Van Barrefelt requires some illumination on account of the fact that, until now, he has received relatively little attention and, with respect to his influence in England, essentially none at all.
Until now the accepted position has been that Henrik Jansen Van Barrefelt (Hiël)’s works would have been unavailable in English in the early seventeenth century. However, in January 2011, I undertook some research in Lambeth Palace Library and discovered MS.1068 simply entitled, ‘A theological treatise’. Initially, I considered that the book contained two texts – one which starts in reverse and upside down from the other. Prior to expert clarification, I treated them as follows:
– ‘Text 1’ seemed to be quite early judging by the handwriting style (as with Text 2) – that is to say well pre-Commonwealth. It claimed to be ‘A groundly exposition of the Commandments of Almighty God’ translated from Base Alemayn into French and then into English from the French copy.
– ‘Text 2’ was easier to identify as it was more clearly labelled: ‘A testimony of the treatise hidden in the field’. This is an exact – and frankly, overly literal – translation of the French as follows: ‘Le livre des tesmoignages (sic) du thresor (sic) cache (sic) au champ’ which was printed by Plantin during his time in Antwerp and probably in 1581 – although Plantin himself may have been elsewhere that year as Antwerp had suffered a serious burning by the Spanish five years beforehand. That was the French translation of Hendrik Jansen Van Barrefelt’s ‘Ackerschat’ (or more properly, ‘Het Boeck der Ghetuygenissen vanden verborghen Acker-schat’), probably originally first printed by Plantin in about 1580, which was devoted to instructing the reader how to recognise the signs by which God makes himself known in the soul of each man – “hidden in the depth of the Harte of man” as the Lambeth translation of the text says. That would fit with the claim that the text was translated from Dutch to French and then to English.
The first text seemed to deal with “the kind of knowledge leading to the Uniform Life” – typical of the language used by Van Barrefelt as opposed to that of Hendrik Niclaes and his followers. For a good general introduction to the ideas of Van Barrefelt see his ‘A short instruction according to the being’ (British Library Sloane MS.2608) which is easy to read on account of the vastly more legible handwriting. It is simply labelled as ‘a theological treatise’ as well since several Familist texts were entitled ‘A short instruction…’ (I do not think we have a formal date since this is actually a hand-scripted book in the English version – although a quality effort, as shown below.)
Above: British Library Sloane MS.2608
With regard to this ‘second’ text, as it was in the same volume, I suspected that it was a translation of some work of Van Barrefelt. The long discourse on the literal meanings of the names of the tribes of Israel (Ruben, Zabulon, Dan, Neptalim etc.) must be fairly distinctive. The fact that it had gone through the same basic cycle of Low German / Dutch (the distinction between the two being less absolute than today) to French to English might also strengthen the likelihood that both were translations of Plantin’s Antwerp output. However, Richard Palmer’s further work on MS.1068 (now relabelled, ‘Familist Treatises’) corrects my misinterpretation. It is all the same text but the volume is written from both ends with pages 1 to 48 numbered from the front and pages 49 to 66 from the back. Interestingly, one single leaf is missing from the volume.
The potential significance is as follows. The influence of Van Barrefelt on English Familism has always been assumed to be marginal if actually there at all. Hamilton states categorically that the first manuscript translations of his works are dated as late as 1657 – i.e. postdating interest in, say, the works of Böhme and long after any formal ‘Family of Love’ (such as it was) had disintegrated. Therefore (so the established theory goes) such translations are to be read from the perspective of a more general interest in Northern European spirituality. However, if Hiëlist works were in circulation prior to the collapse of censorship at the beginning of the 1640s, then that could change completely our understanding of the Familist-Antinomian Network in London in the late 1620s and 1630s and even of earlier, ‘organised’ Familism in England and of the tensions between Hiëlist and Niclaesian interpretations which have been assumed to be non-existent in the English variety of the faith. Basically we might have to reassess how syncretically late English Familism dealt with the Hiëlist schism.
The schism between Niclaes and Van Barrefelt took place in 1573. According to Niclaes’ version of events outlined in his Cronica, Van Barrefelt joined the House of Love whilst lacking the correct disposition. In Chapter 49 Niclaes claimed that Van Barrefelt – once considered a friend – turned away from him, slandered him and fell ‘into uncreated nothingness’. However, although Hiël is usually seen as the prime mover of the split, this is not technically true. For he took advantage of the discontent already in existence surrounding the Duifhuis / Jansen group which saw no need to submit itself to the increasing megalomania of the self-declared ‘Prophet’. Most of the Humanists, valuing their freedom of thought rather than necessarily sharing too much in common with Van Barrefelt’s theology, went with the Hiëlist faction although Plantin and Niclaes seemed to continue to work together amicably enough. However, when Arias Montanus joined the Family of Love via his connection with Plantin it was this doubly schismatic, Hiëlist group that he joined. Dutch-speaking readers can find out more about the ‘Second House of Love’ in Elly Jacobs’ work. The idea of the ‘Second House of Love’ manifested itself in the religious practice of Huibert Duifhuis, the pastor of the St. Jacobuskerk in Utrecht. Around 1580, immediately after Niclaes’ death, the core of the Second House formed around Plantin who was busy printing Van Barrefelt’s own works. Key attributes of this Second House were: the spirituality of Mankind, tolerance, the invisible – but not exclusivist – Church, the rejection of the Messianism of Niclaes and the rejection of an enforced hierarchy. In addition to this core of key people was an accretion of new characters who either joined by chance at this time or else were attracted by the changed message of the Family: Benito Arias Montanus – who originally might have been nothing other than a threat to Plantin, and the Neo-Stoic philosopher, Justus Lipsius. It is possible that the Second House also developed strong links with the University of Leiden at this stage – see Elly Jacobs – ‘Christoffel Plantijn drukker van ketters en papen: het Huys der Leifde in zijn leven en worken’ – in Dutch, University of Breda (2008).