The Sword, Separation and Nonviolence in Early Quakerism

The Testimony of James Nayler (1618-1660)


  • Stuart Kenneth Masters Quaker


Quaker; James Nayler; non-violence;


The status of the sword of earthly government and the appropriate relationship of Christians to temporal authority has been a significant focus for scholars of Anabaptist history and theology, particularly in the work of James M. Stayer and Gerald Biesecker-Mast. It has been suggested that early Anabaptists and Quakers shared “fundamentally the same theology, which grew in different cultures and therefore acquired slightly different shapes”. This view implies that, since Quakerism emerged within the more pluralistic and democratic context of seventeenth-century England, its relationship to the world was less hostile and polarized than that of early Anabaptists. By focusing on the writings of the Quaker minister, James Nayler, this paper outlines the early Quaker approach to the sword, separation, and nonviolence and seeks to locate it within the range of positions adopted by sixteenth-century Anabaptist groups.