The Family of Love or Familists (English term) were a mystic religious sect known as the Familia Caritatis (Hus der Lieften; Huis der Liefde; Haus der Liebe; Family of Love), founded by Hendrik Niclaes.
Niclaes was a prosperous merchant. In 1532-33 he was in trouble for heresy while in Amsterdam, a recruitment ground for Protestants leading up to the Münster Rebellion of 1534. Rather than becoming involved with outward rebellion, he moved to Emden, where around 1540 he began preaching a quieter but radical message, based on a traditional mystic Christian idea derived from the writings of Paul, which said that a part of God is in every person. He told his followers they had so much of God's spirit in them that they were a part of the Godhead.
Niclaes' intoxicating message appealed to the well educated and creative elite, artists, musiscians and scholars. They felt no need to spread the message and risk heresy - members were usually a part an otherwise established church, quietly remaining in the background, confident in their elite status as part of the Godhead. As the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition says: Nicholas's followers escaped the gallows and the stake, for they combined with some success the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. They would only discuss their doctrines with sympathizers; they showed every respect for authority, and considered outward conformity a duty. This quietist">quietismquietist attitude, while it saved them from molestation, hampered propaganda.
The outward trappings of his system were Anabaptist; his followers were accused of asserting that all things were ruled by nature and not directly by God, of denying the dogma of the Trinity, and repudiating infant baptism. They held that no man should be put to death for his opinions, and apparently, like the later Quakers, they objected to the carrying of arms and to anything like an oath; and they were quite impartial in their repudiation of all other churches and sects, including Brownists and Barrowists.
Members of the Familists included the landscape painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger; Christopher Plantin, who worked by day as Phillip II's printer of Catholic documents for the Counter Reformation, and who by night printer Familists literature. In the 1580s it was discovered some of the Yeomen of the Guard for Elizabeth I were Familists - the Queen did nothing about it which raised questions about her own beliefs. The keeper of the lions in the Tower of London for James I was a Familist. The biggest colony of Familists was in Balsham. His chief apostle in England was Christopher Vitel.
The society lingered into the early years of the 18th century; the leading idea of its service of love was a reliance on sympathy and tenderness for the moral and spiritual edification of its members. Thus, in an age of strife and polemics, it seemed to afford a refuge for quiet, gentle spirits, and meditative temperaments. The Quakers, Baptists and Unitarians may have derived some of their ideas through the "Family"
References and further reading
- Alastair Hamilton: The Family of Love. Cambridge 1981
- W.N. Kerr: Henry Nicholas and the Familists. Edinburgh 1955
- Christopher Marsh: An Introduction to the Family of Love in England In: E.S. Leedham-Green: Religious Dissent in East Anglia. Cambridge 1991, S. 29-36 ISBN 0-9513596-1-4
- N.A. Penrhys-Evans: The Family of Love in England, 1550-1650. Canterbury 1971
- M Konnert, The Family of Love and the Church of England, Renaiss. Reform. ISSN 0034-429X, 1991, vol. 15, no2, pp. 139-172
- F. Nippold, H. Niclaes und das Haus der Liebe, in Zeitschrift fr die histor. Theol. (1862)
- A. J. van der Aa, Biog. Woordenboek der Nederlanden (1868), Article H. Niclaes
- Article H. Nicholas, by C. Fell Smith, in Dict. Nat. Biog. (1894)
- Article Familisten, by Loafs, in Herzog-Haucks Realencyklopadie (1898)
familist in German: Familisten