Emden Disputation

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The protocol book of the Dutch Reformed Church of Emden has an entry dated 20 January 1577, stating that some of the ministers were to go to Count Edzard II to ask him to issue a mandate to restrain the Anabaptists from preaching (leren en predigenn). Should they not be willing to defend their faith their meetings should be prohibited. Then it is added that Willem de Visscher should first be spoken to “as a brother,” asking him whether the above plan was advisable. A later entry states that the brethren had spoken to him on 30 January. On 20 February 1577, Menso Alting, Jasper Celos, and Luppe Sikkes proposed to the Drost of Emden a disputation with the Mennonite leaders. Although the protocol book does not further mention this event, what followed is known through other sources. The protocol book does, however, reveal that among the Reformed clergy and church council there had been during the preceding years a concern and jealousy regarding the spread of the Anabaptists.

Early in 1578 numerous Mennonite elders met in Emden, a fact which did not remain unnoticed (Protocol . . . des Gesprecks, 378b). In the preface to the Protocol Count Johann of East Friesland, reviewing the factors that had led to the disputation, stated that it had always been the concern of the government to keep the land free of “errors” and “sects.” It attempted to achieve this by securing good and qualified ministers for the congregations and by issuing mandates forbidding the introduction of sects by severe penalties. In spite of all efforts, he continued, the Anabaptists had increased in numbers and therefore his government was thinking of other means “to maintain the pure evangelical teaching” (ija, iija). In February 1578 Edzard wrote that Menso Alting made a statement from the pulpit of the Grosse Kirche indicating that about a “thousand Anabaptists were coming to Emden from Holland and other places to live there” (Müller, 32f.).

In addition to this an Anabaptist leader was apprehended who declared himself willing to discuss matters of faith with the Reformed ministers. Not able to “condemn anyone without a hearing,” the government granted the request of the Reformed ministers to combat the Anabaptists with “decent means” (met behoorlijke middelen weyren) and to arrange for a disputation. The Waterlanders and the Frisians did not accept the invitation, while the Flemish not only accepted it in a response of 23 February, but also suggested 27 February as the first day of the disputation (Protocol, iijb, iiija). The disputation was first held in a private home (Klunderberg), but soon was transferred to the Gasthaus Church and opened to the public.

From 25 February to 17 May 1578, the debate continued, through 124 sessions, at eight in the morning after a prayer, and at two in the afternoon. The Reformed debaters were the preachers Menso Alting and Johannes Petrejus of Emden, Wicherus Mellesius of Hinthe, Feyto Rumerdi of Oldersum, and Johannes Nicasius of Borssum. The Flemish speakers were the preachers Hans Busschaert, Peeter van Ceulen, Paulus Backer, Christiaan Arends, Jan van Ophoorn (of Emden), and Brixius Gerritsz. The chief speakers were Alting, Petrejus, Peeter van Ceulen, and Busschaert. Of the Flemish only Brixius knew the classical languages.

The following served as chairman: Ocko Vriesen, Helmerus Diurken, Onno Tyabbren, Henricus Geerdes, and H. Paulinus. The speeches were taken down by the imperial notary, Dominicus Julius, and on the Flemish side by Carel van Gent. The records were then read aloud and signed by the chairmen, speakers, and recorders. In 1658 a book appeared written by J. H. V. P. N., entitled Beginsel . . . der geschillen (1910 reprinted in BRN VII), in which (page 67) the author calls himself “their secretary.” But this was not Carel van Gent; for he later became a Reformed preacher. There was a second Mennonite scribe at the debate, Abel van Oosterwolde, as is seen on page 380 of the record, where an unofficial record is mentioned.

Certainly the following Mennonites were present: Hans van Deutekom, Willem Jansen, Gerritt Tincken, Beno Dolinck, Hans Krop, Hermann von Manschlacht, Hans de Clerck, Gerhard Rebbers, Hans de Boser (son of the martyr Maeyken Boosers), Johann von Arssum, Frans Moltmaker, Antonius Tingieter, and Ariaen Berents. But the second secretary is not one of these, but presumably Cornelis Jansz, the compass maker, who was later preacher at Middelburg. The following points were debated: (1) That God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three independent and differentiated persons, and yet one eternal true God and one divine Being; (2) Concerning the creation of man; (3) Concerning the fall of man and the ruin that has resulted, as original sin and the loss of freedom of the will; (4) Concerning Christ, that is, that Jesus Christ, true God and man in a single person, received His humanity from the substance of His mother Mary; (5) Concerning justification and sanctification or second birth of human beings; (6) Concerning good works; (7) Concerning the Church of God, and by what means one may confess it; (8) Concerning the election and call of preachers; (9) Concerning baptism and whether infants of the covenant shall be baptized; (10) Concerning communion; (11) Concerning the proper use and misuse of the ban; (12) Concerning the oath and the meaning of Matthew 5; (13) Concerning the resurrection of the flesh.

The debate was carried on in the spirit of Christian love. According to J. H. V. P. N. it was fortunate that Peeter van Ceulen was present, for Busschaert, who was actually the most important Flemish preacher, was sometimes embarrassed for an answer. Of Peeter van Ceulen the chairman said: “I tell you, Peeter, if you had the training we have, you would dispute all of us out of this church” (BRN VII, 548f.).

The original record as it was taken down by Dominicus Julius and Carel van Gent has been preserved in the archives of the Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst und vaterländische Altertümer at Emden, and a microfilm copy has been obtained by the General Conference (General Conference Mennonite) Historical Committee (Newton, Kansas). A careful study of this record, comparing it with the printed copy, would reveal whether and to what extent changes have been made. The Protocol book of the church council of the Reformed Church of Emden, dating back to 1557, preserved in the archives of the Grosse Kirche (microfilm copy with G.C.M. Historical Committee), contains valuable information regarding the relationship of the two groups in Emden.

The recordings of the disputation were first published in the Saxon language (literary language of that area) under the title Protocol. Dath is, alle handelinge des gesprecks tho Emden in Oistfrieszlandt mit den Wedderdöperen, de sick Flaminge nomen, geholden . . . (Embden, G. Goebens, 1579). Printed by the same printer and during the same year appeared also a Dutch translation of the Protocol done by Dominicus Julius under the title Protocol. Dat is, Alle handelinge des Gesprecks tot Embden in Oostvrieslant met den Wederdooperen, die hen Vlamingen noemen, gehouden . . . . Of this edition a reprint appeared at Leiden in 1616. Copies of all three editions are found in the Mennonite libraries of Amsterdam, Bethel, and Goshen.

Before the Protocol was published the Mennonite participants expected a biased slant and published a Voorlooper, a warning, entitled Een Christelicke ende voorloopende Waerschouwinge, written by a “lover of divine truth” (Liejhebber der Godtlijcker waerheyt), whose identity is unknown. This pamphlet was added to the Protocol with a brief introduction and a refutation point by point (pp. 375-84). The Mennonite representative makes numerous accusations to the effect that his group was not treated fairly. The refutation and the preface to the Protocol by Count Johann make it obvious that the Mennonites were not treated as equals and that the disputation was not a brotherly conference, but that it was a means to defeat the movement in East Friesland.


Cramer, Samuel and Fredrik Pijper. Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1903-1914: VII.

Müller, J. P. Die Mennoniten in Ostfriesland vom 16. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert. Emden, 1887.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 573.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Date Published 1956

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MLA style

Krahn, Cornelius. "Emden Disputation." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 1 Mar 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Emden_Disputation&oldid=144996.

APA style

Krahn, Cornelius. (1956). Emden Disputation. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 March 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Emden_Disputation&oldid=144996.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 201-202. All rights reserved.

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