Monday, June 23, 2008

David Joris and other Dutch Anabaptists

Once again I am going to write something about David Joris, the leader of the Jorists who was an Anabaptist but never became a Mennonite. In fact Menno Simons condemned him in no uncertain terms. In the face of persectuion Joris spiritualized the faith to such an extent that he could hide out in Basel as a Dutch Reformed leader, pretending to be something he was not. He was apparently fabulously wealthy, with the mansion I already showed you before, several farm properties, including one in a remote location for meeting his followers, and then also the castle above. I assume he bought the castle because he could. I spoke to an employee of the restaurant that now operates in the castle, the Schloss Biningen, and she also claims that David Joris' ghost is here as well as his mansion where the Swiss Federal Railways office is now. Maybe he still travels between the two.
I am finally getting to the point where I can "show and tell" about the Amish. But before I do that I need to talk a little about Dutch Anabaptists because they played a surprising role in the division between the Amish and the Reist factions of the Swiss Brethren.
The Dutch Anabaptists have a somewhat deserved reputation, in my opinion, of having all kinds of strange groups among them. And so they are the ones who took over the city of Munster, and had what was generally considered a reign of terror, though I don't know much about it. Perhaps the main terror to the other Christians was that the Anabaptists were in charge, not them. But the Munsterities did expel all those who were not baptized. They believed that Munster was the New Jerusalem. They took up arms and eventually also polygamy.

It was the Munster debacle that led the Roman Catholic priest Menno Simons to become an Anabaptist. He wanted to guide them in a more Biblical and peaceful direction. Perhaps it is the existence of all these different groups and beliefs that led Menno to shunning. This practice is that when a member of the church remains in sin, they should not only be excommunicated from the church's communion, but also shunned. Christians should have nothing to do with them.
Another influence for shunning from Menno was his view of Jesus not having the flesh of Mary, but a special celestial flesh. From an orthodox perspective this is heretical, not identifying Jesus as fully human. And so also Menno's view of the church is that it ought to be celestial, without spot or wrinkle.
Of course shunning doesn't really solve factions as much as create new ones. So Dutch Anabaptists had several major splits in their history, but in 1632 the Flemish and Old Flemish factions came together with the Dordrecht Confession of Faith. Menno is long dead by now but his influence continues. The view of Christ is not clearly defined, allowing for some to keep Menno's view of the incarnation. Also there is an article on the ban and then another article on the shunning of the ban. So clearly it was an important issue.
By the mid-1600s something else was happening as well. The Dutch were no longer persecuted. They still had a few restrictions but in general they were richer and more liberal than their Reformed neighbors. This was the golden age of the Dutch Anabaptists, and it was during this time also that Thieleman J. van Braght, concerned about the worldliness setting in among the Dutch Anabaptists, wrote his Martyrs Mirror to remind them of their heritage as a persecuted people and the importance of keeping the faith.
At the same time the Swiss Anabaptists continued to be persecuted. The Swiss and the Dutch at times came together as in Strasbourg, but in general their contact had been limited. But the Dutch used their power and money to help their Swiss brothers and sisters. They put pressure on the Swiss governments to ease their persecution.
As I mentioned earlier, at the time of the late 1600s they were not executing Anabaptists. Rather they were confiscating their property and forcing them into exile. Of course some returned anyway.
The Dutch had only partial influence on the Swiss governments. They talked Zurich into allowing the Anabaptists to leave with the proceeds from the sale of their property. Then they talked the Zurichers into leaving Switzerland for Alsace. It was these ex-Zurichers and some of the Alsatians who had been there for years who signed a German edition of the Dordrecht Confession, calling it theirs as well.
And when the Bernese government wanted an explanation of the faith of the Swiss Anabaptists, they decided to provide Dordrecht as well. However the Swiss had remained orthodox on the incarnation of Jesus and had never practiced the shunning of the banned, nor footwashing, all things that were different about Dordrecht. Of course the Swiss really didn't do careful theology, so their view of the incarnation is hard to say.
A couple of other differences between Dordrecht and the Swiss outlook. Dordrecht had a more hierarchical view of authority, with bishops, etc. The Swiss had ministers appointed by their congregations and leaders were accustomed to consulting with their congregations on issues. Dordrecht said that if you go to a city and they mistreat you, then go to another city, quoting Matt. 10:14ff. The Swiss said, quoting Psalm 24, "The earth is the Lord's," ie, it doesn't belong to the lords of Bern and they can't tell us what to do with the land the Lord has given us. We're staying.
Well, so now you have the background that brings us to the point of the division within the Swiss Anabaptists, or Swiss Brethren as they are generally called, the division between Jacob Ammann and Hans Reist, or between the Amish and the Reistians.
I will finally mention that the second photo is also from Basel. It is of the Holeestrasse Mennonite congregation. This congregation was given permission to build a building in 1847, making it the oldest church building that was not a state church. This is a new building, but at the same location. Interestingly enough, this congregation was an Amish congregation, until they liberalized enough to become a Mennonite congregation. But more on that later.


Jodi said...

Doug, Your blog is great. I have learned a lot, very interesting. I also like the pictures. Jodi B.

Doug Kaufman said...

Hi Jodi,

Thanks a lot for reading it. I'm enjoying writing about this stuff because I find it interesting. The more I learn the richer it becomes, with all the personalities, strengths and weaknesses. I also love visiting these beautiful places.

t.a.drescher said...

Nice shot with the bike.