Above: Menno Simons
Image in the Public Domain
MENNO SIMONS (1496-JANUARY 31, 1561)
Konrad Grebel (circa 1498-1526), an erstwhile disciple of Ulrich Zwingli, founded the Swiss Brethren and the Anabaptist movement on January 21, 1525. Swiss authorities persecuted and all but eradicated the Swiss Brethren; Zwingli was among the persecutors. Felix Manz became the first Anabaptist martyr on January 5, 1527, when his punishment for rebaptizing people was drowning. The Anabaptist movement spread into The Netherlands. The movement also fragmented into four major sects and lacked coherent theological and ethical standards. It was coming apart at the seams.
Menno Simons provided the standards and stability the Anabaptist movement needed to survive and thrive. He had been a Dutch Roman Catholic priest in the village of Pingium, starting in 1524. He began to experience major theological doubts, though. Was Transubstantiation true? And was infant baptism valid? So the priest studied the Bible and the writings of Martin Luther for answers. (Luther defended the validity of infant baptism. If it were invalid, he argued, there had not been any Christians in Europe for about 1000 years. I find that argument convincing.) Simons became an Anabaptist in January 1536 and a preacher the following year. His writings became foundational for the Anabaptist movement. He was so vital to the movement that many Anabaptists adopted the label “Mennonite.”
Simons, an active missioner, moved around much, starting in 1541. He died at Wustenfield, Holstein, on January 31, 1561. He was 64 or 65 years old.
I disagree with our saint on many theological points. I am, in fact, an Episcopalian with strong Lutheran and Roman Catholic tendencies. Both Transubstantiation and infant baptism make sense to me. Furthermore, I recognize no need to rebaptize anyone baptized in the Trinitarian formula. None of these facts prevents me from honoring Menno Simons, however. He was, I conclude, a servant of God who had a vital witness to Jesus Christ in the world. That witness continues via the Anabaptist movement, which he stabilized.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 25, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS
THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING
Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Menno Simons,
through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.
Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,
whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2016), page 60