Scholars trace the history of the Amish to sixteenth-century Europe. Their existence today probably began because of the grandest technological breakthrough in those times.
It could easily be argued the invention of the printing press played an important role in how and why the Amish began.
For centuries, the Catholic Church had provided the world’s knowledge of the contents of the Holy Bible. If there were any decisions as to what the scriptures might mean, the Pope made that decision, which was final.
The invention of the printing press came next. Movable type was a modern marvel and a huge improvement over the handwritten manuscript. It had taken scribes over a year to duplicate a copy of the Bible. This new technology allowed others than the Catholic Church officials to read and to study the Bible. Lay people began reading the hallowed words. Some began to question certain teachings or the official positions of the Catholic Church.
Now referred to as the Protestant Reformation period, independent thinkers concluded the practices of the Church had strayed too far from the actual teachings of the bible. Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, became dissatisfied with the Church. In 1517, Luther led a protest, and he was promptly excommunicated. He soon was a leader in the Protestant Reformation movement and helped make Protestantism a permanent part of Christianity with the establishment of the Lutheran Church.
Others followed Luther’s lead. One was Menno Simons. He too was a Catholic priest, ordained about 1515. Simons was made the chaplain of his father’s village. Sometime in the mid-1520s, Simons began to question portions of the Catholic Church’s doctrine as he studied the scriptures. One of his conclusions was that infant baptism was not in the Bible.
In his travels, Simons encountered the Swiss Brethren who were preaching and practicing adult baptism. Initially, Simons believed they were extremists that had simply been led astray. Nevertheless, he was attracted by their steadfast conviction that the answers to the question of salvation were in the Scriptures.
Simons’ brother Pieter was among a group killed for their beliefs in 1535. Following this horrific wrongdoing, Menno Simons cast off his Catholic affiliation and joined the Swiss Brethren. He rapidly rose as a leader in the Swiss Brethren church, advocating both non-violence and separation of the church from the state.
Within a decade of Menno Simon’s baptism into the Swiss Brethren church, his followers were called as Mennonites. Amish history is traced to the Mennonite traditions started by Menno Simon.
Amish Wisdom is an ongoing feature of various entries about the Amish on George Sheldon's website and blog. Written and produced by George, it is intended to provide information about those of the Amish faith.