Faithful Heroes: Count Zinzendorf, father of Moravian Church

Count Zinzendorf

Nicolaus Zinzendorf was a major figure of the 18th Century protestantism.

He was born on May 26, 1700 in Dresden, Saxony of the Holy Roman Empire {modern day Austria}.

He was born to a noble family and his great-grandfather was made an Imperial Count. But, his grandfather, chose to emigrate to Franconia rather than convert to Catholocism. His father was in the service of the Saxon Elector at Dresden.

Sadly, only six weeks after Nicholaus birth, his father died. He was sent to live with his maternal grandmother and aunt. His Lutheran grandmother did much to shape his character and teach him how to live a pietist life.

Count Zinzendorf

In 1716, he attended the University of Wittenberg to study law.

Upon returning from traveling throughout the Netherlands, France and Germany, he fell in love with his cousin, Theodora. However, her mother objected to the marriage and Theodora married another.

Nicolas considered this disappointment as a special call of God on his life.

He bought his grandmothers estate, Berthelsdorf, and married Erdmuthe Dorothea.

He joined with three other men to print large quantities of inexpensive Bibles, hymnals and religious tracts. The men set out to create a “revival of religion as well as to preserve the warmth of their own personal trust in Christ.”

He called Johann Andreas Rothe as pastor of the Lutheran parish. Soon thereafter, he agreed to receive Protestant exiles from the Kuhländchen in Moravia.

The first group, under the leadership of carpenter Christian David, arrived in December 1721. Other refugees would soon follow. He permitted them to build the village of Herrnhut on the corner of his estate. As the village grew it became known as a place of religious freedom.

Count Zinzendorf

In time the village fell into disarray and severe conflict. Zinzendorf took a leave from his court commission and returned to the estate to devote himself full-time to the reconciliation of the conflict. He called the men of the village together for intense study and called for them to live together in love, unity and the scriptures.

From his prayer and study, the community formed a document known as “the Brüderlicher Vertrag, or the Brotherly Agreement”. The document set a set of rules known as “The Manoiral Injunctions” on how to live. “The Moravian Church is one of the few denominations that emphasizes a code of Christian behavior over specific creeds.”

On August 13, 1727, they were united to form the ancient Unitas Fratrum, today known as the Moravian Church.

Zinzendorf set the church into a familial group based on age and spiritual needs.

Count Zinzendorf preaching

The first Moravian missionaries were sent out in 1732. This interest was sparked when he met two Inuit children converted in Greenland by Hans Egede and a freed slave, who told of the terrible oppression of slaves in the West Indies.

Zinzendorf later provided sanctuary for the followers of mystic Caspar Schwenckfeld. They later emigrated to Pennsylvania and he sent two Moravians to accompany them and scout out the mission possibilities in America.

In 1736, he was exiled after accusations were made from his neighbors concerning his theological practices. He moved to Marienborn, which began a period of exile and travel. During this time he became known as the “Pilgrim Count.”

On May 20, 1737 Zinzendorf was consecrated as a bishop at Berlin.

In 1739, he left Europe to visit the mission work at St. Thomas, after being accused of

Count Zinzendorf

sending missionaries out to die. He was able to free some missionaries that had been illegally jailed and establish credibility with the slaves, leaving the mission in a much more successful place when he left.

In 1741, he visited Pennsylvania where he visited with Benjamin Franklin, leaders of the Iroquois, and reached agreements for the free movement of Moravian missionaries in the area.

From 1749-1755, he lived in Chelsea, England on an estate built by Sir Thomas More

where he oversaw the missionary colonies he had set up. By this time colonies were established in the West Indies, Greenland, among the North American Indians, and eventually spread to Livonia, the Baltic Sea, South Carolina, South America, South Africa, Egypt and other areas.

Statue of Count Zinzendorf in Denmark

“Rather than focusing on doctrine or belief, Zinzendorf’s theology emphasizes the growth of the spiritual relationship between the believer and the Savior. As reflected in the communities he established, he believed in Christians living lives of love and harmony, and believed that every Christian needed to live in a faith community.”

He also worked to have various denominations work together and respect one another.

He wrote a number of hymns, such as Jesus, Still Lead On and Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness.

By 1750, he was left almost bankrupt, after establishing and supporting the colonies and travelling so much. This led to the establishment of a financial board among the Brethren.

His wife, who was his confidante and counselor, died on June 17, 1756. He married Anna Caritas Nitschmann, a chief elderess of the church, on June 27, 1757.

Nicolaus Zinzendorf died on May 9, 1760 and his son-in-law, Bishop Johannes von Watteville, took his place as head of the community.

Anna Zinzendorf followed her husband to the grave twelve days later on May 21, 1760.

For providing refuge, setting up a brotherhood based on Jesus principles, sending out missionaries and setting up colonies for the faith Nicolaus Zinzendorf is a faithful hero.


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