Menius, Justus (1499-1558)
Justus Menius (Jodocus Menig) (1499-1558), a Protestant theologian, entered the University of Erfurt, Germany, joined the circle of Humanists around his uncle Mutianus Rufus and Crotus Rubianus, went to the University of Wittenberg on Melanchthon's advice, became vicar in Mühlberg near Gotha in 1523, pastor in Erfurt in 1525, and superintendent of Eisenach 1529-1557. In 1541-1544 he served as temporary pastor in Mühlhausen, Thuringia, went to Gotha in 1546 and there succeeded his friend Fr. Myconius as superintendent of Gotha, without, however, giving up his position in Eisenach. Menius was a zealous promoter of the Reformation, taking an active part in the program of church inspection. In the last years of his life he participated actively in the theological disputes of the time. He became involved in a violent conflict with Amsdorf, whose thesis of the harm in good works he contested, defending the necessity of good works as evidence of the new life. This caused him to retire from his offices to the pastorate of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, where he remained until his death on 11 August 1558.
Menius had extended contacts with the Anabaptists. In his official position he came upon them again and again, and especially tried to refute them in several writings. In 1528, when the Anabaptist leader Melchior Rink was an itinerant preacher in Thuringia, Menius joined the bailiff of the Wartburg in writing a report to the elector of Saxony, warning him of Rink's activity. On 18 January 1530, six Anabaptists were put to death in the district of Hausbreitenbach at Reinhardsbrunn, creating a great excitement, particularly since no seditious doctrines could be proved against them. Myconius expressed his misgivings in a letter to Melanchthon, who did not, however, share them. In order to silence criticism and to justify the position of the government, Menius wrote his booklet (1530), Der widerteuffer lere und geheimnis, aus heiliger Schrijt widerlegt; Myconius was to have written it with Menius, but this plan was not carried out. In token of his agreement with its content Luther provided it with a foreword, which shows not a particle of understanding for the Anabaptist position. The lengthy and tedious book was dedicated to Philipp of Hesse, in order to move him, who was always inclined to be lenient in matters of faith, to more aggressive action. Menius showed some familiarity with the teachings of his opponents if one disregards the vociferous and fanatical manner in which he called them hypocrites and servants of the devil. The following paragraph is characteristic of his understanding of the Anabaptist concerns:
The rabble rousers lodge only with the poor and their greeting is: The peace of God be with you. They preach that they belong only to the poor, to whom God has sent them out, and wherever they go they pretend special piety with peculiar prayers and read the Gospel to the poor people. But what they teach is only good works, such as that one must help his neighbor with gifts and loans and that goods should be held in common, one should injure no one, but conduct oneself friendly and brotherly among each other, none should rule over another, but all should be brethren and sisters alike.
Menius gives a list of "Erroneous doctrines of the Anabaptists," which he then refutes, though of course in a frequently tortuous and petty manner. The articles of faith that he named were as follows: (1) The Word of God shall be preached to none but those who are in the Anabaptist order and are sealed with the sign of the covenant. (2) Faith in Jesus Christ alone, without our good works and suffering, makes one neither pious nor blessed before God. (3) infant baptism is against God and a sin, neither useful nor necessary for children; therefore only the adults and aged should be baptized. (4) The bread and wine of communion are not the real body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. (5) Jesus is not the actual and true Son of God. (6) All the damned and ungodly and even the devil himself will finally be saved.
In addition he reproached them with regard to their attitude to the external rules of life and especially to the government, such as the oath, property, marriage, divorce, etc. Upon Luther's advice Menius at the end of the book made the charge against the Anabaptists that their preachers did not have the proper call, and preached in corners instead of the open, although he would of course be the first to urge the government to interfere in such a case of open preaching. The above "erroneous articles" showed that he must have received them at least in part from individual Anabaptist leaders; the sixth was strongly reminiscent of Denck. The first article was a self-contradiction, since the Word of God was to precede baptism, hence could not possibly be limited to baptized persons.
But the Anabaptists did not disappear, but on the contrary became more numerous in the district of Hausbreitenbach. Menius was almost always one of the commissars whose duty it was to notify the authorities of suspects and to cross-examine those arrested. Again and again he urged the authorities to take decisive steps.
At the close of 1538 the elector had two Anabaptists put to death, Hans Köhler and Hans Scheffer, not for sedition but for "blasphemy." Some of the people objected to this verdict and contested the right of the government to execute anyone for his belief. Menius was again compelled to resort to his pen to justify the elector's course of action, and wrote Wie ein jeglicher Christ gegen allerley Lere, gut und böse nach Gottes befehl sich gebürlich halten sol, in which he tried to present the rights and duties of the clergy and the temporal authorities toward the Word of God. To the clergy he granted only spiritual weapons in the struggle against heresy, but to the temporal authorities he made it a duty to punish severely any teachers of false doctrine as "open blasphemers and murderers of souls," who endangered the peace and security of the subjects in a high degree. The tone of this book was even sharper than that of the previous one, and the threat of punishment by the government much more obvious.
However, the desired results were still not materializing. When Menius came to Mühlhausen as pastor in 1541 he found there an Anabaptist center. The city council hesitated to proceed against them. Therefore Menius directed a new book against it in 1544 titled Von dem Geist der Widerteuffer. Luther again contributed a foreword, full of praise for this irrefutable book by Menius, "so that if a cow had understanding, she would have to say it was the truth and could not be otherwise." The tone of the book was as usual quite intolerant, borne by a fanatical hatred. In content it was largely identical with the first book. The questions concerning the Scripture, faith and works, baptism, original sin, communion, family, marriage, government, etc., were discussed in thesis and antithesis. Again, and at great length the Anabaptist call to preach was contested and the charge of corner preaching repeated. The repeated statement that the Anabaptists were not being punished because of their faith was peculiar. He said, for instance, "And no one may think or say that he is punished for the sake of his faith. For if some one had a peculiar faith, he could not offend any one nor could he be judged for it or punished. But because this sect not only believes erroneously for itself, but blasphemes the true faith, God's Word, the sacraments, and God Himself and in their outward life pervert all the divine order, . . . therefore they are no longer to be judged according to their false hypocritical gestures, but rather according to their evident works."
A noteworthy discussion concerned the charge made by the Anabaptists that the clergy lived ungodly lives and that their teaching had little effect on their hearers. "A distinction must be made between a person with his life, conduct, and works, and his office and teaching, and where the office and teaching are right and pure, but the person blameworthy, follow the office and teaching and let the person with his works go." Is it any wonder that the Anabaptists, who always regarded doctrine and life as a unit, opposed such a position?
But this is not all of Menius' literary opposition to the Anabaptists. In 1551 he wrote a booklet entitled Wider die Blutsfreunde aus der Widertauffer. "Blutsfreunde" (Blood Friends) was the name of a degenerate wing of Anabaptists, which had little in common with the quiet branch. They advocated a libertinistic ideal of freedom, which led them to excesses of a flagrant character under the assumption that Christ had died for all sins. It is not strange that Menius attacked them with sharp words. But this booklet brought the quiet Anabaptists also into bad repute. From this time on little was heard of further contact between Menius and the Anabaptists.
Menius was one of the bitterest literary and personal enemies of Anabaptism on the Lutheran side during the period of the Reformation. With strong prejudice, frequently against his better knowledge, he interpreted as the work of the devil the fruit he could not fail to see. Hence his opposition was by no means free of the fanaticism with which all heresy was to be eradicated in favor of Lutheran pure doctrine. By his books Menius for a long time determined the character of writing about the Anabaptist movement in Middle Germany.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: III, 75-77.
Schmidt, G. L. Justus Menius. 2 vols, 1867.
Wappler, Paul. Die Stellung Kursachsens und des Landgrafen Philipp von Hessen zur Tauferbewegung. Münster, 1910.
Wappler, Paul. Die Täuferbewegung in Thüringen von 1526-1584. Jena: Gustav Fisher, 1913.
The writings of Justus Menius of 1530, 1538, and 1544 in Der ander Teil der Bücher D. Martin Luthers. Wittenberg, 1551. Original prints of the 1530 and 1544 titles in Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, Indiana, USA)
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 572-574. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Schowalter, Paul. "Menius, Justus (1499-1558)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M4625.html.
APA style: Schowalter, Paul. (1957). Menius, Justus (1499-1558). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M4625.html.