Ries, Hans de (1553–1638)

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Hans de Ries Source: Doopsgezinde prenten

Hans de Ries, (also de Rys, de Reis, de Rycke, le Riche, which may have been his official name), born 13 December 1553, at Antwerp, Belgium, died 14 September 1638, at Alkmaar, Holland, was an important leader of the Dutch Mennonites. Originally, when he found himself at variance with Roman Catholic doctrine, he united with the Reformed church of his native city; but he did not feel at ease among them either, because they carried arms when they went to their religious meetings, and possibly also because of their strictly dogmatic spirit. He was drawn to the Anabaptists, but hesitated to join the congregation at Antwerp, which was rather conservative. Then he became acquainted with the somewhat more liberal spirit of the Waterlander branch in Holland and journeyed to De Rijp in North Holland, where he was baptized upon confession of his faith by Simon Michiels in 1575 or 1576. Soon he returned to Antwerp, and on 4 January 1577, he stood beside the stake at which his friend Hans Bret suffered martyrdom for his faith. He married the mother of his friend, and probably soon afterward left the insecurity of Antwerp. His employer—de Ries was a bookkeeper and is therefore also known as Hans Cassier—rode after them on horseback, and the noble-minded Catholic gave them a purse of money: "Take this and use it in your need." In September 1577 de Ries was in Alkmaar, where he with other Waterlander preachers drew up a confession of faith of 25 articles, the first known Dutch Mennonite confession (printed in Doopsgezinde Bijdragen [1904] 145-56). Later he did much traveling. He is thought to have spent some time in Aachen, Germany, and in April 1578 he was in Middelburg, the capital of the province of Zeeland, where he was imprisoned, but released after a month on condition that he leave the area of the city within 24 hours. Then he went to Emden, where he had his headquarters until about 1600. In 1600 or a little earlier he was back in Alkmaar as leader of the Waterlander congregation, a position he held until his death.

The influence of Hans de Ries was profound on the Mennonites of the Netherlands, especially the Waterlander branch. He was a friend of Dirk Volkertsz Coornhert, whom Kühler calls the "Sebastian Franck of Holland," and like Coornhert he thought little of the external (visible) church. He was a Spiritualist , that is, he believed that the believer must be completely open to the Spirit of God. Church constitutions, regulations, offices, sacraments, ban, and the church itself are of minor importance. Apparently, under the influence of Coornhert, de Ries even laid aside his preaching office in 1578, but it was only for a short time, for soon he was actively on duty again. Later on he also grew more conservative, although throughout his life he did not rate the organization and authority of the church and its elders as highly as most of the Frisians and Flemish did at that time. In the Waterlander congregations the ban was little applied, avoidance not at all, and marriage with non-members was not considered serious.

In many areas de Ries was an outstanding leader. With great joy he watched the merger take place between the High Germans and the Frisians in 1591 on the basis of the Concept of Cologne. Throughout his life he worked for the unification of all Mennonites; he wanted to "heal the breach." Unfortunately he saw very little visible result. But the beginning seemed promising. After the union between the High Germans and the Frisians effort was made to bring the Waterlanders into this merger, and de Ries strove untiringly for this goal. Gradually many of the Waterlander congregations joined the union, and in 1601 the Bevredigde Broederschap, that is, the brotherhood that had made peace, was accomplished, and more and more Waterlander congregations joined. But about 1610 it became clear that this union was after all somewhat artificial, because the views of the Frisians and the High Germans, especially regarding the ban and outside marriage, were not those of the Waterlanders; therefore a large part of the Frisians and High Germans withdrew as Afgedeelden from the Bevredigde Broederschap in 1613. This must have been a bitter experience for de Ries.

The loss was balanced by a gain; in 1615 in Amsterdam a group of English Brownists united with the Mennonites (see Smyth, John). For this union de Ries, in co-operation with Lubbert Gerritsz, a Frisian elder who had joined the Waterlanders via the Bevredigde Broederschap and was at the time a leader of the Amsterdam Waterlander congregation, drew up a confession of faith of 38 articles, which was later, with two additional articles, printed and is known as the Confession of Hans de Ries.

Of great importance is de Ries's work in martyr literature. The old first martyr book, Het Offer des Heeren, had contained reports on only a few of the martyrs. When the need of a new edition became apparent, de Ries decided to issue an entirely new and more complete edition. For years he had been collecting reports and records on the martyrs and had stimulated others to do the same, for example, Jacques Outerman among the Flemish. On the basis of this preliminary work he published in 1615 his Historie der Martelaren ofte waerachtighe Getuygen Jesu Christi, with an important introduction in which he urged love and peace and asked that the Mennonites bury their dissensions. Unfortunately this admonition was little heeded. The new martyr book, however, was very welcome; after it had been reprinted with slight alterations in 1617, 1626, and 1631, T. J. van Braght used it as the basis for his Martyrs' Mirror in 1660 and 1685.

De Ries also gave the church a hymnal, published first in 1582 with the title Lietboeck, and in six later editions under different names, e.g., Lie(d)tboeck, Het Boeck der Ghesangen, and Gesangboeck. In 1624 the book appeared in a completely revised edition. In this edition the rhymed version of the Psalms by Dathenus was added. De Ries's high evaluation of the Old Testament Psalms was probably due to his temporary sympathy with the Reformed Church; it was in turn due to his influence that the Psalms gradually replaced the Liedekens in the assemblies of the Dutch Mennonites. His authority is also seen in the Waterlander custom of partaking of communion while seated around a table (Avondmaal bij aanzitting), whereas in other branches the emblems were taken by the ministers to the members, who remained seated (Avondmaal bij Rondgang).

De Ries was one of the first Mennonites to replace silent prayer with audible prayer by the minister (stemmelijk gebed). He apparently also introduced the practice of admitting members of the Reformed Church without (re)baptism; for this he was severely criticized by the conservative branches like the Frisians and the Flemish. About the end of the 17th century this became the practice of the Lamists, and is now the general practice among the Dutch Mennonites. Thus Hans de Ries was in many regards an innovator who steered the brotherhood into new paths.

The library and the archives of the Mennonite church in Amsterdam contain a number of documents in de Ries's own handwriting, as well as many letters written by and to him. In addition to his Lietboeck and the confession, published in 1610, 1614, 1618, 1624, 1634, 1640, 1643, 1654, 1658, 1681, 1686, 1700, 1716, 1740, 1741, all in Dutch, a French edition (no place of publication indicated, 1684), a Latin (Amsterdam, 1723), and a German (Amsterdam, 1741), the following books by de Ries are still extant (other tracts may have been lost): Cort ende claer bewijs, dat de twaelf Jongheren, daer d'Euangelist Lucas van meldet, Act. 19, vers 1. twee mael met water ghedoopt zijn (Amsterdam, 1597), and Ontdeckinghe der dwalingen, misduydinghen der H. Schrift ende verscheyden mis-slagen, begrepen in seecker Boek, ghenaemt Raech-besem (Hoorn, 1627), directed against Nittert Obbesz. After de Ries's death two tracts were published with Kort Verhael van het Leven en de Daden van Hans de Ries; these tracts were Een seer stichtelijck Tractaet, by maniere van een Vaderlijcke onderwijsinghe . . . ghestelt 1581, and ‘t Fonteyntien, zijnde: een corte onderrichtinge. This volume also contains a letter of 1630 by de Ries: Eenen brief gheschreven aen M.T. His Klaer Bewys van de Eeuwigheydt ende Godheydt Jesu Christi appeared at Haarlem in 1672 and was reprinted at Leeuwarden and at Haarlem in 1688. Marten Schagen mentions the following additional writings by de Ries: Seyndt-brief waer in begrepen is een corte Bekentenisse bevesticht met de H. Schrift, van eenige stucken betreffende de Mensheyt Christi, followed by Bewijs uyt der H. Schrift, dat Maria is van den Sade ofte Geslachte Davids (Amsterdam, 1604).

De Ries was a man of great authority. At times his action seems headstrong and imperious, for which reason some of his opponents called him "Pope Hans." He was a very beloved preacher, and is said to have moved his hearers to tears, especially in his prayers. He was frequently called by other congregations to settle disputes or to arbitrate in matters of discord. In 1608 he was in Haarlem to intermediate between Leenaert Clock and Claes Wolter Kops; in 1618 he presided at a conference of elders and preachers at Workum, which met to examine charges made against elder Rippert Eenkes; in 1626 he was asked to settle the quarrel between Nittert Obbesz and the leaders of the Waterlander congregation at Amsterdam.

Hans de Ries carried on an extensive correspondence with many congregations and preachers. The Danzig congregation asked him for advice in countering the persistence of the Socinians and even bade him come over for a disputation with their leaders. In Amsterdam he had to intervene in the dispute with Nittert Obbesz . He was engaged in controversy with many opponents both within and without the Mennonite fold. The great number of these polemics, of which only a few were printed, complete the picture of a man who served the kingdom of God faithfully and without regard for consequences. At the age of 84 he allowed himself to be persuaded to undertake a journey by boat to Zaandam to preach a sermon. Once more he served his church at Alkmaar (in early August 1638). Three weeks later he became bedfast; he died on 14 September 1638.

Three days later he was buried in the Reformed Church (Groote Kerk) at Alkmaar. The Haarlem preacher Denys van der Schuere delivered his funeral sermon. He married three times. His first wife, the mother of Hans Bret, apparently died soon after they fled from Antwerp; concerning his second wife nothing is known, not even her name; his third wife was Guertje Jansdochter, whom he married in Alkmaar, and who died on 3 July 1638, a few months before his death. His portrait was painted by Michiel Mierevelt.


Ballot, J. S. S."Hans de Ries, zijn levenen werken." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1863): 104-24; (1864): 1-74.

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1877): 79, 84 f., 87 f., 92; (1891): 8; (1897): 103, 109 f., 113 f., 164 f.; (1900): 76, 84 f.; (1903): 59-74; (1904): 141 ff.; 1907, 70; (1908): 33, 40; (1909): 43-48; (1910): 25.

Doopsgezind Jaarboekje (1837): 94 ff. (1840): 145 f., 150 note.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 509-11.

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: vols. I, II, and IIa, numerous letters; the most important are I, Nos. 424 f., 430, 468 f., 483, 488, 495 ft., 501 ff., 528, 533, 543, 555, 642-58; II, Nos. 1193 f., 1198, 1207 ff., 1345, 1355, 1367, 1375, 1692, 2624 f., 2926 ff., 2934; II, 2, Nos. 334, 338, 364, 655 ft., 864.

Kort Verhael van het Leven en de Daden van Hans de Ries. De Rijp, 1644 (Reprinted 1655).

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.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland: Gemeentelijk Leven 1650-1735. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1950: v. III: 18 f., 27, 34, 44 f.

Molhuysen, P. C. and P. J. Blok. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, 10 vols. Leiden, 1911-1937: v. II, 1209-11.

Schagen, Marten. Naamlijst der Doopsgezinde schrijveren. Amsterdam, 1745: 83-85.

Schijn, Hermann. Uitvoeriger Verhandeling van de Geschiedenisse der Mennoniten. Amsterdam: Kornelis de Wit, 1744: v. II, 156, 157.

Schijn, Hermann. Aanhangzel Dienende tot den Vervolg of Derde Deel van de Geschiedenis der Mennoniten .. . in het welke noch Negentien Leeraars der Mennoniten . . . Amsterdam: Kornelis de Wit, 1745: v. III, 482-94.

Wessel, J. H. De leerstellige strijd tusschen Nederlandsche Gereformeerden en Doopsgezinden in de zestiende eeuw. Assen, 1946: 22 f., 114.

Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Ries, Hans de (1553–1638)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 13 Jul 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ries,_Hans_de_(1553%E2%80%931638)&oldid=146163.

APA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. (1959). Ries, Hans de (1553–1638). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 July 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ries,_Hans_de_(1553%E2%80%931638)&oldid=146163.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 330-332, 1147. All rights reserved.

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