A history of the moravian church

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And so the hopes of Comenius were blasted. As the aged Bishop drew near to his end, he witnessed the failure of all his schemes. Where now was his beloved Church of the Brethren? It was scattered like autumn leaves before the blast. And yet Comenius hoped on to the bitter end. The news of his sufferings reached the ears of Oliver Cromwell. He offered to find a home for the Brethren in Ireland. If Comenius had only accepted that offer it is certain that Oliver would have been as good as his word. He longed to make Ireland a Protestant country; and the whole modern history of Ireland might have been altered. But Comenius had now become an unpractical dreamer. For all his learning he was very simple-minded; and for all his piety he had a weak side to his character. He had listened in his youth to the prophecies of Christopher Kotter; he had listened also to the ravings of Christina Poniatowski; and now he fell completely under the influence of the vile impostor, Drabik, who pretended to have a revelation from heaven, and predicted that before very long the House of Austria would be destroyed and the Brethren be enabled to return to their native home. Instead, therefore, of accepting Cromwell’s offer, Comenius spent his last few years in collecting money for the Brethren; and pleasant it is to record the fact that much of that money came from England. Some was sent by Prince Rupert, and some by officials of the Church of England; and Comenius was able to spend the money in printing helpful, devotional works for the Brethren. His loyalty now to the Brethren was beautiful. It is easy to be faithful to a prosperous Church; Comenius was faithful when the whirl was at the worst. Faster than ever the ship was sinking, but still the brave old white-haired Captain held to his post on the bridge. Few things are more pathetic in history than the way in which Comenius commended the Brethren to the care of the Church of England. “To you, dear friends,” he wrote in hope, “we commit our dear mother, the Church herself. Even in her death, which seems approaching, you ought to love her, because in her life she has gone before you for more than two centuries with examples of faith and patience.” Of all the links between the old Church of the Brethren and the new, Comenius was the strongest. He handed on the Brethren’s Episcopal Orders. He consecrated his son-in-law, Peter Jablonsky; this Peter consecrated his own son, Daniel Ernest; and this Daniel Ernest Jablonsky consecrated David Nitschmann, the first Bishop of the Renewed Church of the Brethren.
He handed on, secondly, the Brethren’s system of discipline. He published an edition of the “Ratio Disciplinæ,” and this it was that fired Zinzendorf’s soul with love for the Brethren’s Church.
But, thirdly, and most important of all, Comenius kept the old faith burning in the hearts of the “Hidden Seed.” For the benefit of those still worshipping in secret in Bohemia and Moravia, he prepared a Catechism, entitled “The Old Catholic Christian Religion in Short Questions and Answers”; and by this Catholic Religion he meant the broad and simple faith of the Bohemian Brethren. “Perish sects,” said Comenius; “perish the founders of sects. I have consecrated myself to Christ alone.” But the purpose of the Catechism had to be kept a secret. “It is meant,” said Comenius, in the preface, “for all the pious and scattered sheep of Christ, especially those at F., G., G., K., K., S., S. and Z.” These letters can be easily explained. They stood for the villages of Fulneck, Gersdorf, Gestersdorf, Kunewalde, Klandorf, Stechwalde, Seitendorf and Zauchtenthal; and these are the places from which the first exiles came to renew the Brethren’s Church at Herrnhut.
Fifty years before his prayers were answered, Comenius lay silent in the grave (1672). Yet never did bread cast upon the waters more richly return.
As the relations of the Brethren with England were only of a very occasional nature, it is not easy to weave them into the narrative. But the following particulars will be of special interest; they show the opinion held of the Brethren by officials of the Church of England:--
1. The case of John Bernard.--At some period in the reign of Queen Elizabeth a number of scholarships were founded at Oxford for the benefit of Bohemian students; and in 1583 John Bernard, a Moravian student, took his B.D. degree at Oxford. The record in the University Register is as follows: “Bernardus, John, a Moravian, was allowed to supply B.D. He had studied theology for ten years at German Universities, and was now going to the Universities of Scotland.” This proves that the University of Oxford recognised Bernard as a man in holy orders; for none but men in holy orders could take the B.D. degree.
2. The case of Paul Hartmann.--In 1652 (October 15th) Paul Hartmann was ordained a Deacon at a Synod of the Moravian Church at Lissa. In 1657 he came to England, along with his brother, Adam Samuel Hartmann, to raise funds for the exiles. In 1660 he was ordained a Presbyter by Bishop Robert Skinner, of Oxford, in Christ Church; in 1671 he was admitted Chaplain or Petty Canon of Oxford Cathedral; and in 1676 he became Rector of Shillingford, Berkshire. This proves that Bishop Skinner, of Oxford, recognised Paul Hartmann’s status as a Deacon; and that recognition, so far as we know, was never questioned by any Anglican authorities. But that is not the end of the story. At this period a considerable number of Brethren had found a home in England; the Continental Brethren wished to provide for their spiritual needs, and, therefore, in 1675 they wrote a letter to the Anglican Bishops requesting them to consecrate Hartmann a Bishop. Of that letter a copy has been preserved in the Johannis-Kirche at Lissa. “It is no superstition,” they wrote, “that fills us with this desire. It is simply our love of order and piety; and the Church of England is the only Protestant Church beside our own that possesses this treasure, and can, therefore, come to our help.” For some reason, however, this pathetic request was not carried out. What answer did the Anglican Bishops give? We do not know; no answer has been discovered; and Hartmann remained a Presbyter to the end.
3. The case of Adam Samuel Hartmann.--He was first a minister of the Moravian Church at Lissa (1652-56). In 1657 he came to England to collect money; in 1673 he was consecrated a Moravian Bishop at Lissa; and in 1680 he received the degree of D.D. at Oxford. His diploma refers to him as a Bishop. This suggests, if it does not actually prove, that the University of Oxford recognised him as a valid Bishop.
4. The case of Bishop Amos Comenius.--Of all the Bishops of the Bohemian Brethren Comenius did most to stir up sympathy on their behalf in England. In 1657 he sent the two Hartmanns and Paul Cyrill to the Archbishop of Canterbury with a MS. entitled, “Ultimus in Protestantes Bohemiæ confessionis ecclesias Antichristi furor”; in 1660 he dedicated his “Ratio Disciplinæ” to the Church of England; and in 1661 he published his “Exhortation of the Churches of Bohemia to the Church of England.” In this book Comenius took a remarkable stand. He declared that the Slavonian Churches had been planted by the Apostles; that these Churches had “run up to a head and ripened” in the Unity of the Brethren; and that he himself was now the only surviving Bishop of the remnants of these Churches. In other words, he represented himself as the Bishop of a Church of Apostolic origin. In what way, it may be asked, was this claim received by Anglican authorities? The next case will supply the answer.
5. The case of Archbishop Sancroft.--ln 1683 King Charles II. issued a Cabinet Order on behalf of the Brethren; the order was accompanied by an account of their distresses; the account was “recommended under the hands” of William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry Compton, Bishop of London; and in that account the statement was deliberately made that the Brethren deserved the assistance of Anglicans, not only because they had “renounced the growing errors of Popery,” but also because they had “preserved the Succession of Episcopal Orders.” The last words can only bear one meaning; and that meaning obviously is that both the Primate and the Bishop of London regarded Moravian Episcopal Orders as valid. The next case tells a similar story.
6. The case of Archbishop Wake.--We have now to step over a period of thirty-three years. As soon as James II. came to the throne, the interest of English Churchmen in the Brethren appears to have waned, and neither William III. nor Queen Anne took any steps on their behalf. And yet the connection of the Brethren with England was not entirely broken. The bond of union was Daniel Ernest Jablonsky. He was Amos Comenius’s grandson. In 1680 he came to England; he studied three years at Oxford, and finally received the degree of D.D. In 1693 he was appointed Court Preacher at Berlin; in 1699 he was consecrated a Moravian Bishop; and in 1709 he was elected corresponding secretary of the S.P.C.K. Meanwhile, however, fresh disasters had overtaken the Brethren. As the sun was rising on July 29th, 1707, a troop of Russians rode into the town of Lissa, and threw around them balls of burning pitch. The town went up in flames; the last home of the Brethren was destroyed, and the Brethren were in greater distress than ever. At this point Jablonsky nobly came to their aid. He began by publishing an account of their distresses; he tried to raise a fund on their behalf; and finally (1715) he sent his friend, Bishop Sitkovius, to England, to lay their case before Archbishop Wake. Again, as in the case of Archbishop Sancroft, this appeal to the Church of England was successful. The Archbishop brought the case before George I., the King consulted the Privy Council, the Privy Council gave consent; the King issued Letters Patent to all the Archbishops and Bishops of England and Wales, and Wake and John Robinson, Bishop of London, issued a special appeal, which was read in all the London churches. The result was twofold. On the one hand money was collected for the Brethren; on the other, some person or persons unknown denounced them as Hussites, declared that their Bishops could not be distinguished from Presbyters, and contended that, being followers of Wycliffe, they must surely, like Wycliffe, be enemies of all episcopal government. Again Jablonsky came to the Brethren’s rescue. He believed, himself, in the Brethren’s Episcopal Orders; he prepared a treatise on the subject, entitled, “De Ordine et Successione Episcopali in Unitate Fratrum Bohemorum conservato”; he sent a copy of that treatise to Wake, and Wake, in reply, declared himself perfectly satisfied.
To what conclusion do the foregoing details point? It is needful here to speak with caution and precision. As the claims of the Brethren were never brought before Convocation, we cannot say that the Anglican Church as a body officially recognised the Brethren as a sister Episcopal Church. But, on the other hand, we can also say that the Brethren’s orders were never doubted by any Anglican authorities. They were recognised by two Archbishops of Canterbury; they were recognised by Bishop Skinner, of Oxford; they were recognised by the University of Oxford. They were recognised, in a word, by every Anglican authority before whose notice they happened to be brought.


The Revival under Zinzendorf.


IF the kindly reader will take the trouble to consult a map of Europe he will see that that part of the Kingdom of Saxony known as Upper Lusatia runs down to the Bohemian frontier. About ten miles from the frontier line there stand to-day the mouldering remains of the old castle of Gross-Hennersdorf. The grey old walls are streaked with slime. The wooden floors are rotten, shaky and unsafe. The rafters are worm-eaten. The windows are broken. The damp wall-papers are running to a sickly green. Of roof there is almost none. For the lover of beauty or the landscape painter these ruins have little charm. But to us these tottering walls are of matchless interest, for within these walls Count Zinzendorf, the Renewer of the Brethren’s Church, spent the years of his childhood.
He was born at six o’clock in the evening, Wednesday, May 26th, 1700, in the picturesque city of Dresden {1700.}; the house is pointed out to the visitor; and “Zinzendorf Street” reminds us still of the noble family that has now died out. He was only six weeks old when his father burst a blood-vessel and died; he was only four years when his mother married again; and the young Count--Nicholas Lewis, Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf--was handed over to the tender care of his grandmother, Catherine von Gersdorf, who lived at Gross-Hennersdorf Castle. And now, even in childhood’s days, little Lutz, as his grandmother loved to call him, began to show signs of his coming greatness. As his father lay on his dying bed, he had taken the child in his feeble arm, and consecrated him to the service of Christ; and now in his grandmother’s noble home he sat at the feet of the learned, the pious, and the refined. Never was a child less petted and pampered; never was a child more strictly trained; never was a child made more familiar with the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. Dr. Spener,58 the famous Pietist leader, watched his growth with fatherly interest. The old lady was a leader in Pietist circles, was a writer of beautiful religious poetry, and guarded him as the apple of her eye. He read the Bible every day. He doted on Luther’s Catechism. He had the Gospel story at his finger-ends. His aunt Henrietta, who was rather an oddity, prayed with him morning and night. His tutor, Edeling, was an earnest young Pietist from Franke’s school at Halle; and the story of Zinzendorf’s early days reads like a mediaeval tale. “Already in my childhood,” he says, {1704.} “I loved the Saviour, and had abundant communion with Him. In my fourth year I began to seek God earnestly, and determined to become a true servant of Jesus Christ.” At the age of six he regarded Christ as his Brother, would talk with Him for hours together as with a familiar friend and was often found rapt in thought {1706.}, like Socrates in the market-place at Athens. As other children love and trust their parents, so this bright lad with the golden hair loved and trusted Christ. “A thousand times,” he said, “I heard Him speak in my heart, and saw Him with the eye of faith.” Already the keynote of his life was struck; already the fire of zeal burned in his bosom. “Of all the qualities of Christ,” said He, “the greatest is His nobility; and of all the noble ideas in the world, the noblest is the idea that the Creator should die for His children. If the Lord were forsaken by all the world, I still would cling to Him and love Him.” He held prayer-meetings in his private room. He was sure that Christ Himself was present there. He preached sermons to companies of friends. If hearers failed, he arranged the chairs as an audience; and still is shown the little window from which he threw letters addressed to Christ, not doubting that Christ would receive them. As the child was engaged one day in prayer, the rude soldiers of Charles XII. burst into his room. Forthwith the lad began to speak of Christ; and away the soldiers fled in awe and terror. At the age of eight he lay awake at night tormented with atheistic doubts {1708.}. But the doubts did not last long. However much he doubted with the head he never doubted with the heart; and the charm that drove the doubts away was the figure of the living Christ.
And here we touch the springs of the boy’s religion. It is easy to call all this a hot-house process; it is easy to dub the child a precocious prig. But at bottom his religion was healthy and sound. It was not morbid; it was joyful. It was not based on dreamy imagination; it was based on the historic person of Christ. It was not the result of mystic exaltation; it was the result of a study of the Gospels. It was not, above all, self-centred; it led him to seek for fellowship with others. As the boy devoured the Gospel story, he was impressed first by the drama of the Crucifixion; and often pondered on the words of Gerhardt’s hymn:--
O Head so full of bruises,

So full of pain and scorn,

Midst other sore abuses,

Mocked with a crown of thorn.
For this his tutor, Edeling, was partly responsible. “He spoke to me,” says Zinzendorf, “of Jesus and His wounds.”
But the boy did not linger in Holy Week for ever. He began by laying stress on the suffering Christ; he went on to lay stress on the whole life of Christ; and on that life, from the cradle to the grave, his own strong faith was based. “I was,” he said, “as certain that the Son of God was my Lord as of the existence of my five fingers.” To him the existence of Jesus was a proof of the existence of God; and he felt all his limbs ablaze, to use his own expression, with the desire to preach the eternal Godhead of Christ. “If it were possible,” he said, “that there should be another God than Christ I would rather be damned with Christ than happy with another. I have,” he exclaimed, “but one passion--‘tis He, ‘tis only He.”
But the next stage in his journey was not so pleasing {1710.}. At the age of ten he was taken by his mother to Professor Franke’s school at Halle; and by mistake he overheard a conversation between her and the pious professor. She described him as a lad of parts, but full of pride, and in need of the curbing rein. He was soon to find how much these words implied. If a boy has been trained by gentle ladies he is hardly well equipped, as a rule, to stand the rough horseplay of a boarding-school; and if, in addition, he boasts blue blood, he is sure to come in for blows. And the Count was a delicate aristocrat, with weak legs and a cough. He was proud of his noble birth; he was rather officious in his manner; he had his meals at Franke’s private table; he had private lodgings a few minutes’ walk from the school; he had plenty of money in his purse; and, therefore, on the whole, he was as well detested as the son of a lord can be. “With a few exceptions,” he sadly says, “my schoolfellows hated me throughout.”
But this was not the bitterest part of the pill. If there was any wholesome feeling missing in his heart hitherto, it was what theologians call the sense of sin. He had no sense of sin whatever, and no sense of any need of pardon. His masters soon proceeded to humble his pride. He was introduced as a smug little Pharisee, and they treated him as a viper. Of all systems of school discipline, the most revolting is the system of employing spies; and that was the system used by the staff at Halle. They placed the young Count under boyish police supervision, encouraged the lads to tell tales about him, rebuked him for his misconduct in the measles, lectured him before the whole school on his rank disgusting offences, and treated him as half a rogue and half an idiot. If he pleaded not guilty, they called him a liar, and gave him an extra thrashing. The thrashing was a public school entertainment, and was advertised on the school notice-board. “Next week,” ran the notice on one occasion, “the Count is to have the stick.” For two years he lived in a moral purgatory. The masters gave him the fire of their wrath, and the boys the cold shoulder of contempt. The masters called him a malicious rebel, and the boys called him a snob. As the little fellow set off for morning school, with his pile of books upon his arm, the others waylaid him, jostled him to and fro, knocked him into the gutter, scattered his books on the street, and then officiously reported him late for school. He was clever, and, therefore, the masters called him idle; and when he did not know his lesson they made him stand in the street, with a pair of ass’s ears on his head, and a placard on his back proclaiming to the public that the culprit was a “lazy donkey.”
His private tutor, Daniel Crisenius, was a bully, who had made his way into Franke’s school by varnishing himself with a shiny coating of piety. If the Count’s relations came to see him, Crisenius made him beg for money, and then took the money himself. If his grandmother sent him a ducat Crisenius pocketed a florin. If he wrote a letter home, Crisenius read it. If he drank a cup of coffee, Crisenius would say, “You have me to thank for that, let me hear you sing a song of thanksgiving.” If he tried to pour out his soul in prayer, Crisenius mocked him, interrupted him, and introduced disgusting topics of conversation. He even made the lad appear a sneak. “My tutor,” says Zinzendorf, “often persuaded me to write letters to my guardian complaining of my hard treatment, and then showed the letters to the inspector.”
In vain little Lutz laid his case before his mother. Crisenius thrashed him to such good purpose that he never dared to complain again; and his mother still held that he needed drastic medicine. “I beseech you,” she wrote to Franke, “be severe with the lad; if talking will not cure him of lying, then let him feel it.”
At last the muddy lane broadened into a highway. One day Crisenius pestered Franke with one of his whining complaints. The headmaster snapped him short.
“I am sick,” he said, “of your growlings; you must manage the matter yourself.”
As the months rolled on, the Count breathed purer air. He became more manly and bold. He astonished the masters by his progress. He was learning Greek, could speak in French and dash off letters in Latin. He was confirmed, attended the Communion, and wrote a beautiful hymn59 recording his feelings; and already in his modest way he launched out on that ocean of evangelical toil on which he was to sail all the days of his life.
As the child grew up in Hennersdorf Castle he saw and heard a good deal of those drawing-room meetings60 which Philip Spener, the Pietist leader, had established in the houses of several noble Lutheran families, and which came in time to be known in Germany as “Churches within the Church.”61 He knew that Spener had been his father’s friend. He had met the great leader at the Castle. He sympathised with the purpose of his meetings. He had often longed for fellowship himself, and had chatted freely on religious topics with his Aunt Henrietta. He had always maintained his private habit of personal communion with Christ; and now he wished to share his religion with others. The time was ripe. The moral state of Franke’s school was low; the boys were given to vicious habits, and tried to corrupt his soul; and the Count, who was a healthy minded boy, and shrank with disgust from fleshly sins, retorted by forming a number of religious clubs for mutual encouragement and help. “I established little societies,” he says, “in which we spoke of the grace of Christ, and encouraged each other in diligence and good works.” He became a healthy moral force in the school. He rescued his friend, Count Frederick de Watteville, from the hands of fifty seducers; he persuaded three others to join in the work of rescue; and the five lads established a club which became a “Church within the Church” for boys. They called themselves first “The Slaves of Virtue,” next the “Confessors of Christ,” and finally the “Honourable Order of the Mustard Seed”; and they took a pledge to be true to Christ, to be upright and moral, and to do good to their fellow-men. Of all the school clubs established by Zinzendorf this “Order of the Mustard Seed” was the most famous and the most enduring. As the boys grew up to man’s estate they invited others to join their ranks; the doctrinal basis was broad; and among the members in later years were John Potter, Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, Cardinal Noailles, the broad-minded Catholic, and General Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia. For an emblem they had a small shield, with an “Ecce Homo,” and the motto, “His wounds our healing”; and each member of the Order wore a gold ring, inscribed with the words, “No man liveth unto himself.” The Grand Master of the Order was Zinzendorf himself. He wore a golden cross; the cross had an oval green front; and on that front was painted a mustard tree, with the words beneath, “Quod fuit ante nihil,” i.e., what was formerly nothing.62

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