FAMILISTS (Family of Love; Huis der Liefde; Familia caritatis):
The Founder. A short-lived religious community, founded in Emden, East Friesland, about 1540 by Hendrik Niclaes, or Niclas, and exercising a certain amount of influence in the religious confusion of the later English Revolution, as well as in the Philadelphian Society of Jane Lead (q.v.). Born of Roman Catholic parentage on Jan. 9 or 10, 1502 or 1501, possibly at Münster, Niclaes spent the first twenty-nine years of his life in his native city as a merchant. He was originally a devoted follower of the ancient faith, and even in his career as the leader of a sect he felt still formally connected with Roman Catholicism. However, he entered into spiritual communion with many who were inclined toward the Reformation, and in 1528 he was imprisoned for a short time, but was released for lack of evidence. Some time before 1531 he settled in Amsterdam, remaining there more than nine years. The only details known concerning this residence are that within a year he was again imprisoned, and that after his speedy release he lived in seclusion, devoting himself to a life of Pietism. It was not until his thirty-ninth year that Niclaes became a figure of importance, and claimed that revelations had assured him that God had poured upon him the "spirit of the true love of Jesus Christ," and had chosen him from his youth to be the prophet to prepare the way for the approaching end of time. In this period he began to commit his revelations to writing, and for twenty years (1540 - 60), Emden was the center both of his mercantile activity and his religious propaganda, while he journeyed throughout Holland and Flanders, and also visited Paris and London. To this period belong the majority of his writings, of which the most important were Den Spegel der Gherechticheit, dorch den Geist der Lieffden unde den vergodeden Mensch H. N. uth de hemmelische Warheit betüget, and Evangelium offte eine frölicke Bodeschop des Rycke godes unde Christi (Eng. transl., An Introduction to the Understanding of the Glasse of Righteousness, by C. Vittell, 1575 [?]). Most of these works were printed secretly, but, as is now certain, partly by the press of the famous Antwerp printer Plantin, who had become a convert to Niclaes' views about 1550, despite the fact that later he was the "prototypographus" of the king of Spain and printer to the Holy See. Niclaes himself continued to be ostensibly a strict Roman Catholic, his works being disseminated by his closest disciples, while he himself established his Familia caritatis at Emden.
Doctrines of the Familists. This was essentially a community of mystic indifferentism, only loosely connected with historic Christianity. While the teachings of the Bible and the Church were not denied, they were practically ignored, being regarded either as a mere preparation for the age of love, or being reduced to allegories. The basis of the system is a mystic pantheism, which explains how Niclaes could believe that God and Christ had become incarnate in himself, although others also might thus partake of God. On the other hand, the self-consciousness of the founder, who did not hesitate to term himself an incarnation of God or Christ, often defeated the logical consequences of pantheism; and the organization of the sect, with its twenty-four elders, archbishops, four classes of priests, and "supreme bishop," was entirely monarchical. A centralized administration was necessitated, moreover, by the complicated system of priests professing poverty, a community giving tithes, and an involved law of inheritance. There is no reason to suppose, however, that Niclaes was a conscious hypocrite, although his mysticism of love had an antinomian tendency, and both the organization of the sect and many practises of the community were not free from peril. The propaganda of Niclaes did not escape the notice of the authorities of Emden. Niclaes himself escaped in 1560, before proceedings could be taken against him, and lived the life of a refugee for several years, residing successively at Kampen, Utrecht, probably again in England, and, after 1570 in Cologne. He seems to have died in 1580, the year in which appeared his Terra Pacis, Wäre Getügenisse van idt geistelick Landschop des Fredes (Eng. transl., Terra Pacis. A True Testification of the Spirituall Lande of Promyse, 1575 [?]). His success on the Continent had been comparatively slight. At the time of his death he had disciples in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Dort, Kampen, Rotterdam, Emden, Cologne, and Paris, but in all these places the community seems to have survived only a short time, the last certain mention of them dating from 1604.
The Familists in England. In England the influence of the Familists was deeper and more lasting. The entering wedge seems to have been a Dutch congregation in London, with whom Niclaes came in contact, especially as this community included adherents of David Joris (q.v.) and similar fanatics. Christopher Vitel, a native of Delft, the city of Joris, was, moreover, long the head of the English Familists, but the movement soon spread to genuinely English soil, and the most of the writings of Niclaes were translated into English. In 1574 the English government proceeded against the Familists, whereupon they addressed to Parliament An Apology for the Service of Love and the People that Own it, and in the following year issued A Brief Rehearsal of the Belief of the Goodwilling in England, which are named the Family of Love. They were answered by John Rogers and John Knewstub, and on Oct. 3, 1580, Elizabeth issued a proclamation against them which condemned their books and directed that the sectaries themselves be imprisoned. A week later a formula of abjuration was promulgated, and laws against the Familists soon followed. The sect did not disappear, however, and James I. was addressed by them in petitions soon after his accession, but in vain. The new monarch was extremely antagonistic to them, and had declared as early as the preface to his Basilicon doron in 1599, that they were responsible for the rise of Puritanism. After the fall of the Stuarts, they were opposed by John Etherington, but in the Republican period many of the works of Niclaes were reprinted, while it has been suggested that Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress owes its inspiration to Familist writings. They were also closely connected with the Ranters of the Commonwealth. After the Restoration the Familists vanished, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century but one aged member of the sect was known to be alive.
The Successor of Niclaes. Niclaes' faithless disciple Hendrik Jansen of Barreveldt, writing under the pseudonym of Hiel, long survived his teacher. Of his life little is known, although in his later years he himself says that he led the life of a wanderer. He was closely associated with Plantin and his family, who printed the greater part of his writings, his chief work being Het Boeck der Ghetuygenissen van den verborgen Ackerschat, published by Plantin at Antwerp in Flemish and French about 1580. Hiel discarded the hierarchic and ceremonial traditions of his master, and declared all external worship a matter of indifference, thus rendering it possible for the famous Antwerp printer to remain formally in the Roman Catholic Church, and to belong to the Spanish Catholic party despite his sympathy with the Familists.