Flemish Mennonites

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Flemish Mennonites (Dutch, Vlamingen or Vlaamschen) was the name of a branch of Mennonites that originated in 1566 in opposition to the Frisians. The conflict and hence the division arose after many Mennonites, in order to escape from the most oppressive persecution, had emigrated or fled from Belgium, and especially from Flanders (hence they were usually called Flemings or Flemish), to the Netherlands. Many of them settled in the Dutch province of Friesland. Here the four congregations of Harlingen, Franeker, Leeuwarden, and Dokkum formed a union in 1560 on the basis of 19 articles on various questions of congregational life. The union was known as the Ordinance der vier steden. Among other things they stipulated that a preacher chosen for one of the congregations should also serve the other three, and that all matters of discord arising in one should be settled by the preachers of all four churches. The care of the poor was also provided for in common. By this arrangement the autonomy of the individual congregation, a fundamental principle of the brotherhood, was abrogated, and this gave rise to the fateful division between the Frisian and Flemish members.

The Flemish had come to these four cities too. The difference of background soon led to all manner of disagreement. The Frisians were offended by the Flemish way of living and dressing, and the latter resented the greater stores of linen and household goods possessed by the Frisians, and accused them of siding more with the world, whereas they (the Flemish) had proved their world-denying faith in persecution. It was stated in this way: the Flemish are worldly in respect to their dress, the Frisians in their homes.

In Franeker, Jeroen Tinnegieter, a refugee from Henegouwen (Hainaut), Belgium, was chosen preacher. This choice seemed questionable to Harlingen. With the aid of preachers from outside (Hoyte Renix, Nette Lipkes, and Hans Bouwens Busschaert) the difficulty was settled; but a sting remained. Tinnegieter was hostile to the union of the four cities, seeing in it -- probably correctly -- the real cause of his having been rejected. At a meeting of the brotherhood he declared that the Franeker congregation was leaving the union. A part of the congregation, which had not been heard, protested this move. The two sections held separate church services. This marked the beginning of the baneful division, which soon reached Harlingen also. The designations Frisian and Flemish were already current.

All efforts to reunite them were futile. Again preachers from outside were asked to aid; this time they were Jan Willemsz and Lubbert Gerritsz, both of Hoorn. They succeeded on 19 December 1566, in effecting a compromise and both groups agreed on four specific points. But the general discussion at Harlingen on 1 February 1567, did not lead to harmony; and the unyielding attitude of Dirk Philips, who had been called to arbitrate and traveled to Emden with two other delegates from Danzig, made the schism permanent. The Flemish pronounced the ban upon all the Frisians (June 1567). Anyone marrying into the other party was subject to the ban; any member of one party wishing to join the other had to be rebaptized. Dirk Philips took the part of the Flemish, whereas Leenaert Bouwens joined the Frisians. Not only in Friesland, but all over the Netherlands the churches became involved and divided, and in most towns there were henceforth found both a Flemish and a Frisian congregation. The congregation of Zierikzee in Zeeland, which refused to decide either for the Flemish or for the Frisians, but which wished to remain neutral, was banned both by the Flemish and the Frisians.

The name "Flemish" is not geographic; it does not mean that its members came from Flanders, nor does "Frisian" mean that its members live in Friesland, or are natives of this province. Flemish and Frisian have become party names. The Frisians were in the majority in North Holland and Friesland, while in Groningen and Overijssel the Flemish were more numerous.

Once again in 1568 an attempt was made to reconcile the divisions. The congregations at Blokzijl, Giethoorn, and Steenwijk, who had as yet not been involved in the strife, investigated the matter and sided with the Flemish, presented their view in a statement of 3 January 1569, called the Stichtsche groote presentatie, and after useless negotiations they broke off fraternal relations with all the Frisian congregations (there were more than 50 of them) on 2 April 1569. This step made the rupture final. Neither the Humstervrede (peace of Humsterland, 1574) nor the negotiations at Hoorn (1574) and Emden (2 April and 22 May 1578), nor the discussion at Haarlem (1582), or the confession of guilt by the Frisian and Flemish preachers (1589), could bridge the gulf and bring about a union. In the Netherlands it took 200 years to wipe out the last signs of the division. (An account of the Flemish division and its course is found in Doopsgezinde Bijdragen [1893]: 1-90.)

Twenty years after the Flemish-Frisian schism a new division arose in the main Flemish body. In Franeker, Friesland, the elder of the Flemish congregation, Thomas Bintgens, bought a house; because Thomas's purchase seems not to have been above reproach a quarrel arose in 1586 and the Franeker Flemish congregation was divided into two groups, that of Bintgens, soon called Huiskoopers (Housebuyers), and a group led by the deacon Jacob Keest, called Contra-Huiskoopers. Attempts were made by the Flemish congregations of Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Hoorn to reconcile the two groups, but in vain, and soon the whole Flemish body was divided in two parties: Huiskoopers, Thomas Byntgens-volk, or as they were mostly called, Oude Vlamingen (Old Flemish), while the others were called Contra-Huiskoopers, Jacob-Keest-volk, Zackte (mild) Vlamingen, or simply Vlamingen (Flemish). (Concerning this quarrel see Jacob Gijsbert de Hoop Scheffer, Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 v., Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884: v. I, No. 479; 558 III; Doopsgezinde Bijdragen [1912]: 49-60.)

It seems somewhat ridiculous and even sad, that the buying of a house could divide the Mennonites, but this was only the outer motive. The point of the quarrel was rather a different conception of the church among the Flemish, whether the church should be conceived as strictly separated from the world, as a church without spot or wrinkle or not (Wilhelmus Johannes Kühler, Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw, Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932: 430-31). The (mild) Flemish were less conservative than the Old Flemish, and more moderate in banning and shunning. There were also a few local schisms; viz., among the Old Flemish at Haarlem and Danzig in 1598 the Vermeulensvolk or Bankrottiers; in Haarlem and Amsterdam in 1620 the Borstentasters or Vincent de Hondtvolk. The Flemish congregation at Haarlem was divided in 1685 into two congregations, the Thomas-Snepvolk, and the Jan-Evertszvolk.

Shortly after 1600 many among the (mild) Flemish realized that those pitiful and unprofitable divisions among the Mennonites must be ended. Some of them made contacts with the Bevredigde Broederschap, a group of United High German, Waterlander, and (Young) Frisian Mennonites. At Harlingen, Friesland, the Flemish congregation merged with the Frisians about 1610. This was much censured by many other Flemish congregations, especially those of the province of Groningen, who banned the Harlingen peacemakers (Jacob Gijsbert de Hoop Scheffer, Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam: v. I, Nos. 522, 523, 539, 557, 558 V, 561, 564, 570).

In 1626 the four preachers of the Lamist Flemish church at Amsterdam, who already had previously defended the Harlingen group against the ire of the Groningen churches, made an attempt to unite all Dutch Mennonites, except the Waterlanders who were excluded. For this purpose they sent an invitation to peace, attended with a confession of faith, the well-known Olijftacxken, which was printed in 1629 (Jacob Gijsbert de Hoop Scheffer, Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam: v. I, No. 565). The result was disappointing; the Old Frisians and their leader P. J. Twisck repudiated such a "monstrous" alliance (Jacob Gijsbert de Hoop Scheffer, Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam: v. I, No. 566, 568). The Flemish churches in Groningen too warned against a union with High Germans and Frisians (Jacob Gijsbert de Hoop Scheffer, Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam: v. I, Nos. 564-65). But in Amsterdam after negotiations which lasted for a number of years a union was accomplished in 1639 between the Flemish congregation and that of united Frisians and High Germans (Wilhelmus Johannes Kühler, Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland II, 1600-1735 Eerste Helft, Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon n.v., 1940: 184-200).

In the meanwhile the Olijftack had scored a great success at Dordrecht in 1632, by uniting the Flemish and most Old Flemish congregations on the basis of the confession of Adriaan Cornelisz (Dordrecht Confession) (Hoop Scheffer, Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam: v. I, Nos. 583-92, 595-98; W. J. Kühler, Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland II: 195-96). Only two groups of the Flemish did not join this general union: first a large number of congregations in the province of Groningen and elsewhere in the country, which from the beginning had protested against the Olijftack, and now separated from the main body (about 1637). They are called Groningen Old Flemish or after one of their most influential leaders Uckowallists (Hoop Scheffer, Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam: v. I, Nos. 557, 562-64, 571, 575-77, 600, 605 f, 934; II, Nos. 1413-20). The other group which did not agree and remained separated comprised a number of conservative Old Flemish churches, who were then called Huiskoopers, or "Dantziger (Danziger) Old Flemish". Thus the Groningen and Danziger Old Flemish remained independent of the union.

After the Old and Mild Flemish had united in 1632 and merged with the Frisian-High German group in 1639, the Waterlanders applied for admission to this large body of Dutch Mennonites in 1647. But the conference of Flemish leaders at Haarlem in 1649 refused this, and the Waterlanders remained excluded. Since in the Lammerenkrijg (War of the Lambs) new party-names of Galenisten and Apostoolsen came forth, soon called Lamisten and Zonisten, the name "Flemish Mennonites" disappeared in Holland. Only the Groningen and Danziger Old Flemish, mentioned before, maintained the name until the 19th century.

The Flemish-Frisian schism, begun at Franeker, Friesland, in 1566, was not limited to the Netherlands. In Flanders too the church was divided; especially in the congregation of Antwerp there were found both Flemish and Frisian followers. But in general the matter was less of an issue in Belgium, for nearly all the congregations belonged to the Flemish party.

In Prussia also the church had its schism, and here and later in Russia the split lasted much longer than in the Netherlands. In Prussia too the names of Flemish and Frisian do not refer to the origin of the members of a congregation from Friesland or from Flanders, but are also merely names of the parties.

The Flemish congregations in Prussia were Danzig (meeting outside of the Neugarten gate, formerly op het Schotland), Heubuden, Ladekopp, Rosenort, Tiegenhagen, Fürstenwerder and Elbing-Ellerwald, Przechovka and Kleinsee, Culmsche Niederung (Schönsee), and Königsberg. Of this group the congregations of Przechovka and Kleinsee-Jeziorka belonged to the Groningen Old Flemish; Königsberg probably belonged to the Danziger Old Flemish. Frisian congregations (later also called Waterlanders) in Prussia were Danzig (Petershagen gate), Orlofferfelde, Thiensdorf, Markushof, Montau-Gruppe, Schönsee, Stuhmsche Niederung (Tragheimerweide), Memelniederung, and Obernessau.

Variant practices in the observance of communion and baptism still show slight remains of the division. In the Flemish congregations the preachers read their sermons while seated (Mennonitische Blätter [1912]: 5), whereas in the Frisian congregations the sermons were not read. In the Flemish group the baptismal candidate had to name two character witnesses, whose names were read from the pulpit; they baptized by pouring, and the Frisians by sprinkling. In the communion ceremony the Flemish preacher distributed the bread to the members, who remained seated; in the Frisian congregations the members filed past the elder, who put the bread on the handkerchief of the member (Doopsgezinde Bijdragen [1886]: 21). In Friedrichstadt the unification occurred in 1698, in Danzig not until 1808 (H. G. Mannhardt, Die Danziger Mennonitengemeinde, Danzig, 1919: 89, 104). In West Prussia the preachers and elders of the two groups held annual conferences together beginning in 1772. The first instance of reception into the other group without rebaptism occurred in 1768. Since the great Flemish conference at Petershagen on 9 February 1778, where the question was discussed, but blocked by the Flemish, intermarriage between the two groups was quietly accepted.

Concerning the relationship in Russia, Friesen (Peter M. Friesen, Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte, Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 44) says that in accordance with an old Flemish regulation, only the elders, not the preachers, were ordained by the laying on of hands; this practice continued in some Flemish congregations until 1900. At the time of the original settlement in Russia (1789) the opposition between the two groups was still so sharp that the Flemish organized themselves into the Chortitza congregation and the Frisians into the Kronsweide congregation, and maintained strict separation between the two.

The Dutch Mennonites made an appeal in a letter dated 10 May 1788, to the new settlers to unify: not until decades later did this happen, and then only gradually. (See Friesische Mennoniten, Mennonitisches Lexikon, v. II, 8 ff.)


Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1893): 1-90.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 649.

Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. "Het verbond der vier steden."

Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland II. 1600-1735 Eerste Helft. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon n.v., 1940.

Mannhardt, H. G. Die Danziger Mennonitengemeinde. Danzig, 1919.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Neff, Christian and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Flemish Mennonites." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 2 Aug 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Flemish_Mennonites&oldid=146426.

APA style

Neff, Christian and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1956). Flemish Mennonites. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 August 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Flemish_Mennonites&oldid=146426.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 337-340. All rights reserved.

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