Mennonites

Mennonites is the name of a Christian sect which sprung up in Holland and Germany about the time of the Reformation, though it cannot be said to have actually originated in the great revolution of the 16th century. The Baptists claim the Mennonites as their forerunners, and regard them to be the direct descendants of the Waldenses (q.v.); but this origin of the Mennonites is disputed by most Puedobaptist writers, who recognise them simply as the followers of one Simon Menno (q.v.), who gathered the more moderate of the Anabaptists (q.v.), gave them a new code of discipline, and became to them the interpreter of the law and the Gospel. Because of the excesses committed by the more fanatic and unruly of the German Anabaptists in the reformatory period, the Baptists and Mennonites take exception to this classification. M. Herman Schyn, a Mennonite minister, who has published their history and apology, seeks to maintain that they are not Anabaptists, either by principle or by origin. Besides the necessity of adult baptism, the Mennonites in the 16th century held, in common with the Anabaptists, the belief in Christ's personal reign during the millennium-the unlawfulness of oaths and wars, even in resistance to injury the impropriety of engaging in lawsuits and the exclusion of the civil magistrate from the Church. But with the wild notions, which were indulged in by many, of setting up Christ's kingdom on earth by violence and bloodshed, they had no sympathy. Every immoral practice, also, they as a sect discountenanced; and they deserve to be held up as a Christian body characterized by consistency and moderation. In the days of their founder they were certainly among the most pious Christians the Church ever saw, and the worthiest citizens the State ever had. "It must be at once conceded," says Hardwick (Church Hist. during the Ref. p. 280), "that the principles of the sect are free from nearly all the dark fanaticism which stains the records of the older party." Mennonites, the Anabaptists of the Netherlands first called themselves in 1536, the year in which the hitherto scattered community celebrated its union. Menno, seeing clearly that "in union lies strength," had obtained a regular state of Church order, separate from all Dutch and German Protestants, and thus secured an ecclesiastical establishment. He laid down rules for the guidance of the congregations, and furnished them with a sort of "confession of faith." His doctrines were free from the anti-social and licentious tenets and the pretensions to inspiration which are ascribed to the Anabaptists; but he agreed with them in condemning the baptism of infants (Mt 28:19), in expecting a personal reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years at the millennium, in excluding magistrates from the Christian Church (Schyn, 1:214), and in maintaining that all war was unlawful (Mt 26:52), that the taking of oaths was prohibited by Christ (Matthew v. 37), and that human science is useless and pernicious to a Christian. But these tenets were so explained and modified by Menno as to differ very little from the doctrines generally held by the Reformed churches, securing a high degree of credit to the religious system of this famous teacher, and thus contributing to the rapid progress of his followers both in numbers and in influence. He insisted upon the strictest attention to moral duties, and exercised a most severe discipline upon offenders, and in a very short time succeeded in excluding from this fellowship those fanatics that had so dishonored the name of Anabaptists, and gradually built up a large and flourishing sect.

The severe discipline which Menno exercised over his followers had, however, ultimately the effect of producing divisions within his flock. Oftentimes the propriety or impropriety of excommunicating from the fellowship of the Church those who had incurred its censures was questioned. Menno insisted upon the expulsion of all guilty of misdemeanor, even if the erring ones showed signs of repentance. Some in the flock took exception to this severity, and insisted upon it that an excommunicated might at least be readmitted if signs of repentance were clearly manifest. This division of opinion resulted finally in the division of the sect into two parties, named respectively " die Feinzen," the Fine, and "die Groben," the Coarse. They were also called "Flemings" or "Flandrians" and "Waterlanders," from the districts in which they resided. The former was the more rigid of the two; but ere long it was also divided into Flandrians and Frieslanders. This separation arose out of a question as to what should constitute a sufficient cause for excommunication. One party regarded those only who were open contemners of the divine law to be deserving the highest censure of the Church, while the other party considered offences of the most trivial kind a reason for the instant rejection of the offender. Menno himself officially sided with the Flemings, and he was forced to pronounce the expulsion of the milder party, although his sympathies were supposed to be with them.

Other particular sentiments that divided the Mennonites are the following: The Flemingians maintain, with various degrees of rigor, the opinions of their founder Menno as to the human nature of Christ, alleging that it was produced in the womb of the Virgin by the creating power of the Holy Ghost, and hence object to the terms person and trinity as not consistent with the simplicity of the Scriptures; they hold to the obligation that binds us to wash the feet of strangers, in consequence of our Saviour's command; the necessity of excommunicating and avoiding, as one would do the plague, not only avowed sinners, but also all those who depart, even in some slight instances pertaining to dress, etc., from the simplicity of their ancestors; the contempt due to human learning, and to other matters of less moment. Another separation took place at Amsterdam in 1664, and had a much wider influence, extending also to the other Dutch churches; it was between the Mennonites who held to the opinions of the Remonstrants (q.v.) and the old orthodox party. The leader of the Remonstrants, or Socinians, was Dr. Galenus Abrahams (see Benthem, Holland. Kirche- u. Schunstaat, ij 832; Jehring, p. 30), hence called Gallenists (q.v.), and, from the house where they assembled (bij het Lans), Lamists; the opponents were called Apostoolians, from their leader, Dr. Samuel Apostool; and Zonists, from their house in de Zon (sun). By the Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit, founded in 1811, the two churches came again into closer fellowship (see Jahrboekje voor de- Doopsgez. Gemeenten, 1838 and 1839, p. 118; comp. p. 99).

But, though divided, all Mennonites are agreed in regard to the fundamental doctrine of baptism, which is administered by pouring, and only to adults. "The opinions," says Mosheim (Ecclesiastes Hist. 4:142 sq.), "that are held in common by the Mennonites, seem to be all derived from this fundamental principle, that the kingdom which Christ established upon earth is a visible Church, or community, into which the holy and just alone are to be admitted, and which is consequently exempt from all those institutions and rules of discipline that have been invented by human wisdom for the correction and reformation of the wicked. This fanatical principle was avowed by the ancient Mennonites, but it is now almost wholly renounced. Yet from this ancient doctrine many of the religious opinions that distinguish the Mennonites from all other Christian communities seem to be derived. In consequence of this doctrine, they admit none to the sacrament of baptism except persons that are come to the full use of their reason; they neither admit civil rulers into their communion, nor allow any of their members to perform the functions of magistracy; they pretend to deny the lawfulness of repelling force by force, and consider war, in all its shapes, as unchristian and unjust; they entertain the utmost aversion to the execution of justice, and more especially to capital punishments; and they also refuse to confirm their testimony by an oath." The first settlement of the Mennonites in- the United Provinces was granted them by William, prince of Orange, towards the close of the 16th century. During the War of Liberation they had played no unimportant part. Although their obligation not to carry arms prevented them from entering the. army, they nevertheless greatly aided the cause by liberal contributions of money, etc. It was not, however, before the 17th century that their liberty and tranquillity were fixed upon solid foundations, when, by a Confession of Faith published in the year 1626, they cleared themselves from the imputations of those pernicious and detestable errors that had been laid to their charge. In order to appease their intestine discords, a considerable part of the Anabaptists of Flanders, Germany, and Friesland concluded their debates in a conference held at Amsterdam in the year 1630, and entered into the bonds of fraternal communion, each reserving to themselves a liberty of retaining certain opinions. This association, simply nominal, however, was renewed and confirmed by new resolutions in the year 1649, in consequence of which the rigorous laws of Menno and his successors were in various respects mitigated and corrected. Their association at that time was very much like that of the Congregationalists in the United States. -Indeed, in cultus they had much in common with this religious body. Each congregation chooses its own pastor, whom they call exhorter, and upon him they lean in his strength or weakness. These preachers frequently were not paid by their congregations, but depended upon business or trade enterprises for their daily bread. When no preacher could be secured, the deacon would minister unto the male portion, and the deaconess unto the female portion of the congregation.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the persecution of the Mennonites in Germany and Switzerland drove many to Holland, and the "parent" body was thus largely increased. It was estimated about the middle of the 18th century at some 160,000. Since that time the Dutch Mennonites have again considerably decreased in number. An important event in their history was the provision of the theological training of their ministry by the establishment of a seminary in 1735. There are no buildings connected with this college, but the students receive theological instruction in a room, containing the library, over the Mennonite chapel. The lectures are delivered in Latin; and each student before his entrance must be acquainted with Latin and Greek. They attend at a literary institution for instruction in Hebrew, ecclesiastical history, physics, natural and moral philosophy, etc. They have private lodgings in different parts of the city. The college was established nearly a century ago, and was at first supported by the Amsterdam Mennonites alone; but lately other churches send in their contributions. Some of the students receive support from the public fund; they are all intended for the Christian ministry. Thus provided with an educated ministry, they were placed on a more equal footing with the other Protestant bodies of the country. The names Oosterbaan, Stinstra, and Hesselink are mentioned with pride as theologians of Holland, and not simply as Mennonite ministers, by every Dutchman. In 1795 they were granted equality with the other Protestants, and soon after they began gradually to drop peculiar characteristics, so as to form substantially only one national body. In 1811 all Mennonites united in the formation of a society for the support and encouragement of theological education. In 1835 the tercentennial date of Menno's withdrawal from the Papal Church was unitedly observed by all his followers. A missionary society, sustaining three laborers in Java, is supported by all Mennonites, and so is the Teyler Theological Society at Harlem. According to the Mennonite " Year-Book" of 1850 (the last published by the denomination), they had then in Holland 127 congregations and 140 ministers, not counting the retired preachers and those engaged as professors.

The Mennonites in Germany, etc. — In Germany the Mennonites were rather numerous in the 17th century. In Moravia alone they counted some 70,000. They were expelled from that country by Ferdinand II in 1622, and, after a short stay in Hungary and Transylvania, finally found a resting- place in Russian territory (see below). The Mennonites were very largely represented in Eastern Prussia. They were particularly numerous at Dantzic, Marienburg, and Elbing. Their Dutch neatness and Dutch industry soon made these desolate and swampy regions to flourish like a garden. But almost incessant persecution largely reduced their number by emigration. In 1730 and in 1732 they were threatened with expatriation on account of their refusal to serve in the army; but the storm passed by, and king Frederick II gave them additional privileges-not, however, until the order had been Weakened by emigration. Gradually they increased again until 1789, when they were forbidden to purchase landed property. But, notwithstanding all difficulties, the Mennonites have remained, in part at least, on Prussian soil, particularly the valley of the Vistula, called " the Garden Spot of Prussia." Their number in all Germany is estimated at about 50,000.

The Mennonites in Russia. — Russia gladly availed herself of Prussia's intolerance, and did much to secure these valuable citizens for her own territory. Catharine II in 1786 had invited the Mennonites to Russia, along with other German colonists, and in 1789 228 families arrived in Russia, and between 1793 and 1796 there was an immigration of 118 more families. These all settled on and near the island of Khortitz, on the Lower Dnieper, below Tekaterinoslav. The conditions on which they came to Russia were: Protection from all attacks, freedom of worship, a gift of lands to the amount of 190 acres for each family, exemption from all taxes and imposts for ten years, money for their journey, and money and wood with which to establish themselves, freedom of trade and manufactures, the administration of oaths in their own way, and exemption forever from military service.! These privileges were confirmed by the emperor Paul, and extended to all Mennonites who should come thereafter. In spite, therefore, of the repeal and mitigation of the severe laws against them in Prussia, there was a continued and large immigration of Mennonites into Russia up to the year 1817. These colonists settled near their brethren in the government of Taurid, in the region between the rivers. Molotchna, Dnie per, and Tokmak, not far from the town of Berdiansk; From that time the Mennonites have gone on increasing and prospering, until they now number about 40,000 souls. They have always been protected and favored by the government, so that they have almost entirely governed themselves, and have preserved their German character and institutions intact. This they in great part owe to the character and efforts of Johann Cornies, who, up to his death in 1848, exercised a very powerful influence over them, though he held no office and no rank. Titles and orders were on several occasions offered to him by the imperial government, which highly appreciated his services, but they were always refused. His advice was several times asked by the minister of domains, and the governor-general of New Russia rarely took an important measure without first consulting Cornies. These Mennonites not only had their own schools and churches, and retained in their integrity the language, habits, and usages of their ancestors, but had a sort of self-government, each group of villages being under a governor appointed by themselves from their own ranks, who acted as the organ of communication between them and the general government. In 1861, the present czar (Alexander II) granted new lands and renewed all the old concessions to a colony of Mennonites who settled on the Volga. These lands, however, as also those ceded by Catharine, were not given in fee simple. The receivers were allowed to leave them to their children and to sell them to each other, but could not dispose of them to any other than a Mennonite without special permission of the government.

In our own day the attitude of the Russian government towards the Mennonites has decidedly changed, and a harsh and unfriendly spirit been manifested in regard to them. The sharp-sighted among them foresaw an invasion of their liberties from the tone of the Russian newspapers and the attitude of Russian officials. On June 4,1871, the expected blow came. An edict, addressed to all the colonists in the empire-German Lutherans and Roman Catholics, as well as Mennonites, Bulgarians, and others, to all of whom, as to the Mennonites, grants of lands and special privileges had been given-set the limit of ten years as the terminal period of exemption from military service, with the proviso that, as to furnishing recruits, the laws ruling colonists should remain in force only till the publication of a general law on military duty. Such a law might be promulgated at any day, and the Mennonites, with others, be obliged: to furnish recruits, in spite of their religious convictions against bearing arms. By the general law of Russia emigration is not permitted; but, for the benefit of the aggrieved colonists, ten years were given them in which to take themselves out of Russia,' if unwilling to come under the full intent of Russian law. After that time no emigration is to be permitted. Meanwhile some of the Mennonites had been busy making inquiries to guide them in the selection of new homes. Cornelius Jonsen, a leading Mennonite, acting as German consul at Berdiansk, had written letters to members of the sect in this country and Canada, asking information as to the advantage of America for settlement by their people. Very full and encouraging replies were received from John Funk, at Elkhart, Indiana, and from others in Canada, Pennsylvania, and the West. Jonsen had these letters printed, and distributed them, together with little pamphlets, telling of the attractions of America. So enthusiastic did the people become over the hope of freer and happier homes in the New World, that in a short time $20,000 was raised to aid a deputation to America, to visit its finest sections, and to return to Russia with a report of the result of their spying out of the land. The delegates sent were twelve in number, and left Russia for this country at various times from February to May, 1873, and the result is manifest in the large arrival of this people, who have purchased lands on the Western prairies, and in some of our Southern states. The; probability is that all the Mennonites of Russia will settle in the United States.

Those Mennonites who, after their emigration to Russia, settled in the Crimea, and there lived on land bought by themselves, and not included in the grants of either Catharine or Alexander, are likewise emigrating to this country. An advance guard of some thirty families, who were able to sell their estates at once, quitted the Russian territory and arrived here Aug. 15 (1873). They are essentially German, still speaking the language of the land they were obliged to leave nearly a century ago, and are from' the villages of Friedenstein (" Stone of Peace") and Bruderfeld ("Brother's Field"), in the Crimea, in the-neighborhood of the Black Sea. They marry only within their own Church. A correspondent of the New York Tribune writes-from St. Petersburg, under date of April 19 (1873), concerning this people: "That the Mennonites are thrifty, industrious, and economical, their prosperity is sufficient proof. They are, besides this, very clean, neat, and orderly (a lady could go into every peasant's stable), and quiet, contented, honest, moral, and deeply religious. There is no drunkenness or gambling among them. Crime is exceedingly rare. The latest statistics I can find are dated 1841, and those show that for 37 years there were only 88 crimes in the Mennonite of on Molotchna, including about 12,000 people. Of these crimes, 41 sprang from the sexual relation, and 9 were thefts; all the rest were minor offences, such as disobedience to the authorities. Besides all this, the Mennonites are educated. Every :child knows how to read and write; in every village there is a school. The Bible and other religious books are, of course, to be found in every house. The Mennonites were visited by Haxthausen in 1843. and by Petzholdt in 1855, and both travellers bear testimony to the worth and the prosperity of the colonists. Petzholdt says: 'It is my firm conviction that Russia possesses no more useful or more industrious citizens than the Mennonites.' Up to this time the Mennonites have always been loyal subjects to Russia. They have never been remiss in their taxes; and during the Crimean War sent large voluntary gifts of grain and provender to the besieged army. It is only because the privileges granted to them are infringed, and they will be compelled to enter the army against their conscience, that they now wish to emigrate from Russia."

The Mennonites in the United States. — These newcomers are not by any. means the first Mennonites in the United States. They came as early as 1683. Holding much in common with the Friends, the Mennonites received an invitation from William Penn to settle in the new province of Pennsylvania. Many accepted the kind offer of the Quaker leader, and in little more than half a century the sect had migrated to the number of about 500 families. In 1708 a school and meeting-house were erected by them in Germantown, Pa. In the following year another colony was established in what is now known as Lancaster County, Pa. Other emigrations followed in 1711,1717,1727, and 1733 successively. In 1735 there were nearly if not quite 500 families settled in Lancaster County. Afterwards their. families settled also in various parts of Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, New York, and Canada; and. they are now found in nearly every part of the Union and of Canada, though they are most numerously presented in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. It is difficult to arrive at their whole number, as they keep, no accessible records for that purpose, believing public displays of this nature to be only one of the vanities of denominations, and of no good service, as the Great Head of the Church well sees and knows how many are his. They probably number, however, as nearly as can be ascertained, about 350 ministers and 66,000 members. They have a publishing- house at Elkhart, Indiana. Their bishops, ministers, and deacons meet semi-annually in district conferences for the purpose of learning the state of the Church, and deliberating upon suggested methods for advancing her spiritual prosperity.' Their religious views are similar to those held by their brethren in Europe. They have, however, distinguishing peculiarities. Their office-bearers-bishops, ministers, and deacons are all of them chosen by lot. Their pastors give their services gratuitously. Their views and character as a body meeting with much misrepresentation, and exciting considerable prejudice against them, they translated and published at Philadelphia, in 1727, their Confession of Faith. For details, see American Christian Record, p. 145 sq.

Besides the Old Mennonites, there are in America:

1. The Reformed or Strict Mennonites, who in 1811 branched off from the parent American body. They follow strictly the injunctions Of Simon Menno in regard to foot-washing, non-resistance of evil, abstinence from oaths, and separation from all excommunicated persons. This sect numbers not more than 4000, and is confined chiefly to Pennsylvania, where it first originated. Their doctrines are too rigid for general acceptance, and they progress but slowly. They are a worthy, honest, and exemplary people.

2. The New Mennonites, numbering about 10,000, organized in 1847 by J. H. Oberholtzer and ten other ministers of the Old Mennonites in Eastern Pennsylvania. They introduced various reforms, and spread rapidly, not only in Pennsylvania, but in other states, and were the first Mennonites to found a theological seminary, located at Wadsworth, Ohio. In 1872 they had three teachers and twenty-two pupils They also have a publishing- house at Milford Square, Pa.

3. The Evangelical Mennonites, organized from the preceding body in 1856, who hold stated meetings for prayer as a Christian necessity. They number only about 300.

4. The Omish Mennonites, numbering about 22,500, followers of Jacob Amman, of Alsace, and very much like the Reformed. They discard the use of buttons on their clothes, substituting the hook, and hence are frequently called Hookers.

The Mennonites all over the world count probably 300,000. Their oldest authoritative "Confession of Faith" dates from 1580, entitled De Waterlandsche Belydenis; in 1591 was published the Concept von Koln; in 1617, De Friesche Belydenis; and later (1766), the most complete and generally accepted Confession-was prepared by John Ries, preacher of the Waterlanders in Alcmar, and by Lubbert Gerard, in Latin (comp. Schyn, 2:78, 279; 1:172).

For information respecting the Mennonites, see Ottus, Annales Anabaptistici (Basle, 1672, 4to); Grundiche Historie von den Begebenheiten, Streitigkeiten, und Trennungen, so unter den Tvaufgesinnten bis 1615 vorgegangen (from the Dutch of Van Gent), by Jehring (Jena, 1720); Schyn, [Hist. Christianorum, qui in Belgio foderato Mennonitce appellantur (Amstelod. 1725); id., Historice Mennonittarum plenior Deductio (Amsterd. 1729), which is a defence of the sect, and in which the author protests against their being confounded with the Anabaptists; Van Huyzen, Epitome doctr. Mennonitarus ; Botsace, Wiederbelebung der Wiedertufferischen Lehre; Crichton, Gesch. der. Mennoniten; Starck, Gesch. d. Taufe u. Taufgesinnten; V. Reiswitz u. Wadzeck, Glaubensbekenntniss der Mennoniten u. Nachricht von ihren Colonieen nebst Lebensbeschreib. Menno Simonis (Berl. 1824)_; Reiswitz, Beitrage zur Kenntniss der Mennoniten (Breslau, 1829); Blaupot Ten Cate, Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Friesland, Holland, Zeeland, etc. (Amsterd. 1837-50); Cornelius, Gesch. d. Miinstersch.

Aufruhrs (Leips. 1855); Wigandus, In Dognatibus Anabaptistarum; Hase, Neue Propheten; De Bussiere, Les Anabaptistes (Paris, 1853); Rues, Gegenwdrtiger Zustand der Mennoniten; Moshelm, Ecclesiastes Hist. cent. xvi, § iii, pt. ii, c. 3; and cent. xvii, § ii, pt. ii, c. 5 (it is to be wished that Mosheimn had written the history of this sect in a spirit of greater candor); Gieseler, Ecclesiastes Hist. 4:371.sq.; Mohler, Symbolics, p. 355 sq.; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, vol. ii (see Index); and Van Oosterzee, in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. vol. ix, s.v.

 
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