Sabbath meeting (there’s the Jews again) to worship the devil and to cause harm to children.6 It is such a powerful force, this parental drive to protect children, that all you have to do is say “they are kidnapping your children, we need to do something and you can get people involved who would not normally believe this stuff because their children are at risk. You saw that with the ritual murder panics of the 1980s and 90s.7 It was like the witch hunts had come back, that there were these groups of Satan worshippers who were kidnapping children and ritually murdering them in front of other children and worshipping the devil. And you would say nobody would believe that, except dozens, hundreds of social workers, prosecutors, police, and so on did believe it. Because of the fear that this is involving children. So using leading questions they got children to answer in the right way that yes, they saw a child being ritually murdered and people were arrested and put on trial and jailed, including Canadians—Richard Klassen out in Saskatchewan about fifteen years ago won a wrongful prosecution suit against the government of Saskatchewan based on the testimony of children.8 And so when I look at that and then I look at the early modern witch hunts and the role of children in making confessions, it’s like we haven’t changed. The dynamic remains that if our children are threatened, it doesn’t matter if there’s any truth to the matter, we will go and defend them.
And in all the cases in the Satanic ritual abuse cases, in the investigation reports after the fact…they could not find any evidence that any of the children had actually gone missing. There’s no correspondence between missing children and the alleged events, no evidence that any children were being killed. And the same thing was happening in many cases in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My favourite example is the Spanish Inquisition’s one and only witch panic, started around 1610 when two of the three Spanish inquisitors got involved in listening to women who were saying that they had been to a witches’ Sabbath just across the border in France. And that snowballed as these two inquisitors took seriously the testimony not just of adults but increasingly of children. And they would interrogate the children in such a way, ask them leading questions. Of course the children are going to respond to that. And so they ended up with hundreds of children as part of this ongoing investigation, and everybody is concerned that their children are being taken to the witches’ Sabbath to be sacrificed to the devil. The third inquisitor, Alonso de Salazar Frías, joins them finally. This team was supposed to always be three inquisitors in a local investigation, and so he finally joins. At the start he was supporting it and then he began to rethink and said “wait a minute, what is the evidence here?” And the Spanish Inquisition, to its credit, emphasized hard evidence. If you’re going to convict someone of a crime like witchcraft, you need evidence. What kind of evidence do you have? A confession in your own words is it. Eyewitnesses? Well, the only eyewitnesses to someone going to a witches’ Sabbath would be somebody already at the witches Sabbath, therefore you’re a witch, therefore your testimony does not count. So there’s always a problem. So he said, “no, I’m going to conduct my own investigation.” He went back to the facts, he reinvestigated thousands of confessions and depositions, he went and he talked to all of the children, but without the leading questions, and he finally wrote up a report that he sent to the Suprema, the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition, saying “there’s not a single shred of evidence that there’s been any act of witchcraft or any abuse of children in all of this, I recommend we put a halt to it.” The Suprema agreed, and in 1614 it said release all the prisoners. There were about two thousand people waiting trial and burning on these charges and because this one guy had doubts about it and pushed against his fellows at great personal risk he saved them all.9 And that’s one of the things that I’m afraid has gone by the board with the whole fake news business and this whole not trusting experts and not trusting the media. How do you say “show us the evidence”? I’ve watched reporters asking QAnoners: “Where’s your evidence for all this?” Well, their answer is: “is there evidence that it’s not happening?” And this is how they work. So no, your belief in a conspiracy is not evidence, and yet, we’ve lost the ability to say we need hard facts, because facts are no longer taken at face value like they used to be just two years ago, four years ago, before Trump. So that’s a real problem.
On Connections Between QAnon, Apocalyptic Movements, and Early Anabaptism
GW: Another element [of QAnon] is this belief in prophecy. Q keeps making these prophecies as to when Trump will be revealed and there will be a great reckoning and each time it fails. As a scholar of sixteenth century Anabaptism that, of course, resonates with me because you’ve got all these Anabaptists who were caught up in this belief that Christ was coming any moment and they picked the dates and they set the location and they all waited and it didn’t happen. And so some of the members left—such seems to have happened with QAnon—and others remained and just revised the interpretations and the prophecies. And so these kinds of prophetic moments when you’ve got these expectations that build up and people devote themselves to it to such an extent, they can’t just walk away. It is very hard for someone who says “I believe in all this stuff: that Q is real, that Trump is the Messiah-President, that he’s going to be returned to power, and they invest in it so much that they go marching. They go to Congress, they invade the buildings, they do violence. And then to just say, “oh whoops, I was wrong . . . ”? The same thing happened with the Anabaptists. Psychologically it’s very difficult.
CM: I think there’s a real family relationship element to it as well. If you’ve torpedoed your marriage for this, or if your kids aren’t speaking to you anymore because of this, if it’s caused a real rift in your family, then that’s another dimension where it’s much too hard to say “I was wrong” and try to get back.
GW: That certainly happened with the Anabaptists. It divided families and you make these decisions to join and to follow, and then whoops, and you’ve lost your family, you’ve lost your livelihood, you’ve lost your property, you’re in jail or you’re running from the authorities. You see that for example in the group that was around David Koresh, the compound in Waco, Texas, there are still people who believe that he was the Messiah. And so one of my thoughts as I’m watching QAnon is I think we’re watching the rise of a new religious movement. It’s got all the same kinds of expectations and hopes and dreams, zeal, everything that you need and a Messiah-like figure and a Prophet who’s behind the scenes… So I’m expecting that Q will remain in some fashion as a new religious movement of some kind. The Americans are pretty good at creating these new religious movements. One of the examples that I use in teaching is the Great Disappointment in the 1840s in the States, with the Millerites. Miller was an evangelical Christian who believed that he could figure out precisely when Jesus was returning through close interpretation of Scripture. And so he got it down to a particular date and place and by the thousands the Millerites came out to watch for Jesus’ return. It didn’t happen. So many left, and Miller himself and others stayed and revised their interpretations. A lot of people were angry—if you look up the Great Disappointment, as this was called, you’ll see a lot of popular print stuff that was made satirizing these poor folk. Well, that Millerite movement is the foundation of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.10 And David Koresh was a member of a branch group called the Branch Davidian sect of the Seventh-day Adventists. So even with all of the failed prophecies—and you could talk about the Jehovah’s Witnesses prophecies here—people will continue to believe because, as you say, they’ve invested so much of their personal lives, so much of their identity in this group and in these beliefs. It’s very hard for people to walk away. So you’ve got the Great Disappointment in nineteenth century and then you have the David Koresh group. . . . The Mormons started as an end of the world group, the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
CM: I find myself thinking a lot about the aftermath of Münster and how the Melchiorites disperse after that, and particularly thinking of the fairly large numbers who were successfully brought back into their regional churches in part due to, in the end, the concerted efforts of Tasch and Eisenberg, who had been Melchiorites and then decided to work somewhat covertly with the regional churches to facilitate this return. And of course, Lienhard Jost also then returns to the established church in Strasbourg. And I’m curious to know, when you study new religious movements, if you can think of other examples of this sort of successful reintegration and what some elements of that look like.
GW: Well, certainly it happened. It happened in in the Dutch side too. . . . You know this is one of the frustrations as historians working the Anabaptist field. We all know that so many people disappear from the record because they’re no longer part of the group. They’ve left it and therefore they’re not being arrested anymore, and that’s good for them. I wouldn’t want to have brought them back into the courtroom just so I would have a record of their beliefs. Certainly in the Dutch scene David Joris played a major role in keeping some of the Münsterite Anabaptists within the movement, but he did so by moving them away from a sectarian or confessional identity and moving them towards spiritualism, which says religion is interior, the letter of Scripture isn’t as important as the spirit within, that sort of thing.11 But his movement was actually more long lived than we had thought even just a few years ago. There’s a new book out on the Reformation Movement in the region east of the Dutch border in Germany, where Joris was very active, and his name and his ideas are stamped throughout.12 And even with the Dutch Mennonites, who are Menno’s heirs, he kept fighting against this David Jorisism, the spiritualism, but he never succeeded, and so there’s an element of that that runs right through the Dutch Mennonites into the 17th century. There’s a sort of a two-word debate. For most people, I would say for most of these new religious movements, once there’s the crisis, once there’s the great disappointment, once there is the failure of prophecy, a lot of the followers sort of disappear from the record. We don’t know where they went. It’s those who remain within it and help shape it into something else that we know that they are there. How many of them go back to a mainstream church or two? I don’t really know.
Menno Simons worked diligently to bring these disillusioned Anabaptists into his orbit, and he succeeded. He and the other fellow preachers, Dirk Phillips, Adam Pastor and so on did get a lot of these people back into the Mennonite Church, which is the heir to the Anabaptists. But they didn’t succeed entirely. There are a lot of people who just abandon anything like Anabaptism. Ben Kaplan, for example, has shown that around 1600 in the Dutch Republic a large minority of people and in some places a majority people did not belong to any church.13 And I think this is part of this whole disillusioning experience of the real bloodshed and violence of the Reformation in the Netherlands. And not just the Anabaptist persecution and Anabaptist Münster, but also the Catholic versus Calvinist battles and the Civil War. And so there were a lot of people who just said “not joining any of them.” And this is noticed by observers who came to the Dutch Republic. The Reformed Church is the public Church of the Realm, but not a formal state church. You don’t have to join it to be a citizen, to be a resident of the realm. The result is a lot of people decided not to. And so I think that there can be several different responses. Some people are successfully reintegrated into a more mainstream kind of church, a lot of people just drop away, and some people take an intentionally distinctive approach to religion. And in the Dutch Republic that was spiritualism, which really had a powerful impact on the mentality of people after the turmoil of the Reformation and Civil War.
CM: And even the more sectarian churches that do survive like the Mennonites, it’s a form of reintegration into society in a way to have developed a symbiotic relationship with the governing authorities rather than to view them as enemies to be overcome as soon as possible.
GW: Yeah, you need to make nice with the government and the Anabaptists found that a very difficult adjustment to make. And there’s always a sense that we are the persecuted people of God. It’s still a major force among some evangelical churches and other churches today. How do you know that you are God’s chosen people? Well, if you’re being persecuted, then that’s one of the signs as Jesus said. Problem is, if you’re not being persecuted, you have to find ways in which you can say that you are being persecuted. So saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas means we are being persecuted for faith—no you’re not!
The Mennonites did very well [in the Dutch Republic].14 You couldn’t be a Mennonite and be a citizen, and that’s okay. They didn’t mind that, they were happy to be an ignored minority. But they had all the economic rights and they could take on business. Some of them became fabulously wealthy. I’ve seen some of the houses. Piet Visser has taken me on tours and it’s just incredible the wealth that these heirs of the Anabaptists achieved. They would join with the merchants of the East India Company, but their ships could not have cannons on them because they’re pacifists. But they would sail with the Dutch Reformed who had plenty of cannons on their ships. And some of them became fabulously wealthy. You’ve got artists galore, you’ve got writers of great fame in the Dutch Republic who are of this Mennonite heritage. By 1600 the Mennonites were a significant part of the population and really influencing things. Some cities, some towns in the Dutch Republic, in particular North Holland in the Waterland area are almost entirely Mennonites and the economic prosperity is just incredible. But that leads to the new problem. They then become the social equals of the elites. Why not just marry into the elites? Why not just join the elites? Why not just reconvert to the Reformed Church then you can have all the full formal memberships and citizenships and so on. And that’s what most of them did. So by 1700 the Mennonite population had really shrunk not by persecution, but by assimilation, by social, cultural, economic motivations that it’s actually nicer to just join with this side. So I imagine some of that will happen. I have no idea what’s going to happen with the QAnoners now that as far as I know all of their prophecies have failed. What are they gonna do next? Go back to your churches, I would think but I’m waiting to see is it going to continue? Are they going to start a separate or distinct quasi denomination or religion? I don’t know. This could be the beginnings of a new Mormonism or a new Seventh Day Adventism or something of that nature, that has elements of Christianity, but with this new Q conspiracy Donald Trump is Messiah thing.
6 For more on early modern witch hunts, see Gary Waite, Heresy, Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003); Gary Waite, Eradicating the Devil’s Minions: Anabaptists and Witches in Reformation Europe (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).
7 See Jeffrey S. Victor, Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend (Chicago: Open Court Press, 1993).
9 See Gustav Henningsen (Ed.), The Salazar Documents: Inquisitor Alonso de Salazar Frías and others on the Basque Witch Persecution (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
10 See David L. Rowe, God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).
11 On David Joris, see Gary Waite, David Joris and Dutch Anabaptism (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1990); Gary Waite (Ed.), The Anabaptist Writings of David Joris, Second Edition (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2019).
12 See Karin Förster, Das reformatorische Täufertum in Oldenburg und Umgebung (1535-1540): Unter des besonderen Berücksichtigung des Täufertheologen David Joris (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2019).
13 See Benjamin Kaplan, Reformation and the Practice of Toleration: Dutch Religious History in the Early Modern Era (Leiden: Brill, 2019).
14 For more on Dutch Mennonite assimilation over time see Alastair Hamilton, Piet Visser, and Sjouke Voolstra (Eds.), From Martyr to Muppy (Mennonite Urban Professionals): A Historical Introduction to Cultural Assimilation Processes of a Religious Minority in the Netherlands, the Mennonites (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1994).
This past summer I found myself reviewing a number of classic early Anabaptist works as I researched and wrote a chapter on Anabaptist eschatology. As I researched and read I was struck by an unrelated phenomenon—the prevalence of the creeds in several of these writings. In the four years since I first began attending a Mennonite Church, I have sometimes heard Anabaptists referred to as non-creedal Christians. It is certainly true that, when asked to describe what it means to be Anabaptist, most Anabaptists will understandably give an answer that prioritizes doctrines and practices that are not common to the majority of Christian churches, particularly pacifism or credobaptism. Similarly, when drawing doctrinal boundaries around their churches (something they were as ready to do as the state churches, though not at the point of a sword), Anabaptists have tended to appeal to Scripture directly, since its authority superseded any creeds and confessions, however valuable.1 Nevertheless, insofar as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds can be said to summarize the essentials of the Christian faith, the earliest Anabaptists upheld these teaching with only a few exceptions.
Of these exceptions, the anti-Trinitarianism of Adam Pastor and of the Polish Brethren was never particularly popular, and in Pastor’s case resulted in his being banned. The more significant exception is Melchior Hoffman’s Christology—his assertion that Christ took no human flesh from Mary, who served only as a vessel, and instead possessed his own, celestial flesh. Menno Simons also adopted and promulgated this Christology—indeed it was one of the most significant features the Mennonites inherited from their predecessors the Melchiorites as they sifted through the legacy of Münster and determined what to retain and what to rebuke. Despite Menno and Dirk Phillips’ defense of this doctrine, support for it faded over the ensuing centuries, as the Dutch Mennonites made common cause with Swiss Anabaptists.2 This teaching was not necessarily irreconcilable with the letter of the Apostles’ Creed (they did still believe Christ to be born of the virgin Mary) but it was unquestionably a departure from the way these creeds had historically been interpreted. Nevertheless, the Dutch Anabaptist Thieleman Janzs van Braght, writing in the seventeenth century, had no trouble including the Apostles’ Creed in the Martyrs’ Mirror as a distillation of true, simple faith, and he described the three representative seventeenth-century confessions of faith that followed as elaborations on this core creed.3
The most enthusiastically creedal of the early Anabaptists was undoubtedly Balthasar Hubmaier. He referred often to the Apostles’ Creed, or the Twelve Articles of the Christian Faith. He considered acquiescence to and understanding of these articles a prerequisite for baptism and included them in his Christian Catechism, published in early 1527.4 During his 1526 imprisonment in Zurich, he even produced a devotional writing centered entirely around the Apostles’ Creed. He expanded upon the creed’s articles and transformed it into a prayer by changing the pronouns for God from the third to the second person, expressing the comfort and hope that he found in these doctrines.5 He also found the Apostles’ Creed polemically useful and appealed to it to advocate against the doctrine of transubstantiation and for believers’ baptism.6 As far as Hubmaier was concerned, the form of Christianity for which he advocated was not only compatible with these twelve articles, it was in fact more faithful to them than Catholic, Zwinglian, or Lutheran forms of Christianity.
The Hutterite Theologian Peter Riedemann likewise drew extensively on the Apostles’ Creed when he wrote his Confession of Faith during his imprisonment in the early 1540s. The Creed formed the scaffolding of the first part of the confession, as he elaborated on each clause: his beliefs on God the Father, the creation of Heaven and earth, Christ the son, the incarnation, and so forth. In choosing this framework, Riedemann appealed to many beliefs he held in common with his captors, but he also provided a distinctly Anabaptist gloss on these beliefs, emphasizing the importance of gathering a church without spot or wrinkle.7 He then went on to elaborate the points where Hutterite teaching diverged, including believers’ baptism, community of goods, and opposition to warfare.
Hymnody has long been a method of doctrinal formation for Anabaptists, and the second hymn of the Ausbund provided the faithful in Switzerland with the opportunity to rehearse the teachings of the creeds. The hymn is described as “the Christian faith, in song form,” and consists of three verses, one for each person of the Trinity. It appears to be an attempt to harmonize the two principal Christian creeds: it contains elements unique to the Apostles’ Creed, such as Christ’s descent into hell, as well as to the Nicene Creed, such as the description of Christ as “begotten, not made” and “of one substance with the Father” and the mention of baptism. At times, it elaborates further than either Creed. Nearly half of the stanza on God the Father lists “things visible” he has created—plants, sun, moon, stars, animals, and humans—before concluding with a mention of “things invisible.”8
The first generation of Anabaptists all converted as adults, after having already received some amount of Christian spiritual formation. These creeds formed part of the foundation that they brought with them into their new understanding of Christianity. Even as they were foundational, however, they were largely taken for granted—unlike nonresistance or believers’ baptism, the creeds were never under attack by either Catholics or magisterial Protestants. The creeds, then, could be seen as a quieter, less visible part of early Anabaptist identity—not particularly useful to distinguish Anabaptists from other Christians or explain the persecution they suffered, but nevertheless a useful description of the God in whom they trusted and the future for which they hoped.
1 They did, however, consistently engage in the work of attempting to formulate confessions that they felt faithfully reflected Scripture. See Karl Koop (ed.), Confessions of Faith in the Anabaptist Tradition, 1527-1660, second edition (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2019).
2 For more, see C. Arnold Snyder, “Christology” in Anabaptist History and Theology: Revised Student Edition (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 1997), 375-390.
3 Thieleman Janzs van Braght, Het Bloedig Tooneel of Martelaers Spiegel der Doopsgesinde of Weereloose Christenen (Amsterdam: Hieronymus Sweerts et al., 1685). https://books.google.com/books?id=UxmlV7PyedoC Support for the Melchiorite formulation of the Incarnation was already reduced by this point. The seventeenth-century van Braght includes take no firm position but instead acknowledge the longstanding debate among the Brethren on this question and content themselves with describing Christ’s incarnation as miraculous, however unknowable the specifics might be.
4 Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Christian Catechism which Everyone Should Know Before He Is Baptized” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 349; Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Form for Baptism in Water of Those Who Have Been Instructed in Faith” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 387.
5 Balthasar Hubmaier, “The Twelve Articles of the Christian Faith, Phrased in the Form of a Prayer at Zurich on the Water Tower” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 235-240.
6 Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Letter to Oecolampad” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 70.
7 Peter Rideman, Confession of Faith, translated by Kathleen E. Hasenberg (Bungay, Suffolk: Hodder and Stoughton, 1956), 38.
8Ausbund, Das Ist Etliche Schöne Christliche Lieder, Wie Sie in Dem Gefängnis zu Passau in dem Schloss von den Schweizer-Brüdern und von Andern Rechtglaubigen Christen Hin und Her Gedichtet Worden (Lancaster: Johann Baer and Sons, 1856), 5-8. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Ausbund/VKZXSla-jKoC
On the 10th of February, in 1535, the Melchiorite Anabaptist Hendrick Hendricks Snyder addressed a group of seven men and five women and prophesied to them of God’s impending wrath. Then he cast off first the weapons and then the very clothes he wore, and threw them into the fire. The other men and women followed suit and burned all their clothing as well. The group then ran into the city, shouting “Woe, woe, woe! Divine wrath, divine wrath, divine wrath!” Unarmed and small in numbers, the naaktlopers or “naked walkers” were easily captured by the Netherlandish authorities. They refused clothing even as they were escorted to prison, citing their intention to proclaim the “naked truth.” All the men involved in the incident, and some of the women, were sentenced to capital punishment as a result of their involvement, and the authorities in Amsterdam were motivated to enforce imperial edicts against Anabaptism more stringently than they had before.
The naaktlopers’ demonstration provided ample fodder for polemicists who sought to warn their readers about the dangers and excesses of Anabaptism. A little more than a decade after the incident, in 1548, the Dutch humanist and Catholic priest Lambertus Hortensius published a scathing account of Anabaptism in the Low Countries. Hortensius’ account circulated in several editions well into the seventeenth century and in several countries. A Dutch translation appeared in 1667, and in 1702 a French adaptation was published. The Dutch and French editions came accompanied with a striking woodcut of the incident, intended to further shock the audience and convince them of Anabaptism’s ridiculousness, if not its nefariousness.
For Hortensius and his translators, the naaktloper incident provided prime evidence of just how ludicrous Anabaptism was, and how deluded and unreasonable its followers were. Their descriptions of the event alternated between ridicule and pity for the persons involved. “Since these people were full of nothing but visions and each one considered himself a prophet, when the mood seized them, one could see them committing completely strange and ridiculous acts,” wrote Hortensius’ French translator. He went on to describe their decision to cast off their clothes and walk around Amsterdam naked as “one of the most ridiculous [ideas] that could befall the imagination.” For these early modern polemicists, the naaktlopers, with their immoderate excess and their willingness to perform every strange idea that came into their heads, perfectly encapsulated the failings of Anabaptism. More recent histories of Anabaptism have largely recounted the story of the naaktlopers as part of the general uproar surrounding the establishment of the Anabaptist kingdom of Munster, but have largely treated the public nudity aspect of the story as a curious but isolated incident.
The naaktlopers, however, were not entirely unique among their coreligionists. The third chapter of Strasbourg prophet Lienhard Jost’s visions reveals that he engaged in public nudity as a prophetic act, just as the naaktlopers did. Lienhard recounted that, one night, he felt the Spirit of God tell him to rise immediately, disrobe, and run through the streets of Strasbourg naked in order to sound the Mord Glock—the alarm bell located in Strasbourg’s cathedral. He rose immediately and ran through the streets of Strasbourg, shouting the following prophetic utterance: “Murder upon murder! The child in its mother’s womb must and will be terrified before the word of the Lord comes to pass . . . if the lords and rulers of the city only knew that their princely clothes will be removed from them before God and the world, that they might seek God again, they would all cry along with me…but after this the child in its mother’s womb will rejoice again, and all those who have been sad will find peace.” Like the naaktlopers, Lienhard’s actions resulted in his capture. However, given the relative tolerance of Strasbourg’s magistrates toward religious dissenters, he met with a much lighter sentence—he was brought to Strasbourg’s hospital, where he was deemed insane and moved to an asylum. He remained there for a few months until his release.
This is the only incidence of public nudity in Lienhard’s visions, but it nevertheless is not out of place. In his 2015 article on Lienhard’s prophecies, Jonathan Green notes the prevalence of clothing-based imagery. Lienhard counsels his audience to throw off their stinking clothes in order that God might clothe them, although he quickly clarifies that he is speaking in spiritual, not physical terms. Green also notes the performative nature of Lienhard’s visions in general. Lienhard was not content to merely share the words of God, but instead frequently contrived an object lesson. He chewed and then spit out bread in order to demonstrate his rejection of “idolatrous masses,” and he poured wine on his bed and watched it spread as a symbol of how a God-sent abundance of good things would soon spread across the earth. Lienhard’s own experiences of God were multi-sensory. He not only saw and heard God’s messages, he felt and tasted them. Since his experience of divine revelation that was so arresting and all-consuming, it is unsurprising that Lienhard would attempt to replicate aspects of this experience for his audience.
It is impossible to establish with certainty whether Hendrick Hendricks Snyder and the rest of the naaktlopers were familiar with Lienhard’s prophetic career, but it seems distinctly possible, and perhaps even likely. Melchior Hoffman assiduously disseminated their visions and prophecies among his followers. In 1533, his associate Cornelijs Poldermann testified to Strasbourg’s Protestant preachers in a letter that the whole Netherlands were full of the Josts’ books—an obviously hyperbolic claim, but one that nevertheless speaks to the popularity the Josts’ visions enjoyed among Hoffman’s followers in the Low Countries. Thus, Snyder and his compatriots may well have read Lienhard’s visions, or at least been apprised of their contents if they could not read them themselves. Their cries of woe even echo Lienhard’s cries of “murder upon murder,” although Lienhard went further and promised God’s eventual mercy after announcing impending judgment. He also tied nakedness to the casting off of superfluous wealth, and the historical record does not say whether any of the naaktlopers made a similar connection.
Whether or not the naaktlopers drew their inspiration from Lienhard, however, the practice of public nudity as a prophetic act has a long-established place in the Jewish and Christian canon. In Isaiah 20, God commanded Isaiah to remove the sackcloth and ashes he had previously worn to prophesy and instead to prophesy completely naked for a period of three years as a portent of God’s impending judgment on Egypt. Isaiah’s display is the only divinely sanctioned instance of post-Garden of Eden public nudity in the Bible—Noah’s drunken exhibitionism in Genesis earned the patriarch and his son divine censure—but it is not, for all that, an aberration. The Old Testament prophets frequently engaged in visually arresting, often shocking and bizarre displays as a means of reinforcing God’s message. Early modern Christians in search of a more recent example could point to Saint Francis of Assisi, who made a public display of his rejection of his parents and his upbringing by publicly casting off his clothing before the Bishop of Assisi. This incident had a powerful hold on the imaginations of medieval Christians; it was not only recounted in many of St. Francis’ vitae, but also became the subject of several different artistic depictions of the life of Francis in late medieval and Renaissance-era European churches and chapels.
It is difficult to ascertain just how much Lienhard Jost and the Amsterdam naaktlopers knew about the biblical and medieval prophets and saints who came before them. Lienhard Jost was an illiterate peasant labourer, and the educational status of Hendrick Hendricks Snyder and his followers is not known. It is probable that they never had the opportunity to study the biblical text in much detail or read saints’ vitae for themselves. Nevertheless, they may well have become acquainted with some of these examples through preaching, ecclesiastical artwork, or oral tradition. Elements of Lienhard’s account suggest that he may have, consciously or unconsciously, drawn inspiration from the life of St. Francis of Assisi. It is true that he never mentioned Francis by name and he frequently derided the Catholic mass as idolatrous and clerical celibacy as an abomination. Even so, however, there are some striking points of similarity between the life of the Strasbourg prophet and that of the Italian mendicant. Lienhard’s motivation for running around Strasbourg naked bears a strong resemblance to the Francis’ motivation for disrobing in front of his father and the bishop of Assisi. For both men, the casting off of clothing represented an emphatic rejection of wealth and opulence. In Francis’ case, he rejected the wealth and opulence to which he had been born and which his family still enjoyed. In Lienhard’s case, though he himself was not endowed with much wealth to cast off, he physically enacted the spiritual renunciation he expected from Strasbourg’s ruling class. Another event in Lienhard’s life also mirrored that of St. Francis: in pondering the wounds of Christ, Lienhard received a physical reminder of these wounds on his right foot, which calls to mind Francis’ reception of the stigmata, a famous event that inspired many imitators—particularly women—well into the seventeenth century.
The surviving accounts of the naaktlopers are far less detailed than Lienhard’s description of his visions, and make it difficult to say with certainty even what their motivation was for running into Amsterdam unclothed—whether it was a warning of God’s impending wrath, a reminder of humanity’s vulnerability, or a call to cast off worldly wealth and greed—let alone what people in biblical or church history served as their inspiration. Nevertheless, regardless of whether Hendrick Hendricks Snyder and his followers consciously imitated Lienhard Jost or Francis of Assisi or the prophet Isaiah in their public display of nudity, their actions, while shocking (and purposefully so), were not an aberration. Lienhard Jost and the naaktlopers’ decisions to disrobe publicly form part of a long Judeo-Christian tradition of prophecy as a public performance, designed not only to share the word of the Lord, but also to communicate his message to the people visually through the use of striking physical displays and object lessons. The word had become flesh in Jesus, and, in a lesser way, it became flesh again and again through his messengers.
 Samme Zijlstra, Om de ware gemeente en de oude gronden: Geschiedenis van de dopersen in de Nederlanden, 1531-1675 (Leeuwarden: Fryske Akademy, 2000), 135-136.
 Lambertus Hortensius, Tumultuum Anabaptistarum Liber Unus (Amsterdam: Henricus Laurentius, 1636), 55.
 Cornelius Krahn, Dutch Anabaptism: Origin, Spread, Life, and Thought (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981), 148.
 Lambertus Hortensius and François Catrou, Histoire des Anabaptistes (Amsterdam: Jacques Desbordes, 1702), 106.
 Lienhard Jost, Ein Worhafftige Hohe und Feste Prophecey des Linhart Josten van Stroßburg, edited by Melchior Hoffman (Deventer: Albert Paffraet, 1532), fol. B3r.
 Jonathan Green, “The Lost Book of the Strasbourg Prophets: Orality, Literacy, and Enactment in Lienhard Jost’s Visions” in The Sixteenth Century Journal 46:2 (Summer 2015): 324.
 See Julian Gardner, “A Minor Episode of Public Disorder in Assisi: Francis renounces his Inheritance.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 68:2 (2005): 275-285.
 Jost, Worhafftige Hohe und Feste Prophecey, fols. E1v-E2r. On the stigmata in late medieval and early modern mysticism, see Stephen Haliczer, Between Exaltation and Infamy: Female Mystics in the Golden Age of Spain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
The collection of Schutzgeld, or ‘protection money,’ had begun in the East Frisian city of Emden shortly after the city’s revolt against Count Edzard II in 1595. The first extant records date to 1601 and detail the amount owed by each Mennonite and Jewish household within the newly autonomous (and predominantly Calvinist) jurisdiction. (For a bit more on the earliest Schutzgeld records in Emden, please see my post from November 27, 2018.) But only a few registers of this particular tax remain for the city of Emden. We have documentation from the years 1601, 1602, 1626, 1638, 1737 and 1749. There are a few additional documents from the eighteenth century in which Schutzgeld was recorded from both across the county and within the city of Emden, but only compelled from Jews – a development that illustrates the increasingly disparate paths made for Mennonites and Jews in this area of the empire. But even with those additional accounts, we can see the records that remain are the exception rather than the rule. Today, I’ll examine the two sets of records from the mid-seventeenth century.
The 1626 Emden Schutzgeld records [Fig. 1] were clearly functional, as owed amounts were crossed out and replaced, red scratches along the edge denoted fulfilled obligations, and the slim bound booklet generally displayed marks of use and wear.1 The obligations were divided among 22 different geographic sections, named companies, each with a corresponding responsible captain. These captains were not Mennonites, but the leaders of the city or night watch – a communal obligation that this tax exempted Mennonites from performing. The numbers in these ‘companies’ varied from as few as one man or household (Dirck Simons, in Hindrich Busert’s company, who owed 3 Emden gulden) to as many as 19. There are 175 names overall, of which 19 were noted as Jews. Another 3 names were stricken from the record; as two of the three names stricken were widows owing only 1 gulden, it seems likely that these were either the recently dead or the benevolently omitted. Unlike the Schutzgeld records from a quarter-century before, however, none are here designated as ‘paupers’ and thus exempt from payment.
That leaves 153 paying Mennonite households, 9 of which were headed by widows and 3 of which appear to have been headed by underage sons. The density and prosperity of the Mennonite community in Emden held steady in the quarter century between 1602 and 1626. The total amount remitted by that Mennonite community came to 654 Gulden and 5 Schap – an amount figured through an informal sum on the back of the well-worn booklet itself.
The 1638 Schutzgeld records [Fig. 2], by contrast, are much cleaner and show no evidence of their use as a working document – but also include no amounts at all.2 There is no indication of amounts owed, the vagaries of collection, or indeed that money exchanged hands at all. This, then, is a list that named Mennonites and Jews, but shares little else in common with the list from just 12 years prior. This lack of consistency could perhaps be evidence for haphazard or even intermittent collection within the city of Emden, but it is more likely that this document represented a different stage in the process than the worn document of 1626. Additionally, the helpful numbering along the left edge of this document drops off in the middle of the second page, after ‘40,’ which confirms further that this is merely a draft of a later, more useable register.
There are 21 companies in the 1638 record, and a total of 176 names – almost no movement in the overall number of marginalized residents sharing this tax. However, the number of Jews has dropped significantly for such a small population, from 19 to 11. That leaves a modest increase in the number of Mennonite households, now at 165 and up from 153 in 1626. Of those 165 households, a steady number – 8 now, in comparison with the 1626 count of 9 – are widows. For the first time, a ‘doctor’ appears in the register: a ‘Doctor Eilde’ residing in the company of Captain Eggo Hermans. Without amounts, however, it’s hard to tell how prosperous this Mennonite doctor was – or indeed, whether the fortunes of the community had changed in aggregate.
Four captains’ names remain the same from the 1626 collection to that of 1638, a comparison that allow us to consider the nature of community change. The company of Viet Hindricks grew from 5 to 10 in those twelve years, and only two of the names remained the same: Nonne Aggen and Johan Jacobs ‘Flet,’ neither of whom appear in the index of the city archive. In Herman Gerrits’s company the growth was more modest, from 11 to 13, but a full seven of the names remained the same. This was perhaps a younger set of taxed households, and an area of the city with more Jewish inhabitants (4 were designated as Jews in both 1626 and 1638). The company of Jeldrich Taken grew from 7 to 12, with 4 names remaining the same. The number of Mennonites shrunk in the company of Johan Horstman, from 7 to 5, and there are two instances of family name matches but no individual persons who appear on both records.
These comparisons are more suggestive than anything. Twelve years represents perhaps half of a generation, and the 1638 records leave open the question of economic growth, prosperity, or burden. Schutzgeld was presumably a yearly tax, as it replaced watch service that was continuous for other male adults, but the lack of sources leaves confusing caesura in the historical record. What the remaining Schutzgeld sources continue to attest to, however, was the bureaucratic grouping of Mennonites and Jews together within the city of Emden. These religious minorities were nameable, even when the names given by governmental authorities were imprecise, and they were thus taxable. These were communities who continued to live and worship despite a lack of official toleration documents, and it is in this way that economic instruments must be read as crude (and inherently unstable) religious settlements. Informal toleration through taxation and through other one-time compulsory payments – for dikes, for military expenses, or just to balance the books; what older historiography has rightly labeled ‘extortion’ – provided both plausible cover and continuing threat for both Mennonites and Jews in early modern Emden.
The Classics of the Radical Reformation Series is published under the auspices of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Institute for Mennonite Studies and overseen by a reference council of scholars from Canada and the United States, a group I joined in 2018. Since the 1970s, the series has existed “to offer in the English language, scholarly and critical editions of the primary works of Reformers of the Radical Reformation…also intended for the wider audience of those interested in Anabaptist and free church writers of the sixteenth century.” The first nine volumes, published from 1973 to 1999, were published by Herald Press, while the remaining five volumes, which first appeared between 2001 and 2017, were published by Pandora Press. The series included the writings of such prominent sixteenth-century figures as Pilgram Marpeck, Balthasar Hubmaier, Michael Sattler, Andreas Karlstadt, and David Joris, as well as collections organized by genre (confessions of faith) and loose geographical networks (Swiss Anabaptism and South German/Austrian Anabaptism). They have proved an indispensable resource for both academics (I cited multiple volumes in my doctoral dissertation) and interested pastors and laypeople.
As some of the older titles fell out of print, however, it has become increasingly difficult for those without borrowing privileges from well-stocked university libraries to access the full series. In the interests of making all the volumes accessible to a new generation of readers, the entire series was republished by Plough, the publishing house of the Bruderhof, in late 2019. Plough marked the republication of the series with a November 23rd launch in San Diego, during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature. The first nine volumes, originally published by Herald Press, also have updated prefaces (from the author where possible, and otherwise from top scholars in the field).
The following volumes are now available from Plough: 
The Legacy of Michael Sattler (edited by John H. Yoder, with a new preface by C. Arnold Snyder)
The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck (edited by William Klassen and Walter Klaassen, with a new preface by John D. Rempel)
Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources (edited by Walter Klaassen, with a new preface by John D. Roth)
The Sources of Swiss Anabaptism: The Grebel Letters and Related Documents (edited by Leland Harder, with a new preface by Andrea Strübind)
Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism (edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder, with a new preface by Brian Brewer)
The Writings of Dirk Philips, 1504–1568 (edited by Carnelius J. Dyck, William E. Keeney, and Alvin J. Beachy, with a new preface by Piet Visser)
The Anabaptist Writings of David Joris (edited by Gary K. Waite, with a new preface by the editor)
The Essential Carlstadt (edited by E. J. Furcha, with a new preface by Amy Nelson Burnett)
Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith (edited by John J. Friesen, with a new preface by the editor)
Sources of South German/Austrian Anabaptism (edited by C. Arnold Snyder)
Confessions of Faith in the Anabaptist Tradition 1527–1660 (edited by Karl Koop)
Jörg Maler’s Kunstbuch: Writings of the Pilgram Marpeck Circle (edited by John D. Rempel)
Later Writings of the Swiss Anabaptists 1529–1592 (edited by C. Arnold Snyder)
We hope that this re-launch will prompt new interest in the CRR series and that it will continue to be useful both inside and outside academia.
My dissertation focuses on the early modern period and addresses the economic experiences of nonconformists in the northwestern Holy Roman Empire. One piece of twentieth-century evidence, however, demonstrates how economic strength became a rhetorical pose necessary for later Mennonites—a pattern familiar to any minority group that must justify its continued existence to a wider community. This short nineteen-page pamphlet, The Cultural Achievements of the Mennonites in East Frisia and the Münsterland, written and published by Pastor Abraham Fast of Emden in 1947, began by explaining the common experience of Mennonites in what was now northwestern Germany: “In East Frisia and the Münsterland the Mennonites were, from the beginning, much less a segregated non-resident settlement community than later in the eastern part of the Empire or further in Russia.”1 This ‘integration’ was made easier by what Fast described as “blood and language,” common membership in a so-called “Saxon-Frankish-Friesian tribe” as those in the East Frisian and Westphalian communities to which they immigrated.
Predictably, in a publication dedicated to an elder of the Mennonite community in Gronau, Fast was effusive about the positive role Mennonites had played. This was both genuinely celebratory and an expedient means of justification; Fast argued that Mennonites had a small but nonetheless integral role as “economically and spiritually a good leaven for this region.” He dug into the archives to evidence this claim, pulling sources from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries before turning to his main concern: the “most recent 150 years” of Mennonite history in the area (indeed, Fast gives quite a detailed industrial history of a number of textile firms).2
My concern, of course, is his use of evidence from the early modern period. Fast highlighted the irony of sixteenth-century economic toleration: “This fact is simply appealing when one observes how the sharpest memories of the edicts against the Mennonites fade, while at the same time [they were] negotiating with these forbidden heretics over leases, money borrowing or even gifts for the princely court.”3 This ironic use of ‘heretic’ (‘Ketzer’) is striking. Most importantly for Fast, however, was the clear economic advantage to business dealings with Mennonites even as they were singled-out for religious nonconformity. Fast went on to argue that authorities recognized this advantage early on, and sought to bring Mennonites into these territories despite religious difference.
Fast, remarkably, harkened back to the same 1577 letter from the Emden council about which I wrote about a few months ago, and quoted from the complaint by Emden authorities that Anabaptists were taking up the most prominent houses and prominent roles in the wider business and merchant community. It is notable that Fast was here comfortable quoting from a letter that only ever referred this group as Anabaptists (Wiedertäufer) – and one in which their social position was made explicitly analogous to that of Jews. Fast went on to quote from a protection letter from 1688, in which authorities warned that the expiration of Mennonite protections would have a significant financial strain on the area, and to quote extensively from a 1708 petition by a governmental official in Norden who expounds upon the necessity of Mennonites for the larger community there – and especially for the poor.4
In his sparse use of early modern evidence, Fast meant only to set the stage for the more impressive economic achievements of Mennonites in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, the addition of the letter from 1577 does two unique things. First, it uses a hostile account as evidence for prosperity—the latter two pieces of early modern evidence appear to be neutral if not complimentary, while the 1577 letter was clearly pejorative. And secondly, it naturalizes the economic strength of the Mennonite community; it has always been so, and the community’s industriousness has paved the way for its inclusion.
Similarly, Fast listed a number of western Münsterland industrial concerns begun by Mennonites – most of which had been founded only during the nineteenth century, but which had grown out of a tradition of Mennonite weaving and cloth-trading that began in the early modern period.5 The relative wealth of Mennonites compared to wider society was a commonality amongst Mennonites in both East Frisia and the Münsterland, evidenced by the saying “only rich people belong to the Mennonites.”6 This pride in the relative wealth of the community is certainly a prominent theme of Fast’s pamphlet, and he noted that Mennonites gave generously to the poor of other confessions, as well as contributed significantly more to school taxes.
But Fast acknowledged some differences between the two communities, in a striking paragraph that closed his pamphlet:
“Worth mentioning, however, are the following peculiarities. In contrast to the families from Emden and Norden, the Münsterlanders did not appear on the political stage. But they built up all the more zealously as entrepreneurs that which gives public life its basis and its freedom of movement: the economy. On the other hand they revered, as did the East Frisian Mennonites, a religious inwardness and the free cosmopolitanism associated with it, as had always belonged to the tradition of these communities. Most of the above-mentioned, significant business founders in East Frisia and the Münsterland and their successes have put their forces at the service of local communities as church councilors and as deputies in the service of the Association of the German Mennonites, where the community in Emden shaped the spiritual center of the whole group and still shapes it until today.”7
But if Mennonites would eventually find themselves wealthy, and protected by that wealth – however reliable this ebullient pamphlet was – it took round and rounds of negotiation in the early modern period to establish their homes in communities such as Emden, Norden and Leer.
Abraham Fast, Die Kulturleistungen der Mennoniten in Ostfriesland und Münsterland (1947), 3. An editorial note on the inside of the front cover indicated that the text had been prepared in 1939 but its publication had been delayed by the Second World War. ↩
That same editorial note indicated that he used a number of well-known nineteenth century works to gather this evidence, particularly J.P. Müller, Die Mennoniten in Ostfriesland.↩