Amsterdam, December 1533
We had courage in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in the face of great opposition…1 Thess 1:8
In December 1533, the twelve apostles ordained by Jan Matthys commenced on their preaching journeys, scattering in all directions throughout the Netherlands. They were to gather the chosen ones and have them meet in Munster, Westphalia, which was to become the New Jerusalem. In the meantime, Melchior Hoffman was arrested in Strasburg, further proof that he was the true Elijah, because it was written that the prophet would be imprisoned for a time.
Anna was sad to see Jacob van Campen go; he seemed less excitable than the others, and not prone to violence. She worried that without his influence, the rest of the Anabaptists would be swayed by the intense Jan Matthys and they’d all go on this fool’s errand to Munster.
It was probably because she hadn’t learned all their ways, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of an undercurrent of some undefined, restless spirit at work in the congregation. With the mystical, but always peace-loving Melchior Hoffman now in prison, and Jacob van Campen gone, many of the agitated and over-zealous element remained in Amsterdam.
Adriaen’s moodiness troubled her, but she didn’t want to impose her unwelcome, weak woman’s views on him. Did he already regret having married her because she was too vocal in her opinions? The idea broke her heart.
Upon moving to the Netherlands, she had learned that women were treated better here than elsewhere, but still, they had much less authority than men. At least women were allowed an education here, as well as to inherit. Otherwise she could never have inherited Simon’s little house. Still, women were not thought strong enough to have a worthwhile opinion on spiritual life, and therefore had to defer to the man of the house. Anna’s heart rebelled. This most important of matters should not be entrusted to anyone else. Who was going to suffer for her in the after-world if she refused to obey God’s word?
Several months passed, until one chilly, drizzly February evening, Adriaen came home clapping his freezing hands and shaking flecks of ice crystals out of his dark hair.
“Miserable weather out there,” he remarked, reaching into an inner pocket of his heavy, black overcoat. He handed her a little booklet. “Here is something for you to read,” he said, “Maybe it will help you to better understand the doctrine. I feel like I have failed to make it clear to you.”
“Oh, Adriaen. I’m sure that is not the case. Though it does seem like things are shifting away from the peace-loving spirit there was in the beginning.” She flipped through the few pages of the pamphlet, which bore the lengthy title ‘Prophezey oder weissagung uss warer heiliger götlicher schrift. Von allen wundern und zeichen bis zu der zukunft Christi Jesu unsers heilands an dem jüngsten tag und der welt end. Diese prophecey wird sich anfahen am end der weissagung (kürtzlich von mir aussgegangen in eime andern büchlin von der schweren straf Gottes über alles gotloss wesen durch den Türkischen tirannen’.
“Is this written by one of the Brethren in Munster?” Anna asked.
“Melchior Hoffman wrote it, explaining verse by verse the twelfth chapter of Daniel, where Daniel writes of his visions of the end times.” Adriaen huddled up to the fire, and droplets of melted ice dripped off his clothing, sizzling into the flames. “Would you mind reading it aloud? I’d like to hear the words once more.”
“I will do it for you, if you don’t mind slow reading.” Anna decided she would stop reading if it became blasphemous or violent. “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.”
“So you see, this does tell of a time of trouble, which we certainly have,” Adriaen said. “The pope is Michael, and the Brethren are the people whose names are written in the book, and shall be delivered.”
“So you think that means we should go to Munster?” Anna looked at her husband, bewildered. What was wrong with staying right here?
“We will have to wait for fair weather, I would think. And first the news must be spread everywhere, and that will probably take a few months. In the meantime, we will continue to meet here in Amsterdam as usual.” Adriaen lighted a candle and set it on the table, while Anna watched him from behind the booklet in her hands.
She never tired of gazing at him, and marveling at the miracle that had brought them together. They had come through so many trials; surely nothing could pry them apart, least of all the faith which had joined them. Adriaen opened his Testament and read some more from the book of Daniel, in preparation for his next sermon.
A taut silence filled the room while the wind raged outside and rattled at the window. Even so, Anna had nearly fallen asleep beside the fire when she heard the bang of the street door below, followed by the clumping of someone’s footsteps coming up the stairs. Her heartbeat picked up speed until she thought it would drown out every other sound.
Adriaen opened the door, shrugging in Anna’s direction as if to say, ‘It is who it is.’
“Obbe! Come on in,” Adriaen said, welcoming the tall, stooped man. “Nowadays you never know who stands on the other side of a closed door, friend or foe. I didn’t know you were in town.” Anna’s shoulders lowered back to where they belonged, and her breaths returned to normal as she rose to greet him.
“Meet my wife, Anna. And this is Obbe Philips, brother of Dirk Philips, who we met in Emden.”
“Aren’t you the doctor who fixed up Adriaen after he was in prison?”
“That I am. He looks much better than he did that night.” Obbe smiled. Anna didn’t even want to think about that night. Adriaen led his visitor to the table, with Anna joining them after she set out some food and wine.
“I came by tonight in the hopes that you share my concerns about Jan Matthys and his followers.” He looked at Adriaen, who fingered the pages of the Bible in front of him, but didn’t answer. “I admit that I regret from my heart that I ever agreed to go on this recruiting campaign for Matthys; I’m afraid he will resort to violence if things don’t go his way. I think we should always seek peaceful solutions for every problem. I doubt this idea of Matthys is going to impress the authorities favorably, although I haven’t found many men who share my opinion.”
Here’s one woman who shares your opinion, Anna thought.
“I don’t see any harm in it.” Adriaen said. “It’s quite possible that God has spoken to Hoffman and to Matthys, and I for one don’t want to take the chance of not being in Munster when the Lord returns.”
“But haven’t you heard? These Brethren are buying arms to take to Munster. Will we need weapons to meet the Lord?”
“No, but we might need arms to destroy the whore of Babylon, which is the Catholic church, and that will happen before His arrival,” Adriaen said.
Obbe shook his head, “It is hard to know what is right, and I weep to think of the Brethren divided like this.” A few tears did indeed drip onto his sober black robe. “I had to leave Leeuwarden because my name is on the Stadtholder’s bulletin, naming me as one of the ‘seducers and deceivers who wander about the country, who re-baptize the people and teach bad and dangerous errors and sects.’ God help me find the truth in these treacherous times.”
Adriaen nodded. “That is true. All the more reason to let God speak through the prophets he has sent.”
Anna clenched her teeth. Anyone could claim to be a prophet. Even she could foresee that things would not end well for the Anabaptists if they challenged the might of the government, the might of God notwithstanding.
“Where are you residing, Obbe?” she asked. “Perhaps when we’ve thought this through, we will contact you.” She, for one, wanted to know where the peaceful ones dwelled. Not for her these talks of revenge and destroying tyrants. Adriaen sent her a withering glance, but said nothing.
Obbe gave her the name of the family he was staying with, then got up to leave, probably thinking he had wasted his time on a fruitless errand. He smiled at Anna as he left. “Remember, if there’s anything you want to talk about, you may find me at Jan Peauw’s house.” Anna nodded.
When the door closed, Adriaen turned to face her, “So, my wise little wife, you do not believe my words?”
“I believe the words written in the Scriptures. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ for example. And ‘vengeance is mine’ says the Lord.” Her voice ended on a sob and she fled to her stool beside the fire, weeping in anguish. How much pain could one endure in a lifetime? Now that she had finally accepted a faith she could believe in with all her heart, Satan was already busy ripping things apart; the fledgling church, her marriage, and even sanity, it seemed.
The following afternoon, Anna put on her warmest clothing and ventured outside for a walk, hoping to clear her mind. Adriaen maintained a disapproving silence, and it hurt too much to bear. “Oh God, show me what to do,” she prayed. “I want to obey my husband, but I want to obey you more, and You have commanded us to love our enemies, and to do good to those who hate us. Please help me understand, and to do Thy will.”
She walked on blindly, not caring where she went, wishing only to be alone. Her footsteps took her to the edge of the sea; in times of distress the water soothed her soul like warm milk on a cold night. Taking shelter from the biting wind behind a warehouse, she gazed across the gray waves of the Zuiderzee, where even in winter the tall masts of sailboats dotted the shore.
In fact, several men were working on the docks, and boats were in the process of being loaded with provisions. Who would be going on a journey in the winter? Her heart skipped a beat. They wouldn’t! At the same time as she was trying to deny it, she had a sinking feeling that the fanatics would. They would attempt to sail to Munster on the Zuiderzee in the wintertime to meet the rest of the prophesied 144,000 chosen ones.
And Adriaen! Did he know about this? Or was she building a bridge where there was no water? Slowly, she turned towards home, having gained no comfort from her walk, only more worries. Where was the house Obbe Philips was staying? It must be close by. Maybe he would know what was happening. She considered going back home and asking Adriaen whether he knew anything about it, but thought better of it. He had made his views plain enough, and she didn’t feel like arguing with him. Anna asked a pedestrian for directions to the Peauw house.
The house was like any other on the street; tall, narrow, and made of stone, the usual square kitchen with its fireplace and one window inside. A cluster of people chatted in the back room, and Anna noted with some relief that a few other women were present.
“Anna! Welcome in.” Obbe Philips waved her into the room, motioning to an empty spot on a bench, beside a pretty young woman. “You’re just in time to catch up with all the news. Jacob van Campen is back from his journey, and we’re anxious to hear everything.”
Anna decided her question could wait.
“Before we go any further, I want to ask if you all have seen the new placards that the Court has sent out?” Obbe looked around the room with dismay evident in his eyes. “There is a reward of twelve guilders on some of our heads, including mine. In fact, everyone who has baptized others or is named a leader is wanted by the authorities.”
Heads nodded all around. This was no surprise to them.
“The reward will be attractive to the many job-less refugees in Amsterdam. Let us all use extra caution,” Jacob van Campen said. “This is probably the work of the new sheriff, a man the Court sent just this week. Too bad they got rid of Jan Hubrechts. It’s dangerous when the Court replaces one of the faithful with an outsider, and we must pray earnestly to God for His protection. Barring that, let us receive strength from the Lord to stand true in our trials until the end.”
“So, what’s the news from Munster?”
Van Campen’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know what to make of it, but I heard Jan Matthys is now in Munster, and he and his followers have begun evicting non-believers from the city. I heard they threw out old people, women with newborn babies, and children, locked them outside the gates with nothing except the clothes on their backs, on a day too miserable to let a dog out.” He frowned. “I don’t believe we should treat people so badly.”
A fiery-looking man wearing a tall hat stood up and addressed the Brethren. “I say it’s high time we got rid of the godless. God has made known to us that all believers should get ready to go to the New Jerusalem, the city of saints, because he is going to punish the whole world. Flee out of Babylon and deliver every man his soul, for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance.”
This must be Jan van Geelen. He had been going around gathering supporters for Matthys, as one of the twelve apostles. She wanted to leave immediately. These were not the words of love and peace that had won her to the Anabaptist faith. The group had gone sadly astray, and she had nowhere to turn. Even her husband took the side of the fanatics. She shifted on the hard bench. Would it be too rude to just leave?
Van Geelen dug into his leather pouch and withdrew a handful of pamphlets, which he passed around to everyone. He smiled engagingly as he handed one to Anna.
“Where’s Adriaen? Hope he’s not ill?”
“I don’t think he knew you were gathering here.” Anna looked down at the booklet in her hands. Van der Wraecke. ‘Vengeance’. Oh dear. When no one was looking, she let it drop beneath the bench, her long skirts hiding it. Adriaen didn’t need to see this.
“What! How can that be? Obbe? Didn’t you bring him word yesterday?”
Obbe struck his forehead with his palm. “Can it be? I must be getting old and forgetful.” He peered at Anna. “So how is it that you are here?”
“By chance. Say, I was walking out by the docks and there was some action out there by the sea. Does anyone know who would be preparing for a journey in the winter?”
Some of the men looked at each other, half sheepishly. “We’ll be embarking for Munster soon, so we’re just getting a few things ready now. As soon as we hear a date, we’re leaving. Are you coming with us?” van Geelen asked.
Anna put her shoulders back and sat up straight. “Not if there’s violence involved. I will take my chances here.” For a few seconds, there was complete silence in the room.
Jacob van Campen cleared his throat. “I’m staying too.”
“And me.” Obbe Philips said, folding his arms. More people opened their mouths to speak.
The fiery man stood up again. “Now listen, good people. Dare you disobey the commands which God Himself revealed to the prophets? I tell you, the Kingdom of God is at hand and all the godless will be destroyed. Repent! Repent!”
Suddenly he leaped into the air, twirled around, and headed out the door onto the street with his hands in the air, shouting, “Woe! Woe! Woe to the godless!”
Several of the young men followed, and ran whooping down the street. Anna ran too, as fast as she could, to the safety of her own home. She didn’t want to be caught with these people.
In the morning, she heard that a few of the young men had been arrested. But Jan van Geelen had escaped.