1902 Encyclopedia > The Moravian Brethren

The Moravian Brethren




MORAVIAN BRETHREN, THE, are a society of Chris-tians whose history can be traced back to the year 1457 and their origin found among the religious movements in Bohemia which followed the martyrdom of John Huss by the council of Constance. The beginnings of the Bohemian Brethren (for that was their earlier name) are somewhat obscure. The followers of Huss broke up into two factions, one of which, the Calixtines, was willing to acknowledge allegiance to Rome, provided the " compacts " of the council of Basel permitting the Lord's Supper sub utraque specie were maintained, and in the end it became the national church of Bohemia ; the other, the Taborites, refused all terms of reconciliation, and appealed to arms. Separate from both these were many pious people who were content to worship God in simple fashion, in quiet meetings for prayer and Scripture-reading, like the Gottesfreunde of Germany, and who called themselves Brethren. Bohemian historians have conclusively shown that the Brethren repre-sent the religious kernel of the Hussite movement, and do not come either from the German Waldenses or from the Taborites. Before 1457 many of these quiet Christians were known as the Brethren of Chelcic, and were the followers of Peter Chelcicky, a Bohemian, whose religious influence, strongly Puritan in its character, seems to have been inferior only to that of Huss. In that year the Calix-tine leader, Rokyzana, wishing to protect them, permitted his nephew Gregory to gather them together at Kunewald near Senftenberg, and form them into a community. This meeting was really the foundation of the Brethren or Unitas Fratrum, and its founder Gregory announced that he and his companions received and taught the rejection of oaths, of the military profession, of all official rank, titles, and endowments, and of a hierarchy. They did not profess conwetunism, but they held that the rich should give of their riches to the poor, and that all Christians should live as nearly as possible in the fashion of the apostolic com-munity at Jerusalem. At the synod of Lhota near Reichenau, in 1467, they constituted themselves into a church separate from the Calixtine or national church of Bohemia. They appointed ministers of their own election and with the guidance of the "lot," and had an organiza-tion and discipline of their own ; at their head was a bishop, who, it is said, received ordination from the Austrian Waldenses, but apostolic succession among the Brethren is one of the most obscure parts of their history.

The constitution of the society was revised at a second synod held at Lhota under the direction of Luke of Prague, who may be regarded as their second founder. This re-organization enabled the society to grow rapidly. In the earlier years of the 16th century the Unitas included nearly 400 congregations in Bohemia and Moravia with 150,000 members, and, including Poland, embraced three provinces —Bohemia, Moravia, Poland. Each province had its own bishops and synods, but all were united in one church and governed by the general synod.

The Lutheran movement in Germany awakened lively interest among the Brethren, and some unsuccessful at-tempts were made under the leadership of Augusta to unite with the Lutheran Church (1528-1546); but when the Calvinist reformation reached Bohemia the Brethren found themselves more in sympathy with it than with the Lutheran. The Jesuit anti-Reformation, instigated by Rudolf and his brothers Matthias and Ferdinand, found the Brethren a prosperous church, but the pitiless persecu-tion which followed the unsuccessful attempt at revolution crushed the whole Protestantism of Bohemia, and in 1627 the Evangelical churches there had ceased to exist. About the same time the Polish branch of the Unity, in which many refugees from Bohemia and Moravia had found a Jiome, was absorbed in the Reformed Church of Poland. A few families, however, especially in Moravia, held religious services in secret, preserved the traditions of their fathers, and, in spite of the vigilance of their enemies, maintained some correspondence with each other. In 1722 some of these left home and property to seek a place where they could worship in freedom. The first company, led by Christian David, a mechanic, settled by invitation from Count Zinzendorf on his estate at Berthelsdorf near Zittau, in Saxony. They were soon joined by others (about 300 coming within seven years), and built a town which they called Herrnhut. The small community at first adopted the constitution and teaching of the old Unitas. The epis-copate had been continued, and in 1735 David Nitschmann was consecrated first bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church. The new settlement was not, however, destined to be simply a revival of the organization of the Bohemian Brethren. Zinzendorf, who had given them an asylum, came with his wife, family, and chaplain to live among the refugees. He was a Lutheran who had accepted Spener's pietism, and he wished to form a society distinct from national churches and devoted to good works. After long negotiation a union was effected between the Lutheran element and the adherents of the ancient Unitas Fratrum. The emigrants at Herrnhut attended the parish church at Berthelsdorf, and were simply a Christian society within the Lutheran Church (ecclesiola in ecclesia). This pecu-liarity is still to some extent preserved in the German branch of the church, and the Moravian Brethren regard themselves as a church within the church, or the Brethren's Congregation within the Evangelical Protestant churches, which enables them to do evangelistic work without pro-selytizing. The society adopted a code of rules in 1727, and ordained twelve elders to carry on pastoral work. This was the revival of the Unitas Fratrum as a church.

Constitution.— The Unity of Moravian Brethren at present em-braces three provinces — German, English, and American. Each province has its own government by synod and provincial elders' conferences ; but it forms with the other two one organic whole, and is therefore under the control of a general government also. The general synod, which governs the whole church, meets every ten years at Herrnhut, and is attended by delegates from all the pro-vinces and from the missions. The elders' conference of the Unity is an executive board, which superintends all the provinces and the missions. The present constitution dates from 1857, when the old organization of the Unitas Fratrum was remodelled.

Ministers and Worship.—The ministers are bishops, presbyters, and deacons. The bishops alone can ordain, but they are not diocesan. They are appointed by the general synod, or by the elders' conference of the Unity, and have official seats both in the synods of the provinces where they preside, and in the general synod. Unordained assistants in the ministry, whether men or women, are formally set apart as acolytes. The worship is litur-gical. Special services are used on the festivals of the ecclesiastical year, on the "Memorial Days" 1st March, 12th May, 17th and 25th June, 6th July, 13th and 21st August, 16th September, 31st October, and 13th November. Love-feasts are still held, but the feet-washing and the use of the lot in the election of ministers and in marriages have fallen into disuse. The use of the lot in marriages was abolished in 1818.

Doctrine.—The Moravian Church has no formal creed, but its doctrine, as found in the catechism, in the Easter morning litany, and in the Synodal Besults, embraces the following points (settled by the synod of 1879) :—(1) that Scripture is the only rule of faith and practice, (2) the total depravity of human nature, (3) the love of God the Father, (4) the real Godhead and the real humanity of Jesus Christ, (5) our reconciliation unto God, and our justification before Him, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, (6) the doctrine of the Holy Ghost and the operations of His grace, (7) good works as the fruit of the Spirit, (8) the fellowship of believers one with another in Christ Jesus, (9) the second coming of the Lord in glory, and the resurrection of the dead unto life or unto condemnation.

Work.— (a) Home Work in the Three Provinces. —This embraces two divisions. (1) Besides congregational work, special home missions are carried on in each province. In the German province there is a peculiar home mission called the Diaspora, which dates from 1729. Its object is unsectarian. It seeks to excite and foster spiritual life by means additional to those provided by the estab-lished churches, and does not make proselytes nor strive to draw members from other Protestant churches. The work is carried on in Denmark, in Norway and Sweden, in the various parts of Germany, in the Baltic provinces of Russia, in Poland, and in Switzerland. In the English province home mission work is conducted on the principle of establishing preaching-stations in populous places, which may ultimately become congregations connected with the church. There is also a society for propagating the gospel in Ireland. The work in the American province is of the same kind. (2) The Brethren have always paid special attention to education. Each province has a theological college, and there are in the three pro-vinces forty-seven boai'ding-schools for boys and girls not connected with the Moravian Church. At these schools nearly 2500 pupils are educated.

(b) Foreign Missions.—The Moravian Church since its reorgani-zation by Zinzendorf has been the missionary church par excellence. The third jubilee of missions was celebrated in 1882. The first period began with 1732, w7hen two men, Leonard Dover and David Nitschmann, were sent to preach to the negroes of St Thomas ; when it ended in 1782, the church had 167 brethren and sisters occupying 27 stations. In 1832 the church had to record 40,000 converts under the direction of 209 missionaries at 41 stations. The latest statistics show 115 stations with 317 additional preach-ing-places, 7 normal schools with 70 scholars, 215 day schools with 15,616 pupils, 215 teachers, and 634 monitors, 94 Sunday schools with 13,355 pupils and 884 teachers, 312 missionaries (male and female), 1471 native assistants, and 76,646 converts.

(c) The Bohemian Mission.—The Brethren early made missionary circuits from Herrnhut and Silesia through Bohemia and Moravia, and since 1862 this itinerating work was largely increased. In 1869 it was resolved to re-establish the church in these countries of its birth, and the first congregation was inaugurated in October 1870. It now contains four congregations, and in 1880 obtained legal sanction.

(d) The Leper Mission was begun in 1822 in South Africa, and carried on there till 1867, when the English Government appointed a chaplain to do the work. The Leper Home in Jerusalem was established in 1867, and formally taken over by the elders' confer-ence of the Unity in 1881.

Statistics.—
The Three Home Provinces. Foreign and Bohemian Missions.
Bishops . . 10 Bishops . , 3
Presbyters and Deacons 291 Missionaries . . 167
Communicants . 18,871 Female Agents . 110
Native Ministers and
Assistants . 35
Native Agents . 1,524
Communicants . 26,455

Literature.—Gindely, Geschichte der böhm. Brüder, 2 vols., Prag., 1S6S ; Göll
Geschichte d. böhm. Brüder, Prag., 1882 ; Holmes, History of the United Brethren,
2 vols., London, 1825 ; Bost, Hist, de l'Église des Frères, 2 vols., Paris, 1S44
(also Eng. translation); Seifferth, Church Constitution of the Bohemian and
Moravian Brethren. (T. M. L.)






The above article was written by: Prof. T. M. Lindsay, D.D.



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