VII.   Menno Simons

Menno SimonsMenno Simons was born in 1496 in Friesland, in an area of the Holy Roman Empire that now is in the northwestern Netherlands. He grew up in a poor peasant environment; very little is known concerning his childhood and family. He had a brother named Pieter.

Simons learned Latin and some Greek and he was taught about the Latin Church Fathers during his training to become a priest in the Catholic Church. He had never read the Bible, either before or during his training for the priesthood.

He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1515 or 1516[4] at Utrecht. He was then appointed chaplain in his father’s village Pingjum (1524).

Around 1526 or 1527, questions surrounding the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation caused Menno Simons to begin a serious and in-depth search of the Holy Scriptures, which he confessed he had not previously studied, even while serving as a priest.

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 Simons believing that infant baptism was not in the Bible. He discussed the issue with his pastor, searched the writings of the Church Fathers, and read the works of Martin Luther and Heinrich Bullinger. While still pondering the issue, he was transferred to Witmarsum. Here he came into direct contact with Anabaptists, preaching and practicing “believer’s baptism”. Later, some of the Münsterite 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 Dutch Anabaptists killed 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…”

Simons rejected the Catholic Church and the priesthood on January 12, 1536, casting his lot with the Anabaptists. The exact date of his new baptism 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 and his brother, Dirk Philips, were among the peaceful disciples of Melchior Hoffman (the more radical of Hoffman’s followers having participated in the Münster Rebellion). It was Hoffman who introduced the first self-sustaining Anabaptist congregation in the Netherlands, when he taught and practiced believers’ baptism in Emden in East Frisia. 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.

In his work Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (written in 1539), he wrote:

For true evangelical faith…cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it…clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.”

Twenty-five years after his renunciation of Catholicism, Menno Simons died on January 31, 1561 at Wüstenfelde (now northern Germany), and was buried in his garden.

Next:  VIII. The Mennonites

1. “Menno Simons’ Renunciation of the Church of Rome”
2. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online Menno Simons (1496-1561)
3. Gonzalez, J. (1975). A History of Christian Thought. Abingdon Press. p. 96
4. Menno Menno’s Life
5. Anabaptist
6. Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing by Menno Simons