Dathenus, Petrus (ca. 1531-1588)
Petrus Dathenus (Daten, Dalten, Daets), a Calvinist theologian, was born 1531 or 1532 at Mont-Cassel, near Hazebrouck, French Flanders, and died 17 March 1588 at Elbing, Prussia, As chaplain of Elector Frederick the Pious, Dathenus was the first German prince to accept Calvinism, and established this creed in the Palatinate. As a young man he entered the monastery of Yper, but soon fled to embrace Calvin's teaching. After a short residence in England (1553-1555) he became preacher of the Flemish congregation at Frankfurt. Dathenus was frequently involved in disputes with the Lutheran clergy of the city. On 23 April 1561 the magistrate denied the Dutch further toleration, and Dathenus found refuge with Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate, who offered him and the 60 families exiled from Frankfurt the buildings of Gross-Frankental, the dissolved Augustinian monastery, and in 1566 or soon after made Dathenus his chaplain. Pieter Sijbolts says that Dathenus was largely responsible for the severe Calvinist persecution of the Mennonites. But Sijbolts is wrong: Caspar Heidanus, not Dathenus, was responsible.
In his new position Dathenus soon came in contact with the Anabaptists who were seeking new converts through emissaries sent out from Moravia. The government had three traveling evangelists summarily thrown into prison and under this pressure tried to convert them. The charge that the government was persecuting the Anabaptists without first inquiring about their faith gave the elector some concern. He therefore summoned the Anabaptist preachers to a public disputation with the Reformed clergy to be held at Frankenthal on 28 May 1571. Dathenus was the chief spokesman for the Reformed church; his colleagues scarcely got a word in. Thomas Erastus, who had recently been a member of the Palatine church council and was opposed to this disputation, wrote to Heinrich Bullinger in Zürich: "Their spokesmen are uneducated, immature young men, who have never seen a meeting of this kind. The affair will come to a ridiculous end and will dishonor the Prince. But he will not let himself be dissuaded." Frederick hoped that the Anabaptists would be won to his church by instruction and become a valuable addition to it.
The Reformed theologians took Martin Bucer as their model. Some of the doctrinal points discussed were the same as those the Strasbourg reformer had considered 33 years before in Marburg with the Hessian Anabaptists. But what Bucer succeeded in doing in two days, that is, converting the Anabaptists to the state church, Dathenus could not do in 19 days with two sessions daily beginning at six o'clock in the morning and two o'clock in the afternoon. With dialectic skill he was able to help himself over the most difficult points and objections of his opponents. On many points they agreed. But he should not have expected these simple people to agree with his sophistry on other points. The Anabaptist preachers, who in their simple piety were unwilling to pick to pieces Bible passages that seemed clear to them, refused "to try to fathom those things which God alone had in His power." Hence his frequently very artificial expositions of Scripture and argumentation on unfathomable theological issues made little impression on them. The negotiations were doomed to failure.
In the following years Dathenus apparently made no Anabaptist contacts, for he is never mentioned in connection with them. Throughout his life Dathenus was a restless personality; he spent much time in traveling. In December 1566 he presided at the Antwerp (Belgium) synod. In 1572 he was again in the Netherlands and also later made many trips to Holland and Belgium. He also visited Switzerland. After the death of Frederick III, whose son was Lutheran, he again accepted a position as preacher in Frankenthal; but in 1578 he was presiding at the Reformed synod in Dordrecht, Holland, and somewhat later in Ghent, Belgium. Later on he became involved in a quarrel with William of Orange, perhaps because he felt that the prince was too tolerant of the Roman Catholics. In 1583 Dathenus was imprisoned for 50 days because of his attitude. Later Dathenus was in Schleswig-Holstein (Husum, and in 1585 Staden), where he also practiced medicine. During this period he apparently came somewhat under the influence of the Davidjorists. In 1587 he was in Danzig, and soon afterward in Elbing, where he practiced medicine until his death in 1588.
In 1566 Dathenus translated the Psalms from the French rhymed version by Clement Marot and Beza into Dutch. Dathenus' verse Psalms were adopted into the Reformed Church in Holland, and in spite of their shortcomings were used until 1773.
When the Mennonites of Holland in the early seventeenth century sang their Schriftuurlijke Liedekens less and less, using the Psalms instead, they also used Dathenus' version. The Lamist congregation in Amsterdam used them until 1684, in Haarlem until 1713, and the Zonist congregation in Amsterdam until 1762, and many other congregations until well into the eighteenth century.
Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1908): 1-64.
Friedrich III, Elector Palatine. Protocoll, das ist Alle Handlung des gesprechs zu Franckenthal... Getruckt in der Churfürstlichen Statt Heidelberg: durch Johannem Mayer, 1571.
Hege, Christian. Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz: ein Beitrag zur badisch-pfälzischen Reformationsgeschichte. Frankfurt am Main: Kommissionsverlag von H. Minjon, 1908.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: I, 396.
Sijbolts, Pieter. "De Doopsgezinden te Middelburg." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1908): 1-64.
Sudhoff, Karl Jakob. C. Olevianus und Z. Ursinus. Elberfeld: R. L. Friderichs, 1857: 319.
Theol. Jahresbericht (1909): 28, 391.
Visscher, H. and L. A. van Langeraad. Biographisch Woordenboek von Protestantsche Godgeleerden in Nederland. J. P. de Bie and J. Loosjes: II, 383-401.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 16-17. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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APA style: Hege, Christian. (1956). Dathenus, Petrus (ca. 1531-1588). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/dathenus_petrus_ca._1531_1588.