Hymnology of the Mennonites in the Netherlands

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Anabaptists and Mennonites even in the earliest period sang hymns in their meetings when it was possible to do so. Mostly it was impossible to sing together, because in the period of persecution singing would attract the attention of the government officers, who eagerly tracked down the Anabaptists, and there are a few cases of meetings being surprised by the officers because the singing had betrayed them. But among the earliest Anabaptists many songs (liedekens) were known. Anneken Jans was arrested in January 1539 at Rotterdam because a "heretical song" that she had sung in the ferryboat had betrayed her. In prison the martyrs often took up a hymn to comfort themselves and each other, and of a number of martyrs it is mentioned that they were singing a hymn while going to the execution places.

As to what kind of hymns they sang no definite answer can be given. Only in two or three cases do we have information. Reytse Aysesz, executed at Leeuwarden in 1574, on the way to his execution began the hymn, "Ic roep U, o Hemelsche Vader aen, Wilt myn geloove stercken" (I call to Thee, heavenly Father, wilt Thou strengthen my faith) (Martyrs Mirror [Dutch ed., 690, English ed., 1005]). Another martyr sang, "Ic arm scaep aen groener heyde" (I poor sheep on the green heath), which is a well-known medieval song.

Soon there were in circulation a number of hymns composed by the martyrs themselves in prison (as is mentioned of many of them), or composed by others, all unknown poets, to celebrate their martyrdom. These hymns, rhymed versions of their trials and accounts of their sufferings and death, must have been clandestinely printed on separate sheets and circulated shortly after the death of a martyr, as is evident in the case of the "liedeken" on Anneken Jans, which was sung on the streets of Hamburg only a few weeks after her death (1539).

In the second half of the 16th century these single hymns were collected and compiled in songbooks. In 1562-1563 a collection of hymns by and about martyrs was published, together with the oldest Dutch martyrbook, Het Offer des Heeren.  The name of the collection of hymns was Lietboecxken van den Offer des Heeren. This Lietboecxken was reprinted together with the Offer at least 10 times (last edition in 1599). Besides these historical hymns another type of hymns, called Schriftuurlijke Liedekens (Scriptural hymns), or Geestelijke Liedekens (Spiritual hymns) were used among the Mennonites, and soon pushed aside the martyr songs. As early as 1560 the first hymnary of this type was published by Nicolaes Biestkens. It is entitled Veelderhande Liedekens. This first edition has been lost, as was also a second edition of 1562; of the following editions of 1566, an undated edition, one of 1569, one of 1579, and one of 1580, copies are still extant. Of a second collection, printed in 1562 by Biestkens and entitled Een Nieu Liedenboeck, there is only one copy extant found in the Amsterdam Mennonite Library. This Nieu Liedenboeck was reprinted at Amsterdam in 1582 by Biestkens under the title Het Tweede Liedenboeck (the second hymnary). Van Braght (Mart. Mir. [Dutch ed., 665, English ed., 683]) mentions a Rotterdamsch Liedboeck. What kind of hymnary this was is unknown, since no copy of it has been found. These hymnbooks may all have been used in Mennonite congregations. They are all without notes and could be sung according to the melody which is announced at the top of each hymn. In most cases two melodies are given. These melodies are of well-known songs, both secular and spiritual, sometimes of a psalm used in the Reformed Church.

The Dutch Mennonites of the 16th century did not sing psalms as the Calvinists did. Reytse Aysesz about 1570 was accused by a Reformed preacher that whereas they (the Reformed) sang the Biblical Psalms of David, the Mennonites used songs made by man, but Reytse was comforted by the thought that their (Mennonite) hymns were made according to the Scriptures (Mart. Mir. [Dutch ed., 686, English ed., 1001]).

Among the authors of these Schriftuurlycke Liedekens are Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, Boost Eeeuwouts, Jacques Outerman, Hans de Ries, Claes Ganglofs, Leenaert Clock, Jan Jacobsz, and Pieter Jansz Twisck, as well as a large number of anonymous poets.

In the early 17th century the Veelderhande Liedekens and other old songbooks were largely replaced. New hymnaries were composed and put into use. It is impossible to enumerate all of them, since more than 100 different hymnaries were published between 1582 and 1790. Some of the most important were Hans de Ries, Lietboeck of 1582 (many reprints under varying titles); Carel van Mander, De Gulden Harpe (1599); Leenaert Clock, Het Groote Liede-boeck (1625); Het Gheestelyck Kruydt-Hofken (1637); Het Rijper Liedtboecxken (1637); 't Kleyn Hoorns-Lietboeck (1644-45); 't Groot Hoorns Liedtboeck (1647); Claes Stapel, Lusthof der Zielen (about 1680, 2nd ed. 1682, 3rd ed. 1729); Lusthof des Gemoeds (1732); De Geestelijke Goudschaale, 1st ed. in 1662 at Franeker, 2nd ed. 1683 at Leeuwarden, 4th ed. 1751. These songbooks were used in the different branches of the Dutch Mennonites. For example, the Waterlanders used de Ries's hymnal, the Old Flemish van Mander's Gulden Harpe, and the Groningen Old Flemish Lusthof des Gemoeds. Many of these hymnaries did not contain original hymns, but largely borrowed from each other. With the exception of van Mander's hymnbook the poetical quality of these hymns is rather mediocre or less. As is said in the preface of many of these hymnaries they were intended not only for congregational singing, but also for private use, or to be read "for the edification of souls."

As mentioned above, the early Anabaptists and Mennonites did not sing Psalms, but this changed in the 17th century. Quite early, Hans de Ries, a champion of Psalm-singing, had inserted in the 1624 edition of his hymnary all 150 rhymed Psalms after the version of Dathenus, and from then on singing of Psalms became more and more usual. In the Flemish congregation of Amsterdam about 1630 a fine had to be paid every time the preacher allowed any other hymn to be sung but a Psalm (DB 1865, 69). But the clumsy version of Dathenus did not satisfy; so the Lam and Toren congregation of Amsterdam introduced in 1684 a new Psalmbook, rhymed by the Mennonites J. Oudaen, D. R. Camphuyzen, Galenus Abrahamsz, and others. In 1713 the Haarlem congregation replaced Dathenus' version by a psalter rhymed by Vondel, Hooft, Westerbaen, Rooleeuw, and other poets in 1713. Some other congregations introduced either the Amsterdam or the Haarlem Psalter. The Amsterdam Zonist congregration used the Dathenus version until 1762, when it was replaced by a Psalmbook rhymed by the literary association "Laus Deo Salus Populo." This version too was used in a number of Dutch Mennonite congregations. In most cases some other hymnbook was used in addition to the psalter. From the end of the 18th century the singing of Psalms decreased in favor of hymns.

1804 Haarlem hymnbook.
Source: Conrad Grebel University College Library

Since the old hymnbooks were no longer available, or were little appreciated, they went out of use, except in a few congregations like Ameland, where De Geestelijke Goudschaale was in use until 1818 (DB 1890, 7) and in Aalsmeer, Giethoorn, and Balk, which used the Kleyn Hoorns Lietboeck--reprinted as late as 1814--until the 19th century, Balk until 1854 (DB 1892, 56, 65 f.) and Aalsmeer even until 1862 (DB 1862, 147). The congregation at Grouw used the hymnal by Stapel until about 1800. A number of new hymnaries appeared, all bearing the traits of that rationalistic time. The congregation of Rotterdam introduced a new hymnary in 1776; the Amsterdam Lamist congregation compiled the Kleine bundel in 1791, the Amsterdam Zonist congregation the Groote bundel in 1796. Hamburg-Altona, then still using hymnaries in the Dutch language, composed the Altonasche Liederen in 1802. Haarlem introduced a new hymnary in 1804, Zwolle one in 1808. All these hymnaries were not only in use in the congregations which had compiled them, but also in other congregations, as was especially a songbook called Uitgezochte Liederen, composed by a committee and published in 1809, which was introduced in about 20 congregations. Most of the hymns of all these hymnaries were borrowed from older songbooks though the words of the hymns occasionally were much altered. Often the same hymns were found in all these songbooks, most of which also contained a number of Psalms. Some Mennonite congregations introduced the Reformed Evangelische Gezangen of 1805.

From about 1850 nearly all these hymnaries were replaced by new ones. After an attempt to get only one hymnary for common use by Dutch Mennonites had miscarried, both Amsterdam and Haarlem compiled new hymnaries, Amsterdam in 1848 (Christelike Gezangen, 2 vv.) and again 2 vv. in 1895 (Doopsgezinde Liederen), to which a supplement was added in 1916, and Haarlem introduced new hymnaries, Christelijke Kerkgezangen in 1851 and Doopsgezinde Liederen and the Lutheran hymnbook, both in 1895. Both these Amsterdam and Haarlem songbooks came to be used by a number of other congregations, as was a new hymnary introduced in 1893 at Groningen and Deventer, 119 Christelijke Kerkgezangen.

1897 hymnbook produced by J. Sepp and H. Boetje.
Source: Conrad Grebel University College Library

In the meantime a number of Mennonite congregations had put into use a hymnary composed by the Union of Dutch (liberal) Christians (Nederlandsche Protestantenbond), which had been published in 1882, as well as the two hymnaries of the Remonstrants. In 1897 two Mennonite ministers, J. Sepp and H. Boetje, published Gezangen ten gebruike in Doopsgezinde Gemeenten. This hymnary, in 1900 enlarged by an anthology from the Psalms and usually called Leidsche Bundel, became the songbook of many congregations, though it was not introduced in all congregations as the authors had hoped.

In 1900 the following hymnals were in use (some congregations used two or even four different hymnbooks): Het Boek der Psalmen (Reformed Psalter) in 82 congregations; Godsdienstige Liederen of the "Protestantenbond" in 31; Leidsche Bundel in 27; Groote Bundel in 26; Evangelische Gezangen (hymns of the Dutch Reformed Church) in 18; Vervolgbundel op de Evangelische Gezangen (appendix to the hymns of the Reformed Church) in 14; Uitgezochte Liederen in 13; Christelijke Liederen 11 (Amsterdam hymnbook of 1870) in 11; Doopsgezinde Liederen (Haarlem hymnal I and II, of 1895) in 9; Evangelische Gezangen, uitgegeven vanwege de Remonstrantsche Broederschap (Remonstrant hymnaries I and II) in 7; Kleine Bundel (1791) in 6; Christelijke Liederen (Amsterdam hymnbook I of 1870) in 6; Christelijke Gezangen uitgegeven door de Synode der Evangelisch-Luthersche Kerk, 1884 (Haarlem hymnal II of 1895) in 5; Christelijke Kerkgezangen (Haarlem hymnal of 1851) in 5; Het Boek der Psalmen volgens de overzetting van het dichtgenootschap Laus Deo Salus Populo of 1759 in 2; Zwolsche Liederen in 1.

In 1940 these figures were: Godsdienstige Liederen of the "Protestantenbond" in 73 congregations; Vervolgbundel van de Godsdienstige Liederen of the "Protestantenbond" in 60; Leidsche Bundel in 45; Het Boek der Psalmen in 20; Evangelische Gezangen in 7; Vervolgbundel op de Evangelische Gezangen in 5; Christelijke Liederen II in 3; Doopsgezinde Liederen I in 3; Christelijke Gezangen, uitgegeven door de Synode der Evangelisch-Luthersche Kerk in 3; Aanhangsel (Appendix) to the Amsterdam hymnary (1916) in 2; Groote Bundel, Kleine Bundel, and Psalms Laus Deo, each in 1.

All these hymnbooks were put out of use in 1944, when a new hymnary, entitled Liederenbundel ten dienste van de Doopsgezinde Broederschap and commonly called Doopsgezinde Bundel, appeared. It came into being by the cooperation of the Mennonites, the Remonstrants, and the Dutch Protestantenbond. The Mennonites use the main body of 250 hymns, followed by a special appendix of 50 hymns, which are not inserted in the Remonstrant and Protestantenbond hymnaries. All Mennonite congregations, except three, introduced this new hymnary.

In the 16th and early 17th century only one hymn was sung at the beginning and one at the close of the meeting, and this remained the custom in conservative groups such as Groningen Old Flemish and Jan-Jacobsz group until the end of the 18th century. About the middle of the 17th century both Lamist and Zonist congregations, obviously influenced by the practice of the Reformed church, sang a hymn at three times. Nowadays most congregations sing a hymn three times during the services, but sometimes also four and five times. From about 1770 the churches gradually installed pipe organs to accompany the singing of the congregation.

Because the Dutch language continued to be used in worship in the Mennonite congregations of Hamburg-Altona and near by until the end of the 18th century, and in the congregations of East and West Prussia and Danzig until the beginning of the 19th, Dutch Mennonite hymnbooks long continued in use in these areas. Although most of these were imported from the Netherlands, some were expressly printed for these congregations in Prussia, and it is possible that two or three were actually printed there. As early as 1597 Sommige andachtighe ende leerachtige Gheestelicke Liedekens were published at Amsterdam but intended for the Mennonites in Prussia. Obviously they were used in the Frisian congregations. A 1638 edition of this hymnal (published at Haarlem, Holland) was used in the Frisian congregation of Montau, West Prussia. A Pruys Liedt-boeck inhoudende schriftuurlijcke nieuwe Liedekens (Amsterdam, 1604), with an Introduction by I.I. from Danzig, was followed by the Tweede Pruys Liedtbocksken in 1607. A number of Dutch Mennonite hymnals, mentioned before, such as the hymnal of Hans de Ries, the Kleyn Hoorns Lietboeck, and the Lusthof des Gemoeds, were also frequently used in the Prussian congregations. In the correspondence between the Prussian Mennonites and the congregations of Amsterdam and Groningen the request was frequently made to send Dutch hymnbooks to Prussia, and in 1753 (Inv. Arch. Amst. 1, No. 1600) mention is made of a hymnal for Prussia which was printed in the Netherlands.

The Flemish congregation of Hamburg-Altona, from 1685, used Gesanghboek of Gesanghen, om op alle feestdagen en vor en na de predicatie in de Vergaderingen te singen (Hamburg, 1685). The Christelijke Gezangen voor de openbaare Godsdienst-oeffeningen of 1802, usually called Altonasche Liederen, was also in the Dutch language and printed at Amsterdam.

See also Church Music; Hymnology of the Anabaptists; Hymnology (1989); Hymnology of the Mennonites of West and East Prussia, Danzig, and Russia; Hymnology of the North American Mennonites; Hymnology of the Swiss, French, and South German Mennonites


Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1837): 63-65; (1865): 67-94, 153-59; (1867): 72-77; (1887): 86-112; (1900): 71-124; (1902): 1-25.

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.

Kühler, W. J. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem, 1932: 248 f., 293 f., 348.

Kühler, W. J. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland: Gemeentelijk Leven 1650-1735. Haarlem, 1950: 28-37.

Zijpp, N. van der. Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Nederland. Arnhem, 1952: 110, 112-14, 165, 170, 243, notes 25 and 43.

Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Hymnology of the Mennonites in the Netherlands." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 16 Sep 2019. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hymnology_of_the_Mennonites_in_the_Netherlands&oldid=126734.

APA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. (1956). Hymnology of the Mennonites in the Netherlands. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 September 2019, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hymnology_of_the_Mennonites_in_the_Netherlands&oldid=126734.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 873-875. All rights reserved.

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