Review by Andrew V. Ste. Marie
The writings of Swiss Brethren Anabaptists have been thus far underrepresented in English translation, compared to Hutterites and Dutch Mennonites. Post-Schleitheim Swiss Brethren history is little discussed – particularly in popular-level treatments. The perception may easily be formed that Swiss Brethren did not produce much literature or do much doctrinal thinking after the first generation.
This volume seeks to correct this perception and the deficit in English translations. Presenting well over 500 pages of translated documents, it helps round out our understanding of Swiss Anabaptism following the Schleitheim Confession and to the border of the seventeenth century. Study of these documents reveals how Swiss Anabaptist thought grew and developed, and how they preserved, used, and adapted earlier works (such as the Schleitheim Confession and the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier) to fill later needs.
The core of this new volume is the translation of Codex 628, composed mainly of a work titled A Short, Simple Confession. This work was written in response to the published minutes of the Frankenthal Disputation (1571) between Anabaptists and Reformed theologians. Some Swiss Anabaptists felt that a more compelling case could be made for the Anabaptist position on the thirteen points which had been discussed. Utilizing earlier writings, such as the Schleitheim Confession and the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier, the anonymous editor put together a compelling apologetic for the Anabaptist views on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Christians in the government, etc., including an extensive discussion of the relationship of the Old and New Covenants. The Simple Confession is followed in the codex by an expanded version of an earlier Swiss Brethren writing, Concerning Separation, which explains why the Anabaptists separated from the Reformed state church.
This book would be a valuable contribution to English-language Anabaptist writings if it only included the translation of Codex 628; but thankfully, it presents many additional gems, several of them previously untranslated. These include Wilhelm Reublin’s Confession of Faith, coauthored with Jakob Kautz; Zylis and Lemke’s letter to Menno Simons; a book on excommunication; and the prefaces to three Swiss Brethren hymnals, including (translated for the first time) the preface of the Ausbund. For those interested in Anabaptist hymnody, these three translations and the introductory essay on the origins of the Ausbund are worth the price of the book.
This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in Anabaptist history and theology. It would be hard to overstate its importance to the study of Anabaptism in general and the Swiss Brethren in particular.