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Menno Simons (1496 – 31 January 1561) was a Dutch Anabaptist religious leader from the Friesland region of the Low Countries. Simons was a contemporary of the Protestant Reformers and his followers became known as Mennonites.


Early life

Menno Simons was born in 1496 in Witmarsummarker, Friesland. He grew up in a poor peasant environment, but very little is known concerning his childhood and family. His last name Simons (or Simonszoon) is a Dutch patronymic, meaning "Simon's son", indicating his father's first name was Simon. He might have had a brother named Peter Simons.

Simons grew up in a disillusioned and war torn country. Friesland was ravaged by war in the late 15th and early 16th century. Landsknecht soldiers haunted the Frisian lands in the 1490s to force the 'Free' Frisians to accept the duke of Saxony-Meissenmarker as their head-of-state. The duke was the governor of the Netherlands for the Habsburg family. One of the archenemies of the Habsburgs, the Duke of Guelders, invaded Friesland in 1515 and conquered half of it. The other half was ceded by Saxony to the Habsburgs. The Frisians tried to regain their freedom but they were too weak and eventually accepted the imperial authority of the Habsburg emperor Charles V.

Simons learned Latin and some Greek and he was taught about the Latin Church Fathers during his training to become a priest. Before or during this training, he had never read the Bible, out of fear that he would be seduced, once he would do this. When he later reflected about this period, he called himself stupid.

Roman Catholic Church

He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1515 or 1516 at Utrechtmarker, he was then made a chaplain in his father's village Pingjummarker (1524).

Around 1526 or 1527, questions surrounding the doctrine of transubstantiation caused Menno Simons to begin a serious and in-depth search of the scriptures, which he confessed he had not previously studied, even being a priest. At this time he arrived at what some have termed an "evangelical humanist" position.

Menno's first knowledge of the concept of "rebaptism", which he said "sounded very strange to me", came in 1531. This came through the means of hearing of the beheading of Sicke Freerks Snijder at Leeuwardenmarker for being "rebaptized". A renewed search of the scriptures left Menno Simons believing that infant baptism is not in the Bible. He discussed the issue with his pastor, searched the Church Fathers, and read the works of Martin Luther and Heinrich Bullinger. While still pondering the issue, he was transferred to Witmarsum. Here he came into direct contact with Anabaptists, preaching and practicing believer's baptism. Later, some of the Münsterite disciples came there as well. While he regarded them as misled and fanatical, he was drawn to their zeal and their view on the Bible, the Church, and discipleship. When his brother Pieter was among a group of Anabaptists killed near Bolswardmarker in 1535, Menno experienced a spiritual and mental crisis. He said he "prayed to God with sighs and tears that He would give to me, a sorrowing sinner, the gift of His grace, create within me a clean heart, and graciously through the merits of the crimson blood of Christ, he would graciously forgive my unclean walk and unprofitable life..."


Menno Simons rejected the Catholic church and the priesthood on 12 January 1536, casting his lot with the Anabaptists. His date of baptism is unknown, but by October of 1536 his connection with Anabaptism was well-known. In that month Herman and Gerrit Jans were arrested and charged with having lodged Simons. He was probably baptized not long after leaving Witmarsum in early 1536. He was ordained around 1537 by Obbe Philips. Obbe and his brother, Dirk Philips, were among the peaceful disciples of Melchior Hoffman (the more radical having set up the kingdom in Münstermarker). It was Hoffman who introduced the first self-sustaining Anabaptism to the Netherlands, when he taught and practiced believers' baptism in Emdenmarker in East Frisia. Menno Simons rejected the violence advocated by the Münster movement, believing it was not Scriptural. His theology was focused on separation from this world, and baptism by repentance symbolized this.

Menno evidently rose quickly to become a man of influence. Before 1540, David Joris, an Anabaptist of the "inspirationist" variety, had been the most influential leader in the Netherlands. By 1544, the term Mennonite or Mennist was used in a letter to refer to the Dutch Anabaptists.

Twenty-five years after his renunciation of Catholicism, Menno died on 31 January 1561 at Wüstenfelde, Holstein, and was buried in his garden. He was married to a woman named Gertrude, and they had at least three children, two daughters and a son.


Menno Simons (1854)
Menno Simons influence on Anabaptism in the Low Countries was so great that Baptist historian William Estep suggested that their history be divided into three periods: "before Menno, under Menno, and after Menno". He is especially significant in coming to the Anabaptist movement in the north in its most troublesome days, and helping not only to sustain it, but also to establish it as a viable Radical Reformation movement.


  • Dat Fundament des Christelycken leers (1539-40; Foundation of Christian Doctrine)
  • Van de Geestlijke Verrijsenisse (ca. 1536; The Spiritual Resurrection)
  • De nieuwe Creatuere (ca. 1537; The New Birth)
  • Christelycke leringhen op den 25. Psalm (ca. 1538; Meditation on the Twenty-Fifth Psalm)


  1. Menno's life. Menno Retrieved on 2009-04-15.
  2. Menno Simons (1496-1561). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  3. Menno Simons' uitgang uit het Pausdom.. Digital library for Dutch literature. Retrieved on 2009-04-20.
  4. Menno's Foundation-Book. Menno Retrieved on 2009-04-15.


  • Dutch Anabaptism: Origin, Spread, Life and Thought (1450–1600), by Cornelius Krahn
  • The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, by William Roscoe Estep ISBN 0-8028-0886-7
  • The Complete Writings of Menno Simons..., translated by Leonard Verduin and edited by John C. Wenger, with a biography by Harold S. Bender ISBN 0-8361-1353-5

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