Cramer, Samuel (1842-1913)

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Samuel Cramer, a Mennonite minister and theologian, professor at the Amsterdam municipal university and the Mennonite seminary, was born 3 July 1842 at Middelburg (capital of the Dutch province of Zeeland), died at Amsterdam, 30 January 1913. His father was Alle Meenderts Cramer, his mother a daughter of Samuel Muller. In his home the boy received the deep religious impressions and the outstanding character education of which he gave evidence throughout his life.

His education began in the elementary and Latin schools of his home town. In 1861 he attended the Athenaeum in Amsterdam, which later became the Amsterdam university, and the seminary where Willem Moll, S. Hoekstra, J. G. de Hoop Scheffer, P. J. Veth, and other capable teachers initiated him into the mysteries of church history, the problems of philosophy, and the manifold questions of theology. His independence was early apparent in an article he published in the student almanac in cooperation with his friend H. D. Tjeenk Willink, in which they sharply criticized the seminary. This naturally evoked some disapproval on the part of the professors and the board of directors. But his untiring and thorough theological work protected him from any adverse consequences of this bold critique. He was most attracted by S. Hoekstra, his professor of ethics and dogmatics. Though Cramer was a thorough liberal, he was also permanently influenced by his maternal grandfather, who was in his advanced years a genuinely pious, sincere, and rather conservative person.

On 16 April 1866, Cramer acquired his doctor's degree with a summa cum laude at the university of Utrecht, since the Athenaeum was not yet giving the degree, with a treatise on Zwingli's theology (Zwingli's Leer van het Godsdienstig Geloof, Middelburg, 1866). His professional adviser in his graduation was Prof. J. J. van Oosterzee, who was noted as a theologian and preacher and who was a competent co-worker on Lange's Bible commentary.

With the consent of the seminary board Cramer had spent a semester at the universities of Heidelberg and Zürich. On 18 November 1866 he entered the Mennonite ministry at Zijldijk in the province of Groningen. He was introduced by his father with a sermon on 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, which he himself followed with a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:20. True to the thought of the text, Cramer was untiring in preaching, religious instruction, pastoral visits, and studies. He devoted all his time and his extraordinary strength to his congregation and the brotherhood in the wider sense, then as always consuming himself in the service of his office. The first fruits were reaped by the Doopsgezinden Bijdragen. The first issue of the new series under Harting and Cool was opened with an article by Cramer, “Verdraagzaam of bekrompen?” (Tolerant or narrow-minded?) This article is evidence of his wide reading and of his comprehensive interest in Mennonite history and the objectives arising from that history. The second issue also began with an article by Cramer, this time a genial account of his visits to Mennonites in other countries. He also wrote articles for scholarly journals.

On 18 September 1870 Cramer left Zijldijk and went to Emden, taking charge of the small congregation on 25 September. Here he became the good friend of Antje Brons, the wife of the outstanding Isaak Brons, who was currently the deacon of the Emden congregation and filled an important place in national affairs. In intimate association with this family he received inspiration and information. His own contribution is indicated by the words Mrs. Brons wrote to me nearly 25 years later (1893): "I am very happy to know that a man so zealous and so filled with a high calling as Professor Cramer is your teacher."

Cramer was not long in Emden. In 1872 he accepted a call to Enschede, preaching as his farewell sermon at Emden "Ons Koninkrijk" (Harlingen, 1872) on 13 October. In Enschede he found a challenging field. For more than 12 years he served this congregation, constantly developing his talents. Though he apparently devoted all his time to theological study, his actual interest lay only in the building and strengthening of his brotherhood, his congregation being merely the small portion of total Christendom entrusted to his care by divine Providence. When in 1877 dissension broke out in the Reformed congregation in Enschede he did not hesitate to speak words of admonition to both sides; his interest was valued as the Christian advice of a dear brother. When Cramer transferred to Zwolle in 1885 the Reformed congregation of Enschede also presented him with gifts. In Enschede Cramer continued his literary work. One of his books was Konservatief Modernisme, Godgeleerdheid en Volksleven (Leyden, 1882). In addition he published many articles in Dutch and German periodicals: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, De Hervorming, Het Theologisch Tijdschrift, Volksalmanak, Protestantische Kirchenzeitung für das evangelische Deutschland, Mennonitische Blätter, Schweizerische Reformblätter, etc.

In 1883 Cramer was delegated by the Dutch Protestantenbond to attend the German Protestantentag at Neustadt a.d. Hardt. On this occasion he visited the congregations of the Palatinate and the school at the Weierhof. On his journeys he made as many contacts as possible with like-minded persons. At Neustadt he made the acquaintance of C. H. Zimmermann and his wife of Danzig, a member of the city council. The dilapidated state of the Weierhof school, information received from his Danzig friends, and his experiences among the Palatine Mennonites led him to undertake an extended journey among the German Mennonites, including also those in Polish Prussia. On this journey he persuaded the Danzig church council to call the meeting held in Berlin on 2 and 3 October 1884, which resulted in the organization of the Vereinigung der Mennonitengemeinden im Deutschen Reich. Thus this institution, so fraught with importance to the future development of the Mennonite brotherhood in Germany, owes its existence partly to Cramer. The account of his visits to the German, French, and Swiss congregations in 1883 and 1884 is found in Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1885, 1-53 (East Friesland, Hamburg, along the Rhine, the Palatinate, Alsace, Switzerland, Baden, etc., Danzig, East and West Prussia); Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1886, 1-72 (East and West Prussia and Poland).

While at Enschede Cramer married Maria Charlotte de Clercq, who was also descended from an old Mennonite family. This union was blessed with a daughter and two sons. Maria died on 18 March 1898 after a long illness.

In his last year at Enschede Cramer published Christengodsvrucht in Doopsgezind gemeenteleven (Enschede, 1885). Soon afterward he was called to Zwolle, and served there from 15 March 1885, to 20 April 1890. Then he succeeded J. G. de Hoop Scheffer as professor at the Amsterdam seminary and university. The topic of his inaugural address was "Beschrijvende en Toegepaste Godgeleerheid in haar verschil en onderling verband" (published in Amsterdam, 1890). In 1894, upon the sudden death of de Hoop Scheffer, he also assumed the editorship of the Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, a large part of the obligations indirectly connected with the professorship having already fallen to his lot.

At that time he could hardly have been called a man of outstanding scholarship. After the dissertation with which he earned his degree, no really scholarly work had appeared from his pen. He was not a pioneer, nor did he represent any particular theological view which would have attracted general attention to himself. He was only a man of scholarly education who devoted his leisure hours to study, and in addition worked in various intellectual fields at the same time. He later warned his students against making a similar error. Nevertheless he was a successful teacher and in 1900 served with honor as the head of the rectorship of the Amsterdam university. Before 1899 no works of outstanding merit were published by him. In that year he published in the Doopsgezinde Bijdragen an extensive study of the dependability of van Braght's Martyrs' Mirror. The next volume of the Bijdragen contained his conclusion of the above study and an article on the history of Mennonite church music. After that his productions followed in rather rapid succession, especially in the Bijdragen. Most of these dealt with Mennonite history; he was also the author of the sketch on the Mennonites in the third edition of Herzog's Realenzyklopaedie. But his principal work, a monumentum aere perennius, did not appear until 1904-1912. This was the Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica, which he edited in cooperation with Dr. F. Pijper, professor of theology at the university of Leiden. It is a collection of writings from the period of the Reformation in Holland, published in the original with minute exactness and provided with introductions and notes based on modern scholarly research. Cramer worked through four stately volumes, the last of which was published posthumously by Dr. Pijper. A history of the Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit which he had planned to write in collaboration with the author of this biographical sketch and for which much material had been gathered, was interrupted by the failing of Cramer's strength and his death.

But Cramer's significance cannot be measured by a merely scholarly standard. His aim was rather to produce capable preachers and faithful shepherds for their future flocks. In this he was outstandingly successful. His influence consequently increased, so that the celebration of the centennial of the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit in 1911 became as a matter of course a tribute to Cramer. To the congregations he was like a father; not always a gentle father, and in the beginning of his professorship his too personal regulation of the management of some rural congregation produced some displeasure on the part of the deacons. But he won their hearts by his frank acknowledgment that he had erred.

He entered his second happy marriage with Maria A. Stuart in 1900, and was privileged to spend his last years in a blessed family life. On the occasion of the commemoration of the centennial of the founding of the A.D.S. on 28 September 1911, where he delivered an address, he was not in the best of health. In June 1912, he gave his last lecture at the university, and on 30 January 1913, his suffering came to an end.


Doopsgezind Jaarboekje (1914): 21-35, with portrait.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 v. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 377-381.

Kühler, W. J. "Levensbericht van S. Cramer." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1916): 1-32, where the stately list of Cramer's publica­tions is also given.

Author(s) F. C Fleischer
Date Published 1953

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Fleischer, F. C. "Cramer, Samuel (1842-1913)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 14 Aug 2020.,_Samuel_(1842-1913)&oldid=161258.

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Fleischer, F. C. (1953). Cramer, Samuel (1842-1913). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 14 August 2020, from,_Samuel_(1842-1913)&oldid=161258.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 731-732. All rights reserved.

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