Revelation, Revolution, and Martyrdom

One of many things early Quakers have in common with early Christians is a conception of the equivalence of prayer and martyrdom. This is rooted in what Rosemary Moore calls their ‘theology of suffering’. For Moore, ‘they developed a theology of suffering, the “daily cross” and the “cross to the will”, a unity with the experience of Christ through which suffering came to be seen as a necessary part of salvation and entry into God’s Kingdom’ (The Light in Their Consciences p157). With the Book of Revelation at the heart of their faith and practice, early Quakers saw persecution as the ‘activity of the Antichrist, or the great Beast described in Revelation 13’ (Moore p156). Their experience of prayer and contemplation as involving a rebuking and chastening encounter with the Light is organically linked to their conception of martyrdom and suffering as part of the Gospel’s revolutionary demands. For Christ, suffering was linked to solidarity in pre-Messianic tribulation. As Albert Schweitzer writes: ‘Looking forward to the sufferings which He expects for Himself and His followers in the pre-Messianic tribulation, Jesus exhorts them to be faithful to Him in His humiliation, if need be even unto death, since suffering along with Him means glory along with the Son of Man in the Messianic Kingdom’ (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle p106). Fourth century ascetic Evagrius Ponticus extended this communion in suffering to the act of prayer itself. For him ‘ardent prayer is contemplation’ (The Praktikos and Chapters of prayer p48), and contemplation is ‘the equivalent of martyrdom’ (p48). The monastic practice of steadfast prayer amidst the thorns and briars of despair, temptation and distraction was seen as a participation in martyrdom. The Quakers updated this interior practice with a blistering revolutionary external confrontation with the forces of death, meaningless, evil and destruction in the world. Monastic demonology was, as it were, given an outward layer in the Lamb’s War: the demons which assaulted the monks were seen by Quakers to have taken form in the nascent ideologies of brutal capitalist exploitation and wholesale alienation from God miring their world in violence, coercion, and the offal of concupiscence.
The equivalence of prayer and martyrdom in early Quakerism is linked with five elements: time and convincement, inward revelation as battleground/absence of time, interiorised eschatology, triumph of the cross over divisions, and apocalyptic martyrology.

Time and convincement
The early Quakers saw in convincement, that is, conviction and change of life, an altered relation to time. ‘Time drags in the early stages of the convincement experience, but culminates in a sense of eternal life. Howgill comes to see how all he has done previously has been part of the ongoing crucifixion of Christ but that now he can stand in the place of the cross, the seals opened, after Revelation, the Serpent’s head bruised (after Gen. 3:15, Rom. 16:20), the place of the inward Second Coming (after Jer. 31:31-4), a new man…’ (Ben Pink Dandelion, The Liturgies of Quakerism p17). For Douglas Gwyn this standing in the place of the cross is apocalyptic: ‘The presence of the covenant is revealed (the Greek term for “revelation” is apokalypsis) within and among us, judging our faithlessness, calling us to repentance, and leading us into reconciliation. This revelation is eschatological (end-timely) because it manifests our ultimate destiny with God, the utopian realm of shalom, the kingdom of God’ (Covenant Crucified p17). Being convinced and changed by communion with the Light meant becoming a vessel through which revolutionary energies would be unleashed upon a diseased society: ‘The light had power to transform individuals and to gather communities that could challenge and overturn an unjust and violent society. Early Quaker preaching and ethical practice thus enacted the end of the world, a rupture in the normal state of affairs’ (Gwyn, A Sustainable Life, p97). Immersion in time is displaced for immersion in end-time revelation. Allowing the self to be torn from the fabric of time was a form of martyrdom, both inwardly and outwardly. Following early Christian teaching, Quakers were concerned ‘to prepare those who belong to the last generation of mankind, and are prepared to give credence to his message, for entry into the Kingdom, thus making the most of the last moments of the present time order, between his announcement of the imminence of the Kingdom and its advent’ (Albert Schweitzer, The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity p94). Acute eschatological awareness became interiorised martyrdom: the Lamb’s War revealed the Second Coming as an inward phenomenon.

Convincement, in changing one’s relation to time, redeemed early Quakers from bearing scars born of the smell and scent of time. Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart saw the necessity for an altered relation to the temporal order: ‘For nothing is as opposed to God as time. Not only time is opposed to God, but even clinging to time, not even having contact with time but even the smell or scent of time – just as a certain smell hangs in the air where an apple has lain: this is what is meant by contact with time’ (Selected Writings p137). Liberated from the smell and scent of time, early Quakers were primed for participation in the second last supper – the marriage supper of the Lamb. Their liturgical sensibility bore witness to this transcendence of time. Meister Eckhart foreshadows the Quaker understanding: ‘Everything that touches of time or smacks of time must be removed’ (p212). Hence the continuity of apophatic forms of worship and prayer. Changed relation to the temporal order meant metanoia which, in ‘its true meaning…is a call not only for repentance over past sins, but above all for a new way of thinking in the period of waiting for the Kingdom’ (Schweitzer p74).

Inward Revelation as battleground/absence of time
Coming after liberation from temporal captivity, cruciform rays of Light were an inward manifestation of the Quaker theology of suffering and martyrdom. As Hugh Barbour writes: ‘The essence of pain was to know one’s sins and self-will, but the source of the pain was the Light itself. To modern Friends it is startling to find the inward Light described in terms of such fierce judgement. The Light that ultimately gave joy, peace, and guidance gave at first only terror’ (The Quakers in Puritan England p98). For one early Friend, ‘in measure I see that Witness Raised that never Gives rest day nor night to that in me that Worshipps the beast’ (in Barbour p99). Detachment from the temporal order meant immersion in the battleground of interior martyrdom. An inward war raged between forces of appropriation, self, concupiscence, pride, will, vanity, and the discipline of discipleship. Ethics, contemplative practice, and liturgical practice were submerged in this cosmic battle between liberation and captivity, between good and evil.

Interiorised eschatology
The early Quaker response to delayed Parousia (arrival of the Second Coming) was interiorisation. This shows continuity with the central part of early Christianity: ‘In what does the primitive Christian faith consist? The fundamental element in it is belief in the immediate coming of the Kingdom of God, as it has been preached by John the Baptist and Jesus’ (Schweitzer p131). Early Quakers were led by a deep experience of eschatological renewal and resurgence. For the early Christians and Quakers alike, as Emil Brunner argues, the New Covenant is animated by ‘the fact that He Himself is now here; He Himself is speaking, but for that very reason He is not merely the One who speaks, He is also the One who acts. That is why the Kingdom of God has now dawned; hence now the old is over and past, even the Old Covenant with all the forms of revelation proper to it’ (Dogmatics, volume 1, p23). Presence and activity of God are seamlessly woven into the garment of interiority. The abyss of inaction and inefficacy to which the Puritans had condemned Christ, as a response to the fetishisation of human fallenness, was targeted by early Friends for destruction. Their alternative was, as for early Christians, a faith and practice which meant ‘a personal encounter, personal communion. He has come, in order that He may be with us, and that we may be with Him; He has given Himself for us, that we may have a share in Him’ (Brunner, Dogmatics, volume 1, p26). Quaker martyrology demanded an inward meeting with this Second Coming encounter: ‘For thy sake are we kylled all daye longe, and are counted as shepe apoynted to be slayne. Neverthelesse in all these thynges we overcome strongly thorow his helpe that loved us. Ye and I am sure that nether lyfe, nether angell, nor rule, nether power, nether thynges present, nether thinges to come, nether heyth, nether lowth, nether eny other creature shalbe able to departe us from Goddes love, which is in Christ Jesu oure lorde’ (Romans p335). Martyrdom is coupled with revelation of the Risen Christ’s transformative powers. Transcendent Presence begets communion via theology of martyrdom, that is, martyrological Christopraxis is the place of intimacy with God’s love. Burning expectation of the coming Kingdom of God led their faith to ‘expect that God will shortly make an end to the present era and bring in the age of perfection’ (Schweitzer p 95).

The cross consumes divisions
The Light of the cross consumes artificial divisions between time and eschatology. In revealing the cross as part of an eschatological backdrop, it frees the participants from the multifaceted divisions inherent in social and economic ideologies and all their coercive brutality: ‘For he is oure peace, whych hath made off both wone, and hath broken doune the wall in the myddes, that was a stoppe bitwene us, and hath also put awaye thorowe his flesshe, the cause of hatred…for to make of twayne wone newe man in hymsilfe, so makynge peace: and to reconcile bothe unto god in one body throwe his crosse, and slewe hattred therby’ (Ephesians p409). Hatred and division are slain on the killing floor of the cross, the intersection where the Kingdom of God is revealed. This apocalyptic showing is part of the Lamb’s liberation from captivity repeated in the inward and outward patterns of Christ’s followers. The cross is part of an eschatological promise in which Quakers were ‘lokynge fore, and hastynge unto the commynge off the daye off God, in which the hevens shall perisshe with fyre, and the elementes shalbe consumed with heate’ (2 Peter p473). The inward burning leads to hope in transformation: ‘Neverthelesse we loke for a neve heven, and a newe erth, accordynge to his promys, wherein dwelleth rightewesnes’ (p473).

Apocalyptic martyrology
Expectation of imminent Parousia entails inversion of worldly ethics. From here springs both the anachoresis (flight from the world and meditation on death) of early monasticism and the Lamb’s War of early Quakers (direct confrontation with the corruptions of the world, mortification of the intellect, and meditation on the Risen Christ). Detachment, or apatheia in the language of Desert Mothers and Fathers, corresponds to the destruction of passions found in Quaker prayer and liturgy. An arsenal of negation is at work in each. For early Quakers, their immersion in the interior baptism of the New Covenant and the corresponding transformation in terms of relation to time, convincement, revelation, eschatology and the power of the cross, is an inward martyrology. The Lamb that stood ‘as though he had bene kylled’ (Revelation p525) had to be followed rigorously. Only then would they make their garments ‘whyte in the bloud of the lambe’ (Revelation p528). Their liberation from worldly divisions and the bitter ideologies at work in society offers an inspiring example. The Book of Revelation describes this contagion of bitterness and alienation from the Divine: ‘And the thyrde angell blewe, and ther fell a grett starre from heven burnynge as hit wer a lampe, and hit fell into the thyrde parte off the ryvers, and into fountaynes of waters, and the name of the starre is called wormwood. And the thyrde part was turned to wormwood. And many dyed off the waters because they were made bytter’ (Revelation p529). Life, resistance, revelation and revolution: these are antidotes nourished by the ‘water of lyfe’ (Revelation p549). Bitterness, meaninglessness, division, and the economically/socially transmitted diseases afflicting the hegemony of neoliberalism are the status quo’s present alternative.


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