Zinzendorf And The Moravians

Chapter III --Zinzendorf And The Moravians


It hardly comes within the bounds of the period to give an account of Zinzendorf. Yet he was so related to Pietism in his early years, and gave origin to a movement bearing such marks of kinship with that of Spener, that it is only natural to make a brief reference to his history and work in this connection.


Count Zinzendorf belonged to a family which had long been distinguished in Austria by wealth and honorable positions, and had been raised to the nobility by Leopold I. His grandfather held the Protestant faith, and the free enjoyment of his faith was a leading motive for the emigration of the family from their fatherland. Zinzendorf was born at Dresden, in 1700. The death of his father, while he was yet an infant, left him in the care of his grandmother. At her house he received the blessing of Spener, who was a warm friend of the family. When ten years of age be passed under the tuition of Francke in the Royal Grammar School at Halle. Later, he studied at Wittenberg. As was customary for young nobles, he put the finishing touch upon his education by a tour through the principal countries of the Continent. In 1721 he accepted the position of a royal counselor at law, in connection with the government in Dresden. This was contrary to his inclination. His emphatic preference was for religious work. From early childhood his love and zeal had been drawn toward the person of Jesus Christ, and it was his most ardent ambition to give his life to His special service. Even during the term of his civil employment, he took opportunity to signalize his devotion, and every Sunday gathered congregations in Dresden for religious instruction.


Meanwhile new opportunities for religious enterprise were provided. These opportunities were in large part an inheritance from the labors and martyrdom of John Huss. Shortly after the middle of the fifteenth century the Hussite movement had given origin to the United Brethren (Unitas Fratrum), a distinct communion located principally in Bohemia and Moravia. This brotherhood is supposed to have numbered one hundred and fifty thousand members at the beginning of the Lutheran revolt. Their teachings approximated to the Reformation standpoint. Accordingly, as has been intimated,1 Page 364. they soon entered into friendly relations with the Protestant leaders. They continued to be a considerable body till the seventeenth century, when the fury of the Thirty Years' War and the strokes of special persecutions reduced them to a remnant.


In 1722 a small company of the United Brethren, or Moravians, as they are frequently called, emigrated from Moravia under the leadership of Christian David, and found, according to previous arrangement, an asylum on the estates of Zinzendorf in Lusatia. The town which they built here received the name of Herrnhut. Others of their own brethren, and representatives of various religious parties, soon joined the new community. To unify these various elements, and to form them into an elect community of Christ, became now the special task of Zlnzendorf. Though not at this time in full sympathy with Pietism, being less inclined to regard the austere side of religion, he seems still to have entertained the Pietistic idea that the most feasible method of reforming the Church was by special associations, within the Church, of the pre-eminently religious.


In 1727, Zinzendorf gave up his position at Dresden, in order to live among the Brethren. A few years later, he sought and obtained clerical ordination, and in 1737 received episcopal ordination at the hands of a Moravian bishop in Berlin. As the head of the Moravian Brotherhood, he labored with untiring perseverance in its interests, till his death in 1760. A ten years' banishment from Saxony was cheerfully endured. Moravian societies were gathered in many different countries. The travels of Zinzendorf extended as far as England, the West Indies, and North America. Numerous missions were established for the conversion of the heathen. It seems to have been the exigencies of the mission work which led the newly organized, or reorganized, fraternity into the status of a separate communion. Zinzendorf was strongly averse to this result, but he found it difficult to carry on the foreign enterprises upon which the society had embarked, without falling into an independent position. In England the Moravians were first recognized as a distinct communion in 1749.


As respects doctrinal views, Zinzendorf can hardly escape the charge of one-sidedness in certain particulars. For example, he went to the opposite extreme of the Socinian view, and, instead of subordinating the Son to the Father, substituted Him in large measure for the Father. Again, he treated other aspects of Christ's work with relative neglect, in order to lay an overwhelming stress upon His vicarious sacrifice. Connected with this bent was a tendency to give a more minute and sentimental portrayal of the passion of Christ than accords with the highest Christian taste. Equally remote from a sound discretion was his application of the terms of the family relation to the Persons of the Trinity. Grant that his usage was understood to be an accommodation, and that in styling the Holy Spirit Mother he wished principally to indicate the cherishing office of this Divine Person; still, the choice of such terms savored of unwholesome license. Both in Zinzendorf and in many of his followers this zest for the sentimental appears to have been a kind of epidemical sickness for a time, especially between the years 1743 and 1750. Later, the Count himself thought it necessary to place some restraint upon the tendency to luxuriate in overwrought imagery. Happily also his efforts were supplemented by the discreet instructions of Spangenberg, who, as possessing both greater learning and moderation than Zinzendorf, was well qualified to correct his doctrinal defects.


While it is proper to take note of these phases of doctrinal aberration, it would be unjust to centre the whole attention upon them. Alongside the exaggeration there was an excellent trait. In his strong emphasis upon intimate communion with the Lord Christ, Zinzendorf was setting forth a truth that lies near to the heart of the Gospel, and the clear enunciation of which has borne much noble fruit among the Moravians.


In addition to his other contributions, Zinzendorf produced a great number of hymns. Many of these can boast only the humblest merit; some deserve only to be forgotten; but others will ever be cherished as of high excellence.


Among peculiar usages adopted by the Brotherhood may be noticed the lot, love-feasts, feet-washings, and the fraternal kiss at the communion. The lot was designed to recognize Christ's headship, the manner in which it was disposed being taken as an indication of His will. This mode of decision, employed at one time extensively, became at length less acceptable to the Moravians. In their list of church officers the Brethren have included bishops, presbyters, deacons, deaconesses, and acolytes. The bishops are alone authorized to ordain. Aside from this prerogative, their office in itself confers little distinction. They have individually no diocese, and possess ex officio no governing power. In practice, however, they are given a ruling function, since they are commonly elected to the boards and conferences which are charged with the administration.