Johann Heinrich Reitz (1655-1720)

Johann Heinrich Reitz, 1655-1720

This portrait was painted by Gerrit Alberts in 1710,
and was printed as a frontispiece in volume 1 of  the new edition of
Histoire der Wiedergeborenen,
which was edited and published by
Hans-Jurgen Schrader in 1984.

    Johan Heinrich Reitz was born in Oberdiebach on the Rhine, near Bacharach, on June 24 1655, and died in Wesel on November 20 1720.

        He was a pupil of the Heidelberger Pedagogium, and enrolled at the University of Heidelberg in May 1675 and at Leyden University in the Netherlands in December 1679, where he studied under a disciple of Descarte, Christopher Wittich.  Subsequently, at Leyden, he studied under Swelingius, also a follower of Descartes, and under Christopher von Hase, a follower of Coccaelus.

        In Bremen, he first came into contact with the ideas of the Pietist Movement in the German Church, led by the prominent teacher, Theodor Anderecht, who promoted the belief that piety should be re-introduced into the teachings of the Church.  After leaving university, he worked as a teacher in Frankfurt-am-Main, and as Rector of the Latin school at Frankenthal.  In 1681, he received his first appointment as Pfarrer or pastor in the Reformed Church of the Palatinate in Freinsheim.  At this time, he came under the personal influence of Philip Jakob Spener (1635-1705), one of the leaders in the Pietist Movement, who was then chief pastor in the Lutheran Church at Frankfurt. 

          It was here that he produced the work which established his name in the academic world:   the translation into Latin , with excellent annotations, of the work of Oxford professor Thomas Goodwin, on Jewish antiquities, entitled Moses and Aaron (Bremen, 1684).  He followed this up in 1693 with a pamphlet of instruction to tutors on the education of young princes, which, in its dedication, provided convincing proof of the Meder origins of the Reitz family.

          The invasion of the Rhineland by the French troops of Louis XIV drove him across the Rhine in 1689, where he was appointed Church inspector in the district of Ladenburg until 1694, where he again fled from the persecution of the Reformed Church by foreign ecclesiastics operating under the protection of the French occupation forces.  He was appointed pastor of Asslar in the Principality of Solms, and in 1695 he was promoted to Inspector at Braunfels.

          Johann Heinrich had living quarters within the large medieval castle of Braunfels, the seat of the ruling prince of Solms-Braunfels and the birthplace of Countess Amalia of Solms (1602-1623), who was the wife of Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange (1584-1647), founder of the Dutch Royal House.

          It was here that he was commissioned to bring back into the fold of the Reformed Church the Pietistic "Schwarmer" or zealot, Balthasar Klopfer, who was imprisoned in the Greifenstein Citadel.   Johann Heinrich was so impressed by the man's personality that, rather than converting him, he became converted himself.  As a result, he lost his position, and was banished from the Solms Principality.

          In 1697 he became pastor of Homberg vor der Hohne, in the Principality of Hesse, north of Frankfurt.  He tried to justify his non-conformist position in a pamphlet entitled A Short sketch of the suffering, the teaching and the attitude of J.H. Reitz (Offenbach: 1698). 

          Although he was appointed as pastor at Burleburg in 1699, he spent the next three years travelling and preaching with other Pietist clergy, declaring their belief in the imminent coming of Christ's Kingdom on Earth, and their disagreement with the views of the Reformed Church's article of faith on predestination.  He lived for some time in Offenbach, where in 1703 he published his new translation of the New Testament, in opposition to the Lutheran version, which caused an angry stir among Lutheran theologians.

     He had the sympathy of the Princess-Dowager Ernestine Charlotte of Nassau-Siegen, who sent him to Terborg in the Netherlands, to be the administrator of her dowerhouse and its estate, the Castle Wisch.  Here he led a quiet life, separated from the Church, writing and educating his children and those of neighbouring families, until 1709, when the Princess-Dowager sold her estate and moved to Utrecht.

       Johann Heinrich then moved to Wesel, in Germany, where her started a private boarding school, which acquired a high reputation, with pupils from as far afield as Frankfurt, and including the sons of the gentry of the Duchy of Cleves.  He continued with this activity until his death in 1720.

          Although in later years he distanced himself from the Pietist Separatist Movement, he did not give up his views, which differed from the official teachings of the Reformed Church and its Heidelberger Catechism.    He emphasized until the end the need for Born-again Christians, a view that formed the basis for his best known and most popular work,  Histoire der Wedergebohrnen, a collection of short biographies of Godly men and women of all classes.  It was first published in five volumes in Germany in 1717, with several subsequent editions.  It is still used by scholars, and a new edition was published in Germany in 1982.

          Johann Heinrich married his first wife, Anna Maria Rothenburger on April 22 1682.  They had eight children, of whom only two survived to adulthood.  His second wife was Anna Maria Meerman, whom he married on January 27 1693.  They had eight children, of whom four sons and two daughters survived.  One of these was JOHAN FRIEDRICH REITZ , grandfather of the South African stamvader, JOHAN FREDERIK REITZ.

          Not much more is known about the second Anna Maria than the first, except that she was born in Frankfurt on August 31 1667 and died in Goes, in the province of Zeeland in Holland, on October 10 1734, where she had joined her youngest son,    KAREL KOENRAAD REITZ.   She was the daughter of a prosperous Frankfurt merchant and confectioner, FRIEDRICH MEERMAN (1628-1682) and his wife Anna Maria Oranda.  Friedrich was the son of Simon Meerman and Barbara Ritter, whom he married in 1624.


       Brethren Encyclopedia.  vol. 2, 1983.

    MOHR, Rudolph.  Ein zu Unrecht vergessener Pietist:  Johann Heinrich Reitz.  ( Monatshef fur Evangelische Kirchengeschichte         des Rheinlandes:  22:  1973)

      New Schoff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledgevol. 9, 1964.

      REITZ, Johann HeinrichHistoire der Wiedergebohrnen.  Herausgegeben von Hans-Jurgen Schrader.  Tubingen:  Niemeyer,                 1982.

      SCHRADER, Hans-Jurgen.Literaturproduktion und Buchermarkt des Radikalen Pietismus:  Johann Heinrich Reitz' "Histoirie         der Wedergebohrnen und ihr geschichtlicher Kontext."  Gottingen:  Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1989.  (Palaestra, Band 283)

       STOEFFLER, F.E.  German pietism during the eighteenth century.  Leiden:  Brill, 1973.  p. 208.

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