A History of the Baptists
Chapter XII-The Practice of Dipping in the Netherlands, Poland, Lithuania, and Transylvania Baptist Churches
The Waldenses in Holland—Religious Liberty—Remhrandt—Learned Men—Simon Menno—His Views of Baptism—"A Handful of Water"—Luther on This Phrase—The Doop—Roman 6:3—Anabaptist Literature on The Subject—1 Cor. 12:13—The Practice of Meno—Immersion in the Netherlands—Bastingius—Boltens—Dooreslaar—Stark—Schyn—The Change of Practice Among the Mennonites—The Collegiants of Rhynesburg—Poland and Silesian Baptists—Immersion—Sandius—Bock—The Unitarian Baptists—Their Great Learning and Culture—Peter Gonesius—Gregory Paulus—Their Numbers and Spirit—Socinus—Martin Czechovicus—The Racovian Catechism—The Lord of Cracow.
The Waldenses entered Holland in 1182 and by the year 1233 Flanders was full of them. Many of them were weavers, and Ten Cate says that at a later date all of the weaving was in the hands of the Baptists. Ypeij and Dermount say: "The Waldenses scattered in the Netherlands might be called their salt, so correct were their views and devout their lives. The Mennonites sprang from them. It is indubitable that they rejected infant baptism, and used only adult baptism" (Ypeij en Dermount, Geechieddenis der Netherlandische Hervormde Kirk, I. pp. 57, 141). The Reformation in the Netherlands was practically synonymous with the Baptist movement.
Here, as everywhere, the Baptists were good citizens; paid taxes; and advocated liberty of conscience. The fires of persecution were frequently lighted in Holland. The Baptists had assisted the Prince of Orange in his struggle against Spanish tyranny; and he steadfastly resisted all efforts to persecute them. Two Baptists, J. Cortenbosch and Peter Bogaert, a minister, brought to him a considerable sum of money as an offering from the Baptists. They performed this task at the risk of their lives. The Prince assured them that they would be treated as equals (Ottii Annales, ad ann., 1572).
Motley says of the Prince of Orange:
In regard to his relations to the Baptists the historian continues:
But William of Orange held on his way. When the Union of Utrecht, the foundation of the Dutch Republic was formulated, it was expressly provided that "every individual should remain free in his religion, and that no man should be molested or questioned on the subject of divine worship" (Ibid, II. p. 412).
It is interesting to note that Rembrandt, the greatest painter of Holland, was a Baptist. Professor H. Weizsacker, in his chapter on Holland (Protestantism in the Nineteenth Century, I. p. 295) says of him: "Little is known of the religious character of Rembrandt, but an Italian biographer of the seventeenth century says he was brought up a Baptist and belonged to their fellowship. How can we think him of such a community?" he asks. "His whole life was in the world. Yet he painted many portraits of preachers, some of his best. That of Sylvius, bending over the pulpit, Bible in hand, and that of Anseo, the Baptist pastor with the saintly face, are well known. In days of adversity, when his personal effects were sold, among them were found five hooks. One of these five books was a Josephus and another a copy of the Bible. When he died he left one book as an heirloom, and that was a Bible."
Rembrandt was moved by the spirit of liberty. It must be borne in mind that in the beginning of the seventeenth century Holland had risen to a great power. Though not yet formally free from the Spanish yoke, she had broken the fetters by the heroic efforts of the former generation, and had entered on her grand career of national enterprise. Science and literature flourished in her universities, poetry and the stage were favored by her citizens. It was a time of new ideas. Old conventional forms in religion, philosophy and art had fallen away, and liberty was inspiring new conceptions. Here there was no church influence to fetter Rembrandt in the choice and treatment of his subjects, no academies to prescribe rules. He was thus left to himself to paint the life of the people among whom he lived. The legends of the Roman Church were no longer of interest; and the Bible was read and studied with avidity. Under such influences Rembrandt became "the Shakespeare of Holland."
"During the seventeenth century it became evident," says Dosker, "that men of considerable talent were to be found among the rank and file of the Mennonites. And they were not confined to one learned profession or to one social stratum. There were physicians of more than local reputation: men like A. J. Roscius, doctor of medicine and preacher at Hoorn; the celebrated Bidloo brothers, one of whom was body-physician to Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, and the other similarly employed at the Court of Prince William III of the Netherlands. Another of these famous Mennonite doctors was Galenus de Haan . . . who was equally celebrated as preacher and practitioner of medicine at Amsterdam; and especially A, C. Van Dale, whose works on the science of healing made him a European celebrity.
"Among the men of letters I mention J. P. Schabalje, preacher at Alkmaar, renowned as a scholar and poet. So far as is known he was the first to write a ‘Life of Christ.’
"We find poets among them like J. A. van der Goes, celebrated by his Ystroom, and Karel van Mander, translator of Virgil and of the Iliad.
"In the world of art they boasted a Mierevelt, especially Ruysdael, the greatest of the Dutch landscape-painters, and the greatest of all, perhaps, Rembrandt. For science they could claim, J. A. Leeghwater, who drew the plans for the reclamation of Haarlem lake, a marvelous engineering problem; and J. van der Heyden, who first undertook the illumination of the streets of Amsterdam, and who was the inventor of the prototype of the modern fire-engine" (Dosker, The Dutch Anabaptists, p. 244).
In the second and third decades of the Reformation Simon Menno became the leader of the Baptists in that country. He was born in Friesland, in 1492, and died in Holstein, January 13, 1559. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest; but he became a convert to the Baptist faith when, in 1531, Seike Feerks or Sicke Snyder was burnt at the stake. On his conversion he at once preached Jesus and soon became a conspicuous leader among the Baptists.
There is no record known of the manner of the baptizing of Menno. Judging from the tenor of his writings, he was baptized by immersion. In a great number of instances, in his writings, he refers to baptism as a dipping in water. In two or three instances in refuting his enemies reference is made to pouring. In answering a scorner he says:
The other passages are to the same effect. Menno says these scorners were wrong in heart and "that a whole ocean of water" would not satisfy them. The man might have a handful of water cast on him, or he might he baptized in the ocean, if his heart was not clean he would be a miserable sinner. Water does not cleanse a man from sin. The handful of water did not represent the act of Menno, but the objection of the scorner of baptism. Menno was not expressing his own opinion, he was refuting his opponent,
Menno could not have endorsed "a handful of water" as the proper act of baptism, since these were the very words the Baptists had long been accustomed to hurl at their opponents. To hold that such an act of baptism was valid would have been contrary to every Baptist argument of the times. The Baptists long before, and at the time of Menno, invariably taunted their opponents by calling infant baptism "a dog’s bath," "a handful of water," etc. That Menno applied such terms to his own act is incredible. A few instances where Baptists thus taunted their opponents are here given.
Luther writing against the Baptists charged them with judging of his baptism from the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church. He says:
Again Luther remarks:
Once more Luther says:
"A handful of water" was the term of reproach that the Baptists used toward their enemies. It is incredible to think that Menno would have used such a term to describe his own baptism.
Baptism in the opinion of Menno was dipping. He refers to baptism as doop (dipping). There is no proof that Menno ever used this word in any sense other than to dip; and there is no proof that doop meant anything less in the time of Menno. Apart from the word doop Menno constantly uses other words to describe baptism by dipping. He devotes several chapters to the doop and never mentions pouring.
The symbolic passage Romans 6: 3, 4 is mentioned and enforced more than one hundred times by Menno. In this passage the symbolism of baptism is given as a burial, an immersion, an emersion. He says:
The word "portrayed" represents a portrait, or photograph. As a picture is an exact image of a person so this burial and resurrection is an exact image of the act of baptism. But the exact image of a burial and resurrection is. an immersion in, and emersion out of the water.
The citation of Romans by Menno, as determining the form of baptism, is characteristic of the literature of the Baptists in the Reformation period. We find in the Protocol of Emden, 1578; in that of Franckenthal, 1571, where it is explained as meaning that "baptism is a symbol of death and a new life;" and in the Münster Restitution (issued 1634) baptism is described as "the burial of the sinful flesh (begravinge unses sundtliken fleisches)." In the Borne Disputation, 1532, the Baptist says: "Baptism is always a symbol of a renewed man entombed (vergraben) into the death of Jesus Christ" (Dr. Jesse B. Thomas in The Western Recorder, 1897).
Menno quotes 1 Corinthians 12:13 as sustaining the practice of immersion, He says:
There are direct passages where Menno mentions his own practice as dipping. For example he says:
Baptism is here described as a "sinking down," and thus portrays immersion. He further says, this "we teach and practice." Again he says:
It is not readily to be believed that a man who says that the mode and time of baptizing has been changed, and severely criticizes those who wrought the change, and calls the people back to the primitive practices, would be found in the use of affusion. Menno plainly says the Scriptures teach dipping, says the mode has been changed, and that men ought literally to obey the commandments of God.
In passages too numerous here to mention Menno refers to baptism "as dipping in the water." Three instances are given where the word must mean immersion. He says:
The Mennonites of our day reject infant baptism and practice believers’ baptism by affusion. Menno and his immediate followers were in the practice of dipping. but later the Mennonites did not strenuously insist upon this form of baptism. At length some practiced dipping and others sprinkling; and in the course of. time affusion became the normal act and immersion the exception among them.
At the close of the sixteenth century and at the beginning of the seventeenth dipping was considered, in the Netherlands, as the meaning of the Greek word baptizein. There is an example of this found in the Commentary of Jeremiah, Bastingius on the Heidelberg Catechism which was then used in the Low Countries. He says:
The historian Backus explains the change of the Mennonites from immersion to affusion in the following manner: "The Mennonites are also from Germany and are of like behavior, but they are not truly Baptists now. Their fathers were so in Luther’s time, until confinement in prison brought them to pour water on the head of the subject, instead of immersion; and what was then done out of necessity is now done out of choice, as other corruptions are" (Backus, History of the Baptists).
There were those in Holland, who, for a long time, continued in the practice of dipping. At the close of the sixteenth century full toleration was given to the church at Altona. The following account is taken from the "History of the Different Religious Denominations in Altona" by John Adrian Boltens, published in Altona, 1790:
There was in Friesland in the beginning of the year 1600 a party of Mennonites who would receive none but those who dipped. Of these people Stark says:
These statements are important in many respects. They show that the original form of baptism among the Mennonites was immersion, that in some instances it had been set aside in favor of pouring, that dipping was still used in some congregations, and that there were some Mennonite congregations who would not receive any form of baptism save immersion.
There was a book printed in the year 1649 showing the differences between the Reformed Church of the Netherlands and the Baptist churches. Of baptism it said:
Even the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, in 1649, held that immersion was baptism. Indeed, immersion was preferred to sprinkling. Van Braght, who held to sprinkling, affirmed that immersion was the practice in the Netherlands, "Yes, to our present time," A. D. 1659 (Van Braght, Martyrs’ Mirror of the Baptists) Hooke, in 1701, says that immersion was practiced among the Baptists of the Netherlands (Hooke, A Necessary Apology for the Baptist Believers, pp. 122, 133. London, 1701).
The historian of the Mennonites, Schyn, points out that in his day, A. D. 1729, while sprinkling was the ordinary form of baptism among the Mennonites that immersion was also practiced. It was declared to be the primitive practice, but that it had been generally, but not completely superseded by "an abundant sprinkling." Another witness is Cornelius Ris, who says as late as 1776, the year of American Independence:
About the year 1619 there had been a revival of immersion in Holland, under three brothers van der Kodde. These persons were called Collegiants, and they were organized into societies near Leyden at Rhynesburg. They practiced immersion having received it from the Silesian Baptists, who had it from the Swiss (Heath, The Anabaptists and their English Descendants, 390. The Contemporary Review, March, 1891). Van Slee (De Rijnsburger Collegianten, p. 371. Haarlem, 1891) shows all along, in the Netherlands, there had been a family by the name of Geesteranus which was in sympathy with the practices of the Poland Baptists. The presidency of the great Baptist school, at Cracow, was offered to a member of this family; and one of the first persons to be immersed at Rhynesburg was John Geesteranus. One of the members of the Collegiants gives a record of the procedure of baptism as follows:
The Baptists of Poland and Transylvania all held that "dipping in water and a personal profession of faith and repentance, are essential to baptism" (Catechesis Ecclesiarum Poloniarum, sec. vi. cap. iii). These Baptists received their form of baptism from Switzerland and transferred it to Poland. This origin is now quite generally admitted and all historians state that it was by immersion (Barclay, The Inner Life of the Common-wealth, p. 12 note).
The testimony to the practice of immersion among the Baptists of Poland is quite satisfactory. Sandius, in his vindication of the Baptists of Poland, says that the Baptists of that country rejected infant baptism, and that believers, according to the symbolism of the primitive church, were baptized by immersion of the whole body in the water (Sandius, Bibliotheca Anti-Trinitatiorum, p. 268 note). There is an anonymous manuscript, written by one of the Baptists of Poland, which declares that there is no other baptism save that which is performed by immersion. The title may be consulted in Bock (Historia Antitrinitaorum, I. pt. 1. 19). Fock likewise states that the baptism of Poland was by immersion (Fock, Der Sociaismus, p. 588). These are the principal authorities on the conditions in Poland, and these writers are unanimous in the statement that the Baptists of that country practiced dipping.
The Unitarian Baptists, as they have been called, originated, for the most part in Italy (Speculum Anabaptistica Furoris, 1808). They have frequently been called Socinians, deriving the name from the illustrious house of Sozini, which long flourished in Sienna, a noble city of Tuscany. There were a number of distinguished men born to this family. One of that number was Faustus Socinus who became a leader among the Baptists of Poland.
The Unitarians were among the most cultured of men. The peculiar tone of the belles-lettres culture that followed upon the revival of learning was quite congenial with their opinions. They called in question the foundations of the state religions and were disposed to sift all creeds. There were not less than forty educated men at Vicenza who were united in a private association who held these views. These men were mostly banished from Italy, many of them fled to Switzerland, and afterwards found refuge in Poland. One of these, Blandrata, a learned physician, fled to Geneva, and afterwards became an influential propagator of Baptist principles in Poland. The Italian and Swiss Baptists sought refuge in Poland about A. D. 1550 and carried with them the idea of dipping from the earlier Baptists of Switzerland. The reason that the Baptists selected Poland as a place of refuge lay in the fact that Poland was so strongly attached to liberty in religious matters.
Probably the first to introduce Baptist views into Poland was Peter Gonesius. He fell in with the Baptists of Moravia and was led to reject infant baptism (Lauderbach, Polnish Arianischen Socianismus).
Baptist views rapidly spread among the people. The Synod of Wengrow, December 25, 1565, was composed of forty-seven ministers and eighteen noblemen, besides a great number of lesser people. It was acknowledged by the churches of a number of districts as far as the Carpathian mountains. The Synod declared in favor of adults as the subjects and immersion as the form of baptism. At this meeting Czechovicus baptized James Niemojawski by immersion (Count Valerian Krasinski, The Reformation in Poland, I. p. 361).
Gregory Paulus was a noted Baptist and an immersionist. He was pastor at Cracow. On May 30, 1566, John á Lasco represented him as denying "that infants ought to be admitted to baptism as the fountain of life and the door of the church." He impressed men that baptism belonged to adults and not to crying children, and when he had done this he led "them to the river and immerses them." He claimed that these things were the first "rudiments of the ancient religion about to be restored" (Letter to Beza, May 30, 1556. In Museum Helveticum, Part XIV. p. 282).
The Baptists of Poland and Siebenburgen, in 1574, were a numerous and aggressive people. In that year they issued a Catechism (Catechesis et Confessio fidei coetus per Poloniam congregati) which contains one hundred and sixty pages, but copies of it are now rare. The printer was Turobinus, and it was issued at Cracow. The writer of the Catechism was the celebrated George Schomann (Schomann, Testamentum. Jo. Adam Muller, de Unitatiorum, XXI. p. 758). Baptism is confined to adults and defined as "the immersion in water and the emersion of a person who believes the Gospel and repents, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or in the name of Christ only, whereby he publicly confesses that by the grace of God the Father, in the blood of Christ, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, he is washed from all his sins, in order that being inserted in the body of Christ he may mortify the old Adam, with the assurance that after the resurrection he will attain unto eternal life" (Roes, Racovian Catechism, LXXI).
Stanislaus Farnovius, A. D. 1568-1614, held to adult baptism by immersion. George Schomann, mentioned above, was a great scholar among them. He was born at Ratibon in Silesia, in the year 1530. He was baptized by immersion at Chmelnik in 1572 and in 1573 he became the assistant of Gregory Paulus at Cracow (Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography, II. p. 200).
The famous Faustus Socinus also held to Baptist views and was a firm believer in the immersion of a converted man in water. He was born at Sienna, 1539, and died at Luclawice, Poland, in 1604. He attempted to unite with the Baptists of Poland but was refused except on condition that he be rebaptized. He refused to permit this since he said it was not necessary in his case. He was a firm believer in immersion (Socinus, De Baptismo Aquae, p. 716. Racoviae, 1613). Many Baptists of that period held lightly to all forms of externals since they. believed that the spiritual life was all that was essentially necessary (Otto Fock, Der Socianianismus, p. 586). The views of Socinus mightily impressed the Baptists of Poland, and he became a most influential leader among them. His noble birth, intellectual powers and polished manners commended him to the favor of the Polish nobles; and his influence was augmented by his marriage to a daughter of one of the nobility.
Martin Czechovicus was a Lithuanian. The first heard of him was on September 16, 1661, when he was the bearer of a letter from Calvin to the Synod of Cracow. He contended that baptism by immersion was necessary in the case of all adult believers "whether those born of Christian parents1 or those converted of heathen nations."
Simon Ronemberg was horn at Dantzic on Christmas Day, 1540. He was christened when an infant by sprinkling in the Roman Catholic Church; then he was sprinkled as an adult, and lastly he was immersed when he united with the Baptists. Of this he gives a particular account in one of his hooks. His being baptized by immersion was regarded as a grievous offense; and being commanded by the Senate of Dantzic, August 17, 1552, to defend himself against this charge, and not choosing to deny what took place, or to recant, he was formally deprived of his office, and immediately left Dantzic with his wife and eight children (Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography, II. p. 238).
John Caper, Sr., after officiating as Pastor of the Evangelical Church of Meseritz for about twenty-eight years, changed his views late in life and went over to the Baptists. He was immersed in a pool at Smigel, on the last of July, 1588; on which occasion Valerius Herberger, a popular Evangelical minister, wrote some satirical verses. It is said that Caper presided as a Baptist minister over the church at Smigel, from the time of his conversion to his death; and that about the year 1606 he was drowned by a company of horsemen, probably in the very pond in which he had been immersed (Bock, Hist. Ant, pp. 92, 93).
The Racovian Catechism was written about 1590 but was first published in 1605. It superseded the old Catechism, which was rude and ill digested. It was corrected by some, enlarged by others and more ingeniously stated, and became the creed of the entire communion. The article on baptism is as follows:
In answer to the question: "What then is the thought of those who baptize infants?" It is replied,
Speaking of a profession of faith the Catechism says:
The highest prosperity was now obtained by the Baptists of Poland. James a Sienno, Lord of Cracow, in the year 1600, renounced the Reformed Church and came over to the Baptists, and two years after caused a famous school, intended for the Seminary of the churches, to be established in his own city which he made the metropolis of the Baptist movement (Wissowatius, Naratio Unitairorum a Reformatis, p. 214).
Books for further reading and reference:
Motley, Rise and Fall of the Dutch Republic, II.
Weizsacker, Protestantism in the Nineteenth Century.
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