What am I doing?
I’ve come to the conclusion that any reading of the Martyr’s Mirror has to begin with an understanding of the time in which it was written. This means going back and reviewing a little Western Civilization history. I started where we all start these days – Wikipedia. So it’s not a scholarly source, but I don’t have time for scholarly sources and their terrible, meandering, self-indulgent writing.
I started with Menno Simmons. Reading this page was a trip down the rabbit hole. All of the sudden, I was being pulled in many coincidental directions.
Simmons is father of the subsect of Anabaptism from which my family extends – the Mennonites. I descended from the Stauffer clan and bore the Brubacher name. That is until I was adopted at age 2 into the Friess family, a family that, until now, I had assumed was about as far from Anabaptist as one could get. Then I read the first sentence in the Simons entry:
Menno Simons was an Anabaptist religious leader from Friesland.
What!? Where was this Friesland? It’s the modern day Frisia province of the Netherlands, famous for its canals, speed skaters and … windmills. No, I’m not kidding. Mental note: Find out where the Friesses originated.
The weird connections continued. From Simmons’ file, I went to the main Anabaptist history and refreshed my memory over the great baptism schism. It appears that the Anabaptists drew the ire of both the Catholic Church and the seemingly modest Lutheran Protestants by claiming that one had to consciously accept the salvation of Jesus in order to be saved. Infant sprinklings didn’t cut it. Well, the Catholics and Lutherans considered this a dangerous heresy that would, given the high infant mortality rate, damn countless innocents to an eternity of hellfire. The Anabaptists saw the opposition as hypocrites. The opposition saw the Anabaptists as soul-collecting agents of the devil.
All this talk of dead babies drew up a flicker of memory in my mind of a famous Colonial American preacher Jonathan Edwards. The Puritan firebrand set the gold standard for hellfire ‘n’ brimstone wingnut harangues. Edwards is often saddled with the quote: “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of unbaptized babies.” Harsh. Well, it just so happens that Edwards spent 8 years as a priest in Stockbridge, Mass. That’s where I spent much of my vacation last summer, but I never saw his home on any of the history tour literature.
Yes, Puritanism. I was puzzled by the descriptions of the early Anabaptists in southern Germany. Anabaptism under Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel in Zurich was a wild and crazy time – speaking in tongues, holy rollin’, you name it. This worship does not resemble in the least the four hours of bloviating and sad hymns (a cappella, no less) that my Old Order relatives endure every other Sunday. The worship of the 16th Century reminds me of the emotionalistic nuttiness of the church of my youth or the Colonial-era Shakers, whose restored village I also visited this summer. No, the worship of my relatives seems to be very Puritanical – hours and hours of endurance, listening to amateur preachers try to sound very much like Jonathan Edwards.