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A Little Hendrik Niclaes & The Familia Caritatis Sampler: Part 1-Introduction + ‘A New Balade Or Songe Of The Lambs Feaste’

A portrait of Hendrik Niclaes,

engraving by Christoffel van Sichem,

from the collections of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is the first part of a planned series dedicated to the memory of Hendrik Niclaes, the founder and charismatic leader of the Familia Caritatis, or Family of Love.

The introduction is composed of two parts: the first part is taken from John Davis’ pamphlet against ‘notorious advancers of heresies‘, ‘Apocalypsis‘ published in 1655 by John Saywell in London, and here, Hendrik Niclaes now dead for 75 years is in good company, with worthy companions in this pantheon of blame such as Thomas Muntzer, Herman Sutor, Theodorus Sartorius, Davis Joris, Michael Servetus, and many others mainly from the Anabaptist creed. It is a typical demonisation of a person not fitting in the narrow spectrum of defined Christianity and without any attempt to understand and appreciate any diverse approach to worship and to the Christian life. A paradox rises: All these enforcers of a dominant religion shaming all those who do not ‘fit’, all those who think they ‘serve the Good‘, in reality do they not do but evil? And do they not leave after their nefarious attacks a bloody trail of trauma and tears to the people they actually oppress? Does it not appear here as a contradiction?

The second part is excerpted from Serge Hutin’s precious scholarly work, ‘Les Disciples Anglais de Jacob Boehme’, published by Editions Denoël in 1960, excerpted from page 58 to 61; we have integrated most of the notes covering this excerpt. His synthetic vision and fair portrayal of Hendrik Niclaes and his outstanding movement is a great way to help us understand how his social and spiritual labors had a long-lasting and deep influence towards all the movements which were birthed alongside, around and inside the Family of Love’s courtyard.

The introduction is then followed by our first sharing in our sampler, the ‘A New Balade Or Songe Of The Lambs Feaste’ published in 1574, followed by two later editions: the 1897-99 Roxburghe Collection and the 1930 Loyd Haberly’s Seven Acres Press edition. More to come soon!


I. John Davis, ‘Apocalypsis, or the revelation

of certain notorious advancers

of heresies’, London 1655

Hendrik Niclaes, a.k.a. Henry Nicholas, in John Davis’ ‘Apocalypsis’-1655.

Legend under the portrait:

Vestra domus Nicholae cadat, quae exrudere versa futile fundamen religionis habet‘:

(Your house, Nicholas, falls. It has a futile religious foundation and has turned to ruin).


Henry Nicholas, the founder of the Family of Love.

He is against infant-baptism. his devilish logic.

There was also one Henry Nicholas, the Father of the Family of Love, (as he called himself) and not the meanest man of all his Gang; one who by many means endeavored to cripple the Baptism of Children-as it is too known and apparent out of his writings, which at a third hand, he with all freedom, earnestness and kindness, endeavored to communicate to David George and the other of his fellow laborers, and his new Jerusalem friends.

This man in a pamphlet of his, wherein he notably described himself and which he dedicated to an intimate friend of his under the name of L.W., maintaining  that the minute of the last trumpet was coming, that should unfold all the books of unquiet consciences, hell, and eternal judgement, which should be found to have been only things grounded upon mere lies, and as all wicked and high misdeeds were hateful and detestable to God, so also were glorious  and plausible lies no less odious to him.

The same man endeavored to persuade people that he was a partaker of God, and the humanity of his son. He further affirmed, that at the last day God should bring all men, nay, the Devils themselves into perfect happiness. All the things that were said of Devils of Hell or Angels, and eternal Judgement, and the pains of Damnation, he said, were only told by the Scripture to cause fear of civil punishment, and to establish right Policy.

The Conclusion

These few things we have brought to light, were not invented by us, but were extorted out of their own disciples, with abundance of discourse, not without the presence of many men of godliness and excellent understanding, they admitting not the universal rule of the Scripture. But Alas! Take these away, where is Faith? The Fear of God? Eternal Happiness? But let us believe them, let us believe them, and we shall be saved. Oh! that to Heresies I could say: FINIS!



II. Serge Hutin’s  chapter 3, section 3 in

‘Les disciples anglais de Jacob Boehme’,

published by Editions Denoël in 1960

Among the mystical groups that have preceded the apparition of Boehmism in England, we can find at the front row, Hendrik NICLAES’ Family of Love.

This reformer-the English call him Henry Nicholas-was born in Münster, in Westphalia, on the 10th of January of 1501 or 1502, in an extremely devout Christian family. It seems that he was quite a child prodigy, tormented at a very young age by theological problems: as early as the age of eight, he asked embarrassing questions to his father and to some priests about the concept of Redemption. (‘Mirabilia Opera Dei‘, pages 1-16). At nine, he had his first vision: ‘And when he was surrounded by the huge mountain, and was thoroughly illuminated in all his being with all the glory thereof, then this great mountain wholly united itself with him in his whole spirit and mind; with the same great and glorious Mountain, became so great  and broad that he became of an equal greatness, and like being, with the same in altitude, latitude and profundity. With which revelation and wondrous work of God it was declared to H.N. that the sale and uniformity thereof within the man is the true accomplishment of the godliness in Jesus Christ and the righteous judgement of God, on the great day of the Lord, which righteousness is promised to come upon the earth.’ (‘Mirabilia Opera Dei’, page 16-17).

He became a mercer in the town of his birth and married at the age of twenty. At the age of twenty-seven, he was imprisoned as an heretic, but released for lack of proof. Around 1530, he comes to live in Amsterdam. At the age of thirty-nine, he achieved the supreme ectasis, and in order to obey a divine order, he founded with three elders- who took on the biblical names of Daniel, Elidad and Tobias-‘the Society of the Family of Love’. Niclaes then moves to Emden, where he lived from 1540 to 1560, writing there most of his treatises under the initials of ‘H.N.’ (which were at the same time the initials of his name but also in latin of ‘Homo Novus‘, the New Man regenerated by divine illumination).

While managing his business with the help of his eldest son, he had printed in secrecy his many books, in Anvers, Deventer, Köln and Kampen. He benefited from his business travels in Holland, the Belgian province of Brabant, in Germany and in Paris and could find many new disciples. Discovered by the ecclesial authorities, his secret society was condemned by the Council of Trent, then by a Papal edict in 1590.

Around 1552-1553, Niclaes benefiting from a rather long stay in England to establish there a long lasting foundation for his organisation with many very active converts. At the end of his life, the illuminated man went to live in Kampen then in Köln, where he died around 1580-81.

The Family of Love, as an organisation, quickly disappeared on the European continent following its founder’s death, but it would survive a long time in England: It is the English branch of this society we chose to especially focus upon now. This curious secret society gathered mainly itinerant workers (weavers, basket makers, musicians, etc.), which would contribute to favorise its dissemination, as coercives measures were proved to be rather inefficient.

The Familist movement occupies quite a large space, singularizing itself among the plethoric English groups of the XVIth and XVIIth century. It would be a mistake to classify the Familists among the ‘Protestant’ societies. With many historians, we think it is absurd to affirm that everything that is not Catholic is ‘Protestant’: Gnosticism, Catharism, the brethren of the Free Spirit, the Rose+, etc., all must be put in a category aside-let it be ‘Theosophic’ or ‘Illuminist’-Christianity. We often forget that Luther and Calvin had magic, occultism and theosophy in great abhorrence. For instance, to envision in the Cathars movement the fore-runners of the Reformation does not make sense: for a Reformed theologian as much as for his Catholic heresiologist counterpart, the Albigensian doctrine is clearly anti-Christian.

The Family of Love’s organisation was similar to a secret society with religious features. Its members would attend the religious ceremonies of the Anglican Church, or those of the Catholic Church, but would gather in small clandestine conventicles; its priesthood was inspired upon the Catholic hierarchy, operating in complex rites of consecration. In a descending hierarchy, there was a supreme bishop, twenty four elders, some ‘seraphim’, followed by three orders of priesthood. The priest were consecrated by the means of eight different holy waters and eights different sacred balms, according to hierarchical order. The apostolical succession was rejected by Niclaes, believing that ordination should come from an inner calling of the soul by the divine Spirit, and the acknowledgment of such a calling was manifested through the rites of consecration. The priests were to renounce any material belongings and were not aloud to work for a living: their maintenance and their food was the responsibility of the members of the communities. The lay brothers and sisters were to put all of their belonging in common, to meet on Sundays and bound to observe special holy days that they added to the existing Christian ones.

At the doctrinal level, the Children of Love, believed that a new revelation-superseding the earlier biblical and Christian revelations-was  entrusted to the prophet Niclaes. He was the instrument of a new dispensation, that would achieve the perfect union of Humanity with God: this ‘service of love’-that would restore the Kingdom of God: the Redemption, implying the return of mankind to the perfect state that of before the Fall- will not be achieved after death, but upon this very earth. If the Catholic and Anglican ceremonies were deemed necessary for the ‘mundane’ Christians, Niclaes’ disciples considered them as indifferent and only attend to them so to escape scrutiny and the distrust of the authorities.

Niclaes was the ‘third prophet’, sent by God to reveal his love, the highest level of religious perfection. There isn’t any possibility of salvation for Man as long as he does not die to sin so to be reborn by the Spirit: every Christian must become a ‘new Adam’, a regenerated being in the likelihood of the prophet of the society (again H.N. not only Hendrik Niclaes but also ‘Homo Novus‘). What matters is the achievement of divine life inside the soul, independently of any kind of external form. Heaven & Hell are inside Man. There are two categories of human beings: the ‘terrestrial’ Man and the members of the community of Love. The unique condition of salvation is to embrace divine charity, to practice it without bothering about anything else: freed from any limitations, the regenerated will belong to the race of the ‘perfect’, ‘elected among the multitude of mankind’, ‘deified’. They will reach the same perfection of sainthood that Adam possessed before the Fall; they will accomplish in themselves ‘the resurrection from the dead’ and will identify with Christ.

Niclaes was interpreting all of the Scriptures allegorically and would find everywhere symbols of the transformative experience. For instance, crucifixion symbolized the ‘inner crucifixion’ of the ‘old Man’, Resurrection symbolized the blossoming of the ‘new life’ of the soul. There are no angels and demons, rather they are human beings prone to Good or Evil. Niclaes does not go as far as some modern exegetes: he admits the historical existence of Moses and Jesus, as prophets of the first two dispensations.

Of a high interest is the very detailled story of the spiritual itinerary of Niclaes and his three elders in the land of ‘Pietas’; this text is said to have inspired John Bunyan for the writing of his celebrated ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress‘. Tobias, the faithful disciple wrote down in that document, the ‘Mirabilia Opera Dei‘, many curious experiences of a mystical nature. The narration of the Eucharist celebrated by ‘pilgrims’, a mystical communion of the bread and the wine, symbolizes the incorporation by the individual into the body and blood of Christ. It is necessary for Niclaes to relive the suffering of Christ to penetrate into His Glory. The Christic experience is necessary for achieving ‘eternal life’: ‘And thus through Christ according to the Spirit we have gotten and obtained the ministration of the spiritual and heavenly goods, and the everlasting life‘ (‘Mirabilia Opera Dei‘, page 121). ‘And thus in our illuminating on the same sixtiest day, there appeared to us in a cloud the living God-head of our Lord Jesus Christ, and became all together of one being with us to the Mercy-Seat of his  divine Majesty, and also to the holy Mount Sion where the Law and Ordinance of the Lord is promised to go forth at the last time: and to the true Jerusalem, where the Word of the Lord at the last time is likewise promised to go forth.‘ (‘Mirabilia Opera Dei‘, page 122).

The Familist theology is of a pantheistic nature: God is neither personal nor intangible in the usual meaning of these adjectives, as spirit and matter are consubstantial. The eschatology is of an ‘Origenistic’ nature: Niclaes denies the eternity of punishments; the reproved, is duly punished hereunder after the ‘descent’ of the ‘Son of Man‘, but there will be ‘a final Restitution’. When the Spirit of Love will have fully permeated reality, all of humanity will recover its ‘Adamic Perfection’.

The Family of Love never had a great development and it withered faster than it made converts; however, it remained in England for a hundred years. At the time of the Civil War, the last Familists were keen to blend with other groups, and by 1700, they were only very few left.

The influence of their doctrines was noticeable upon a great number of mystico-theosophical movements of the XVIIth century, and it is almost certain that Jane Lead, the founder of the Philadelphian Society had knowledge of the Family of Love, or rather of some branches originating from it. Most probably via John Pordage and his entourage who emulated strong Familist sensibilities. The Familist ideal of community of property between members and communitarian contemplation will be adopted, almost as is, by the Philadelphians.

Original French










Our First Sampler sharing starts here:

 ‘A New Balade Or Songe

Of The Lambs Feaste’. 1574.


1. Original Publication

Source here


2. The 1897-99 Roxburghe Collection

vol.8, part 1




3. The Loyd Haberly’s

1930 Seven Acres Press Edition











More about

Loyd Haberly and

the Seven Acres Press  here

and here where the above publication

is referenced as number 8.


Coming Soon:

A Little Hendrik Niclaes & The Familia Caritatis Sampler: Part 2


More about Hendrik Niclaes: 🌿 More about the Family of Love:
A Little Hendrik Niclaes & The Familia Caritatis Sampler: Part 1-Introduction + ‘A New Balade Or Songe Of The Lambs Feaste’

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