The Way to the City of Peace:

The Anabaptist Utopia of Pieter Pietersz

TOM HARDER*

     Abstract: The Way to the City of Peace, written in 1625 by the Waterlander Mennonite minister Pieter Pietersz, was one of the earliest books in the pilgrimage genre of spiritual literature. In describing the "City of Peace," Pietersz focuses both on personal and social renewal, with a persistent emphasis on moral and ethical issues, including wealth, greed and sharing; violence and warfare; the role of government; authority and leadership; community life, accountability and discipline; and vice. The citizens of the City of Peace submit themselves humbly both to Christ (who is their king and teacher) and to one another; they do not live in conformity to the world, but seek to live lives of simplicity, accountability, compassion, forbearance and peace. Thus Pietersz' utopia is nothing other than a concrete vision of God's kingdom rooted firmly in the soil of Anabaptist theology and ideology.

     In 1625, a minister of a Waterlander Mennonite congregation in the Netherlands wrote and published a small book, which eventually became so popular that it was reprinted eight times in Dutch, and subsequently translated and published multiple times in German. The minister was Pieter Pietersz, and the book was entitled Wegh na Vreden-stadt (The Way to the City of Peace).[1]  One of the earliest books in the "pilgrimage" genre of spiritual literature, its focus is clearly that of spiritual renewal, intended to lead to more faithful living and ultimately to salvation; it thus bears resemblance to the later and more widely known Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan (1628-1688).[2]  However, unlike Bunyan's book, Pietersz' focus is on not just personal but social renewal, and thus includes a strong and persistent emphasis on moral and ethical issues.[3]  Consequently, the goal or destination that Pietersz envisions is not merely a spiritual one to be actualized only in a heavenly future, but is meant to be attainable on earth and in the present, in a place he calls "the City of Peace." His treatise can therefore also be considered an example of a "Christian utopia."[4]  Moreover, given Pietersz' distinct theological and ethical emphases, with clear roots in his identity as a Waterlander Mennonite, this work may be categorized as an "Anabaptist Utopia," and as such, merits further study and deserves to be more widely known within Anabaptist-Mennonite contexts.[5] 

     Pieter Pietersz was born at Alkmaar, The Netherlands, in 1574. With skills in carpentry, he earned a living building windmills.[6]  Around 1600, when he was in his mid-twenties, he was called as minister of a Waterlander (Mennonite) congregation in De Rijp, where he served until approximately 1625, from which time he served another Waterlander church in Zaandam until his death in 1651.[7] 

     The Waterlanders were a branch of the Dutch Mennonites, named after the Waterland region in North Holland in which they lived.[8]  They formed in the 1550s as a reaction to the rather rigid and strict approach to the ban being practiced by the "Mennists" or Mennonites under the leadership of Menno Simons, Dirk Philips and others. As "the least strict and most progressive and liberal" of the Dutch Mennonites,[9]  the Waterlanders emphasized compassion, tolerance and spiritual guidance rather than a strict legalism and literal biblicism. Unlike the other branches of the Dutch Mennonites, they generally were not averse to holding public office, being economically active in the community or marrying outside the church, and eventually did not require converts to be baptized after their confession of faith if they had been previously baptized.[10] 

     Meanwhile, as wholesale persecution of Anabaptism disappeared toward the end of the sixteenth century, life for the Waterlanders, and for Dutch Mennonites in general, became more relaxed, the clear distinctives of Anabaptism became blurred, and acculturation and materialism increased. Hans de Ries, a Waterlander leader and elder, was among those critical of this acculturation, and said at one point, "The goods are enriched but the soul is impoverished. Clothing has become precious but the internal decorations have perished. Love has cooled and diminished, and quarreling has increased."[11]  In response to these adaptations, a reform movement emerged among the Waterlanders whose proponents called themselves the Vredestadsburgers, or "Citizens of the City of Peace."[12]  At the nucleus of the movement was Pieter Pietersz, along with other Mennonite preachers including Jan Philipsz Schabaelje, Claes Jacobsz, Willem Allertsz, Judith Lubberts and Cornelis Laackhuysen.[13]  The Dutch scholar Pieter Visser describes the movement as "one of Mennonite pietism and mystical spiritualism," aimed at "a reformation of ethics and practical devotion."[14]  Historian C. J. Dyck describes the nature and objectives of the "Citizens" as an effort:

     . . . to move away from a brittle legalism to an undogmatic, subjective, sometimes mystical piety-a religion of the heart and spirit. The movement was also in part a reaction to growing affluence and materialism among Mennonites . . . resulting in conspicuous consumption and social conformity ("worldliness").[15] 

According to Dyck, the ultimate focus of their reform was not merely an individualistic piety but the church itself.

     Pietersz' theology and temperament reflected that of the Waterlanders. He was characterized as "a gentle, peace-loving, pious man, averse to doctrinal strife."[16]  It is thus ironic that he became involved in various religious controversies during his years as minister. In 1626 he sided with a Waterlander leader and elder, Hans de Ries, in a dispute with two other Waterlanders, Nittert Obbes and Jan Theunis, over the issue of biblical authority-the latter argued for a single, biblical expression of God's word, whereas de Ries and Pietersz believed not only in a written Word but in a living, spiritual Word, and as a consequence were accused by their opponents of being overly spiritualist.[17]  Pietersz subsequently became involved in a similar dispute with a Jan Willemsz, who accused Pietersz' The Way of being overly mystical, pious and zealous, and thus spreading spiritual fanaticism.[18]  Finally, the Reformed minister Abdias Widmarius accused Pietersz of Socinianism.[19]  In all three of these controversies, Pietersz was vindicated. However, the theological implications of these controversies undoubtedly influenced Pietersz' writings, including The Way.

     Pietersz wrote The Way to the City of Peace within this context, perhaps as a confession of faith or manifesto for the group.[20]  Given this backdrop of controversy and reform, the book's rhetorical style is part apology, part polemic. Most basically, the rhetorical style of The Way is that of instruction, namely instruction regarding the "narrow way" of life in this new social order. It is written in the form of a dialogue between two fictitious characters, one of whom ("Jan") has found the City of Peace and is telling the other ("Pieter") about it. In Pietersz' own introductory words, "this booklet has been arranged figuratively as a conversation between two people, with questions and answers about how to find the way to the City of Peace. These things appear heavy to those whose hearts are tied to the things of this world, but those who judge rightly will soon understand the importance of these issues."[21] 

     The ethical emphases of The Way emerge very early in the work, and are integrated with the more distinctly spiritual or doctrinal aspects of the dialogue. However, the book does much more than defend a particular theological point of view; The Way is prophetic in its imaginative portrayal of an alternative reality or possibility for the church, and for society as a whole. As Dyck states in his introduction, Pietersz believes that "a new social order has been brought into being by the citizens of the City of Peace. . . . This is the church, the community of the faithful, those who walk the narrow way, but it is more than a social institution."[22] 

THE WAY TO THE CITY OF PEACE: A THEOLOGICAL OVERVIEW

     For Pietersz, God is, among other things, the Creator who "in his wisdom has ordered everything: the sun, the moon, the stars, the winds, summer, winter, everything in its order, and in addition, also all creatures, with human beings as the principal image of God in his creation."[23]  The intended purpose of humanity was to "cultivate the earth and to eat their bread in the sweat of their brow," and ultimately, to "completely trust the promises of the Lord." Pietersz repeatedly suggests that the commandments of God to humanity are few and basic-namely, love for God and love for one's neighbor, the latter of which Pietersz often expresses in terms of the Golden Rule: doing unto them as you would have them do unto you.

     Pietersz refers to Christ as the "King" of the City of Peace, as well as its Master and pre-eminent Teacher. Thus the earthly ministry and ongoing life of Jesus are given priority over the events of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, although the ultimate significance of the latter seems to be assumed.[24]  The salvific power of finding "the way to the city of peace" is stated often. Pietersz' understanding of the atoning significance of Christ comes closest to the "moral influence" theory of the atonement,[25]  although hints of the participation, satisfaction and substitution understandings of the atonement also appear.[26]  Thus Pietersz stresses discipleship over justification, but the latter is never forgotten, and Pietersz repeatedly reminds readers of the necessity of grace.[27] 

     The essence of discipleship for Pietersz, and also the primary spiritual virtue, is that of complete surrender (Gelassenheit) to the will of God.[28]  Secondary but related virtues emphasized in The Way are humility, and love; all three of these virtues have a strong influence on Pietersz' ethical teaching, as can be seen, for example, in his repeated emphasis on the commandments to love God and neighbor.

     Pietersz' worldview is dualistic; the City of Peace is consistently set against "the world."[29]  He occasionally refers to the latter as "Babel," making the dualism even more distinct,[30]  while his preferred title for the City of Peace is "the spiritual Jerusalem."[31]  That Pietersz also has the church in mind is implied in the introduction when he writes, "You will find described here the ordinances in the City of Peace . . . all showing how the true church of God is organized, and should be organized, and who are the true servants of Jesus Christ."[32]  Finally, although Pietersz does not specifically use the imagery of "the Kingdom of God" (or "Heaven") in The Way, this theme is certainly implied both in the introductory quote of Matthew 13:45 ("the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls"[33] ), and in his repeated use of the king image in reference to Christ. Thus, Pietersz' dualism is biblically based and consistent with a "two-kingdom" theology: the City of Peace is at once located in the world, yet distinct from it, and citizens of that city have a dual citizenship. His ecclesiology is heavily influenced by this dualism, and in a sense The Way is essentially a detailed statement of his theology of the church.[34] 

     Pietersz' primary source of authority is clearly the Scriptures.[35]  He cites the Bible frequently throughout The Way,[36]  almost always referring to single verses. His scriptural references come from the entirety of the canon, including several Apocryphal books. Interestingly, he does not quote at all from the Torah (except for Genesis, the least "legal" of the five books); his main emphasis is on New Testament texts, from both the gospels and epistles.[37] 

     Although Scripture is his central authority, Pietersz also turns to other sources of authority, including tradition, reason and experience. Of these, tradition is most prominent, and Pietersz' Anabaptist identity and convictions emerge clearly throughout the treatise. For example, in his discussion of the "ordinances" Pietersz affirms that baptism is a sign to be administered upon adult confession of faith, that the Lord's supper is strictly a remembrance and that church discipline is to be used for admonishment and correction rather than for punishment.[38]  On the latter issue, he clearly distances himself from the "Mennists" and sides with the Waterlanders; in all three issues he argues from Scripture. Pietersz is also clearly Anabaptist in his position regarding "weapons of violence." In his piety, he has adopted the more spiritualistic approach of the Waterlanders in contrast to the strict biblicism of the other branches of Dutch Anabaptists.[39]  He also clarifies his position within the tradition with regard to his opponents' accusation of Socinianism, siding with the orthodox defense of a trinitarian Christology.[40] 

     Finally, a word must be said about Pietersz' use of the term "peace," since it is so germane not only to this work in particular but to his identity and writing as a whole. The Dutch word he uses, vrede, carries the simple connotation of the English word "peace."[41]  Dyck proposes that the word includes nuances similar to the Hebrew word shalom-that of justice, wholeness, well-being.[42]  Pietersz' own use of the term, and by association that of the "Citizens," would clearly seem to include the concept of justice, given Pietersz' emphasis on wealth, economics and sharing. Equally prominent, however, is Pietersz' strong emphasis on Christian unity, an obvious response to the fractious nature of the Dutch Mennonites during Pietersz' time. While this emphasis brings a certain spiritualized nuance to the term, it has strong social and ethical implications as well, and includes a strong opposition to violence.

ANALYSIS OF ETHICAL THEMES

     What are the ethical concerns about which Pietersz writes? The first and foremost concerns he addresses in The Way are the related themes of wealth, greed and the sharing of resources. Very early in the dialogue Pietersz' protagonist Jan, in describing the citizens of the City of Peace, explains that they "never begrudge others, unless it were that some felt that they had received more than their fair share." Jan goes on to claim that "there is not a single greedy person living in the City of Peace for they cannot enter the narrow gate and remain greedy. . . . Greed is ungodly and the root of all evil which has no inheritance in the kingdom of God and can therefore also not be present in the holy church of God."[43]  As the dialogue progresses, Pietersz repeatedly returns to the subject of wealth and greed. He occasionally echoes the words of Jesus, as when he writes that "those who put their hope in things, as many do, are worshipping an idol named Mammon," and observes that "it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, and easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom."[44]  The issue of wealth is for Pietersz a deeply spiritual one; wealth and greed are serious hindrances to one's spiritual health and salvation.[45]  Citizens of the City of Peace are those who have laid up for themselves treasures in heaven rather than on earth, who are content with little, who have learned to trust in the providence of God.[46]  However, wealth for Pietersz is also an issue with clear social and ethical implications. Wealth is intended to be shared, not to be hoarded, and Pietersz reinforces this principle repeatedly by referring to the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself.[47]  He also emphasizes the virtue of generosity, and of putting the needs of one's neighbor before one's own.[48] 

Particularly revealing is his discussion of whether there are merchants in the City of Peace:

     You asked whether there are merchants here. The kind you describe who create chaos and forget God we do not have. . . . Those who are here have the name of God written on their forehead . . . he is first in all their thinking; they consider the goods of this world as rubbish . . . . These merchants always seek to obey the will of God; in their buying and selling they see the profit of their neighbor as equal to their own, for in this they had a foremost teacher . . . They cherish this lesson and hold it in high regard, saying: no one is to seek their own interests but the interests of others . . . for love does not seek its own but that which is the neighbor's."[49] 

     Pietersz is especially critical of commerce in which the primary goal is personal profit; he vigorously states that this is not present in the City of Peace: "They are not selfish even in the smallest things, or concerned for their own wealth as merchants, but for the general welfare . . . Their buying and selling is simple, without deception, or scheming, where, at the least, no one seeks to undermine or gain advantage over another, treating others as they would want to be treated themselves."[50] 

     Pietersz' teaching takes on a more moralistic tone when he discusses the issue of possessions, especially those whose purpose he perceives to be solely for the sake of personal pleasure. He refers with disdain to those "whose belly is their god, who need so much that they are insatiable,"[51]  and says that true citizens "look upon big banquets, excessive drinking, expensive clothes and jewelry, large houses and decorations as needless expenses."[52] 

     Thus, in his discussions of greed and wealth, Pietersz' ethic grows out of what is ultimately a spiritual concern: reliance on God, and the obedience of God's commandments. This relationship between ethics and spirituality is evident in his treatment of other ethical issues as well.

Not surprisingly, Pietersz relates the issue of violence and warfare to greed; the former arises out of the latter:

     It is precisely what people consider to be their welfare that causes the lack of peace in the world, the cause of judging and fighting, of wars and strife, of hatred and envy, and selfish profit . . . each one seeking to undercut the other in order to possess the god of gold . . . this is why there is no peace in the world. Open your eyes."[53] 

     The reason, he says, that "there are still so many who want to carry the Christian name yet sail out on ships loaded with ammunition for war, powder and lead, guns and swords in order to protect their goods" is that "the love for the golden idol has blinded their eyes and turned them away from the clean, holy living of our Lord."[54]  But even apart from greed, Pietersz is vehemently opposed to weapons of violence. When Pieter asks Jan whether the citizens of the City of Peace use weapons, Jan responds:

     Oh, my friend, that is so far from them as heaven is from earth. Before a true citizen of the City of Peace would agree to participate in this kind of murderous activity with these weapons, they would rather let themselves be torn limb from limb for they follow the Lamb, and even as the Lamb has no fellowship with wolves, or with other threatening animals, so little do these use such murderous weapons, even to defend themselves, for their weapons are long-suffering.[55] 

     Their model is again to be Christ, who chose not to fight even when his enemies came for him, who healed the slave whose ear Peter cut off, who taught his disciples that "those who take the sword will perish by the sword" and whose call to humility precludes the citizens from using weapons to "spill human blood." This is to fulfill the prophet who declared that "they shall change their swords into plowshares . . . for no people shall lift up a sword against another and war shall be taught no more." [56]  On the contrary, citizens of the City of Peace are to "love their enemies, pray for their persecutors, and do good to those who cause them suffering"; in fact "they are so completely nonresistant even as sheep resist no one, but seek to flee, leaving their wool on the thistles, hedges, and fences."[57] 

     While for Pietersz the issue of war is intimately connected with greed, the citizens' non-participation in war involves another ethical issue: the role and recognition of governmental authority. On one hand, Pietersz recognizes the role of "the worldly office [which] has been ordained of God to punish the wicked and to rule over the people of this world, to protect the pious, which authority and office God alone can dispense in his wisdom."[58]  The citizens of the City of Peace "pray diligently for the authorities, even though they may be somewhat opposed to them," and even obey the authorities, at least in principle. But it is here that Pietersz provides a critical caveat: "They are obedient to the authorities in all things that are not contrary to the holy laws of their spiritual king who has taught them not to resist the evil doer."[59]  While the citizens "must be silent and allow the great judge [i.e. the worldly authorities] to act" in fulfillment of its tasks, "when these citizens are under a spiritual king they are also subject to spiritual laws."[60]  For this very reason, citizens of the City of Peace do not themselves serve in the office of magistrate nor any other such position of authority.[61] 

     What of authority and leadership within the City of Peace itself? Pietersz makes it clear where its authority ultimately is to be found: "First their only shepherd, priest, teacher, bishop, and leader is Christ. His life and teaching, his holy example is so loved by them that they eagerly seek to follow him."[62]  This single statement has at least two ramifications regarding the issue of authority in the city. First, it is an authority that invites rather than coerces, that leads by example rather than by command. Second, it stands in contrast to traditionally accepted sources of authority, even (perhaps especially) within the church: the priest, teacher and bishop do not have ultimate authority-only Christ has ultimate authority.[63] 

     Beyond Christ, the City does have other leaders (or rather teachers), but they lead from a posture of humility rather than authority. Not only are they "conformed to the likeness of their Lord," but their own humility is such that

     the very least of Christian brothers may unashamedly speak to them and counsel them . . . they receive teaching as gladly as they teach . . . they do not seek their own, but what is best for the neighbor; they are patient and gentle, when they are roughly spoken to, they speak well in return. In sum their life and manner teaches in such a way as to persuade all people.[64] 

     Lest it seem like these leaders are nothing more than doormats, they do have an important calling: "that they may faithfully warn people against sin that they may not put pillows under the heads or crutches under the arms of people . . . They do not comfort anyone in their sins or their destruction, nor do they preach for their own gain, but out of love for the lost."[65] 

     Pietersz' views regarding authority and leadership in the City of Peace have corresponding implications regarding community life, accountability and discipline. Corporate life in the city is marked by the three virtues already noted: humility, love for neighbor, and trust in and surrender to the will of God. Each citizen of the city has the same calling: "to be responsible for one another."[66]  This calling is manifested in part through a spirit of generosity, and of caring for one another's needs before one's own. The net result of this caring is a pervasive unity, and on this subject Pietersz turns to the well-known Pauline metaphor of the church as the body of Christ: "The church with all these belonging to it is compared to a body responsible for its own members; look at your own body to see how everything proceeds in unity in the church of Christ, for he alone is head of this body."[67]  Unity is one of the ideals most stressed by Pietersz throughout The Way. In fact, as noted above, it is for him one of the primary meanings of the term "peace." Similarly, disunity of any kind is one of his greatest concerns (and seems to be the principal motivator behind much of his polemic). "How can the body of Christ," Pietersz asks, "ruled as it is by the foremost wisdom, have strife? There troublemakers, living in disunity, can imagine that they are not part of the body of which Christ is the head, or vines in the true vineyard, which would undoubtedly be fruitful and produce peaceful fruits of love."[68]  He is also critical of any "evil words, backbiting, or gossip" that might be divisive in the community, and adamant that such does not happen in the City, "since they are of one heart and soul." On the other hand, even if there were such evil talk, "it would not trouble them at all for they belong to God and are well content; then their heart does not become troubled or restless."[69] 

     Pietersz is not so načve to think that there will never be squabbles, disagreements, or need for admonition and discipline in the City of Peace. But he is vehemently opposed to any approach to church discipline that is overly judgmental, or that leads to exclusion, avoidance, or excommunication. He advocates using the model for discipline and accountability found in Matthew 18, but clarifies its purpose: "Thus Christian punishment is a test which must be used with long-suffering to the sinner's improvement." He concedes that "if improvement does not follow it is right that those who are gathered exclude him," but is quick to qualify his concession:

     Yet before it comes to this extreme, they must seek with gentleness and instruction, and great love as they themselves would have it . . . that they patiently seek to help him in order that that which was sick can be healed and the erring brother might be awakened and returned from death to life.

     The very idea of excommunication is antithetical to life in the City of Peace: "Oh, how the brethren are careful not to reject someone, but to win them with all their tears, praying, and efforts to bring the person to hear." [70]  Rather, the City of Peace is a place of forbearance and inclusion: "It is confessed among these peaceful citizens, who prefer to place others above themselves, that the sheep of Christ, God's children, are often scattered here through erring, hard driving teachers of little understanding . . . that through such leaders the peace is broken and wandering sheep end up in different flocks. But God knows them all, from the smallest to the greatest, and he will again gather them to be one herd when he comes in judgment to sit on his throne . . . And the lost sheep, who have always longed for peace, will receive eternal life." And his next words capture the essence of the entire treatise:

Thus it is my understanding that not all who are under other shepherds will be lost, provided they remain firm in the principal things, namely a true faith in God with an unfailing trust in the promises of his Son, together with a strong love and longing for the Lord, honest love for the neighbor and for all people, though they may have been enemies against them.

     The bottom line for Pietersz is that "those who carry themselves humbly according to their knowledge under obedience to God, those we hold to be citizens of the City of Peace."[71] 

     Thus we see that Pietersz envisions the City of Peace as a place of love, unity, inclusion and grace. That is not to say, however, that it is a place of compromising standards or permissive lifestyle. Pietersz has some critical things to say not only of materialism, but of other forms of indulgent living, including vice. Indeed, the entrance to the city is a narrow one and its path lightly traveled, in contrast to the

     heavy traffic on the broad way where most people walk, both young and old, since it offers pleasures for the eyes and flesh, with beer and wine in the celebration of the god Bacchus: whatever one wishes, to fill the stomach as each one pleases, as the masses go by, drunkards, whoremongers, exhibitionists, greedy people, haughty people, cruel people, selfish people.[72] 

     Pietersz is critical in general of what he calls "carnal desires" or "carnal lusts," which for him include "drinking, indulging, impure works."[73]  Clearly not all of these involve greed or the neglect of one's neighbor. He reserves special criticism for smoking, about which he says, "If you cannot feel that this comes from the evil one, you must be blind and your heart must be darkened. Time is so precious and passes so quickly that we must use it wisely to bear fruit for God . . . All this is wiped out through this shameful practice. Therefore I advise all simple people who have not yet formed this habit, keep yourself pure, and use your time better than by blowing smoke and stink."[74]  Yet even when Pietersz is at his most moralistic, he reveals a deeper layer of tolerance and grace, and another aspect of his vision of the big picture:

     But if someone in great need uses this as medicine for sick eyes or other serious illness, using it in sobriety without causing offense to others, even as other medicine is used, that is another matter. For all created things can be good in a measure. The Lord give us wisdom in all things to find that measure, that we may be fruitful and live honestly in the truth, in order to live eternally hereafter. Amen.[75] 

CONCLUSION

     Is Pietersz' "big picture" an attainable vision? Or is it nothing more than an idealistic utopia? Is Pietersz ultimately arguing in favor of the "the possibility of ethical and moral perfection,"as C. J. Dyck suggests?[76]  We must first allow Pietersz himself to weigh in on this question. In his discussion of the role of "brotherly punishment" in the City of Peace, he has this to say: "Since the number of those who have not soiled their clothes is very small, and as they live among the citizens of the city, who are themselves weak and imperfect in Christ, yet constantly strive for improvement, it is easy for these to work with the poor and humble, confessing their own failures as they are reprimanded and instructed."[77]  Then in his conclusion to the treatise, he is even more explicit regarding the possibility of perfection:

     Some might conclude, since there is no strife in the City of Peace and no greedy person lives there . . . this must be understood as speaking of the fully mature, who have achieved perfect peace . . . or that one should conclude that they are condemned who sometimes live in discord, or are still tempted to greed, or other failures for which they are sorry and repent . . . It is far from them that they should be condemned, for to those I speak courage to trust in Christ so that their strength shall be renewed through God's grace . . . I have made known in this booklet my opinions and faith, that is: that it is possible in this life, by God's grace, to live in peace with a good conscience and with one's soul at rest, so that one is content with the leading of God. . . . But this state is not reached in a day, or in a year, but by the steps we climb, and through diligent persistence in the school of Christ to which end we have the holy life of Christ as example.[78] 

     Thus Pietersz makes it clear that life in the City of Peace, which he here reveals to be nothing other than a metaphor for Christian discipleship, is a journey rather than a point of arrival, and that while the City of Peace does represent an idyllic utopia of the "fully mature," it is intended as a model, and indeed a source of inspiration and courage to continue on the journey. As Jan says to Pieter in conclusion: "Let us continue to remember each other in prayer in order that our progress in the City of Peace may be fulfilled and reach a happy, blessed end."[79] 

     What place does Pietersz' "Anabaptist Utopia" have in contemporary Christian ethics? On the one hand, ethicists such as Reinhold Niebuhr can seem disparaging toward "sentimental utopian versions of human nature," presumably because they are not rooted enough in reality.[80]  On the other hand, Pietersz' imaginative depiction of the City of Peace, like any vision grounded in God's own vision as we understand it, plays a vital role in the actualization of that vision, which is after all at the very root of Christian ethics. As ethicist Duane Friesen writes:

     Peace is a vision of God's future for the cosmos. It is a vision of an alternative future, not simply "pie in the sky," but a vision that serves as a motivating power and direction for our lives. If our lives envision only the American dream or material success or a life of self-gratification and pleasure, then from day to day and year to year we will put into practice that for which we hope. But we will not live by an alternative set of practices if we do not have an alternative hope for the future. We are what we hope for: visions of the future have a powerful impact on people's lives.[81] 

     Elise Boulding, in her book Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History, devotes an entire chapter to "The Passion for Utopia."[82]  She writes, "Peace cultures thrive on and are nourished by visions of how things might be, in a world where sharing and caring are part of the accepted lifeways for everyone. The very ability to imagine something different and better than what currently exists is critical for the possibility of social change . . . . People can't work for what they can't imagine."[83]  She concludes that, while there are certain pitfalls inherent to utopian thinking, "utopianism [is] a source of positive social change, away from violence and injustice and toward a humane social order."[84] 

     Of great significance to the present topic is Boulding's recognition of historic Anabaptism as being "utopian in the best sense of the word. Anabaptists taught egalitarianism, both between classes and between men and women. Working for the ideals of social justice and peace in the postfeudal era, they empowered peasants and workers alike." But she also pointed out its pitfalls: "Their openness to promptings of the spirit left them vulnerable to a charismatic leadership that violated their own intentions."[85]  This, as we have seen, was a concern of Pietersz as well, and he took pains to defend himself against such accusations.

     It is important to note that Boulding's discussion is from a sociological rather than a faith-based, Christian perspective. When viewed in terms of the latter, utopianism is certainly even more than "a source of positive social change"-it is in fact a central characteristic of that faith itself. What is the Kingdom of Heaven if not a Christian, biblical utopia, a vision of things as God intended them, with great power for shaping a life of faithful discipleship?[86] 

     Pietersz' The Way to the City of Peace is a Christian-and specifically an Anabaptist-utopia, solidly anchored in the biblical image of the Kingdom of Heaven. As such, it presents nothing new; it is not the product of brilliant theological thinking or fresh ethical insight. What it does do, however, is paint a compelling picture of faith fulfilled, of what it would mean, in very practical, human terms, if God's kingdom were indeed to come to earth as it is in heaven. And that is why it has relevance for Christian ethics even today. It is after all for God's kingdom, or what Pietersz calls "the City of Peace," that Christians in all times and places are to pray.[87] 


[*] Tom Harder, co-pastor of the Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita, Kan., is completing a Master of Divinity degree at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Great Plains Extension in North Newton, Kan. 1. The work was only recently published in English, in Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, trans. and ed. by C. J. Dyck (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1995). Accompanying Dyck's translation is a helpful introduction, one of the few English sources for information on Pietersz. The work will henceforth be referred to either by its full English title, or in abbreviated form as The Way. Return to Text

[2] . Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 234. Dyck states that Pietersz' book "was one of the earlier books in this genre on how to achieve community, blessedness, and salvation." N. van der Zijpp, in his article on Pietersz in The Mennonite Encyclopedia, proposes that Bunyan's work may in fact have been influenced by that of Pietersz, but does not offer any documentation for his claim.-ME 4: 175. Robert Friedmann, in his landmark study Mennonite Piety Through the Ages (Goshen College, Goshen, Ind.: The Mennonite Historical Society, 1949), 107 also suggested this possibility, and traced its proposal to an earlier study by J. J. Honig, Jr. In Broeders in de geest (Deventer: Sub Rosa, 1988), 73. Piet Visser states that Pietersz' piety in turn harkens back to the devotionalism of Thomas † Kempis. Return to Text

[3] . Dyck writes, "Moral teaching is obviously at the heart of The Way to the City of Peace; Pietersz does not hesitate to encourage the good and warn against evil. This might be called moralizing-or is it teaching ethics?"-Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 233-34. While this statement implies that there is a difference between morality and ethics, elsewhere he draws the distinction less between the two terms themselves than between their range of relevance in Pietersz' writing: "[The Way] shows Pietersz' deep concern for morality and ethics on a personal level, but also his very major concern for social justice" (p. 232). According to the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Donald K. McKim, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), morality is "the rightness or wrongness of actions in relation to a standard or norm of conduct," whereas ethics is "the study of human conduct, focusing particularly on attitudes and actions that are considered to be 'right' or 'wrong,'" thus clarifying the distinction between the two terms. Return to Text

[4] . Friedmann refers to The Way as "a sort of pious utopia."-Mennonite Piety, 106. Dyck qualifies this distinction when he refers to The Way as a "near-utopian treatise . . . but it is more than a dream or vision . . . This is a call to spiritual renewal, not only in general, but with many specific areas identified. As such it is also an eminently practical, irenic, and undogmatic guide for daily living."- Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 234. Return to Text

[5] . Regarding the popularity of the work, and of Pietersz' works in general, van der Zijpp says that they "not only were eagerly read both by Mennonites and non-Mennonites in the Netherlands, but they also have been very popular among the Mennonites of the Palatinate, Prussia, South Russia and also in America, where they were imported by the Russian Mennonites, especially the Kleine Gemeinde in 1874."-ME 4: 175. This expanding popularity accounts for its having been translated into German from the Dutch. The Kleine Gemeide were in fact instrumental in the publication of Pietersz' works in German, as well as in their dissemination. In his The Golden Years: The Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde in Russia (1820-1849) (Steinbach, Manitoba: D. F. P. Publications, 1985), Delbert Plett provides a helpful if derivative introduction to Pietersz and The Way (pp. 80-83) and a discussion of the Kleine Gemeinde's publication history regarding Pietersz' works (pp. 320-321, 326-327). In a separate work, Plett documents the popularity and significance of Pietersz' works, especially The Way, among multiple generations of Plett descendants.-Johann Plett: A Mennonite Family Saga, Steinbach, Manitoba: Crossway Publications, 2003. Return to Text

[6] . ME 4: 175. Return to Text

[7] . Ibid. Dyck notes that while Pietersz had no theological training for his ministry, this was not unusual among the Dutch Mennonites of the time.-Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 231. Return to Text

[8] . ME 4: 895. Return to Text

[9] . Ibid. Return to Text

[10] . van der Zijpp notes that while "the principle of nonresistance was emphatically taught," some Waterlanders were even moderate with their pacifism, and raised money to support the Prince of Orange in his efforts toward independence from Spain. He also adds that "from c1630 church discipline slackened against members who served on armed ships."-Ibid. Return to Text

[11] . Quoted in C. J. Dyck, An Introduction to Mennonite History (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1981), 135. Dyck refers to this period as the "Golden Age" of the Dutch Mennonites, but adds that not all of the progress represented gains. Return to Text

[12] . Pieter Visser, "Brothers in the Spirit: The Mennonite Contributions of Dierick and Jan Philipsz Schabaelje to Dutch Devotional Literature in the Seventeenth Century-Abstract of a Dissertation presented to the Arts Faculty of the University of Amsterdam, for the Degree of Doctor of Arts, 1988," MQR 67 (Oct. 1993), 470. Return to Text

[13] . Visser says that "Pietersz was probably the leader or 'father,' while Jan Philipsz Schabaelje can be regarded as the main ideologist and poet."-Visser, "Brothers in the Spirit," 471. Visser also says that while Schabaelje's interests were in a mystical spiritualism and inner reformation and his objectives were devotional, "Pieter Pietersz laid a far greater emphasis on ethics"; together, the Vredestadsburgers "pleaded for the restoration of former religious and ethical values."-Ibid., 473. Return to Text

[14] . Ibid., 471. Return to Text

[15] . Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 231-232. Return to Text

[16] . ME 4: 175. Friedmann wrote that Pietersz was depicted "as a tenderhearted man," and quotes earlier scholars who described Pietersz work as "simple, mellow, sunny," and as "[breathing] a spirit of love and peace, written in simplicity, more with emotion than scholarship."-Friedmann, Mennonite Piety, 106-107. Return to Text

[17] . ME 4: 895; see also Keith Sprunger, "Jan Theunisz of Amsterdam (1569-1638): Mennonite Printer, Pamphleteer, Renaissance Man," MQR 68 (Oct. 1994), 445. Sprunger notes that these accusations carried added intensity due to the infamous episode in Munster, during which some more spiritually-minded Anabaptists became fanatical and took over the city, leading to a violent ending, and thus giving Anabaptists everywhere a bad name. Return to Text

[18] . Sprunger, "Jan Theunisz of Amsterdam," 453. W. J. Kuhler, in his History of the Anabaptists in the Netherlands During the Seventeenth Century (trans. into English by Lewis Vandermeulen for his master's thesis, The University of Alberta, 1955), documents this dispute, and states that Willemsz had even written a defaming book that was subsequently withdrawn from the publisher.-Vandermeulen, History of the Anabaptists, 163. Return to Text

[19] . ME 4: 175. Socinianism doctrine was anti-Trinitarian, rejected both the deity of Jesus Christ and the satisfaction model of the atonement, and placed strong emphasis on the free will and reasonable knowledge of humanity. Socinianism was generally rejected by the Dutch Mennonites, and specifically rejected by the Waterlanders, although several proponents of Socinianism were known to have met with Hans de Ries.-ME 4: 568. Return to Text

[20] . Whether the work was commissioned by the group as a whole or was written solely on Pietersz' own initiative is not clear. That it was representative of the "Citizens," and even of the Waterlanders as a whole, is suggested by Dyck when he states that Pietersz' opponents "sometimes referred derogatively to Pietersz' Way to the City of Peace as the Waterlander confession of faith-a critique which held some truth." Unfortunately, Dyck doesn't document this reference.- Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 232. Return to Text

[21] . Ibid., 235. Return to Text

[22] . Ibid., 232. Return to Text

[23] . Ibid., 244. Return to Text

[24] . Pietersz takes pains to defend his trinitarian, incarnational Christology, likely in part as a reaction to the controversies noted above. See his lengthy discussion in part 43.- Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 272-274. Subsequent references to The Way will include both the part number and the page in Dyck, e.g. "no. 31/259." It should be pointed out that Dyck's numbering does not always correspond precisely to that found in the Dutch and German editions viewed by the author, specifically from part no. 46 to the end.-Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 276-283. This is due partly to Dyck's omission of several sections of The Way from this version, including a commentary by Pietersz on the Lord's Prayer (part 54), and another section entitled "Complaint of Peace," which comprised parts 49-53 in the Dutch edition and with the prayer would have immediately preceded the conclusion on page 279. Thus the conclusion was no. 55 in the original. Return to Text

[25] . For example, Pietersz writes: "He did all this to show us his incomprehensible love. Can you not understand this and let it turn your heart around to say with love in return: 'Lord, what is it that I must do?'"-No. 31/259. Return to Text

[26] . E.g. Participation (no. 36/262); Satisfaction (no. 33/260); Substitution (no. 35/261). Return to Text

[27] . E.g. no. 32/259. Return to Text

[28] . See, for example, no. 17/245. Return to Text

[29] . See Pietersz' introduction, where he describes the world in dark terms, in contrast to the characteristics of the City of Peace. Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 235-36. Return to Text

[30] . E.g. no. 12/241; no. 22/251; no. 42/269. Return to Text

[31] . E.g. no. 4/238. Return to Text

[32] . Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 235-36. Return to Text

[33] . Ibid., 236. Return to Text

[34] . His ecclesiology is most explicit and specific, however, in his references to the ordinances, and in his comments related to leadership, community life and discipline, each of which will be discussed below. Return to Text

[35] . Despite his opponents' criticisms to the contrary, Pietersz (and presumably those he associated with) had a high view of biblical authority, which he expresses explicitly in The Way: "[The citizens] are convinced that they should neither add to nor subtract from the Word given to them, nor change his commandments."-No. 35/261. Return to Text

[36] . In the Dutch versions these were listed in the margins; in the German editions and the present English edition the citations are included in the text, within parentheses. Return to Text

[37] . A more thorough survey of his citations would undoubtedly reveal more clearly the extent to which he is dependent on specific biblical themes (e.g., The Kingdom of Heaven). Even a cursory glance at his usage, however, shows that he does not limit himself to any one biblical theme or image, nor even exclusively to the teachings of Christ. Return to Text

[38] . See no. 35-37/260-263. Pietersz is especially vocal in his opposition to the use of the ban for avoidance and excommunication. See especially his lengthy discussion in no. 39/265-267. Return to Text

[39] . The extent to which Pietersz' spirituality shows the influence of early Pietism is still debated. Friedmann considered The Way as "one of the very first pietistic writings in Dutch Mennonitism."-Friedmann, Mennonite Piety, 107. Dyck, however, qualifies this categorization by saying that it would depend on how one defines Pietism, and concludes that "If emphasis on the new birth, prayer, and ethical living are key marks of Pietism, would not Jesus rank first?" Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 233. Dyck also argues that while early Pietism advocated withdrawal into conventicles, "Pietersz' city is open to all who share its vision." Return to Text

[40] . See especially his extensive discussion of this in no. 43/272-73. Return to Text

[41] . Karel Ten Bruggencate, "Vrede," Engels Woordenboek (Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1989), 2: 909. Return to Text

[42] . From a phone conversation with C. J. Dyck, Dec. 19, 2003. Return to Text

[43] . No. 5 and 6/238. Return to Text

[44] . No. 12/241. Return to Text

[45] . In describing the citizens of the world, Pietersz writes that "their trust and refuge remains in the present carnal and temporal riches, believing themselves to be secure . . . and that which they believe will be their greatest security in time of need turns out to have forsaken them when that time comes . . . Thus their assumed wealth brings them into their deepest poverty."-No. 10/240. Return to Text

[46] . No. 12/241. Return to Text

[47] . E.g. "Because they need little for themselves, they are busy sharing their abundance with the poor."-No. 12/241; "Selfish concern or not to care for the neighbor's welfare as well as one's own . . . is hardly found in the City of Peace."-No. 16/244. Return to Text

[48] . E.g. "It is as you said that giving is more blessed than receiving . . . [the citizens] reject the desire for unnecessary things in order that they may give more generously."-No. 19/248. Return to Text

[49] . No. 25/253-4. Return to Text

[50] . No. 25/254. Return to Text

[51] . No. 41/268. Return to Text

[52] . No. 16/244. In several of his other writings Pietersz is even more specific in his criticism of fine art as pretentious and even "useless." See, for example, "A Christian Warning Against Pride and Luxury."- Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 136. This is especially fascinating given the fact that Rembrandt was known to have been a friend of some Waterlanders. Return to Text

[53] . No. 11/241. Return to Text

[54] . No. 41/268. Return to Text

[55] . No. 40/268. Return to Text

[56] . No. 42/269-270. Return to Text

[57] . No. 42/271. Return to Text

[58] . No. 42/269. Return to Text

[59] . No. 42/270. Return to Text

[60] . No. 42/269. Return to Text

[61] . Ibid. In this regard, Pietersz' "two-kingdom theology" is very similar to that of the Swiss Anabaptists as articulated in their Schleitheim Confession of Faith (which forbade the Brethren to serve as magistrates), and at variance with Menno Simons (who basically conceded that it is possible for believers to serve in positions of state authority). Return to Text

[62] . No. 20/248. Return to Text

[63] . In this we hear echoes of the Reformation, and especially the Radical Reformation, out of which the Anabaptists emerged. But the opponents who accused the Citizens of advocating a charismatic and potentially fanatical style of leadership a la Munster needn't have worried, given the Citizens' emphasis on meekness and humility. Return to Text

[64] . No. 20/249. Later in the document, Pietersz is even more explicit in echoing the words of Christ regarding authority and leadership: "Worldly rulers lord it over others . . . but [it should] not be this way among his disciples, for whoever would be greatest among them should be least and the foremost should be a servant."-No. 42/269. Return to Text

[65] . No. 20/249-250. Return to Text

[66] . No. 23/252. Return to Text

[67] . No. 24/252. Return to Text

[68] . No. 24/252. It is not difficult to imagine that Pietersz had specific "troublemakers" in mind when he wrote this: those opponents critical of the Citizens, and more broadly those among the Dutch Mennonites whose squabbles led to their many schisms. Return to Text

[69] . No. 27/255. Return to Text

[70] . No. 37/263. Pietersz is particularly critical of the practice of avoidance, used by other branches of the Dutch Mennonites, in which a husband or a wife is encouraged to cut off from their unbelieving spouse. See especially no. 39/265-267. Return to Text

[71] . No. 38/264-265. Return to Text

[72] . No. 3/237. Return to Text

[73] . Ibid.; also no. 46/278. And as stated above in note 52, for him this even includes indulgence in works of art. Return to Text

[74] . No. 55/282-283. Return to Text

[75] . No. 55/283. Return to Text

[76] . Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 232-233. Return to Text

[77] . No. 37/262. Return to Text

[78] . No. 55/280. Return to Text

[79] . No. 47, 278. Return to Text

[80] . J. Philip Wogaman, Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 219. Return to Text

[81] . Duane Friesen, Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Peace of the City (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2000) 124. Return to Text

[82] . Elise Boulding, Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000). Return to Text

[83] . Boulding, 29. Return to Text

[84] . Ibid. Return to Text

[85] . Boulding, 33. Return to Text

[86] . Thus the emphasis on the Kingdom of Heaven in ethicists Glen Stassen and David Gushee's masterful book, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downer's Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003). Return to Text

[87] . Significantly, Pietersz included as part of The Way a commentary on the Lord's Prayer. It was inserted as no. 54, immediately preceding his Conclusion. Dyck included it in a separate chapter of his book (Chapter 11, "Prayers of the Heart").-Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 209-211. 548 The Mennonite Quarterly Review 547 The Anabaptist Utopia of Pieter Pietersz 525 MQR 78 (October 2004)