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Menno Simonszoon (Simon's son) was born in Witmarsum in the province of Friesland to a man named Simon. Very little is known concerning his parents or his childhood. Menno Simons was ordained a Catholic priest in 1524 at Utrecht. He was made a priest in his father's village, called Pingjum. He was of poor peasant parentage, and his education was limited to his training for the priesthood. Around 1526 or 1527, questions surrounding the doctrine of transubstantiation caused Menno to begin a serious and in-depth search of the Scriptures, which he confessed he had not previously studied. At this time he arrived at what some have termed an "evangelical humanist" position.
Menno's first knowledge of the concept of "rebaptism", which he said "sounded very strange to me", came in 1531. This came through the means of hearing of the beheading of Sicke Snijder at Leeuwarden for being "rebaptized". A renewed search of the Scriptures left Menno Simons believing that infant baptism was not found in the Bible. He discussed the issue with his pastor, searched the church "Fathers", and read Luther and Bullinger. While still pondering the issue, he was transferred to Witmarsum. Here he came into direct contact with Anabaptism - a group of Anabaptists came there preaching and practicing adult baptism. Later some of the Münsterite disciples came there as well. While he regarded them as misled and fanatical, he was drawn to their zeal and their view on the Bible, the church, and discipleship. When his brother Pieter was among a group of Anabaptists killed near Bolsward in 1535, Menno's agony of soul and inner turmoil increased and became almost unbearable. In this state, he would cry out to God, "I prayed to God with sighs and tears that He would give to me, a sorrowing sinner, the gift of His grace, create within me a clean heart, and graciously through the merits of the crimson blood of Christ forgive..."
Menno Simons rejected the Catholic Church and the priesthood in January of 1536, and cast his lot with the Anabaptists. Exactly when he was baptized is not known, but by October of 1536 his connection with Anabaptism was well-known. In that month Herman and Gerrit Jans were arrested and charged with having lodged Simons. He was probably baptized not long after leaving Witmarsum in early 1536. He was ordained around 1537 by Obbe Philips. Obbe and his brother, Dirk Philips, were among the peaceful disciples of Melchior Hoffman (the more radical having set up the kingdom in Münster). It was Hoffman who introduced the first self-sustaining Anabaptism to the Netherlands, when he taught and practiced believers' baptism in Emden in East Friesland.
Menno evidently rose quickly to become a man of influence. Before 1540, David Joris, an Anabaptist of the "inspirationist" variety, had been the most influential leader in the Netherlands. By 1544, the term Mennonite or Mennist was used in a letter to refer to the Dutch Anabaptists.
25 years after his renunciation of Catholicism, Menno passed away on January 31, 1561 at Wüstenfelde, and was buried in his garden. He was married to a woman named Gertrude, and they had a least three children, two daughters and a son.
Menno Simons influence on Anabaptism in the Low Countries was so great that Estep suggested that their history be divided into three periods: "before Menno, under Menno, and after Menno". He is especially significant in coming to the Anabaptist movement in the north in its most troublesome days, and helping not only to sustain it, but also to establish it as a viable "radical" Reformation movement.