This is, a trenchant, at times poignant, (in Ron Dart’s oft-used expression) “plough-to-soil” book.
In the early 1980s, as part of completing a Masters of Theological Studies degree at Regent College, University of British Columbia, I focussed my Church History studies on the pre-Constantinian Church, and on 16th-century Anabaptism – much taken then by that Tradition. (As it turned out, Ron Dart was also doing a Masters Degree then at Regent – though we barely knew each other at the time. Ron has since become a dear friend.) I had first come across the Anabaptist Peace Tradition in January 1975 through John Howard Yoder’s classic book: The Politics of Jesus. That Yoder tragically betrayed that position profoundly through any number of sexual assaults against women is utterly devastating to his own theological peace witness (as clicking on the underlined will indicate – if you are reading a digital Kindle version – or online on his name cum sexual assault).
That the Anabaptists were not the lead peacemakers of the 16th century is part of the burden of this book. Erasmus and the English Reformers were without doubt, as you will see in this volume, the lead writers and performers of Peace in that century. Even more: by the very participation of Anabaptists in breaking with the Roman Catholic Church, they engaged in what Ron Dart many times has written about – the sowing of the DNA of schism in the Church Politic. And schism has been one hallmark of the Protestant Reformation ever since.
In fact, “The Reformation” to refer to Protestantism’s inception in the 16th century, in light of this volume, is a misnomer. Erasmus and the English Reformers were the leaders at that time in urging the Church towards reformation. “The Great Schism” is more apt, not “Reformation”, one that led to endless Church schisms ever since, and to our incredibly fragmented Western world in many respects…
I no longer these days read Yoder – and rarely Anabaptists/Mennonites – to better learn/try to practise Peace Theology. And I take a dim view of books like Palmer Becker’s recently published Anabaptist Essentials(Harrisonburg: Herald Press, 2017), which not only fails even to mention Erasmus and the English Reformers in his (for instance) woefully inadequate “overview” of Church History, it also sadly prattles on about the “uniqueness” of Anabaptism over against other Traditions, thereby indulging in part the same spirit of superiority tribalism encountered in the 16thcentury – that hardly sounds “peacemaking”.
In so doing not only is Becker seriously out of touch, but contrary to ubiquitous claims otherwise and by him, Anabaptism proves to come up short even in its (for Becker et al. exclusionary) claim to be an historic Peace Church (like no other). For starters, as Ron/Erasmus points out, how can a “Peace Church” be simultaneously a “Schismatic Church” from the get-go?
In light of this volume’s discussing the “Radical Reformation” (Anabaptists), modern-day Anabaptists/Mennonites can do perhaps no better than pause and consider this gentle corrective to some of the self-congratulatory tone of past and current promoters of a sadly enduringly schismatic Tradition.
That said, the final Appendix book review of From Suffering to Solidarity: The Historic Seeds of Mennonite Interreligious, Interethnic, and International Peacebuilding, (Foreword by Marc Gopin, edited by Andrew Klager, Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2015), highlights “the best of the historic Anabaptist-Mennonite peacebuilding way”. And for that “way” at its best, one in which I participated many years through Mennonite Central Committee Canada, and now through a provincial arm, one can indeed be profoundly grateful.
So read, digest, learn, then ponder wistfully as Ron briefly does, just what kind of a Western world we might have had today, had Erasmus been broadly heeded conjointly with the English Reformers. And with that, we may further ponder where we all go from here on our continued peacemaking paths vis à vis the Church and the World.
In the end, as Ron often signs off on his missives: Amor vincit omnia: Love conquers all. Amen. Maranatha!
Wayne Northey, Agassiz British Columbia
December 14, 2017
CLICK here for Wayne's expanded article, including video, Ron's Introduction and an essay titled, "REFORMATION 500: ERASMUS, THE FILIOQUE CLAUSE, AND THE FATHERS: THE IRENIC QUEST FOR PATRISTIC UNITY"