Frisian Mennonites

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Frisian Mennonites (Dutch, Vriezen, Friezen; German, Friesen), a branch of the Dutch Mennonites in the past, which originated in 1566 in opposition to the Flemish Mennonite group and was also transplanted to West Prussia. After a number of Mennonites had moved from Belgium to the Netherlands, differences arose at Franeker, Dutch province of Friesland, between the newly arrived Belgian (Flemish) brethren and the local Frisian Mennonites. The Frisians took offense at the dress and manners of the Flemish, which they thought too worldly and too sumptuous, whereas to the mind of the Flemish the Frisians were not sober enough as to the furnishing of their houses. Other circumstances as well as personalities made the schism inevitable, especially since Dirk Philips was on the side of the Flemish, and Leenaert Bouwens on the side of the Frisians. In June 1567 the parties separated and banned each other. All over the Netherlands, indeed, from Flanders to West Prussia, the Mennonites were divided into Frisians and Flemish, these names indicating not so much geographic descent, but rather becoming merely party names of two different Mennonite branches. Attempts made in 1568, 1574, 1582, and 1589 to bring about peace and union between the two bodies completely failed (for a detailed account on the origin and development of the schism, as well as of the attempts at reconciliation, see the article Flemish Mennonites, and also Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1893): 1-90, and Wilhelmus Johannes Kühler, Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932: 395-435.)

Neither the Flemish nor the Frisians remained one united body. As long as Jan Willemsz, an outstanding Frisian leader, who had been very active in trying to reconcile the Flemish and Frisian groups, was alive, a split among the Frisians was averted, but soon after his death the Frisians divided. For many years great differences had been apparent in the Frisian group: some leaders like Jan Jacobsz and Thijs Gerritsz were austere and very conservative; they maintained that the (Frisian) Mennonite Church was the only real Christian church, stressed a strict practice of banning and shunning, and vindicated the old doctrine of Incarnation as taught by Menno Simons. Other leaders like Lubbert Gerritsz were moderate, did not seriously oppose marriage outside of the congregation, and admitted that the true church could also be found in other groups. These two wings of the Frisians divided. In 1589 Lubbert Gerritsz and his followers were banned by Thijs Gerritsz, Jan Jacobsz, and Joost Eeuwouts at Harlingen, because they had neglected to practice shunning of the banned spouse in marriage. From then there were two Frisian wings: one conservative, called Harde Vriezen (Strict Frisians), or sometimes known as Oude Vriezen (Old Frisians), and one more progressive, called Jonge Vriezen (Young Frisians), or Zachte (Slappe, or Tere) Vriezen (Moderate, Weak Frisians).

Among the Old Frisians several schisms followed soon after their separation from the Young Frisians, and this group was splintered into many subdivisions, e.g., Jan-Jacobsgezinden, Thijs-Gerritszvolk, Pieter-Jeltjesvolk, etc. Most of their small congregations soon died out or merged with other Mennonites; the Jan-Jacobsgezinden maintained themselves on the island of Ameland until 1855.

An outstanding leader of the Old Frisians, who were very numerous in the province of North Holland, was Pieter Jansz Twisck, an elder of the congregation of Hoorn in the first decades of the 17th century. Outstanding leaders among the Young Frisians were Pieter Willemsz Bogaert, Hoyte Renix, and Lubbert Gerritsz.

In 1591 and the following years most Young Frisians united with the High German Mennonites on the basis of the Concept of Cologne. Some of them too merged with the Waterlanders. Lubbert Gerritsz too joined the Waterlanders and became their preacher in Amsterdam.

Mention should also be made of the Bekommerde Vriezen (Concerned Frisians), a group which was found in Harlingen and also in Danzig and other towns, who, deploring the schisms among the Mennonites and disapproving the mutual banning, but being too conservative to merge with High Germans and Waterlanders, united with the Flemish. At Harlingen this happened about 1610.

The Old Frisian branch founded a sociëteit (conference) of Frisian congregations about 1630 in the province of North Holland, which existed until 1841 and then merged with the Rijper (Waterlander) Conference. Outside the Netherlands there were found a few Frisians in Antwerp, and among the Mennonites in Prussia.

The split lasted longest in Prussia and among the emigrants to Russia. Variant practices in the observance of communion and baptism could still be noticed at the beginning of the 20th century. In the Flemish congregations (Heubuden, Fürstenwerder, Ladekopp, Tiegenhagen, Rosenort, and Elbing-Ellerwald) the preachers read their sermons while seated (Mennonitische Blätter (1912): 5), whereas in the Frisian congregations the sermons were not read (Thiensdorf, Markushof, Montau-Gruppe, Schönsee, Tragheimerweide, and Obernessau). 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 elder 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. In Friedrichstadt the unification occurred in 1698, in Danzig not until 1808 (H. G. Mannhardt, Die Danziger Mennoniten-Gemeinde: 89, 104). In West Prussia the ministers 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. After 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.

In Russia, 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 a futile 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 Flemish Mennonite.)


Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1912): 60-73.

Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 44.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 8 ff.

Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884; v. I, Nos. 480, 482, 486-88, 522, 524, 528, 532 ff., 546, 557, 5581, 568, 570, 572, 601, 605 ff.; v. II, Nos. 1406-12.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932: 431-34, 458-60.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland II. 1600-1735 Eerste Helft. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon n.v., 1940: 71, 191-92.

Mannhardt, H. G. Die Danziger Mennoniten-Gemeinde. Danzig, 1919.

Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis XI. The Hague, 1914: issue 3, 185-240.

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

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Neff, Christian and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Frisian Mennonites." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 2 Aug 2021.

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Neff, Christian and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1956). Frisian Mennonites. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 August 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 413-414. All rights reserved.

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