- Simons, Menno
- (c. 1496-1561)early Anabaptist leaderMenno Simons was born in Friesland in the Netherlands in 1496. He was 28 when he decided to enter the priesthood. After only rudimentary training, he was ordained, and by 1530 he was serving as a priest in Friesland. By this time, he had become influenced by the Sacramentalists, a Dutch-based reform movement launched by Cor-nelis Hoen. Hoen wanted to remove certain abuses in the Catholic Church and return to a biblical Christianity. He denied the doctrine of the "real presence" of Christ in the Catholic Mass. Simons confirmed the Sacramentalists' views through his Bible studies, which led him to accept the authority of the Bible over that of the church.Beginning around 1530, Melchior Hoffmann introduced the Anabaptist idea of adult baptism. He found support among Sacramentalists, including Simons. However, Simons rejected Hoffmann's apocalyptic notion that the New Jerusalem would soon appear. He denounced the Mechiorites as they came to be called, and became even more vocal after Hoffmann's arrest in 1533, and after the disastrous commune at Munster under Jan Matthijs and Jan of Leiden. The capture of Munster by Catholic forces in 1535 threatened all Anabaptists, even though the majority of them had rejected the Munsterite course of action.Simons stepped forward to assume leadership of the now floundering movement. He left his home and parish responsibilities and began to live an underground existence, moving quietly among Anabaptist communities, encouraging the fruitful and reclaiming Melchiorites. He began to write voluminously. As his efforts became known, a committee of Anabaptist leaders asked him to accept a more formal role as an ELDER/BiSHOP.At this point, Simons withdrew from the Catholic Church, confessed his faith, and was rebaptized, possibly around January 1536. For almost 20 years, he, his wife, Geertruydt, and their children lived a mobile existence one step ahead of both Catholic and Lutheran authorities. In 1542, a reward was offered for his capture.He found brief protection in east Friesland on the estate of Ulrich von Dornum, an unusually tolerant soul for his era. in 1543, however, east Friesland's ruler, Countess Anna of Oldenburg, responded to a request by the Holy Roman Emperor and issued a decree against the Anabaptists, who were for the first time called "Mennis-ten" or Mennonites. Simons left east Freisland and continued his wandering.Simons had to contend with unorthodox teachings among the Anabaptists, including spiritism and private revelations, which Simons considered fanatical and unbiblical. He opposed the followers of David Joris, who denied the necessity of building church communities during times of persecution. He also met with Anabaptist leaders to establish rules of church discipline. One such conference led to the promulgation of the 1554 Wismar Articles, which set rules concerning marriages between believers and unbelievers, settling disputes in court, and nonresistance.At the end of 1554, Simons moved to Oldesloe, Holstein, finding protection from landowner Bartholomeus von Ahlefeldt, who resisted pressure to expel the Mennonites. in this haven, Simons penned his views on ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. He accepted the goal of building a pure church of believers, and he advocated the use of the ban and the practice of avoidance to accomplish that end. Simons worked for consensus among strict and lenient colleagues. On the controversial question of shunning between spouses, Simons in 1557 wrote that the marriage between Christ and the soul overrode in importance mere human relationships.It is believed that Simons died at Wüstenfelde on January 31, 1561. He was buried there, though no one knows exactly where. In 1906, Mennonites placed a stone in a possible location. From the perspective of history, it is evident that Simons saved the Anabaptist movement from total destruction. The Swiss Brethren, the original Anabaptist group, entirely disappeared, as did those who espoused the Melchiorite notions. Many people lost their lives or were driven from their homes by authorities unable or unwilling to distinguish between the main body of the movement and its fringe elements that actively opposed secular rulers. Through his many writings, especially the Foundation-Book (153940), Simons molded the movement into a recognizable body that was finally not viewed as a threat to the established order.See also Radical Reformation.Further reading:■ John Horsch, Menno Simons (Scott-dale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1916)■ Cornelius Krahn, Dutch Anabaptism: Origin, Spread, Life, and Thought (1450-1600) (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968)■ Menno Simons, The Complete Writings, trans. by Leonard Verduin (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1956)■ Piet Visser and Mary Sprunger, Menno Simons: Places, Portraits and Progeny (Altona, Manitoba, Canada: Friesens, 1996)■ George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (Kirksville, Mo: Sixteenth Century Journal, 1992).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.