Menno, Simon one of the "shining lights" of the 16th century, a Reformer whose apostolic spirit and labors have thus far failed to receive the recognition they deserve, probably because of the relation he sustained to that peculiar sect of Christians called after him, Mennonites (q.v.).
Life. — The early history of Menno is somewhat obscured; it has not yet been definitely determined when he was born. The year generally fixed upon is 1498; his friends of the Netherlands believe it to have occurred in 1496, but Gobel, the noted German Church historian, holds that Menno saw the light of day in 1505 (Gesch. d. christl. Lebens in d. Rhein. Westph. evangel. Kirche, 1:191). His native place was the little village of Witmarsum, in Friesland. I He was reared and educated under the influence of the Church, and finally decided to devote his life to her service. In 1524 he took orders as priest, and was located at the village of Pingium. His religious condition at this time was anything but 'desirable. "He was," we are told, "in utter darkness of mind and worldliness of spirit, yet not without some tenderness of conscience and apparent piety." In 1530 he was induced to examine the New Testament with diligence, in consequence of doubts concerning transubstantiation. He now became through grace gradually enlightened, his preaching changed, and he was called by some an evangelical preacher, though he says of himself, "At that time the world loved me; and I the world." His preaching found favor among the people, and he gained daily in popularity. In 1531 finally came the turning-point which resulted il' his 'departure from the mother Church. In this year he witnessed the martyrdom of Sieke Snyder, at Leeuwarden, for Anabaptism. This severity towards one who had dared to differ for conscience sake rather enlisted his sympathy, roused him to a similar inquiry concerning the sacrament of Baptism, and resulted in his embracing the views of the persecuted Baptists, though he for several years struggled to. suppress his secret convictions, on account of the odium and suffering which the avowal must incur. "By the gracious favor of God." he observes "I have acquired my knowledge, as well of baptism' as of the Lord's Supper; through the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, attendant on my much reading and contemplating the Scriptures, and not through the efforts and means of seducing sects, as I am accused." Mosheim has taken advantage of this hesitating course on the part of Menno after his conversion to the cause of the Anabaptists, and has accused our subject of duplicity, as guilty of having held "clandestine intercourse with the Anabaptists" until he found it convenient. "to throw off the mask." This, however, is unjust and cruel. Menno was never truly an Anabaptist. He never sympathized with the excesses committed at Minster and elsewhere (for he actually published a. sever e censure against the erroneous opinions and vile practices of John of Leyden in 1535), and his views of baptism were so peculiar that to this day the Mennonites stand alone in their mode of observing this sacrament. The only thing he held in common with the Anabaptists was opposition to infant baptism. Menno, however, associated quite freely with the Anabaptists, and exerted a most salutary influence over them, making many friends among that sect. In 1537 he was actually invited by a number of Anabaptists of Groningen to assume among them the rank and functions of a public teacher; and as he looked upon the persons who made this proposal as exempt from the fanatical frenzy of their brethren at Miinster, he yielded to their entreaties. His conversion from Romanism he himself alludes to in the following strain: "I besought my God with sighing and tears that to me, a troubled sinner, he would grant the gift of his grace; that he would endue me with wisdom, spirit, frankness, and manly fortitude, so that I might preach his worthy name and holy word unadulterated, and proclaim his truth to his praise. At length the great and gracious Lord, perhaps after the course of nine months, extended to me his fatherly spirit, help, and mighty hand, so that I freely abandoned at once my character, honor, and fame, which I had among men, as also my antichristian abominations, mass, infant baptism, loose and careless life, and all, and put myself willingly in all trouble and poverty under the pressing cross of Christ my Lord. In my weakness I feared God; I sought pious people, and of these I found some, though few, in good zeal and doctrine. I disputed with the perverted, and some I gained through God's help and power, and led them by his word to the Lord Christ; but the stiff-necked and obdurate I commended to the Lord. . Thus has the gracious Lord drawn me, through the free favor of his great grace. He first stirred in my heart: he has given me a new mind; he has humbled me in his fear; he has led me from the way of death, and, through mere mercy, has called me upon the narrow path of life into the company of the saints. To him be praise forever. Amen." According to Van Oosterzee (in Herzog's Real-Encyklopadie, 9:339 sq.), Menno was led to separation from Rome by the cruel treatment of the Anabaptists in 1535. Many of the sufferers at this time had been hearers of the word of God as dispensed by Menno, and had been made disciples of the new sect by his declarations against infant baptism and the opinion of a "real presence" in the Eucharist. Indeed, his own brother had suffered a martyr's death on this occasion, and this may have contributed in no small measure to the decided step which Menno took shortly after.
With Menno's appointment to the ministry of a class of "Anabaptists" at Groningen opens the most eventful period of his life's work. His withdrawal from the Church of Rome relieved him of the vow of celibacy, and he made haste to select a companion for life, by whom he had several children. All these things would make it appear that Menno settled quietly at Groningen, and there enjoyed life's ease. But this is not the record of Simon Menno. Anxious to spread the Reformed doctrines, and more especially his own peculiar views of the Bible's teachings, he travelled constantly far and near. He visited not only all Friesland, but traversed Holland and Germany, determined to make new converts, and to organize and unite the scattered members of the Anabaptists into his own fold. Although oftentimes exposed to persecution, he nevertheless continued steadfast in the work. When he found it impossible to remain any longer in Friesland he removed to Wismar; finally he settled at Oldeslohe, in Holstein, where he was granted not only protection, but even encouragement, and was allowed to establish a printing-press for the diffusion of his religious opinions. There he died, January 13, 1561, in the satisfaction of having gathered a large and flourishing sect, which continues to this day. SEE MENNONITES.
Menno as a Protestant.-Mosheim (Ecclesiastes Hist. 16th century) thus speaks of Menno's labors after his establishment at Groningen as a Protestant minister: "East and West Friesland, with the province of Groningen, were first visited by this zealous apostle of the Anabaptists; whence he directed his. course into Holland, Guelderland, Brabant, and Westphalia; continued ,it through the German provinces that lie on the coast of the Baltic Sea, and penetrated so far as Livonia. In all these places his ministerial labors were attended with remarkable success, and added to his sect a prodigious number of followers. Hence he is deservedly considered as the common chief of almost all the Anabaptists, and the parent of the sect that still subsists under that denomination." As Mosheim persists in mentioning Menno in connection with the Anabaptists, and as the public is prejudiced against all who were known under that name, we think it but just to insert here Menno's own account of his labors: "Through our feeble service, teaching, and simple writing, with the careful deportment, labor, and help of our faithful brethren, the great and mighty God has made so known and public, in many cities and lands, the word of true repentance, the word of his grace and power, together with the wholesome use of his holy sacraments, and has given such growth to his churches, and endued them with such invincible strength, that not only many proud, stout hearts have become humble, the impure chaste, the drunken temperate, the covetous liberal, the cruel kind, the godless godly, but also, for the testimony which they bear, they faithfully give up their property to confiscation, and their bodies to" torture and to death; as has occurred again and again to the present hour. These can be no fruits nor marks of false doctrine (with that God does not co-operate); nor under such oppression and misery could anything have stood so long were it not the power and word of the Almighty. See, this is our calling, doctrine, and fruit of our service, for which we are so horribly calumniated, and persecuted with so much enmity. Whether all the prophets, apostles, and true servants of God did not through their service also produce the like fruits, we would gladly let all the pious judge. He who bought me with the blood of his love, and called me to his service, unworthy as I am, searches me, and knows that I seek neither gold and goods, nor luxury, nor ease on earth, but only my Lord's glory, my salvation, and the souls of many immortals. Wherefore I have had, now the eighteenth year, to endure so excessive anxiety, oppression, trouble, sorrow, and persecution, with my poor, feeble wife and little offspring, that I have stood in jeopardy of my life and in many a fear. Yes, while the priests lie on soft beds and cushions, we must hide ourselves commonly in secret corners. While they at all nuptials and christenings, and other times, make themselves merry in public with fifes, drums, and various kinds of music, we must look out for every dog, lest he be one employed to catch us. Instead of being greeted by all as doctors and masters, we must be called Anabaptists, clandestine holders- forth, deceivers, and heretics. In short, while for their services they are rewarded in princely style, with great emoluments and good days, our reward and portion must be fire, sword, and death. What now I, and my true coadjutors in this very difficult, hazardous service, have sought, or could have sought, all the well-disposed may easily estimate from the work itself and its fruit. I will then humbly entreat the faithful and candid reader once more, for Jesus's sake, to receive in love this my forced acknowledgment of my enlightening, and make of it a suitable application. I have presented it out of great necessity, that the pious reader may know how it has happened, since I am on all sides calumniated and falsely accused, as if I were ordained and called to this service by a seditious and misleading sect. Let-him that fears God read and judge." In the article ANABAPTISTS we have already alluded to the general mistake of supposing that all Anabaptists were engaged in the Munster excesses, and that usually persons fail to make a distinction between the sober Christians and the worst fanatics of the party. In our sketch of the life and labors of David Joris (qv.), we had occasion to point out the earnestness which characterized his followers of the " Anabaptists ;" but it is in this place that we would enlist our reader's attention to the injustice of suffering a whole sect to be despised and forsaken because of the faults of a few who may have secured membership in order to make their religious garb a stepping-stone to abused power. The two large Protestant bodies of Lutheran and Reformed have always been characterized by jealousy towards any new sects, and have quickly charged their weaker rivals with all the infirmities which flesh is heir to, if any one member of the new comers was open to criticism. Even in our very day the Methodists and Baptists suffer more or less persecution from the communicants of the State churches in Germany; how much more likely in those days of the 16th century, when first the iron hold of the papacy, which had cramped the Church for ages, was suddenly relaxing. From all the sources now at our command, we gather the fact that Menno was a gentle, earnest, modest man, of a. spiritual nature, with no trace about him of wild fanaticism; ready to encourage all that was noble, pure, and good in his fellow-men, constantly reproving those of his followers who appeared guilty of misdemeanors of any sort. Flourishing in the Reformation period, he was frequently involved in controversies; thus hi 1543 he was visited by the celebrated John a Lasko, who was determined to draw Menno into the party of the Reformed or Lutherans. For three or four days the two eminent divines held public disputations upon Christ's humanity, infant baptism, etc., etc., but so gentle was Menno in his manner that at the close of the controversy the two combatants parted in peace, promising good- will towards each other. In 1550 he published a special tract to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against the Unitarians, who were coming to his country from Italy and Switzerland; in 1552, A thorough Confession on Disputed Points, for the use of other religious bodies than his own.
Result of Menno's Labors. — The whole system of theology as taught by Simon Menno presents few, if any, new developments. In his controversies with John i Lasko and Micronius, he confessed a peculiar Christology. He did not believe in a Son sundered and divided into two persons ("zerstiickelt oder zertheilt") of a human and divine nature. He confessed one and the same Son and Only-begotten, who in his very flesh is the God Logos, who in his flesh came down from heaven, and in very flesh became man. He believed that Christ, in this way, was born in Mary, but not of Mary; that he became flesh, and was made man, without taking upon him Mary's flesh and blood. Anxious to ascribe to our Lord the highest purity possible, he seems to have indulged in speculations which rendered the reality of Christ's human nature somewhat doubtful. He probably borrowed this vague notion from the Munster Anabaptists. As a writer of systematic theology, Simon Menno was inferior to most of his contemporaries, and his main work, Das Fundamentbuch (1539), showshis want of adaptedness to a systematic treatment of religious doctrines. Following the example of the apostles, he taught his followers, as the occasion required, in a simple, childlike way, and never allowed himself to be drawn into abstruse, or even abstract questions, when preaching to them. A complete and systematic statement of his doctrines was never given by Simon Menno, and the great influence which he and his followers exercised on the internal and external history of the Reformation was due to the principle they represented.
Like the other Protestant Reformers, Menno accepted the formal and material principles of the Reformation; but, besides these, he aimed at a moral, practical end. It was his earnest desire to restore the kingdom of God, or the Christian Church, to that purity which is taught in the New Testament, and which he believed had existed in the Apostolic Church. To bring back this golden age of Christianity, and to organize a congregation μὴ ἔχουσαν σπῖλον, ἢ ῥυτίδα, ἤ τι τῶν τοιούτων (Eph 5:27), was the constant aim of all his efforts. This accounts for the singular asceticism of the sect, and explains why the Mennonites did not, like other evangelical bodies, concern themselves about abstract religious speculations, but about moral laws and duties. For the same reasons they also separated themselves from the unbelieving world, and tried to purify the Church by administering the ordinance of baptism only to those who had made a personal profession of faith in Christ. The validity of infant baptism was rejected, while only adults "who do actually profess repentance towards God and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ" were considered proper subjects of this ordinance. We quote here article seven of a Mennonite Confession of Faith: "We confess of baptism that all repenting believers, who by faith, regeneration, and renewal of heart by the Holy Spirit, have been united with God, and whose names are written down in heaven, are to be baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to show forth in. a solemn and beautiful emblem their faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Redeemer, with its effect to live up to whatsoever things Christ taught his followers." The necessity of the power of excommunication in the Church was earnestly asserted by Menno, "for without the right usage of excommunication the spiritual kingdom of God on earth cannot exist intact in purity and piety. A Church without the proper apostolical ban or excommunication is like a city without walls or gates, like a field or garden without a fence, or like a house without walls or doors. For without it the Church would stand open to all seducers and evil-doers, to idolators and wilfully persistent sinners.". He insisted upon excommunication to such an extent that members of his congregation at Wismar who had listened to the sermons of Lutheran clergymen were excommunicated as if they had committed public crimes, or indulged in gross passions.
The works of Simon Menno, of which-the last were printed in his own printing establishment, were published collectively in 1600, under the title Sommaria of Byllnvergadering van sommige schriftelyke Bekentenissen des geloofs, mitsgaders eenige waarachtige Verant woordingen, gedaan door Menno Simons. It was, however, a very imperfect compilation; much better was that of 1646, 4to; but the best appeared in 1681, in sm. fol., at Amsterdam, entitled Olpea omnia theologica, of al de Godgeleerde weoken van Menno Sinonis, etc.
Besides the histories on his' followers, quoted in the article MENNONITES, see Biographie des Protest. celibres (Paris), 2:59-70; Cramer, Het leven an de verrigtingen von Menno Simons (Amst. 1837), perhaps the most important work to be consulted; Harder, Leben Menno Simons (Konigsb. 1846); Roosen, Menno Simnons den evan. gelischen Mennonitengenieinden geschildert (Leipsic, 1848). (J. H. W.)