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Spring 2019 · Vol. 48 No. 1 · pp. 67–69 

Book Review

Later Writings of the Swiss Anabaptists 1529–1592

ed. C. Arnold Snyder. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2017. 609 pages.

Reviewed by Paul Doerksen

C. Arnold Snyder, editor of this collection of sixteenth-century Swiss Anabaptist sources, was also part of the group of eight scholars who translated them from the original German. This book constitutes an important contribution to two ongoing Anabaptist publication series, namely, Anabaptist Texts in Translation and Classics of the Radical Reformation.

Along with the important introduction contributed by Snyder, this collection displays the development of Swiss Anabaptism during the {68} so-called “hidden years” of 1529–1592. The documents reveal that Swiss Anabaptism develops considerably, and in interesting directions, after the early confession of the Schleitheim Articles in 1527. As Snyder nicely puts it, these materials can be read as “a freeze-frame of what was in fact a dynamic process of theological discussion and discernment in the Swiss Anabaptist community” (157, 158).

This nuanced display of development within Swiss Anabaptism includes many kinds of sources: theological writings by church leaders, responses to questions during interrogations, confessions of faith, prefaces to hymnals, letters to magistrates, and correspondence with various church groups. The most interesting correspondence shows the answer of the Swiss Brethren in 1592 to the Polish Brethren seeking union (an unsuccessful initiative) with the Swiss group. The dominant text in this collection is the massive Codex 628, comprised of “A Short, Simple Confession” and “Concerning Separation.” Copied in 1590, the codex survived in handwritten form, a bound book of diverse Anabaptist material.

As a collection, Later Writings contributes significantly to making resources available to those interested in sixteenth-century Anabaptism beyond the developments of the embryonic first generation beginning in 1525. Some of this material has never been published before, having circulated only in handwritten, booklet form. Other materials appear in translation here for the first time. Still other previously translated material has received some necessary editing and updating. This book allows us to read, in English, significant archival materials which have previously been available only to readers of German.

Navigation of such a diverse collection of writings is enhanced considerably by the inclusion of a helpful appendix of the many authors and works cited in Codex 628, along with comprehensive indexes of Scripture references as well as names and subjects. Snyder’s essential and enlightening introductions to the book as a whole and to specific sources guide readers through historical, technical, contextual, and thematic matters.

Overall, Later Writings is a first-rate contribution to ongoing Anabaptist scholarship, deepening our understanding of the varied developments of Swiss Anabaptism both internal to the movement and in relation to external religious and secular powers. In several cases, such developments offer occasion for considering current issues. For example, a surprising amount of reflection in these writings focuses on issues relating to tolerance, a topic which of course is currently very relevant. Many of these historical deliberations are embedded in discussions about Anabaptist separation from “papal, Lutheran and Zwinglian churches.” Anabaptists resisted coercion in matters of faith, and therefore any use of coercion by churches (a lack of toleration) was met by Anabaptist separation from such churches. This {69} tension between the practice of toleration and the (intolerant?) impulse to separate because of the intolerance of others remains evident throughout these writings.

Further, the project displays the importance of collaborative work among scholars, which extends and deepens the work already being done in the field. Finally, we can eagerly anticipate the publication of Snyder’s promised companion volume to this set of sources, a project which Snyder assures us is well underway.

Paul Doerksen
Associate Professor of Theology and Anabaptist Studies
Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, MB

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