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Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf- the eighteenth-century leader and theologian of the Moravian Church, which was renewed on his Saxon estate, and a pioneer of the modem mission movement-also pioneered both ecumenical relationships and ecumenical experiments. This Included attempting to create an ecumenical Protestant church in Pennsylvania in 1742 and constituting the Moravian Church as a fellowship that included three traditions: Lutheran, Reformed, and Ancient Moravian. He also explored relationships with the Roman Catholic Church and was deeply influenced by its mystical tradition. Also significant was his formulation of theology, which understood the foundation of faith as the "heart relationship with the Savior" (an intuitive response, only secondarily Intellectual) and understood the Savior in terms of Christ's woundedness and renunciation of power. Zinzendorf took most seriously the texts of the Christian scriptures that describe Christ as the agent of creation, thus establishing a continuity betw een creation and salvation (the Creator is also oar Savior, In whose saving work is accomplished the Creator's love and desire to complete the creation of each soul) and a commonality of experience between those religions who know the Creator and those who know Christ.

May 26, 2000, is the 300th anniversary of Zinzendorf's birth.

Two hundred years before "our ecumenical century," Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) [1] engaged in a number of pioneering experiments in ecumenicity. He was himself an interesting ecumenical symbol: a nobleman in Lutheran Saxony with deep Pietist roots and also, by recognition of two university faculties, a Lutheran clergyman (although never formally ordained), a Moravian bishop who was consecrated by a Reformed court preacher in Berlin who was one of two surviving bishops of the Ancient Moravian Church, and a church leader with close relations both to the eighteenth-century Evangelical Revival in England and to the Anglican Church.

Born in Dresden, Saxony, he was heir to a long, noble family line, tracing back to the duchy of Austria, upon whose head Leopold II conferred the office of count of the Holy Roman Empire. Part of the family embraced the Reformation and, under pressure during the Counter Reformation, moved north, entering into the service of the elector of Saxony. Zinzendorf's own father served as privy councilor at Dresden.

The eighteenth-century Renewed Moravian religious community [2] with which Zinzendorf was closely associated - and which became the arena for his own strong religious vocation - led to "the rediscovery of the world-wide missionary calling of the church," [3] carrying out mission efforts in five continents, from Africa to Greenland, from the West Indies to Russia. Zinzendorfs ecumenical efforts need to be seen in relation to that mission. Both were expressions of the commitment to follow the living Christ into the world. So strong was that commitment that, beginning in 1741, the Moravian Church, instead of choosing a leader from its ranks, recognized Christ as its Chief Elder. In that way it hoped truly to be open to the directions, designs, and creative dynamics of the Savior (though not always, as its history reveals, with unerring discernment). [4] The animating idea was not different from that expressed at the 1948 Assembly of the newly formed World Council of Churches: "Christ has made us His own, and he is not divided. In seeking Him we find one another."

Zinzendorf was shaped by the cultural, philosophical, and religious streams of his day. This essay will sketch the temper of those times, then examine the experiences that shaped Zinzendorf ecumenically, move on to the ventures he undertook in exploring the oneness of community united in Christ, and finally focus on the ecumenical theology that informed the ventures. Ventures and theology belong together. For Zinzendorf, as for any of us, life, religious community, and mission are the places where theology is explored and tested. The author hopes readers will explore and reflect on the relationship of Zinzendorf's thought and action to their own theological traditions, sense of mission, and Christian-unity concerns.

The Times

The seventeenth century had been a time of great turmoil in Europe. It began with the conclusion of the revolt in the Netherlands against the Spanish Hapsburg ruler, Philip II of Spain, who sought to counter Calvinist influence there by introducing the Inquisition. Then, in May, 1618, Protestant noblemen in Bohemia threw two royal governors out the windows of Hradcany Palace in Prague. This event marked the beginning of the devastating Thirty Years' War that halved the population in various areas of Europe. The eighteenth century must be seen against the memory of this terrible time when most of Europe was plunged into suffering, ostensibly for religious causes. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 allowed Lutherans, Reformed, and Roman Catholics to exist in various regions according to the religion of the prince. There was no place for others, who were suppressed. For 100 years, the Ancient Moravian Church in Bohemia and Moravia remained underground, except for a few congregations in Poland, until in 1722 some M oravians found refuge on the estate Zinzendorf purchased from his grandmother.

Amid the seventeenth-century struggles and the memory of centuries of religious strife, something else was being born. A new, secular approach to life was developing, with an emphasis on rational and empirical inquiry to overcome dogma and superstition and a new confidence in human possibilities. By the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment was flourishing. In the case of religious matters, the call was for toleration, and there was an invitation to perceive historic religious traditions in light of a more universal and enduring natural religion founded on reason (Diderot). God was seen as the force permeating and shaping the world from within, rather than being separate and interventionist, and religion was understood as perhaps a divine plan to educate humanity (Lessing). Zinzendorf read widely in the literature of the age and was appreciative of the issues raised and the various efforts to address them, and he formulated his own critical and creative responses.

There were responses within and from the churches. Some were protective and defensive, arguing for the uniqueness of religious traditions and institutions over against the challenges of science and historical criticism and the assertion of human potential. Others, such as the Philadelphian movement of Jane Leade, which came to the continent from England, [5] sought a centering in Christ and Christ's coming reign to transcend the particularism of Christian traditions. Pietist emphasis on religious experience itself fostered a lessened dependence on religious tradition. The radical Pietists separated entirely from the established churches. There were many readers of Gottfried Arnold (1666-1714), who translated Spanish and French mystical writings into German. Arnold believed that the true church consisted of those who were born again and that these were both inside and outside the confessional churches. In his famous History of the Undivided Church and the History of Heresy, he attempted to identify the true m ystical theology in all ages and believed there were true Christians in every age (as did Zinzendorf), rejecting a common northern European view that after the apostolic era, until the Reformation, the true church was not to be found. His affirmation was that at the end of history all divisions will disappear so that Christ becomes all in all. [6]

Ecumenical Experience

Zinzendorf's religious life was very much affected by his own experience. His father died three months after he was born. His mother remarried soon after, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother. As he grew up, the Lutheran, Pietistic, and Philadelphian currents of religious thinking that flowed through this cultured woman's household influenced him. Pietist leaders Jakob Philipp Spener and August Hermann Francke were friends and guests there. He was sent at a young age to school in the university town of Halle, so deeply shaped by Francke, but then educated at Wittenberg University where Francke's views were opposed. His Wanderjahr of additional study, which took him to Holland, Switzerland, and France, put him in touch with a variety of cultures, thought, and institutions. It was during this travel time that he developed a lasting friendship with the Jansenist Cardinal Noailles of Paris and also became better acquainted with the Reformed tradition. He married Erdmuth Dorothea von Reuss, whose family housed at their castle a Philadelphian ecumenical community.

His position in the nobility also gave ecumenical breadth, thrusting him into relations with other nobles not of his own tradition. He had continuing contacts with Jews and believed that the God of the Jewish tradition was really the Savior who, as the Christian scriptures taught him, was also Creator and therefore the God of all religion (for example, Jn. 1:1-18). He emphasized that the Jewish tradition had been the very adequate nurturing ground for the spiritual life of Jesus. [7] Then, in 1722, with the arrival of the Moravians, he was confronted with a pre-Reformation Christian tradition that, after generations of religious suppression, was gradually rediscovering its religious identity. Religion thus flowed richly in rather amazing variety through Zinzendorf's life experience. One Zinzendorf scholar concluded that his "was the last great mind who strove for the lost unity of Europe." [8]

While these contacts provided him with a breadth of experience of Christianity in its historical forms and of Christ mediated through various communities, Zinzendorf's experience of Christ was also intensely personal. At age eight, he had been affected by arguments for atheism and spent one long night in "meditation and deep speculation" about this, concluding that

because my heart is sincerely devoted to the Savior and many times I had wondered whether it were possible that there could be another God than he - so -- I would rather be damned with the Savior than be blessed with another God -- so had speculation and rational deductions which returned to me again and again, no power with me other than to make me anxious and destroy my sleep. But in my heart they had not the least effect. What I believed, that I wanted; what I thought, that was odious to me.

Here was a discovery "that has stayed with me even to the present," that reason, the intellect, so useful in human matters for explaining and delineating, could not guide him in the resolution of religious questions. He resolved in spiritual matters to remain with "heart-grasped truth." [9]

Ecumenical Ventures

One of Zinzendorf's earliest ecumenical ventures was his attempt at age nineteen to bring together representatives of Halle Pietism with the orthodox Lutheran scholars at Wittenberg. Because of his family's opposition, the Colloquy could not succeed. At twenty-two, while family pressure forced him to enter service in the court at Dresden rather than the service of the church, he continued to envision establishing a society within the Lutheran parish church on his Berthelsdorf estate along the lines of the Pietist ecclesiolae and the establishment of various charitable and educational institutions patterned after those at Halle. By 1726, with the increasing numbers of refugees from Moravia, along with others settling on his estate, and the development there of religious conflict, Zinzendorf became increasingly concerned for and involved with that community. He helped them reconcile their conflicting traditions, presented them with Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions, and developed with them a Brotherly Agre ement that would determine their life together. Then on August 13, 1727, at a communion service at the Lutheran parish church in Berthelsdorf, a deep spiritual experience developed among the settlers, which served to confirm and strengthen them as a community with a calling.

Within a few years members of this community began working in pietistic societies (later to be called Diaspora Societies) within the territorial churches in Europe and also sending missionaries to the West Indies, Greenland, and the North American colony of Georgia. Now the need was pressed upon Zinzendorf to develop cooperative relations with regional European churches and the established churches of the territories to which the Moravians were going in mission. In 1731, his wife's cousin's coronation as King of Denmark became the opportunity for Zinzendorf to begin negotiations with the Danish government and the Danish Lutheran Church, which enabled Moravian missions in Danish possessions. By 1749 negotiations with the British Parliament and the Archbishop of Canterbury leading to the recognition of the Moravian Church as an ancient Protestant Episcopal Church were complete, and thus there was freedom to function in British colonies also. [10]

With the failure of their first North American settlement, begun in Georgia in 1735, the Moravians went to Pennsylvania, first settling in Nazareth to work with George Whitefield, later relocating in what became the settlement of Bethlehem. Zinzendorf saw that William Penn's Woods, intentionally free of religious establishment, offered a unique opportunity for ecumenical experimentation. When he visited Pennsylvania in late 1741, he added his voice to those who as "the Associated Brethren of Skippack" had been working together to find ways of addressing the religious needs of the unorganized German-speaking settlers on the frontier. They convened in January, 1742, an ecumenical gathering of Protestants, most of German background, including Lutherans, Reformed, Moravians, Quakers, Mennonites, Baptists (including the Ephrata Cloister and those now known as the Church of the Brethren), Schwenkfelders, Separatists, Hermits, Inspired, and others. Seven formative meetings were held from January to June, 1742, afte r which quarterly meetings were held. What began as a conference of different religious traditions to enable cooperative witness had, by the conclusion of the third meeting, developed into a "Church of God in the Spirit." Sometimes calling itself the Pennsylvania General Synod, it became an ecumenical community of churches intending to function together while retaining the identity of their traditions. Involvement in mission to the West Indies, Surinam, and the North American Indians was discussed, and a school was begun in Germantown.

Although Zinzendorf played a major role from the beginning in this movement and at the second meeting was chosen Syndic or Moderator, the Moravian Church itself did not formally join until the seventh meeting in June, 1742, when the arrival of Moravians from overseas gave them enough members to constitute a church. After the fourth meeting, most groups dropped formal representation, except for the Lutherans and the Reformed and the Moravians -- who were not yet constituted as a church. The coming of Henry Muhlenberg (Lutheran) in 1742 with his assignment from Halle and Michael Schlatter (Reformed) in 1746 with his assignment from the Dutch Synods signaled the demise of the experiment. They came in order to reestablish in Pennsylvania the European traditions as distinct entities. In the short space of five years the Pennsylvania Synod came to an end. The Moravians, like the others, turned their attention to the development of their own settlements.

The story of this attempt makes fascinating reading. [11] Henry Antes (Reformed, and a member of the ecumenical Brethren of Skippack) sent the following letter to religious leaders inviting them to participate in the initial Conference of Religions on New Year's Day, 1742. It well represents the spirit and thinking that animated the effort:

Inasmuch as frightful evil is wrought in the Church of Christ, among the souls that have been called to the Lamb (to follow Christ) mainly through mistrust and suspicion towards each other -- and that often without reason --whereby every purpose of good is continually thwarted -- although we have been commanded to love; it has been under consideration for two years or more, whether it would not be possible to appoint a general assembly, not to wrangle about opinions, but to treat with each other in love on the most important articles of faith, in order to ascertain how closely we can approach each other fundamentally, and, as for the rest, bear with one another in love on opinions which do not subvert the ground of salvation; and whether in this way, all judging and criticizing might not be diminished and done away with among the aforesaid souls, by which they expose themselves before the world and give occasion to say: those who preach peace and conversion are themselves at variance. Therefore this matter, so important, has now been under advisement again with many brethren and God-seeking souls, and been weighed before the Lord; and it has been decided to meet on the coming New Year's Day at Germantown. [12]

Zinzendorf learned much from this experience. On his return to Europe he was also deeply concerned regarding what had happened during his absence. Members of the church who came from Moravia and claimed some allegiance to the Ancient Moravian Church, asserting a hope (not for the first time) for the reestablishment of their tradition, had actually been negotiating with European rulers for recognition of the Moravian Church as a separate Protestant church. This was something Zinzendorf never intended, although his acquaintance with this heritage had deepened and he was especially protective of it. Upon his return he arrived at the Tropus concept as a way of preserving the integrity of the traditions included in the Moravian Church.

Tropus is Latin for "way" or "type"; tropus paidiae means a "type of teaching." Each Christian tradition should be seen as having its way of teaching. Inspired by the experiment that had failed to bear permanent fruit in Pennsylvania, Zinzendorf established within the Moravian Church three Tropi, and for many years separate membership lists were retained for each -- Lutheran, Reformed, and Moravian -- with the community committed to preserving the treasures of each tradition. Already in 1735 the first bishop of the whole Moravian Church (including these three traditions) had been consecrated at the hands of one of the last remaining bishops of the Ancient Moravian Church, Daniel Ernst Jablonski, grandson of Bishop John Amos Comenius and court preacher at Berlin. Zinzendorf, with the approval of Prussian King Frederick William and after an investigation into his orthodoxy by the Lutheran deans at Berlin (at his own request), was himself consecrated a bishop two years later. Zinzendorf had approved this episco pate in the service of foreign missions. It provided the Moravian missionaries with valid ordinations (Lutheran orders not having been introduced into the community despite its close Lutheran ties) and episcopally sanctioned ordinations that were valuable in British territories.

Brudergemeine (Brethren's Church or Fellowship of Brethren) was the term used to refer to the whole Moravian Church -- after the name of the Ancient Moravian Church, Unity of the Brethren (Unitas Fratrum). Allegiance to both the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran) and the Articles of the Synod of Berne (the Reformed Confession that Zinzendorf felt best complemented the Augsburg Confession) was affirmed by the whole community. Thus, the failed Pennsylvania experiment was preserved within the Moravian Church. Later, an Anglican Tropus was considered, but this did not develop.

Gerhard Meyer [14] has argued that the Catholic dimension in Zinzendorf's views (as significant an influence, in his opinion, as the writings of the early Luther) must be taken very seriously. Certainly, mysticism emerging from Catholic Europe at times found a natural resonance in Pietism and profoundly influenced Zinzendorf. [15] Meyer saw Zinzendorf's use of devotional paintings as related to Catholic influence and his use of the language about the Savior's blood and wounds as having precedence in Catholic mysticism. [16] Peter Vogt recently described visitors' impressions of eighteenth-century Moravian worship as "festive stillness," a type of singing close to chant. [17] As the church following the living Christ, in worship the community understood itself to be joining the heavenly congregation, and its settlements - not unlike in monasticism -- shaped a communal life patterned after heaven.

Zinzendorf's s ventures in developing direct contacts with persons in the Roman Catholic Church are especially interesting. These were played down as a brief interest of his youth by both his eighteenth-century biographer, Moravian Bishop Spangenberg, and the later Moravian Church. Recent scholarship suggests it was a lifelong interest that he did not want to pursue publicly after 1730 because of misunderstandings it might create with the Saxon government and others questioning his Lutheran orthodoxy. His introduction as a young man in Paris to the Jansenist Cardinal Louis de Noailles in 1719 was the beginning of a remarkable relationship in which both shared their faith and discussed religious issues. [18] Zinzendorf did his own translation into French of Johann Arndt's True Christianity, which he published in 1725, with a dedication to the cardinal, to whom he had it presented. Noailles served as godfather for several of Zinzendorf's children. So also did the Catholic prince Froben Ferdinand Furst zu Furst enberg, [19] to whom Zinzendorf dedicated his "Christian-Catholic Song and Prayer Book" in 1727. [20] The book consisted of seventy-nine hymns by Johann Scheffler, whose songs reflect the mysticism of St. Bernard, along with an appendix of other materials collected by Zinzendorf. He also wrote a draft for a letter (never sent) to Pope Benedict XIII concerning the book. [21]

Though Zinzendorf projected and attempted relationships with the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, the Moravian mission to Russia did not materialize until after his death. However, his understanding of theology and church expressed a kinship with the Orthodox: worship expressing relationship with heaven, the use of devotional paintings similar to icons, and his devotion to the Gospel of John as the culmination of theological development in the Christian scriptures. He even rejected the "filioque," arguing that the inner nature of the Trinity cannot be described.


In what follows I will summarize Zinzendorf's theology insofar as it has implications for ecumenism. To avoid a proliferation of footnotes, I refer the reader to my An Ecumenical Theology of the Heart. [22]

The Heart and the Savior

In the Foreword to his Zinzendorf and Catholicism, Meyer noted Zinzendorf's connection with Leibniz and his circle and an important difference between them:

Leibniz sought a unification of points from above while Zinzendorf sought the opposite way, not seeking to gain unity by a process of thought, but taking his point of departure only from the "heart," from the human being. The unifying bond of this "heart-piety" is a "love of the Savior." The great stream of mysticism which emerged from Catholic Europe and resonated with Pietism formed a part of the Count's striving for unity. The other part came from the second great movement in Europe at the time: the Enlightenment. [23]

We have briefly noted the significance of Enlightenment thought for Zinzendorf and turn now to the Savior- and heart-piety that was the basis for his approach to ecumenism. The heart, in this approach, assumes an appropriate role as the source of religious knowledge. Zinzendorf spoke of it as an inner organ of perception that can know religious truth in a direct and objective way that reason, useful in relation to other matters, cannot. This way of thinking represented Zinzendorf's philosophical reflection and his experience as well. In the Enlightenment many spoke of a struggle between head and heart, meaning a struggle of their reason with emotional attachment to a faith of previous importance in their lives. This was far from his view of the heart as an organ of perception in religion. [24] Heart-piety or heart-religion was not for him a matter of inner feeling or emotional attachment. Indeed, it was possible for an experience of the heart not to have feelings connected to it. What was involved was not a subjective but an objective perception and knowledge of the real and objective Savior by the inner person with her/his inner senses.

True religious community, or church, is based upon a shared experience of this same Savior, who reveals and leads in ways appropriate to individuality, traditions, and culture. It thus embraces both a shared common heart-knowledge of the Savior and variety in its expression. Zinzendorf argued against uniformity, which he believed was contrary to the historical nature of human existence. "Gemeine," a word used by Luther for church in his translation of the Bible, was the primary word used for this community, or church. Its root is "gemein" (common). In Moravian parlance "Gemeine" could refer to the church in many dimensions: the universal and invisible church, the international Moravian Church, a congregation, that is, any or all those communities -- local, national, international, or universal -- that were constituted by the relationship with the Savior. "Kirche" was used primarily for the universal and invisible church. For denominations or Christian traditions, Zinzendorf used the English term "religion." All of the Gemeinen were constituted by their being in relationship with Christ, not by their formulations of faith and order, however similar, nor by their type of religious experience or conversion. The universal church included persons from all religions who shared the heart relationship with the Savior.

The Character of the Savior

The Savior, who is the common and constitutive experience of the churches, is a particular kind of Savior, born into the world as a baby and suffering the conditions of human existence, including the cross. In many religious traditions, Christian and non-Christian, God is represented as a great king or emperor, exercising irresistible power, rewarding and punishing, dwelling in glory apart from the world. These understandings of God are continually challenged in the Gospels by Jesus' sayings and deeds, for example, Mk. 10:35-45 (he is not to be lord over others but to be servant) and Mk. 8:27-38 (in response to Peter's acknowledgement of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus reminds his disciples of his suffering and theirs). Paul preserved this in his writings, for example, 1 Cor. 1:18ff. (the word of the cross is foolish and weak, yet wiser than human wisdom and stronger than human strength), 2 Cor. 4:7 (the very earthenness of human vessels both masks and reveals the nature of this extraordinary power belonging to God and not to us), and 2 Cor. 11:22-12:10 (Paul places side-by-side his own sufferings with the reality of the God who said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.").

Zinzendorf's favorite passage that indicates the character of the Savior was the account of resurrection appearances in Jn. 20. Mary Magdalene was not to hold on to Jesus, for he had not yet ascended. He then ascended and returned to his disciples, showing them his wounds, retained even after his resurrection and ascension. He chose, in identification with humanity and in his unique way of being God, to continue to bear his wounds and humanity. Zinzendorf liked also to recount the story of a bishop named Martin, to whom Satan appeared in the likeness of the Savior, but in the form of a king surrounded with heavenly glory. Martin asked: "If you are Christ, where are your wounds? ... a Saviour who is without wounds, who does not have the mark of his sufferings, I do not acknowledge." [25]

That this suffering and wounded Savior is the foundation for the church should affect the character of its life:

If we speak of the cross in the congregation, so we mean a certain form, a certain style and fashion, in which the Savior, the God over all, the Creator of all things, has appeared in this present time. He rules and does what he wants; he gives us life and breath, he makes us healthy, he keeps us, he preserves us, he conquers sin and every earthly need for us, he carries out his decree for our salvation as it was foreknown by him from eternity: but all that, my sisters and brothers, he does for now in the cross-form. One must not try to present that as away of power, a kingly method, a despotism striking to the eyes: he is a despot, but in the cross-form. Everything appears according to the fact that he is a Lamb who endures, who is so patient, lamblike, open, contented, self-composed, gentle if it does not go his way... [26]

Of course, the woundedness of Jesus also has to do with the atonement. However, to accept the atonement is not merely to accept a historical, beneficial action of God but also the God who initiated the action. The atonement is thus bound up with the acceptance of the person of the Savior.

Zinzendorf understood that, in the historic event of the cross, the effects of original sin were cared for, as was the control of the devil over humanity. These two primary existential realities that humanity faces no longer impact the nature of those born into the world. This means that children are no longer born bearing the consequences of original sin, nor are they born automatically into the control of Satan. Children are born good and free of all this. They are to be dealt with, not with a view toward "breaking the will," as the wisdom of his day believed, but gently, delicately, like eggs one would not have broken. The realities of sin and Satan are still present, and humans relapse into these conditions. However, the problems are now their own and not those of prototypical parents and inheritance.

God has created within humans the freedom to choose for God's grace and against Satan and sin. This choice now determines existence. The grace that frees us from sin and Satan is the grace of the Person of the Savior, not only the consequence of his deeds. Grace is always bound to a Person, not some saving acts. Though we are given grace and freed from the power of sin and Satan, we will have to deal with the reality of our humanness all our lives, even in heaven. There will never be a time that we exist as divinized humans who do not need grace (and, consequently, God). We must also remember that our holiness, as justification, is a gift that comes from God; it is not a quality produced by us. We live out of what we have been given, not from what we are able to produce. That is, we live primarily out of the Savior who has given himself to us and carries in his person all that might ever be needed and given.

Savior and Creator

Zinzendorf assigned creation to the Son, not the Father, basing this on the Second Testament creation stories of Jn. 1:1-18, Col. 1:15-20, and Heb. 1:1-3. Thus, the Savior is also our Creator. If the one who saves us is the Creator of the world and of all souls, it followed for Zinzendorf that the Savior/Creator is the fundamental commonality of all religious experience and that, when the religions of the world speak of a Creator, they are really speaking of the Savior, though they may not know it. God in Godself cannot be known and dwells in mystery. The person of the Godhead who has always been engaged in the revelation and mediation of God is the one who comes in Jesus. It is in knowing this Creator/Savior that one is then introduced to the fullness of God, to the Father and the Mother (the Spirit). [27] While there are revelations of God in the experience of the world's religions, the unique incarnation and historical action of God provide the concrete information by which to define God and all revelatio ns. For example, the Savior was known and experienced in Jewish tradition as "father," but sufficient definition as to the character and full trinitarian nature of God was not available until the incarnation. [28]

It is difficult to say this today, when we are rightly more sensitive to the dignity and value of other religious traditions and reject the Christian imperialism of days past. We hesitate to suggest to Muslims that their experience of Allah could really be an experience of Christ or to Jews that the God of the Exodus could have been Christ. However, it is important for us to remember that this may be seen as less a matter of persuading other religions to accept Jesus than seeking to help them come to terms with the definition of God -- the kind of God, the Person of God -- who comes in Christ. Looked at in this way, the problem of accepting the Savior is a universal problem, even for Christians, for God is universally seen as the God of power, not of woundedness and weakness -- as one dwelling apart from us rather than with us. Christians must also remember that what of God is in Jesus transcends the historical Jesus, both by preexisting the incarnation (Jn. 1:1-18) and by rising from the dead and thus alway s being contemporary.

Nevertheless, the gateway into the reality of the Godhead needs to be connected to the actions of God toward us summed up in "creation and salvation." The Spirit may serve as a gateway into the reality of God. However, without the self-disclosures of God in the concreteness of creation and especially in historic salvation, by which God gains definition and objectivity within history beyond the vagaries of religious experience, we would forever seek religious solutions in analysis of experience and philosophical discussion.

Zinzendorf also understood that, by joining creation and salvation, salvation becomes a continuation of the process of creation by which the Creator/Savior brings each soul to the fullness of life intended in her or his creation. The process for each is uniquely and appropriately individual and culturally conditioned, although resourced by relationship with the same wounded Creator/Savior from whom comes all that is necessary for life. Worked out during each individual's life, the process may extend into the next life, as well. The Savior knows what each person needs, having created him or her, and observes the process by which persons come to the Source of their life and being. Zinzendorf did not speak of universal salvation but of the love of the Savior/Creator for all souls that does not wish to let them go, though not all will accept, despite the Creator's intention.

The Variety of Christian Traditions and Unity

If the various Christian traditions are seen as historically and culturally conditioned expressions of the work and life of the Savior/Creator, one accepts them as legitimate and needed. The variety is not a historical accident but the intention of the God who works personally, culturally, in historically specific ways. This varied action and disclosure by God within each period and context, however, does not yield truths to be accumulated like pearls on a string or pieces in a puzzle, ultimately producing a whole. In the historical periods of scripture and in the history of the church, recipients of revelation have received what is necessary and possible for them within the context of their time and understanding. What they need is fully there as it is fully there for others in their historical contexts -- and this is particularly so because God Godself, not just information about God and life, comes in this revelation.

The interrelationship or unity of the Christian traditions, then, is not to be found in attaining common agreement on points of faith or order but in recognition of the common reality (the Savior/Creator) from whom all live. The primary questions are: Is the Savior there, and can the Savior be met within a tradition? Is the Savior served by the ways the tradition lives and by the way faith and order are formulated there? This is the essential of religion. Here an affinity is evident between Zinzendorf and the tradition of the Ancient Moravian Church, which defined the single essential as relationship with God, the Father, Son, and Spirit, responded to in faith, love, and hope. All else -- scripture, church, sacraments, liturgy, etc. -- were called "ministerials," secondary matters serving the essential. The various ways these secondary matters are attended to become in turn "incidentals" or "accidentals." Zinzendorf spoke more of an essential heart relationship with the Savior, since, as we have seen, in his understanding this is what brought one into relationship with the whole of the Godhead.

The same underlying concern for Christian unity is seen in Zinzendorf's approach to scripture, particularly his classification of scriptural material and the different ways in which it can be viewed and read. First, since God revealed to the authors of scripture what was appropriate to their times, the various parts of it must be read in historical perspective. But, there is also a legitimate devotional, or timeless, use of scripture for the purpose of meeting the Savior/Creator, who, as person, is scripture's basic system. Second, basic truths, faith affirmations having to do with Christ and salvation, can be found expressed clearly in scripture. These are understandable to those who read. There are also matters of knowledge that are understandable yet necessitate the work of the scholar. Third, there are mysteries, realities surely affirmed in scripture but less clearly defined. Here he had in mind especially the manner in which Christ is really present in the Lord's Supper and questions about eschatologic al matters. No one should make their own understanding of these mysteries binding upon others -- even if it happens that the Savior has revealed to one the true understanding of them. In regard to the Lord's Supper, varieties of description and of understanding must be allowed so that we can come together to the same table and allow the mystery of Christ's presence to meet us there in fellowship with one another. How, strange it is that we cannot yet all commune together at the same table and meet there the One who, already beyond the table, is the source of our common life.

In an age of polemical theologizing, Zinzendorf did not believe differences between individuals and traditions needed complete resolution, as if the possibility for relationship were to be identified with the elimination of differences and arriving at common understandings of almost everything. We deal not with a doctrinal or institutional system but with the Savior/Creator who respects our life process, has particular plans for us, and does not expect us to know everything at once or perhaps ever within this life. Our need is for interpersonal knowledge of the Creator/Savior who contains in his Person the necessary provisions for life. When the Savior has us, we potentially have all. This Creator/Savior will then lead us in ways that will disclose to us what we need to know, when we need to know it.

Zinzendorf clearly recognized the importance of confessions, creeds, and agreements between traditions. He especially recognized the unique value and ecumenical character of the Augsburg Confession. Creeds and ecumenical agreements represent, and re-present, the reality of the Creator/Savior and the Christian life. Describing them within the limits of words, they serve as gateways to this reality, thus functioning devotionally as well as conceptually. Finding poetry perhaps the best way to state doctrine, he himself composed lengthy poems or hymns on both the Augsburg Confession and the Articles of the Synod of Berne, to be found among his several thousand hymns and occasional poetic pieces.


When Jesus is seen, as by Zinzendorf, as both Savior and Creator, and when creation and salvation are seen in continuity with each other, then all the world's religious traditions, Christian and non-Christian, can be seen as related in a foundational reality that is always contextually perceived. We are in some way united, though we may not realize it, understand it, or resolve how to express it. This shared reality gives us the possibility of approach to one another. Christians should come to the task of interfaith relations with humility. Their history shows that they have not well understood the meaning of the wounded Creator/Savior or his gentleness and renunciation of power. It is as much a challenge to them as it is to others.

When modifications in faith-positions and expressions are considered in Christian dialogue, what is most essential is changing that which keeps us from loving and being open to the wounded Savior and, thus, open to all who share that relationship. Once Christ can be met within any tradition, perhaps enough changes have been made, for that tradition no longer stands in the way but facilitates the presence of the One who is the foundation of faith and life.

Zinzendorf's creative visions and wise investment in the issues of his time present us with a model for ours. Though we live in a postmodern age, we are still much affected by his era that gave birth to the modern age and its issues. Though the year 2000 marks the 300th anniversary of his birth, he is strangely and wonderfully modern and unparalleled as one deeply invested in Christian relationships and the recognition of the inheritance shared with other religions. In thought and action he affirmed Jesus' prayer "that they may all be one" (Jn. 17:21). Zinzendorf was, indeed, an ecumenical pioneer.

Arthur James Freeman (Moravian) retired in 1996 after having taught biblical theology/New Testament at the Moravian Theological Seminary, Bethlehem, PA, since 1961. During 1974-90, he also administered the Ecumenical Committee for Continuing Education (for six denominations) through Moravian Seminary. From 1950 till 1961, he pastored Moravian congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and served an interim pastorate, 1976-77. He was ordained in the Moravian Church in 1953 and consecrated a bishop in 1990. He holds a B.A. from Lawrence University, Appleton, WI; a B.D. from Moravian Seminary; and a Ph.D. in New Testament (1962) from Princeton Theological Seminary. He has published numerous articles and book chapters, as well as An Ecumenical Theology of the Heart (Moravian Church, 1998), which will be published in German during 2000 by Friederich Reinhardt Verlag, Basel. He is the North American editor of Transatlantic Moravian Dialog Correspondence and has extensive overseas travel and lecturing experience. He ha s also been involved in both multimedia and spiritual-formation activities and has served regularly on both community and denominational boards and committees. During 1991-96, he convened the Moravian team for bilateral dialogue with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

(*.) I wish to express appreciation to Elizabeth Mellen of Graymoor Ecumenical and Inter-religious Institute for her constant dialogue with me on the subject of this article and her own research from which she made several contributions.

(1.) Attention is called to two works in English on his life: A. J. Lewis, Zinzendorf the Ecumenical Pioneer (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962); and John R. Weinlick, Count Zinzendorf (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1955; repr. Bethlehem, PA, and Winston-Salem, NC: Moravian Church in America, 1989). The only systematic presentation of his theology in English is Arthur Freeman, An Ecumenical Theology of the Heart: The Theology of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (Bethlehem, PA: Board of Publications, Moravian Church in America, 1998); the German translation has been made by Barbara Reeb: Zinzendorfs okumenische Herzenstheologie (Basel: Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag, 2000). Most of his primary writings have been reprinted in Erich Beyreuther und Gerhard Meyer, eds., Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Hauptschriften, 6 vols. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1962-63); and Erich Beyreuther and Gerhard Meyer, eds. Erganzungsbande zu den Hauptschriften, 14 suppl. vols. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1964-85). There are also presently 47 vols. of additional material: Erich Beyreuther, Gerhard Meyer, and Amedeo Molnar, eds., Materialien und Dokumente (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1971-99).

(2.) The Moravian Church from 1457 to 1622 is known as the Ancient Moravian Church, while the Moravian Church as renewed on the estate of Zinzendorf from 1722 on is known as the Renewed Moravian Church.

(3.) Konrad Raiser, "Oikumene," in Nicholas Lossky, Jose Mfiguez Bonino, John Pobee, Tom Stransky, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Pauline Webb, eds., Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (Geneva: WCC Publications; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), p. 742.

(4.) J. Taylor Hamilton and Kenneth G. Hamilton, History of the Moravian Church: The Renewed Unitas Fratrum, 1722-1957 (Bethlehem, PA, and Winston-Salem, NC: Moravian Church in America, 1967; 2nd ed., 1983).

(5.) For a good description of Philadelphianism, see Sigurd Nielsen, Der Toleranzgedanke beiZinzendorf, Three Parts (Hamburg: Ludwig Appel Verlag, [1952-60]), PP. 16-52. Expecting an imminent return of Christ, it prepared religious communities that transcended the established religious traditions.

(6.) Gottfried Arnold, Unparteischen Kirchen- und Ketzerhistorie (Frankfurt am Main, c. 1700).

(7.) Nielsen, Toleranzgedanke, p. 291. Nielsen has an extended discussion of Zinzendorf's views about non-Christian religions.

(8.) Gerhard Meyer, Zinzendorf und der Katholizismus: Eine geistesgeschichtliche Studie zum Problem der religiosen Toleranz, Erganzungsbande 10 (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1970), p. xlv.

(9.) Budingische Sammlung einiger in die Kirchen-Historie einshlagender sonderlich neuerer Schrifften (Budingen: John Chr. Stohr [Band I], Korte [Bande II-III], 1742-1744; Band I, Vorrede, 1744).

(10.) See Colin Podmore, The Moravian Church in England, 1728-1760 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), pp. 228ff.

(11.) See Freeman, Ecumenical Theology of the Heart. The chapter on the church deals with the first thirty years of the two Moravian settlements of Herrnhut and Bethlehem and the Pennsylvania Synod. A new work on the Pennsylvania Synod includes its minutes in English and German: Peter Vogt, Authentische Relation, Materialien und Dokumente 30 (Hildesheim, Zurich, and New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1998).

(12.) Letter of Henry Antes sent from Frederick Township in Philadelphia County, December 15 (26, new-style date), 1741, quoted in J. Mortimer Levering, A History of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1741-1892 (Bethlehem, PA: Times Publishing Co., 1903), pp. 97-98.

(13.) In the English-speaking world the name "Moravian Church" is usually used with its history divided into the Ancient (1457-1621) and Renewed (1722 to the present) periods. In Europe "Unitas Fratrum" is used of the Ancient Moravian Church, while "Brudergemeine" refers to the Renewed Moravian Church. In the eighteenth century the terms "Moravian" or "Moravian Brethren" primarily applied to the Moravian Tropus within the Brudergemeine, not to the whole church.

(14.) Meyer, Zinzendorf und der Katholizismus. This work appends material on Zinzendorf's use of devotional pictures, the development of a Christian-Catholic song and prayer book, the letter exchange between Zinzendorf and Cardinal Noailles, and the draft of a letter to Pope Benedict XIII. Meyer drew on Otto Uttendorfer's study, Zinzendorf und die Mystik (Berlin: Christlicher Zeitschriftenverlag, 1950).

(15.) See Freeman, Ecumenical Theology of the Heart, pp. 55-60. Zinzendorf's was a grace-centered mysticism that saw the mystical marriage as the gift of the Savior at the beginning of the Christian life, upon which all else was built -- not the result of a long process of purification.

(16.) Language descriptive of the Savior's suffering, blood, and wounds both conveyed the Savior's vulnerability and nearness over against religious preconceptions of God as powerful and remote and made vivid the Savior's reality, creating a verbal "painting of the Savior" before the eyes of the heart. Moravian devotional paintings usually showed Christ with his wounds in the company of identifiable persons, such as the widows or single sisters or the first converts of the Moravian missions ("first fruits") to be seen in extant works.

(17.) Peter Vogt, "'Festive Stillness': The Sound of Moravian Music in the Perception of Non-Moravian Visitors," a paper delivered at the Third Bethlehem Conference on Moravian Music at Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA, October 22-24, 1998.

(18.) The correspondence of Zinzendorf and Noailles is to be found in A. Salomon, La Catholicite du Monde Chretien d'apres la correspondance inedite du comte Louis de Zinzendorf avec le cardinal de Noailles et les eveques appelants 1719-1728 (Paris: Librairie Felix Alcan, 1929); repr. in Beyreuther and Meyer, Erganzungsbande, vol. 10. The present author is preparing an English translation of Salomon's book.

(19.) Meyer, Zinzendorf und der Katholizismus, p. cxxiv.

(20.) Nicholas von Zinzendorf, Christ-Casholisches Singe-und Bet-Buchlein... (1727). The first part consists of songs from the Heiligen Seelen-Lust oder geistliche Hirten-Lieder of Johannes Scheffler (Angelus Silesius); repr. in Beyreuther and Meyer, Erganzungsbande, vol. 10.

(21.) In Meyer, Zinzendorf und der Katholizismus, pp. cv-cx contain the Latin letter with a German translation.

(22.) See note 1, above.

(23.) Meyer, Zinzendorf und der Katholizismus, p. ix.

(24.) Peter Gay, the Enlightenment: An Interpretation -- The Rise of Modern Paganism (New York: Knopf, 1976), pp. 59ff.

(25.) George Farrell, ed., Nine Public Lectures on Important Subjects in Religion (9/4/46) (Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1973), p. 28.

(26.) Vier und dreyssig Homilien uber die Wunden-Litaney der Bruder, gehalten auf dem, Hermhaag in den Sommer-Monathen 1747, zu finden in den Bruder-Gemeinen (n.d.), pp. 60-61 (repr. in Beyreuther and Meyer, Hauptschriften, vol. 3).

(27.) Zinzendorf preferred experiential terms for the persons of God: Jesus is "Savior," "Lord" of his household, "Chief Elder" in church government, "Husband" of the human soul. The mystery of the godhead beyond Jesus is "Father." The Spirit is called "Mother" because of the way she cares for the church. Through use of experiential terminology, Zinzendorf hoped the reality of God would be experienced, not just conceptualized. In his later years' he developed an extensive understanding of the role of the Spirit as the nurturing and unifying factor in the life of the church, mediating the reality of the Savior/Creator, who remains the center of all meaning and life.

(28.) Zinzendorf believed that, just as the Savior was a Jew and was able to live out life to God as a Jew, so others live out their lives to the Creator in other religious traditions. He appreciated Jewish traditions but always believed that Jews needed to accept the Savior and his atonement, as he understood that all needed to do. A very helpful article is Peter Vogt's "The Attitude of Eighteenth-Century German Pietism toward Jews and Judaism: A Case of Philo-Semitism?" The Covenant Quarterly 56 (November, 1998): 18ff.
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Author:Freeman, Arthur
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
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Date:Jun 22, 1999
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