The charge of Unitarianism laid at the door of early Anabaptism by a number of writers is discussed by Robert Friedmann in the article Antitrinitarianism, where the later contacts between Hutterites and Dutch Mennonites with the Socinians, are also discussed. The outstanding cases charged with Unitarianism were Ludwig Haetzer, Hans Denck, and Adam Pastor, although certain writers have attempted to show a wider spread. The latest study on Haetzer (Goeters, 1957) proves that he was not a regular Anabaptist but only a fringe figure in the movement, but that he was a Unitarian in his Christology. The latest study on Hans Denck (Kiwiet, 1957) proves that Denck was not a Unitarian even though Weis and Wilbur, the Unitarian historians claim him as a forerunner of modern Unitarianism (Wilbur with some limitations). Adam Pastor was, however, an open Unitarian, and as such was excommunicated at the elders’ conference in Goch in 1547, a few short years after his ordination as elder by Menno Simons, sufficient proof that the Anabaptist movement in Holland and Northwest Germany was solidly Trinitarian. Dosker's contention, "There is no question whatever but from the very beginning Anabaptists had cloudy ideas concerning trinity. Menno view looks strangely like Modalism. And in this connection, it significant that Socinianism flourished largely in states like Poland, where the Anabaptists had settled down in force; and also that this same Socinianism, once it was fully established and defined, had a disastrous effect on the later development of the Dutch Anabaptists," is extreme and in error. That the largely untrained and simply Biblicistic early Anabaptists did not formulate precise and refined theological views on the trinity is not to be interpreted as antitrinitarianism. The views of the leading Anabaptist writers such as Pilgram Marpeck, Peter Riedemann, Menno Simons, and Dirk Philips are clearly Trinitarian.
Most of the discussions of the question of Trinitarianism and antitrinitarianism have to do with the question of the relation of Christ the Son to God the Father. The matter of the personality of the Holy Spirit is seldom discussed. Here again Dosker's assertions are extreme. He quotes (158) Schijn (giving an incorrect location), "As to the Holy Ghost, He is the power, wisdom, breath of God, but His personality is left in doubt." But again the four major writers mentioned above are completely clear on the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit. Dosker's attempt to taint the whole early Anabaptist movement with at least uncertainty on Trinitarianism if not outright antitrinitarianism does not stand the test of objective scholarship.
In the 19th century Modernism captured much of Dutch Mennonitism with the result that for some decades in the latter part of the 19th century and on into the early 20th century most Dutch Mennonite ministers were Unitarian in theology. But by mid-century this was largely overcome.
Dosker, E. H. The Dutch Anabaptists. Philadelphia, 1921.
Goeters, J. F. Ludwig Hätzer (ca. 1500 bis 1529), Spiritualist und Antitrinitarier, eine Randfigur der frühen Täuferbewegung. Gütersloh, 1957.
Kiwiet, Jan J. "The Life of Hans Denk." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXXI (1957): 227-59.
Kiwiet, Jan J. "The Theology of Hans Denk." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXXII (1958): 3-27.
Schijn, Hermann. Aanhangzel Dienende tot den Vervolg of Derde Deel van de Geschiedenis der Mennoniten . . . in het welke noch Negentien Leeraars der Mennoniten . . . Amsterdam: Kornelis de Wit, 1745.
Weis, F. L. The Life and Teachings of Ludwig Hetzer. 1939.
Weis, F. L. The Life, Teachings and Works of Johannes Denck, 1495-1521. 1925.
Wilbur, E. M. A History of Unitarianism: Socinianism and its Antecedents. Cambridge, 1946.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 773-774. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
MLA style: Bender, Harold S. "Unitarianism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/U55.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. (1959). Unitarianism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/U55.html.