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Doug Gwyn

Two sources of early Quaker radical witness:

1. Spiritualist Reformation

  • figures such as Caspar Schwenckfeld, Sebastian Franck, Jacob Boehme, etc.
  • a radical internalisation of the Spirit‘ s work
  • Christ within‘
  • eg, communion with Christ in the Spirit (outward elements unnecessary); Christ as inward teacher; the need for a Stillstand , a suspension of proliferating reformations, to wait for God to reveal something more decisive and uniting.

This tradition filtered in to England in the C16 and was embodied in groups like the Family of Love in Elizabeth‘ s reign, then by Seekers (dropouts from all churches, waiting for a new revelation and new apostles) in the 1640s -- Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers, as well as the Ranters, generate from this scene

2. The Anabaptist Reformation

  • particularly the resistance politics and willingness to suffer for one‘ s Christian witness
  • Ana B? tradition filtered into England in early C17 through separatist congregations emigrating to Holland and coming into contact with Mennonite groups (particularly Waterlander stream)
  • General Baptists were particularly strong in their countercultural behavioral codes (no pagan day-names, no swearing of oaths, endogamy, open for business on Sundays), many of which were picked up by early Friends -- G Bs? also engaging in more Spirit-led worship and allowing women‘ s ministry, which also carry over into early Quakerism
  • George Fox (1624-91) seems to be the key, synthesizing figure who is able to put these and other elements together into a prophetic movement in the 1650s that revitalised radical Christian witness and republican politics / raised in village in Leicestershire / left home in 1643 at age 19 / became a Seeker, drifting from group to group, teacher to teacher, unaffiliated / 1644, visited with General Bs in London for a few weeks, probably very influenced / but remained apart.

Eearly 1647, met a group of shattered Baptists‘ a splintered congregation of General Bs near Mansfield, Notts - major connection -- the group now calls itself 'Children of the Light‘ and Fox is its key figure -- Elizabeth Hooton, a prominent member of the group, becomes an important spiritual ally of Fox in latter 1640s -- Fox builds a network of these groups in Midlands October 1650 -- Fox arrested and imprisoned at Derby for blasphemy under the new Blasphemy Act designed to round up Ranters -- his preaching of moral perfection in the power of the Spirit sounded to some like Ranter equation of good and evil -- spent one year in prison there -- the Parliamentary army tried to recruit him out of prison but he refused on pacifist grounds -- wrote provocative epistles to town leaders, debated clergy in his cell, was generally radicalised during this period toward a more confrontational ministry.

October 1651 -- released -- writes in his Journal that he felt like a lion set loose among the beasts of the field -- now preaching an apocalyptic message -- the day of the Lord -- 'Christ is come to teach his people himself and bring them off all the world‘ s ways and religions‘ -- a second-coming message, but centered in present experience -- the light within each person‘ s conscience is Christ‘ s presence to teach them directly, lead them into all righteousness, obviating the need of a professional clergy, gathering people into worship groups to wait upon the Lord‘ s direct teaching in silence, speaking only as spoken through by Christ‘ s own direct revelation in the light/Spirit -- anyone moved by Christ, male or female, rich or poor, has authority to speak and help Christ lead the group in that moment Moving up into Yorkshire, Fox began to connect quickly with some able Seekers and ex-soldiers -- along with the apocalyptic message came confrontational, conflict-producing methods -- entry into parish churches to argue and denounce the clergy -- denunciations of unfair trading practices in the marketplaces -- preaching repentance and the day of the Lord in the streets -- these polarizing tactics often unleashed mob violence or arrest and imprisonment against early Quaker preachers -- but they also drew sympathetic individuals out and these formed new Quaker worship groups.

1652 -- Fox moved across Yorkshire into Westmorland and Lancashire with exponentially increasing effects -- hundreds of Seekers in Westmorland were convinced in two weeks time in June 1652 -- Fox‘ s message was the call northern radicals had been waiting for and they quickly became the vanguard of a movement that grew so rapidly in the north that neither local nor national authorities could see a way to repress them as had been so easily done with Levellers, Diggers and Ranters in the previous decade.

Quaker preaching and tracts restated many of the religious and political ideas already articulated by those groups, but had a way of turning previous ideas and experiments into a concrete and practical programme of radical religious witness and community building.

Quaker apocalyptic witness targeted the established church most centrally as the primary obstacle to Christ‘ s reign on earth through the free consciences of men and women willing to turn to his teaching -- but tracts like The Three-fold Estate of Antichrist also suggest that the gentry and magistracy were in deep collusion with the established clergy in upholding the power of the Dragon in England Early Friends called their movement the 'Lamb‘ s War‘ , utilising images from the Book of Revelation -- they viewed themselves as the faithful on Mt Zion following the Lamb into apocalyptic holy war against the forces of the Dragon -- Fox and early Friends read Revelation not as predictions of an imminent future but the description of an unfolding present -- they followed its imageries and understood that the kind of eschatological change they were experiencing and catalyzing around them must be deeply conflictual in nature -- just as they experienced deep-seated deceit and resistance in their own personal transformation in the light of Christ, they understood that they must confront the same dark forces in society around them -- but they understood that their conflict was nonviolent, their weapons spiritual -- mobs and magistrates might deal violently with them, but the tactics of the Lamb‘s War were consistently nonviolent.

Early Friends shifted the focus of political conflict from the political superstructure to the social infrastructure of England -- they learned from the hollow victory of the Civil War and from the defeated republican agenda of the Levellers that the new Puritan powers would maintain control jealously -- the logic of the kingdom was transformation from the grassroots, not an attempt to seize state control -- and as Christ had shown in his own life and death, this transformation involves suffering.

Quakers were soon filling up prisons around England like no other group had done in living memory - - they cheerfully accepted this as part of their witness and kept meticulous records of what Friends were suffering across the nation -- I think this martyrological impulse derives partly from the Anabaptist tradition and partly from the Lollard tradition, which was strong around Fox‘s village in Leicestershire.

The Lamb‘ s War can be seen as a nonviolent cultural revolution -- it confronted a variety of social mores and modeled an alternative, more peaceful and egalitarian social order among Friends -- the behavioural codes of early Friends were aimed to reach to the light, or witness, of Christ within each person -- these included plain speaking, a more simple dress and lifestyle, a respect for the spiritual authority of women, etc. -- these codes could get an individual in trouble quickly in the highly mannered society of C17-England -- eg, not showing verbal and gestural deference to social superiors, employers, parents, judges, clergy, etc. were very unnerving and suggested all sorts of threatening meanings to a Puritan establishment anxious to settle church and state into something viable in the 1650s.

Friends threatened the government like no other movement of the period -- their exponentially growing numbers and surprisingly quick communications and coordination inspired fear and repression, particularly from 1656 onwards -- their apocalyptic warnings to Oliver Cromwell, Parliament and others could easily be construed as veiled threats of a Quaker insurrection -- though a few Quakers did get drawn into plots in 1659, they were strongly denounced by the leadership of the movement.

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'The Levellers are the first modern political movement organized around the idea of popular sovereignty. They are the first democrats who think in terms, not of participatory self-government within a city-state, but of representative government within a nation-state. They are the first who want a written constitution in order to protect the rights of citizens against the state. The first with a modern conception of which rights should be inalienable: the right to silence (torture to extract a confession was a normal judicial procedure over most of Europe) and to legal representation; the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of debate; the right to equality before the law and freedom of trade; the right to vote and, when faced with tyranny, to revolution. The Levellers are thus not merely the first modern democrats, but the first to seek to construct a liberal state. Not only do their objectives have a contemporary ring, but the very language they use is often indistinguishable from our own'.

David d Wootton '-The, Levellers', in J. Dunn, ed., Democracy's Unfinished Journey, 508BC to 1993AD (OUP 1992), p. 71.

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The Diggers came to prominence in 1649 when they occupied some common land in Surrey, England. They established a self-sufficient commune there, issued a manifesto called The True Levellers Standard Advanced, and appealed to others to join them. Among their leaders were Gerrard Winstanley and William Everard, and they took their action both as a practical response to their hunger and as a first step towards creating a communist ‘ that is, moneyless and propertyless - society. They inspired similar ventures across England, but opposition from local gentry forced their experiment to close after a year.

A key Digger tenet was that the earth was created by God for all to share ‘ a ’Common Treasury". Individual ownership was not part of the creation story, and Diggers aimed to restore the earth to communal ownership. In this they went further than many of their contemporaries who, while they accepted that a ’propertyless" age had once existed, argued that the ’Fall" made its realization again impossible. Fallen humanity was so subject to impulses of greed, fear, envy and lust that society could not only survive unless accommodation were made to the need to own and protect private property.

The Diggers, however, believed that human nature was affected by social factors, that self-interest and greed were sustained by the system of buying and selling; and therefore as people discovered the benefits of communitarian living they would be transformed and the process of breaking down the system built upon private ownership would be unstoppable. Diggers envisaged a gradual process in which, as people set up communes, the system of hiring labour - the only way the rich could manage their huge estates - would disintegrate. Had their programme succeeded it would have transformed society in a profoundly radical way.

Also underpinning the Diggers" hopes for the restoration of society to its original communitarian state was a belief that such a restoration constituted the second coming of Christ. Christ would not appear suddenly or dramatically but ’rise up" in men and women and enlighten them to the delights and benefits of owning land in common. Christ"s appearance would effect a change at the level of the individual and society, leading to a recovery of that state of true community not known since before the Fall. To the Diggers, Christ remains ’buried" in the earth, giving it a sacred quality. It is our ’true Mother...that brought us forth" and that ’loves all her children", wrote Winstanley, though she is hindered from ’giving all her Children suck" because landlords enclose the land and force poor people to starve. The Diggers" theology was very different from that taught by the Church. Diggers stressed the immanence of God and how everybody has their creator dwelling within them, and thought the doctrines of the Church were designed to keep people in subjection to the authorities. They saw the clergy, along with landlords and lawyers, as a sort of unholy trinity upholding the iniquitous system under the king, and while they welcomed the removal of the monarchy and introduction of the Commonwealth, they argued that only a total transformation of the system over which the king presided would lift the people"s burden. Hence they appealed for the interests of the poor majority to be recognised, for Parliament to make the Common-wealth exactly that.

Although the Diggers were committed to appeals to Parliament and to direct action they never advocated the use of violence. They believed that the use of the sword would merely result in one section of society lording it over the other, as was the case at present. And since, once Christ began to rise in men and women he could not be stopped, the question of using violence to change society did not arise.

Although the Diggers" venture was short-lived their ideas have long survived them, mainly because of the powerful pamphlets of their main theorist Gerrard Winstanley. The Diggers stand within that marginal political tradition which has argued the case for communitarian and ecologically-sensitive economic arrangements over market-based economies predicated on profit, competition and individualism. They continue to inspire writers and activists on the left, from anarcho-syndicalists to antiroads protestors, from Christian socialists to Greens.

Andrew Bradstock, United Reformed Church, London, UK

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Gerrard Winstanley : the emergence of private property as the Fall of Adam in leafy Surrey

Between 1648 and 1652 Winstanley wrote tracts while he was actively involved in the 'Digger' colony he helped to create on St George's Hill in Surrey. The Diggers had a vision, not just to improve the lot of the hungry and landless through the cultivation of the commons, but to create a communist, that is, moneyless and propertyless, society of the kind they believed had existed before the Fall. Diggers held the Earth to have been originally a 'common treasury' for all to share. The Fall they regarded as the practice of buying and selling land, which allowed some to become rich and others to starve. From the consequences of this Fall humanity stood in need of redemption. True freedom could not be enjoyed by all until the land was held again in common. The practice of …digging‘ soon spread to many parts of the south and midlands, but the hostility of local landowners ensured no colonies survived for long, though it is arguable that, had the movement not been suppressed, the 'commonwealth' then being fashioned under Cromwell might have been more literally that.

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Anabaptist historical roots:

Glimpses: The Anabaptists http://www2.gospelcom.net/chi/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps017.shtml and Menno Simons http://www2.gospelcom.net/chi/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps107.shtml

World of Ren/ Ref: The Radicals of the Reformation (Chapter 15)http://www.ku.edu/~ibetext/texts/gilbert/15.html

Radical Reformation on BELIEVE http://www.mb-soft.com/believe/txc/radrefor.htm an online glossary of theological terms. http://www.mb-soft.com/believe/

History of Western Civilization: The Anabaptists Dr. E. L. Skip Knox - Boise State University http://history.idbsu.edu/westciv/reformat/ana01.htm

Ana Baptist? Beginnings http://www.mich.com/~lhaines/History.html and Mennonite Beginnings http://swiftsite.com/mennonite/begin.htm

Anabaptism in 16th Century Europe by Ronald J. Gordon http://www.cob-net.org/anabaptism.htm

The Anabaptist View of the Church by Jack Heppner http://www.sbcollege.mb.ca/SBC/FacPub/anabap.htm

The Anabaptist Vision by Harold S. Bender http://www.personal.psu.edu/staff/w/x/wxc21/anabapt/d-av.htm

Balthasar Hubmaier http://www.hccentral.com/gkeys/hbmier.html and a portrait of Hubmaier http://www.chof.org/hübmaier.htm

Mennonite Origins and the Mennonites of Europe By Harold S. Bender http://www.bibleviews.com/menno-heritage.html

The Anabaptists and their Stepchildren by F.N. Lee http://reformed.org/sacramentology/lee/index.html

Charlie's Heretics Tour : Amish, Cathars, Hussites, Hutterites, Jews, Mennonites, Unitarians, Waldensians ... presented geographically & chronologically. http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/5578/

Reformation Guide: Radical Reformation http://www.educ.msu.edu/homepages/laurence/reformation/Radical/Radical.htm

Links for WH 528--The Reformation http://www.emporia.edu/socsci/history/wh528.htm

Schleitheim Confession (1527) http://www.anabaptists.org/history/schleith.html

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632), A Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995) http://www.bibleviews.com/Dordrecht.html

The Roots and Fruits of Pietism http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/feuerhhn.htm


There are quite a few Home sites online related to Anabaptism and its subsequent history - and the continuing groups:


Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, and various Brethern.

Canadian Mennonite Online Encyclopedia http://www.mhsc.ca/ with source documents! The Mennonites http://www.mhsc.ca/whoare/index.html and The Amish http://www.mhsc.ca/whoare/tamish.html

Anabaptists.org http://www.anabaptists.org/

Mennonite Connections on the WWW A catalogue of Mennonite and Amish resources on the Internet - Extensive links http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/menno.html

Church of the Brethren Net http://www.cob-net.org/

Menno http://www.mennolink.org/doc/cof/

Victor Shepherd's Heritage page on Menno Simons http://www.victorshepherd.on.ca/Heritage/menno.htm#MennoSimons

The Mennonites' Dirty Little Secret What Christians could learn from Menno Simons and how he rescued the Anabaptist movement. by John D. Roth http://www.christianity.net/ct/6TB/6TB044.html

Menno Simons http://cob-net.org/text/history_menno.htm

http://www.cob-net.org/docs/groups.htm Brethren Groups - Information and links of various groups

Bible Views: Mennonite-Anabaptist Links to articles, books, confessions http://bibleviews.com/index.html

Schleitheim Confession (1527)http://www.bibleviews.com/Schleitheim.html

Hutterian Brethren in North America http://www.hutterianbrethren.com/ with History, Jacob Hutter, Peter Riedeman, Jacob Wiederman, Groups of Hutterites in NA, Religion

Hutterite Genealogy http://feefhs.org/hut/frg-hut.html

Bruderhof Hutterites http://www.bruderhof.org/

An article about Hutterite communities in Eastern Washington State http://www.seattletimes.com/news/lifestyles/html98/peast_100498.html

An Article about the Amish in Lancaster, Penn. http://www.lancnews.com/lanc/amish.html Bibliographical links:


The Mayhem at Münster:

Charisma and History: The Case of Münster, Westphalia, 1534-1535 by Tal Howard http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/EH/EH35/howard1.html

Melchiorites http://www.mb-soft.com/believe/txc/melchior.htm

Cathedral Taeufer 1534-1535: (German) The short-lived city state in Westphalia and its catastrophic end. http://efb.ch/Texte/admuenst.htm

City of Munster http://www.uni-muenster.de/Rektorat/internatio/int-cite.htm

Catholic Encyclopedia: Muenster http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10634b.htm Anabaptists http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01445b.htm

Web site for The Tailor King by Anthony Aurthur, includes illustrations. http://www.canyonweb.com/thetailorking/index.htm

Sources from http://www.eldrbarry.net/heidel/anabrsc.htm © 2000 Barry Mc Williams? FOR FURTHER READING ON EARLY FRIENDS: Douglas Gwyn, Apocalypse of the Word: the life and message of George Fox (Friends United Press, 1986). Douglas Gwyn, The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the rise of capitalism (Pendle Hill, 1995). Douglas Gwyn, Seekers Found: atonement in early Quaker experience (Pendle Hill, 2000). Ben Pink Dandelion, Douglas Gwyn, Timothy Peat, Heaven on Earth: Quakers and the second coming (Woodbrooke/Curlew, 1998). Rosemary Moore, the Light in Their Consciences: the early Quakers in Britain, 1646-1666 (Penn State University Press, 2000).


Doug Gwyn Quaker Studies Tutor Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre (doug:woodbrooke.org.uk)

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