Founding of Herrnhut
from J. E. Hutton's History of the Moravian Church
As these wanderers from a foreign land had not been able to bring in their pockets certificates of orthodoxy, and might, after all, be dangerous heretics, it occurred to Zinzendorf's canny steward, Heitz, that on the whole it would be more fitting if they settled, not in the village itself, but at a safe and convenient distance. The Countwas away; the steward was in charge; and the orthodox parish must not be exposed to infection. As the Neissers, further, were cutlers by trade, there was no need for them in the quiet village. If they wished to earn an honest living they could do it better upon the broad high road. For these reasons, therefore, he led the June 8th. exiles to a dismal, swampy stretch of ground 1722. about a mile from the village; and told them for the present to rest their bones in an old unfinished farmhouse. The spot itself was dreary and bleak, but the neighbouring woods of pines and beeches relieved the bareness of the scene. It was part of Zinzendorf's estate, and lay at the top of a gentle slope, up which a long avenue now leads. It was a piece of common pasture ground, and was therefore known as the Hutberg,1 or Watch-Hill.town which may not only itself abide under the Lord's Watch (Herrnhut), but all the inhabitants of which may also continue on the Lord's Watch, so that no silence may be there by day or night." It was thus that Herrnhut received the name which was soon to be famous in the land; and thus that the exiles, cheered anew, resolved to build a glorious City of God.
It was on the high road from Lobau to Zittau; it was often used as a camping ground by gypsies and other pedlars; and the road was in such a disgusting state that wagons sometimes sank axle deep in the mud. For the moment the refugees were sick at heart.
"Where," said Mrs. Augustin Neisser, " shall we find bread in this wilderness?"
"If you believe," said Godfrey Marche, tutor to Lady Gersdorf's grant/daughters, " you shall see the glory of God."
The steward was quite concerned for the refugees. As he strolled around inspecting the land he noticed one particular spot where a thick mist was rising; and concluding that there a spring was sure to be found, he offered a prayer on their behalf, and registered the solemn vow, " Upon this spot, in Thy name, I will build for them the first house." He laid their needs before Lady Gersdorf, and the good old poetess kindly sent them a cow; he inspected the site with Christian David, and marked the trees he might fell; and thus encouraged, June 17th, Christian David seized his axe, struck it into a (1722) tree, and, as he did so, exclaimed, " Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself."( Ps. Ixxxiv. 3)
The first step in the building of Herrnhut had been taken. For some weeks the settlers had still to eat the bread of bitterness and scorn. It was long before they could find a spring of water. The food was poor; the children fell ill; the folk in the neighbourhood laughed; and even when the first house was built they remarked that it would not be standing long.
But already Christian David had wider plans. Already in vivid imagination he saw a goodly city rise, mapped out the courts and streets in his mind, and explained his g lowing schemes to the friendly Heitz. The steward himself was carried away with zeal. The very name of the hill was hailed as a promising omen. "May God grant," wrote Heitz to the Count, "that your excellency may be able to build on the hill called the Hutberg a The spot where David felled the first tree is now marked by a monument inscribed with the date and the text and the date itself is one of the Brethren's so-called "Memorial Days."
" We fear," they wrote to the Count himself, " that our settling here may be a burden to you; and therefore we most humbly entreat you to grant us your protection, to continue to help us further still, and to show kindness and love to us poor distressed and simple-minded petitioners."
As the building of the first house proceeded the pious Heitz grew more and more excited. He drove in the first nail; he helped to fix the first pillar; and, finally, when the house was ready, he opened it in solemn religious style, and preached a sort of prophetic sermon about the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. The Count himself soon blessed the undertaking.
As he drove along, one winter night, on the Dee. 2nd. road from Strahwalde to Hennersdorf, he saw a strange light shining through the trees. He asked what the light could mean. There, he was told, the Moravian refugees had built the first house on his estate. He stopped the carriage, entered the house, assured the inmates of his hearty goodwill, fell down on his knees, and commended the enterprise to the care of God.
Again the restless David was on the move. 1723. As he knelt one day to fix a plank in the new manor-house which Zinzendorf was building in the village, it suddenly flashed on his busy brain that he ought to do something out of the common to show his gratitude to God. His wife had just passed through a dangerous illness; he had vowed to God that if she recovered he would go to Moravia again; and, throwing down his tools on the spot, he darted off in his working clothes, and without a hat on his head. and made his way once more to Sehlen, the old home of the Neissers. He brought a letter from the Neissers his pocket; he urged the rest of the family to cross the border; and the result was that before many days were gone a band of eighteen more emigrants were on their way to Herrnhut.
His next step had still more momentous results. As he made his way from town to town, and urged his friends to come to " David's City," he had no further aim than to find a home where Protestants could live in peace and comfort. He knew but little, if anything at all, of the old Church of the Brethren; he had never been a member of that Church himself; he had no special interest in her welfare; and the emigrants whom he had brought to Herrnhut were mostly evangelical folk who had been awakened by the preaching of the Pietist pastor, Steinmetz, of Teschen. But now, in the village of Zauchtenthal, he found a band of five young men whose bosoms glowed with zeal for the ancient Church. They were David Nitschmann I., the Martyr; David Nitschmann II., the first Bishop of the Renewed Church; David Nitschmann III., the Syndic; Melchior Zeisberger, the father of the apostle to the Indians; and John Toeltschig, one of the first Moravian preachers in Yorkshire. They were genuine sons of the Brethren; they used the Catechism of Comenius; they sang the Brethren's hymns in their homes; and now they were looking wistfully forward to the time when the Church would renew her strength like the eagle's. For some months they had made their native village the centre of an evangelical revival. At last events in the village came to a crisis; the young men were summoned before the village judge; and the judge, no other than Toeltschig's father, commanded them to close their meetings, and to take their share, like decen fellows, in the drunken jollifications at the public-house. For the brave " Five Churchmen " there was now no way but one. Forthwith they resolved to quit Moravia, and seek for other Brethren (May 2nd) at Lissa, in Poland; and the very next night 1724. they set out on their journey, singing the Moravian Emigrants' song:
Blessed be the day when I must roam,
Far from my country, friends and home,
An exile poor and mean;
My father's God will be my guide,
Will angel guards for me provide,
My soul in dangers screen.
Himself will lead me to a spot Where,
all my cares and griefs forgot,
I shall enjoy sweet rest.
As pants for cooling streams the hart,
I languish for my heavenly part,
For God, my refuge blest.
For them the chosen haven of rest was Lissa. There the great Comenius had taught; and there, they imagined, Brethren lingered still. As they had, however, heard a good deal from David of the " town " being built at Herrnhut, they resolved to pay a passing call on their nay. At Lower Wiese they called on Pastor Schwedler. He renewed their zeal for the Church in glowing terms.
"My children," he said, "do you know whose descendants you are? It is a hundred years since the persecutions began against your fathers. You are now to enjoy among us that liberty of conscience for the sake of which they shed their blood. We shall see you blossom and flourish in our midst."
It was a memorable day when they (May 12th) arrived at Herrnhut. The first sight of the (1724) holy city did not impress them. The excited David had painted a rosy picture. They expected to find a flourishing town, and all they saw was three small houses, of which only one was finished.
"If three houses make a city," said David Nitschmann, " there are worse places than Herrnhut."
And yet there was something to look at after all. At a little distance from the three small houses, sat Friedrich de Watteville on a log of wood; Christian David was working away at another building; in the afternoon the Count and Countess appeared; and the Count then laid the foundation stone of a college for noblemen's sons. They stayed to see the ceremony. They heard the Count deliver an impressive speech. They heard de Watteville offer a touching prayer. They saw him place his jewels under the stone. They were touched; they stayed; and became the firmest pillars of the rising temple.
And now the stream from Moravia increased in force and volume. Again and again, ten times in all, did the roving David journey to the Moravian dales; and again and again did the loud blast of the trombones in the square announce that yet another band of refugees had arrived. Full many a stirring and thrilling tale had the refugees to tell; how another David Nitschmann, imprisoned in a castle, found a rope at his window and escaped; how David Schneider and another David Nitschmann found their prison doors open; how David Hickel, who had been nearly starved in a dungeon, walked out between his guards in broad daylight, when their backs were turned; how Andrew Beier and David Fritsch had stumbled against their prison door and found that the bolt was loose; how Hans Nitschmann, concealed in a ditch, heard his pursuers, a foot off, say, " This is the place, here he must be," and yet was not discovered after all. No wonder these wanderers felt that angels had screened them on their way. For the sake of their faith they had been imprisoned, beaten, thrust into filthy dungeons. For the sake of their faith they had left behind their goods, their friends, their worldly prospects, had tramped the unknown mountain paths, had slept under hedges, had been attacked by robbers. And now, for the sake of this same faith, these men, though sons of well-to-do people, settled down to lives of manual toil in Herrnhut. And the numbers swelled; the houses rose; and Herrnhut assumed the shape of a hollow square.
At this point, however, a difficulty arose. As the rumour spread in the surrounding country that the Count had offered his estate as an asylum for persecuted Protestants all sorts of religious malcontents came to make Herrnhut their home. Some had a touch of Calvinism, and were fond of discussing free will and predestination; some were disciples of the sixteenth century Anabaptist mystic, Caspar Schwenkteld; some were vague evangelicals from Swabia; some were Lutheran Pietists from near at hand; and some, such as the " Five Churchmen," were descendants of the Brethren's Church, and wished to see her revived on German soil. The result was dissension in the camp. As the settlers learned to know each other better they learned to love each other less. As poverty crept in at the door love flew out of the window. Instead of trying to help each other, men actually tried to cut each other out in business, just like the rest of the world. As the first flush of joy died away, men pointed out each other's motes, and sarcasm pushed charity from her throne; and, worse than all, there now appeared that demon of discord, theological dispute. The chief leader was a religious crank, named Kruger. He was, of course, no descendant of the Brethren's Church. He had quarrelled with a Lutheran minister at Ebersdorf, had been promptly excluded from the Holy Communion, and now came whimpering to Herrnhut, and lifted up his voice against the Lutheran Church. As he did not possess the garment of righteousness, he decked himself out with sham excitement and rhetoric; and, as these are cheap ribbons and make a fine show, he soon gained a reputation as a saint. He announced that he had been commissioned by God with the special task of reforming Count Zinzendorf; described Rothe as the "False Prophet" and Zinzendorf as "The Beast"; denounced the whole Lutheran Church as a Babylon, and summoned all in Herrnhut to leave it; and altogether made such a show of piety and holy devotion to God that his freaks and crotchets and fancies and vagaries were welcomed by the best of men, and poisoned the purest blood. His success was marvellous. As the simple settlers listened to his rapt orations they became convinced that the Lutheran Church was -no better than a den of thieves; and the greater number now refused to attend the Parish Church, and prepared to form a new sect. Christian David himself was led away. He walked about like a shadow; he was sure that Kruger had a special Divine revelation; he dug a private well for himself, and built himself a new house a few yards from the settlement, so that he might not be smirched by the pitch of Lutheran Christianity. Worse and ever worse waxed the confusion. More "horrible"2 became the new notions. The eloquent Kruger went out of his mind; and was removed to the lunatic asylum at Berlin. But the evil that he had done lived after him. The whole city on the hill was now a nest of fanatics. It was time for the Count himself to interfere.
For the last five years, while Herrnhut was growing, the Count had almost ignored the refugees; and had quietly devoted his leisure time to his darling scheme of establishing a village "Church within the Church" at Berthelsdorf. He had still his official State duties to perform. He was still a King's Councillor at Dresden. He spent the winter months in the city and the summer at his country-seat; and as long as the settlers behaved themselves as loyal sons of the Lutheran Church he saw no reason to meddle in their affairs. He had, moreover, taken two wise precautions. He had first issued a public notice that no refugee should settle at Herrnhut unless compelled by persecution; and secondly, he had called a meeting of the refugees themselves, and persuaded them to promise that in all their gatherings they would remain loyal to the Augsburg Confession.
Meanwhile, in the village itself, he had pushed his scheme with vigour. He named his house Bethel; his estate was his parish; and his tenants were his congregation. He had never forgotten his boyish vow to do all in his power to extend the Kingdom of Christ and now he formed another society like the old Order of the Mustard Seed. It was called the " League of the Four Brethren ": it consisted of Zinzendorf, Friedrich de Watteville, and Pastors Rothe and Schafer; and its object was to proclaim to the world, by means of a league of men devoted to Christ, "that mystery and charm of the Incarnation which was not yet sufficiently recognized in the Church." He had several methods of work. As he wished to reach the young folk of noble rank, he had a school for noblemen's sons built on the Hutberg, and a school for noblemen's daughters down in the village; and the members of the League all signed an agreement to subscribe the needful funds for the undertaking. As he wished, further, to appeal to men in various parts of the country, he established a printing-office at Ebersdorf, and from that office sent books, pamphlets, letters, and cheap editions of the Bible in all directions. As he longed, thirdly, for personal contact with leading men in the Church, he instituted a system of journeys to Halle and other centres of learning and piety. But his best work was done in Berthelsdorf. His steward, Heitz, gave the rustics Bible lessons; Pastor Rothe preached awakening sermons in the parish church, and his preaching was, as the Count declared, " as though it rained flames from heaven "; and he himself, in the summer season, held daily singing meetings and prayer meetings in his own house. Hand in hand did he and Rothe work hard for the flock at Berthelsdorf. On a Sunday morning 'the pastor would preach a telling sermon in a crowded church; in the afternoon the squire would gather his tenants in his house and expound to them the morning's discourse. The whole village was stirred; the Church was enlarged; and the Count himself was so in earnest that if the slightest hitch occurred in a service he would burst into tears. While things in Herrnhut were growing worse things in Berthelsdorf were growing better; while stormy winds blew on the hill there was peace and fellowship down in the valley. How closely the Count and the pastor were linked may be seen from the following fact. The Count's family pew in the Church was a small gallery or raised box over the vestry; the box had a trap-door in the floor; the pastor, according to Lutheran custom, retired to the vestry at certain points in the service; and the Count, by opening the aforesaid door, could communicate his wishes to the pastor.
He had now to apply his principles to Herrnhut. As long as the settlers had behaved themselves well, and kept their promise to be loyal to the National Church, he had left them alone to follow their own devices; and even if they sang old Brethren's hymns at their meetings, he had no insuperable objection. But now the time had come to take stern measures. He had taken them in out of charity; he had invited them to the meetings in his house; and now they had turned the place into a nest of scheming dissenters. There was war in the camp. On the one hand, Christian David called Rothe a narrow-minded churchman. On the other hand, Rothe thundered from his pulpit against the " mad fanatics " on the hill. As Jew and Samaritan in days of old, so now were Berthelsdorf and Herrnhut.
At this critical point the Count intervened, (1727) and changed the duel into a duet. He would have no makers of sects on his estate. With all their faults, he believed that the settlers were at bottom broad-minded people. Only clear away the rubbish and the gold would be found underneath.
"Although our dear Christian David," he said, "was calling me the Beast and Mr. Rothe the False Prophet, we could see his honest heart nevertheless and knew we could lead him right. It is not a bad maxim," he added, "when honest men are going wrong to put them into office, and they will learn from experience what they will never learn from speculation."
He acted on that maxim now. He would teach the exiles to obey the law of the land, to bow to his autho rity as lord of the manor, and to live in Christian fellow
ship with each other. Fcr this purpose, he (May 12th) summoned them all to a mass meeting in the Great House on the Hutberg, lectured them for over three hours on the sin of schism, read out the " Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions,"3 which all inhabitants of Herrnhut must promise to obey, and then submitted a number of " Statutes " as the basis of a voluntary religious society. The effect was sudden and swift. At one bound the settlers changed from a group of quarrelling schismatics to an organized body of orderly Christian tenants; and forthwith the assembled settlers shook hands, and promised to obey the Injunctions and Prohibitions.
As soon as the Count had secured good law and order he obtained leave of absence from Dresden, took up his residence at Herrnhut, and proceeded to organize all who wished into a systematic Church within the Church. For this purpose he prepared another agreement, (July 4th) entitled the " Brotherly Union and Compact," signed the agreement first himself, persuaded Christian David, Pastor Schafer and another neighbouring clergyman to do the same, and then invited all the rest to follow suit. Again, the goodwill was practically universal. As the settlers had promised on May 12th to obey the Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions, so now, of their own free will, they signed a promise to end their sectarian quarrels, to obey the " Statutes," and to live in fellowship with Christians of all beliefs and denominations. Thus had the Count accomplished a double purpose. As lord of the manor he had crushed the design to form a separate sect; and as Spener's disciple he had persuaded the descendants of the Bohemian Brethren to form another "Church within the Church."
Nor was this all. As the Brethren looked back in later years to those memorable days in Herrnhut, they came to regard the summer months of 1727 as a holy, calm, sabbatic season, when one and all were quickened and stirred by the power of the Spirit Divine. " The whole place," said Zinzendorf himself, " represented a visible tabernacle of God among men. " For the next four months the city on the hill was the home of ineffable joy; and the very men who had lately quarrelled with each other now formed little groups for prayer and praise. As the evening shadows lengthened across the square the whole settlement met to pray and praise, and talk with each other, like brothers and sisters of one home. The fancies and vagaries fled. The Count held meetings every day. The Church at Berthelsdorf was crowded out. The good David, now appointed Chief Elder, persuaded all to study the art of love Divine by going through the 1st Epistle of St. John. The very children were stirred and awakened. The whole movement was calm, strong, deep and abiding. Of vulgar excitement there was none; no noisy meetings, no extravagant babble, no religious tricks to work on the emotions. For mawkish, sentimental religion the Count had an honest contempt. "It is," he said, "as easy to create religious excitement as it is to stir up the sensual passions; and the former often leads to the latter." As the Brethren met in each other's homes, or on the Hutberg when the stars were shining, they listened, with reverence and holy awe, to the still voice of that Good Shepherd who was leading them gently, step by step, to the green pastures of peace.
Amid the fervour the Count made an announcement which caused every cheek to flush with new delight. He had made a strange discovery. At Zittau, not far away, was a reference library; and there, one day, he found a copy of Comenius's Latin version of the old (July) Brethren's " Account of Discipline." His eyes were opened at last. For the first time in his busy life he read authentic information about the old Church of the Brethren; and discovered, to his amazement and joy, that so far from being disturbers of the peace, with a Unitarian taint in their blood, they were pure upholders of the very faith so dear to his own heart.
His soul was stirred to its depths. "I could not," he said, " read the lamentations of old Comenius, addressed to the Church of England, lamentations called. forth by the idea that the Church of the Brethren had come to an end, and that he was locking its door--I could not read his mournful prayer, 'Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old,' without resolving there and then: I, as far as I can, will help to bring about this renewal. And though I have to sacrifice my earthly possessions, my honours and my life, as long as I live I will do my utmost to see to it that this little flock of the Lord shall be preserved for Him until He come."
And even this was not the strangest part of the story. As the Count devoured the ancient treatise, he noticed that the rules laid down therein were almost the same as the rules which he had just drawn up for the refugeesat Herrnhut. He returned to Herrnhut, reAug. 4th. ported his find, and read the good people extracts from the book. The sensation was profound. If this was like new milk to the Count it was like old wine to the Brethren; and again the fire of their fathers burned in their veins.
And now the coping stone was set on the (Aug. 13th) temple. As the Brethren were learning, step by step, to love each other in true sincerity, Pastor Rothe now invited them all to set the seal to the work by coming in a body to Berthelsdorf Church, and there joining, with one accord, in the celebration of the Holy Communion. The Brethren accepted the invitation with joy. The date fixed was Monday, August 13th. The sense of awe was overpowering. As the Brethren walked down the slope to the church all felt that the supreme occasion had arrived; and all who had quarrelled in the days gone by made a covenant of loyalty and love. At the door of the church the strange sense of awe was thrilling. They entered the building; the service began; the " Confession " was offered by the Count; and then, at one and the same moment, all present, rapt in deep devotion, were stirred by the mystic wondrous touch of a power which none could define or understand. There, in Berthelsdorf Parish Church, they attained at last the firm conviction that they were one in Christ; and there, above all, they believed and felt that on them, as on the twelve disciples on the Day of Pentecost, had rested the purifying fire of the Holy Ghost.
"We learned," said the Brethren, "to love."
"From that time onward," said David Nitschmann," Herrnhut was a living Church of Jesus Christ. We thank the Lord that we ever came to Herrnhut, instead of pressing on, as ve intended, to Poland."
And there the humble Brother spoke the truth. As the Brethren returned that evening to Herrnhut, they felt within them a strength and joy they had never known before. They had realised their calling in Christ. They had won the Divine gift of Christian union. They had won that spirit of brotherly love which only the great Good Spirit could give They had won that sense of fellowship with Christ, and fellowship with one another, which had been the costliest gem in the days of their fathers; and therefore, in future, they honoured the day as the true spiritual birthday of the Renewed Church of the Brethren. It is useless trying to express their feelings in prose. Let us listen to the moving words of the Moravian poet, James Montgomery:
They walked with God in peace and love,
But failed with one another;
While sternly for the faith they strove,
Brother fell out with brother;
But He in Whom they put their trust,
Who knew their frames, that they were dust,
Pitied and healed their weakness.
He found them in His house of prayer,
With one accord assembled,
And so revealed His presence there,
They wept for joy and trembled;
One cup they drank, one bread they brake,
One baptism shared, one language spake,
Forgiving and forgiven.
Then forth they went, with tongues of flame,
In one blest theme delighting,
The love of Jesus and His Name,
God's children all uniting.
That love, our theme and watchword still;
That law of love may we fulfil,
And love as we are loved.
The next step was to see that the blessing Aug. 27th. was not lost. For this purpose the Brethren, a few days later, arranged a system of Hourly Intercession.
As the fire on the altar in the Jewish Temple was never allowed to go out, so the Brethren resolved that in this new temple of the Lord the incense of intercessory prayer should rise continually day and night. Henceforth, Herrnhut in very truth should be the " Watch of the Lord." The whole day was carefully mapped out, and each Brother or Sister took his or her turn. Of all the prayer unions ever organized surely this was one of the most remarkable. It is said to have lasted without interruption for over a hundred years.
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The full edition of J. E. Hutton's History of the Moravian Church is available online at http://everydaycounselor.com/hutton/intro.htm
Special thanks to Dave Turck, who has transcribed the book.
1 "Hutherg" ; i.e., the hill where cattle and sheep were kept secure. The name "Hutberg" was common in Germany, and was applied, of course, to many other hills. For the payment of a small rent the landlords often let out "Hutbergs" to the villagers on their estates.
2. Zinzendorf's expression.
3. These " Injunctions and Prohibitions " are now printed for the first time by J. Muller, in his Zinzendorf als Erneuerer der alten Bruder-Kirche (1900) They must not be confounded with the " Statutes ' printed in the Mem orial Days of the Brethren's