Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
The book contains two articles and an introduction to each by the editor. The two articles are considered to be among the most important contributions made by Menno Simons, a Dutch priest and subsequently an Anabaptist preacher and an important figure in the Reformation. “Confession” was written to explain Menno’s decision to leave the Catholic priesthood and to counter accusations that he was part of the extreme radical arm of the Reformation exemplified by the Anabaptist group that captured and held the German city of Münster from 1534 to 1535. “The New Birth” was written to explain the behavior that should characterize a follower of Christ and to challenge the established religious leaders with regard to their behavior.
In “Confession,” Menno described his service as a Catholic priest, starting in 1524. Early in his Catholic career, it troubled him that the bread and wine used in the Communion service did not appear to change into the flesh and blood of Jesus. The Catholic Church’s doctrine of transubstantiation argued that such a change took place. He tried to allay his doubts but could not escape them no matter how much he prayed. As a result, he was inspired to study the New Testament, in which he found no basis for the literal transformation.
When Menno heard that an Anabaptist was beheaded for being baptized as an adult, he studied the New Testament with regard to baptism. The word Anabaptist means “baptized again or rebaptised” and was coined to describe a loose group of Reformation activists who believed the Bible taught that baptism should come after a person had declared his or her belief in Christ, not as an infant before that decision could be made. Infant baptism was the policy and theology of the Catholic Church, and most infants were baptized. Therefore, baptism as an adult was generally a second baptism and was held to be a capital offense. Menno’s study led him to agree with the Anabaptists.
As Menno searched the New Testament for information...
(The entire section is 825 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Sources for Further Study
Goertz, Hans-Jurgen. The Anabaptists. Translated and revised by Trevor Johnson. New York: Routledge, 1996. Sets the historical stage for Menno Simons and his writings. Includes a table that outlines the chronology of the Anabaptists’ early years.
Kraybill, Donald B. Who Are the Anabaptists? Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2003. A brief history of the Anabaptist movement and its offspring groups, the Hutterites, Brethren, Mennonites, and Amish.
Menno Simons. The Complete Works of Menno Simons. LaGrange, Ind.: Pathway, 1983. Contains alternate translations of the two papers considered here. Lends itself to a complete study of all Menno’s written ideas.
Urry, James. Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2006. Traces the development of the organizations most closely linked to Menno Simons’s name, the Mennonite churches.
Voolstra, Sjouke. Menno Simons: His Image and Message. Newton, Kans.: Mennonite Press, 1997. Considers the contributions of Menno Simons to theology and his place in religious history.