1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Moravian Brethren

MORAVIAN BRETHREN, or Moravian Church, a Christian communion founded in the east of Bohemia. For some years after the death of John Huss (1415), the majority of his followers were split into two contending factions: the Hussite Wars began; and the net result of the conflict seemed to be that while the Utraquists, content with the grant of the cup to the laity, were recognized by the pope as the national Church of Bohemia (1433), the more radical Taborites were defeated at the battle of Lipan (1434) and ceased to exist. But with this result some of Huss's followers, who wished to preserve his spiritual teaching, were not content. They laid great stress on purity of morals; and convinced that the Utraquist Church was morally corrupt, they founded a number of independent societies, first at Kremsir and Meseritsch in Moravia, and then at Wilenow, Diwischau and Chelcic in Bohemia. At this crisis Peter of Chelcic became the leader of the advanced reforming party. In ethics he anticipated much of the teaching of Tolstoy; in doctrine he often appealed to the authority of Wycliffe; and in some of his views it is possible to trace the influence of the Waldenses. He interpreted the Sermon on the Mount literally, denounced war and oaths, opposed the union of Church and State, and declared that the duty of all true Christians was to break away from the national Church and return to the simple teaching of Christ and His apostles. His followers were known as the Brethren of Chelcic, and wore a distinctive dress. His most noted supporter was John Rockycana, archbishop-elect of Prague. He was pastor of the Thein Church (1444), preached Peter's doctrines, recommended his works to his hearers, and finally, when these hearers asked him to lead them, he laid their case before King George Podiebrad, and obtained permission for them to settle in the deserted village of Kunwald, in the barony of Senftenberg. It was here that the new community was founded (1457 or 1458). At their head was Gregory, the patriarch; a layman, said later to be Rockycana's nephew; in Michael Bradacius, the priest of Senftenberg, they found a spiritual teacher; and fresh recruits came streaming in, not only from the other little societies at Kremsir, Meseritsch, Chelcic, Wilenow and Diwischau, but also from the Waldenses, the Adamites, the Utraquist Church at Königgratz, and the university of Prague They called themselves Jednota Bratrska, i.e. the Church or Communion of Brethren; and this is really the correct translation of their later term, Unitas fratrum. At the Synod of Lhota (1467), they broke away entirely from the papacy, elected ministers of their own, and had Michael Bradacius consecrated a bishop by Stephan, a bishop of the Waldenses. At the synod of Reichenau (1495), they rejected the authority of Peter of Chelcic, and accepted the Bible as their only standard of faith and practice. In doctrine they were generally broad and radical. They taught the Apostles' Creed, rejected Purgatory, the worship of saints and the authority of the Catholic Church, practised infant baptism and confirmation, held a view on the Sacrament similar to that of Zwingli, and, differing somewhat from Luther in their doctrine of justification by faith, declared that true faith was "to know God, to love Him, to do His commandments, and to submit to His will." With the Brethren, however, the chief stress was laid, not on doctrine, but on conduct. For this purpose they instituted a severe system of discipline, divided their members into three classes—the Perfect, the Proficient, and the Beginners, and appointed over each congregation a body of lay elders. For the same purpose they made great use of the press. In 1501 Bishop Luke of Prague edited the first Protestant hymn-book; in 1502 he issued a catechism, which circulated in Switzerland and Germany and fired the catechetical zeal of Luther; in 1565 John Blahoslaw translated the New Testament into Bohemian; in 1579–1593 the Old Testament was added; and the whole, known as the Kralitz Bible, is used in Bohemia still. The constitution was practically Presbyterian. At the head of the Church was a body of ten elders, elected by the synod; this synod consisted of all the ministers, and acted as the supreme legislative authority; and the bishops ruled in their respective dioceses, and had a share in the general oversight. The growth of the Brethren was rapid. In 1549 they spread into Great Poland; in the latter half of the century they opened many voluntary schools, and were joined by many of the nobility; and the result was that by 1609, when Rudolph II. granted the Letter of Majesty, they were half the Protestants in Bohemia and more than half in Moravia.

At the very height of their power, however, they were almost crushed out of existence. The cause was the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War (1618). At the battle of the White Hill (1620) the Bohemian Protestants were routed; the Brethren were driven from their homes; the Polish branch was absorbed in the Reformed Church of Poland; and then many fled, some to England, some to Saxony, and some even to Texas. For a hundred years the Brethren were almost extinct. But their bishop, John Amos Comenius (1592–1672), held them together. With an eye to the future, he published their Ratio disciplinae, collected money for the "Hidden Seed" still worshipping in secret in Moravia, and had his son-in-law, Peter Jablonsky, consecrated a bishop, and Peter passed on the succession to his son Daniel Ernest Jablonsky.

The revival of the Moravian Brethren was German in origin. Of the "Hidden Seed" the greater number were Germans; they were probably descended from a colony of German Waldenses, who had come to Moravia in 1480 and joined the Church of the Brethren; and, therefore, when persecution broke out afresh they naturally fled to the nearest German refuge. With Christian David, a carpenter, at their head, they crossed the border into Saxony, settled down near Count Zinzendorf's estate at Berthelsdorf, and, with his permission, built the town of Herrnhut (1722–1727). But under Zinzendorf the history of the Moravians took an entirely new turn. He was a fervent Lutheran of the Pietist type; he believed in Spener's "ecclesiola" conception; and now he tried to apply the conception to the Moravian refugees. For some years he had a measure of success. Instead of reviving Moravian orders at once, the settlers attended the Berthelsdorf parish church, regarded themselves as Lutherans, agreed to a code of "statutes" drawn up by the count, accepted the Augsburg Confession as their standard of faith, and, joining with some Lutheran settlers in a special Communion service in Berthelsdorf (Aug. 13, 1727), had such a powerful unifying experience that modern Moravians regard that day as the birthday of the renewed Moravian Church. From that period two conflicting ideals were at work among the Moravians. In form the Moravian Church was soon restored. Before long persecution broke out against Herrnhut; the count sent a band of emigrants to Georgia; and as these emigrants would require their own ministers, he had David Nitschmann consecrated a bishop by Jablonsky (1735). In this way the Moravian orders were maintained; the "ecclesiola" became an independent body, and the British parliament recognized the Brethren as "an ancient Protestant Episcopal Church" (1749, 22 Geo. II. cap. 120). And yet, on the other hand, Zinzendorf's conception continued long in force. It hampered the Brethren's progress in Germany, and explains the smallness of their numbers there. Instead of aiming at Church extension, they built settlements on the estates of friendly noblemen, erected Brethren's and Sisters' houses, and cultivated a quiet type of spiritual life. It is true that they evangelized all over Germany; but this part of their work was known as the Diaspora (1 Pet. i. 1); and the idea underlying this word is that the Brethren minister to the "scattered" in other Churches without drawing them into the Moravian Church. In Germany, therefore, the importance of the Moravians must be measured, not by their numbers, but by their influence upon other Christian bodies. It was from the Moravians that Schleiermacher learnt his religion, and they even made a passing impression on Goethe; but both these men were repelled by their doctrine of the substitutionary sufferings of Christ.

In reply to the very natural question why the Moravians began their work in England, the answer given by history is that John Wesley, on his voyage to Georgia (1735) met some Moravian emigrants; that on his return he met Peter Boehler, who was on his way to North Carolina; that through Boehler's influence both John and Charles Wesley were "converted" (1738). For a few years they took an active share in the Evangelical Revival (1738–1755); but Zinzendorf's "ecclesiola" policy prevented their growth, and not till 1853 did the English Moravians resolve to aim at "the extension of the Brethren's Church." In foreign missions the distinctive feature about the Moravians is, not that they were so early in the field (1732), but that they were the first Protestants to declare that the evangelization of the heathen was the duty of the Church as such. Hitherto it had been a part of colonial policy. It was this that made their missions so influential.

Present Condition.—I. Enterprises: (1) Foreign missions in Labrador, Alaska, Canada, California, West Indies, Nicaragua, Demerara, Surinam, Cape Colony, Kaffraria, German East Africa, North Queensland, West Himalaya. (2) Leper Home near Igerusalem (1867). (3) Diaspora in Germany, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Poland. (4) Church extension in Germany, Great Britain, North America. (5) Boarding Schools: German province, 14; British, 7; American, 5. (6) Church Revival in Bohemia and Moravia, begun in 1869, and sanctioned by the Austrian government (1880).

II. Orders and Constitution.—The orders of the ministry are bishops, presbyters, deacons. But the bishops have no dioceses. Their chief function is to ordain, and to act as "intercessors." The supreme legislative board is the General Synod. It consists of delegates elected by each province, certain ex officio members, and representatives from the mission field. At present the Moravian Church is divided into four provinces, German, British, American North and American South (North Carolina). In provincial matters each province is independent, holds its own synods, makes its own laws, and elects its own governing board; but the General Synod meets, on the average, every ten years at Herrnhut, and its regulations are binding in all the provinces. The foreign missions are managed by a mission board, elected by the General Synod. There is also a standing court of appeal, known as Unity's Elders' Conference, and consisting of the Mission Board and four provincial boards. It is the Church's representative in the eyes of the law. In Germany the official title of the Church is Evangelische Brüder-Unität; in Austria, Evangelische Brüder-Kirche; in England and America, Moravian Church.

III. Doctrine.—At the last General Synod (1909) they repeated their old fundamental principle that "the Holy Scriptures are our only rule of faith and practice"; but at the same time they declared that their interpretation of Scripture agreed substantially with the Nicene Creed, the Westminster and Augsburg Confessions, and the Thirty-nine Articles. Since 1879 their leading doctrines have been formulated as follows: (1) the total depravity of man; (2) the real Godhead and real humanity of Christ; (3) justification and redemption through the sacrifice of Christ; (4) work of the Holy Spirit; (5) good works as fruits of the Spirit; (6) fellowship of believers; (7) second coming of Christ; (8) resurrection of the dead to life or judgment.

IV. Ceremonies.—At morning worship the service consists of a litany, scripture lessons, sermon, singing, extempore prayer. At the evening service a litany is rarely used. The Communion is celebrated once a month. Infant Baptism is practised. There are three modes of admission to membership: in the case of the unbaptized, adult baptism (not immersion); in other cases confirmation or reception. Members from other Churches are generally admitted by reception.

V. Church Policy.—It is now held by some Moravians that their Church offers a via media between Anglicanism and Dissent. At the last meeting of the Lambeth Conference (1907) some overtures, on certain conditions, were made for (a) joint consecration of bishops, (b) joint ordination of ministers, (c) interchange of pulpits. In response the Moravians, at the General Synod (1909), welcomed the offer, but also declared their wish (a) to preserve their independence as a "Protestant Episcopal Church"; (b) to co-operate freely as heretofore with other Evangelical Churches. On this question negotiations are still in progress.

VI. Statistics 1909.
Province. Congregations. Communicants.
German 23 6,213
British 42 3,782
American (N.) 96 13,932
American (S.) 26 4,019
Bohemia 12 684
Foreign Field 245 33,466

Total 444 62,096

Literature.—Gindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen-Brüder (1858); Goll, Quellen u. Untersuchungen zur Gesch. d. Böhm.-Brüder (1882); Müller, Das Bischofstum der Brüder-Kirche (1888); Zinzendorf als Erneuerer der alten Brüder-Kirche (1900); Die deutschen Katechismen d. Böhm.-Brüder (1887); Becker, Zinzendorf und sein Christentum im Verhältnis zum kirchlichen u. religiösen Leben seiner Zeit (1900); Schulze, Abrisz einer Geschichte der Brüder-Mission (1901); Seifferth, Church Constitution of the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren (1866); De Schweinitz, History of the Unitas Fratrum (1885); Wauer, Beginnings of the Brethren's Church in England (1901); Hamilton, History of the Moravian Church in the 18th and 19th Centuries (1900); Hutton, History of the Moravian Church (1909); Moravian Church Book (1902); Moravian Almanac (annual). For other sources see articles "Böhmische-Brüder" and "Zinzendorf" in Hauck's Realencyklopaedie; and for latest results of historical research, Zeitschrift für Brüdergeschichte (half-yearly). (J. E. H.)