Menno Simons (c. 1496 – 1561) was an Anabaptist religious leader from Friesland (today a province of The Netherlands). Simons was a contemporary of the Protestant Reformers and his followers became known as Mennonites. Around 1526 or 1527, questions surrounding the doctrine of transubstantiation caused Menno Simons to begin a serious and in-depth search of the scriptures, which he confessed he had not previously studied, even being a Catholic priest. At this time he arrived at what some have termed an “evangelical humanist” position.
Menno’s first knowledge of the concept of “rebaptism”, which he said “sounded very strange to me”, was in 1531 when he heard about the beheading of Sicke Freerks Snijder at Leeuwarden for being “rebaptized”. Through a new search of the scriptures Menno Simons believed that infant baptism is not in the Bible. He discussed the issue with his pastor, searched the Church Fathers, and read the works of Martin Luther and Heinrich Bullinger. While still pondering the issue, he was transferred to Witmarsum. Here he came into direct contact with Anabaptists, preaching and practicing believer’s baptism. Later, some of the Münsterite disciples came there as well. While he regarded them as misled and fanatical, he was drawn to their zeal and their view on the Bible, the Church, and discipleship. When his brother Pieter was among a group of Anabaptists killed near Bolsward in 1535, Menno experienced a spiritual and mental crisis. He said he “prayed to God with sighs and tears that He would give to me, a sorrowing sinner, the gift of His grace, create within me a clean heart, and graciously through the merits of the crimson blood of Christ, he would graciously forgive my unclean walk and unprofitable life…”
Menno Simons rejected the Catholic church and the priesthood in January 1536, casting his lot with the Anabaptists. His date of baptism is unknown, but by October of 1536 his connection with Anabaptism was well-known. In that month Herman and Gerrit Jans were arrested and charged with having lodged Simons. He was probably baptized not long after leaving Witmarsum in early 1536. He was ordained around 1537 by Obbe Philips. Obbe and his brother, Dirk Philips, were among the peaceful disciples of Melchior Hoffman (the more radical having set up the kingdom in Münster). It was Hoffman who introduced the first self-sustaining Anabaptism to the Netherlands, when he taught and practiced believers’ baptism in Emden in East Frisia. Menno Simons rejected the violence advocated by the Munster movement, believing it was not Scriptural.His theology was focused on separation from this world, and baptism by repentance symbolized this.
Menno rose quickly to become a man of influence and by 1544 the termMennonite or Mennist was used in a letter to refer to the Dutch Anabaptists. He is especially significant in coming to the Anabaptist movement in the north in its most troublesome days, and helping not only to sustain it, but also to establish it as a viable Radical Reformation movement.