Menno Simons

{men' - oh see' - mohns}

General Information

A moderate Anabaptist leader in the Low Countries, Menno Simons, b. c. 1496, d. Jan. 31, 1561, restored the reputation of the movement after the suppression (1535) of the theocratic Kingdom of Munster, set up by militant Anabaptists. Formerly a Roman Catholic priest, Menno joined (1536) the Anabaptist movement when the Obbenite faction (a peaceful group of Dutch Anabaptists led by Obbe Philips) prevailed upon him to become their minister. Menno believed that the apostolic church pattern called for the organization of individual congregations of regenerated believers moved by the Holy Spirit to lead lives of peace and service. His basic beliefs were summarized in his highly influential Book of Fundamentals (1539). The Mennonites take their name from Menno.

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Lewis W Spitz

H S Bender and J Horsch, Menno Simons' Life and Writings (1936); W E Keeney, The Development of Dutch Anabaptist Thought and Practice, 1539 - 1564 (1968).

Menno Simons

General Information

Menno Simons (1496-1561) was a Dutch religious reformer, from whom the religious body called Mennonites takes its name.

Born at Witmarsum in Friesland, Menno was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1524. Doubts about transubstantiation, infant baptism, and other church dogmas led him to a close study of the New Testament and writings of Martin Luther. He gradually came to agree with Luther's position that the Bible should be the Christian's highest authority, and he left the Roman Catholic church. Although he opposed the revolutionary Anabaptists who led an unsuccessful uprising at Münster in 1535, his efforts to help them put him in danger of arrest, and he went into hiding for a year. In 1537 he became an Anabaptist preacher at Groningen, where he was married. In the following years he was active as a missionary, carrying the new faith to other parts of Friesland, to Zuid-Holland (South Holland), and Germany. He died on January 31, 1561, near Ordesloe, Holstein.

Menno adhered fundamentally to orthodox beliefs but rejected those that were not mentioned in the New Testament. He believed in the divinity of Christ and baptized only those who asserted their faith in Christ. In his view, military service and killing were unlawful, as were the taking of oaths, the holding of the office of magistrate, and marriage to persons outside the church. He also taught that prayer should be performed in silence. His writings were collected as The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (1681; trans. 1956).

Menno Simons

Advanced Information

(ca. 1496-1561)

Menno Simons is best known as the founder of a loosely related group of Reformation believers known today as Mennonites. In the days of Menno family names were not yet established in the Netherlands; the name Simons is simply a patronymic: "son of Simon." We know little more of his life than he himself writes in his book directed to the Reformer Jelle Smit, who wrote under the name Gellius Faber. That brief autobiography was written to demonstrate that Menno had no connection with the Munsterites, the militant wing of the Melchiorites.

Menno was born in the Fsisian village of Witmarsum and trained for the Roman priesthood. He was consecrated in 1524 at the age of twenty-eight. His first parish service was from 1524 to 1531 at the neighboring village of Pingjum, and from 1531 to 1536 in his home town of Witmarsum.

In the first year of his priesthood Menno came to doubt the doctrine of transubstantiation, and after much distress he fearfully took up the Scriptures for the first time in his life. As a result of reading the NT, he gave up the doctrine of the miraculous change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord. In 1531 Menno heard of the execution of Sicke Snijder at Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland, for being rebaptized. This terrified him also, and led to much soul searching. In the end he came to believe that baptism should follow conversion. Finally, Menno's brother joined a nonpeace group of Anabaptists and perished in a struggle with the authorities in 1535. This tragedy broke Menno's heart, and he made a total surrender of himself to Christ. For about nine months he remained in the Catholic Church, preaching his new understanding of the gospel.

On January 31, 1536, Menno renounced his Roman Catholicism and went into hiding. He accepted baptism, probably from the leader of the Peace Wing of the Frisian Anabaptists, Obbe Philips, who also ordained Menno as an elder (bishop) in the province of Groningen in 1537. Menno served in the Netherlands (1536-43), in northwest Germany, mainly in the Rhineland (1543-46), and in Danish Holstein (1546-61). The first major collection of his writings appeared in 1646.

Menno was a good shepherd and leader, and escaped martyrdom only by moving about. He was an evangelical who held to the major doctrines of the Christian faith. He differed from Luther and Calvin by defending the baptism of believers only, by teaching the doctrine of peace and nonresistance, and by rejecting the oath. He assumed the separation of church and state. He held to the Melchiorite doctrine of the incarnation, which taught that Christ brought to earth his own "heavenly flesh," receiving nothing from Mary, not even his humanity. And since no man was the earthly father of Jesus, God must have created a body for him. Our Lord was therefore in Mary prior to his birth, yet he was not of Mary.

J C Wenger
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J. C. Wenger, ed., The Complete Writings of Menno Simons; K. Vos, Menno Simons; C. Krahn, Menno Simons.

Also, see:
Mennonites. Mennonite Church

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