I’d been studying Roman history, architecture, culture, customs, and geography for the last three years, but I was still completely unprepared for the grandeur of the Colosseum. I was expecting to admire it as a work of art, but as I stood in the stadium, looking down at the arena and remembering all her horrific stories, I was amazed instead by the depth of our Christian heritage. All I could think about was the early Christians who suffered there, and instead of feeling the weight of senseless killing, I felt awe and deep appreciation for the people who went before us.
Cathedrals, Castles, and Caves did the same thing for me. Marcus Yoder, historian and director of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Ohio, takes the reader back to the early Church just after Christ’s death and follows her journey until the 1500s, about the time of Dirk Willems. The book is written about the origins of the Anabaptist faith, but the author covers a much more extensive timeline to help the reader understand the context of the political and spiritual struggles that birthed the Anabaptists. I finished the book with a deep appreciation of the men and women who stood for what they believed, even to death, and an awareness of the ways my life now doesn’t reflect that kind of dedication to Jesus Christ.
The book is divided into four sections as it follows the development of the Church. Each section begins with a timeline, which I found to be helpful with understanding how events unfolded. The background information made the book so much richer! With the context of previous generations, I understood why the Anabaptists stood for the things they did.
I did notice several typos, especially in the first two sections. Since I edit writing for this blog, it’s hard to turn off my internal editor after I notice typos! I saw a few other places the author could have used more editing, but overall, I was impressed with the quality of his writing. He’s obviously well-educated and has researched extensively.
One of my favorite parts, besides the personal stories, was that the author frequently pauses to offer challenges and reminders to the reader. One example of this is after he writes about the executions of Manz, Grebel, and Blaurock. He reminds us of these men’s commonness and imperfections, but challenges us with the following:
In our safe “freedom of choice and religion” world today it is difficult to fathom how this could be accomplished. We question whether we would be strong enough to remain faithful, even to the death. We often regard our own suffering, whether self-inflicted or not, as ways in which we prove our faith in God. And yet for theses martyrs, to die for Christ was the primary expression of faithfulness, the ultimate identifier of Christianity. And so we move once again to the question of identity. What is it that marks the faithful?
I also love that Yoder doesn’t write just about the positive parts of our history. He’s brutally honest about the people who took Anabaptism to fanatical extremes , like the fascinating story of the Anabaptist kingdom in Munster. He writes, “What we do with the problems of our history is as important as what we do with the good. If we do not learn from stories and events, it is possible that we could repeat them.”
Honestly, books that explore a specific part of history tend to lose my interest as they drone on about their subject. Cathedrals, Castles, Caves kept my interest the whole way through. I loved the book and made my Mom add it to her required reading list for our highschool students. I’ve studied the early church and medieval period of history, but I didn’t know much about Anabaptist history. That’s a crying shame, because so much of who I am and what I believe is shaped by the early Anabaptists. Yoder writes,
The Anabaptists are no different from any other people in that it is easy for us to forget history. When that happens, we run the risk of not only losing the coming generations but also our distinctiveness, which is much more than just plain clothing or lifestyle; it is a set of beliefs and ideas about how to live out Christianity in the world…
This book came at a really good time for me, reminding me of the importance of what I believe. Early Anabaptists stood for many things that were counter-cultural, including the separation of Church and state, a community of love and mutual aid, non-resistance, and evangelism by testimony, not persuasion. They sought to follow Jesus in his example of love and willing suffering and obedience, sacrificing their all to their King. Cathedrals, Castles, and Caves gave me a deep appreciation for my heritage and challenged me in my own Christian life. Yoder writes that he hopes to publish a second volume, following the story of Anabaptists in the New World. I’m excited to read that volume when it comes out! If it’s anything like this first volume, it’ll be worth our time.
|Danielle Mast lives with her family in Seneca, South Carolina. She is the oldest of five, going on eight, as her family waits for their adoption process to be completed. She loves learning, good conversations, blow pops, fall, and rain. Her everyday goal is to live purposefully, fully satisfied in Christ, as she endeavors to learn to wait. In the future, she dreams of using a cotton candy machine, being more actively involved in mission work, and writing a really good piece of poetry. Danielle’s passion is to see those around her inspired to reach their full potential in Christ.|
- Cathedrals, Castles, Caves; quote, page 135.
- Ibid., 168
- Ibid., page xv