Dirk Philips (1504-1568)

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Menno Simon’s most important associate, Dirk Philips (1504-1568) performed a role for Menno comparable to that played by Philip Melanchthon for Martin Luther: composing theological treatises that were less polemical and more comprehensive that those of the oft embattled leader. Born in 1504 in Leeuwarden, Friesland, Dirk was the younger of two sons – the other was Obbe – of a priest named Philips (possibly heer Philippus, the vicar of Cammingaburen). It is obvious that both sons received good educations, and Dirk knew Latin and some elements of the biblical languages. It appears that he became a monk as an accusation from a later opponent that Dirk was of the “crowd of Franciscans” suggests an association with that religious order. Little else is known of his early life.

Dirk reappears in the records in the winter of 1533/34, during the most radical phase of the Melchiorite Anabaptist movement in the Netherlands and North Germany. It was at this time that Anabaptists, inspired by the apocalyptical message of followers of Melchior Hoffman, came to believe that Christ would shortly appear in the Westphalian city of Münster there to restore the Kingdom of God. In 1533 Hoffman’s mantle of leadership was appropriated by Jan Matthijs, who then sent emissaries throughout the Netherlands to baptize the faithful and prepare them to support the city of God, now under Matthijs’s prophetic sway. Dirk was baptized by one of Matthijs’s apostles, Pieter Houtzager, one of three Anabaptists later arrested in Amsterdam for running through the streets with drawn swords proclaiming the Day of the Lord. Obbe had been baptized by the other two. While their execution seems to have made Obbe somewhat more cautious about active participation in militant Münsterite schemes, we know nothing about Dirk’s response.

We do know that Obbe ordained his brother as an elder, but we do not know when, although it seems safe to conclude that this was not too far removed from his baptism. By the time that Menno was made a bishop in Groningen in 1537 Dirk was an elder in Appingedam. Obbe claims in his later Confession that only his brother supported him in his opposition to the wild prophecies and militance prevalent during the Münsterite kingdom, but this is something of an exaggeration, as Obbe was almost certainly at the infamous ’t Zandt affair of early 1535, and Dirk may also have been present. They tried to be voices of moderation, but to little effect. Both Dirk and his brother avoided the Bocholt conference of Anabaptist leaders in 1536 fearing retribution from the militant Jan van Batenburg, leaving the field to David Joris who mediated a settlement and became for the next few years the most prominent Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands. Little else is known about Dirk’s activities in the decade, although he is known to have debated with a Joachim Kukenbieter in Hamburg in 1537, while his name appears in a list of Anabaptist leaders made by Batenburg during his confession in 1538. In this record, Dirk is listed below only David Joris and Obbe as the chief figures in the movement.

Whatever the depth of his involvement in the radical phase of Melchiorite Anabaptism, it was not until the assent of Menno Simons in the late 1530s that Dirk Philips became actively involved in Anabaptist leadership. Working as an elder principally in the Northern Netherlands, East Friesland and North Germany, Dirk both supported Menno’s leadership and sought to direct him, especially on the prickly question of shunning and discipline. In 1542 Dirk and Menno together ordained Gillis van Aken and Adam Pastor as elders. Four years later Dirk participated with Menno, Van Aken, Leenaert Bouwens and Pastor, in the debate with Joris’s lieutenant Nicolaas Meyndertsz van Blesdijk near Lübeck. Focused on the question of whether the external forms of baptism and the church were essential for the believer, or whether believers could participate in Catholic or Reformed versions to avoid persecution, no agreement was reached. Instead, it appears that the discussions revealed growing differences between the orthodox Menno and Dirk on the one side and Adam Pastor on the other, especially related to the doctrine of the incarnation. This sparked a series of debates in 1547 in which Dirk defended Mennonite orthodoxy on the incarnation, the rejection of infant baptism and the shunning of the banned, even if a spouse. By the last of these debates at Goch (Cleves), Pastor’s rejection of the divinity of Christ and the trinity was clear, and Dirk Philips announced the banning of Pastor at the conclusion of the meeting. He then composed a poem and a letter against Pastor’s teachings, while by 1549 Dirk had also penned a short work entitled “Confession about Separation.” When Pastor complained about his ban, Dirk and Menno agreed once again to debate with him, this time in 1552 in Lübeck.

Sometime between 1547 and 1553, Menno and Dirk ordained Leenaert Bouwens as elder, an astute move since Bouwens would become a tireless baptizer for the movement. By 1554 Dirk seems to have moved to the outskirts of Emden, East Friesland. He participated in a meeting of Mennonite leaders in Wismar, Menno’s current abode, and again the major issue was the ban, along with the question of marriage outside the church, the bearing of arms, recourse to the courts, and unauthorized preachers. Nine articles were drafted, although the hoped-for unity did not emerge. Instead, divisiveness only increased, especially on the practice of shunning marital partners. The issue came to a head in 1557 when a decision by Bouwens to ban a pious wife because she refused to shun her husband forced the Mennonite leaders to hold a conference in Harlingen. In this meeting Dirk sided with Bouwens against Menno, and those who had supported the woman were themselves placed under the ban. As a result of this hardening of disciplinary lines, some Mennonites residing in North Holland formed their own group called the Waterlanders, wishing to take a more moderate stand on the issue. So too did the South German and Swiss Anabaptists. In response, in the following year both Menno and Dirk published works defending the hardline position on excommunication. Shortly thereafter Dirk and Bouwens placed the ban collectively on the South Germans. Around mid decade Dirk moved from Emden to Fresenberg, and from there he began to publish his writings in earnest, although a number of these had already been circulating in manuscript form. He continued to travel, visiting North Holland at least twice to ordain elders, including Jan Willems and Lubbert Gerrits, who themselves would become prominent leaders.

As Menno weakened physically in the last few years of his life, Dirk became increasingly prominent. He published a wide array of theological treatises that made it clear that he was now the representative voice of Mennonite orthodoxy, especially with Menno’s death in 1561. In that year Dirk returned to Emden to confer with Bouwens, and then travelled into the Netherlands, where records indicate he was responsible for baptizing some 30 or 40 people in a Utrecht house in December. Back in East Friesland, Dirk continued to publish theological treatises and assert his leadership over the increasingly fractious Mennonite communities. In 1565 another dispute arose in which Dirk presided over the suspension of Bouwens as an elder and which led to the hardening of the divisions between the Frisian and Flemish congregations. Over the last three years of his life Dirk sought to heal the rift between these groups, but without effect. Both sides ended up banning the other, while the strict Frisians even banned Dirk. For his stance on the ban Dirk has been described as inflexible, motivated by an intense quest for the ideal church, an approach hardly suitable for working out compromises. After composing a treatise on marriage, Dirk died on 7 March 1568, near Emden.

Dirk Philips’s publications focused on the most critical theological issues: baptism; communion; the incarnation; rebirth; the ban and shunning; the office of preachers; and marriage. In 1564 the bulk of his writings were gathered together into the Enchiridion or the Handbook (Enchiridion oft Hant-boecxken), and it is this work that has become the most important collection of his writings for Mennonites. Throughout his writings Philips insisted on a strict adherence to the words of Scripture, while at the same highlighting the Word as incarnated in Jesus Christ. His approach to interpreting Scripture was heavily Christocentric, while he interpreted the Old Testament as his brother had: as a source prefiguring the arrival of Christ. Following a Melchiorite model, Dirk maintained that Christ had not inherited any of his human nature from his mother Mary, and hence was free of original sin. His humanity, however, was that of pre-fall Adam, and those who repented and believed could participate in Christ’s human nature, but not his divine nature. Since children could not sin actively until they reached the age of discretion – thus activating original sin –, infant baptism was of no use. For Dirk, the sacraments were ordinances or signs of a believer’s willingness to obey Christ and to become part of the wider body of Christ. The true fellowship of believers was separate from the world and was therefore not to use the sword to enforce conformity. Instead, discipline was an internal matter maintained by the practice of banning and shunning to protect the reputation of the fellowship and redeem the sinner. Persecution and martyrdom were signs of the true faith.

Primary Sources

Dyck, Cornelius J., William E. Keeney, and Alvin J. Beachy, eds. The Writings of Dirk Philips, 1504-1568. Scottdale, PA and Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1992.

Pijper, F. ed. De geschriften van Dirk Philipsz, vol. 10, Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1914.

Klaassen, Walter, ed. Anabaptism in Outline. Scottdale, PA and Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1981.

Principal Secondary Sources

Blouw, P. Valkema. “Drukkers voor Menno Simons en Dirk Philips.” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 17 (1991): 31-74.

Blouw, P. Valkema. “Verslag van lopend onderzoek. Een onbekende vertaling van Dirk Philips’ Traicté de quelques poincts (1567).” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 15 (1989): 149-150.

Hamilton, Alastair, Sjouke Voolstra and Piet Visser, eds. From martyr to muppy: A historical introduction to cultural assimilation processes of a religious minority in the Netherlands: the Mennonites. Amsterdam, 1994.

Hiele, G.J. van. “‘De duivel verzaken’. Onderzoek naar de doopleer van Bernhard Rothmann, Menno Simons en Dirk Philips.” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 19 (1993): 53-79.

Keyser, Marja. Dirk Philips, 1504-1568. A Catalogue of his Printed Works in the University Library of Amsterdam. Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1975.

Koolman, Jacobus ten Doornkaat. Dirk Philips: Friend and Colleague of Menno Simons, 1504-1568, trans. by William E. Keeney, ed. by C. Arnold Snyder. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 1998.

Krahn, Cornelius. Dutch Anabaptism. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968.

Kühler, W.J. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de zestiende eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1932.

Mellink, A.F. De Wederdopers in de Noordelijke Nederlanden, 1531-1544. Groningen: J.B. Wolters, 1953. Rempel, John D. Christology and the Lord’s Supper in Anabaptism: A Study in the Theology of Balthasar Hubmaier, Pilgram Marpeck, and Dirk Philips. Scottdale, PA and Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1992.

Shantz, Douglas H. “The Ecclesiological Focus of Dirk Philips’ Hermeneutical Thought in 1559: A Contextual Study.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 60 (1986): 115-127.

Visser, Piet. Broeders in de Geest, 2 vols. Deventer, Uitgeverij Sub Rosa,1988.

Visser, Piet. “Mennonites and Doopsgezinden in the Netherlands, 1535-1700.” In A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, eds. John D. Roth and James M. Stayer. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007, 299-346.

Voolstra, Sjouke. Het Woord is Vlees Geworden. Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1982.

Zijlstra, Samme. Om de ware gemeente en de oude gronden: Geschiedenis van de dopersen in de Nederlanden 1531-1675. Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren, 2000.

This article is based on the original English essay that was written for the Mennonitisches Lexikon (MennLex) and has been made available to GAMEO with permission. The German version of this article is available at http://www.mennlex.de/doku.php?id=art:philips_obbe.

Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article

By Nanne van der Zijpp. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 65-66, v. 5, p. 234. All rights reserved.

Dirk Philips (Philipsz, Philopszoon, Filips) (1504-1568) was the son of a Dutch priest. He became a Franciscan monk. As a man of good education he had a command of Latin and Greek, and also knew some Hebrew. It is doubtful that he wrote in French his booklet on the ban and avoidance, which he published in the French language. It is possible that he studied at a university. H. Schijn (Hist. Menn. plenior deductio, 1729, p. 186) calls him a learned man, more learned than Menno Simons. He was not acquainted with Luther's writings.

At the end of 1533 Dirk joined the Anabaptist brotherhood. He was baptized at Leeuwarden in Friesland, by Pieter Houtzager, and was soon afterward, presumably early in 1534, "upon the wish of the brethren" ordained an elder by the laying on of the hands of his own brother Obbe Philips at "Den Dam," i.e., Appingedam, in the Dutch province of Groningen. He was soon a leader; in 1537 he was named as one of the outstanding Anabaptist leaders; he took part in the most important events of the following years, and nearly always was present at the conferences of the elders, as in Goch in 1547, where Adam Pastor was banned, and in 1554 in Wismar among the seven elders, who formulated an agreement on a number of contested points. Like Obbe and Menno he was an opponent of the Münsterite doctrines. Against Rothmann's Restitution (1534) he wrote his booklet, Van de geestelijcke Restitution (On the Spiritual Restitution).

At first Dirk worked in the Netherlands, then in East Friesland, Mecklenburg, Holstein, and Prussia. But he must have gone to the Netherlands on several occasions; about 1561 he baptized several persons in Utrecht and celebrated communion with about 20 brethren (DB 1903, 21 f.). We are told that the meeting lasted from four in the morning until seven in the evening; probably not because they needed so much time, but because they wanted to enter and leave the house under cover of darkness. Dirk is described on that occasion as "an old man, not very tall, with a gray beard and white hair." After 1550 his home was at Danzig, where a number of Dutch Mennonites had already located.

Dirk Philips is without doubt the leading theologian and dogmatician among the Dutch and North German Mennonites of that time. He is more systematic than Menno, though of course also more severe and one-sided. Like Menno he preached the doctrine of nonresistance, though there is not much in his writings on this subject. He shares Menno's conception of the Incarnation. Against Adam Pastor he upholds the doctrine of the Trinity. In opposition to his brother Obbe he always put much stress on the visible church, which should preserve itself from the world without spot or wrinkle. In the interest of protecting the brotherhood he demands a strict application of the ban and the subsequent avoidance. The open sinners shall be expelled from the congregation if they do not show genuine repentance; they are to be shunned in daily life, because the church of God, which consists of the elect, must be pure and holy. The bride of Christ dare not forsake her Bridegroom and yield herself to the world and the flesh.

In his book on the church he names seven ordinances of the church of God: pure doctrine, Scriptural use of the sacraments, washing the feet of the saints, separation (ban and avoidance), the command of love, obedience to the commands of Christ, suffering and persecution. On the whole it cannot be denied that there is in Dirk Philips' theology a certain moralism and legalism. He writes better than Menno, but he has less agreeableness, friendliness, and charm. He was a strict, indeed an obstinate person. This can best be seen in the disputes between him and Leenaert Bouwens. Even considering that the question at issue concerns the pure church of Christ and that this ideal requires a measure of severity, nevertheless the sad consequences of this strict banning and partisanship are without question to be reckoned against the obstinate and proud elder, Dirk Philips. Already in 1565 Leenaert Bouwens had been suspended from his office. In 1567 Dirk journeyed from Danzig to Emden. Then the division occurred: Dirk sided with the Flemish, who at once banned the Frisians, while the Frisians, whom Leenaert had joined, on their side banned the Flemish. Dirk was also banned (8 July 1567), but did not let it trouble him, because he no longer considered Leenaert and the Frisians as members of the church of God. (Kühler, Geschiedenis I, 395-426.)

In the next year Dirk died at Het Falder near Emden, after he had completed his booklet on Christian marriage on 7 March 1568.

Although Dirk Philips surpassed the other elders in knowledge and was a good writer and an eloquent and influential man, he was nevertheless inferior to Menno Simons, with whom he had worked so many years and upon whom he exerted a certain influence in his later years when the severe banning took its course. It is unpleasant to note that Menno's name does not once occur in Dirk's writings. When in the first half of the 17th century the practice of the ban became more lenient among the Dutch and North German Mennonites, the interest in Dirk Philips also waned; his writings are held in high esteem by the Old Order Amish because they advocate the ban and avoidance.

Dirk Philips spread his views in numerous booklets. At the end of his life he collected his writings that had been published, several of which are still extant in their various editions, and published them in a single volume. This is the Enchiridion oft Hantboecxken van de Christelijcke Leere, ... 1564. The "little" handbook (it contains almost 650 pages!) contains the following writings: Confession of Faith, Concerning the Incarnation, Concerning the True Knowledge of Jesus Christ, Apologia, the Call of the Preacher, Loving Admonition (on the ban), Concerning the True Knowledge of God, Exposition of the Tabernacle of Moses, Concerning the New Birth, Concerning Spiritual Restoration, Three Thorough Admonitions, Table of Contents.

In addition he wrote: Verantwoordinghe ende Refutation op twee Sendtbrieven Sebastiani Franck (printed in 1567, not extant, and 1619); Cort doch grondtlick Verhael (concerning the quarrels between the Flemish and Frisians, printed in 1567); Van die Echt der Christenen (printed in 1569, 1602, 1634, 1644, and perhaps other editions) ; and the tract left at his death on the ban and avoidance, which was translated from the French and printed in 1602.

Of the Enchiridion there are in the Dutch language editions of 1564, 1578, 1579, 1600, and 1627. A French edition of 1626 (in the same volume with some writings of Menno Simons and others), German editions in 1715 and Basel in 1802; Lancaster, 1811; Elkhart, 1872 (this and the following German editions include the writings on marriage and on the ban); Scottdale, 1917, Berne, IN, 1958; English edition, Elkhart, IN, 1910; Berne, IN, 1958 and Aylmer, ON, 1966.

Two hymns from the pen of Dirk Philips have been preserved, and were adopted into the old Dutch hymnals of the Mennonites.

F. Pijper edited a complete edition of all the writings (including letters and hymns) of Dirk Philips (BRN X). An English translation of Dirk's writings are included in the Classics of the Radical Reformation series published by Herald Press, Scottdale, PA.


Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica, 10 vols: Introduction. The Hague, 1914.

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1864): 136; (1867): 59, 62 f.; (1873): 61; (1876): 26 ff., 38; (1881): 75; (1884): 2, 10, 15, 17, 20; (1887): 101 f.; (1893): 5, 12-14, 16, 50, 52-77, 88; (1894): 18-59 passim; (1903): 11, 21 f., 39, 41 f.; (1905): 106 ff.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 368.

Hoop Scheffer, J. G. de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam, 1883-1884: v. I, No. 620.

Krahn, Cornelius. Menno Simons. Karlsruhe, 1936: passim, see Index.

Schijn-Maatschoen, Uitvoeriger Verhandeling van de Geschiedenisse der Mennoniten II. Amsterdam, 1744: 325­85.

Vos, K. Menno Simons. Leiden, 1914.

Vos, K. Groningen Volksalmanak. 1916: 131 f.; 136-42.

Selected Bibliography:

Balke, Willem. Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981.

Beachy, Alvin J. "The Concept of Grace in the Radical Reformation." Mennonite Quarterly Review 36 (1962): 91-93.

Beachy, Alvin J. "The Grace of God in Christ as Understood by Five Major Anabaptist Writers." Mennonite Quarterly Review 37 (1963): 5-33.

Beachy, Alvin J. The Concept of Grace in the Radical Reformation. Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1977.

Beachy, Alvin J. "De herwaardering van Dirk Philips." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen , n.r. 7 (1981): 92-95.

Dirk Philipsz, Enchiridion, or Hand Book..., trans. A. B. Kolb. Aylmer, ON: Pathway Publishing Corp., 1966.

Doornkaat Koolman, J. ten. "The First Edition of Dirk Philips' Enchiridion." Mennonite Quarterly Review 38 (1964): 357-360.

Doornkaat Koolman, J. ten. Dirk Philips: Vriend en Medewerker van Menno Simons, 1504-1568. Haarlem: H. D. Tjeenk Willink en Zoon, 1964.

Dyck, Cornelius J. "The Christology of Dirk Philips," Mennonite Quarterly Review 31 (1957): 147-155.

Dyck, Cornelius J., William E. Keeney and Alvin J. Beachy. The Writings of Dirk Philips 1504-1568, Classics of the Radical Reformation, vol. 5. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1992.

Keeney, William E. "Dirk Philips' Life, Mennonite Quarterly Review 32 (1958): 171-191.

Keeney, William E. Dutch Anabaptist Thought and Practice, 1539-1564. Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1968.

Keeney, William E. "The Incarnation: A Central Theological Concept." in A Legacy of Faith, ed. Cornelius J. Dyck. Newton, 1962: 55-68.

Keeney, William E. "The Writings of Dirk Philips." Mennonite Quarterly Review 32 (1958): 298-306.

Keyser, Marja. Dirk Philips, 1504-1568. Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1975.

Mellink, A. F. Documenta Anabaptistica Neerlandica, Eerste Deel: Friesland en Groningen (1530-1550). Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975.

Menno Simons. Opera Omnia Theologica. 1681.

Additional Information

Electronic Resources

Philip, Dietrich. Enchirdion: oder Handbüchlein von der Christlichen lehre und religion zum dienst von allen liebhabern der Wahreit (durch die Gnade Gottes) aus der Heiligen Schrift gemacht, mit einem schönen und fasslichen register. Lancaster, PA: Gedruckt bey Joseph Ehrenfried, 1811. Full Text.

Author(s) Gary K Waite
Date Published February 2020

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Waite, Gary K. "Dirk Philips (1504-1568)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. February 2020. Web. 29 Jul 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dirk_Philips_(1504-1568)&oldid=166679.

APA style

Waite, Gary K. (February 2020). Dirk Philips (1504-1568). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 July 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dirk_Philips_(1504-1568)&oldid=166679.

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