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
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:
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.
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
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
Brethren Encyclopedia. vol.
MOHR, Rudolph. Ein zu Unrecht vergessener Pietist: Johann Heinrich Reitz. ( Monatshef fur Evangelische Kirchengeschichte des Rheinlandes: 22: 1973)
New Schoff-Herzog Encyclopedia of
Religious Knowledge. vol. 9, 1964.
REITZ, Johann Heinrich. Histoire 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,
STOEFFLER, F.E. German pietism during the eighteenth
century. Leiden: Brill, 1973. p. 208.