Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Anna Jansz of Rotterdam (Anneken Jans; ca. 1509-1539)

Anna Jansz on her way to execution: Jan Luiken (1685)

The Honors Seminar is going extremely well, and I will write about it a little later this week. The demands of the semester are pretty significant right now, but, because of the class, I have been able to complete the section on Domenica Fetti (last weekend), and I am working now on both George Herbert and some Islamic receptions of the parables. I am especially enjoying seeing some of the receptions of the parables that my students have discovered.

I do also want to write about John Calvin's reception of the parables in his commentary on the Gospels, but first let me talk (for a couple weeks) about Anna Jansz of Rotterdam.

Anna Jansz was born in an upper-class family in Briel, a Dutch city located on the island of Putten (near Rotterdam and The Hague). She married a physician, Arent Jans, and they soon converted to Anabaptism. Anabaptists (literally “rebaptizer”) believed that infant baptism is not biblical; the only true baptism documented in the New Testament, they argued, is of an adult who has undergone a conversion, made a personal pledge of faith, and committed to a holy life of discipleship. Anabaptists based their community of faith on what they believed to be the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christian congregations as found in the New Testament. Anabaptists also committed other acts of civil disobedience, such as refusing to take oaths (cf. Matt 5:34; James 5:12) and believing in the separation of church and state. Anabaptists thus were considered enemies of the state and church and were often hunted down, fined, imprisoned, and/or executed, by both Catholics and Protestants (both of whom believed in a state church). Although most Anabaptists were pacifists, some early Anabaptists were militants whose apocalyptic expectations included working for the overthrow of the current corrupt world order. Such militant Anabaptists were elected to power in Münster in 1534 and transformed the city by expelling the “godless” and inviting other believers to join them to create a “New Jerusalem.” This transformation, and the war over the city that resulted in thousands of deaths, led to deep suspicion of Anabaptists, as well as polemical attacks and persecution (Bradstock and Rowland 2002: 84).

Anna and Arent Jansz became Anabaptists in early 1534. They were baptized by Meynaart van Emden an early leader in the Dutch Anabaptist movement, but soon (June 1534) fled to England, along with a number of other local Anabaptists, because of persecution. The fact that Meynaart belonged to a pro-Münster, more militant and apocalyptic faction of Anabaptists may have contributed to the tenuous situation of the Anabaptists in Briel and elsewhere.

Anna certainly shared in this apocalyptic fervor. Her hymn, “I can hear the Trumpet Sounding” (Ick hoorde die Basuyne blasen) is filled with apocalyptic fervor, and it apparently revels in the vengeance that God will soon deliver upon the godless. It uses Ezekiel 9 to urge the faithful to endure persecutions and to persevere, since the faithful will be vindicated and rewarded by God (cf. the eleventh and twelfth stanzas). This hymn first was published in 1539 along with a letter by David Joris of Delft—an Anabaptist leader with a significant number of followers—and it later appeared in a collection of hymns published by Joris (I will need to come back and document/footnote this detail). 

Anna admired and supported David Joris—rumors of a personal relationship between them prompted a confrontation between Joris and Arent Jansz, and Anna soon joined her husband in London (Nyhof). A letter she wrote to Joris in 1536 or 1538 also echoes apocalyptic themes of imminent judgment, cleansing, and purification and delights in the “revealing” of the cross and the beginning of the “conflict” that is imminent. She also seems to long for her own martyrdom: “I hope that the Lord will answer my prayer and deliver me from this earthly tabernacle of my dwelling so that I may put off the dress of mourning and that I may receive the glorious jewellery (sic) of triumph of my Lord . . .” (Snyder and Hecht 1996: 343-344).


The next post will discuss the persecution and martyrdom of Anna Jansz, which eventually led to the 18th Hymn in the Ausbund. That hymn will be the major focus of the reception of the parables section of the book for Anna Jansz.

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