XIII MENNO SIMONS' ATTITUDE TOWARD THE MUNSTERITES
The Munsterite sect rejected infant baptism but differed from the Mennonites on other fundamental points. Under the leadership of John of Leyden, the "second King David" who was to rule until Solomon (Christ) should take possession of the kingdom, they established themselves in the city of Munster in northwest Germany. Not only did they reject the principle of non-resistance but they would destroy the wicked with the sword. They advocated polygamy and ascribed divine authority to their false prophets. After a siege of over a year Munster was conquered on June 25, 1535. John of Leyden and others of their leaders were executed. (Compare p. 41).
One of the first books of Menno Simons is his Plain and Clear Proof .... Against the Abominable and Terrible Blasphemy of John of Leyden. (1) The date of this book is not altogether certain. Evidently it was written before his renunciation of the Roman Church, in the period when he, as he later testified, undeservedly had the reputation of an evangelical preacher. To all appearance Menno, when he wrote this book, was only partially acquainted with the teachings of the Munsterites. Probably the date is somewhere in the first half of the year 1535. Menno writes:
"We should not have ventured to write, were there not a pressing need. On the one hand we can not bear the shameful deceit and great blasphemy against God, that a man be placed in Christ's stead; on the other hand those who teach such deceit, yea, abominable heresy concerning the promised David, and similar doctrines refuse to deal with us personally.
''A greater Antichrist than the one who pretends to be the promised David [John of Leyden], can not come. - He who is not blind, understands well what are the weapons with which Christians should fight, namely the word of God. - To fight with carnal weapons is forbidden us. - It is true. God will punish Babylon, but not through His Christians. - The Scriptures clearly testify that the Lord Christ must first come again, before all His enemies shall be punished.
"May all those who would fight with the sword give heed to these words, yea all who would be the angels to root up the tares. Christ indeed expounded this parable differently and says: The good seed are the children of the kingdom .... the reapers are the angels. Inasmuch as the Christians are the good seed, how can they be the angels or reapers; or if they be the reapers, how can they be the seed? These are quite different things, the seed and the reapers; this is plain beyond dispute.
"Christ has not taken His kingdom with the sword, but through suffering; and they mean to take it with the sword! O blindness of man!
Since it is a fact that Christ combats His enemies with the sword of His mouth, He smites the earth with the rod of His mouth; He slays the wicked with the breath of His lips (Isa. 11:4; Rev. 2:16); and since we are to be conformed into His image, (Rom. 8:29), how can we then fight our enemies with any other sword? Does not the apostle Peter say: "For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow his steps .... who when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him who judgeth righteously" (I Pet. 2:21).
Some of the opponents of Menno Simons have asserted that in the earlier years of his reformatory labors he held the Anabaptists of Munster to be his "dear brethren" and of one party with himself. Although in his Plain and Clear Proof he speaks of John of Leyden as a blasphemer and an anti-Christ and of Munsterite principles as heresy and an abomination, it was, curiously enough, supposed that this book shows his attitude toward John of Leyden alone, and not toward his followers. In the first edition of his Foundation Menno refers to certain Anabaptists of an earlier period who for lack of knowledge were on certain points unorthodox (they were not Munsterites, though Menno's opponents asserted it) as brethren. This has been taken as evidence that he made no real distinction between his own party and the Munsterites. The fact that in the first edition of the Foundation he repeatedly addresses also Roman Catholics as brethren (2) has been ignored. The sense in which he in many instances used this expression is clearly indicated when in the same book he speaks of a certain class as his "brethren, but not in Christ Jesus, for those are brethren in Christ who abide in His holy word." (3) Hence if he would have spoken of the Munsterites as brethren (which is not the case, as will be pointed out) this would not prove the point in question.
The opinion that Menno, at the time when he published the first edition of the Foundation, considered himself of the same party as the Munsterites is altogether unfounded. There is abundant proof that he was at that time and indeed from the very rise of the Munsterites a consistent opponent of their teaching and believed their sect to advocate even greater errors than the Roman Church. This proof is contained in the above mentioned book against John of Leyden as well as in the Meditation to the Twenty-fifth Psalm (4) and in the first edition of the Foundation.
In the first edition of the Meditation Menno Simons says:
"Satan has through the false, unenlightened teachers perverted the spiritual sense of the Scriptures into a carnal sense; he has instituted the sword and weapons and therewith has engendered a revengeful heart against all the world; he has moreover, without any Scripture, cloaked and palliated shameful adultery with the example of the Jewish patriarchs, also a visible kingdom and king and other ungodly errors at which a true Christian is stricken with terror." (5)
A more outspoken rejection of Munsterite principles cannot be found in Menno's later writings. - A passage in this book is directed principally against David Joris the enthusiast, or more correctly, against some of his followers, but applies to the Munsterites as well. Menno says:
"There are those who continuously cry out, grace, Spirit, Christ; but every day they trample grace under their feet, grieve the Holy Spirit and by their carnal life lamentably crucify the Son of God anew. Some of those who had once fled out of Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon and taken upon them the yoke and cross of Christ, have nevertheless fallen prey to the devil; they have been miserably deceived by the false prophets, just as if they had never confessed Thy holy Word; yea, seven evil spirits have taken possession of them (Luke 11:24) and the last deception has become a thousand times worse than the first." (6)
Obviously this means that those who were "miserably deceived by the false prophets" had fallen into greater errors than Romanism. In the later revision the words "a thousand times" in the last sentence have been eliminated.
The first edition of the Foundation has a few clear expressions on the point in question, denouncing Munsterite teaching and showing clearly Menno's attitude toward this sect. The very aim, in fact, which Menno had in writing this book was, if we may accept his own testimony as given in the preface, to give proof of the radical differences which separated him and his brethren from the Munsterites. He says:
"Since we find that Satan can convert himself into an angel of light and sow the evil tares among the good wheat of the Lord, namely the [Munsterite] doctrines of the sword, matrimony, outward kingdom of Christ, idolatry, deception [pretension to be of the state church when such was not the case] and other errors of similar nature, for whose sake [being accused of such errors] the children of God must in our day hear and suffer terrible things, therefore we have been led to give here with an account of our faith." (7)
Menno states in this book that there are five religious parties, viz., "Papists, Lutherans, Zwinglians, corrupt sects and Baptizers." (8) The last are the party which he represented while the "corrupt sects" are Munsterites, Batenburgers and Davidians. (9) "Those who have been baptized," he says, "and have again departed from the salutary doctrine of Jesus Christ, have yielded to the deception and error of the false prophets and refuse to accept instruction" are not acceptable partakers of the Lord's table. (10) The false prophets are the leaders of the corrupt sects. These statements show conclusively that Menno by no means accepted the Munsterites as his brethren in Christ.
Concerning the principles of the Munsterites Menno says here:
"We teach, know or acknowledge no King David according to the spirit, but alone the invisible King Jesus Christ to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth who alone is the Lord of lords and the King of kings. But in all temporal things we teach obedience to the Imperial Majesty, to kings, lords and all governments whenever they do not give us command contrary to God's word. - We teach, know and acknowledge no sword than alone the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. - We teach, know and acknowledge no matrimony than that which Christ Jesus Himself and His holy apostles have taught and sanctioned, namely between one man and one woman. - No kingdom of God do we know, teach and acknowledge which is of this world. - We know, teach and consent to no murder and robbery," etc. May the almighty eternal Father through His beloved Son Jesus Christ keep and guard all faithful hearts from these cursed heresies and abominable errors which are contrary not only to God's word but also to the law of nature." (11)
Further: "I know that they accuse us of [Munsterite] errors concerning king, matrimony, sword, outward kingdom, murder, theft and similar deceptions, which accursed ungodly teaching and Satanic errors, they all say, follow from baptism, and consequently the true doctrine of Jesus Christ, the consecrated life and apostolic baptism is diligently opposed by them. No, dear rulers, no," etc. (12)
The first part of the chapter "To the Corrupt Sects" in the same book also treats of the Munsterites as well as of the Davidites, and shows clearly Menno's position toward them. It will be quoted in another place. And in his Book on Baptism, in 1539, (431; II:229a), as well as in another book published in the same year (442b; II:241b) Menno expresses himself to the same effect concerning the corrupt sects, clearly including the Munsterites.
Again in his Loving Admonition, in 1541, Menno condemns "the Jewish doctrines of the sword, kingdom, polygamy and other seductions of similar nature" (633b; II:445b). And in his first book addressed to John a'Lasco, in 1544, he speaks of the Munsterites and denounces their teachings in no uncertain tones. He says:
"I have written this in order that our faith, doctrine and life, may be clearly set forth and made known, to destroy the evil suspicion which is held against us in consequence of the pernicious uproar and the shameful doctrine and practice of the false prophets who go forth under a pious semblance as before God who knows our hearts, we are clear of all their abominable doctrine, uproar, mutiny, bloodshed, plurality of wives, and the like abominations. Yea we hate and from all our heart oppose them as acknowledged heresies, as snares to the conscience and deceit, as deception of souls and pestilential doctrine." etc. (519; II:326a).
The above mentioned Anabaptists which erred in a certain matter and were spoken of as erring brethren by Menno, were the so-called Oldcloisterites. In his reply to Gellius Faber Menno gives interesting information on the question of the principles of these people. His own brother had cast his lot with them. When Gellius Faber reproachfully mentioned this fact in his attempted refutation of Menno's doctrinal position, Menno made the following answer:
"My poor brother with whom he so inimically upbraids me has not erred further than that he (alas!) through lack of understanding undertook to defend his faith with the fist and to oppose violence with violence, as is the manner of all theologians, preachers, priests, monks, and the whole wide world." (320b; II:101).
In another part of the same book Menno Simons tells us that the Oldcloisterites "through the ungodly doctrine of Munster" took the sword. It is clear, as will be pointed out, that these people, although they followed the Munsterites to the extent of taking the sword, can not be classed with the followers of the false prophets in Munster. There is not a shadow of an evidence that they approved of the essentially Munsterite doctrine of the destruction of the wicked, of polygamy and of the earthly kingdom of God. The Oldcloisterites did not accept these offensive teachings. As concerns polygamy, it is improbable that they knew that this practice was defended by the Munsterites. Menno Simons, about the time of the affair at the Oldcloister or shortly after it wrote a book against the Munsterites, namely the Plain and Clear Proof which was mentioned above. In this book the subject of polygamy is never named or alluded to; in all probability Menno, when he wrote this book was not acquainted with the Munsterite position on this point, and there is every reason to suppose that the Oldcloisterites had no better knowledge of Munsterite doctrine than Menno Simons. Indeed polygamy is to all appearance mentioned and defended in only one of the Munsterite books namely The Restitution. Polygamy, it will be remembered, was introduced in Munster by John of Leyden and was with terrible bloodshed maintained by him against the party headed by Mollenhecke. After John's purpose had been accomplished, the teaching of polygamy was no longer set forth in the Munsterite writings. It may have been realized by them that their cause was not enhanced in the outside world by the advocacy of this shameful institution. There is no evidence that the Oldcloisterites had become acquainted with The Restitution. Whether or not this was the case, they were neither polygamists, nor did they defend the thought of the destruction of the wicked. Clearly they took possession of the cloister, not in order to destroy their enemies, much less to slay eventually all the wicked, but to defend themselves against their persecutors. They did the monks in the cloister no harm whatever, but destroyed the images and altars.
It must be remembered that the death sentence was passed upon all Anabaptists. The poor people were chased down like wild beasts. Only in exceptional cases would recantation save their lives. Many had been killed for their faith. Those Anabaptists who did not hold the principle of non-resistance were under temptation to take the sword in self-defence. Conceivably the example of the Munsterites made an impression on those who were persecuted to death. The Munsterites boasted of their success in defying all the world with the sword. They held that the Lord fought the battles of those who took the sword when they were innocently persecuted. If Munster could defend itself against the powers that be, could not the experiment be repeated in other places? Did not all the world, as Menno correctly observes, assert the right of self-defense? Menno testifies that "after many cruel edicts, after much persecution and slaughter" these people went to the Old Cloister to defend themselfes. (257; I:4).
The said passage on the Oldcloisterites in the first edition of The Foundation is contained in the chapter "To the Corrupt Sects." This designation is, as said above, given by Menno to certain enthusiastic and revolutionary sects which by his opponents were classed as Anabaptists, namely the Munsterites, Batenburgers and Davidians. When he published the first edition of his Foundation, there were besides these sects only two Christian denominations found in the Netherlands, namely the Roman Catholic state church and the Brethren represented by himself. There existed also secret bands of Melchiorites, but they had not actually renounced the state church. Hence all unorthodox Anabaptists were found in the ranks of the "corrupt sects." The Oldcloisterites were not classed by Menno under this category, but they had ceased to exist previous to his conversion. He speaks of them in this chapter to show the fallacy of the accusation of the Davidians, that he denounced as corrupt sects all that were according to his understanding not entirely orthodox.
Evidently the Oldcloisterites had formerly been followers of Melchior Hofmann, But while Hofmann did not practice baptism, waiting for the expected time of liberty and the cessation of the persecution, the Oldcloisterites had been baptized; they had become Anabaptists and were therefore in immediate danger of death. Menno held at that time the office of a priest in Witmarsum, but had come to some extent under Melchiorite influence. He admired these people for their willingness to follow the light which had come to them and to step out of the state church under such adverse conditions.
"I saw with mine eyes," he says, "that these zealous people willingly gave their life and possessions for their principles and faith, though they were in error;" they were "a well-meaning, straying flock that would so gladly do the right, if they but knew the right." (257; I:5).
Melchior Hofmann did not teach the principle of nonresistance and Menno Simons points out repeatedly that the Oldcloisterites had never been taught the truth on the point in question; they sinned not against better light but erred unknowingly. For the reason that they followed the truth to the extent as they had received light - that they "would so gladly do the right if they only know what the right is" - that they in the face of untold persecution confessed the truth as far as they had received it, giving unmistakable evidence of the courage of their conviction; for these reasons Menno Simons speaks of them as brethren, but in order to be not misunderstood he adds, it he could not believe that they were free from Munsterite errors concerning the worldly kingdom of God, their attitude toward "the wicked," polygamy, etc., he would take a different position toward them. He condemned the use of the sword as contrary to Christ's spirit, word and example, and believed the drawing of the sword to be a weighty error in itself, but since these people in self-defence had erred ignorantly, he made the somewhat inconsiderate statement that they "transgressed a little." In the revision of the Foundation the whole passage was eliminated.
Menno held that their error should under these circumstances not be too severely charged against them. It is worthy of notice that he took a similar position in regard to certain Zwinglians who gave their lives for the sake of their faith and followed the truth to the extent as they had received it. He says of them: "But that some of them in the beginning for the sake of the testimony which they had obtained, have shed their blood, for this we praise God and believe with James that they are happy [blessed] and that they are our companions in the tribulation of Christ (Jas. 5:11; Rev. 1:9); for their deeds have testified that they sought God and were faithful as far as they had obtained light. (245b; II:24).
It has been supposed that the Oldcloisterites were minded to go to Munster which would indicate that they were Munsterites in principle. But had this been their intention it would be difficult to conceive of a motive why they should go to the Old Cloister and there await attack and siege by the state troops. To the contrary they were of the opinion that the Old Cloister had been given them as a place of refuge against their persecutors, a place where they hoped to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience, they believed, since right was on their side, the Lord would give their undertaking success, but overlooked the fact that they transgressed by taking the sword. They referred to the Old Cloister as their Zion, for here they established a congregation of their scattered flock. They wrote letters urging others, "if they loved God and the holy Gospel they should without delay come to them to the Cloister for this was the sure place of protection which God had given His people for a certain refuge. " (13) That the Munsterite Jan van Geelen who organized the uprising in Amsterdam on May 11, 1535, was the leader of the Oldcloisterites is clearly a later invention of their enemies. (14)
K. Vos asserts that Menno's brother who lost his life at the Old Cloister had been in Munster and was a prominent adherent of John of Leyden, being identical with Peter Symonson, one of the twelve elders in Munster and later the steward of the kitchen of king John who was with five others sent forth, in December 1534, to spread the book On Vengeance and to promote the Munsterite cause in general. This author has apparently overlooked the fact that Peter Symonson returned to Munster within a few weeks, namely toward the end of December 1534." It is a pure assumption, without any evidence whatever that he was Menno Simons' brother. Were it fact, Menno's opponents would doubtlessly have been informed of it and would have made some mention of it in their books against Menno. And Menno could not have said of his brother than he erred only on one point.
The passage in question which has been supposed to show that Menno considered the Munsterites as brethren of like faith with himself, and which has reference not to the Munsterites but to the Oldcloisterites, follows:
"I do not doubt that our dear brethren who have formerly transgressed a little against the Lord in so far as they undertook to protect their faith with the sword, have a gracious God. For they were, I hope, not tainted with the aforesaid [Munsterites] heresies. They sought nothing but Christ Jesus and eternal life, and for this cause they forsook all their possessions, their own kindred, yea their own lives, although afterwards they erred a little, as said above, in which respect it behooves us not to follow them, namely, they used weapons other than patient endurance and God's Word. And it is not to be wondered at that they erred at that time, for in those times they had not the proving of the spirits (I John 4:1). The upright and pious I call my sisters and brethren for the reason that they have erred unknowingly. But the double-hearted who did not seek God with a pure heart, although they bore the name of sisters and brethren, and the leaders of the seduction, as for instance those at Munster and Amsterdam, these [who are not now among the living] I leave in the hands of the Lord; He knows what judgment they have deserved and He will judge them according to His holy will." (16)
The passages from the same book as well as from the Meditation in which Menno denounces Munsterite doctrine as "accursed heresies and abominable errors" have been quoted above.
Another evidence of Menno's supposed friendly attitude toward the Anabaptists of Munster is stated by K. Vos (17) as follows: "His wife's sister Margaret Edes, was troubled in mind because she had been baptized by the Munsterite minister Douwe Schoemacker, and desired to be rebaptized, but Menno as well as Leonard Bouwens refused her desire."
The only source for this interesting item is Hans Alenson's Tegen-Bericht, written in 1630. While K. Vos and others assert that Margaret Edes entertained doubts concerning the validity of her baptism because it was performed by a Munsterite minister, Alenson does not mention this as the cause of her desire to be rebaptized, but says she believed to have received baptism without faith and repentance. (18) From a letter written by Menno Simons to this person (434; II:401) it is evident that hers was an over-sensitive conscience and she found it difficult to come to an assurance of saving faith.
Alenson refers to Douwe Schoemacker, the minister who baptized Margaret Edes, as a Munsterite. There is absolutely nothing known about this man, except what is contained in Alenson, who wrote about seventy years after Menno Simons' death and probably more than ninety years after the baptism in question. We do not know whence Alenson had his information concerning Douwe Schoemacker, but we do know that he is not always reliable in his statements concerning Menno Simons. There is no proof for the correctness of his assertion that Douwe Schoemacker was not at one with Menno Simons in principle. Margaret Edes was one of the circle in Witmarsum which was influenced by the Oldcloisterites. She may have been baptized by one of their ministers. Even if Menno had accepted Munsterite baptism as valid, an assumption for which there is no evidence, this would not prove the point in question. Luther, Zwingli and Calvin accepted Roman Catholic baptism but were not Romanists.
It has been pointed out above that even before his renunciation of the state-church Menno Simons was a radical opponent of the Munsterites and their teachings. The testimony to that effect contained in the account of his conversion (p. 25) and in his Plain and Clear Proof has been cited. In his later writings also we have the repeated and clear testimony that previous to his conversion and from the very rise of the Munsterites he was their opponent. He says:
"Since we against all truth are so severely attacked and accused by our opponents, we will say in defense of us all that we consider the Munsterite doctrine, cause and life, namely concerning king, sword, uproar, striking back vengeance, plurality of wives, and the outward kingdom of Christ upon earth a new Judaism, a deceptive error, an abomination, radically at variance with the spirit, word and example of Christ. Behold, in Christ we lie not. - No one under the broad canopy of heaven can show or prove that I at any time of my life agreed with the Munsterites in the before-mentioned articles; for I have from the beginning until the present time opposed and refuted them with all diligence and earnestness, both privately and publicly, verbally and in writing, yea for over seventeen years and ever since I have in my weakness and according to my ability confessed the Word of the Lord and His holy name, have I taken this attitude toward them" (497a; II:301).
Again Menno says that the places in which he had held office in the service of the state church, namely, ''Witmarsum and Pingjum, must acknowledge this and be my witnesses that before my resignation I have earnestly opposed and denounced the Munsterite teaching" ( Folio Edition, p. 497a, marginal note).
Concerning his relation and attitude to the Munsterites he says further:
"We are clear and free of the abominable doctrine, uproar, mutiny, bloodthirstiness, polygamy and like abomination of the false prophets. Yea we hate and oppose such teachings with all earnestness as evident heresy, as snares to the conscience, as deception, seduction and fraud and as pestilential doctrines accursed and rejected by all Scripture" (519; II:326b).
"Behold, kind reader, this is my position and confession concerning the Munsterites, and the position of all who are acknowledged and accepted as brethren and sisters among us.
"In short, we confess and testify herewith before God, before you, and before the whole wide world that we from our inmost hearts detest the aforesaid errors and abominations of the Munsterites, of all the world and of evil sects, which are contrary to the Spirit, word, ordinance and commandment of the Lord (497; II:301).
"Our persecutors accuse us and say that we are seditious like the Munsterites and that we are not obedient to the magistracy. To this we reply in the first place: That the Munsterites were seditious and in many things acted without God's word, we confess; but that we should be one with them, we deny. For the seditious abominations such as their teaching concerning king, kingdom, sword, etc., also plurality of wives and dissembling with the world [observing the unscriptural religious forms prescribed by the powers that be and other similar infamy and abomination we detest and oppose with all our heart" (148a; I:197b).
"It is before God and men unchristian, yea it is manifestly tyrannical and unjust to put us in the same category and impose the same penalty upon us as on the Munsterites, who contrary to God's word and to all evangelical Scripture, also contrary to the existing authorities, established a new kingdom, taught uproar, polygamy, etc., which we so heartily detest and with the word of the Lord denounce, reprove and oppose, as is clearly evident from our whole life and teachings. It is unjust I say, to put us in the same category with these people alone for the sake of adult baptism which we have so strongly defended with the word of God and the teaching and usage of the apostles against all human philosophy and inventions (327; II:109).
"And if perchance you should point me to the terrible, abominable record of the false corrupted sects, and say that you must oppose baptism with the sword that thus their wicked undertakings may be prevented and hindered, my answer is, first that Christian baptism is not of the corrupt sects, but it is God's word; secondly that holy Christian baptism does not cause mutiny or shameful deeds, but the false teachers and the false prophets who boast themselves to be baptized Christians and yet, before God, are not such, are responsible for these things.
"Thirdly there is nothing under heaven which I abhor more than the wicked cause of the false, corrupt sects [Munsterites and Davidians]. I do not regard death with such terror, for I know that it is appointed to all men once to die; nor the tyrannical sword, for if they take my body, it is all they can do; nor Satan for he has been overcome for me by Christ. But if I were 'tainted by the abominable doctrine of the corrupt sects, my cause would verily be lost, for eternal woe would be to my poor soul - Therefore I say: If you find in me or my teaching which is the word of God, or among those who are taught by me and my brethren, any thieving, murdering, perjury, mutiny, uproar or any other criminal acts, such as were formerly and are yet found among the corrupted sects, then we desire that you punish us; for we fully deserved the severest punishment in such case" (431b; II:228b).
"Inasmuch as I daily see before my eyes the terrible perils which existed even from the beginning, that so many an innocent soul has been misled and is now misled through the false prophecies, smooth words, seeming sanctity, lying signs, threatenings and false promises of the antichrists and false prophets who ever sought their own honor, fame and gain under a semblance of God's word, as was the case with the pope of Rome and John of Leyden at Munster and others, as may yet abundantly be witnessed, therefore I deem it very necessary and profitable to earnestly warn and admonish with a sincere heart all my beloved readers in the Lord, that they should not accept my doctrine as the Gospel of Jesus Christ so long as they have not thoroughly proved it with the spirit and word of the Lord, that they may not set their hearts upon me nor upon any teacher or writer but upon Jesus Christ" (449a; II:248b).
While his opponents asserted that he was of the same party as the Munsterites, Menno Simons points out that among the churches and parties that were known by the name of Anabaptists, greater differences and contrasts were in evidence than among the infant baptist churches. Says Menno:
"As the Papists and Lutherans are not at one but differ from one another, much more do we radically differ from the Munsterites and from some other sects which sprang from them. That this is the truth we have well established for these many years by our writings, life, and oral testimony before lords and princes and before the whole world, also by the blood of many pious Christians which in many lands was shed like water" (148b; 1:197b).
Menno Simons shows the unreasonableness of the opinion that all who practiced adult baptism were for that reason of one party. He says:
"We acknowledge, beloved sirs, that some of the false prophets were to outward appearance baptized with the same manner of baptism as we, just as also thieves, murderers, highway robbers, sorcerers and the like were baptized with you. - Shall the good angels be unjustly judged for the sake of Lucifer's pride, and be meted out his punishment? Or are all the apostles traitors for Judas' sake? - Were the apostles responsible for it that the Nicolaitanes had their wives in common, as Eusebius relates? Or that the Ebionites denied the divinity of Christ and taught that Christ did not exist before His incarnation?" (55; II:82).
"If they upbraid us and say that we must be accounted one church and body with the Munsterites, for the reason that we are baptized outwardly in the same manner, we reply: If outward baptism is so powerful as to make those who are outwardly baptized in the same manner all of one Church and body and to cause one to be included in the unrighteousness, wickedness and perversity of another, simply because both have been baptized in the same way, then our adversaries and opponents may well consider what kind of a church or body their's is. For it is clear and well known to every man that even perjurers, murderers, highwaymen, thieves, sorcerers and such like have received the same baptism as they [and moreover under the state church system, were not excluded from the church]. If we, then, are Munsterites for no other reason than because of baptism, then they must be perjurers, murderers, highwaymen, thieves and rogues, for these have received one baptism with them. This can not be gainsaid nor denied. Oh no; the Scriptures do not teach that we are baptized into one body by any outward sign, such as water, but that we are baptized into one body by one Spirit," etc. (497b; II:301b).
In a few of his books Menno Simons states in the preface that his purpose is to show that the accusation against him of entertaining tumultuous and rebellious aims, on the ground that the Munsterites were [revolutionists], was unjust. He points out that not only were the Mennonites not responsible for the deeds of "the corrupt sects," but that certain princes in the churches whose theologians urged such accusations had made more great political, warlike disturbance than all those who were known by the name of Anabaptists. Menno's opponents were well informed concerning uproars made by Anabaptists but memory apparently failed them touching similar sins that were committed by those who were of their own party. At Basel the Zwinglians forced the Reformation on the city and the state through a revolution (1529). Zwingli himself lost his life in an unholy war with the Catholic cantons which were to be compelled to tolerate Zwinglianism, although Catholicism was not tolerated in Zwinglian [territory]. The leading Lutheran princes, John Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse, in 1542, invaded the Catholic [province] of Brunswick, conquered the land, drove out Duke Henry, the rightful ruler, and forced the Lutheran reformation upon the people. One of the most worthles characters that was ever called upon to bear the scepter of a ruler, was the Margrave Albert Alchibiades of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, a Lutheran. As a lawless adventurer he has left a record that was hardly surpassed even by that of John of Leyden. He believed that he was doing God service by killing the priests. Some of the adjoining provinces he covered with conflagration and murder. Finally he was compelled to flee to France. Facts like these will serve to make clear the following quotations from Menno Simons:
"Secondly I would say: Since again and again he [Faber] lays to our charge the errors and uproar of the Munsterites, of which we are and ever have been before God and men innocent and free, I would beseech him that he take a careful look at his own infant baptist church of which he is a head and teacher. How abominably have they for years risen up against each other, with their accursed, wicked wars they have afflicted whole countries," etc. (320a; II:101a).
"Why do they so indiscreetly accuse us of uproar while we are wholly innocent and clear of all uproar and they never pay attention to their own destructive, bloody, murdering uproars, which, alas, have no measure or end, as one may see. - All this they do not notice, yea it must all be accounted right and well done. - Again what bloody uproars the Lutherans have for some years made to introduce and establish their doctrine, I will leave to them to reflect upon. Nevertheless we, although innocent, must be accounted the tumultuous heretics and they the God-fearing, pious, peaceable Christians. Behold so lamentably is the understanding of this blind world darkened" (148b; I:197b).
A comparison of Mennonite with Munsterite principles reveals the most fundamental differences and contrasts. A radical difference existed on the point of the sources of the Christian truth. The Munsterites held the new revelations which, they believed, came to them through their prophets, to be of equal if not greater authority than the Scriptures. They taught that the Old Testament Scriptures surpass the New Testament in authority and importance. Rothmann wrote on the point in question:
"We presume that everyone now knows what is the principal indubitable Scripture, according to which all Scripture must be expounded; namely Moses and the prophets. These are the authoritative Scriptures. There are also other praiseworthy books which may be called the Holy Scriptures especially the Scriptures or books of the New Testament whose truth is founded on the principal Scriptures." (19)
The New Israel of Munster held the Old Testament to be the most authoritative part of the Bible. Menno Simons, to the contrary, taught that the Old Testament, although a part of God's Word, was, as concerns its rulers of worship and practice, intended for pre-Messianic times alone. All the Old Testament, says Menno, pointed forward to Christ, the author of the New Covenant, who brought the world the full light of the truth and opened the way of salvation for fallen man. Certain points of Old Testament law were expressly abrogated in the Sermon on the Mount. Divorce, for example, was permitted in the Old Testament law, but forbidden by Christ. "Christ is our only lawgiver," says Menno. "All Scripture must be interpreted according to the spirit, teaching, walk and example of Christ and the apostles." (20)
It is worthy of notice that the Munsterite conception of the relation of the Old Testament to the New differs more radically from Menno's conception than from that of the leading reformers, Luther, Zwingli and Calvin did not make the distinction between the Old and New Testament Scriptures on which the great Anabaptist denominations insisted, but held both to be authoritative as the rule of life and practice for the Christian Church. The well known Lutheran theologian. Paul Tschackert, in his work. The Origin of Lutheran and Reformed Doctrine, says that Luther "had no historical understanding of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament," and the time of the Reformation was not ripe for this understanding. (21) This opinion leaves the Anabaptists out of consideration. The great Anabaptist denominations held, on the ground of such passages as Heb. chap. 7-10 and Matt. 5:31-48, that the Old Covenant was imperfect in its law, priesthood, and worship.
Paul Tschackert says correctly that Luther's approval of the bigamy of Philip of Hesse had its basis in his wrong conception of the relation of the Old Testament to the New. Plurality of wives, the darkest and one of the most characteristic points of Munsteritism was more radically and consequentially opposed by the Mennonites than by the new state churches. Among the Swiss Brethren, Huterites and Mennonites transgressors against the seventh commandment were more severely dealt with than in the state churches. Divorce was permitted only in the instance of adultery and the stricter Mennonites prohibited remarriage while the other companion was living. Menno Simons could not have subscribed to Luther's opinion concerning the invalidity of secret betrothal, at least, he held that transgression must be followed by marriage. He says:
"He that has transgressed and not taken another should bring the disgraced one again to honor, and according to Christian love and the Word of God extricate her from her degraded state." "If you are a Christian or would be one and have seduced a poor child with your subtle temptations and promises, and if you would not lose your soul, you must marry the disgraced one. - Behold this is the Lord's own word and law" (105; I:145).
Heinrich Detmer, the historian whose specialty was the study of the Anabaptists of Munster says:
"Not with the least semblance of right can it be said that the toleration of, or the demand for polygamy was ever included in the tendencies of Anabaptism as such, or that it corresponded to the religious or other views of the Anabaptists in general. The idea of polygamy, the first attempt to introduce it in Munster, the manner of proclaiming and realizing it, all this was solely a fruit of the brain of John of Leyden. (22)
The state-churchism of the Munsterites led to similar intolerance and persecution as was in vogue in the Lutheran and Zwinglian state churches. Liberty of conscience was openly repudiated in Munster. The Swiss Brethren and Mennonites excluded false teachers from the church; the Munsterites persecuted them, threatening them with banishment or the death sentence. (23) Capital punishment even for criminals was believed by Menno to be inconsistent with Christian principles. (24) The Munsterites to the contrary undertook to kill all "the wicked." The Mennonites held that "the powers that be are ordained of God;" the Munsterites believed the governments which opposed them to be not of God but of the evil one.
Menno Simons repudiated the thought that either the members of the church or the church as such is perfect. He did not believe that membership in the church assures salvation. Often he pointed out that there was a Judas among the apostles of the Lord. The Munsterites on the other hand taught that "all Israel will be saved." They held that their Zion was in the absolute sense "without spot or wrinkle" and at the same time they countenanced the most glaring transgression and worldliness. Theoretically there existed communionism in Munster, but the idea on the church as a brotherhood was trampled under feet by John of Leyden. Famine reigned in the city, but John of Leyden, like the Rich Man "clothed himself in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day." The Munsterites were Sabbatarians, keeping Saturday as the day of the Lord.
And why not, if the Old Testament is the rule for Christian doctrine and practice?
It has been commonly supposed that all who were baptized in Munster and those who fled to the city from other places were one in doctrine with John of Leyden. The fact has been practically ignored that more than fifty persons were executed in Munster for the reason that they refused to consent to polygamy and it is well known that those who were put to death were only a minority of the number who were of one mind with them and never became guilty of bigamy or polygamy. And we do not know to what extent the troops of men and women who attempted to go to Munster and aid the Munsterite cause were acquainted with the principles advocated in the city. Nevertheless they are generally spoken of as Munsterites and a Munsterite is supposed to be one who approves of polygamy. To what extremes this thought has been carried is well illustrated by the following example. Gillis of Aachen was (erroneously) believed to have been among a band which on February 28, 1534, was arrested near Duesseldorf for the reason that they intended to go to Munster. On this ground Gillis of Aachen has been represented (25) as a believer in polygamy. But the Munsterites did not defend this offensive institution at that time. In June of the same year John of Leyden for the first time advanced the thought of polygamy. - Polygamy was the result of criminal tendencies in Munster.
It is a curious fact that leading theologians of the state churches asserted that all who insisted on believers' baptism were of the same party with and represented the same cause as the Munsterites. Says Heinrich Bullinger in his great work against the Swiss Brethren in 1560:
"Here I suppose the Anabaptists of our time will say: Not all Anabaptists are minded as these Munsterites whom they themselves do not regard with pleasure, etc. To this I say: But who may trust the Anabaptists of our time [the Swiss Brethren] who would appear so very innocent? - Without doubt God in faithfulness and kindness meant through this Munsterite affair to uncover, for the benefit of the whole world and especially His own elect, the great deceptive falseness of Anabaptism and whatever is secretly hidden behind it. Yea God would open the eyes of all ministers of the word as well as of all princes and magistrates, that they may watch the more diligently against these murderous, disguised, crafty wolves and in time, before it be too late, with proper forethought may prevent this evil, lest afterwards, when the Anabaptists consider themselves to have made sufficient preparation, the magistrates may discover the falsity and spurious spirituality of these people which in truth, as is evident from this affair at Munster, is great warlikeness, and may suffer irreparable loss as concerns their soul, honor, body and property." (26)
The view that in the last analysis all Anabaptists represented the same cause and must be virtually considered one party is in our day by no means as general as it once was, but strange to say, is held by some of the latest writers on the subject. The author of the article Anabaptisten in the great Herzog-Hauck Theological Encyclopedia says, the Munsterite tragedy represented the summit of the Anabaptist movement and was the fruit of Anabaptist principles. (27) The well known German theologian A. W. Hunzinger (28) thinks the Munsterite development was by no means an extreme growth but a symptomatic manifestation of Anabaptism. In the article on the Anabaptists of Munster in the above mentioned encyclopedia it is said that "considering the final principles, a Munsterite kingdom could impossibly develop from Lutheranism or Zwinglianism," it represented "a legitimate growth on the tree of Anabaptism." (29) The Munsterites themselves were of different view. They did not consider themselves the spiritual children of the early Anabaptists. In their opinion the latter were fundamentally wrong. In their writings the Munsterites name the state church reformers as the beginners of the true reformation of the church, but never mention the early Anabaptists. Luther and Zwingli, they say, have begun the work which Melchior Hofmann, Jan Matthys and John of Leyden completed. If a Munsterite kingdom could not develop from Lutheranism or Zwinglianism, it could neither grow out of Swiss Anabaptism. Unless Bullinger's view be accepted that the principle of non-resistance to which the early Anabaptists gave a prominent place, was mere hypocrisy invented to hide revolutionary aims (a view which can not for a moment be entertained by an impartial student) a Munsterite kingdom could not possibly develop from Anabaptism. The principle that the Scriptures are the only authority in matters of faith was accepted by the first Anabaptists more unreservedly and radically than by the Lutherans and Zwinglians, and this principle also made Munsteritism impossible. On the points of the union of the church and state, absence of church discipline, persecution of false teachers, the Munsterites followed not the early Anabaptists but the new state churches.
Hofmann was at first a discipline of Luther; the thought that he was ever connected with the Swiss or South German Anabaptists is a mere assumption. Rothmann, the theologian of the Munsterites, also was originally a Lutheran. And both Luther and Zwingli were originally Roman Catholics. To lay the offenses of the Munsterites to the charge of the Mennonites on the ground that both were Anabaptists is as inreasonable as to accuse the Lutherans of the crimes of which some of the popes became guilty, on the ground that both were infant baptists.
In later periods a number of enthusiastic and immoral sects, much like the Munsterites, issued from the Lutheran and Zwinglian state churches, e. g., the sect of Eva Buttlar, the Zionites in Ronsdorf, and others. It would be unjust to hold the Lutherans and Zwinglians responsible for the errors advanced by those who had once been within their ranks. Menno Simons forcibly points out that the sect of the Nicolaitanes consisted of those who had been members of the apostolic church.
(1) This book was apparently not printed in Menno Simons' time, but was doubtless circulated in manuscript. The first known print, which is very rare, is of 1627. A copy of this edition is in the collection made by the late Elder J. R. Smit, of New Paris, Ind., formerly of Balk, Holland.
(2) Dat Fundament des Christelycken leers, 1539, fol. O3a. R1a, R3a.
(3) The same, fol. R7b.
(4) On the date of this book compare p. 35. K. Vos has overlooked the numerous denunciations of the Munsterites in the Meditation and in the first edition of the Foundation, which accounts for his opinion concerning Menno's relation to the sect of Munster. He further alleges that between 1539 and 1552 there is no expression of Menno on the point in question. The fact has escaped him that an important pertinent passage is found in the Loving Admonition of 1541. It will be quoted elsewhere.
(5) Meditation on the Twenty-fifth Psalm, fol. D2a.
(6) The same, fol. A6a.
(7) Dat Fundament, 1539, fol. A4b.
(8) The same, fol. N5b.
(9) That these three parties are meant when Menno speaks of the corrupt sects does not admit of doubt. Cf. 64b; I:94a.
(10) Dat Fundament, 1539, fol. G7b.
(11) The same, fol. P3b.
(12) The same. fol. P1a.
(13) Bib. Ref. Neerl., vol. 7, pp. 46 and 368.
(14) The Munsterite traitor Graiss testified that the rulers of Munster had planned "to let four banners fly, one in the country of Julich, one in [the Netherlandish province of] Holland and the Waterland, one between Maestricht, Aachen and in the Land of Limburg, and the fourth in Friesland near Groningen" (Nederl. Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis, 1908, p. 43). Those whom they might bring together in these places should go to Munster to relieve the besieged city. The disturbance at the Old Cloister is not mentioned in connection with the attempts to come to the rescue of the city of [Munster]. The uproar near Groningen has been described by P. G. Bos, in Nederl. Arch. v. Kerkgesch., 1908, pp. 1-47. John of Leyden testified that Jan van Geelen was sent to the Netherlandish province of Holland by way of Wesel. (Cornelius, Geschichtsquellen, vol. 2, pp. 374, 400).
(15) Detmer, H. Kerssenbrochs Wiedertaeufergeschichte, pp. 735 and 738.
(16) Dat Fundament, 1539, fol. R7.
(17) Vos, K., Menno Simons, p. 190.
(18) Bib. Ref. Neerl., vol. VII, p. 236.
(19) Rothmann, Von Verborgenheit der Schrift, etc., 1535; quoted by zur Linden, Melchior Hofmann, p. 352.
(20) 95a; I:65a. Other sentences of similar thought could be quoted from Menno Simons. On this most important principle the state-church reformers differed widely from him.
(21) Tschackert, Die Entstehung der lutherischen und der reformierten Kirchenlehre, p. 61.
(22) Detmer, Johann von Leiden, p. 6.
(23) The Articles of the Munsterites contain the following on the point in question: "In this new temple there must be only one king who shall rule over the people of God and wield the sword of righteousness, in order that the temple may not be stained by any false doctrine, for it is holy." And again: "If a prophet should arise among the people of God who would prophesy falsely and not according to God's Word, such an one shall by the whole congregation be separated and put to death, in order that every ane may realize that the abomination is punished and hated." Der sogenannte Artikelbrief des Muensterschen Koenigs J. v. Leyden; von Dr. F. Philippi, in Zeitschr. f. Kirchengeschichte, vol. 10, pp. 146-155, article 6. Detmer, p. 765 seq.
(24) Contrary to the opinion of A. M. Cramer (Menno Simons, p. 160): that Menno had no objection to capital punishment. Menno expresses himself clearly to the effect that to take human life under any conditions is wrong. A citation is given p. 286.
(25) De Tijdspiegel, 1905, p. 359.
(26) Der Wiedertoufferen Ursprung, etc. pp. 49a and 46b.
(27) R. E., vol. 1, p. 485.
(28) Theologie der Gegenwart, vol. 3, No. 3, p. 49.
(29) R. E., vol. 13, p. 553.