Menno Simons was an Anabaptist religious leader in Freisland. Today this area is a province of The Netherlands. Menno was an influential leader of the Anabaptist movement but he did not found the Mennonite Church. The Anabaptist movement was begun by Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and George Blourock in Zurich, Switzerland, eleven years before Menno renounced the Roman Church.
Menno’s followers were first nicknamed Mennists and later became known as Mennonites. Menno had hoped and begged that people would not use his name to identify themselves. His plea was that they name Christ.
Menno grew up in a poor peasant home in the small village of Witmarsum. His exact birth day remains unknown but the year was about 1496. Historians conjecture that his parents were dairy farmers. Little else is known about his childhood. His last name Simons (Simonszoon), is patronymic meaning “Simon’s son”. This indicates his father’s first name was probably Simon. Menno had a wife named Gertrude and they had at least three children; two daughters and a son. Menno had a brother, Peter Simons, who died among a group of Anabaptists, killed in the Netherlands about one year before Menno left the Roman Catholic church. Menno separated from his mother church because of divergent views especially those of infant baptism versus believers baptism.
As a Roman Catholic priest Menno learned Latin and some Greek. In or around the years 1526 or 1527, Menno had begun to hold serious questions about the doctrine of transubstantiation. These doubts caused Menno to begin in-depth study of the scriptures which he confessed he had never studied before, even though he was a priest, for fear he would be seduced. Menno later called himself stupid for this. He was first confronted with the teaching of believers baptism in 1531 at the age of 35. Menno said, “this teaching sounded very strange to me.”
Menno’s ongoing search of scriptures led him forward to support and believe also that infant baptism was not scriptural. During this time when Menno was discussing these questions with his church clergy, and reading the works of Martin Luther and other reformers, he was transferred as priest to Witmarsum. There he came into contact with Anabaptists who practiced believers baptism. When his brother, Peter, was martyred for his faith, Menno faced a spiritual and mental crisis causing him to pray fervently. He said he “prayed to God with sighs and tears that He [God] 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 officially rejected the Roman Catholic Church on January 12, 1536. His baptismal date is unknown although two men are known to have been arrested and charged that same month for lodging Menno, meaning he was probably baptized in January of 1536. Menno cast his lot and formally aligned himself with the Anabaptists from that time forward. Menno was ordained around 1537 by Obbe Philips.
Menno was extremely zealous and outspoken for truth. He lived contemporary with the Munsterite movement. Although Menno rejected the violence the Munterites advocated and taught, believing it was soundly un-scriptural, he always admired their zeal. Through his zealous preaching, teaching and writing he quickly rose to become admired and trusted by Anabaptist brethren. His theology focused on separation from this world, and baptism by faith in Christ. His famous writings include Why I do not Cease Teaching and Writing. The opening verse in this thesis is Isaiah 62:1,2 “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory...” Menno pens profoundly in this same piece “...true evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded...”
Menno was often sought by his opponents and enemies, but never apprehended. He lived for twenty-five years after his renunciation of the Rome church, dying on January 31, 1561, at Wüstenfelde, Holstein. He was buried in the garden at his own house.
Menno’s influence upon 16th century Anabaptists in the Low Countries, namely the Dutch Brethren was powerful and dynamic. One historian has suggested that Dutch Anabaptist history be divided into three distinct periods, “before Menno, under Menno, and after Menno”. Menno’s influence in Anabaptist churches came during very troublesome days of persecution and doctrinal instability. He not only helped sustain the early post reformation Anabaptist church, but also established it as a radical movement with an emphasis on unifying doctrine.
It is sad to notice that those who claim his name often fail to adhere to his passionate zeal and commitment to truth and practical faith.
— Greencastle PA