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  • Martyrdom in an Ecumenical Perspective: A Mennonite-Catholic Conversation
  • James C. Juhnke
Martyrdom in an Ecumenical Perspective: A Mennonite-Catholic Conversation. Edited by Peter C. Erb. [The Bridgefolk Series.] (Kitchener, Canada: Pandora Press. 2007. Pp. 211. $20.00 paperback. ISBN 978-1-894-71081-7.)

This collection consists mostly of papers and responses by Catholic and Mennonite scholars who explored the theme of martyrdom at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, in 2003 and 2004. Brad Gregory’s keynote presentation at the 2004 meeting identifies the issues and sets the tone for the book. In the background is Gregory’s magisterial study, Salvation at Stake, Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA, 1999).

Gregory laments the Catholic persecution of Anabaptists in the Reformation era, but insists that Catholic authorities were animated by understandable pastoral concerns. Gregory is a winsome participant in social ecumenical exchanges. But he remains conservative in his historiographical assumptions and in his opposition to any form of doctrinal relativism. He is pessimistic about the prospects for Catholic-Mennonite doctrinal reconciliation in view of their respective unbridgeable truth claims.

Neal Blough, a Mennonite mission worker in France, argues in response to Gregory that Catholic doctrine on some points has evolved over the centuries, rather than existing as a fixed and unchanging deposit. Before the fourth century, the Church did not put heretics to death. Both Catholics and Mennonites, Blough says, need to “broaden our narratives” to make space to accommodate the other (p. 50). Blough is more optimistic than Gregory that social ecumenism can foster doctrinal ecumenism. [End Page 583]

Helmut Harder, a Canadian Mennonite theologian, suggests that Gregory gives too high priority to “doctrinal ecumenism” as a goal of ecumenical dialogue. A more fruitful focus, says Harder, citing John Howard Yoder’s call for greater unity of ethical commitment, would be “ethical ecumenism” (p. 53).

Margaret O’Gara, a Catholic specialist in ecumenical theology, believes that “growth in understanding” (which she says need not involve change in doctrine) can proceed from genuine confession of sin, conversion, and purification of memories (p. 65). Answering Gregory, she argues that significant progress has already been made toward doctrinal ecumenism, without succumbing to doctrinal relativism.

Mennonite scholars Arnold Snyder and John Roth present case studies of Anabaptist martyrs Hans Schlaffer and Hans Landis, without directly engaging Gregory’s challenges. Whereas the Catholic call has been for “purification of memories,” Roth reports from recent Lutheran-Mennonite conversations a movement from “healing of memories” to “right remembering” (p. 102).

Helmut Harder (Mennonite) and Drew Christensen (Catholic) offer reflections arising from a project of the monastic community of Bose, Italy, to produce an ecumenical martyrology that includes the stories of martyrs from non-Catholic as well as Catholic traditions.

This volume concludes with essays, originally published elsewhere, by Mennonite scholars Chris K. Huebner and Jeremy M. Bergen. Huebner proposes an alternative epistemology in which a particular understanding of martyrdom is the key to truth. Although Huebner approvingly quotes Gregory’s Salvation at Stake, there are significant disagreements in their philosophical assumptions that are not directly addressed in this volume. Gregory is quite averse to poststructuralist theory, but this collection does not include a response to Huebner on this issue.

Bergen’s concluding essay welcomes evidence of recent Catholic moves toward a more inclusive and ecumenical understanding of martyrdom and admonishes Mennonites to abandon a confessional martyrdom that tends to exclude other religious traditions.

This volume is part of the Bridgefolk series, which is sponsored by a body of Mennonites and Roman Catholics who are interested in ecumenical conversation and celebration. It creatively reflects the shape of recent Catholic-Mennonite dialogue. [End Page 584]

James C. Juhnke
Bethel College, Kansas


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