Reytse Aysesz (d. 1574)
Reytse Aysesz (Reitse Aitses), an Anabaptist martyr, was drowned in Leeuwarden, Dutch province of Friesland on 23 April 1574. On 18 September 1573, he left Beetsterzwaag, where he lived, to visit his parents in Oldeboorn, and was there arrested by the magistrate Andries Grijpen (Gryf), having been betrayed by a friend. He was imprisoned in Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland. The Martyrs' Mirror contains an exact account of his trial and his confession before his inquisitors. Again and again in painful detail they cross-questioned him about the most important articles of faith, especially baptism and communion. Reytse Aysesz confessed that he had never been in the Catholic church for confessions of sins and the holy sacrament, and that he agreed with Menno Simons' doctrine of the Incarnation; that is, that Jesus had not taken His flesh from Mary. But he repeatedly embarrassed his opponents with his ready replies, amazing them by his knowledge and understanding of the Bible. No threats or tortures shook his steadfastness; nor did the most insidious questions of his opponents confuse him.
Reytse's letter to his mother shows a victorious readiness to suffer death: "Finally I . . . said very joyfully, 'Do what you will and you can answer for before God, for I do not want to forsake my faith, for either life or death.'" To the bishop he replied to the charge that he based his faith on the doctrine of Menno, who was a seducer and vagabond: "I rely not upon Menno or human doctrine, but only upon the Word of God; in this I desire by the help of the Lord to live and to die." Finally they questioned him anew on all the articles, and again he confessed his faith. Thereupon his sentence was read: because he was a heretic, unwilling to be instructed in the regulations of the holy church, he was committed into the hands of the judges (executioners). The assertion of the bishop that "he would rather fast two weeks with bread and water than pass sentence upon me" betrays qualms of conscience, as does also the act of the bishop's commissioner when he washed his hands "like Pilate, and thought he would be clean of my blood and that I must now await the verdict."
Reytse urged his fellow believers to be steadfast and consoled his parents with the glory awaiting him; he was deeply concerned that his two sisters and his young brother accept the faith. He also comforted his wife, from whom he was separated at the age of twenty-five after a marriage of two years, and urged her to be steadfast. He tried to convert his fellow prisoners by proclaiming God's Word to them. While he was being taken to the torture tower he sang the hymn "Ick roepe u, o hemelsche Vader, aen, wilt myn geloove stercken" (I call on Thee, O heavenly Father; wilt Thou strengthen my faith). This was a familiar Mennonite hymn, and was later included in the Dutch Mennonite hymnals Groot Hoorns Liedtboeck and Kleyn Hoorns Liet-boeck.
The Bibliographie des Martyrologes Protestants Néerlandais mentions a booklet written in prison by Reytse Aysesz, Sommige Belijiingen, schriftlijcke Sent-brieven ende christelicke Vermaningen. This assertion is, however, not very probable, for the booklet closes with an account of the execution and two hymns composed to commemorate the death of Reytse: "Wilt aenhoren een liedeken recht, men salt u gaen verbreden" (Listen to a song; you will be informed), and of Douwe Eeuwouts. The fact is that the letters and the account of the execution were gathered soon after his death and were published as a booklet about 1577, probably by Gillis Roman at Haarlem. Only one copy of this very valuable booklet is extant; it is found in the library of the Dutch Association for Literature at Leiden, Holland; the Amsterdam Mennonite archives have a handwritten copy of it. Most of this material has been included in all the Dutch martyr books from 1615 on, including the Martyrs' Mirror, which contains six letters written by Reytse Aysesz—two to his father in Oldeboorn, who was a member of the church, one to his mother, also a Mennonite, two to his wife, and a general letter about his trial. This letter to his friends contains the interesting information that the Mennonites sang hymns (liedekens), and not the Psalms as the Reformed did. The Martyrs' Mirror also gives an account of his sufferings and death. In a letter not found in the Martyrs' Mirror Reytse Aysesz thanks a brother in F. (probably Franeker) for sending a book to him in prison, and a brother in L. (Leeuwarden) for a gift of brandy, cake, sweet wine, and wheat bread.
Braght, Thieleman J. van. Het Bloedigh Tooneel of Martelaers Spiegel der Doopsgesinde of Weereloose Christenen, Die om 't getuygenis van Jesus haren Salighmaker geleden hebben ende gedood zijn van Christi tijd of tot desen tijd toe. Den Tweeden Druk. Amsterdam: Hieronymus Sweerts, …, 1685: 677-91.
Braght, Thieleman J. van. The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs' Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only upon Confession of Faith and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus Their Saviour . . . to the Year A.D. 1660. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1951: 994-1004. Available online at: http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/index.htm.
Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1865): 68.
Haeghen, Ferdinand van der., Thomas Arnold and R. Vanden Berghe. Bibliographie des Martyrologes Protestants Néerlandais. II. Receuils. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1890: v. I, 19-29, 646 f.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 100 f.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 313-314. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Händiges, Emil and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Reytse Aysesz (d. 1574)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/reytse_aysesz_d._1574.
APA style: Händiges, Emil and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1959). Reytse Aysesz (d. 1574). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/reytse_aysesz_d._1574.