Menno Simons



 Biographical Sketch

By Joshua Shirey, Biola University


Summary of life:

  • 1496, born in the Dutch village of Witmarsum
  • Raised in a Roman Catholic family that encouraged him to be educated as a priest
  • His father was a farmer, and Simons’ maintained compassionate towards the common man throughout his life.
  • 1524, Ordained as a catholic priest.
  • 1531-1536, Village pastor in his hometown of Witmarsum. For these years, he was more comfortable to leisure in drinking and in cards than to spend excess time on his parish duties.
  • April 1535, in his own words, this is when he “accepts God’s grace.”
  • January 30, 1536, renounces the Catholic Church and joins the Anabaptists
  • In 1536 he settled in the northern Dutch Province of Groningen for religious freedom.
  • January 8, 1539, Tjard Reynders, a God-fearing Anabaptist in Leeuwarden, was executed solely because he had given a temporary home to Menno.
  • 1542, Edict for his arrest issued by Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • 1543, moved to Germany where he united the Anabaptists there.
  • 1543, Though he spent much time in hiding, at least seven of his works were in circulation by this time.
  • 1554, first permanent home in Wustenfelde.
  • January 31, 1561, died in his own home.

 Influence and Recognition:

Who influenced Simons?

  • Tertullian, Cyprian, Eusebius all influenced him as he was being trained as a priest because he valued early church history.
  • Martin Luther influenced him through his writings when they started to circulate. Eventually, as Simons developed his own ideas he started to disagree with Luther.
  • Sicke Freerks was executed for being baptized as an adult, and Menno started to question even more why someone would die in order to be baptized a second time.
  • Butzer of Strausburg and Bullinger of Zurich were those who gave him reasons for refining his views against infant baptism (he countered their arguments).
  • Obbe Philips most likely ordained him Simons as a bishop.
  • The Sacramentists, a group highly critical of the Catholic Church, helped to incept Simons’ doubt in the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Who did Simons influence?

  • The Obbenites, Peter Jans, Lukas Lamberts and Jan Claezoon (both executed as martyrs), and the Mennonites.

What was Simons known for?

  • He gathered together the Mennonite church and provided them with leadership and stability.
  • His deep conviction and courage in the midst of a life of fleeing persecution
  • Two fundamental ideals: practical holiness, and the high view of the church
  • His emphasis on Scripture as the foundation (Sola Scriptura).
  • Even though he does not seem to be as noted as his contemporaries, he is best remembered by his character and message, which were centered in a conviction and devotion to God and His truth.

Key theological ideas

  • A Christian ought to be marked by his pursuit of sanctification.
  • Reason and philosophies can detrimental and can distract one from the pure essence of Scripture. If something is not clearly stated in Scripture, it should be avoided.
  • His preaching centered around the priesthood of all believers, adult baptism, pacifism, and a rejection of magisterial offices.
  • Christians ought to be a bride of Christ worthy of her calling; that is, one that presents itself as pure and blameless (sanctification was both individual and communal.
  • Excommunication was a necessary Biblical method of discipline.
  • Infant baptism and Christ’s physical presence in the eucharist do not accord to Scripture.


He wrote primarily for the common man. He does not spend much time in systematic theology nor in reasoning on secondary and tertiary issues; the main core of his writing is focused on Scripture and sound doctrine. However, it is hard to understand what he means because he uses many of Scriptures’ metaphors and illustrations without providing much commentary on their meanings.


  • He is noted as writing so that the common man may understand. His works on sometimes mystical by his association with the Anabaptists, though one can see his works as conferring better with sermons.
  • His writings also served as letters. He wrote letter exposing a false teaching of those he deemed were leading others astray.

Major Works and Publications:

  • Dat fundament des christelycken leers (1539; A Foundation of Plain Instruction , 1835) published by a press in Zwolle, Nethelands, Possibly Joh. Enschede.
  • Van dat rechte christen ghelooue (c. 1542; The True Christian Faith , 1871), published possibly by Jan Claesz.
  • Verclaringhe des Christelycken doopsels (c. 1542; Christian Baptism , 1871)
  • The Blasphemy of Jan van Leyden 1535

Many of the English works have been compiled and published by Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. It is difficult to find publication data because he was constantly on the move.

Secondary Works

Voz, Karl. Zijn leven en sijne reformatorische denkbeeiden. Leiden, 1914.

Doornkaat Koolman, Jacobus ten. Dirk Philips: Friend and Colleague of Menno Simons, 1504-1568.

Littell, Franklin H. A Tribute to Menno Simons. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1961.

Voolstra, Sjouke. Menno Simons: His Image and Message. North Newton, Kans.: Bethel College, 1997.

Isaak, Helmut. 2006. Menno Simons and the New Jerusalem. n.p.: Kitchener, Ont. : Pandora Press, c2006., 2006.Biola Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed October 13, 2016).

Dyck, Cornelius J. 1962. A legacy of faith : the heritage of Menno Simons ; a sixtieth anniversary tribute to Cornelius Krahn. n.p.: Newton, Kan.: Faith and Life Press, [1962], 1962. Biola Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed October 13, 2016).


Swygart, Glenn L. 2016. “Menno Simons.” Salem Press Biographical EncyclopediaResearch Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed October 13, 2016).

Roth, John D. 1996. “The Mennonites’ Dirty Little Secret: What Christians could learn from Menno Simons and how he rescued the Anabaptist movement.” Christianity Today 40, no. 11: 44-48. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 13, 2016).

Grislis, Egil. 1995. “Menno Simons on Sanctification.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 69, no. 2: 226-246. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 13, 2016).

Littell, Franklin H. A Tribute to Menno Simons. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1961.

Horst, Irvin B. A Bibliography of Menno Simons. Netherlands: N.V. Drukkerij Trio, 1962.

Harold, Bender S. Menno Simons’ Life and Writings. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1944.

Horsch, John. His Life, Labors, and Teachings. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1916.

Voolstra, Sjouke. Menno Simons: His Image and Message. North Newton, Kans.: Bethel College, 1997.



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