Mennonite Articles of Faith by Cornelis Ris (1766)
Cornelis Ris (1717-18 April 1790) lived at Hoorn, Dutch province of North Holland. He was a Zonist Mennonite preacher, and descended from the influential Ris family of Hoorn. On 12 March 1746, Cornelis was installed as one of the ministers of the Hoorn Frisian congregation. In the 17th century Hoorn had an unusual number of Mennonite branches; in 1747 the Frisians and the Waterlanders, then the only remaining congregations, merged. Ris served at Hoorn until his death. His colleague Jacob Spis delivered his funeral sermon.
An address to the Hoorn congregation said, "There was namely besides the Waterlander congregation, which had adopted the Confession of Hans de Ries, also a Frisian congregation, which gave considerable approval to another (confession), signed at Dordrecht on 27 September 1632, by a number of ministers: when these two congregations united in 1747, the third article of the agreement stipulated the following: The confessions of faith now adhered to by the two congregations will not be changed now; nor will the ministers and members be required to give a more specific declaration than that given when they were installed in office or admitted into the congregation; but when the two congregations are united, an attempt will be made to unify the two confessions wherein they may differ: And if an admission of members is planned, as has hitherto been customary, to proceed with such moderation that too much will not be demanded of such as are weak of understanding and tender spirits are spared" (Foreword of the German edition of the Confession of Cornelis Ris, Hamburg, 1776).
Thus it became a special concern to Cornelis Ris to gather into a single confession and merge the confessions of faith that seemed definitive in the Algemeene Belydenissen (1665) of the Zonists; viz., the Concept of Cologne, 1591; Outerman's Confession, 1626; Olijftacxken, 1627; Confession of Jan Cents, 1630; Dordrecht Confession, 1632. Besides consideration for the two congregations at Hoorn, he was moved by the desire to check the rapid decline of the congregations of his time by steering them toward the old foundation of the recognized confessions (whereas van der Zijpp has shown that the congregations that were more faithful to the confessions were declining even more rapidly than the more liberal ones). In 1759 the church council of the Hoorn congregation decided to present Ris' proposal to the Zonist Sociëteit. This body approached the problem with hesitation. Nevertheless Cornelis Ris was able to present a concrete sketch in 1762 and to publish it in 1766. His caution in this matter is shown by the title of the fourth article; at first it read, "How this one God is further to be distinguished in the Holy Scriptures"; the later version says more plainly, "Of the Holy Trinity." Not until 1773 did the Sociëteit formally approve the confession. But in spite of this approval it found no enthusiastic reception by the Zonists, the Lamists, or the Old Flemish. Concerning the previous history and the difficulties in having this confession approved Ris wrote Kort Berigt van't voorgevallene over de Geloofsleere (Hoorn, 1776).
The Confession of Cornelis Ris was given the significant title De Geloofsleere der waare Mennoniten of Doopsgezinden. Nevertheless Cornelis Ris, like the orthodox wing of the Dutch Mennonites in general at that time, also sought contact with Calvinism, the established faith; his confession, which expressly attaches itself to the Mennonite tradition, has a certain Calvinistic inclination (the doctrine of election in article IX was later moderated or left open by insertions). His 36 articles deal with all the major points of theology.
This confession, like the Dordrecht Confession, had only temporary significance in the Netherlands, but attained a true and wide significance outside its home. For the Confession of Cornelis Ris its relations to the Hamburg-Altona congregation and to America were important.
Besides the Hoorn congregation, the only other congregations to support it were Westzaan in North Holland and Almelo in Overijssel, where Pieter Beets, a nephew and collaborator of Cornelis Ris, was the pastor. He took a position in favor of the confession in a "Brief Report."
The bridge to the Hamburg-Altona congregation was built by members of the Beets family, some of whom lived there and others in Hoorn. Jan Beets (1708-88), of Hoorn, a follower of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf and a successful revival preacher, was a faithful adherent of Cornelis Ris. His cousin Gerrit Beets (1707-76), elder of the Hamburg-Altona congregation, fought all his life, like Ris, "that the ancient pillars should not be removed." Pieter Beets (1727-76), a nephew of Jan Beets and of Cornelis Ris, who had also been "awakened" in the early 1750's, was called from Almelo to Hamburg-Altona, recommended by his uncle Cornelis Ris, and began his service there in 1771. He was succeeded not long after by Jan Ris (1756-84), a son of Cornelis Ris, whom Pieter Beets had instructed in Hamburg-Altona, and who became a ministerial candidate in 1775, a minister in Hamburg-Altona in 1777, and an elder in 1779.
In Hamburg the Confession of Cornelis Ris was translated into German and published in 1776. The Foreword explains that it was intended for Mennonites of Dutch extraction who were now using German in their services, and for the congregations in Southwest Germany and Alsace and their "colonies" in America; it expresses the hope that the Protestants would graciously accept this work. The translator reproduced some 12 pages of the original author's 52-page introduction and added some pages of his own, making a German introduction of about half the length of the Dutch. For 1791 B. C. Roosen reported in his history of the Hamburg-Altona congregation (II, p. 55), "when the preachers of our congregation in 1791 suggested in the church council that competent preachers be sought from the outside, they added the wish that only orthodox ones adhering to the confessions of Hans de Ries and Lubbert Gerrits, Gerrit Roosen, or Cornelis Ris be invited for a visit." The same history records that on May 29, 1803, it was unanimously decided to adopt the Confession by Cornelis Ris, and that for many years each newly chosen preacher and deacon signed a copy of this confession.
In the early 19th century, when Prussia organized its Rhine Province (see Rhineland) and sought information about its Mennonites, the Dordrecht Confession was presented as that of the stricter branch (Amish), and the Cornelis Ris confession as that of the more lenient branch.
The Confession of Cornelis Ris acquired new effectiveness in the 19th and 20th centuries through the work of Carl Justus van der Smissen (1811-90), who was the minister in the Friedrichstadt Mennonite congregation 1837-68, and was then called to America to serve as a teacher in the Wadsworth Mennonite School at Wadsworth, Ohio. He revised the German translation of this confession "in order that it may not be lost to our congregations." His revision, without the Scriptural proof texts, was published as a manuscript in 1850.
In America Carl Heinrich Anton van der Smissen (1851-1950), a son of the above, a Mennonite pastor in Summerfield, Illinois, published the Cornelis Ris Confession in 1895 as an appendix to a short history of the Mennonites. This edition contained some new proof texts added by his father and Berend Roosen. This confession seemed more liberal, in America as well as in Europe, than the Dordrecht Confession, and was published by the General Conference Mennonite Church in English in 1902 and 1904, and 1904 (with title of 1895 edition) and 1906 in German, as its recognized confession.
The slighted revised English text is attached.
Text of the Confession
Preface to English edition
I. Of the Knowledge of God from Nature
II. Of the Holy Scriptures
III. Of God's Being and Perfections
IV. Of the Holy Trinity
V. Of the Creation and All Things and of Man in Particular
VI. Of God as Preserver and Ruler
VII. Of the Condition of Man Before the Fall
VIII. Of the Fall of Man and Its Consequences
IX. Of the Election of Grace or Election and Rejection
X. Of Man's Restoration
XI. Of Man's Freedom and Ability After the Fall
XII. Of the Person of the Redeemer and His Appearing in the Flesh
XIII. Of the Work of Redemption in General
XIV. Of Christ's Office as Prophet
XV. Of Christ as High Priest
XVI. Of Christ as King
XVII. Of the Universal Offer of Grace and the Call of God Unto Faith
XVIII. Of Faith by Which We Partake of the Grace of God in Christ
XIX. Of Conversion and the New Birth
XX. Of Justification and Faith
XXI. Of Good Works, or the Piety of True Believers
XXII. Of Perseverance in Holiness
XXIII. Of the Church of Christ
XXIV. Of the Ministry of the Church
XXV. Of Water Baptism
XXVI. Of the Holy Supper
XXVII. Of Brotherly Care and Church Discipline
XXVIII. Of the Office of Temporal Government
XXIX Of Revenge and War
XXX. Of Oaths
XXXI. Of Marriage
XXXII. Of Death
XXXIII. Of the Resurrection of the Dead
XXXIV. Of the Final Judgment
XXXV. Of Eternal Life
XXXVI. Of Eternal Punishment
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