Full Text for Attitudes Toward the Use of Force and Violence (Text)

CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL MONTHLY VOL. XXXI Arritudes Toward the Use of Force and Violence in Thomas Muentzerj Menno Simons, and Martin Luther RALPH L. MOELLERING Brief Studies Homiletics Theological Observer Book Review July 1960 No.7 Attitudes Toward the Use of Force and Violence In Thomas Muentzer, Menno Simons, and Martin Luther A Comparative Study with Reference to Prevalent Contemporary Positions PREFACE ry'HE treatise offered here seeks to ex-~ tract and delineate, from three leading figures of the Reformation period, three basic attitudes toward the use of force and violence which have been, and continue to be, assumed by the followers of Jesus Christ. When Constantine first raised the Christian banner in front of his armies he was already tending in the direction of the first position exemplified most clearly in the career and theology of Thomas Muent­zero The Crusades, organized for the avowed purpose of wresting the Holy Land from the infidel Mohammedans, are the clearest medieval prototype of this "theology of violence," while the attitude of some Amer­ican clergy during World War I is the most striking reverberation of this outlook in modern history. Those who would un­dertake a "holy war" to destroy atheistic Communism are the latest representatives of this school of thought. When Menno Simons renounced the use of force under any circumstances he was reaffirming the minority opinion of scat­tered sects that persisted during the Middle By RALPH 1. MOELLERING Ages. To a certain extent, at least, he was standing in the tradition of early church fathers, Eke Tertullian and Cyprian, who repudiated war with outspoken disappro­bation. His emphasis on peaceful living and the relief of suffering has been in­herited by the Mennonites, who bear his name, and by much of the thinking which is characteristic of present-day Christian pacifism. Martin Luther's views on war and peace are those which predominated in the me­dieval church and were shared, with some minor variations, by Zwingli and Calvin. The classical church tradition inherited by some of the major American denomina­tions, along with most Lutherans, Re­formed, and Anglicans in Europe, has included willingness to fight in "just wars" while recognizing them as punishments for human sin. The interpretation of Luther on this point, as in so many areas, has been far from unanimous and unambiguous. Bishop Berggrav of Norway could quote Luther as favorable to his policy of re­sistance against tyrants. Dean Inge could argue that Luther's subservience to the state 406 ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE paved the way for the deification of the state and the usurpation of power by Fas­cist-minded scoundrels. This seemingly in­terminable debate over the intent and implication of Luther's doctrine of church and state cannot be adequately treated within the compass of this paper. It must suffice to indicate that Luther represents a third and clearly distinguishable view on the use of force and violence which is sig­nificant for past, present, and future. I. THOMAS MUENTZER, REVOLUTIONARY SPIRITUALIST OR SOCIALIST AGITATOR? One of the most versatile and contro­versial figures to appear during the period of the German Reformation, Thomas Muentzer has been anathematized and praised, interpreted, and reinterpreted. His fiery and restless mind was embroiled with radical conceptions of the nature of Chris­tianity. While Karl Holl has defended the thesis that he can be viewed as "the orig­inator of Anabaptism" latter-day Marxists claim him as a precursor of modern social­ism.1 Robert Friedman, a Mennonite scholar, finds him so vulgar and fanciful that he doubts whether he can rightfully be classified as a Christian? Few have doubted the intellectual com­petence of Thomas Muentzer. Born in Stolberg in Thuringia, about five or six 1 Two important Marxist studies in East Ger­many have been concerned with his role in the Peasant's Revolt as an anticipation of proletarian revolutions under capitalism: M. M. Simirin, Die V olksreformation des Thomas Muentzer und der grosse Bauernkrieg (a translation from the Russian, Berlin, 1952), and Alfred Meusel, Thomas Muentzer und seine Zeit mit einer Auswahl der Dokumente des grossen deutschen Bauernkrieges (Berlin, 1952). 2 "Muentzer, Thomas," The Mennonite En­cyclopedia, III (Scottsdale, Pa.: The Mennonite Publishing House, 1957), 785-789. years younger than Luther, he was equipped with a university education and familiar­ized with the Biblical languages, read pa­tristic and scholastic theology, and was immersed in the writings of the German mystics. His voracious reading seems to have been stimulated by a desperate inter· nal struggle. As a troubled soul in search of certainty he shifted from one position to another in an effort to resolve his per­sonal conflicts.3 In 1513 he became a Roman Catholic priest and was soon promoted to be the provost of a monastery. In 1519 he became father-confessor of a nunnery. Momentar­ily he became an exuberant follower of Luther and joined the Wittenberger in helping to demolish the massive structure of the medieval church. Yet he began to move away from Luther almost as soon as he had found him. In 1520 he was a priest in Zwickau, where he was exposed to a re­vival of Taborite doctrines in the "proph­ecies" of Nicolaus Storch, who claimed to be the recipient of direct revelation and apocalyptic visions. Muentzer was at­tracted by the thought that God was com­municating directly with His elect.4 Soon 3 Annemarie Lohmann, Zur geistlichen Ent­wicklung Thomas Muentzers (Leipzig und Ber­lin: Teubner, 1931), who characterizes the dif­ferent stages in his spiritual pilgrimage until he emerges as an independent reformer: (1) Muent­zer under spiritualist direction until 1521; (2) The formation of the new religious prin­ciple in the Prague Manifesto of November 1521; (3) Peaceful expansion and elaboration of his teaching, 1522 until July 1524; (4) Vio­lent progression (September 1523, according to plan after July 1524) and the reaction to his teaching. All translations from the German are my responsibility. 4 Ibid., p.16: "The Spirit is not revealed only in the written Word of the Bible, but it is poured out immediately into the soul of man." ATIITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE 407 he was induced to share the conviction that the final Judgment was imminent. .fJready during his "Zwickau period" some of the main outlines of Thomas Muentzer's attitude toward the use of force and violence began to take shape. He adopted and expanded Storch's expectation chat the people chosen by God, the true Christians, would rise up and exterminate all the godless. These ruthless and destruc­tive actions were necessary preliminaries to the second advent of Christ and the inauguration of the millennium. Contem­poraries observed and lamented the change chat had come over Muentzer. They de­tected a lust for blood which sometimes gave vent to sheer raving. The imagery of violence in the Book of Revelation took on a special significance for him, and he began to show a marked preference for dwelling on such incidents in the Old Testament as Elijah's slaughter of the priests of Baal, Jehu's slaying of the sons of Ahab, and Jael's assassination of the unsuspecting Sisera.5 Renouncing the pursuit of learning, the highly educated Muentzer now repudiated the ideals of the humanists and incessantly propagated his eschatological-centered faith among the impoverished miners and disgruntled weavers of Zwickau. Using the pulpit to utter fierce denunciations of the local Franciscans and opposing the preacher favored by the well-to-do burghers, he earned the enmity of the town council and was peremptorily dismissed. A popular uprising in his behalf was promptly sub­dued, and the turbulent rebel was COill­pelled to take refuge in Prague. 5 Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Mil­lennium (London: Seeker and Warburg, 1957), pp. 252, 253. At this new location Thomas Muentzer issued a manifesto announcing the forma­tion of a new church in Bohemia which was to consist solely of the elect and which would depend for its guidance upon direct inspiration from God.6 His own role is now defined in terms of the parable of the wheat and the tares: "Harvesttime is here, so God Himself has hired me for His harvest. I have sharpened my scythe .... " 7 Muentzer found Bohemia uncongenial to his bold declaration, and he was soon ex­pelled. During Luther's absence at the Wartburg he lodged in Wittenberg with Carlstadt, who was in agreement with him in many respects but unwilling to follow him in his most extreme views. As a rest­less wanderer Muentzer moved from place ro place in central Germany, sustained by a now unshakable confidence in his pro­phetic mission. Renouncing his academic degrees he signed his papers only as "Christ's messenger." His deprivations and sufferings he understood as strenuous training for his messianic task: "The living God is sharpening His scythe in me, so that later I can cut down the red poppies and the blue cornflowers." 8 From Easter of 1523 until August 1524 Muentzer was a priest in Allstedt, a small town in the Harz mountains, where his preaching attracted large throngs from the neighboring mining districts. Here he manifested some of his diversified interest and ability by writing a number of liturgi­cal tracts on Baptism and the German 6 Otto G. Brandt, Thomas Muentzer: Sein Leben tmd seine Schriften (Jena and Leipzig, 1933), p. 60: "Den wer den Geist Christi nit in sieh spueret, ja der ihn nit gewiszlieh hat, der ist nit ein Glied Christi, er ist des Teufels .... " 7 Cohn, p.255. 8 Ibid. 408 ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE Mass. Like Luther, he married a former nun and reared children. Temporarily he appeared to be content to assume a more moderate position. As late as July 9, 1523, he sent a rather conciliatory letter to Lu­ther. In the same year he wrote in an evan­gelical spirit to his brethren in Stolberg.9 This comparatively peaceful interlude was soon terminated. In the winter of 1523-24 Muentzer founded a strange conspiratorial society called the League of the Elect, designed to execute the program he had formulated at Prague -if neces­sary by force of arms. From this time on Muentzer seems to have lost touch with reality and embarked on a road of fanciful apocalypticism and uncompromising fa­naticism which could only lead to ruina­tion. luther recognized this trend and began to refer to him as a Schwaerme1'.10 With a mixture of curiosity and alarm Duke John of Saxony came to Allstedt in July 1524 and asked Muentzer to preach a sermon. Taking his text from the second chapter of Daniel, Muentzer complied and took full advantage of the opportunity to expound his characteristic ideas and de­velop more fully what has been called his "theology of violence." The princes are warned that they must choose between obedience to God or sub­mission to the devil. The last of the world empires foreseen by Daniel is approaching its doom. The Satanic usurpers of God's domain must be overthrown and extin­guished. Those serpents, the clergy, and those eels, the secular rulers and lords, con­taminate one another in a squirming heap of corruption. That fainthearted and half-9 Brandt, p. 62. 10 Mennonite Encyclopedia, III, 785. way reformer in Wittenberg 11 lacks con­fidence in the living Spirit and is unwilling to carry through to its logical completion the movement which he has inaugurated. Luther has devised a comfortable reforma­tion in which the stress is laid on individ­ual salvation. A "honey sweet Christ" is made available through the simple process of personal faith in contradiction of the fact that the real Christ is the "bitter Christ," who can only be received as we become identified with Him in His suffer­ings. Those who would be saints of God must not shrink away from the dire pros­pect of bearing the cross. For the princes this means the unpleasant but unavoidable commission from God to purge the ranks of Christendom of its pretenders and im­postors: ... Drive His enemies from the elect .... Don't give us any old jokes about how the power of God should do it without your application of the sword, otherwise may it rust away from you in its scabbard! ... God is your protection and will teach you to fight against His foes. . . . The godless have no right to live except as the elect wish to grant it to them .... 12 Indirect evidence related to Muentzer's position on the use of force is found in the letters addressed to him by Conrad Grebel and his friends from Zurich in September 1524. Addressing him as a beloved brother in Christ and commending him for 11 Explicitly called Brother Fattened Swine and Brother Soft Life in the "Sermon Before the Princes," in George H. Williams, Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, The Library of Christian Classics, XXV (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), 61. 12 Ibid., pp. 66-69; cf. Carl Hinrichs, Thomas Muentzer: Politische Schriften (Halle, 1950), pp. 3-28, where detailed commentary is included. ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE 409 his w!1t1ngs against "fictitious faith" and the ritualistic customs of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, these pacifist-minded Ana­baptists nevertheless feel constrained to admonish him regarding some dangerous policies which they have detected and which they wish he would disavow. They cannot understand why he continues to tolerate chanting and the Mass. Moreover, they have been disturbed by reports that he advocates the use of the sword to pro­tect the adherents of the Gospel. True be­lievers are sheep likely to be slaughtered at any moment. "They must be baptized in anguish and affliction." Even under the Old Testament dispensation war was a mis­fortune. Now it is to be categorically renouncedP The final objective of Muentzer, the es­tablishment of the kingdom of God on earth, which he had first announced in the Prague Manifesto, now became a burning passion for him. Having spurned the "spiritless flesh at Wittenberg," and hav­ing abandoned any hope of converting the rulers to his views, he turned to the peasant population as the only redemptive means available. A violent upheaval spearheaded by the common people would be necessary to dislodge the heathen princes and inaug­urate the reign of God's saints.14 In the free lmperial city of Muehlhausen 13 Williams, p. SO. The postscript or second letter to "Brother Thomas" was written after the Swiss evangelicals had heard about the belli­cose sermon which Muentzer had delivered be­fore the princes of Saxony. If the report is true they want him to know that they are offended, and they plead with him to abstain from any further utterances which would defend war. 14 Muentzer's attack on Luther, "Schutzrede wider das geistlose Fleisch zuo Wittenberg," Hinrichs, pp. 72-101; d. Lohmann, pp. 65 to 6S. Muentzer found a large proportion of paupers who were susceptible to his tem­pestuous rabble rousing. Obsessed by his conviction that the destruction of the un­godly was impending, he patrolled the streets at the head of an armed band with a red crucifix and a naked sword carried in front of him. On the title page of an incendiary pam­phlet published at Muehlhausen Muentzer wrote: Beware, I have put my words into thy mouth; I have lifted thee above the people and above the empires that thou mayest build and plant. A wall of iron against the kings, princes, priests, and for the peo­ple hath been erected. Let them fight, for victory is wondrous, and the strong and godless tyrants will perish.15 With the outbreak of the Peasants' War Muentzer proved himself a revolutionary in action, although he does not seem to have had a voice in the main uprisings in the south and west of Germany. His in­fluence was limited to the Thuringian sector, where the peasants scoured the countryside, looting and burning monas­teries and convents. In a letter sent to his followers at AIlstedt he issued a call to arms: I tell you, if you will not suffer for God's sake, then you must be the devil's martyrs. So watch out! Don't be so discouraged, indolent, do not show adulation for the perverse visionaries, the godless scoundrels. Start and fight the Lord's conflict. It is al­ready overdue. . .. If there are but three of you who, confiding in God, seek only His name and honor, you will not need to 15 Quoted by Friedrich Engels, The PeaSfnlt War in Germany (New York: International Publishers, 1926), p. 69. 410 ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE fear a hundred thousand. . . . Now go at them, go ahead, go ahead! The rascals are as dispirited as dogs .... Pay no attention to the lamentations of the godless! They will beg you in such a cordial way, and whine and cry like children. Don't show any pity. . . . Strike, go ahead, while the iron is hot! Don't let your sword get cold! Don't allow it to become feeble! ... Throw their tower to the ground! As long as they are alive you will never get rid of your fear of men. One can't speak to you about God as long as they are reigning over you. Push ahead, attack, while you have day­light. God goes ahead of you, so follow, follow .... 16 About 8,000 peasants finally grouped themselves into an ill-equipped army and appealed to Muentzer to provide them leadership. Comparing himself to Gideon, the ill-fated prophet left Muehlhausen with some 300 of his most devoted and rabid followers and joined the peasant camp at Frankhausen. Peasants from neighboring villages were threatened by force if they did not join the "army of the Lord." An urgent appeal was sent to the town of Erfurt for reinforcements, and defiant let­ters were sent to the enemy. To Count Ernest of Mansfeld Muentzer wrote: Say, you wretched, shabby bag of worms, who made you a prince over the people whom God has purchased with His pre­cious blood? ... By God's mighty power you are delivered up to destruction .... The eternal, living God has commanded that you be removed from the throne of power which has been given to us. For you are useless to the Christian cause, you 16 Brandt, pp.74, 75. Luther's much-quoted ( often out of context) ferocious pamphlet Against the Thievish, Murderous Hordes of the Peasants can be better understood as a fearful reaction to Muentzer's threats. are a harmful Staupbesen (birch rod) to the friends of God. . . p Philip of Hesse, strengthened by recruits from other princes, and with ample artil­lery, could afford to treat the unfortunate peasants with contempt. Nevertheless, terms for submission were offered; the chief demand being the surrender of Thomas Muentzer and his closest asso­ciates. In all probability the offer would have been accepted, but the self-acclaimed prophet made an impassioned plea in which he declared that God had spoken to him and had promised to catch the can­non balls of the enemy in his cloak sleeves. The effectiveness of the speech was en­hanced by the appearance of a rainbow which, as the symbol on Muentzer's banner, was readily interpreted as a signal of divine approvaJ.18 Confident that some stupen­dous miracle would occur to transform ap­parent defeat into sudden victory the peas­ants were singing "Come, Holy Spirit," when the impatient princes fired a salvo. The results were immediate and cata­strophic: the disorganized peasants :fled in panic, while the cavalry hunted them down and slaughtered them by the hundreds. Muentzer escaped, but his hiding place was soon uncovered. After being tortured he was beheaded in the camp of the princes on May 27, 1525.19 The memory of Thomas Muentzer has been preserved by friends and critics alike. Even though he never designated himself 17 "Muentzers Brief an Graf Ernst von Mans­feld," May 12, 1525, Ibid., pp. 77, 78. 18 According to the Histori Thomas Muent­zers, a work which was written while the story was still fresh in people's memory and which evinces a rather high standard of factual ac­curacy. 19 Cohn, pp.269-271. ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE 411 as an Anabaptist, he was regarded as the "evil genius" of the movement by Luther, Zwingli, and Bullinger. The debate is still raging as to what affinities of belief, and what historical contacts, can be demon­strated between the champion of the peas­ants, the Swiss evangelicals, and the Men­nonites. More astounding is the apotheosis which he has received at the hand of Russian and German Communists, from Engels through Kautsky to the present day. Marxist apologists who have been en­grossed in a search for historical precedents to modern Communism have been much attracted to a study and interpretation of Thomas Muentzer. His bristling defiance of the political and ecclesiastical order of his time has merited their applause. In his dependence on force and violence they see one who was a 16th-century revolutionary with tactics and objectives akin to their own. No less than the Swiss evangelicals, who were his contemporaries, they are eager to proffer him the hand of fellowship and call him comrade. The question con­tinues to be debated: Was Muentzer a revo­lutionary spiritualist or a socialist agitator? Writing in 1850 Friedrich Engels pro­fessed to find many parallels between the situation in Germany during the Peasants' War and the revolutionary movements which erupted in Europe in 1848. The numerous apocalyptic references in Muen­tzer's writings are dismissed as concessions made to the mentality of the people he was dealing with in a day when religious super­stitions abounded and retained a tremen­dous hold on the imagination of the com­mon people. "Under the cloak of Christian forms," opines Engels, "he preached a kind of pantheism ... and at times even taught open atheism." The Spirit, which is the only reliable interpreter of the Bible for Muentzer, is identified by Engels as human reason. The heresies concealed under Chris­tian phraseology, according to this Marxist evaluation, include a denial of heaven and hell and a political program designed to implement an equalitarian commonwealth on earth. By the kingdom of God Muen­tzer understood a new ordering of society in which class differences would be dis­solved and private property confiscated. All existing authorities who did not support the revolution were to be overthrown by force. Princes and nobles who did not sur­render to the revolutionary regime were to be liquidated without mercy.20 While admitting that Muenrzer as a child of his age could not have a full in­sight into theoretical Marxism, Engels claims that he often "went far beyond the immediate ideas and demands of the ple­beians and peasants." Just as farsighted Communists have always been in the van­guard of the trend toward socialism, so Muentzer molded a party out of the revo­lutionary elements that "still represented only a small minority of the insurgent masses." 21 Echoes of Thomas Muentzer's attitude toward the use of force and violence are also found at times among professing Christians. Among the more weird and unusual sects one often finds apocalyptic imagery reminiscent of Storch and Muen­tzer. Rarely do they express a desire to take up arms themselves to usher in the kingdom of God, but the way they de­nounce existing authorities in state and church is similar to the verbal abuse which 20 Friedrich Engels, pp. 65-68. 21 Ibid., p. 73. 412 ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE Muentzer heaped upon Luther and the princes. Although the theological views of Charles Russell and Judge Rutherford would depart in many respects from those of the most notorious radical reformer of the 16th century, there is much in the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses that may cause us to exclaim, "Shades of Thomas }.1uentzer!" Just as the false reformers and godless rulers had once combined ecclesias­tical and political power to prevent the inauguration of the reign of God's saints and to enforce the oppression of the peas­ants, so in the 20th century we see the churches, commercial enterprises, and world empires allied to frustrate God's purposes and persecute Jehovah's Wit­nesses. Babylon, the mother of harlots (symbolic of religious power), is married to Satan. Rutherford wrote: In these latter times the three elements, under the supervision of the devil, have united in forming the most subtle and wicked world power of all time. They operate under the title of Christendom, which is a fraudulent and blasphemous assumption that they constitute Christ's kingdom on earth.22 The refusal of the Witnesses to bear arms and salute the flag is not due to any pacifist views but to their contention that the prevailing political powers are demonic. On the basis of an allegorical, and often fantastically farfetched, interpretation of prophecies (again akin to Muentzer) they foresee the final battle of Armageddon, in which Satan will marshall all his visible forces against Jehovah. In their vivid por­trayal of this decisive clash between good and evil they picture the priests, politicians, 22 Deliverance (Brooklyn: The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), p.53. and capitalists from all the nations marshal­ing all their tanks, planes, and weapons of war and entering into the "Valley of Threshing." In Muentzer's vision the saints were required to bear the brunt of the battle. In Rutherford's scheme the faithful witnesses will occupy the mountainsides in the role of spectators, while Christ, the in­visible field general of Jehovah, strikes down Satan's armies with the flail of de­struction. The honor of Jehovah will be vindicated, the obstacles to the establish­ment of a theocracy will have been re­moved, and the cherished dreams of the Witnesses will be fulfilled.23 The spirit of Thomas Muentzer and his "theology of violence," supposedly anchored to a more sane and solid tradition of faith and teaching, have at times found their way into "respectable" Protestantism. This has been especially true during periods of chaotic confusion and devastating wars, when emotions are likely to be charged with hatred and otherwise reasonable men lose their stability and restraint. A particularly strong case could be pre­sented for a resurgence of Muentzer's mil­lennial and bellicose views as being widely eyl1ibited in the United States during W orld War I. The parallel becomes most striking when we remember that both share a vision of a better world emerging from the use of force in God's name. Just as Thomas Muentzer could call upon the princes to use their power to uproot the godless and later mobilize the peasantry to wage war against their tyrannical oppres­sors, so American churchmen in 1917 and 1918 could call upon our citizenry to :fight a "holy war" against the pagan Huns and 23 Rutherford, Religion (Brooklyn: Watch­tower Bible and Tract Society), pp.337-357. ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE 413 the nefarious Kaiser. Just as the fiery preacher of Allstedt could dream of the rule of God's saints on earth, so the opti­mistic clergy during the first few decades of the 20th century could visualize God's will being "done on earth as it is in heaven" because the world would become "safe for democracy" and permanent peace would be assured. Somehow the contradic­tion between idealism and violence is passed over. Oddly enough even the ethics of Jesus are strained to conform to this position. That Jesus was a pacifist was categorically denied. J. Wesley Johnston of the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City affirmed: "Christ was the greatest fighter the world has ever seen." He was "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah," and "surely every believer in Christ . . . will unsheathe his sword and gladly give his life . . . to help win the fight against the forces of cruelty, abomina­tion and hell." 24 The editor of the Christian Register (Unitarian) was sure that Jesus not only would endorse Christian participation in the war but also would eagerly join in the killing: As Christians, of course, we say Chtist approves (of the war). But would he fight and kill? . . . There is not an oppor­tunity to deal death to the enemy that he would shirk from or delay in seizing! He would take bayonet and grenade and bomb and rifle and do the work of deadliness against that which is the most deadly enemy of his Father's kingdom in a thou­sand years. . . . That is the inexorable truth about Jesus Chtist and this war; and we rejoice to say it.25 24 Quoted by Ray H. Abrams, Preachers Pt'e­sent Arms (New York: Round Table Press, 1933), p. 63. 25 Ibid., p. 68. Just as Muentzer had used preaching as the means for arousing the populace and bolstering their morale, so the crusading ministers in the United States used their pulpits to inflame passions and converted their churches into recruiting stations. The shameful behavior of much of the Amer­ican clergy during our first intervention in a world conflict demonstrates that Chris­tian leaders today are not immune to the ever-recurring temptation to achieve their goals by forsaking the sword of the Spirit and resorting to the tactics employed by men like Thomas Muentzer. For the most part ecclesiastical leaders learned their painful lesson through the disillusionment following World War 1. Yet there was a tendency in some quarters to again view our entrance L.'1to Wodd War II as a righteous cause meriting di­vine approval. Militant Dean Beekman, an Episcopal prelate, made 509 speeches in churches, colleges, and civic clubs around the country depicting the horrors of Nazism. After we became embroiled in the conflict his injunction was: "Don't pray for peace; pray for triumph." 26 Some Bible Fundamentalists, displaying an unmistak­able Calvinistic strain commingled with certain Anabaptist traits, became so vocif­erous in their patriotism as to be on the verge of resurrecting the spirit of Thomas Muentzer. Apocalyptic references scattered throughout their publications made Hitler and Mussolini personifications of evils prophesied in Ezekiel and Revelation, or sometimes Stalin was announced as the Antichrist.27 26 Ralph Luther Moellering, Modem War and the American Churches (New York: The American Press, 1956), p.60. 27 Ibid., pp. 66, 67. 414 ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE Wherever the churches or American re­ligiosity tends to identify the United States with God's people, and its foreign policy with God's objectives in history, there is danger of reverting to a Muentzerlike the­ology of violence. Whenever Christians de­pict Soviet Russia as the center of all god­lessness, and begin to talk about "preventive warfare," we may be sure that the spirit of Thomas Muentzer is again rising to haunt and disturb us. Deplorable as it may be, the position he assumed on the use of force by Christians has not yet been obliterated. II. MENNO SIMONS, ADVOCATE OF CHRISTIAN PACIFISM OR POLITICAL IRRESPONSIBILITY? The most outstanding Anabaptist leader of the Low Countries during the 16th cen­tury, and the progenitor of a movement which has persisted to this day in America and Europe, was Menno Simons, born 13 years after Luther and about 7 years younger than Muentzer. At the age of 28 he was ordained as a priest at Utrecht. Doubts regarding transubstantiation were early planted in his mind by the Sacrament­ists, clergy in the Netherlands under the influence of Cornelius Hoen.28 To resolve his inner conflicts Menno turned to a dill­gent study of the Scriptures. He acknowl­edges that he found enlightenment in the writings of Martin Luther which came to his attention. His estrangement from the Roman Church was a gradual development. Disturbed by the execution of an itinerant tailor in a neighboring city for the offense of being rebaptized, he began to examine 28 Hoen's views regarding the Lord's Supper were published in Switzerland by Zwingli at the very time that Menno was tormented by doubt. They were publicly repudiated by Luther at the Marburg Colloquy. the Bible on this point, and soon found himself questioning the validity of infant Baptism. Unsatisfied by the explanation of the reformers, he found himself out of har­mony with Lutherans and Zwinglians as well as with the Romanists. About 1531 he reached "the momentous decision" that Baptism on confession of faith alone was Scriptural, but it was five more years be­fore he was willing to risk an open break with the church which had nurtured him.29 His willingness to assume an independ­ent status was accelerated by his revulsion to the violent spirit displayed by the "per­verted sect of Muenster." Menno was deeply shaken by the debacle of the radical followers of Melchior Hoffmann. Some of the more zealous and pious members of his own parish were swept away by the fanat­icism of the Muensterite delusion. His own brother seems to have been among those who supported a teaching of vengeance and liquidation of the ungodly. Deeply dis­tressed by these abominable doctrines, he tried desperately to counteract their perni­cious influence with public denunciation from the pulpit and pastoral visits on the members of his flock.sO A sharp polemic written at this time and directed against "the blasphemy of Jan van Leiden" begins to delineate his position against war and violence as instruments to which Christians may resort for the right­ing of wrongs or for the establishment of a theocracy on earth. There is only one true King and Lord, Jesus Christ, who possesses all authority in heaven and on 29 Biography of Menno Simons by Cornelius Krahn, Mennonite Encyclopedia, III, 577-583. so John Horsch, "Menno Simons' Attitude Toward the Anabaptists of Muenster," Men­nonite Quarterly Review, X (1936), 55 if. ATTITUDES TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE AND VIOLENCE 415 earth031 The church is His spiritual king­dom, within which love and peace prevaiL Those who advocate the use of force to consummate the rule of God have broken their covenant relation with the Lordo Referring to the armor of the Christian according to Ephesians 6 Menno reminds his readers that "the weapons of our war­fare are not carnal." The only security guaranteed the follower of Christ is to be armed with the sword of the Spirit against the wiles of the deviL The person who wants to abide in Christ must take up his cross and follow after Himo All the injunc­clans of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount implying nLnresist"'LA__ (turn .;,,_ other cheek, love your enemies, be perfect) must be taken seriouslyo This is the true voice of Christ, which must be heeded. Quat ~ . Paul, enno affinns that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. It is always wrong to return evil for evil. The ideal is to live peaceably with all meno Give place to wrath and leave vengeance to the Lord. Overcome evil with good. We should pat­tern our mind after that of Jesus Christ, and we observe that He "was minded to suffeL" If we are to be patient "until the coming of the Lord, then surely it is for­bidden to fight, inasmuch as the Lord is not yet cameo" 32 In flat contradiction to the views of Thomas Muentzer, M:enno insists that we cannot arrogate to ourselves the authority 31 Jesus is identified with Melchisedek, king of Salem (peace) 0 He is the Second David and the fulfillment of many prophecies from Isaiah, -" eremiaL7 ~__ _ Micah w' hieh speak of the peace­iul rule of King Messiah. CL "The Blasphemy of John of Leiden" in The Complete Writings of iHetllJO Simn/« (Scottdale', 1956), ppo.3S.fF, 32 11: --, 45. to be God's angels who root up the tares. Some say that the Lord Wfuli:S to punish Babylon and Christians are to be His in­struments, but Christ must return for the final Judgment before His enemies are castigateuo 33 At first thought it may seem inconsistent in Menno's writings to discover that such an uncompromising advocate of passive resistance does not shrink from dwelling on the torments of the eternally damned. Even though men should not lift a finger to resist the encroachments of evil it is fully within the province of God to mete out an unmitigated punishment of the fiercest type H11