Brethren (The Name)

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Brethren is the only title used by the Anabaptists among themselves from the very beginning. In all the records (confessions, trials, wills, etc.) the name "Brethren" is applied to fellow believers again and again. Now and then in a special designation is added: thus there were Swiss Brethren, Moravian Brethren, etc.

The term "brethren" has actually become an earmark of the Anabaptists and like-minded Christians. Luther says in his Auslegung des Johannes-Evangeliums (1528-29, Erlangen ed., I, 437), "They (the fanatics) carry this beautiful, lovely word brethren in such misuse, that we can hardly use it any longer." Ludwig Keller shows that the name was used from the beginning among members of what he called the Old Evangelical brotherhood (dissident groups). It was adopted particularly by the Waldenses, Friends of God, and mystics of the Middle Ages (Keller, Reformation).

It is still in common use among the Mennonites in all countries as a term of address within the brotherhood, particularly among those who have retained the simpler and warmer type of piety.

The term "brotherhood" (Dutch, broederschap; German, Bruderschaft) has been used from the earliest times, as is logical, as a designation for the Anabaptist-Mennonite group by its own members, along with "Gemeente," "Gemeinde," and in English "church." Hendrik van Maastricht, who was put to death in 1534, said that Pieter Govertsz was considered to be a member of the "broederschap" (Verhooren), and concerning Hückelhofen in Jülich it is said that a "Bruderschaft" has been started, but it soon disappeared, viz., as a result of the severe edicts (Rembert). The term was quite commonly used in Holland in the mid-20th century, much less in other Mennonite areas. Among the Mennonites in Holland the word "Broederschap" in the 17th and 18th century was also used for meetings of the male members of a congregation for the purpose of voting, etc., as in Russia "Bruderschaft" came to mean the meeting of the voting male members of the congregation.


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 278.

Keller, Ludwig. Die Reformation und die älteren Reformparteien : in ihrem Zusammenhange dargestellt. Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1885.

Rembert, Karl. Die "Wiedertäufer" im Herzogtum Jülich. Berlin: R. Gaertners Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1899: 72.

"Verhooren en Vonissen der Wederdoopers, betrokken bij de aanslagen op Amsterdam in 1534 en 1535," in Bijdragen en Mededeelingen van het Historisch Genootschap 41 (Amsterdam, 1920): 175. Available in full electronic text at

Author(s) Christian Neff
Harold S. Bender
Date Published 1953

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MLA style

Neff, Christian and Harold S. Bender. "Brethren (The Name)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 1 Oct 2020.

APA style

Neff, Christian and Harold S. Bender. (1953). Brethren (The Name). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 October 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 421. All rights reserved.

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