Protestant denomination of Europe and America which arose in Switzerland in the sixteenth century
Mennonites, a Protestant denomination of Europe and America which arose in Switzerland in the sixteenth century and derived its name from Menno Simons, its leader in Holland. Menno Simons was born in 1492 at Witmarsum in Friesland. In 1515 or1516 he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood and appointed assistant at Pingjum not far from Witmarsum. Later (1532) he was named pastor of his native place, but January 12, 1536, resigned his charge and became an Anabaptist elder. The rest of his life was devoted to the interests of the new sect which he had joined. Though not an imposing personality he exercised no small influence as a speaker and more particularly as a writer among the more moderate holders of Anabaptist views. His death occurred January 13, 1559, at Wustenfelde in Holstein. The opinions held by Menno Simons and the Mennonites originated in Switzerland. In 1525 Grebel and Manz founded an Anabaptist community at Zurich. Persecution followed upon the very foundation of the new sect, and was exercised against its members until 1710 in various parts of Switzerland. It was powerless to effect suppression and a few communities exist even at present. About 1620 the Swiss Mennonites split into Amish or Upland Mennonites and Lowland Mennonites. The former differ from the latter in the belief that excommunication dissolves marriage, in their rejection of buttons and of the practice of shaving. During Menno’s lifetime his followers in Holland divided (1554) into “Flemings” and “Waterlanders”, on account of their divergent views on excommunication. The former subsequently split up into different parties and dwindled into insignificance, not more than three congregations remaining at present in Holland. Division also weakened the “Waterlanders” until in 1811 they united, dropped the name of Mennonites and called themselves “Doopsgezinde” (Baptist persuasion), their present official designation in Holland. Menno founded congregations exclusively in Holland and Northwestern Germany. Mennonite communities existed at an early date, however, in South Germany where they were historically connected with the Swiss movement, and are found at present in other parts of the empire, chiefly in eastern Prussia. The offer of extensive land and the assurance of religious liberty caused a few thousand German Mennonites to emigrate to Southern Russia (1788). This emigration movement continued until 1824, and resulted in the foundation of comparatively important Mennonite colonies. In America the first congregation was founded in 1683 at Germantown, Pennsylvania. Subsequently immigration from Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and since 1870 from Russia, considerably increased the number of the sect in North America. There are twelve different branches in the United States in some of which the membership does not reach 1000. Among the peculiar views of the Mennonites are the following: repudiation of infant baptism, oaths, law-suits, civil office-holding and the bearing of arms. Baptism of adults and the Lord’s Supper, in which Jesus Christ is not really present, are retained, but not as sacraments properly so-called. Non-resistance to violence is an important tenet and an extensive use is made of excommunication. All these views, however, are no longer universally held, some Mennonites now accepting secular offices. The polity is congregational, with bishops, elders, and deacons. The aggregate membership of the Mennonites is now usually given as about 250,000; of these there are some 60,000 in Holland; 18,000 in Germany; 70,000 in Russia; 1500 in Switzerland; 20,000 in Canada, and according to Dr. Carroll (Christian Advocate, New York, January 27, 1910), 55,007 in the United States.
N. A. WEBER