You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 26, 2012.

Yesterday’s post looked at the influences that geography, the Eastern Orthodox Church and politics had on Jan Hus and his fellow citizens in a Bohemia which was united at the time with Moravia.

The story left off with Hus in a prime position as an ordained priest and rector of the University of Prague. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Prague’s importance was lessening and, in 1411, he died. Religious dissent was growing with many citizens wishing for a return to the type of worship and polity they had under the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has Christianised them. Helping further fan the flames were renegade priests such as Conrad Waldhauser (Steikna), John Milicz, of Kremsier in Moravia; and Matthias of Janow.  Waldenses had also established themselves in the area, having fled Strasbourg some years before.  All were promoting a theology which was Waldensian and pietist.

Bohemians, Hus and schism

John Wycliffe‘s writings became increasingly important in northern Europe. Wealthy Bohemian and German travellers to England — yes, there were some — were able to bring back copies of Wycliffe’s works to Bohemia.  Wycliffe’s theology, being oriented to Scripture and prayer, became increasingly important to people living in the region as an antidote to the excesses of the papacy, indulgences and clergy.

Hus (shown at left, courtesy of Wikipedia) borrowed heavily from Wycliffe’s teachings in his speeches and writing. In 1412, some theologians from the University of Prague opposed Hus’s support of Wycliffe.  Successive popes had issued papal bulls forbidding mention of or belief in Wycliffe’s teachings.  A group of his followers took it upon themselves to burn the papal bulls, insisting that Hus — not the Pope — was their spiritual leader.

Then, three men from the lower class openly denounced indulgences. The authorities arrested and beheaded them. They are considered to be the first Hussite martyrs.

Hus’s teachings were then officially forbidden, although, by then, the University of Prague theologians ignored the edict and asked that any objections be proven scripturally. The conflict between Church and State against Hus had escalated. Meanwhile, everyone in or near Prague was aware of it. Hus and his followers also wanted tensions to calm down and asked for freedom in ecclesiastical matters — a teaching borrowed from Wycliffe.

By then:

Bohemian Wyclifism was carried into Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and Austria.

In 1413, Rome declared that Wycliffe’s works must be burnt.

Hus’s final months

The following year, King Wenceslaus’s brother — Sigismund of Hungary (heir to the Bohemian crown) — promised Hus safe passage if he would attend the conference at Konstanz (Constance) in order to resolve the schism.

Hus agreed and wisely got his personal affairs in order before leaving home.  For a few weeks, he was free in Konstanz as Sigismund had promised, until his opponents hunted him down and eventually imprisoned him in a Dominican monastery. Sigismund was angry upon hearing the news, but Church authorities replied that promises made to a heretic (Hus) could not be guaranteed.

Hus was transferred to the Archbishop of Konstanz’s castle on the Rhine River and imprisoned for 73 days under brutal conditions.  In June 1415, he was transferred to a Franciscan monastery before he went on trial. During his trial, Church authorities asked him to recant Wycliffe’s teachings. Hus replied that he wished to debate with them Wycliffe’s teachings versus those of the Church, using Scripture. He said that should the clerics prove him wrong, he would be glad to recant. They refused his offer and he refused to recant.

He was burnt at the stake, with these words:

God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.

The aftermath – conflict

In 1457, a group of Hus’s followers organised themselves as the Bohemian Brethren, or the Unity of the Brethren — Unitas Fratrum being the original name.  Ten years later, the Waldensians ordained the Brethren’s bishop.

Hus’s movement spread to the extent that 90 per cent of those living in Czech crown lands — including the nobility — became Protestant.  They opened their own schools, many of which had more than one teacher — unusual for that period in history. Also unusual were their schools for girls. The University of Prague was also Protestant.

To counter this, the Holy Roman Emperors invited the Jesuits to establish Catholic schools in the region, which they did, beginning in 1566.  By 1622, with the backing of the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant schools were forced to close. The Protestants had rebelled a few years earlier in the Bohemian Revolt, which occurred when the Emperor Matthias attempted to instal a Catholic as King of Bohemia, but were defeated in 1621.  Not only had Protestant education and civil authority had come to a close, but the Holy Roman Emperor forbade the use of the Czech language, including the reading of books in that language.

Consequently, the Brethren had to flee or go underground. One community went to Poland and the other dispersed into smaller groups in Moravia.  This latter group became known amongst them as the Hidden Seed.

The Hidden Seed and Count von Zinzendorf

Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf, Imperial Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf, (1700 – 1760), German pietist and bishop of the Moravian Church, was born in Dresden. He was known as Ludwig.

The Zinzendorf family were Lutheran pietists and among the longstanding nobility of Lower Austria. Despite its name, Lower Austria is actually in the northeastern corner of the country. Young Ludwig’s godfather was Philipp Jakob Spener, one of the foremost Lutheran pietists. As I mentioned previously (emphases mine):

Spener studied theology in Strasbourgthen moved on to see what the Calvinists and the Waldensians were doing in Geneva. There he met a number of professors and pastors who deeply impressed him …

In 1686, Spener became a royal chaplain and was transferred to Dresden. He mentored a group of young theologians in Leipzig in a society he formed there for devout application and practice of biblical principles. Later, he ended up founding the University of Halle, which was based on pietistic theology. Not all went smoothly; a number of pastors in Leipzig opposed his pietism and made a stance for orthodox Lutheran doctrine and practice.

Like Spener, the Zinzendorfs — along with a number of other Lutherans — believed that Lutheranism had lost its way since the days of Martin Luther. They did not believe the clergy engaged people enough to pursue a holy and righteous life.

When Ludwig was only six weeks old, his father died. The child was raised by a pietist grandmother and aunt. His grandmother did much to bring him into the Christian faith — and pietism.  He attended school in Halle, a pietist stronghold, thanks to Spener’s influence. Note that Spener’s earlier royal chaplaincy had based him in Dresden, where Ludwig was born.

In 1716, Zinzendorf studied law at the University of Wittenberg in preparation for a diplomatic career. He also travelled to the Netherlands, France and Germany. Like his godfather, he, too, visited a variety of Protestant churches and was careful to seek out the holiest of men as his friends.

He married whilst young, but not to his first love, whose family disapproved of the proposed union.  Scholars believe that this disappointment brought him into an even closer pursuit of holiness.  Although Spener died when his godson was only five years old, his teachings must have had a profound influence on the Zinzendorf family, because the young count was determined to further his godfather’s pietism. However, Zinzendorf was also concerned about the excessive rationalism emerging from the new Age of Enlightenment, which would eventually give rise to atheism and deism.

Although Spener never intended to separate from the Lutheran Church, Zinzendorf believed that a true practice of Christianity could come about only through free associations of believers committed to a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.

When the young Count was 22 years old, a small group of the Hidden Seed from Moravia arrived on  his estate. Their leader asked the Count whether he would countenance accommodating them on part of it. The Count granted permission to these refugees, whose faith was now illegal in their native Moravia and Bohemia, to construct the village of Herrnhut, two miles from the Count’s residence.

Herrnhut still exists today, by the way, as the centre for the Moravians in Germany.

Herrnhut, a refuge for persecuted Protestants

As the established village of Herrnhut became more widely known as a centre for freedom of Christians, a number of other persecuted groups settled there. In time, conflicts about belief arose amongst them.

Nonetheless, Zinzendorf continued putting money and support into the settlement. He was also deeply attached to it and in 1727, compiled the unifying Brotherly Agreement, which the settlers adopted. After that, the village’s popularity increased even further.  Moravian historians note what took place from that point into the early 19th century:

  1. Setting up a watch of continuous prayer that ran uninterrupted, 24 hours a day, for 100 years.
  2. Originating the Daily Watchwords.
  3. Establishing more than 30 settlements internationally on the Herrnhut model, which emphasised prayer and worship, and a form of communal living in which simplicity of lifestyle and generosity with wealth were held to be important spiritual attributes. The purpose of these communities was to assist the members resident there in the sanctification of their lives, to provide a meeting place for Christians from different confessional backgrounds, to provide Christian training for their own children and the children of their friends and supporters and to provide support for the Moravian Mission work throughout the world. As a result, although personal property was held, divisions between social groups and extremes of wealth and poverty were largely eliminated.
  4. Being the first church body to begin missionary work; and
  5. Forming many hundreds of small renewal groups operating within the existing churches of Europe, known as “diaspora societies”. These groups encouraged personal prayer and worship, Bible study, confession of sins and mutual accountability.

All those points certainly characterise the main tenets of pietism: a close watch on one another, small groups, personal accountability within those groups, evangelism, mission work and personal sanctification — sometimes in a radical pietist commune.

Zinzendorf’s Brotherly Agreement, incidentally, still exists today as ‘The Moravian Covenant for Christian Living’.

Radical pietism and lovefeasts

Some time after he established the Brotherly Agreement, Zinzendorf obtained a copy of the Ratio Disciplinae, which was the behavioural guide for the early Unitas Fratrum. He was amazed to see how closely the two aligned.

He proceeded to organise the Herrnhut inhabitants into families. These, however, were not what we call nuclear families today, but ones which he called ‘choirs’, organised by sex, marital status and age. The Count explained that at every age, people need something different from Christ and what better way to obtain it than by impartial group segregation. The concept sounds awful, but similar Moravian communes were established in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (later known for its steel), and in Salem, North Carolina (the other half of which is Winston).  Two positives to note about the American settlements: escaped slaves there were on a par with all the other members and the wealthy occupied the same living quarters as the poorest.

As we know from previous posts on pietism, it is a religion of the ‘heart’, deeply rooted in emotionalism and personal experience rather than a more detached, cerebral exegesis of Scripture. The notion of ‘love’ was — and still is — also emphasised. The Moravian communities were no different.

To this end, at certain times of year, a ‘lovefeast’ was performed. This ritual was also part of other Brethren and Primitive Methodist services on special occasions.  All these groups are pietist. The Primitive Methodists’ lovefeasts featured a potluck — ‘bring a dish to pass’ — which is also part of today’s Alpha groups, originating in the Anglican Church. Alpha also revolves around small groups in many parishes and involves experiential sharing and, to some extent, personal accountability.

Back to the Moravian and Brethren denominations which undertake lovefeasts. Wikipedia describes them as being:

based upon the Agape feast and the meals of the early churches described in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles, which were partaken in unity and love. It is not, however, to be confused with or serve as a replacement for Communion. Traditionally for European, Canadian, and American Lovefeasts, a sweetened bun and coffee (sweetened milky tea in Germany, Holland and England) is served to the congregation in the pews by dieners (from the German for servers); before partaking, a simple table grace is said. The foods and drinks consumed from congregation may vary tremendously at the Lovefeast and are usually adapted from what the congregations have available. Services in some Colonial-era Lovefeasts, for example, used plain bread and water; some in Salem were even known to have served beer.

The Moravian Lovefeast also concentrates on the singing of hymns, and listening to music which may come from the organ or choir. The songs and hymns chosen usually describe love and harmony. The congregation can also talk quietly with their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ about their spiritual walk with God. Christmas Eve Lovefeasts can become particularly spectacular in the congregation’s choice of music and instrumentation. Many churches also have trombone choirs or church bands play prior to a Lovefeast as a call to service.

A Moravian congregation may hold a Lovefeast on any special occasion, such as the date their church was founded, but there are certain established dates that Lovefeasts are regularly observed. Some of these notable dates include Watch Night, Good Friday, the Festival of August 13th (the 1727 date on which the Moravian Church was renewed or reborn), and Christmas Eve, where each member of the congregation receives a lighted candle at the end of the service in addition to the bun and coffee.

Groups that descend from the Schwarzenau Brethren such as the Church of the Brethren, Brethren Church, Old German Baptist Brethren, and Dunkard Brethren also regularly practice a Love Feast based upon New Testament descriptions of the Last Supper of Christ. The Brethren, however, combine the Agape meal (often consisting of lamb or beef and a bowl of sop) with a service of feetwashing prior to the meal and communion afterward. The term “Lovefeast” in this case generally refers to all three ordinances, not just the meal. Influenced by German Pietists during the early 18th century, the Lovefeast was instituted among Brethren before Moravians adopted the practice.

International Moravian missions

Before the population of Herrnhut reached 300 people, their Moravian missionaries were already on the move, evangelising.  The first were in Europe, but in 1732, they were on a ship to St Thomas (Virgin Islands). They ministered there to slaves as well as to slaveowners. St Thomas had its first Moravian bishop in 1735.

In 1740, they focussed on the (then) British colonies in America, establishing a mission in Dutchess County, New York (where Poughkeepsie is). There, they evangelised among Native Americans, treating them as equals. However, with the advent of the French and Indian Wars, their motives were suspect and the colony of New York expelled them.  The following year, they moved on to Pennsylvania and North Carolina to found the aforementioned Bethlehem and Salem settlements. By 1801, they had reached the state of Georgia, where they established a mission to the Cherokee tribe, until the United States Government resettled the Cherokees in Oklahoma, where the mission continues today under the aegis of the Danish Lutheran Church.

We may well owe our two-day weekend to Count von Zinzendorf, thanks to his exhortations in Philadelphia to respect the Old Testament Saturday Sabbath with time off to listen to additional preaching on the Sunday. (The picture on the left, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows him preaching to all men and women on his mission travels.)

Moravian missions in Australia were transferred in time to the Presbyterian Church. Those in Greenland are now under the auspices of the Lutheran Church.

They also evangelised in South America and Asia, as well as Africa.

Today, the largest concentration of Moravians can be found in Tanzania in Africa.

So, from their earliest days in Herrnhut, Zinzendorf ensured that the Moravians could spread Christianity.

The darker side — sexual imagery, scandal and the Count’s remarriage

Because Zinzendorf was so emotionally involved in religious experience, he began to use rather explicit — if not, to the outsider, blasphemous — sexual references to describe it.

He was preoccupied with our Lord’s wounds from the Cross, describing them as

so moist, so gory

and, astonishingly, in referring to the side wound, called it

the Seitenhölchen (‘little side-hole’). This was tied to his wish to overcome the traditional shame which was attached to sexual organs and acts:

What in the Bible is mentioned an hundred, and more than an hundred Times, but on Account of the Fall, by Reason of Deprivation, is call’d by the hideous name Pudendum; this he (the Saviour) has changed into Verendum, in the proper and strictest sense of that Word: And what was chastised by Circumcision, in the Time of the Law, is restored again to its first Essence and flourishing State; ’tis made equal to the most respectable Parts of the Body, yea ’tis on account of its Dignity and Distinction, become superior to all the rest; especially as the Lamb would choose to endure in that Part his first Wound, his first Pain[6]

Today’s pietists are welcome to disagree with me, but their undue prohibition on behaviour and thoughts brings about a vacuum which only Satan can fill. It would be interesting to find out which branch of Christianity has the most pornography addicts. Personally, I venture that it is the pietists. Only on their blogs and fora do I see such comments as, ‘Brother, I have struggled with this sin  [pornography] for many years and find it to be a daily battle’. To those men in good physical health, I say have a drink, enjoy a quiet smoke and love your wife. The first two are far preferable in moderation than seeking out depraved internet sites or, like Zinzendorf, referring to our Redeemer in such carnal phraseology.

Wikipedia cites a famous Christian hymn which follows this carnal line of thought:

Zinzendorf’s emphasis on the “blood and wounds” is not that different from hymns that are sung today without second thought: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”

Well, those lyrics have also given me pause for thought in the past, and I am happy that my church does not sing them.

Zinzendorf’s son, Christian Renatus, lived in another commune, Herrnhaag — the Lord’s Grove — and took the imagery further:

he led the Single Brethren’s Choir composed of the unmarried men in the Congregation. Excessive use of sexual imagery, combined with questionable theology of “playing in the Lord,” came to mean that the young men did little work and came to look down on those who were in the mission field laboring for the Kingdom instead of spending every moment adoring the Savior. Ensuing scandal and near-financial ruin forced Ludwig to chastise his son, bringing him to England. Casimir Count of Isenburg-Buedingen demanded the submission of the Moravians of Herrnhaag to himself, and that they reject their allegiance to the elder Zinzendorf. The entire community rejected this demand, leading to the closure of Herrnhaag beginning in 1750-53.

Christian Renatus died in 1752. Zinzendorf felt a profound loss. Two years before, the Count was almost forced to file for bankruptcy, having spent his fortune on financing Herrnhut and the missions. In 1756, his wife died; she was also a close friend and confidante. However, only a year later, he married Anna Caritas Nitschmann, 15 years younger than he.  Wikipedia explains:

he had been very close [to her] for many years. Anna had for years been spiritual leader of the women of the movement. The marriage was not publicized broadly since Anna was a commoner, and would have been extremely controversial.


Zinzendorf died in 1760.  Anna went to her rest just a few weeks later. Zinzendorf’s son-in-law took his place as head of the Moravian communities.

Soon: More on pietism in other denominations

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