January 1999






     Abstract: After more than four centuries of dispute, controversy and persecution, Mennonites and Roman Catholics have begun to enter into various kinds of dialogue. This article gives a brief historical overview of Mennonite-Catholic relations from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries and summarizes a variety of Mennonite-Catholic conversations now underway. These conversations range from the formal dialogue being conducted by the Mennonite World Conference and the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to the explorations of both Mennonite and Catholic scholars and pastors.

     The conversations now taking place between the Catholic Church and the various Mennonite churches is a remarkable ecumenical event.[1]  Just how remarkable is indicated by comparing two documents, one from the sixteenth and the other from the late twentieth century.

     The first records an inquisition held in Flanders in 1569. The inquisitor is a Franciscan named Friar Cornelis. The prisoner is an Anabaptist pastor and elder named Jacob de Roore. Observing the inquisition are two government officials who will be required to execute Pastor de Roore if he is found guilty of heresy. Friar Cornelis opens by telling Pastor de Roore, "I've come here to see whether I can . . . bring you back to the Catholic faith of our mother, the holy Roman church, from which you have apostatized to this damnable Anabaptism." Pastor de Roore answers, "I have apostatized from your Babylonian mother, the Roman church, to the . . . true Church of Christ-this I confess and thank God for it."

     The Friar responds with predictable indignation. "Do you call our mother, the holy Roman church, the whore of Babylon! And do you call your hellish, devilish sect of Anabaptists the members of the true church of Christ. . . . Who the devil has taught you this-your accursed Menno Simons I suppose." At this point the Friar utters an obscenity. Pastor de Roore responds, "You talk very wickedly." Then he adds, "It was not necessary that Menno Simons should have taught us [this] since John teaches [it] in his Apocalypse . . . in the 14th, 16th, 17th and 18th chapters."

     "Bah! What do you understand about John's Apocalypse!" Friar Cornelis answers. "You were nothing but a poor weaver and candle maker before you went around preaching and rebaptizing out here. . . . I have attended the University at Louvain, and studied divinity so long, and yet I do not understand anything at all about St. John's Apocalypse." To which Pastor de Roore responded, "Christ thanked his heavenly father, that He had revealed [the truth] to babes, and hid it from the wise of the world, as is written [in] Matthew 11:25."

     Friar Cornelis once again responds contemptuously. "God has revealed [truth] to the weavers at the loom, to . . . bellows-menders . . . scissors grinders . . . and all sorts of riff-raff," he says incredulously. "And to us ecclesiastics who have studied from our youth, night and day, he has concealed it!" He tells Pastor de Roore: "Before you are rebaptized you can't tell A from B, but as soon as you are rebaptized you can read and write. If the devil and his mother do not have a hand in this, I do not understand anything about you people." Pastor de Roore replies that indeed the friar does not understand the Anabaptists, "for you ascribe to Satan the grace which God grants our simple converts, when we [diligently] teach them to read."

     Predictably this hostile exchange of opinions ended with Pastor de Roore being condemned to death. On June 10, 1569 he was executed by the Flemish government in Bruges, leaving behind a thriving congregation and a wife and several children.[2] 

     From this tragic story we move forward to the late twentieth century. It is January 1997 and the Mennonite World Conference is meeting in Calcutta. At the opening ceremony an official delegate of the Catholic Church reads this letter:

     I send greetings from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on the occasion of the meeting of the Mennonite World Conference in Calcutta.      

     We are most happy to be represented at the meeting by a member of our staff, Monsignor John Mutiso-Mbinda. It is our sincere hope that there will be other contacts between the Mennonite World Conference and the Catholic Church.

     We are convinced that it is the will of Christ that his disciples seek unity, for the scandal of division among Christians "provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature." Please know that we are with you in prayer during your daily deliberations.
     - Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, President[3]

       Clearly major changes have occurred in the 428 years between Pastor de Roore's inquisition and Cardinal Cassidy's letter. This transition from persecution to ecumenical conversation is the result of major changes that have taken place in both communities, although only since Vatican II have these changes reached the point that dialogue has become possible.



     For the first four centuries after the Reformation there were few conversations between Catholics and Anabaptist-origin groups. The Anabaptist-origin groups continued to regard the Catholic Church as an institution that had been involved in persecuting Christians. Catholics for their part largely ignored the small marginalized communities left behind by the Anabaptists. When Catholics did notice the Anabaptist-origin churches they were viewed as schismatic sects, based on a Pelagian will-centered theology and a heretical rejection of sacramental grace. The only apparent convergence was a common belief that the other community had radically departed from true Christianity. Any conversation between them was thus pointless, unless it had as its goal the other's conversion.

          Despite this seemingly hopeless situation it appears in hindsight that Pastor de Roore and Friar Cornelis shared certain basic assumptions: both believed they were right and that it was possible to be right, in an absolute sense; both were committed to the Church as a visible institution; both believed their community to be the true heir to apostolic Christianity; both believed the controversy they were engaged in had eternal significance; both accepted the scriptures as authoritative and inspired; and both agreed the sacraments mattered-the Anabaptists enough to die for their view of baptism.

     Indeed on several basic points the Anabaptists held positions which were closer to traditional Catholic views than to the new Protestant views: the Church must be free of secular political control; an act of the human will is necessary for salvation; the Church is both an historical and a spiritual reality; the Christian faith has specific moral implications in all areas of life.

     On the other hand the Anabaptists held several beliefs which they shared with Protestants, in opposition to the Catholic tradition: Catholics were always wrong, and had been so ever since the fall of the Church, an event usually associated with Constantine; the scriptures were the only authority in the Church, and thus all previous tradition was merely human and could be discarded; everything necessary for Christian belief could be derived directly from the Bible; it is possible for portions of the Church to exist without institutional accountability to other portions of the Church; and finally, the tradition of priestly-administered sacraments is totally rejected and replaced with a sermon-centered liturgical life. Non-ordained Christians are considered equal in authority to those ordained or in religious vows.

     Clearly sixteenth-century Anabaptists differed with Catholics on what it meant to be a Christian, but they did agree that being a Christian is the ultimate value in life. They disagreed on how to interpret scripture, but they agreed that its meaning, if that could be determined, should govern the Church's life. They differed on how the Church should be organized and governed, but they agreed that it was in the Church, properly organized and governed, that Christ is present in history. In this both communities revealed their continuity with medieval Christianity, which was their common historical heritage.

     What perhaps most basically distinguished these two sixteenth-century Christian communities were their beliefs about the relationship between dogma and religious experience. For Friar Cornelis, as for most other Catholics in his era, authority was primary. In this view everything depended on accepting the Church's dogmas, institutional structures and sacraments without question. By contrast, for Pastor de Roore and his fellow believers religious experience was primary. For them everything depended on adult conversion-something they believed was required for all Christians, and which would always produce a life demonstrably Christ-like in its ordinary detail.

     This theological difference in turn led to a fundamental moral disagreement, which concerned the use of lethal violence. Friar Cornelis presumably believed he was required to suffer martyrdom if necessary to defend the faith, but he also obviously believed he was required to cause the deaths of others if that was necessary to suppress heresy in the Church. Thus Friar Cornelis was willing to cause Pastor de Roore's death for the sake of preserving social and religious order. But Pastor de Roore would not have been willing to cause Friar Cornelis' death, even in self-defense, since along with many other Anabaptists he took the words of Jesus literally: "Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you." The rejection of lethal violence under any circumstances continues to be a major issue dividing Mennonites and the other Anabaptist-origin groups from other Christian churches.

     In the seventeenth century Europeans were forced to recognize their split into two religiously defined sub-cultures. They do so by roughly dividing Western Europe into a southern Catholic area (Italy, Spain, France, South Germany) and a northern Protestant area (England, North Germany, Scandinavia). This settlement brought relative peace, but it provided no place for the Anabaptist-origin communities, since they required religious liberty to practice their faith-something neither Protestants nor Catholics would be willing to accept for another century or more. But by the eighteenth century, despite persistent persecution by both Protestant and Catholic religious and civil authorities, the Anabaptists' descendants had succeeded in establishing four relatively stable communities-in the Netherlands, Alsace, Ukraine and Pennsylvania. In addition there were smaller, less stable communities elsewhere in Europe.

     During this period the communities established by the sixteenth-century Anabaptists began to evolve into the denominations now known as Mennonites and Amish.[4]  Since intense political opposition made evangelization difficult if not impossible, these Anabaptist-origin congregations inevitably changed from communities of persons who had been both baptized as infants and as adults (e.g., Anabaptists, such as Pastor de Roore) into communities of persons born into Christian families where the tradition was to defer baptism until the early adult years (e.g., Baptists, like Pastor de Roore's children and grandchildren).[5] 

     During these same centuries the Catholic Church also experienced a major evolution, brought about by the reforms adopted at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). These reforms produced two major changes. The first was a much stronger emphasis on individual piety than had been the case in the late medieval period. The second was a gradual but major shift in church-state relations, as Catholic leaders increasingly turned their attention toward religious influence in society as contrasted to political control of it. Although neither change was radical enough to satisfy the Anabaptist critique of the medieval church, nevertheless both represented a convergence with Anabaptist belief, which has always heavily emphasized personal piety and the institutional separation of church and state.

     Although several Anabaptist-origin communities survived in Europe, only the Dutch would survive in any number, and they at the cost of disavowing the pacifism of their founders. The future of the pacifist Anabaptist tradition would be in North America.

     Members of the Swiss Anabaptist community, who had previously been deported from Switzerland to Germany, began immigrating to Pennsylvania in the late seventeenth century and continued to do so until warfare in the 1750s made further migration impossible. Pennsylvania was then the only place (other than tiny Rhode Island) where religious freedom existed, and its attraction to the Anabaptists was obvious. Catholic migration to the U.S. also began in the seventeenth century. For both communities North America was a fundamentally new environment. Here both groups were small religious minorities, often discriminated against by the Protestant majority-Catholics because they were not Protestants, Anabaptists because they were pacifists-but nevertheless allowed to exist.

     Both the Anabaptist and Catholic immigrant communities adopted a similar survival strategy in English-speaking North America. The combination of frontier conditions and the eventual establishment of a democratic political system made it possible to establish rather tightly-bounded sub-cultures in North America, and both Mennonites and Catholics did so. By the late nineteenth century both had established communities across the United States and Canada with their own schools, cultural traditions and religious organizations. The right to religious liberty and the separation of church and state which Mennonites and other Anabaptist-origin groups required came to be sought by American Catholics as well, since only under these political conditions could they hope to survive in a majority Protestant culture.[6] 

     Although Catholics and Mennonites had both been tiny minorities in eighteenth-century English-speaking North America, by the end of the nineteenth century Catholic emigration from Europe had produced a Catholic population much larger than the Mennonite population. But despite their differences in size, both groups continued to maintain rather strong religious and cultural distinctions from the Protestant majority. Catholics did so primarily through their religious practices. Mennonites did so through both religious and cultural practices, which included distinctive clothing, ethnic dialects and unique social customs. Since marriage within the group was the norm in both cases, membership consisted largely of the descendants of previous members.

     There is no evidence of formal dialogue between Catholics and Mennonites during this period, though contacts between individual Catholics and Mennonites inevitably occurred. One such conversation took place in Waterloo County, Ontario where in the late nineteenth century German-speaking Catholics and Alsatian Amish settled in the same area. Bishop Peter Litwiller, the leader of the Amish community, and Fr. Eugene Funcken, the leader of the Catholic community, became personal friends and engaged in an informal dialogue which has been long remembered in the Amish Mennonite community in Ontario.[7]  This conversation between two pastors appears to be the earliest Mennonite-Catholic conversation in North America.



      As late as the middle of the twentieth century Mennonites and Catholics still held views about one another that were only slightly different than their sixteenth century forebears.[8]  The change in their relationships marked by Cardinal Cassidy's letter to the 1997 Mennonite World Conference would not occur until after Vatican II.

     There are five major historical forces that together appear to have produced the changes in both communities that have enabled the current Mennonite- Catholic dialogue to occur: (1) internationalization of the Church; (2) shift from a dogmatic to an historical intellectual perspective; (3) democratization of society; (4) liturgical and spiritual change; (5) changes in the morality of warfare. Catholics and Mennonites have of course responded rather differently to these historical forces, but the two communities have found themselves in often surprising convergence in the final outcomes.

1. Internationalization

      Both the Mennonite and Catholic communities have become profoundly international in the twentieth century. The 1997 Mennonite World Conference not only met in India, but the majority of its members are now Asians, Africans and Latin Americans. On the Catholic side the situation is similar. This internationalization resulted from the remarkable surge in missionary activity that took place in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Protestant missionaries found that competition between Christian denominations greatly hindered their work, and they returned home with the message that divisions that could be defended in Europe and America were unacceptable when exported elsewhere. The result was the ecumenical movement that eventually produced the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948.

     For both Catholics and Mennonites the WCC represented a major challenge. The Catholic commitment to papal authority adopted at Vatican I, the pre-Vatican II Catholic self-understanding and its disproportionate size made Catholic membership in a conciliar body difficult. For their part the Mennonite commitment to Christian pacifism made membership in a body which espoused the just war doctrine equally problematic. The General Conference Mennonite Church did join the Federal Council of Churches prior to World War I but withdrew when the Council supported the war. Two non-pacifist European Mennonite churches are WCC members. North American Mennonites have participated in several NCCCUSA/WCC activities, particularly the Faith and Order Commission. In declining to join the WCC Mennonites have converged with Roman Catholics.

     After World War I the Mennonite denominations formed their own intra-Mennonite organization, the Mennonite World Conference (MWC). Although it has few programs and little institutional authority, it has had a major impact on Mennonites throughout the world. To accept membership in it is to accept the wide diversity in beliefs and practices which exist among the various Mennonite denominations; this in turn has prepared the way for many Mennonites to accept the wide variations between them and other Christian groups. In recent years MWC has become a vehicle for ecumenical dialogue with other Christian communities through the participation of its executive secretary in the annual gatherings of general secretaries of Christian World Communions.[9] 

     A second ecumenical dialogue that has emerged in the Anabaptist community is a series of scholarly meetings called the Believers Church Conferences. This has brought Mennonite scholars together with their counterparts in other free churches, such as the Baptists. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has sent an observer to several recent conferences, and Br. Jeff Gros has been a frequent speaker at the conferences.[10] 

     Catholic involvement in the ecumenical movement took form in the Second Vatican Council. The Decree on Ecumenism adopted by it created an entirely new relationship between Roman Catholics and other Christians. After Vatican II it was no longer possible for Catholics to dismiss other Christians as 'heretics'-persons so deeply implicated in error their beliefs and opinions and their very existence could simply be ignored.[11]  This in turn forced other Christians, including members of the Anabaptist-origin denominations, to re-examine their attitudes toward Catholics and to ask if they could regard Catholics as Christians.

      C. J. Dyck, executive secretary of the Mennonite World Conference at the time, attended the Vatican Council, but only unofficially. The MWC governing board was not able to authorize his participation as an official observer so Dyck attended at his own expense with journalistic credentials. He later wrote a series of articles reporting on the Council which appeared in the major Mennonite periodicals. Although response from readers at the time tended to be negative it now appears these articles mark the beginnings of the formal Mennonite-Catholic dialogue now emerging.[12] 

     In addition to this more typical dialogue, another ecumenical activity has emerged in the Mennonite community that is characteristically Anabaptist. This is cooperative action in international relief and development. During and after World War II Mennonite groups throughout North America cooperated in creating the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in its present form. This large organization is now both a major international relief and service agency and also the predominant inter-Mennonite organization in North America.[13]  Particularly in the past 25 years, and particularly in Central and South America, MCC personnel have served with Catholic agencies, and Catholics have served with MCC as volunteers. In Calcutta MCC cooperates with the Missionaries of Charity, and Mother Teresa was scheduled to address the Mennonite World Conference in 1997 until prevented by her final illness.[14] 


 2. Shift from Dogmatic to Historical Intellectual Perspective

      During the twentieth century an important but seldom noticed intellectual shift has profoundly affected both the Catholic and Mennonite communities. Early in the century, as the power of rational thought became apparent in science, medicine and technology, many persons came to believe that a rationalist approach to religion would produce similar improvements. The Catholic bishops, and especially the papacy, strongly opposed this movement, insisting that Christian faith is based on divinely revealed truths which, although not contrary to reason, nevertheless can not be derived from reason or any other more basic source. Many Protestants adopted the Modernist position, which in turn produced a conservative Protestant reaction in North America known as Fundamentalism. Faced with this division in the wider Protestant community, Mennonite groups also tended to divide over it: some adopted the Modernist position, some the Fundamentalist position, while a middle group was unwilling to favor either position. The result of the Modernist challenge for Catholics and for the middle group of Mennonites was a shift away from doctrinal and theological authority toward a historical perspective, an intellectual event that has had wide and as yet unmeasured impacts on both communities.

     Significantly the major leaders in both twentieth-century Catholicism and Mennonitism were historians-Pope John XXIII, and Harold S. Bender, who was widely known in the Mennonite community during his lifetime as "Pope" Bender. By convening the Second Vatican Council Pope John set the Catholic Church on a new course. Harold Bender's career had an equal impact on the Mennonite community. He established the Mennonite World Conference in its present form, founded The Mennonite Quarterly Review and The Mennonite Encyclopedia, and was a co-founder of the Mennonite Central Committee and the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries. Above all he furnished the Mennonite community with the intellectual ideal of the "Anabaptist Vision" based on his extensive research into sixteenth-century Anabaptist history.[15] 

     Change, which is always a threat from a doctrinal perspective, becomes instead a fundamental element in the tradition when viewed historically. The historical perspective that both Catholics and Mennonites adopted in the twentieth century as their response to the challenges of Modernism and Fundamentalism has allowed both communities to make major changes in their traditions while at the same time giving them confidence they were maintaining the essence of their traditions.

     This intellectual development has also made possible an extensive dialogue between Mennonite and Catholic scholars. In recent centuries both Catholics and Anabaptists have devoted extensive resources to education with the result that educational levels in both communities are relatively high. Educated Mennonites are now often aware of Catholic beliefs, indeed are increasingly studying and teaching at Catholic universities, and educated Catholics in smaller numbers are increasingly able to view Anabaptist beliefs with respect. Among prominent Mennonite scholars who have devoted considerable attention to Catholic beliefs are John H. Yoder and Paul Peachey, both of whom served on the faculties of major Catholic universities.[16] 

     A continuing informal Mennonite-Catholic intellectual exchange is taking place at several Catholic colleges and universities where Mennonite graduate students are enrolled. The University of Notre Dame has attracted an especially significant number of Mennonite graduate students. In Canada, St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto and the presence of both St. Jerome's College and Conrad Grebel College at Waterloo University have provided important centers of dialogue. At the same time Catholic undergraduates have enrolled in significant numbers in at least two Anabaptist-origin U.S. colleges-Elizabethtown (Pa.) College where some 30 percent of the students are Catholic, and Bluffton (Ohio) College where the percentage is smaller but still significant. At Bluffton, Mennonite theologian J. Denny Weaver offers a course in Catholicism.


 3. The Democratization of Society

     The belief on which Pastor de Roore's execution was based-that human societies can be orderly only if everyone in them observes the same religious practices-has slowly but surely given way to very different political beliefs in modern times. The near universal adoption of democracy and human rights throughout the world in this century (at least in principle) has fundamentally changed the context within which Mennonite-Catholic conversations occur.

     Indeed the triumph of democracy was a major vindication for the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, since they were the first organized group in western history to practice human rights, consensual government, and separation of church and state. They did so a full century before the first democratic government in modern times was established in Rhode Island-and that government was established by Roger Williams, a Christian pastor who appears to have acquired many of his political ideas from the Dutch Anabaptists. When the Second Vatican Council adopted the Declaration on Religious Liberty it accepted the basic principles of democracy, which vindicated the political beliefs held by Pastor de Roore, in contrast to those held by Friar Cornelis.

     But in actual fact the triumph of democracy would prove to be a major challenge for twentieth-century Mennonites. For more than four centuries these communities had lived in the memory and experience of persecution and had almost inevitably formed a martyr culture. This culture enabled them to withstand enormous opposition and social rejection and to maintain their pacifism in World Wars I and II. But at the same time it inhibited Mennonites, especially the more conservative communities, from effective participation in democratic society. Democracy is based on the assumption that persons are able to make free and responsible choices in a pluralistic environment, whereas a martyr culture almost inevitably produces a sectarian environment and some form of victim mentality. Despite these difficulties large segments of the Mennonite community began to integrate into democratic society in the 1960s, producing a massive cultural transformation which in a single generation disbanded many of the cultural defenses erected in the previous four centuries.[17] 

     At the same time the Catholic community in the United States was undergoing a similar cultural transformation. English Catholics had also experienced fierce persecution throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Many Irish Catholics viewed their entire history from the sixteenth century onward as a martyrdom endured for the Catholic faith. All U.S. Catholics had experienced some actual persecution from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries and real discrimination well into the twentieth century. However, with the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960 the Catholic position in U.S. society changed fundamentally. This cultural-political change occurred at the same time as the religious changes instituted at Vatican II; together the two profoundly altered the sociology of the U.S. Catholic community.[18] 

     At the beginning of the twentieth century Catholics and Anabaptists had belonged to two different sub-cultures, united only by a common rejection of the dominant Protestant culture. By century's end both were increasingly participants in the same broad culture-a rapidly expanding democratic civilization that is international in extent and ecumenical in spirit.


     4. Liturgical and Spiritual Change

     A fourth major trend affecting both Mennonites and Catholics are the substantial changes in liturgy and personal spirituality which have occurred in the late twentieth century. Liturgical change normally occurs slowly and incrementally, since liturgical and worship rituals are inherently conservative. But in recent decades both Mennonite and Catholic worship practices have changed to an extent that can only be described as revolutionary.

     In the Catholic community the liturgical reforms adopted by the Second Vatican Council were major ones. The mass was translated into the vernacular languages and its form and structure modified. The priestly role was transformed by turning the altar toward the congregation. Congregational music was emphasized, as were other lay roles. The post-Vatican II worship service with its increased emphasis on scripture, homily and lay participation is much more accessible to most Protestants, including Mennonites, than was its predecessor.

     Significant changes in worship style have occurred as well on the Mennonite side. What had been a relatively stable, homogenous and conservative worship tradition gave way in the 1970s to a vigorous pluralism combining charismatic, experimental and pre-Reformation liturgical elements.[19]  Concurrently the cultural isolation of the Mennonite community began to end, bringing many persons from the Mennonite community into contact with Catholic worship and personal spirituality. Some began reading Catholic spiritual authors, attending Catholic retreats and attending Catholic eucharistic services. Others, including several Mennonite pastors, placed themselves under Catholic spiritual directors. At the same time a widespread and rapidly growing adoption of traditional pre-Reformation liturgical practices occurred in many Mennonite congregations.[20] 

     The charismatic renewal also played a role in ecumenical dialogue between Mennonites and Catholics. Mennonite participation in this movement was substantial at the personal level and led inevitably to conversations with Catholic charismatics. The proximity of the Notre Dame charismatic renewal to the major center of Mennonite institutions in northern Indiana was significant. Bishop Nelson Litwiller, a long-time and highly respected Mennonite missionary to Argentina, became a member of a predominantly Catholic charismatic community at Notre Dame in 1970 and until his death in 1986 played a major role in changing Mennonite attitudes regarding Catholics.[21] 


5. Morality of Warfare

     The four trends which have thus far been described-internationalization, changes in intellectual perspective, democratization, and liturgical-spiritual innovation-each played an essential role in laying the foundations for the dialogue between Catholics and Mennonites that is now emerging. But without a fifth trend-a growing convergence between Mennonites and Catholics regarding the morality of warfare-meaningful dialogue would still remain difficult.

     Following World War II a series of conversations regarding the morality of warfare took place in Europe between Mennonite and Brethren theologians and European Protestant theologians.[22]  In recent years similar conversations have taken place in the United States, and since Vatican II there has been significant Catholic involvement in such conversations. The War, Nation, Church study group organized by Mennonite scholar Paul Peachey while he was on the faculty at the Catholic University of America was especially significant in bringing Mennonite and Catholic scholars into dialogue on this topic. Meeting annually from 1967 to 1987, it brought together leading scholars of both pacifist and just war beliefs from a variety of Christian communities for off-the-record conversations. Several Catholics participated in the colloquium, most notably Fr. Bryan Hehir, who was selected by the U.S. Catholic bishops to draft their 1983 pastoral letter on the morality of warfare.[23] 

     On the Catholic side there have been major changes in thought regarding the morality of warfare since World War II. These changes appear to have been initiated both by advances in technology and by an increased moral sensitivity. Although twentieth-century warfare has been neither more frequent nor more violent in intent than past centuries, changes in technology have made it much more destructive. This technological trend culminated in nuclear weapons, which in turn produced the Cold War-a war which appeared to be inevitable for political and ideological reasons but which could not be fought militarily because the weapons available were too destructive to use.

     At Vatican II the Catholic bishops declared the arms race, which the Cold War had produced, "one of the greatest curses on the human race," and said, "the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured." The bishops did not offer an alternative to the just war doctrine but did call for "a completely fresh reappraisal of war."[24]  Vatican II was followed almost immediately by the Vietnam War, which appears to have been the first war in history subjected to moral scrutiny by Catholic theologians from one of the nations engaged in the war. The Vietnam War had a major role in bringing about the 1983 U.S. Catholic bishops' pastoral letter on warfare, a document historic for giving the pacifist option an official, if optional, legitimacy for the first time.[25] 

     On the Mennonite side these same twentieth-century events have had a rather far-reaching impact on the traditional pacifist doctrine. When faced with the effects of technological warfare on social justice, Mennonites were forced to ask whether their tradition of non-participation in warfare was in itself adequate. During World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War Mennonite conscientious objectors had performed public service as an alternative to military service and had come to accept the idea that the pacifist was required to offer an alternative to military service. During the Vietnam War they had been challenged by their relief work in Vietnam to oppose government actions because of their impact on the civilian population. Since the Vietnam War there has been a steady movement within the Mennonite community toward a more proactive approach to peacemaking.[26] 

     This common movement toward a proactive peace position has produced a convergence between the Mennonite and Catholic communities that, while still early and only partial, is nevertheless ecumenically significant, since it concerns the issue which has historically produced one of their greatest divergences. The participation of the executive secretary of the Mennonite World Conference in the 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace convened by Pope John Paul II in Assisi was the first known official encounter between Mennonites and Catholics and is an indication of how critical the growing convergence on the morality of warfare has been to this dialogue.



      In the 1990s there have been several developments involving Mennonite Catholic conversation which appear to indicate the opportunity for a deepened and possibly more formal dialogue in the 21st century. These developments can be classed as institutional, scholarly, liturgical-spiritual and personal.

1. Institutional

     Although Mennonites had not previously engaged in institutional level ecumenical dialogue, there have been two instances of such activity in the 1990s and a third involving another Anabaptist group.

     Faith and Order: In 1983 Thomas Finger of Eastern Mennonite Seminary was appointed to represent the two larger North American Mennonite conferences on the Commission on Faith and Order (NCCCUSA). Since that time there have been several significant Mennonite contributions to this ecumenical forum, in which Catholics also participate. Primary among these contributions has been the Mennonite initiative in conducting a series of three Faith and Order consultations on the morality of warfare, held between 1991 and 1995. Of the 23 participants in the 1991-1992 consultations seven were Mennonite and two were Catholic.[27]  The 1995 consultation was held at the University of Notre Dame and was titled "The Fragmentation of the Church and its Unity in Peacemaking." Of the 31 participants in this consultation five were Mennonite and three were Catholic. The 1995 consultation summary reported that participants "were in agreement that all Christians have a vocation of peacemaking," but that "there continues to be significant disagreement over the best ways to pursue that calling."[28] 

     Participation in the Faith and Order dialogue process has represented a major step in ecumenical involvement for Mennonites. That this initial participation involved the peace issue again indicates how fundamental it is for Mennonites. The late Marlin Miller, then president of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, played a major leadership role in bringing these consultations into being and in securing Mennonite participation in them. Finger continues to play a leading role in representing Mennonites in Faith and Order-related ecumenical dialogue.[29]  Recently the two largest North American Mennonite conferences (now in the process of merger) have appointed an Interchurch Relations Committee charged with overseeing Mennonite involvement in inter-church affairs. Although Faith and Order is a multilateral dialogue, it has brought Mennonite theologians and scholars into serious formal dialogue with Catholics on the peace issue.

     Vatican-Mennonite World Conference: In 1986 Paul Kraybill, then executive secretary of the Mennonite World Conference, attended the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi called by Pope John Paul II. He participated in the day's activities, which included a Christian prayer service at which he read one of the petitions. He later exchanged an embrace of peace with the other participants, including Pope John Paul.[30]  Kraybill's participation in the annual gatherings of general secretaries of Christian World Communions, a body in which representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity also participate, led to his invitation to this event.

     In 1990 Larry Miller became executive secretary of Mennonite World Conference. He has continued conversations with officials of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, particularly Bp. Pierre Duprey and Msgr. John Rodano. These led to the official representation by the Catholic Church at the 1997 meeting of the Mennonite World Conference in Calcutta, clearly an historic step in Mennonite-Catholic relations. The reference in Cardinal Cassidy's letter to prayers being offered for the Mennonite gathering seems especially significant from a Catholic point of view.

     The offer for further dialogue in Cardinal Cassidy's letter was presented to the Mennonite World Conference executive committee after the conference and was accepted. An initial dialogue was held October 14-18, 1998 in Strasbourg, France on the theme "Toward a Healing of Memories." Each side presented two papers. The first was a self-description by each tradition, and the second dealt with the perceptions of each tradition in the sixteenth century. This dialogue is expected to continue annually for a period of four to five years.

     This international level dialogue will likely have a major impact on Mennonite-Catholic conversations in North America. The experiences of Mennonites in Asia, Africa and Latin America regarding Catholics is often quite different than the experiences of North American Mennonites with North American Catholics.

     Society of Brothers (Bruderhof): The Society of Brothers, also known as the Bruderhof, is an Anabaptist group of twentieth-century origin. For a time it was associated with the Hutterites, an Anabaptist community originating in the sixteenth century. Both practice economic and residential community.[31]  The Bruderhof is the first Anabaptist-origin community to enter into formal dialogue with the Catholic Church at the institutional level. Although this dialogue does not involve Mennonites directly, it has an important impact on Mennonites because of the theological positions they share with the Bruderhof.

     The Bruderhof-Catholic conversation was initiated by Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter on the third Christian millennium, Tertio Millenio Adveniente, which included a statement indicating the Catholic Church was prepared to apologize for having in the past used "violence in the service of the truth." When the Bruderhof leadership read this statement they contacted their friend Fr. Richard Neuhaus, who in turn arranged an appointment with Cardinal O'Connor, the Catholic Archbishop of New York. The Cardinal received them in March 1995, accepting copies of their writings and noting the potential for greater Catholic understanding of Anabaptism.[32] 

A few months later the Bruderhof leadership met in Rome with Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith-the Vatican official whose sixteenth-century predecessors had been responsible for executing heretics. The Cardinal listened as his visitors read accounts of two of the Anabaptists martyred in the sixteenth century. He then made this statement:
     What is truly moving in these stories is the depth of faith of these men, their being deeply anchored in our Lord Jesus Christ, and their joy in this fact, a joy that is stronger than death.

      We are distressed, of course, by the fact that the Church was so closely linked with the powers of this world that it could deliver other Christians to the executioner because of their beliefs. This should be a deep challenge to us, how much we all need to repent again and again-and how much the Church must renounce worldly principles and standards in order to accept the truth as the only standard, to look to Christ. Not to torture others but to go the way of witnessing, a way that will always lead to martyrdom in one form or another.

      I believe it is important for us not to adopt worldly standards, but rather to be ready to face the world's opposition and to learn that Christ's truth is expressed above all in love and forgiveness, which are truth's most trustworthy signs. I believe that this is the point at which we all have to begin learning anew, the only point through which Christ can truly lead us together.[33] 

     Following this meeting in Rome the senior leader of the Bruderhof, Elder Johann Christoph Arnold, was invited to an ecumenical reception for Pope John Paul II in New York. Elder Arnold spoke briefly with the pope at this reception. Later Cardinal O'Connor visited the Bruderhof.[34]  This entire set of encounters appears to be a major event in Anabaptist-Catholic relations. Cardinal Ratzinger's statement appears especially significant from an Anabaptist perspective. What remains is to explore the possibility, inherent in Cardinal Ratzinger's remarks, that the Anabaptist martyrs could in some way be honored by the Catholic Church for their witness to religious liberty and the Church's peace position.

2. Scholarly

      Mennonite scholars have largely pioneered conversations with Catholics, and in the past decade this on-going effort has produced two noteworthy developments in the scholarly field. The first has been a new effort among Mennonite historians to understand sixteenth-century Anabaptism's relationship to medieval Christianity. The second is a program at Elizabethtown College, supported by a Catholic foundation, which is making possible serious and sustained dialogue between Anabaptist and Catholic scholars.

     Historians: Mennonites are characterized by an unusually strong historical sense. This trend was strongly reinforced by Harold S. Bender, whose work as a denominational leader in the period c.1930-1960 was to a large extent based on historical scholarship. After Bender's death in 1962 a younger generation of Mennonite historians continued the exploration of sixteenth-century Anabaptism. Several non-Mennonite scholars also joined this effort, eventually producing a somewhat different view of Anabaptism than Bender and his contemporaries had offered. In a 1990 encyclopedia article reviewing Anabaptist studies during the previous two decades Walter Klaassen reports that in this period "a new picture of Anabaptism" had emerged. In this new view Anabaptists were seen as a "mosaic of groupings of dissenters" which were "part of the general history of Western Europe in the sixteenth century." Klaassen, trained as an historian at Oxford and long-time professor at Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo, has through his numerous publications been a major force in situating Anabaptism in the context of its times.[35] 

     In 1984 another historian at Conrad Grebel College, C. Arnold Snyder, published a biography of Michael Sattler, a sixteenth-century Anabaptist leader who had been a Benedictine monk prior to his conversion to Anabaptism. Snyder concluded that the medieval monastic movement played a major role in inspiring the sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement.[36]  Snyder's book has proven to be seminal, eliciting responses from both Mennonite and Catholic scholars. Eoin de Bhaldraithe, an Irish Trappist, wrote an appreciative review in which he states: "The disciples of Benedict and indeed all Catholics will read Snyder's book with interest and even excitement. . . . We easily recognize that we are branches of the same patristic and medieval tree trunk."[37]  Dennis Martin responded to Snyder's work by suggesting that "the movement of spirituality out of the cloisters onto the streets-begun by the religious movements of the twelfth century, institutionalized by the mendicants, and laicized in late-medieval popular piety-perhaps lay more directly behind Sattler's imitation of the suffering Christ than did traditional Benedictine spirituality."[38]  It will be noted that both responses share the assumption that there were substantial pre-Reformation influences present in the Anabaptist movement.

     Several other Mennonite historians are also exploring the pre-Reformation context of Mennonitism. Prominent among them is Peter Erb of Wilfrid Laurier University, who has published three essays questioning the traditional Mennonite view that Anabaptism restored the Church to its primitive simplicity and arguing instead for a historical perspective in which Mennonitism is viewed as part of the larger Christian tradition.[39]  Dennis Martin, now a Catholic but then writing as a Mennonite, discussed the same set of issues in a widely-noted essay published in 1987.[40] 

     Three Mennonite scholars have made pioneering efforts in the past decade to view Mennonitism from a patristic viewpoint. They are Alan Kreider, a missionary-historian and a fellow at Regent's Park College, Oxford;[41]  Gerald Schlabach of Bluffton (Ohio) College, whose 1996 Notre Dame dissertation on Augustine appears to be the first major scholarly study of a patristic figure by a Mennonite scholar;[42]  and A. James Reimer, professor of theology at Conrad Grebel College, who studied with the Catholic theologian Gregory Baum.[43] 

     Several Catholic scholars have also attempted to understand the Anabaptist movement and its denominational successors. Msgr. Ronald Knox, the English author and Biblical scholar, included a chapter on the Anabaptists in his millennial-scale survey of non-traditional Christian communities published in 1950.[44]  Although a sincere attempt to understand the Anabaptist movement, it was written before the great growth in Anabaptist studies and is now outdated. In 1965 Michael Novak, the Catholic author and lay theologian, published an essay on Anabaptism which is a positive and on the whole accurate treatment of sixteenth-century Anabaptism from a post-Vatican II perspective.[45] 

     Bro. Jeffrey Gros, F.S.C., Associate Director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, has been the Catholic most active in writing about Anabaptists. Much of this has taken place in his role as Catholic representative to the Believers Church Conferences, and from his participation in the Faith and Order dialogues in which Mennonites have participated.[46]  Lisa Sowle Cahill, a Catholic theologian who is professor of Christian Ethics at Boston College, included a discussion of both the Anabaptists and of Mennonite theologian John H. Yoder in her 1994 study of the morality of warfare.[47] 

     It would appear there is significant opportunity for further scholarly investigation of Mennonite and Catholic relationships in both the historical and theological fields. It would appear to be especially helpful if Catholic scholars were to join in the study of sixteenth-century Anabaptism and its origins.

     Elizabethtown College: This undergraduate college located in Lancaster County, Pa., was founded by the Church of the Brethren, another of the Anabaptist-origin denominations in the U.S. However the student body of approximately 1,500 is now roughly 30 percent Catholic, and only about 3 percent Brethren. In recent years this institution has emerged as the setting for a sustained scholarly dialogue between Catholics and the various Anabaptist groups, including Mennonites.

     The Young Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist Groups at Elizabethtown has emerged as an important center for Anabaptist scholarship, and two of its recent fellows, both Mennonites, have engaged in Anabaptist-Catholic research. In 1997 Steven M. Nolt compared the ways Anabaptist and Catholic immigrant groups adapted to American culture. In the following year Paul Peachey, presented a series of three lectures on the topic "Churches Catholic and Free: An American Dialogue," each of which were followed by responses from representatives of the local Catholic diocese.

     In 1994 the Connelly Foundation of Philadelphia, a Catholic foundation, awarded Elizabethtown a major three-year grant both to aid the college's services to its Catholic students and to promote dialogue between Catholics and Anabaptists. This grant allowed the college to add courses on Catholicism to its offerings and to initiate a series of scholarly interchanges between Catholic and Anabaptist scholars. One of the first events was an April 1997 conference titled "Anabaptist and Catholic Conversations: Points of Convergence and Divergence."[48] 

     During the 1997-1998 academic year three further events were held under the auspices of the Connelly Foundation Program. The first was a panel titled "Catholics and Anabaptists: Can We Talk Together?" Br. Jeffrey Gros represented Catholics; John Rempel, a Mennonite pastor in Manhattan and director of the Mennonite Central Committee liaison office at the United Nations, represented Mennonites. The other events were conferences on the general topic "Catholics and Anabaptists in Conversation about Spirituality." The first brought together Prof. Monika Hellwig, a Catholic and former professor of theology at Georgetown University, and Marlene Kropf, minister of Spirituality and Worship for the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries, for a discussion of "Women and Spirituality." The second conference brought together Mennonite pastor Arthur Boers, who had received spiritual direction from Fr. Henri Nouwen, and Sue Mosteller, C.S.J., an associate of Nouwen's at L'Arche Community, for a discussion of Nouwen's spirituality.

     It would appear that scholarly dialogue of the kind initiated by Elizabethtown College has a major potential for facilitating Mennonite-Catholic dialogue.


As noted earlier there has been a movement in some portions of the Mennonite community toward pre-Reformation spiritual and liturgical practices in recent decades. This has produced liturgical changes at the congregational level and the adoption by many Mennonites of traditional personal spiritual disciplines. Although not directly ecumenical, this development plays an essential role in laying the spiritual foundations for a theological and historical dialogue.

     Worship practices at congregational level: During the past two decades there has been a pronounced shift in some Mennonite congregations toward traditional liturgical practices. It is estimated that some 35-40 percent of Mennonite Church[49]  congregations now use the common lectionary. The frequency of communion services in Mennonite Church congregations has increased from the traditional semi-annual schedule to as frequently as monthly in some congregations, and the average in North America is now estimated at 6-8 times a year. The liturgical seasons are now observed in many congregations, and resource packets for pastors are now published each Advent and Lent by the Mennonite Church.[50] 

     This interest in pre-Reformation worship practices has naturally led to various interactions with Catholics. Several leaders in the Mennonite liturgical movement have studied at Catholic universities, particularly the University of Notre Dame. Marlene Kropf, who has been the leader in this movement, attended Notre Dame and has close contacts with Catholic thought. At her initiative the Mennonite Church adapted the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) for use in Mennonite congregations.[51]  When this new program was introduced to Mennonite pastors and congregational leaders in 1997 a Catholic couple was invited to describe the implementation of the RCIA program in their parish. Following the 1994 Believers Church Conference on the Lord's Supper, Kropf organized a conversation for pastors on this topic at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries to which a Catholic representative was invited.[52] 

     It would appear there is a major opportunity for Mennonite-Catholic dialogue on the topic of worship. An exploration of the differing theological assumptions that underlie the two traditions' practices would appear to be especially promising.

     Individual Spiritual Disciplines: At the same time that many Mennonite congregations adopted elements of the pre-Reformation liturgical tradition, numerous individuals in the Mennonite community have adopted traditional spiritual disciplines. It is difficult to document this trend, since by its nature it involves individuals rather than institutions, but there is considerable anecdotal evidence of Mennonites reading Catholic spiritual authors, attending Catholic retreats and placing themselves under Catholic spiritual directors. The writings of Henri Nouwen have been particularly popular among Mennonites.

     There is also an institutional development in this area that appears to be significant. In the past decade Mennonites in northern Indiana have established a retreat center in Three Rivers, Michigan called The Hermitage, which is closely modeled on similar Catholic centers. Founded and led by a husband-wife Mennonite pastoral team, Gene and Mary Herr, it offers silent retreats, guided meditation and spiritual direction, primarily to Mennonite pastors. The Hermitage has a long-standing relationship with the Spiritual Life Institute (SLI), a Catholic religious order of Carmelite origin. Bro. Eric Haarer, an early Mennonite supporter, is now a Catholic member of SLI and maintains a close association with The Hermitage, as do other members of SLI.


The number of individuals involved in Mennonite Catholic conversation at a personal level also appears to have grown rapidly in the past decade. Although such a generalization rests on anecdotal evidence, it nevertheless would appear to be a logical corollary to the expanded institutional interest, which can be documented.

     There has also been a growing number of crossovers in membership between the two communities in recent decades. What is noteworthy about many of these crossovers, both Mennonite and Catholic, is that the individuals involved have often maintained connection with their previous community. A 1997 issue of The Mennonite featured the stories of two Mennonites who have joined the Catholic Church, a remarkable ecumenical event by any standard.[53]  The wife of the editor responsible is a former Catholic, perhaps an indication of how crossover membership is affecting the ecumenical dialogue. The present author, himself a crossover from Mennonite to Catholic in 1968, has received several invitations to speak to and write for Mennonite audiences in recent years.[54] 

     Many crossovers, both Catholic and Mennonite, rather than rejecting their previous tradition appear to have made a decision to attempt to integrate the two. It is possible such persons may be able to contribute to the dialogue as cultural, historical and theological interpreters.



     The conversations taking place between Mennonites and Catholics obviously are not equivalent to the formal dialogues underway between the Catholic Church and the larger Protestant denominations. However when viewed from a Mennonite perspective which emphasizes local initiative, these informal conversations are perhaps even more significant than a leadership initiated dialogue, since by their ad hoc nature they indicate a widely dispersed impulse toward dialogue.

     The question now appears to be how to conduct a more formal dialogue between Mennonites and Catholics, and here there appear to be three major issues: (1) how does a top-down hierarchical church carry on meaningful dialogue with a bottom-up congregational church? (2) how can the memories produced by Catholic persecution of Anabaptists be healed so that productive dialogue in the present becomes possible? (3) how is the disparity in size between the two groups to be handled?

     In regard to the first issue it seems rather apparent that for conversations between Mennonites and Catholics to move to a more formal and sustained level, considerable creativity in developing new techniques for ecumenical dialogue will be required. Applying existing forms, developed for dialogue between large hierarchically-organized churches, would hardly be appropriate to the Mennonite tradition which emphasizes broad-based congregational participation in all church activities. What is needed is a dialogue format which satisfies the Catholic expectation that those involved will be accountable to their larger community, while at the same time satisfying the Mennonite expectation that the dialogue process will involve broad-based participation by the entire membership. It may be the new forms of electronic communication will provide opportunities for ecumenical conversation that would satisfy both requirements.

     In regard to the second issue-what has been called the healing of memories-the role of the sixteenth-century Anabaptist martyrs appears to be central. The depth of loyalty in the Mennonite community to these martyrs should not be underestimated.[55]  The general apologies thus far offered by Pope John Paul II are a major step toward resolving this obstacle to dialogue but will likely not be sufficient to completely resolve it. What will likely be required in order for the Mennonite and other Anabaptist communities to put these intense and painful memories to rest is some action by Catholic authorities which indicates not only an apology for the religiously-based violence inflicted on the original Anabaptists, but also a recognition that the beliefs for which the Anabaptists were persecuted now appear in some cases to be closer to the heart of the gospel than those of their persecutors. The statement of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Bruderhof delegation would appear to indicate that such an action may be feasible from a Catholic standpoint.

     There is also the issue of disparity in size between the two communities. It appears possible if not probable that both partners in the conversation will be inhibited to some degree by this factor. Mennonites are likely to fear being overwhelmed by a much larger and institutionally stronger partner if they enter into serious dialogue with the Catholic Church. This concern is naturally heightened by the still strong memories of past persecution at the hands of Catholic authorities. Catholics for their part may question whether a dialogue with a relatively small group is justified, given the many opportunities for dialogue with much larger groups.

     Obviously for any dialogue to continue for an extended period of time both communities must experience some substantive gain from it. It is possible Catholics will experience such a gain by learning from the 450-year Mennonite experience of lay discipleship, including the Mennonite rejection of military service during those centuries. It may be that as Catholics continue the "completely fresh reappraisal of war" mandated by Vatican II they will find in Mennonite history certain lessons of practical value.

     For their part Mennonites may find in dialogue with the Catholic Church the opportunity to share their peace witness with a politically influential Christian community. At the same time they may find dialogue with Catholics a way to experience a stronger connection to the pre-Reformation spiritual and liturgical roots which nourished sixteenth-century Anabaptism. Dialogue with Catholics would also provide a stronger relationship to the global Christian community from which Mennonites have largely been isolated, both by centuries of persecution and by the counter-cultural lifestyle required to maintain their Christian pacifism.

     There is also a potential benefit for other ecumenical conversations. Mennonites are the oldest of the Protestant communities that have come to be identified as evangelical, in the North American use of that term. If Mennonites and Catholics are able to develop techniques which produce useful dialogue it is likely these same techniques, or an adaptation of them, will also prove helpful in Catholic dialogue with other evangelical communities.

     It appears likely that a sustained Mennonite-Catholic dialogue will be difficult. As it progresses very major differences will have to be confronted. But despite its potential difficulty the prospects for such a dialogue appear quite hopeful. The very difficulty of the issues involved ensures that Mennonite-Catholic dialogue will require its participants to explore the deepest foundations of their faith, an activity which can hardly fail to bring benefit to all involved. And the rather surprising growth in Mennonite-Catholic conversations in recent decades would seem to indicate that there is an impetus for dialogue in these two very different communities strong enough to overcome even the greatest difficulties.

[*]  Ivan J. Kauffman is an independent author living in Washington, DC. Before becoming a Catholic in 1968 he was executive secretary of the Mennonite Central Committee's Peace Section.

1. Mennonites are the largest of the denominational groups that trace their origins to the sixteenth-century European Anabaptists. Other groups with similar origins are the Hutterites and the Amish. An eighteenth-century-origin denominational group, the Brethren, is also referred to as Anabaptist. In 1998 Mennonite and related groups in North America numbered 416,000 (baptized adults), organized into three larger independent conferences and numerous smaller ones. Total membership worldwide was 1,060,000 baptized adults in 60 nations, organized into 193 independent conferences. Return to Text

[2] . Thieleman J. van Braght, The Bloody Theater, or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians (1660), trans. Joseph F. Sohm (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1950), 774-75 (punctuation altered). This book has played a major role in forming the Mennonite community's self-image from its publication to the present. See "Martyr's Mirror," ME 3:527-29. Return to Text

[3] . Copy supplied by Mennonite World Conference, Strasbourg, France. The quoted portion of Cardinal Cassidy's letter is from the Vatican II document on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, para.1. Return to Text

[4] . The Amish are an Anabaptist-origin group which originated in Alsace and Switzerland in the early 1690s from a split in the Anabaptist community there. Many twentieth-century Mennonite congregations were originally Amish congregations that began calling themselves Mennonite as they became acculturated. See Steven M. Nolt, A History of the Amish (Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 1992) and Paton Yoder, Tradition and Transition: Amish Mennonites and Old Order Amish, 1800-1900 (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1991). Return to Text

[5] . The sixteenth-century Anabaptists did not consider themselves twice-baptized, since they regarded their baptism as infants to have taken place under compulsion, and thus to have been invalid. For the most part the European heirs to the Anabaptist movement refer to themselves as Baptists (T„ufer in German, Doopsgezind in Dutch). The name Mennonite originated in the Netherlands, and was only adopted by Swiss Anabaptists after their emigration to North America, in some cases as recently as the twentieth century. Return to Text

[6] . The Mennonite historian Steven Nolt studied similarities in the historical experience of Catholic and Anabaptist-origin communities in North America as a Young Center Fellow at Elizabethtown College in 1997. While at Elizabethtown he offered a course titled "Catholics and Anabaptists in America," a summary of which was presented to the 1997 Connelly Foundation Conference on Anabaptist Catholic Conversations. Return to Text

[7] . "[They] lived just north of [Wilmont], geography thus making the two men neighbors. They also shared a common German European heritage, and apparently were quite broad-minded gentlemen. Rather than being an obstacle, their religious differences became an opportunity for dialogue. The two were known to frequently engage in religious discussions. Such was the apparent mutual respect between the two that when Bishop Litwiller passed away in 1878 Father Funcken opened the doors of his church and tolled the church bell when the funeral procession passed by. He also wrote a short article for a local newspaper describing the large attendance at the funeral and the virtues of his fellow clergyman."-Orland Gingerich, The Amish of Canada (Waterloo, Ont.: Conrad Press, 1972), 41. See also Peter C. Erb, "'Himmelhoch jauchzend / Zum Tode betrbt': The Poetry of Eugen Funcken," Canadian Catholic Historical Association, Historical Studies 54 (1987), 109-23. Erb, a scholar at Wilfrid Laurier University, has edited Fr. Funcken's poetry for publication, due to appear in the near future. Return to Text

[8] . J. Howard Kauffman and Leland Harder measured Mennonite attitudes toward Catholics in 1971. See their Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: A Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1975), 248-52. According to the 1956 Mennonite Encyclopedia article on "Catholicism and Anabaptism," "there are unbridgeable differences between Catholicism and Anabaptism."-ME 1:534. Return to Text

[9] . "Mennonite World Conference", in ME 3:640-42 and ME 5:574-75. There have been developments in programs and perspectives in the MWC since these articles were written, but little structural change. Personal communication to the author from Larry Miller, executive secretary of MWC. Return to Text

[10] . For the history of the Believers Church Conferences see Dale R. Stoffer, The Lord's Supper: Believers Church Perspectives (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1997), 289-92. Return to Text

[11] . "Some, even very many, of the most significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit; as well as visible elements."-Unitatis Redinegratio, para. 3. Return to Text

[12] . The articles appeared in The Mennonite (1965), 758-61, 776-79; Gospel Herald (1966), 104-06, 126-27; 169, 188-89; and Mennonite Weekly Review. See also Earl Zimmerman's essay in this issue of MQR entitled "Renewing the Conversation: Mennonite Responses to Vatican II," in which the importance of Dyck's reports is apparent. Return to Text

[13] . For the history of MCC see Robert S. Kreider and Rachel Waltner Goossen, Hungry, Thirsty, a Stranger: The MCC Experience (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1988). Return to Text

[14] . Personal communication to the author from John A. Lapp, MCC executive secretary emeritus. See MCC Newsletter on the Americas (Summer 1993) for a special issue on Catholics and Protestants. As early as 1920 there was contact between representatives of MCC and the Catholic Church. A group of MCC volunteers passing through Italy en route to Russia met a U.S. Catholic priest who invited them to attend Pope Benedict IV's regular papal audience. Among the three young Mennonites in attendence was Orie O. Miller, who later became executive secretary of Mennonite Central Committee and built it into its present institutional status. Arthur Slagel to J. C. Meyer, Sept. 21, 1920. J. C. Meyer Collection, Archives of the Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind. This reference courtesy of Steven Nolt. Return to Text

[15]  "Bender, Harold Stauffer," ME 5:66-67; Guy F. Hershberger, ed., The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision: A Sixtieth Anniversary Tribute to Harold S. Bender (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1957). Return to Text

[16] . Yoder, who died in 1997, was the leading Mennonite theologian of this century. From 1977 to 1997 he was a member of the theology faculty at the University of Notre Dame. During that time he taught a course titled "History and Theology of the Radical Reformation." Yoder's major work, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) has been widely influential and is footnoted in the 1983 Catholic bishops' peace pastoral. Peachey is a prominent Mennonite sociologist who, from 1967 to 1987, was a member of the sociology faculty at the Catholic University of America. Return to Text

[17] . Mennonite sociologists have carefully documented this cultural transformation. See Kauffman and Harder, Anabaptists Four Centuries Later; J. Howard Kauffman and Leo Driedger, The Mennonite Mosaic: Identity and Modernization (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1991); Leo Driedger and Leland Harder, "Polymennos: Identities in Transition," and Leo Driedger, "Identity and Assimilation," both in Anabaptist-Mennonite Identities in Ferment, eds. Leo Driedger and Leland Harder, (Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1990); and Leo Driedger, Mennonite Identity in Conflict (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1988). Return to Text

[18] . See William V. D'Antonio, et al., Laity, American and Catholic: Transforming the Church (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1996). Return to Text

[19] . Marlene Kropf, "Exploring Worship Diversity," Builder (Jan. 1994), 2-8. Return to Text

[20] . Pre-Reformation liturgical practices include use of the lectionary, observance of the liturgical seasons and frequent observance of communion. Return to Text

[21] . For Mennonite involvement in the charismatic renewal see J. Howard Kauffman, "Mennonite Charismatics: Are They Any Different?" 70 MQR (Oct. 1996), 449-72, and the article, "Charismatic Movement," ME 5:134-36. For Nelson Litwiller's role see, "Litwiller, Nelson," ME 5: 527. Return to Text

[22] . For a description of ecumenical dialogue on the war and peace issue involving Mennonite and other Anabaptist-origin churches by two principal participants, see Donald F. Durnbaugh, ed., On Earth Peace: Discussions on War/Peace Issues Between Friends, Mennonites, Brethren and European Churches, 1935-75 (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1978); and John H. Yoder, "40 Years of Ecumenical Theological Dialogue Efforts on Justice and Peace Issues by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the 'Historic Peace Churches," in Douglas Gwyn et al., A Declaration on Peace: In God's People the World's Renewal Has Begun (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1991), 93-105. Return to Text

[23] . For an overview of the War, Nation, Church study group, see Paul Peachey, "Minorities With a Mission in the Churches," in Peace Politics, and the People of God, ed. Paul Peachey (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 25-45. Return to Text

[24] . Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), para. 81, 80. Return to Text

[25] . The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, May 3, 1983, para. 111-21. Return to Text

[26] . This important shift is described in Leo Driedger and Donald B. Kraybill, Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1994). Return to Text

[27] . The proceedings of this consultation were published as Marlin E. Miller and Barbara Nelson Gingerich, eds. The Church's Peace Witness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994). Return to Text

[28] . The consultation report was published in Ecumenical Review 48 (Jan. 1996), 122-24. John Rempel and Bro. Jeff Gros are currently editing the full proceedings for publication. Return to Text

[29] . Thomas Finger is a systematic theologian whose major work, Christian Theology: An Eschatological Perspective, 2 vols. (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1985, 1989) refers frequently to Catholic teaching. Return to Text

[30] . Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service 62 (1986), 4:155-81. The author was present at this event as a journalist. Return to Text

[31] . For background on both the Hutterites and the Society of Brothers see "Hutterian Brethren," ME 5:406-08. After this article was published the Society of Brothers ended their relationship with the Hutterian Brethren. Return to Text

[32] . "An Historic Meeting," The Plough (May/June 1995), 18-19. Personal communication to the author from Fr. Richard Neuhaus. Return to Text

[33] . "Steps Toward Reconciliation," The Plough (Summer 1995), 22-27 (punctuation altered). Return to Text

[34] . "Meeting Brother John Paul II," The Plough (Nov./Dec. 1995), 28-29; "Cardinal O'Connor Visits Woodcrest," The Plough (Nov./Dec. 1996), 2-3. Return to Text

[35] . Since his retirement from Conrad Grebel College in 1983, Klaassen has joined the Anglican Church and regards himself as a "Mennonite Anglo-Catholic." Return to Text

[36] . C. Arnold Snyder, The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1984). See also his "The Monastic Origins of Swiss Anabaptist Sectarianism," MQR 56 (Jan. 1982), 5-26, written after his biography of Sattler was completed. Return to Text

[37] . Eoin de Baldraithe, "Michael Sattler, Benedictine and Anabaptist," Downside Review 105 (April 1987), 111-31. Return to Text

[38] . Dennis D. Martin, "Monks, Mendicants and Anabaptists: Michael Sattler and the Benedictines Reconsidered," MQR 60 (April 1986), 139-64. Return to Text

[39] . "Traditional Spirituality and Mennonite Life," in The Church as Theological Community: Essays in Honour of David Schroeder, ed. Harry Huebner (Winnipeg: CMBC Publications, 1990), 275-300; "Between Presumption and Despair: On Remaining Mennonite," in Why I Am a Mennonite: Essays on Mennonite Identity, ed. Harry Loewen (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1988), 62-76; "A Reflection on Mennonite Theology in Canada," Journal of Mennonite Studies 1 (1983), 179-90. Return to Text

[40] . Dennis D. Martin, "Nothing New under the Sun? Mennonites and History," Conrad Grebel Review 5 (Winter 1987), 1-27. Return to Text

[41] . Alan Kreider, Worship and Evangelism in Pre-Christendom (Cambridge: Grove Books, 1995) is a brief but important contribution to patristic studies, bringing an Anabaptist perspective to the study of the early centuries of the Church. Return to Text

[42] . Gerald Schlabach, "For the Joy Set Before Us: Ethics of Self-Denying Love in Augustinian Perspective" (Ph.D. diss., U. of Notre Dame, 1996). See also his "'Love is the Hand of the Soul': The Grammar of Continence in Augustine's Doctrine of Christian Love," Journal of Early Christian Studies 6 (1998), 59-92. Return to Text

[43] . Reimer's "Trinitarian Orthodoxy, Constantinianism, and Theology from a Radical Protestant Perspective," in Faith to Creed: Ecumenical Perspectives on the Affirmation of the Apostolic Faith in the Fourth Century, ed. S. Mark Heim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 129-61 is an important review of the current status of Anabaptist theology in relation to the historic Catholic consensus, based on a strong understanding of both the Anabaptist and Catholic traditions. Return to Text

[44] . Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Oxford U. Press, 1950), 117-38. Return to Text

[45] . Michael Novak, "The Free Churches and the Roman Church: The Conception of the Church in Anabaptism and in Roman Catholicism, Past and Present." Journal of Ecumenical Studies 2 (Fall 1965), 426-47. See also the response by Robert Friedmann, "Ecumenical Dialogue Between Anabaptists and Catholics," MQR 40 (Oct. 1966), 260-65. Return to Text

[46] . See his "Introduction" to The Church's Peace Witness, eds., Marlin Miller and Barbara Nelson Gingerich (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 1-14; and "Christian Baptism: The Evangelical Imperative," in Baptism and Church: A Believers' Church Vision, ed. Merle D. Strege (Grand Rapids: Sagamore Books, 1986), 173-92, a survey of Anabaptist and Free Church influences on the larger churches, including the Catholic Church. Return to Text

[47] . Lisa Sowle Cahill, Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism and Just War Theory (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1994), esp. the discussion of Anabaptists (157-66) and of John H. Yoder (223-26). Return to Text

[48] . The present paper was first presented at this conference. Return to Text

[49] . The largest Mennonite conference in North America. Return to Text

[50] . This information provided by Marlene Kropf. Return to Text

[51] . Jane Hoober Peifer and John Stahl-Wert, Welcoming New Christians; A Guide for the Christian Initiation of Adults (Newton, Kans.: Faith and Life Press; Scottdale, Pa., Mennonite Publishing House, 1995). Return to Text

[52] . Sponsored by the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries and held January 27-28, 1995. See "Conversations Around the Lord's Table," The Mennonite (Feb. 28, 1995), 3-7. Return to Text

[53] . "Drawn to Catholicism: Stories of Two Mennonites Who Joined the Catholic Church," The Mennonite (May 27, 1997). The issue contained autobiographical articles by Bro. Eric Haarer and Ivan Kauffman and an editorial by Gordon Houser, titled "We Are All Catholic." Return to Text

[54] . Ivan J. Kauffman, Confessions of a Mennonite Catholic: Essays 1963-97, includes items written for both Mennonite and Catholic audiences. It is a photocopied collection available from the author at KauffmanDC@aol.com. Return to Text

[55] . Mennonite poet Julia Kasdorf vividly portrays this in her poem "Catholics."-Julia Kasdorf, Sleeping Preacher (Pittsburgh: U. of Pittsburgh Press, 1992), 32.


This page and all its contents ©1995 The Mennonite Quarterly Review. All rights reserved.
E-mail The Mennonite Quarterly Review: mqr@goshen.edu
Voice: (219) 535-7433  

Fax: (219) 535-7438