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Nonviolence - A Brief History

The Warsaw Lectures

John Howard Yoder

Publication Year: 2010

Few theologians have done as much as John Howard Yoder to articulate the case for Christian pacifism. The eleven lectures collected in Nonviolence—A Brief History were presented in 1983 in Warsaw, Poland, and this is their first publication together.

Despite their apparent diversity, the lectures trace a single trajectory: the increasing relevance of nonviolent thought and action. They argue that nonviolence aligns with the inner logic of the world and, therefore, with human social existence. A quarter century after they were delivered, Yoder’s remarks seem prophetic, heartfelt, and essential.

For those unfamiliar with the life and thought of John Howard Yoder, these lectures, together with their accompanying brief contextualizing summaries, provide an easily accessible introduction.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Foreword: Memos from Yoder

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pp. vii-xiv

In the wake of his untimely death in December 1997, John Howard Yoder left behind numerous unpublished manuscripts, books, articles, and lectures, including the lectures he delivered on the history of nonviolence in Warsaw in May 1983, published here for the first time. But one genre of his writing is likely to remain unpublished: his memos. Yoder was a diligent and prolific author of memos.

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pp. 1-13

Few theologians or ethicists have done as much as John Howard Yoder (1927–1997) to promote and articulate the case for Christian pacifism. As a young Mennonite, he grew up in a tradition that valued both love of neighbor and nonviolence as necessarily compatible ways of imitating Jesus. As an educated, cosmopolitan intellectual, he argued against those who sought to separate responsible love of neighbor, nonviolence, and the imitation of Jesus.

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Note on the Text

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pp. 15-16

In truth, nine of these lectures were “discovered” by accident while sifting through one of the hundreds of boxes in the John Howard Yoder Collection in the Mennonite Church USA Archives in Goshen, Indiana. Of course, Mark Thiessen Nation has catalogued these lectures in his complete bibliography of Yoder, but it was the first time any of us had seen them.1

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1 The Heritage of Nonviolent Thought and Action

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pp. 17-26

One of the most original cultural products of our century is our awareness of the power of organized nonviolent resistance as an instrument in the struggle for justice. One characteristic of this instrument is that its operation is often informal and decentralized. By the nature of the case, it does not create institutions of great visible power. Therefore it is not easy for historians to account for nonviolent resistance as in the telling of stories of military battles and the changing of regimes.

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2 The American Civil Rights Struggle

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pp. 27-38

Many of my listeners have already heard the story of the American civil rights struggle. Still, it may be helpful to review the earlier backgrounds of the experience of black Americans. Soon after the colonization of the American coast by English settlers, the importation of black workers from Africa began for commercial reasons.

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3 The Lessons of the Nonviolent Experience

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pp. 39-48

Toward the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapter 11), after the author had given an extended description of the acts of faithfulness of Abel and Abraham, and a more-brief but still-concrete description of other well-known heroes, the description spreads out or splashes into a list of many other people too numerous to name.

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4 The Fall and Rise of the Just War Tradition

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pp. 49-61

It is odd, when we take the time to stop to think, that for so much of the history of Western thought, Christian and secular, the question of the morality of warfare has attracted so little the careful attention of moral thinkers. People who would think with considerable care about the justification of the death penalty, where the only persons whose life is taken are those who have been convicted (although in some cases wrongly)...

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5 The Science of Conflict

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pp. 63-72

Most of the analysis which needs to be brought to bear upon the problem of war as a “theological” issue is theological in the narrow sense; that is, it needs to ask about Scriptures and tradition or about how the will of God is revealed and interpreted within the community of faith. Christians have differed about those issues in ways that need to be studied in their own terms, and that is the main theme of my lectures.

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6 From the Wars of Joshua to Jewish Pacifism

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pp. 73-84

The topic of biblical resources for Christian thinking about peace is one of those where we have become accustomed to thinking that little is to be gained from the text of the Bible itself. We assume that what it has to say is already well known and is insufficient. We believe we already know that the Old Testament teaches a kind of nationalism which cannot be a model for us and that the New Testament teaches a kind of pacifism which cannot be a model either.

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7 Jesus and Nonviolent Liberation

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pp. 85-96

As we seek to understand the nonviolence of Jesus, we will do well to set aside some of the questions that tend to be debated the most—questions which, however, lead the argument away from the heart of the issue.

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8 Early Christian Cosmology and Nonviolence

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pp. 97-105

What we mean here by “cosmology” is not a systematic effort to describe in general the way the first Christians thought about the shape of the world but, rather, an attempt to identify specific points at which we can see how their thought was different from ours, and how this can help us to make sense of their witness and way in the world.

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9 Varieties of Catholic Peace Theology I: Nonviolent Spirituality

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pp. 107-120

The image of Catholic culture which seems self-evident in a nation dominated by a millennium or more of the presence of one church, as in Italy or Ireland or Poland, stands in strong contrast to the American scene. If speaking of an ancient Catholic culture, one would not choose “diversity” as a characteristic both desirable and in need of explanation.

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10 Varieties of Catholic Peace Theology II: Professors and Pastors

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pp. 121-132

Thus far we have been observing developments in the unofficial Roman Catholic peace thought. Now we move to a more official level. The “professors” mentioned in our title are described by that term not so much because of formal employment in academic institutions, but rather because of the educative impact of their expository role. John Courtney Murray did serve as an instructor in theology...

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11 Varieties of Catholic Peace Theology III: Latin American Models

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pp. 133-145

Clearly the most widely watched new development in Catholic theology in the Western hemisphere in the last decade has been the movement called “liberation theology.” There are theologies of liberation being elaborated in religious traditions other than the Roman Catholic and in favor of oppressed populations other than the poor in Latin America. Those other themes and those constituencies...


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pp. 147-150

E-ISBN-13: 9781602585027
E-ISBN-10: 1602585024
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602582569
Print-ISBN-10: 1602582564

Page Count: 124
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1