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Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf
His ancestors belonged to Lower Austria, but had taken the Protestant side in the Reformation struggle, and settled near Nuremberg. His parents belonged to the Pietist circle and the lad had Philipp Jakob Spener for his godfather. His father died six weeks after he was born. His mother married again when he was four years old, and he was educated under the charge of his pious and gifted grandmother, Catherine von Gersdorf , who did much to shape his character.
His school days were spent at Halle amidst Pietist surroundings, and in 1716 he went to the university of Wittenberg, to study law and fit himself for a diplomatic career. Three years later he was sent to travel in the Netherlands, in France, and in various parts of Germany, where he made the personal acquaintance of men distinguished for practical goodness and belonging to a variety of churches. On his return he visited the branches of his family settled at Oberbirg and at Castell. During a lengthened visit at Castell he fell in love with his cousin Theodora; but the widowed countess, her mother, objected to the marriage, and the lady afterwards became the wife of Count Henry of Reuss.
Zinzendorf seems to have considered this disappointment as a call to some special work for God. He had previously, in deference to his family, who wished him to become a diplomatist, rejected the invitation of August Francke to take Baron von Canstein's place in the Halle orphanage; and he now resolved to settle down as a Christian landowner, spending his life on behalf of his tenantry. He bought Berthelsdorf from his grandmother, and selected John Andrew Rothe for pastor and John George Heiz for factor; he married Erdmute Dorothea, sister of Count Henry of Reuss, and began living on his estate.
His intention was to carry out into practice the Pietist ideas of Spener. He did not mean to found a new church or religious organization distinct from the Lutheranism of the land, but to create a Christian association the members of which by preaching, by tract and book distribution and by practical benevolence might awaken the somewhat torpid religion of the Lutheran Church. The "band of four brothers" (Rothe, pastor at Berthelsdorf; Melchior Schaffer, pastor at Gorlitz; Francis von Wattewille, a friend from boyhood; and himself) set themselves by sermons, books, journeys and correspondence to create a revival of religion, and by frequent meetings for prayer to preserve in their own hearts the warmth of personal trust in Christ. From the printing-house at Ebersdorf large quantities of books and tracts, catechisms, collections of hymns and cheap Bibles were issued; and a translation of Johann Arndt's True Christianity was published for circulation in France.
A dislike of the high and dry Lutheran orthodoxy of the period gave Zinzendorf some sympathy with that side of the growing rationalism which was attacking dogma, while at the same time he felt its lack of earnestness, and of a true and deep understanding of religion and of Christianity, and endeavoured to counteract these defects by pointing men to the historical Christ, the revelation of the Father. He seems also to have doubted the wisdom of Spener's plan of not separating from the Lutheran Church, and began to think that true Christianity could be best promoted by free associations of Christians, which in course of time might grow into churches with no state connection. These thoughts took a practical turn from his connexion with the Bohemian or Moravian Brethren. Zinzendorf offered an asylum to a number of persecuted wanderers from Moravia, and built for them the village of Herrnhut on a corner of his estate of Berthelsdorf. The refugees who came to this asylum (between 1722 and 1732--the first detachment under Christian David) from various regions where persecution raged, belonged to more than one Protestant organization. Persecution had made them cling pertinaciously to small peculiarities of creed, organization and worship, and they could scarcely be persuaded to live in peace with each other.
Zinzendorf devoted himself to them. He, with his wife and children, lived in Herrnhut and brought Rothe with him. He had hard work to bring order out of the confusion. He had to satisfy the authorities that his religious community could be brought under the conditions of the peace of Augsburg; he had to quiet the suspicions of the Lutheran clergy; and, hardest of all, he had to rule in some fashion men made fanatical by persecution, who, in spite of his unwearied labours for them, on more than one occasion, it is said, combined in his own house to denounce him as the Beast of the Apocalypse, with Rothe as the False Prophet. Patience had at last its perfect work, and gradually Zinzendorf was able to organize his refugees into something like a militia Christi, based not on monastic but on family life. He was able to establish a common order of worship in 1727, and soon afterwards a common organization.
Zinzendorf took the deepest interest in mission, sending out missionaries among slaves in the Danish-governed West Indies and the Inuit of Greenland. His personal relations to the court of Denmark and to King Christian VI facilitated such missionary endeavours. He saw with delight the spread of this Protestant family order in Germany, Denmark, Russia and England. He travelled widely in its interests, visiting America in 1741-42 and spending a long time in London in 1750. Missionary colonies had by this time been settled in the West Indies (1732), in Greenland (1733), amongst the North American Indians (1735); and before Zinzendorf's death the Brethren had sent from Herrnhut missionary colonies to Livonia and the northern shores of the Baltic, to the slaves of North Carolina, to Suriname, to the Negro slaves in several parts of South America, to Travancore in the East Indies, to the Copts in Egypt, to the Inuit of Labrador, and to the west coast of South Africa.
The community in Herrnhut, from which almost all these colonies had been sent out, had no money of its own, and its expenses had been almost exclusively furnished by Zinzendorf. His frequent journeyings from home made it almost impossible for him to look after his private affairs; he was colnpelled from time to time to raise money by loans, and about 1750 was almost reduced to bankruptcy. This led to the establishment of a financial board among the Brethren, on a plan furnished by a lawyer, John Frederick Köber, which worked well. In 1752 Zinzendorf lost his only son, Christian Renatus, whom he had hoped to make his successor; and four years later he lost his wife Erdmute, who had been his counsellor and confidante in all his work. Zinzendorf remained a widower for one year, and then (June 1757) contracted a second marriage with Anna Nitschmann, on the ground that a man in his official position ought to be married. Three years later, overcome with his labours, he fell ill and died (on the 9th of May 1760), leaving John de Wattewille, who had married his eldest daughter Benigna, to take his place at the head of the community.
Zinzendorf had a naturally alert and active mind, and an enthusiastic temperament that made his life one of ceaseless planning and executing. Like Luther, he was often carried away by strong and vehement feelings, and he was easily upset both by sorrow and joy. He was an eager seeker after truth, and could not understand men who at all costs kept to the opinions they had once formed; yet he had an exceptional talent for talking on religious subjects even with those who differed from him. Few men have been more solicitous for the happiness and comfort of others, even in little things. His activity and varied gifts sometimes landed him in oddities and contradictions that not infrequently looked like equivocation and dissimulation, and the courtly training of his youth made him susceptible about his authority even when no one disputed it. He was a natural orator, and though his dress was simple his personal appearance gave an impression of distinction and force. His projects were often misunderstood, and in 1736 he was even banished from Saxony, but in 1749 the government rescinded the decree and begged him to establish within its jurisdiction more, settlements like that at Herrnhut.
He wrote a large number of hymns, of which the best, known are "Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness," and "Jesus, still lead on." A selection of his Sermons was published by G Clemens in 10 vols., his Diary (1716-1719) by G Reichel and J Tb. Muller (Herrnhut, 1907), and his Hymns, etc., by H Bauer and G Burkhardt (Leipzig, 1900).
See AG Spangenberg, Leben des Grafen von Zinzendorf (Barby, 1772-1775); L von Schrautenbach, Der Graf v. Zinfendorf (Gnadau, 1871; written in 1782, and interesting because it gives Zinzendorf's relations to such Pietist rationalists as JK Dippel); F Bovet, Le Comte de Zinzendorf (Paris, 1860; Eng. tr. A Pioneer of Social Christianity, by TA Seed, London, 1896); B Becker, Zinzendorf im TTerhältniss z. Philosophie u. Kirchenthum seiner Zeit (Leipzig, 1886); H Romer, Zinzendorf's Leben und Werken (Gnaudau, 1900), and the article "Zinzendorf" by J Tb. Muller in Hauck-Herzog's Realencyk. für prot. Theologie u. Kirche.
- This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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