Christmas vacation was a traveling affair from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, then back through Ohio to Wisconsin. While in Ohio, visiting my in-laws, we had the privilege of doing some site-seeing in Amish country – Holmes County, Ohio in this case. We also partook of the best snicker-doodle cookies and coffee in one of their bakeries.
Amish and Mennonite folks have always intrigued me. Their Anabaptist roots run precariously close to my own Baptist roots. Ask any “reformed” Baptist and they will discount the connection between Anabaptists and Baptists. Admitting the connection exists, they will usually seek to minimize its influence in their narrative of Baptist history. I am suspicious when people do this. I suspect Baptists owe more to their Anabaptist kinfolk then they are given credit, but I will save that for another time.
While visiting said territory, we happened upon a “Mennonite Cultural Center.” It contained some crafts, artwork, free literature, and a video presentation. I relieved them of the burden of some of the free literature (or should I say, my wife did), and then I turned my attention to some of the heftier tomes that were for sale. These I purchased for the library with which I am charged to oversee. I picked up many items, for which the clerk and caretaker demonstrated pleasure. I would like to share with you some of the gleanings of my purchases:
First, I picked up a copy of the Ausbund which dates back to 1564. It is in German, so I also purchased the English translation as well. Very interesting devotional piety comes through this hymnal of the Anabaptists. Possession of this hymnal in the late 16th century would brand one as a heretic by those involved in the magisterial reformation. Interestingly, the Anabaptists have preserved some of their martyrology in the form of ballads in this hymnal. Many of them are quite moving, obviously intended to stir up the same desire for piety in their readers and musicians. They have even preserved a history of early church martyrdoms in “Song 3” as related in Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesia. Here is stanza 21:
In Alexandria they tormented
The Christians as in other places,
Plundered the body, possessions, and goods.
Apolonia, a maiden tender,
When she gazed at the fire,
She sprang into it unhindered.
Symphoria said to her son,
Lay down your life with joy,
Christ, who rules in Heaven’s throne,
Will give you life eternal.
Saint Agatha said, death gives me joy,
The grain must be thrashed from the straw,
The soul departs from the body to Heaven.
By Adam Reißner and translated by members of the Ohio Amish Library board
Second, I found a copy of the venerable The Harmonia Sacra which is a compilation of “genuine church music” arranged in four voices and includes a primer on vocal music. This is what is/was used to teach Mennonite believers how to sing for worship and dates back to 1832 with its publication under Joseph Funk. The compilers of this volume had this to say in the preface:
“Wherever man inhabits the earth the power of music is felt and acknowledged. This influence of sweet sounds, like most other gifts of our bountiful Creator, may be so used to be the instrument of much good, or perverted to the purposes of deep and extensive evil.
As it would be a most pernicious error to imagine that a love of music is the same thing with Christian piety, so it would be a mistake of no trifling magnitude; to deny the utility of music in awakening and strengthening our devotional affections.”
Third, I located some rare Amish historical narrative in The Amish Christian Church: Its History and Legacy by Fredrick J. Schrock. While I have not thoroughly read this book, what I got from a quick perusal was that the sect of The Amish Christian Church was formed because a man by the name of David Schwartz decided in the late 19th century that Amish tradition was too rigid. While less than reliable rumors of the evils perpetrated by this schismatic group have been circulated, the common expression of their demeanor and attitude has been this: “Sie hen g’schnitzel’d und g’schnitzel’d bix nix mae war zu schnitzel, dann sind sie zu die Welt gange.” – They whittled and whittled until there was nothing more to whittle, then they went to the world. Apparently, they were the “Young Fundamentalists” of their Christian subculture.
In conclusion, for I have waxed lengthy, notice the change. They went from extolling the martyrs for their piety. Their piety was not their suffering, but rather, it was that they prized nothing in this world. They went from understanding the power of music within society and in particular Christianity and decided to use it for developing pious affections.
Then, at least some of them whittled and whittled…
…then they went to the world.