Familists, an English term used to designate the Familia Charitatis, or “Family of Love,” a mystical religious sect. The sect was fouded around 1540 by Hendrik Niclaes (or Nocolas), a wealthy Dutch merchant, probably at Emden. Niclaes believed himself to be endowed with “the spirit of the true love of Jesus Christ.” He traveled to many European countries on both commercial and propagandizing missions.
Most of his writings were accomplished during this early period. His major work was An Introduction to the Holy Understanding of the Glass of Righteousness, the “glass” being the spirit of Christ as interpreted by Niclaes. The doctrine that he propounded in this book was a vague philanthropism, pantheistic and antinomian at its base. Adherents of the sect were admitted through baptism. Niclaes established a hierarchy modeled after the Roman Catholic Church, and claimed impeccability (exemption from the possibility of sinning) for the hierarchy and himself.
In England, where Niclaes visited in 1532-1533, the sect was suppressed from 1580. But, an underground organization survived there longer the any place else in Europe, even experiencing a brief revival during the Commonwealth. By the end of the 17th century the Familist movement was absorbed by the Quakers and similar bodies. A.G.H.