FAMILISTS, a term of English origin (later adopted in other languages) to denote the members of the Familia Caritatis (Hus der Lieften; Huis der Liefde; Haus der Liebe; "Family of Love"), founded by Hendrik Niclaes (born on the 9th or 10th of January 1501 or 1502, probably at Münster; died after 1570, not later than 1581, probably in 1580). His calling was that of a merchant, in which he and his son Franz prospered, becoming ultimately wealthy. Not till 1540 did he appear in the character of one divinely endowed with "the spirit of the true love of Jesus Christ." For twenty years (1540-1560) Emden was the headquarters at once of his merchandise and of his propaganda; but he travelled in both interests to various countries, visiting England in 1552 or 1553. To this period belong most of his writings. His primary work was Den Spegel der Gherechticheit dorch den Geist der Liefden unde den vergodeden Mensch H.N. uth de hemmelische Warheit betüget. It appeared in an English form with the author's revision, as An Introduction to the holy Understanding of the Glasse of Righteousness (1575?; reprinted in 1649). None of his works bear his name in full; his initials were mystically interpreted as standing for Homo Novus. His "glass of righteousness" is the spirit of Christ as interpreted by him. The remarkable fact was brought out by G. Arnold (and more fully by F. Nippold in 1862) that the printer of Niclaes's works was Christopher Plantin, of Antwerp, a specially privileged printer of Roman Catholic theology and liturgy, yet secretly a steadfast adherent of Niclaes. It is true that Niclaes claimed to hold an impartial attitude towards all existing religious parties, and his mysticism, derived from David Joris, was undogmatic. Yet he admitted his followers by the rite of adult baptism, and set up a hierarchy among them on the Roman model (see his Evangelium Regni, in English A Joyfull Message of the Kingdom, 1574?; reprinted, 1652). His pantheism had an antinomian drift; for himself and his officials he claimed impeccability; but, whatever truth there may be in the charge that among his followers were those who interpreted "love" as licence, no such charge can be sustained against the morals of Niclaes and the other leaders of the sect. His chief apostle in England was Christopher Vitel, a native of Delft, an "illuminate elder," living at Colchester and Southwark, who ultimately recanted. The society spread in the eastern counties, in spite of repressive measures; it revived under the Commonwealth, and lingered into the early years of the 18th century; the leading idea of its "service of love" was a reliance on sympathy and tenderness for the moral and spiritual edification of its members. Thus, in an age of strife and polemics, it seemed to afford a refuge for quiet, gentle spirits, and meditative temperaments.
See F. Nippold, "H. Niclaes u. das Haus der Liebe," in Zeitschrift für die histor. Theol. (1862); article "H. Niclaes" in A.J. van der Aa, Biog. Woordenboek der Nederlanden (1868); article "H. Nicholas," by C. Fell Smith, in Dict. Nat. Biog. (1894); article "Familisten," by Loofs, in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopädie (1898).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)