Anabaptists and Jesuits – Lest We Forget

Have the modern Mennonites who are following the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola and learning Jesuit spirituality ever read their own history?

The following excerpts are from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) → Jesuits.

Who were the Jesuits?

Jesuits, members of the Society of Jesus (abbreviated “S.J.,” always found after the name of a member), are a Catholic order founded by Ignatius of Loyola (1481-1556), a Spanish nobleman who during an illness experienced a conversion and founded this order in 1534. Its main purpose was to assist the papacy in the fight against all foes of Catholicism, first Lutherans, later Calvinists, and all sectarians generally called “heretics.” Absolute obedience to the pope was a major point of this new order, which distinguished itself from the older monastic orders in that its members did not necessarily live in monastic houses but could be active at any place where their work was needed. In 1540 the pope confirmed this new “Society,” which from then on was the very spearhead of the reform of the Roman Church and of the fight by all kinds of means to regain those areas which had been lost to Protestantism and (to a lesser degree) Anabaptism (see Counter-Reformation)…

What did Jesuits have to do with Anabaptist Mennonites?

From the point of view of Anabaptist-Mennonite history only a few countries require attention: the Rhineland (Cologne, Jülich), the bishopric of Speyer, Bavaria (always a pillar of the Catholic faith), and above all the Hapsburg countries—Austria, Tyrol, Moravia, and from the 18th century on also Hungary. Poland, too, was an important field of Jesuit activities…

16th Century:

(A) The Sixteenth Century. The Jesuits had considerable success in converting Anabaptists on the Lower Rhine, especially in Cologne, from 1557 to 1566. The details are given in a book by Joseph Hansen, Rheinische Akten zur Geschichte des Jesuitenordens 1542-1582 (Bonn, 1896). They “converted” some, delivered many to the executioner, and had most of them expelled from the land (Rembert, 536-541). Ernst Müller reports (Berner Täufer, 195) that the Swiss Brethren who settled in Jülich-Berg in 1653 were driven out by the Jesuits.

As to the bishopric of Speyer we hear of the imprisonment (1568) of the Hutterite missionary Hans Arbeiter, formerly a “Swiss brother” of the Rhine area congregation. From the Hutterite Geschicht-Buch (Wolkan, 327) we know of the vain attempts of a Jesuit preacher of the cathedral church (Domprediger), Dr. Lamprecht, to convince the brother of his errors and to bring him back to the old church. The story is most dramatically told by Hans Arbeiter himself. After seven months, the brother was released. The Geschicht-Buch reports once more of such an incident in Speyer. In 1612 two brethren were caught and imprisoned in Kierweiler castle, where again Jesuits worked upon them but to no avail. After having passed through much tribulation, they were finally freed (Wolkan, 506-510).

As to Bavaria, we know very little about Jesuit activities during the 16th century, although such work might be assumed. Since 1549 Jesuits were teaching at Ingolstadt, where later a great center of Jesuit activities developed with a great university and a Jesuit press. But Anabaptism had already been weak here in the second half of the century, and died out completely around 1580-1590. We know of one Hutterite brother, Christian Gasteiger, who was imprisoned in Ingolstadt in 1586, and again worked upon by Jesuits, but his final martyrdom came not in Ingolstadt but in Munich. “The Jesuits pressed hard” to achieve his death sentence (Wolkan, 423-424). In Ingolstadt also a number of polemical books against the Anabaptists were published, such as the books by Christoph Erhard, Christoph Fischer, Caspar Franck, and Jacob Gretser, although Erhard was not a Jesuit.

18th Century:

(B) The Eighteenth Century. In this century the Palatinate had as its only Catholic ruler the prince elector Karl Theodor (ruled 1742-1799), who had been educated by Jesuits and who now tried to carry out their principles. Of some renown is the case of the three children of a Mennonite widow Maurer who were taken away from their mother, baptized in a Catholic church, and kept in a Catholic orphanage. One child died there, but the others, having been released after confirmation, soon thereafter were baptized into the Mennonite (Amish) Church by the Bishop Johann Nafziger. Thereupon the children were again put into jail; an opinion of the University of Heidelberg even advised the death penalty. After prolonged actions back and forth, they were eventually released, but the minister Nafziger was exiled forever (Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalender (1906): 54-78)….

What was the biggest danger?

Much more dangerous was the enforced “conversion” to the Catholic faith. Children were taken away and put into orphanages, men were removed into Jesuit houses either to change their minds or to die there eventually. Catholic services were held on the Bruderhofs, and everyone was compelled to attend. To all this the Empress had given her consent, and Jesuits carried out the orders, using both harsh and mild methods. One advice was to put all stubborn men into the army, but that was not carried out. In Sobotište, Slovakia, the Jesuit missionary Emerich Rotari was active around 1760; in Levar (Velky Levary) the priest Heinrich (Henricius), a former Jesuit, was active around 1780 (the Society of Jesus having been suppressed in 1773). Even the general of the Society of Jesus himself expressed interest in this work and ordered the dispatch of more missionaries into this field in 1760 (Beck, 584-86, 587, 601, and passim, also Klein-Gesch.-Buch, 233-234). The final result was a complete conquest in Slovakia (see Habaner). Those few who still opposed tried emigration; only very few succeeded in it.


Also see:

Counter Reformation


The Jesuits


St. Ignatius of Loyola & St. Teresa of Avila and Agnes Sanford at a Mennonite Retreat Centre?

Pope Benedict, the Mennonites and the Jesuits

Jesuit university partners with Mennonite congregation to aid homeless

Cecil Andrews Debates Jesuit Priest


2 thoughts on “Anabaptists and Jesuits – Lest We Forget

  1. Pingback: July MB Herald Leaven « Menno-lite

  2. Pingback: Contemplative Spiritual Formation in Mennonite Sunday School Curriculum | Menno-lite

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