Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Different churches made different adaptations. Mennonites held on to German longer than "church," Reformed and Lutheran, who anglicized early. Old First Reformed Church of Philadelphia indicates that "throughout the eighteenth century, services were conducted in German and the majority of records were kept in German...in 1819 church officials began keeping minutes and financial records in English. For a time, English and German were used alternately in services, but after 1830 English was used exclusively in worship and in most records. As late as the 1850s, however, many reports from domestic missionaries were written in German."
German sources of Pennsylvania Dutch and Mennonite thinking continued into the 20th century even if it seems hard to believe. This is exemplified in the wrestling over language for Mennonite Bishop Andrew Mack (1836-1917). The lateness of his German was a product of his age and place. He was a youth in the beginning of the free school movement (c. 1835) and “in the community where his family grew up the Pennsylvania German language was so generally spoken that no one who remained in that section at the time learned to speak the English fluently” (Noah Mack, 11). But “another cause for him not attempting to learn English [was personal] his deep sense of correct speech and definiteness of expression. In himself he had developed well the real German” (Mack,12).
From 1880 to 1900 there was a presumption among these groups that English speech was pretense, unspiritual. Speak English, submit to fancy dress and ideas and rebellion would follow. Fancy language, fancy thought: “in the mind of the older people in the church, English was considered almost a synonym for pride,” Noah Mack writes. “So it was the opposition to the English language sixty years ago [from the time of his writing in 1939] was so strong in the plain churches and others too” (Mack, 11).
For Andrew Mack, forty four in 1880, learning English to suit his own standards would be a sacrifice for he had a ministry, a family, a trade and a farm. His son Noah takes the view that learning English is a moral thing. Maybe it was for Noah, but [his father] “seemingly would not muster courage to attempt to use a language which he knew he could use but very poorly to begin with. In the five years above referred to, Father Mack and the rest of the family could have gotten a good start in the English language but sentiment from without and fear from within prevented all of the family from thinking about such a thing as talking English to the family.” (12).
Cornelius Weygandt relates the span of German habit: “old ways, however, in household economy, in family government, in allegiance to church and political party, did persist among us longer than in almost any part of the country. Down to 1900 the standards and the ways of living were about what they had been for a century. We were still largely a farming people, with nearly all the old-country crafts demanded by a farming people descending from father to son among artisans who were also something of artists” (Weygandt, 5-6).
As Noah observes, all his father’s speaking “reading and meditations were in German’ (Mack, 4). “In preaching Bro. Mack used the scriptural German language well, which the German people enjoyed to hear much better than the Pennsylvania German’ (Mack, 7). Andrew's younger brother Henry proves what difference 18 years would make, for he spoke and wrote English fluently from the start. Andrew sent his oldest son Noah to an English school. While“he never lamented much, but it was noticeable that he much regretted the fact that in many places his services were no more practicable nor desirable because of the German barring him from being understood” (Mack).
Writing in 1939, the German undertow remains so strong that Noah Mack, who spoke English his entire life, lapses into incomprehensibility when he speaks of the dialect problem: “At a time the remark was made in the home; had we begun to talk English when there was one member of the family who could talk it and who taught it in school, who was in the home yet at the time; then father you could talk English too now. For he was only about forty years old when he sent his oldest son [Noah] to the English school” (Mack, ).
Noah gives his father’s response in untranslated form, assuming his readers understand it: “Yah over the Leut hette ghsawt, seht overmowl der Hochmuth, der Mack un sei Buva schwetza Englisch (11). [Yes, but the people said, 'look again at the attitude (that's too colloquial, but you get the point), Mack and his boy are talking / talk English.' Courtesy of Joseph Salmons.] Prior to 1900 no Pennsylvania Dutch native did not speak or understand some species of the German. A surprising percentage still then used it only, making them in Weygandt’s terms, “the most conservative people in America,” (meaning that “people are doing there what they did in the days before the Mexican War” (5).
The Intellectual German
Franklin was able to convict the doltish German, but more and more modern scholars follow the lead of Stoudt and argue "there were German Americans in greater numbers than the English-speaking literati who were responsible for the development of a form of American romanticism known as transcendentalism" (Wentz, 25). The notion is that New England got its transplanted German romanticism a century after Pennsylvania got it native, and that the Dutch variety was "folk transcendentalism" not elitism.
The cultural inertia of Andrew Mack’s locale did not prevent his intelligence from profound opportunities to develop his gifts of an individual kind. We can track his reading and thinking to some extent. His niece, Anna Bechtel Mack, brother Henry’s daughter, dearly wanted to emerge from this idea of the pejorative ethnic shadow, but when she lived with Andrew and Elizabeth Mack back in 1886 and 1887 after her mother had died, she was deeply impressed with her uncle’s study habits and demeanor, remembers that “each day, after the noon meal, he would retire to the room where he had a roll-top desk, get out his Bible to study and read for an hour before he went back to the farm work” (BFF, 6).
Throughout the time he served as bishop, Andrew Mack was also a farmer. Of these study habits, Noah Mack says that “his main reading book was the Bible,” that “he had presented to him Starks German commentary which had come down the years from one generation of ministers and bishops to another. He however made little use of it” (3). That he made little use of the commentary further reveals his methods. Even though “all his reading and meditations were in German,” insight came from the text and not from criticism of it making up his mind: “He was heard to say, ‘when scriptures are deep and difficult to interpret then commentators are cloudy and express themselves in many words and ofttimes have no clear interpretation and are undecided as to the real meaning of the Word’” (3). “His conviction was rather that commentaries are not of much help to those [for] whom preaching was primarily by the power of the Holy Ghost and who depended on the Spirit for interpretation and for revelation.”
An aid in this original form of study was Buchner’s concordance. “He made much use of his concordance in finding references in searching the scriptures bearing on the subject upon which he was meditating.” No doubt there were other books in his possession such as otherwise might occur in Mennonite libraries as we have seen, Wahren Christenthem. Die Wandelnde Seele, Pilgrim’s Progress, any of Henry Funk’s three works, The Imitation of Christ, various songbooks and Psalters (Alderfer, 8).
This kind of meditation and reflection, producing the knowledge from the inside not the outside was an early habit. Andrew Mack had apprenticed for “two to three years” as a carpenter with his uncle in cabinet making as a youth, working especially in the preparation of sashes and doors for houses built the next year. Son Noah says that he “followed it a few years but when he had a family, a small farm and the ministry he no longer followed the trade” (2). His habit then was what it was when he came in later from the fields for lunch. “He would carry a little pocket testament while at work and would refer to the Scriptures at spare moments” (3). These days this would mark him a fanatic, but then one could read and think without deconstruction.
Such habits give a sense of his mental acuity. He had a simple folk education, not in the Latin and Greek, but to the eighth grade, enhanced by his father, Jesse Moyer Mack, who “had taught during the transition period from the old subscription school to the free school system.” The workmanship of his sermons and letters evidenced the “deep sense of correct speech and definiteness of expression” (11) A test of this is his letters which show him a good writer and compassionate thinker. This seems important for the verbal facility it implies. We infer an intelligence which communicated itself well in everything he did, from seeking out “the benefit of the instruction of a well gifted and qualified teacher who taught in one of the public schools” (1), to his “developed vocal music in which he had a great delight and taught several singing classes which prepared him to be chorister for a number of years in the Hereford congregation, where he worshipped and served all his life time” (1). All the Mack brothers were musicians, singers and teachers of music.
He used the principle of induction to teach: “He would read his text, rarely mentioning the theme of his mind or subject upon which he was going to speak but generally those who could follow him would clearly understand at the close what his theme was.” “He possessed a distinct sense of definiteness” that measured his intellect. “He would not preach on any scripture or theme on which he had not a clear vision.” Thus, “his sermons were mostly textual.” “Papers with notes and references might be found about his place of meditation and study but he was not known to take any notes or outline along into the pulpit.” We of course know that such habits of the particular and definite are always the sign of a fine mind.
Why were “early European and American Mennonites (until recent years)…generally free of any doctrine of a millennium,” Wenger asks, (459), especially since millennialism with its counterpart of the tribulation was so much talk in the other Protestant denominations? Twentieth century North America saw dispensationalism spread into Mennonite churches through evangelical literature and conferences, Bible colleges and seminaries, but was not well established among the Old Mennonites.On non speculative matters Andrew Mack formed early conclusions. With all this he had a life long reputation for diplomacy and social and religious innovation. He advocated and practiced foot washing, missions and Sunday Schools well in advance of his own congregations, but waited until for signs of readiness before introducing these practices.
Of Dispensations and the Anglo Revivalist Theology
Although the Pennsylvania German and Mennonites generally held to a thousand period of peace, called chiliasm, the idea was a passive until the English theologian John Darby (d.1882) systemically defined it as a millennial reign. Mennonites considered much of this eschatology speculative, probably because they had an overwhelming vocation to live in the present. John Bechtel’s pondering such timetables or the lack of them in The Wandering Soul illustrates this retro Mennonite take on future things. It tells much about him and them. But then Mennonites often placed themselves outside the boundaries of popular thought, they did so with slavery and infant baptism, with social welfare and separation from the world, with nonresistance. Darby’s ideas of a rapture, tribulation and millennium began to be accepted in America in the 1880’s and 1890’s, but Old Mennonites resisted them(204,51,204)"Bishop Andrew Mack, ordained by John Bechtel we recall, a chief Mennonite, was a careful scholar who felt that difficult subjects could not be much elucidated by commentators. His means of inquiry were “reflection, meditation, study, self examination, prayer, and depending “on the Spirit for interpretation and for revelation” (Noah Mack, ).He would not promulgate a notion of the intellect he had not himself proved on its own merits. “He would not decide for himself nor for any other before he had found the answer himself to the satisfaction of his own mind,” says his son Noah. And again, “he would not reject nor accept before the question involved was cleared up in his own mind.”
Mack pondered the millennial doctrine all of his life, but “in his later years he once remarked in reference to this disputed question, "I am too old now I cannot get the points together to think it through. This was the last known word that he expressed on this question, but this was his rule in general.” Noah seems a little defensive for the sake of his father just because by the time he is writing, there was much more pressure to conform to the dispensational view.
Twentieth century dispensationalism made deep inroads in North American Mennonite churches through non-Mennonite literature and prophetic conferences, and through non-Mennonite Bible colleges and seminaries, leading to considerable dissension and controversy. Today relatively few Mennonite scholars espouse dispensationalism and it is advocated mainly by teachers and preachers who received their theological training in non-Mennonite schools. Ewert, David. "Dispensationalism." Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Mennonite Historical Society of Canada. Retrieved 6 Oct 2005.
As late as 1933 the Rules and Discipline of the Franconia Conference urged that leaders “not speculate on unfulfilled prophecy as the doctrine of the Millennium” (Wenger 431). Why were “early European and American Mennonites (until recent years)…generally free of any doctrine of a millennium” (Wenger, 459)? Especially since this view with its counterparts of the tribulation etc. are the substance of so much talk in all other Protestant denominations. Shall we blame inertia, that the millennium was only invented so late, or is it that the Mennonites value, as Ruth says, less talk and more action.
Behind the times, behind the times, the languages, the doctrines, but not the heart and the life.
Many thanks to Isaac R. Horst for his provision of translations of the 49 Andrew Mack letters in the Mensch collection.
Joel Alderfer. “Several Documents Relating To Early Franconia Conference Mennonites.” Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania, Newsletter supplement, July 1984.
J. Paul Graybill, Ira D. Landis, J. Paul Sauder. Noah H. Mack His Life and Times, 1861-1948 Scottdale, PA.
">Noah H. Mack.
Andrew Stauffer Mack
1939)Written at the request of John D. Leatherman. Photocopy of ms. in the Goshen College Library.
The Letters of Andrew Mack excerpted from the Jacob B. Mensch Letter Collection in the Mennonite Heritage Center. Translated by Isaac R. Horst
J. C. Wenger.
History of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference<. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1985. ">Cornelius Weygandt. The Red Hills Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1929.
Anna Elizabeth Reiff Young.
Best Foot Forward. Manuscript biography of Anna Mack Reiff (1982).
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