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How Anabaptist is Comenius’s Labyrinth?
Labyrinth of the World has many aspects of appeal. Another concerns the Anabaptists. This post will be for those who may not know who or what an Anabaptist is, as I did not 20 years ago. Comenius was not an Anabaptist in the classical sense of the word. However, he was familiar with them, and it appears that they helped strengthen his ideals.
Ultraquists were an early expression in the Czech Reformation, to which Comenius was similar in non-Catholic Czech lands. They were quasi-Protestant types who had not wholly turned from Catholic traditions. Like the Münsterite anabaptists, they also believed in war and working through political avenues to establish an order of justice and equity that was inclusive of them. Conversely, Anabaptism initially started as a rejection of western European Reformers intermixing church and state and their continuance of infant baptism as a litmus test of loyalty to the governing order.
Swiss Anabaptists were the first Protestant embodiment to teach believer’s baptism over and against infant baptism. Furthermore, they differentiated themselves from Münsterites in that they believed in pacifism, non-conformity, and the rejection of secular power (for themselves). In like manner, Comenius believed in these same principles. Perhaps it was his study, his perception of the failure of the Ultraquist’s dabbling with secular power, or even his exposure to Hutterite or other Anabaptists that helped fashion his perspectives. The point is the Bohemian Brethren, of which Comenius was their last bishop, practiced these ideals of the Swiss Anabaptist. Comenius spent 42 years in exile as evidence of his commitment to such values.
The ideals of the peace-loving and serious Swiss Anabaptists figure in The Labyrinth of the World story as well. Comenius had Pilgrim reject and sarcastically deride the involvements of nationalism and patriotism as reductionisms and idolatry. This notion is solidly in line with Anabaptist thinking. Both movements—Anabaptism and the Moravians—were connected at least in that they were dissident faith groups and historically persecuted sects. Religious organizations could not control them, political groups could not count on their support or blind loyalty, and they seemed sold out to their ideals no matter what the people of the world around them thought, even to the point of death for these ideals. Secular powers could count on both being unseditious. However, these powers preferred tyrannical control instead of co-existing passive elements in their realms.
Other elements of Labyrinth of the World -and- The Paradise of the Heart, which Anabaptists would find hearty fellowship with, is Comenius’s focus upon community, discipleship, and ongoing sanctification of the believer. After Pilgrim’s harrowing experience in a world that appeared pleasant but was tragic and horrific under this thin appearance, he meets Christ. Christ transforms Pilgrim’s mind and heart but expects Pilgrim to follow Him in discipleship and deeper perfecting (sanctification) study, devotion, and relational fellowship interaction. These aspects were not a “works righteousness,” as some think of it today. It is relational obedience, in keeping with the heart religion Comenius practiced.
The third aspect of comparison between Swiss Anabaptists and Moravians is the consideration of what the kingdom of God means. In their respective understandings, the kingdom of God is a now-reality and an eventuality. To them, the kingdom of God was something one entered into when committing themselves to God. A convert is transferred and transformed from the kingdoms of darkness into the kingdom of light (kingdom of God). This is what is known as Two-Kingdoms. Two-kingdoms is an exclusive reality meaning one can be in the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of the world. But they cannot be in both. If one is in the kingdom of God, they co-exist with the kingdom of the world (darkness). Their role is to be aliens and strangers, but most of all ambassadors; even in places they were formerly citizens and countrymen. These are ideas entirely consistent between Anabaptist and Moravian thinking of the time.
Though actual connections between Hutterite and Moravian or Swiss Anabaptist and Moravian is not documentable in any particular way. There is an anecdotal connection because of the similarity of ideas: being a persecuted sect, rejection of secular power, pacificism, and the expectation of community, discipleship, sanctification and living a two-kingdoms reality. Of course, practicals and specifics may differ significantly; a shared perspective is greater than dissimilarity. This should offer modern readers who are Anabaptists, whether Hutterite, Mennonite, German Baptist, or Swiss Brethren, the encouragement of someone having shared their ideals at a deep level where being persecuted as a sect brings the fellowship of brotherhood.
In a world where being a persecuted religious sect is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence, the rest of us who wish to follow Christ will find camaraderie in the pages of history and The Labyrinth of the World and the people behind the story of its publication. Both can encourage us as we face-off with the kingdom of the world in our own day to give us hope in standing for Jesus amidst a world that wants to fall for everything except for Jesus. Both the Anabaptists and Moravians have stood for “the narrow” way of Jesus Christ.
Do you grasp more about Anabaptism now? You can get the new edition of The Labyrinth of the World here: