Menno Simons
Overview
Menno Simons was an Anabaptist
Anabaptist
Anabaptists are Protestant Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, and their direct descendants, particularly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites....

 religious leader from the Friesland
Friesland
Friesland is a province in the north of the Netherlands and part of the ancient region of Frisia.Until the end of 1996, the province bore Friesland as its official name. In 1997 this Dutch name lost its official status to the Frisian Fryslân...

 region of the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

. Simons was a contemporary of the Protestant Reformers
Protestant Reformers
Protestant Reformers were those theologians, churchmen, and statesmen whose careers, works, and actions brought about the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century...

 and his followers became known as Mennonite
Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

s. "Menno Simons" (/ˈmɛnoː ˈsimɔns/) is a dutchification; his actual, Frisian name was Minne Simens (/ˈmɪnə ˈsimn̩s/).
Menno Simons was born in 1496 in Witmarsum, Friesland
Friesland
Friesland is a province in the north of the Netherlands and part of the ancient region of Frisia.Until the end of 1996, the province bore Friesland as its official name. In 1997 this Dutch name lost its official status to the Frisian Fryslân...

, Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

. He grew up in a poor peasant environment, but very little is known concerning his childhood and family.
Encyclopedia
Menno Simons was an Anabaptist
Anabaptist
Anabaptists are Protestant Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, and their direct descendants, particularly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites....

 religious leader from the Friesland
Friesland
Friesland is a province in the north of the Netherlands and part of the ancient region of Frisia.Until the end of 1996, the province bore Friesland as its official name. In 1997 this Dutch name lost its official status to the Frisian Fryslân...

 region of the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

. Simons was a contemporary of the Protestant Reformers
Protestant Reformers
Protestant Reformers were those theologians, churchmen, and statesmen whose careers, works, and actions brought about the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century...

 and his followers became known as Mennonite
Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

s. "Menno Simons" (/ˈmɛnoː ˈsimɔns/) is a dutchification; his actual, Frisian name was Minne Simens (/ˈmɪnə ˈsimn̩s/).

Early life

Menno Simons was born in 1496 in Witmarsum, Friesland
Friesland
Friesland is a province in the north of the Netherlands and part of the ancient region of Frisia.Until the end of 1996, the province bore Friesland as its official name. In 1997 this Dutch name lost its official status to the Frisian Fryslân...

, Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

. He grew up in a poor peasant environment, but very little is known concerning his childhood and family. His father's name must have been Simon, Simons being a patronym, while he had a brother named Pieter.

Simons grew up in a disillusioned and war-torn country. Friesland was ravaged by war in the late 15th and early 16th century. Landsknecht
Landsknecht
Landsknechte were European, predominantly German mercenary pikemen and supporting foot soldiers from the late 15th to the late 16th century, and achieved the reputation for being the universal mercenary of Early modern Europe.-Etymology:The term is from German, Land "land, country" + Knecht...

 soldiers haunted the Frisian lands in the 1490s to force the 'Free' Frisians to accept the duke of Saxony-Meissen
Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

 as their head of state. The duke was the governor of the Netherlands for the Habsburg
Habsburg
The House of Habsburg , also found as Hapsburg, and also known as House of Austria is one of the most important royal houses of Europe and is best known for being an origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740, as well as rulers of the Austrian Empire and...

 family. One of the archenemies of the Habsburgs, the Duke of Guelders
Guelders
Guelders or Gueldres is the name of a historical county, later duchy of the Holy Roman Empire, located in the Low Countries.-Geography:...

, invaded Friesland in 1515 and conquered half of it. The other half was ceded by Saxony to the Habsburgs. The Frisians tried to regain their freedom but they were too weak and eventually accepted the imperial authority of the Habsburg emperor Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...

.

Simons learned Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and some Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 and he was taught about the Latin Church Fathers
Church Fathers
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come...

 during his training to become a priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

. He had never read the Bible, either before or during his training for the priesthood, out of fear that he would be adversely influenced by it. When he later reflected upon this period in his life, he called himself stupid.

Roman Catholic Church

He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1515 or 1516 at Utrecht
Utrecht (city)
Utrecht city and municipality is the capital and most populous city of the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is located in the eastern corner of the Randstad conurbation, and is the fourth largest city of the Netherlands with a population of 312,634 on 1 Jan 2011.Utrecht's ancient city centre features...

. He was then appointed chaplain
Chaplain
Traditionally, a chaplain is a minister in a specialized setting such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam or lay representative of a religion attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, police department, university, or private chapel...

 in his father's village Pingjum
Pingjum
Pingjum is a village in the municipality of Wûnseradiel in Friesland, in the northern Netherlands and has around the 670 citizens...

 (1524).

Around 1526 or 1527, questions surrounding the doctrine of transubstantiation
Transubstantiation
In Roman Catholic theology, transubstantiation means the change, in the Eucharist, of the substance of wheat bread and grape wine into the substance of the Body and Blood, respectively, of Jesus, while all that is accessible to the senses remains as before.The Eastern Orthodox...

 caused Menno Simons to begin a serious and in-depth search of the Holy Scriptures
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, which he confessed he had not previously studied, even being a priest. At this time he arrived at what some have termed an "evangelical humanist
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

" position.

Menno's first knowledge of the concept of "rebaptism", which he said "sounded very strange to me", came in 1531. This came through the means of hearing of the beheading of Sicke Freerks Snijder at Leeuwarden for being "rebaptized". A renewed search of the scriptures left Menno Simons believing that infant baptism
Infant baptism
Infant baptism is the practice of baptising infants or young children. In theological discussions, the practice is sometimes referred to as paedobaptism or pedobaptism from the Greek pais meaning "child." The practice is sometimes contrasted with what is called "believer's baptism", or...

 is not in the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

. He discussed the issue with his pastor, searched the Church Fathers
Church Fathers
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come...

, and read the works of Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 and Heinrich Bullinger
Heinrich Bullinger
Heinrich Bullinger was a Swiss reformer, the successor of Huldrych Zwingli as head of the Zurich church and pastor at Grossmünster...

. While still pondering the issue, he was transferred to Witmarsum. Here he came into direct contact with Anabaptists, preaching and practicing "believer's baptism
Believer's baptism
Believer's baptism is the Christian practice of baptism as this is understood by many Protestant churches, particularly those that descend from the Anabaptist tradition...

". Later, some of the Münsterite
Münster Rebellion
The Münster Rebellion was an attempt by radical Anabaptists to establish a communal sectarian government in the German city of Münster. The city became an Anabaptist center from 1534 to 1535, and fell under Anabaptist rule for 18 months — from February 1534, when the city hall was seized and...

 disciples came there as well. While he regarded them as misled and fanatical, he was drawn to their zeal and their views of the Bible, the Church, and discipleship. When his brother Pieter was among a group of Anabaptists killed near Bolsward
Bolsward
Bolsward is a city in Súdwest Fryslân in the province of Friesland, the Netherlands. Bolsward is just short of a population of 10,000.- History :The town is founded on three artificial dwelling hills, of which the first was built some time before Christ....

 in 1535, Menno experienced a spiritual and mental crisis. He said he "prayed to God with sighs and tears that He would give to me, a sorrowing sinner, the gift of His grace, create within me a clean heart, and graciously through the merits of the crimson blood of Christ, He would graciously forgive my unclean walk and unprofitable life..."

Anabaptists

Menno Simons rejected the Catholic Church and the priesthood on 12 January 1536, casting his lot with the Anabaptists. The exact date of his new baptism
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 is unknown, but he was probably baptized not long after leaving Witmarsum in early 1536. By October 1536 his connection with Anabaptism was well known, because it was in that month that Herman and Gerrit Jans were arrested and charged with having lodged Simons. He was ordained around 1537 by Obbe Philips
Obbe Philips
Obbe Philips was one of the early founders of Dutch Anabaptism. He was the illegitimate son of a Roman Catholic priest from Leeuwarden. Philips studied medicine, and became a barber and a surgeon...

. Obbe and his brother, Dirk Philips
Dirk Philips
Dirk Philips was an early Anabaptist writer and theologian. He was one of the peaceful disciples of Melchior Hoffman and later joined Menno Simons in laying out practical doctrines for what would become the Mennonite church.- Biography :...

, were among the peaceful disciples of sharina and Melchior Hoffman
Melchior Hoffman
Melchior Hoffman was an Anabaptist prophet and a visionary leader in northern Germany and the Netherlands.-Life:Hoffman was born at Schwäbisch Hall in Franconia before 1500...

 (the more radical of Hoffman's followers having participated in the Münster Rebellion
Münster Rebellion
The Münster Rebellion was an attempt by radical Anabaptists to establish a communal sectarian government in the German city of Münster. The city became an Anabaptist center from 1534 to 1535, and fell under Anabaptist rule for 18 months — from February 1534, when the city hall was seized and...

). It was Hoffman who introduced the first self-sustaining Anabaptist congregation in the Netherlands, when he taught and practiced believers' baptism in Emden
Emden
Emden is a city and seaport in the northwest of Germany, on the river Ems. It is the main city of the region of East Frisia; in 2006, the city had a total population of 51,692.-History:...

 in East Frisia
East Frisia
East Frisia or Eastern Friesland is a coastal region in the northwest of the German federal state of Lower Saxony....

. Menno Simons rejected the violence advocated by the Münster movement, believing it was not Scriptural. His theology was focused on separation from this world, and baptism by repentance symbolized this.
Menno evidently rose quickly to become a man of influence. Before 1540, David Joris
David Joris
David Joris was an important Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands before 1540.-Life:Joris was probably born in Flanders, the son of Marytje and Georgius Joris de Koman, an amateur actor and shopkeeper...

, an Anabaptist of the "inspirationist" variety, had been the most influential leader in the Netherlands. By 1544, the term Mennonite or Mennist was used in a letter to refer to the Dutch Anabaptists.

Twenty-five years after his renunciation of Catholicism, Menno died on 31 January 1561 at Wüstenfelde, Holstein
Holstein
Holstein is the region between the rivers Elbe and Eider. It is part of Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany....

, and was buried in his garden. He was married to a woman named Gertrude, and they had at least three children, two daughters and a son.

Theology

Menno Simons' influence on Anabaptism in the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

 was so great that Baptist historian William Estep
William Roscoe Estep
William Roscoe Estep was an American Baptist historian and professor. He was considered an authority on the Anabaptist movement.-Career and life:...

 suggested that their history be divided into three periods: "before Menno, under Menno, and after Menno". Menno is especially significant because of his coming to the Anabaptist movement in the north in its most troublesome days, and helping not only to sustain it, but also to establish it as a viable Radical Reformation
Radical Reformation
The Radical Reformation was a 16th century response to what was believed to be both the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church and the expanding Magisterial Protestant movement led by Martin Luther and many others. Beginning in Germany and Switzerland, the Radical Reformation birthed many radical...

 movement.

Excommunication

Girolimon (1995) compares the teachings of Menno Simons with those of Protestant reformer John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

 (1509–64), focusing on the issue of excommunication. This theological analysis stresses sharp contrasts between the two leaders on four basic principles: on procedures leading to excommunication, on the severity of sanctions on the excommunicant, on the restoration of a repentant individual, and on civil punishment. Calvin and Menno, each a leader of distinct wings of the Reformation, both believed this extreme form of discipline to be essential to the function of the church in society, agreeing on the basic grounds for excommunication as expressed in the New Testament. Menno, however, envisioned the application of reprimand as a process administered by the entire church body against any sin; Calvin reserved excommunication for especially severe transgressions as identified by the Company of Pastors and the Consistory. Among other disagreements, Calvin approved civil punishment for certain forms of unorthodoxy while Menno advocated strict church/state separation. They differed most profoundly in their views on why church discipline was necessary. Simons saw human perfectibility as attainable after conversion, while Calvin stressed an Augustinian theology of human depravity.

Bride of Christ

Menno Simons drew heavily from Biblical images of the bride of Christ when envisioning a new church during the early 17th century. He found in the Biblical Song of Solomon a description of the relationship between a purified church and Christ that not only applied to a reformed church but also to the earthly marriage between man and woman. Like the bride in the songs, the woman must come in total love and devotion and will be cleansed of her natural evil by contact with her husband. He did not alter the conventional view of relations between men and women but idealized the woman's subordinate and asexual status.

Infant baptism

The Anabaptists insisted on adult baptism. By contrast Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 defended infant baptism; it stemmed from his view of the church as ideally an inclusive reality in a Christian society. Menno Simons based his rejection of infant baptism on the concept of the church as a disciplined group of individuals who have voluntarily committed their lives to Christ. He viewed sanctification as a lifelong process that does not completely rid the presence of sin from life.

Peace

Although some Anabaptists in Amsterdam and Münster in the 16th century engaged in excesses, Dutch Mennonites generally became pious and peaceful. An explanation of this transformation is needed, and the answer may lie in Menno's transformation from Catholic priest and apologist to pacifist Anabaptist reformer—a transformation linked to his relationships to the radical Münsterites and peaceful Melchiorites. In his 1539 Christian Baptism Menno Simons stated his reluctance to engage in disputes, which may have stemmed from his reluctance for years to announce his true convictions.

Asceticism

Menno Simons rejected asceticism
Asceticism
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

 in terms of its traditional practices of social withdrawal, mortification, and self-denial. Historical theologian Richard Valantasis, however, has suggested that asceticism should not be defined as these physical practices but as a group of activities designed to reestablish social relations between the individual and the dominant social environment through a new subjectivity, different social relations, and an alternative symbolic universe. Simons's theology is ascetic by Valantasis's definition since it used these methods to restructure Anabaptists' relationship with 'worldly' society.

Works

  • Dat Fundament des Christelycken leers (1539–40; Foundation of Christian Doctrine)
  • Van de Geestlijke Verrijsenisse (ca. 1536; The Spiritual Resurrection)
  • De nieuwe Creatuere (ca. 1537; The New Birth)
  • Christelycke leringhen op den 25. Psalm (ca. 1538; Meditation on the Twenty-Fifth Psalm)

External links

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