Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Torn between Two Faiths? American Calvinist Leonard Verduin's Anabaptist-Mennonite Connections

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Torn between Two Faiths? American Calvinist Leonard Verduin's Anabaptist-Mennonite Connections

Article excerpt

Abstract: Leonard Verduin was well known among Mennonites and other Anabaptists as the translator of The Complete Writings of Menno Simons and for his scholarly contributions to and interest in Anabaptist history and theology. Far less is known about his other Mennonite "connections," particularly his efforts to change Article 36 of the Christian Reformed Church's Confession of Faith, which condemned the Anabaptists. This article will give a brief biographical sketch of Verduin's life and discuss his various interests in Anabaptism within the larger context of Calvinist-Anabaptist relations.


Leonard Verduin was born on March 9, 1897, in South Holland, Illinois, a city founded in the 1840s by Dutch immigrants from the province of South Holland and located a few miles south of Chicago. A large number of these immigrants were religious dissidents (Afgescheidenen) who had seceded from the Dutch Reformed Church in the Netherlands in the 1830s. These dissidents were much affected by the pietistic movement of that time and wanted to revitalize the Reformed Church, restoring it to its seventeenth-century authenticity. Much to the chagrin of the Dutch Reformed Church, the secessionists broke from the official church and, in 1834, established the Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands.

Like the early Anabaptists, the Afgescheidenen were very serious and passionate about their religious commitment. And, as with the Mennonites, their discussions and disagreements in the Netherlands and later in North America often resulted in intense "family" quarrels and divisions. Under the constitution of 1815 the Dutch national government had considerable authority over the Dutch Reformed Church. As a result, many dissenters were harassed by local and other public authorities and ostracized by the population. Their social isolation, which lasted many years after public harassment ceased, was one of the principal reasons for their migration to the New World. (1)

Economic factors also played an important role in their decision to leave. In the mid-1840s much of Western Europe was severely affected by an economic crisis caused in part by the potato crop failure of 1845. This economic malaise affected especially the lower classes from which many of the dissenters came. Between 1831 and 1880, 20 percent of the Dutch immigrants arriving in the United States were Afgescheidenen, (2) many of them coming from a region east of Rotterdam, between the rivers Lek and Waal, which was greatly affected by a slump in farm prices. (3)

Verduin was the grandson of Dutch immigrants from Streefkerk, a village located a few miles east of Rotterdam; they left the Netherlands in the mid-1850s. His parents, Comelius Verduin and Aartje Swets, a daughter of Dutch immigrants, farmed on some ten acres of land near South Holland. Later they moved to New Holland, South Dakota, to Middleburg, Iowa, and back to South Holland, before they finally settled in Todd County, South Dakota.

Leonard was the eighth of nine children born of this marriage. He completed eight grades in a public school in South Holland and had hoped to accompany his older brother Henry to Calvin College, a Christian Reformed institution in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before his parents decided against it for financial reasons. Their children were expected to assist on the farm. (4)

The Verduin family attended local Christian Reformed churches where their children were baptized as infants. Leonard, however, was not baptized until he was almost three years old. At the time of his birth, Leonard's father, Cornelius, had been reading a lot of Baptist literature and began to have some doubts about infant baptista. He was clearly not the only Afgescheidene who had such doubts, since others were also accused of being covert Baptists. The Afgescheidenen stressed the importance of assuming "responsibility" for one's own infant baptism--a sacrament, they felt, that should be renewed or confirmed by public confession. …

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