Although later central to the schism and defection which tore the Family of Love in two, Hendrik Jansen Van Barrefelt was one of the first members of Hendrik Niclaes’ Family of Love to be mentioned by name – some three decades beforehand. The early mention of him in the Family’s chronicles should be no surprise. Originally a weaver by trade, he may well have first met Niclaes in a business capacity but he became Niclaes’ constant companion, even living at his house in Emden. Furthermore, his role in the dissemination of the Familist theology was absolutely critical. He acted as intermediary with Dirk van den Borne, the printer who the early Niclaes still shared with David Joris. He personally accompanied early ‘pieces and epistles’ to Deventer to supervise their printing and was placed in charge of the dissemination of Niclaes’ writings.

For an excellent discussion of the limited material available on Van Barrefelt’s background 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). His real name was Hendrik Jansen; the Van Barrefelt bit being simply topographical, indicating that he was from the township of Barneveld which is roughly half way from Utrecht to Apeldoorn. Jacobs calls the movement that emerged within the post-Niclaes Family of Love, the ‘Second House of Love’.

Van Barrefelt was quite evidently not the very first to break ranks with Niclaes in spite of the traditional interpretation of the schism. Huibert Duifhuis and Cornelius Jansen (a sailmaker of whom little is known – but not the Catholic Bishop of Ypres who was so committed to battling Pelagianism) both refused to accept Niclaes’ divinity. They may well not have been the first to depart Niclaes’ clique but they are the ones whose story is recounted (from Niclaes’ perspective) in Cronica H.N. and it appears that the prophet wrote this section, at least, himself. Duifhuis afterwards accepted an invitation from Catholic Ütrecht to minister at the St. Jacobskerk and was doing so by 1574. However, Van Barrefelt’s departure was of a different scale and importance entirely.

Chronologically it would seem that the trigger for the split may have been the Ordo Sacerdotis. The Ordo Sacerdotis was a work by Niclaes which set out a tight priestly hierarchy for the Family of Love. Niclaes himself was followed by seven subsidiary orders of priests. Hamilton suggests that there is little evidence that the split was a deep one in the immediate aftermath of 1573. However, by the time of Acta H.N. the personal rift between Niclaes and Van Barrefelt had evidently become most unpleasant – presumably on account of the numbers who had defected as part of the schism.

And it was not just a matter of numbers either. The intellectual weight of Familism sided with Van Barrefelt – in spite of his own relatively lowly origins – although Plantin, the Antwerp Printer, and Niclaes seemed to continue to work together amicably enough. When Niclaes died in 1580, the focus shifted further towards the Second House. 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, concerned essentially with the integration of a resurrected Stoicism and Christianity. It is possible that the Second House also developed strong links with the University of Leiden at this stage.

Until now the accepted position has been that Henrik Jansen Van Barrefelt ’s works would have been unavailable in English at the time. However, in January 2011, I undertook some research in Lambeth Palace Library and discovered MS.1068 simply entitled, ‘A theological treatise’. Richard Palmer, who was then working as Consultant Chief Archivist at Lambeth relabelled and recatalogued the text. It was nothing other than 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” – accompanied by some other treatises.

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 next question is who scrawled out that text by hand…?

And that will be the subject of the next post.

One thought on “The Hiëlist schism of 1573 in the Family of Love’s history and its impact on English Familism (1)

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