Reist, Hans (17th/18th century)

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Hans Reist (Reyst), (also called Hans Hüsli) (dates of birth and death not known), of Obertal, an elder in the Mennonite congregation in the Emmental, Switzerland. Not much is known about his life and work, though he was without doubt an important preacher and elder. In the official documents of Trachselwald of 1670-1671 Hans Reist is named as having left the country with his wife, who like him adhered to Anabaptist teaching; his leaving was probably not voluntary, however, for about that time about 700 persons were expelled from the canton of Bern. The farm home of Hans Reist in Rothenbaum, near Affoltern in the Emmental, was confiscated and sold. In the "Täufergeltstage," in the state archives of Bern, his estate is listed. The stock of grain, two cows, a calf, a pig, hay and straw, seven beds with furnishings, a loom, and furniture were sold at public auction. After paying the debts and other expenses, a sum of 854 pounds remained, which was added to the Anabaptist fund.

But Reist, like many other Emmental Anabaptists, returned from his exile. In 1686 the court record reads, "Hans Reist of Sumiswald, brother-in-law of Tobias Heininger, has been summoned to court, because he called for Heininger's wife at Waltrigen to take her to an Anabaptist meeting. He did not appear." In the prebendary manual of Dürrenroth, under date of 6 February 1701, there is a notation that "Hans Reischt" promised the magistrate, who had summoned him to answer for his Anabaptism (Teufferey), to attend church services and accept the sacraments. But by May 1704 the charge was made that Hans Reist's wife, "Baby Ryser," did not come to communion services, but instead went with her husband to an Anabaptist meeting on Saturday night and did not return until the next morning.

The Bernese Mennonites had a severe struggle to undergo in the storms of persecution of the 17th century; but a still worse struggle was brought upon the leaders by internal dissension. This was especially the case with Hans Reist, when Jakob Ammann  demanded a strict enforcement of avoidance in marriage and in eating (see Avoidance), thus causing a deep schism in the brotherhood. When he was asked his position on this point by Ammann, who was making a round of the congregations as Nikolaus Moser, the elder of Friedersmatt, and Peter Giger, of Reutenen, near Zaziwil, and others had done, Reist, at that time a preacher in Utzingen, near Worb, rejected such a strict interpretation of the ban. Avoidance at the table is wrong, said Reist, for it is not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles him. Peter Giger advocated calling all the Swiss elders together to examine the matter in the light of the Bible and then to act in accord with its teaching. Then a number of preachers and elders met at the home of Nikolaus Moser to discuss the question, when word came that Reist and his followers would not come. Peter Giger was grieved, as he wrote, when Ammann began to criticize the brethren. Giger begged them not to create a schism, "for if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another" (Galatians 5:15). But Ammann began to call Reist and six of his co-elders rabble-rousers who should be expelled from the brotherhood as liars and shunned. The brethren begged him to exercise patience; open transgressors who persist in their sin should be excluded with the counsel of the entire brotherhood, but not brethren on account of difference of opinion. Ammann, however, cut off fraternal relations with the opposing group and pronounced the ban on them. There were several violent arguments. Hans Reist now became the leader of those who opposed Ammann.

Soon afterward Ammann wrote a warning letter demanding that the brethren yield to his "Biblical views" within a short period. Such ultimatum-like demands resulted in a complete break, which defied all attempts at reconciliation, between the Amish and the Reist or Emmental group. Other points of difference, such as feetwashing, and strict regulation of clothing, were added to the points in dispute and became prominent issues.

The division extended into Alsace and the Palatinate. Ammann visited the Alsatian congregations, everywhere banning those who did not yield to his views. In March 1694 the preachers of the Palatinate reached an agreement with the Swiss, confirming their adherence to the milder application of the ban. This paper was signed by Hans Reist and nine other preachers and elders of the Swiss congregations, including Peter Giger, and seven of the Palatinate.

Again the brethren met in Markirch on 8 November 1697, to take a position against the harsh attitude of the Amish. Elder Hans Rudolf Nagele wrote a letter at Altkirch to Hans Reist severely criticizing Ammann's view that without his interpretation of the ban there was no salvation. It was his view that when the knowledge of the Word of God increased and the light of truth shone more brightly it would be clear whether salvation is to be sought in the ban or in the merit of Jesus, and that Ammann's position made the suffering of Jesus of no avail; the Amish were like wolves who did not spare Christ's flock (Acts 20), and who avoided neither lies nor deception to secure a greater following.

The dissension was bitter; the brethren found it difficult to be just to one another. Both sides called the other heretics. The Markirch congregation wrote another letter to the Emmental brethren on 23 December 1697, stating that Ammann had called them false teachers, excommunicated liars, indeed, servants of the devil. In a letter of 16 October  1699, Jakob Gut advised that the subject be dropped and all condemnation cease, for each would have to answer for his own deeds before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Ammann later rued his harsh action, and in a letter of 7 February 1700, confessed his wrong to the Reist group, requesting their forgiveness. But it was too late; the schism could not be healed. Among the immigrants to Holland in 1711 the two groups were sharply distinguished. The "Reistschen" in general were less willing to join the emigration than the Amish, and many of the Hans Reist group obstinately refused to leave the country. Their elder then was Peter Hahbegger; Peter Spaar (?), Hans Gärber, Ulrich Säger, Peter Oberley, and Christian Jacob were the preachers of this group, who are said to have lived particularly in the "Unterland." Daniel Grimm and Benedict Brechbühl (Brechbill), both of whom had been banished before but had secretly returned, were also very influential in persuading the Reist followers not to leave with the Amish.

Though nothing more is known about Reist's work, his spirit is evident in a prayer, which has been preserved in printed form, asking that God might come to the aid of the scattered believers who lived in tribulation, care, anxiety, and distress, and save them from the hands of those who did not know God. "Turn from us all unreasonable undertakings and attacks of men, who persecute, despise, insult, hate, and defame us, and . . . draw us all together in Thy great love and let no dissension or scattering come among us any more, but rather see, O Lord of Harvest, how great the harvest is, but how few Thy faithful workers are; so rouse up among us faithful workers, shepherds and teachers, preachers and elders, who may proclaim and reveal Thy Word."

Hans Reist is also the author of the song, "Es ist em wunderschone Gaab," 46 stanzas, which was long in use in the Swiss congregations. It has the heading, "A Scriptural Story of Abraham and His Son."


Gascho, Milton. "The Amish Division of 1693-1697 in Switzerland and Alsace." Mennonite Quarterly Review  11 (1937): 235-266.

Geiser, Samuel. Die Taufgesinnten-Gemeinden. Karlsruhe, 1931: 417 f.

Gratz, Delbert. Bernese Anabaptists. Scottdale: Herald Press, 1953.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 460.

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: I, No. 1334; see also Nos. 1255a, 1255c, 1331, 1337, 1339, 1341.

Mast, John B. The Letters of the Amish Division. Oregon City, 1950.

Müller, Ernst. Geschichte der Bernischen Täufer. Frauenfeld: Huber, 1895. Reprinted Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf, 1972: 314-319.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer. Berlin, 1903. Reprinted Nieuwkoop : B. De Graaf, 1965: 156.

Author(s) Samuel Geiser
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Geiser, Samuel. "Reist, Hans (17th/18th century)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 30 Jul 2021.,_Hans_(17th/18th_century)&oldid=146121.

APA style

Geiser, Samuel. (1959). Reist, Hans (17th/18th century). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 July 2021, from,_Hans_(17th/18th_century)&oldid=146121.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 281-282. All rights reserved.

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