David Joris (ca. 1501-1556)

Revision as of 06:58, 21 November 2013 by RichardThiessen (talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

1956 Article

Engraving from Apocalypsis, or The revelation of certain notorious advancers of heresie. London, 1655.
Scan provided by the Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

David Joris (ca. 1501-1556), a Dutch Anabaptist, was "in a single person prophet, apocalyptic, spiritualist, and mystic" (Kühn, 271), founder of the Davidjorists. There are various versions of his name; besides David—named thus after the Jewish king, a role which his father George (hence Georgii or Joriszoon-Joris) is said to have played in the Rederijkerskamer—also Jan, after his maternal grandfather (Jan van Brugge was his pseudonym after 1544). The rank of his parents is debated. The city of his birth is given as Delft, Bruges, and Ghent. Little is known of his youth. He is said to have been weak physically, and inclined to fanaticism. In glass painting he developed great skill, but by the death of his father he was compelled to support his mother as a merchant. In this calling he traveled from Antwerp through France and England. In 1524 he married in Delft and settled there. No particulars are known about his wife, Dirkgen Willems.

The Reformation made a deep impression on Joris. The earliest of his writings and hymns preserved to us are dated 1529; they reveal unusual Scriptural knowledge. Kühn says of Joris (p. 272): "There are probably few uneducated writers who have made more versatile use of the Bible." He was bold and open in his opposition to Catholic priests, and by 1528 had suffered various severe punishments (lashing, having tongue bored through, and banishment from Delft for three years).

During his exile Joris became acquainted with the Anabaptists of Holland, and was deeply moved by their martyrdom. After some hesitation he joined them, was baptized by Obbe Philips (at Delft, about September 1534), and ordained to the ministry. The songs he wrote in 1535 and 1536 reflect the excited mood of the harassed, fugitive Anabaptist (at Pentecost in 1535 he was in Strasbourg), but are very far removed from the revolutionary spirit of Münster; "he could not sanction attacking with the sword." He openly opposed Batenburg. After the Münster catastrophe he tried vainly to unite the various factions at a conference convening at Bocholt, August 1536.

Soon afterward, inspired by the fanatical words of Anneken Jans and by fantastic visions, he began to consider himself a Spirit-anointed prophet, a third David. Borne by the utmost self-confidence, he preached deepest humility and self-denial; though living in rigid asceticism, he has been charged with moral lapses. A dangerous mysticism appeared in him, which could and did, at any rate among some of his followers, lead to antinomian, libertinistic views and moral errors.

Joris, supported by friends and relatives, now devoted himself entirely to the service of the Spirit. His followers had visions which centered around him. He established a large party of his own. In January 1539, the government took definite steps against him and his party. On 21 February 1539, his mother was beheaded and his family fled from Delft. Until 1544 he stayed in various hiding places in Holland, East Friesland, and Belgium, everywhere in acute danger, and everywhere winning followers, most of them among the Batenburgers after the fall of their leader in 1538, and the Münsterites. With the moderate wing of the Anabaptists he met twice, at Oldenburg and at Strasbourg. But they were becoming suspicious of him and his doctrine, whereas his own followers glorified him more and more.

Success as well as resistance strengthened Joris' consciousness of his calling as a prophet and reformer of the whole world. In 1539 he sent a bold self-defense to the court of justice in Holland, and a prophetic writing to Philipp of Hesse by his messenger, Jurriaen Ketel, enclosing a letter to the emperor and the other estates. To Countess Anna of East Friesland-Oldenburg he sent a long defense, trying to reply to 25 charges, chiefly against his personal attitude and his expectations of the future, and closing with a long mystical confession of faith. It is also known that he wrote to Luther, warning him of his self-derived wisdom and reason.

Joris considered it a dead-letter faith to treat the Bible as the sole authority. Nothing definitive could be decided by the letter in religious disputes; it was necessary to look about for the "Son," to whom alone it is revealed, and who, as Joris is said to have written for the Regensburg Disputation in 1541, was to come from the Netherlands, whose type was Egypt. Whereas on the whole the Anabaptists held to the Scriptures as a principle, Joris rejected them and made a principle of mystical experience. "To the mystic Joris historical revelation was merely a matter of the senses; his religious experience lay outside it" (Kühn, 300).

In 1542, the year he published his principal work with the characteristic title: 'tWonderboeck, waer in dat van der Wendt aen ver sloten gheopenbaert is. Wie een der Ick (secht de Heere) senden sal, ontfanght in mynen Naem, die ontfanght my; wie my ontfanght, ontfanght den die my ghesonden heeft. Hoochghelovet moet by syn, die als een Ambassatoer gesonden komt, in den Name des Heeren, the difference between Joris and Menno Simons burst into a violent dispute. Menno had already in his Fundamentboek (1539) warned against the false prophet. Joris then attacked Menno in a fiery letter: "Gird on your sword, Menno Simons, . . arm yourself with the most powerful Scriptural weapon! . . Who advises you, Menno, to appear so boldly before the Lord, that you elevate yourself above all? Do say, dear man, what spirit or witness advises you to teach? Who has sent you? . . . I will show you (however firmly you may think you have it) that you do not know it, nor do you know what is truth and wisdom, except after the letter." Violently Joris attempted to make Menno recognize his divine mission; but Menno rejected "imaginations, rhetorical tricks, and other deceptions of the devil" which Joris substituted for the Gospel; he said Joris was correctly taken for the "anti-Christ, the man of sin, the son of perdition, a false prophet, murderer of souls, deceiver and falsifier of the divine truth and the commands of Christ." It was evidence of devilish pride and anti-Christian foolishness, that Joris "elevates his visions and dreams above the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who has taught the apostles and prophets."

Without doubt Menno hit the crux of Joris' fateful error when he said, "Under the pretext of humility he promotes devilish defiance and under the name of perfection, chastity, and other virtues he promotes various vices and shameful deeds." Menno refused to carry the dispute any further.

Offended by Menno's sharp words, Joris protested in a leaflet which he tried to distribute among the Mennonites of East Friesland. For a long time Menno had difficulties with Davidjorists in his own camp; especially Blesdijk rose in defense of his future father-in-law, though he later deserted him.

After a violent debate between the Davidjorists and John a Lasco, the superintendent of the established church in East Friesland, principally on the subject of the authority of the new prophet, which a Lasco in spite of a tolerant nature would not grant, Joris secretly went to Basel in 1544 before the persecution against his group began in East Friesland and lived there with his family under the name of Jan van Brugge as a Reformed refugee, a wealthy and respected citizen.

Meanwhile he continued to influence his followers by innumerable letters to Holland, Belgium, Friesland, Holstein, Denmark, and other countries. His concealment he justified by the example of "Christ, who was likewise concealed in Egypt." He advised his followers against open confession; this course Menno and others called outright hypocrisy. But Joris outwardly held to the Reformed faith, lived in wealth and comfort, and at the same time preached to his followers to flee "false prophets and the wise and mighty in the world."

One remarkable feature of his teaching was his fight for unrestricted religious liberty . In Basel he wrote a petition to the Swiss cities on behalf of the "good and pious Servetus." He carried on a friendly correspondence with Schwenckfeld and Castellion, Calvin's famous opponent. On the other hand, at the end of his life he was on unfriendly terms with his own son-in-law, Blesdijk, who, formerly his warmest adherent, now became his most violent opponent.

Joris died on 25 August 1556, and was buried with full honors in St. Leonard's church in Basel. But two and one-half years later quarrels within the Jorist party led to the discovery of his fraud. The family was summoned before the pastor and the magistrate; eleven men, relatives and friends, were taken to prison. A great number of books and letters, also a picture of Joris, were confiscated and given over to a learned commission for examination. The Jorist errors were compiled on the basis of Blesdijk's already published critique in eleven articles. His family claimed to know nothing of these doctrines, condemned them, and were released under certain conditions, including a public confession in church. But Joris' corpse and his books were publicly burned outside the city on 13 May 1559.

This execution, however, by no means eliminated the Davidjorists, who tried to refute Blesdijk and the Baslerites, and continued to challenge the official church and the theologians to bitter disputes. Examples are Coornhert's feud with the Davidjorists at the end of the 16th century and Ubbo Emmius's polemics against Huygelmumzoon (a pseudonym, perhaps identical with the anonymous opponent of Coornhert). In the 17th century the Davidjorists in Holstein became prominent; Moldenit and his son-in-law Jessenius wrote extensively against them. Gottfried Arnold, on the other hand, defended David Joris, and preserved extremely valuable source material in favor of the much calumniated man in his Unparteiische Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie.

The numerous writings of Joris, especially in the Basel period, and the old literature about him, are compiled in van der Linde, who has evidence of 264 religious tracts. The older literature for and against Joris contains a long series of unresolved contradictions. -- Gerhard Hein

1990 Update

David Joris by Jan van Scorel.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

David Joris was by trade a glasspainter whose reform career can be divided into four overlapping phases: Sacramentarian (1524-1530); Melchiorite sympathizer (1531-1534); Anabaptist leader (1534-ca. 1543); and Spiritualist (ca. 1540-1556). As a Melchiorite, Joris was caught up in the apocalyptic excitement that inspired much of the movement (Melchior Hoffman), but due to his earlier punishment in 1528 and despite his acceptance into the leadership by Obbe Philips and Damas von Hoorn at the end of 1534, he remained hesitant to join radical programs. This is borne out by his cautious behavior at the Waterland Conference in the winter of 1534/1535.

After the fall of Münster, Joris became the most important Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands between 1536 and 1539, concerned primarily with uniting the remnants of Melchiorites and Münsterites by his charisma and a compromise program. As the result of his successful mediation at Bocholt (August 1536) and encouraged by visions experienced in December 1536, Joris came to conceive of himself as the "third David." His consistent advocacy of a peaceful approach may have enhanced his stature in the eyes of those seeking to distance themselves from the Münster fiasco. It also helped some to make a successful transition from revolution to non-violence. Joris' support came largely from Anabaptist artisans who found his option of flight into interior religion ("internal exile") more appropriate for remaining in the urban centers of the Netherlands than the sectarian option of gathered, disciplined congregations presented by Menno Simons. Joris' leadership campaign led him to conferences in Oldenburg in Westphalia (spring 1538), where he gained briefly the adherence of the remnant Münsterites under the leadership of Heinrich Krechting and in Strasbourg (summer 1538), where his program was rejected by the Strasbourg Melchiorites.

Although retaining contact with maw/ former Melchiorites, Joris accelerated his spiritualization of Melchiorite beliefs after he moved to Antwerp in 1539. Moving to Basel in 1544, he found permanent refuge and freedom from the persecution that had hounded him for 15 years—under the name "Jan van Brugge." In Basel his Spiritualism developed fully and his Anabaptist beliefs receded to insignificance. -- Gary K. Waite


A. van der Linde's David Joris Bibliografie. Martinus Nijhoff, 1867 is in need of updating. Not only have additional works been discovered by Roland Bainton, David Joris. Wiedertäufer und Kämpfer für Toleranz. Leipzig, 1937, 108-109, but there is a large collection of Joris material, called the Jorislade, located in the Basel University Archives.

One of the 15 volumes, the "Hydeckel" (no. IX), is a manuscript collection of Joris' early letters (1537-1543), including his response to Hans Eysenburg that formerly was thought to have been lost. The record of Joris' debate with the Strasbourg Melchiorites (the "Twistredt") was published in TA Elsass III.

Biographical information is found in "David Joris sonderbare Lebens-beschreibung" in Gottfried Arnold, Unpartheiische Kirchen- und Ketzer Historie, vol. 2. Frankfurt, 1729, reprinted Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1967: 703-37. This anonymous work is so richly detailed and historically accurate that it may have been written by Joris himself.

Further information is found in Nicolaas Meyndertsz van Blesdijk, Historia Vitae, doctrinae ac rerum gestarum Davidis Georgii haeresiarchae. Deventer, 1642. While the anonymous biography in Arnold's Ketzer Historie is slanted in favor of Joris, Blesdijk wrote his account to uncover his father-in-law's heresy.

Recent scholarship has gone beyond the preliminary work of Friedrich Nippold, "David Joris van Delft: Sein Leben, seine Lehre und seine Secte." Zeitschrift für historische Theologie. Gotha, 1863 and Bainton. James M. Stayer has summarized recent literature in "David Joris: A Prolegomenon to Further Research," Mennonite Quarterly Review 59 (1985): 350­366, and detailed the debate between Joris and Menno Simons in "Davidite vs. Mennonite," Mennonite Quarterly Review 58 (1984): 459­476.

S. Zijlstra argued that Joris was the most important Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands between 1536 and 1539 in "David Joris en de Doperse Stromingen (1536-1539)," in Historisch Bewogen, ed. M. G. Buist and others. Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1984: 125-138, and in Nicolaas Meyndertsz van Blesdijk Een Bijdrage tot de Geschiedenis ran het Davidjorisme. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1983. Zijlstra has also explained the reasons behind Joris' success in winning some followers from Menno in "Menno Simons and David Joris," Mennonite Quarterly Review 62 (1988): 249-256.

Gary K. Waite discussed Joris' following, ideology, and contribution in "Spiritualizing the Crusade: David Joris in the Context of the Early Reform and Anabaptist Movements in the Netherlands, 1524-1543." PhD diss., U. of Waterloo, 1986.

See also:

Waite, Gary K. "Staying Alive: The Methods of Survival as practiced by an Anabaptist Fugitive, David Joris." Mennonite Quarterly Review 61 (1987): 46-57.

Waite, Gary K. "David Joris' Thought in the Context of the Early Anabaptist Movement in the Netherlands, 1534­1536." Mennonite Quarterly Review 62 (1988): 296-317.

Werner O. Packull, "Anna Jans of Rotterdam, a Sixteenth Century Heroine," Archiv für Reformation Geschichte 78 (1987): 147-173, is a study of one of Joris' followers. Klaus Deppermann, Melchior Hoffman. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1979, esp. 315-324, analyses Joris' discussions with the Strasbourg Melchiorites, although Deppermann's contention that Joris supported polygamy (317) has been refuted by Zijlstra, "David Joris, p. 134.

See also C. W. A. Willemse. "De briefwisseling tussen David Joris en Johannes a Lasco," Doopsgezinde Bijdragen , n.r. 4 (1979): 9-22.

Arnold, Gottfried. Unparteiische Kirchen. und Ketzer-historie. Frankfurt, 1699. B. XVI. C. XXI. 44 ff.

Bainton, Roland H. David Joris, Wiedertäufer und Kämpfer für Toleranz im 16. Jahrhundert (Archiv für Reformation- Geschichte, Texte und Untersuchungen, Ergänzungsband 6). Leipzig, 1937 was the definitive work in the 1950s which superseded all others, supplemented the Joris bibliography of van der Linde, brought Nippold's bibliography up-to-date, and printed 110 pages of Joris documents. An English condensation appears in Bainton's The Travail of Religious Liberty. Philadelphia, 1951: 125-148.

Burckhardt, P. David Joris und seine Gemeinde in Basel. Reprint from Basler Ztscht f. Gesch. u. Altertumskunde 48 (1949):, 5.106 suspects Joris guilty of bigamy.

Burckhardt, P. "David Joris," in Basler Biographien I, 1900.

Hoop Scheffer, J. G. de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam, 1883-1884: Nos. 3, 148, 203, 205, 208-10, 254, 269, 277, 309, 443, 767-70.

Kühn, Johannes. Toleranz und Offenbarung. Leipzig, 1923: 271-301.

Kühler, W. J. Geschiedenis I.

Mennonitisches Lexikon II: 433-435.

Nippold, Fr. "David Joris, sein Leben, seine Lehre und seine Sekte." Zischt für die hist. Theologie, 1863 and 1864.

Visscher, H. and van Langeraad, L. A. Biographisch Woordenboek von Protestantische Godgeleerden in Nederland. Utrecht ; the Hague, 1903-, v. 4: 575-582.

Author(s) Gerhard Hein
Gary K. Waite
Date Published 1988

Cite This Article

MLA style

Hein, Gerhard and Gary K. Waite. "David Joris (ca. 1501-1556)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1988. Web. 24 Sep 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=David_Joris_(ca._1501-1556)&oldid=103754.

APA style

Hein, Gerhard and Gary K. Waite. (1988). David Joris (ca. 1501-1556). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 September 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=David_Joris_(ca._1501-1556)&oldid=103754.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 17-19; v. 5, pp. 216. All rights reserved.

©1996-2018 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.