David Joris (c. 1501 – 1556) was a theologian generally regarded as an Anabaptist but who actually went through several separate phases over the course of his life and who is sometimes cited as the critical link between Anabaptism and Familism. Waite separates Joris’ beliefs into several separate phases – although, it has to be said, not always terribly clearly – see G. K. Waite – ‘The Anabaptist Writings of David Joris’, Classics of the Radical Reformation, Institute of Mennonite Studies (1994). [Note here that these periods are not quite as presented by Waite himself and have been modified by the author to include other writers’ commentaries as well as personal research.] The third period below might well have created fertile ground for later Niclaesianism and Hiëlism in Antwerp.
1 – A Lutheran period from 1524 to his departure from Holland for East Frisia after his denunciation of the veneration of the Virgin Mary in 1528;
2 – An Anabaptist one around the time of the Siege of Münster (i.e. mid-1530s) which gradually transitioned into a more distinctive stance with the additional complexity of his interaction with Anneken Jan;
3 – A continuation of the transitionary period between 1539 and 1544 during his time in Antwerp under the patronage of Anna van Etten and her son-in-law, Cornelius van Lier, during which he developed the idea of a ‘spiritual language’ only to be understood by the enlightened;
4 – The totally Nicodemian Basel period.
Jan van Scorel’s painting of ‘Jan van Brugge’!
Up until 1528 the life of Joris had been relatively mainstream (if highly enthusiastic) Reformation stuff. He had been lashed and had had his tongue bored through by the time of his imposed exile from Delft for three years. Ironically, this had had the effect of bringing him into direct contact with Anabaptists and, having returned to Delft, he was baptised by Obbe Philips in September 1534 and ordained into the ministry. Between then and 1536 he wrote songs inspired by his Anabaptist faith. However, on careful examination, some of them already had leanings in less ‘regulated’ directions. Sometime soon after 1536 he became so inspired by the songs and the support of Anneken Jan (formerly an heiress who gave up all her wealth to follow her faith) that he started to see himself as Holland’s ‘Third David’ – in other words, a prophet. Over the following three years or so many of his followers developed strongly antinomian or even libertine leanings.
This phase appears to follow-on immediately from his role as mediator between moderate Melchiorites (followers of Hoffmann) and Batenburgers. When Münsterites attempted to seize the village of Poeldijk, the authorities stepped up their crackdown on heretics. In May 1536 a large part of the city of Delft was destroyed by fire. Just days beforehand, it seems that Joris left the city and presumably went to stay at the house of Anneken Jan at Den Briell although there is no guarantee that this was where he was. The exact relationship between Joris and Anneken is not easy to fathom and is too easily subject to retrospective misinterpretation. There were obviously numerous rumours at the time and many less well-disposed authors since have reminded us that whilst Joris was quick to denounce the sword in the service of faith (although Menno Simmons saw him as a compromiser even in that regard), he was far less clear regarding his views on polygamy (which Mattys and his allies in Münster had actually implemented by law). Nevertheless, the two of them seemed to have prayed together to be spared the temptations of the flesh. But, when her husband returned he was less than impressed, left her and returned to England where he died sometime over 1536-1538. Anneken seems also to have travelled to England (the exact course of events being far from clear) but in 1538 she returned to Holland in order to meet Joris in Delft. Stepping from one boat to another in Rotterdam she was arrested on the grounds of the hymn she was singing. She was drowned as a heretic as a result.
Meanwhile he himself started to draw more specifically on Denck and Franck but his single greatest source of inspiration appears to have been the Theologia. By the late 1530s he had established a significant following until in 1538/39 the authorities decided to take direct action against him. His mother was beheaded and his family was forced to flee Delft. Over the next four years he was a fugitive appearing in various locations across the Low Countries and East Friesland, picking up disillusioned Batenburgers everywhere following the death of their leader. During this period he personally wrote to Luther warning him of his self-denied reason.
Joris probably wrote ‘The Wonderbook’ (T’Wonder-boeck) whilst living with his brother-in-law in Antwerp. It was first printed in 1542/43. There were two editions of Joris’ most important work: the first can be theologically located to his ideas during this important transitionary Antwerp period – the phase which most short summaries of the life of Joris manage to omit almost entirely. The second edition was revised significantly and published in 1551. It was this edition which was re-issued in the 1580s both by Dirk Mullem of Rotterdam and Jan Canin of Dordrecht.
In 1544 Joris left the Low Countries for Basel secretly after a violent dispute between the Jorists and John A Lasco (Jan Łaski) who was then superintendent of East Friesland’s established church. The persecution of his followers intensified. In Basel he was a voice for religious freedom, defending Servetus and seemingly forging close links with both Castellion and Schwenckfeld – who may have influenced his theology during this period of his life. After his flight to Basel, when Joris had restyled himself as ‘Jan van Brugge’ his theology underwent some changes but so did his lifestyle as he started to acquire significant material wealth. One of the key theological changes was that he backed down on being the sole ‘divinely inspired’.
In 1548, writing to Niclaes (the only evidence we have of contact between them) there were clearly worries about his leadership and some tensions with Niclaes. Niclaes may have gone from being a ‘threat to oneness’ in Joris’ Emden days to ‘a threat of fanaticism’ by Basel. Notably, the issue of sole divine inspiration was one that was to characterise Niclaesian Familism and was, later, to lead to the Hiëlist factional schism. However, towards the end of his life Joris appears to have fallen out badly with his son-in-law (husband of his eldest daughter), Blesdijk. He died in 1556 and a split took place immediately after between followers of Blesdijk and Berchem – the latter excommunicating the former.
The ‘Davidists’ (better, Jorists) were not formally expelled from East Frisia until 1544/45 and, up until that point, relations had been broadly tolerable. Niclaes seems to have arrived in 1541 and was accorded citizenship the following year. He probably formally founded his sect shortly after his arrival there and seemed to manage to live there for nearly two decades before his orthodoxy came under any serious question. It seems that he may have had the support of the influential Lord of Pewsum, Huycke Manninga and, perhaps, wider Manninga support generally – see A. Hamilton – ‘The Family of Love’ (Cambridge, 1981). The potential overlap between an embedded Jorist presence in Emden and the Family of Love’s foundation provides some fascinating possibilities – including the outside possibility that Niclaes’ true source of inspiration was actually gained on arrival in Emden.
The English transliteration of Joris has traditionally been David George, Joris equating to the forename George.