CHURCH HISTORY: The Bohemian Brethren (The Moravian Church)

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Also known as “The Ancient Moravian Brethren,” an evangelical Church that flourished before the Reformation of the 16th century, and which was overthrown at the beginning of the Thirty-Years’ War of Germany.

Jan Hus and the Bohemian Reformation

Jan Hus-Council of Constance by Václav Brožík

The Hussite movement that was to become the Moravian Church was started by Jan Hus (English: John Huss) in early 15th century Bohemia, in what is today the Czech Republic. Hus objected to some of the practices and doctrines of the Catholic Church; specifically, he wanted the liturgy to be celebrated in Czech, lay people to receive communion in both kinds (bread and wine – that is, in Latin, communio sub utraque specie), married priests, and eliminating indulgences and the idea of Purgatory. Since these actions predate the Protestant Reformation by a century, some historians claim the Moravian Church was the first Protestant church.

The movement gained support in the Crown of Bohemia. However, Hus was summoned to attend the Council of Constance, which decided that he was a heretic and released him to the secular authority, which sentenced him to be burned at the stake on 6 July 1415. From 1419 to 1437 was a series of Hussite Wars initially between various Catholic rulers and the Hussites, and then the political situation continued into a Hussite civil war between the more compromising Utraquists and the radical Taborites. In 1434, an army of Utraquists and Catholics defeated the Taborites at the Battle of Lipany. The Utraquists signed the Compacts of Basel on 5 July 1436.

The Church Community_02 THE CHURCH CURE Developing Healthy Churches

Within fifty years of Hus’ death, a contingent of his followers had become independently organized as the “Bohemian Brethren” (Čeští bratři) or Unity of the Brethren (Jednota bratrská), which was founded in Kunvald, Bohemia, in 1457. A brother known as Gregory the Patriarch was very influential in forming the group, as well as the teachings of Peter Chelcicky. This group held to a strict obedience to the Sermon on the Mount, which included non-swearing of oaths, non-resistance, and not accumulating wealth. Because of this, they considered themselves separate from the majority Hussites that did not hold those teachings. They received episcopal ordination through the Waldensians in 1467.:36 ff:107 ff These were some of the earliest Protestants, rebelling against Rome some fifty years before Martin Luther. By the middle of the 16th century, as many as 90 percent of the inhabitants of the Bohemian Crown were Protestant. The majority of the nobility was Protestant, and the schools and printing shops established by the Moravian Church were flourishing.

THE WALDENSES: From the Catholic Church to Heresy to Protestantism?

Protestantism had a strong influence on the education of the population. Even in the middle of the 16th century, there was not a single town without a Protestant school in the Bohemian crown lands, and many had more than one, mostly with two to six teachers each. In Jihlava, a principal Protestant center in Moravia, there were five major schools: two German, one Czech, one for girls, and one teaching in Latin, which was at the level of a high/grammar school, lecturing on Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Rhetorics, Dialectics, fundamentals of Philosophy and fine arts, as well as religion according to the Lutheran Augustana.



With the University of Prague also firmly in hands of Protestants, the local Catholic church was unable to compete in the field of education. Therefore, the Jesuits were invited, with the backing of the Catholic Habsburg rulers, to come to the Bohemian Crown and establish a number of Catholic educational institutions. One of these is the university in the Moravian capital of Olomouc. In 1582, they forced the closure of local Protestant schools.

In 1617, Emperor Matthias had his fiercely Catholic brother Ferdinand of Styria elected King of Bohemia, but in 1618 Protestant Bohemian noblemen, who feared losing their religious freedom, started the Bohemian Revolt. The Revolt started by the unplanned second Defenestrations of Prague and was defeated in 1620 in the Battle of White Mountain near Prague. As consequence, the local Protestant noblemen were either executed or expelled from the country while the Habsburgs placed Catholic (and mostly German-speaking) nobility in their place. The war, plague, and subsequent disruption led to a decline in the population from over 3 million to some 800,000 people. By 1622, the entire education system was in the hands of Jesuits and all Protestant schools were closed.

The Brethren were forced to operate underground and eventually dispersed across Northern Europe as far as the Low Countries, where their Bishop John Amos Comenius attempted to direct a resurgence. The largest remaining communities of the Brethren were located in Leszno (German: Lissa) in Poland, which had historically strong ties with the Czechs, and small, isolated groups in Moravia. The latter are referred to as “the Hidden Seed” which John Amos Comenius had prayed would preserve the evangelical faith in the land of the fathers.

In addition to the Renewed Unitas Fratrum or Moravian Church, which preserves the Unitas Fratrum’s three orders of episcopal ordination, The Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren and the Czechoslovak Hussite Church also continue the Hussite tradition in Czechia and Slovakia today, although they only account for 0.8% of the Czech population (which is 79.4% non-religious, and 10.4% Catholic).

  1. History.-John Huss (q.v.) was the precursor of the Brethren. They originated in that national Church of Bohemia into which the two factions of his followers, the Calixtines and the Taborites, were formed at the close of the Hussite War, and which was based upon the Compactata of Basle. These compactata were certain concessions, particularly the use of the cup in the Lord’s Supper and of the vernacular in public worship, granted (1433) to the Bohemians by the council which met in that city. In 1456, some members of the Then parish at Prague, who recognized the corruptness of the national Church, and wished to further their own personal salvation, withdrew to a devastated and sparsely inhabited estate, called Lititz, on the eastern frontier, by permission of George Podiebrad, the regent of Bohemia, and through the intervention of John Rokyzan, their priest. He had eloquently inveighed against the degeneracy of the age but lacked the courage to inaugurate reforms such as these parishioners longed for, although they entreated him to do so, and promised their support even to death.

Their object in retiring to Lititz was not to found a new sect. but to carry out, on the basis of the Articles of Prague, and of the Compactata of Basle, the reformation begun by Huss, confining their work, however, to their own circle, and forming a society within the national Church, pledged to accept the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice and to maintain a scriptural discipline. Accordingly, in 1457, they adopted a formal declaration of principles, which was committed to the keeping and administration of twenty-eight elders. The association took the name of the “Brethren and Sisters of the Law of Christ.” But as this title induced the belief that they were a new monastic order, it was changed into that of “The Brethren.” At a later time, the expressive name of “Unity of the Brethren” came into vogue and was used indiscriminately both in its Bohemian and Latin forms, namely, Jednotat Bratrska, and Unitas Fratrum. The latter has remained the official denomination of the Moravians to the present day. At the head of the Brethren stood Gregory the Patriarch (q.v.); while Michael Bradacius (q.v.), and some other priests of the national Church, ministered to them in holy things. The association at Lititz soon began to exercise a great influence throughout Bohemia and Moravia. Its elders disseminated its principles, and received hundreds of awakened souls into its fellowship.

The first persecution, which broke out in 1461, did not stop its growth; and in 1464, at a synod held in the open air, among the mountains of the domain of Reichenau, three of the twenty- eight elders were chosen to assume a more special management of its affairs. In the discharge of this duty they were guided by a document drawn up at that synod, and containing the doctrinal basis of the society, as well as rules for a holy life. This document, which is the oldest record of the Brethren extant, opens as follows: “We are, above all, agreed to continue, through grace, sound in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ; to be established in the righteousness which is of God, to maintain the bond of love among each other, and to have our hope in the living God. We will show this both in word and deed, assist each other in the spirit of love, live honestly, study to be humble, quiet, meek, sober, and patient, and thus to testify to others that we have in truth a sound faith, genuine love, and a sure and certain hope.” This extract sets forth the tendency of the Brethren, to which they remained true throughout their history. The great object which they had in view was Christian life. They strove to be a body of believers who showed their faith by their works. They tenaciously upheld a scriptural discipline as an essential feature of a true Church. Although in the course of time, they defined their doctrines in regular Confessions of Faith, they always made practical Christianity prominent, and required personal piety, and not merely adhesion to a creed, as a condition of Church-membership. The Synod of Reichenau not only gave expression to this tendency but also decided a grave question. The Brethren felt the necessity of separating entirely from the national Church, and of establishing a ministry of their own. Yet they were so anxious to avoid a schism, and to do nothing contrary to the will of God, that they spent several years in debating this step, and, in view of it, frequently appointed special days of fasting and prayer. The result to which they were led was to leave the decision to the Lord, by the use of the lot. This directed the Brethren to organize a Church of their own. Three years more were passed in praying to God for his Holy Spirit; and then in 1467, at a synod held in the village of Lhota, on the domain of Reichenau, three men, Matthias of Kunwalde, Thomas of Prelouc, and Elias of Chrenovic, were appointed to the ministry, again by the lot. For the particulars.

Thereupon the subject of their ordination was discussed. The synod believed that presbyterial ordination had been practiced in the times of the apostles, but recognized the episcopacy as a very ancient institution. It was deemed important, moreover, to secure a ministry whose validity both the Roman’ Catholics and the national Church would have to acknowledge. On the other hand, a primitive usage must not thereby be condemned. It was, therefore, determined to remain true both to the practice of the apostolical Church and to that of the Church immediately following the days of the apostles. Hence the nominees were ordained, on the spot, by the priests present at the synod; and then three of the latter, Michael Bradacius and two others, were sent to a colony of Waldenses, who were living on the confines of Austria, and who had secured the episcopal succession. For a history of this succession.

THE WALDENSES: Unorthodox or Searchers of Truth?

The Waldensian bishops consecrated the three delegates to the episcopacy, who “returned to their own with joy,” as the old record says. Another synod was called, at which they, first of all, reordained Matthias, Thomas, and Elias to the priesthood, and then consecrated Matthias a bishop. A well-matured ecclesiastical government was instituted, and the Church soon spread into every part of Bohemia and Moravia. But it had to contend with two evils. The one threatened it from within. This was an extravagant tendency to press the discipline to anti-scriptural extremes. It occasioned disputes which continued for fourteen years, from 1480 to 1494, and which were finally settled in the interests of the liberal party. For an account of these disputes, as well as of the exploratory journeys of the Brethren.

The other evil approached from without. Two terrible persecutions occurred (1468 and 1508). The Roman Catholics and the national Church united in a bloody determination to root out the Brethren from the land. Imprisonment, confiscation, tortures, and death were the means employed. Many of the Brethren suffered martyrdom. But their blood was the seed of the Church. In both instances the persecution gradually came to an end; and the Unitas Fratrum renewed its strength and increased its numbers. A full history of these and subsequent persecutions is found in the Historia Persecutionum Ecclesice Bohemicce, published anonymously in 1648. This work was written by Amos Comenius (q.v.) and other exiled ministers of the Brethren, and has been translated into many languages. The English version is very rare. It came out in London in 1650, and was entitled “The History of the Bohemian Persecution.” The latest German version is by Czerwenka, with notes: Das Persekutionsbichlein. (Giitersloh, 1869).


When Martin Luther began his Reformation, in 1517, the Church of the Brethren was prospering greatly. It counted 400 parishes; had at least 200,000 members, among whom were some of the noblest and most influential families of the realm; used a hymn-book and catechism of its own; had a Confession of Faith; and employed two printing-presses, in order to scatter Bohemian Bibles and evangelical books throughout the land. Hence the Brethren deservedly bear the name of the “Reformers before the Reformation.” This position, however, did not prevent them from cordially fraternizing with the movement which Luther inaugurated. They corresponded with him, and sent several deputations to Wittenberg. It is true a personal estrangement between him and bishop Luke of Prague (q.v.) put an end for a time to this friendly intercourse; but it was soon resumed, and extended to the Swiss Reformers. Such fellowship was mutually beneficial. It purified the doctrinal system of the Brethren, who dropped some dogmas that still savored of scholasticism, and defined others more clearly. It gave the Reformers new ideas with regard to a scriptural discipline, and taught them the importance of union among themselves.

These were the two points which the Brethren steadfastly urged in all their negotiations with other Protestants. Touching the first, they entreated Luther to apply himself to a reform of Christian life, and not merely of doctrine; and they gave to Calvin some important principles, which he subsequently introduced in his disciplinary system at Geneva. On the occasion of the last deputation to Luther, bishop Augusta warned him, almost like a prophet, of the evil which would result in the Protestant Church if the discipline were neglected this prediction was fulfilled by the dead orthodoxy into Which the Church was subsequently petrified in Germany, and by the Sociniasism which ate out the vitals of that in Poland. Touching the second point, the Brethren were a standing protest against the controversies which rent Protestantism; they strove to promote peace, and succeeded in bringing about an alliance among the Polish Protestants at Sandomir, where in 1570 the Unitas Fratrum, the Lutherans, and the Reformed conjointly issued the celebrated.


Consensus Sadomiriensis. The Brethren had established themselves in Poland in 1549, in consequence of the fourth great persecution which broke upon them in the reign of Ferdinand I, who falsely ascribed the Bohemian League, which had been formed against him during the Smalcald War, to their influence. In the course of this persecution a large number of them were banished from Bohemia and emigrated to East Prussia.

Thence came George Israel to preach the Gospel in Poland, and met with such success that at the General Synod of Slecza, held in 1557, the Polish churches were admitted as an integral part of the Unitas Fratrum. During the reign of Maximilian II (1564-1576) the Brethren enjoyed peace, and united with the Lutherans and Reformed in the presentation of the Confessio Bohensica to this monarch (1575). His successor, Rudolph II, was constrained by his barons to grant a charter which established religious liberty in Bohemia and Moravia (1609). An Evangelical Consistory was formed at Prague, in which body the Brethren were represented by one of their bishops. They were now a legally acknowledged Church. But the Bohemian revolution in 1619, caused by the accession of Ferdinand II, a bigoted Romanist, to the throne, brought about a change in the religious affairs of the kingdom. The Protestants and their rival king, Frederick of the Palatinate, were totally defeated at the battle of the White Mountain, near Prague, in 1620; the Bohemian revolution developed into a European war of thirty terrible years; and Bohemia and Moravia fell wholly into the power of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1621, Ferdinand II began the so-called “anti- Reformation” in those countries, after having executed a number of the leading Protestant nobles. Commissioners, accompanied by Jesuits and soldiers, were sent from place to place to force the inhabitants to embrace Romanism. Many were put to death; more than 30,000 families emigrated; the rest were driven into an outward subjection to the Catholic faith.


The Unitas Fratrum, as well as the Lutheran and Reformed churches, were swept from the kingdom (1627). But the Brethren reappeared as a Church in exile. The contingent which they furnished to the emigration was, in proportion to the whole number of members in each body, three or four times larger than that either of the Lutherans or of the Reformed. About one hundred new parishes were organized, chiefly in Prussia, Hungary, and Poland; and the executive council which governed the Church was set up at Lissa, in the country last named. The hope of returning to Bohemia and Moravia at the close of the Thirty-Years’ War was generally entertained by the Brethren; but the Peace of Westphalia (1648) painfully undeceived them. Their native land was excluded from the benefits of religious liberty. Eight years later, the colony which had been gathered at Lissa was broken up (1656) in the war between Poland and Sweden. The members of the council scattered; the Polish parishes united with the Reformed Church; while some sort of a superintendence over the rest was kept up by bishop Amos Comenius (q.v.), who had found an asylum at Amsterdam. This eminent divine hoped and prayed for the resuscitation of the Unitas Fratrum. To this end he published its history and a new catechism, republished the Ratio Discipline which had been adopted in 1616, and which was an official account of its constitution and discipline, and cared for the perpetuation of the episcopacy. After his death in 1670, the scattered parishes of the Brethren were gradually absorbed by other Protestant churches. But the episcopal succession was maintained in the midst of that union between the Reformed and the Brethren which had been brought about in Poland; while in Bohemia and Moravia a remnant secretly worshipped God according to the custom of their fathers, and never relinquished the hope of a renewal of their Church. This state of affairs continued for half a century, and then their expectations were fulfilled.

  1. Ministry, Constitution, Worship, Ritual, and Discipline. — The ministry of the Brethren consisted of three orders: bishops, priests, and deacons. In the course of time assistant bishops were associated with the bishops. These latter were often called Seniors, also Antistites; and the assistants Conseniors. Acolytes were young men preparing for the ministry, who performed certain inferior functions in connection with public worship, but were not ordained. The deacons instructed the young, occasionally preached, baptized, when directed to do so by a priest, and assisted at but never administered the Lord’s Supper. A priest stood at the head of each parish, and exercised all the duties usually connected with the priesthood. In the bishops was vested the power to ordain, to appoint pastors to the various parishes, to hold visitations, to superintend the printing offices, and in general to oversee the Church. Each bishop had a diocese of his own, but all of them together — their number varying from four to six — were associated with from six to eight assistant bishops as a council. Of this council the primate among the bishops was president. He enjoyed certain prerogatives but could undertake nothing of importance without consulting his colleagues. Another of the bishops was secretary of the council. It was his duty to care for the records of the Church and to examine and answer, if necessary, the publications which appeared against it. Bishops and assistant bishops were elected by the ministers, and the council was responsible to the General Synod, which met every three or four years. In this synod all the bishops, assistant bishops, and priests of the Bohemian, Moravian, and Polish provinces, into which the Unitas Fratrum was gradually divided, had seats. The deacons and acolytes, as also lay patrons of the churches, likewise attended, but without a vote. The bishops and their assistants constituted the upper house, and the priests the lower. Each house met by itself. Diocesan synods were held in order to legislate for a particular diocese, but their acts were reported to the council, and by it to the General Synod. Owing to the frequent persecutions that occurred, and to the idea that the cares of a family would interfere with the usefulness of the ministers, they were, for the most part, unmarried. There was no law enjoining celibacy; it was a usage, which gradually fell into desuetude. Towards the end of the 16th century, an unmarried priest or bishop was the exception.

The membership of a parish was divided into beginners, that is, children and new converts from Romanism; proficients, or full members; and perfect, or such as were “so established in faith, love, and hope as to be able to enlighten others.” From this last class were elected the civil elders, who constituted the advisers of the priest in spiritual things; the cediles, who managed the external affairs of a parish; and the almoners, who administered the poor fund. Turning to worship and ritual, we find that four regular services were held every Sunday; the second one in the morning being “the great service,” when a sermon on the Gospels was delivered. In the early service the prophets, and in the afternoon service the apostolic writings, were explained; while the evening was devoted to the reading of the Bible in order, with instructive remarks. Throughout the summer, the young were taught the Catechism at noon. The Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year, but could be held more frequently. Confirmation took place generally at the time of the bishop’s annual visitation. The principal festivals of the ecclesiastical year were observed, and special days for fasting and prayer appointed. There were three degrees of discipline. Private admonition and reproof constituted the first, public reproof and suspension from the Lord’s Supper the second, and total exclusion from the Church the third. The official account of the constitution and discipline of the Brethren opens with the following general principles: “There are in Christianity some things essential (essentialia), some things auxiliary (ministerialia), and some things accidental (accidentalia). Essentials are those in which the salvation of man is immediately placed,” i.e., cardinal doctrines; “auxiliaries are means of grace, the Word, the keys, and the sacraments; accidentals are the ceremonies and external rites of religion.” For a more thorough study of this subject, consult Lasitii Historice de Origine et Rebus Gestis Fratrusn Bohemicorum, Liber Veterus, edited by Comenius in 1649, and containing a full description of the constitution and discipline — a very rare work; J.A. Comenii Ecclesiae Fratrum Bohenorum Episcopi, Historia Fratrum Bohemorum, eorum Ordo et Disciplina Ecclesiastica (republished at Halle in 1702, by Buddaeus); Koppen, Kirchenordnung u. Disciplin der Hussit. B. Kirche in B.u.M. (Leipsic, 1845); Seifferth, Church Constitution of the Boh. and Morav. Brethren, the original Latin, with a Translation and Notes (Lond 1866).

III. Schools and Literary Activity. — The Brethren devoted themselves to education. Their earliest schools were found in the parsonages of the priests. Many of these, instead of families, had classes of young acolytes living with them, whom they trained for the ministry. Next were instituted parochial schools, in which a thorough elementary education was given, including Latin, and which were frequented by large numbers of pupils not connected with the Church. In 1574 a classical school or college, with professor Esrom Riidinger, from Wittenberg, as its rector, was founded at Eibenschttz, in Moravia; soon after another at Meseritsch, in the same country; and in 1585 a third at Lissa, in Poland. Of this last Amos Comenius subsequently became the rector. These colleges were attended by many young nobles, not excepting such as were of the Catholic faith. In 1585 three theological seminaries were opened at Jungbunzlau, in Bohemia, and at Prerau and Eibenschtitz, in Moravia. The training of acolytes in the parsonages was, however, not given up.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

By the side of such efforts to promote education may well be put the literary activity of the Brethren. This was extraordinary, far surpassing that of the national and Roman Catholic churches, and competing even with that of the Reformers. The Unitas Fratrum had four publication offices: three in Bohemia, the first established in 1500, and one in Poland. From these offices, and from several public presses, which were often used, came forth a multitude of publications in Bohemian, Polish, German, and Latin, comprising the Holy Scriptures, hymn-books and catechisms, confessions of faith, exegetical and doctrinal works, books and tracts of a devotional character, polemical writings, and in the time of Comenius schoolbooks, didactic works, and philosophical treatises. In addition to this prolific author, whose works numbered over ninety, the principal writers were Luke of Prague (eighty works), Augusta, Blahoslav (twenty-two works, among them a Bohemian Grammar, still in use), Lorenz, AEneas, Turnovius, Ephraim, Aristo, Rybinski, etc. Their Latin diction was often rough, but their Bohemian style pure, elegant, and forcible. In this respect they reached a standard which has never been surpassed. Excepting the writings of Comenius, the literature of the Brethren was mostly lost in the anti-Reformation, when evangelical books of every kind were committed to the flames.

The most important of those works which have been preserved are the Kraliz Bible (q.v.), the catechisms, the confessions of faith, and the hymnbooks. The first Catechism in Bohemian appeared in 1505; the second, in Bohemian and German, in 1522 republished by Zezschwitz in 1863, translated into English by Schweinitz in 1869; the third, in German, by J. Gyrck, in 1554 and 1555; the fourth, the “Greater Catechism,” in Latin, in 1616; the fifth, the “Shorter Catechism,” in German and Polish; and the sixth, the Catechism of Comenius, in German, in 1611. Several others are mentioned, of which, however, little is known, except that one of them was a tetraglot — in Greek, Latin, Bohemian, and German — published in 1615. There were twelve different confessions of faith, in Bohemian, German, Latin, and Polish. Gindely counts up thirty- four, but of these the majority were merely new editions of the same Confession. The most important are, the Confession of 1533, printed in German at Wittenberg, preface by Luther, presented to the margrave of Brandenburg-very rare, a copy in the Bohemian Museum at Prague; the Confession of 1535, in Latin, with a historical introduction, presented by a deputation of bishops and nobles to Ferdinand II at Vienna, found in Niemeyer’s Collectio, pages 771-818, published in a revised form at Wittenberg in 1538, together with a Latin version of the Confession of 1533, both in one volume, under the supervision of Luther, who supplied the work with a preface, found in Lydii Waldensia, 2:344, etc.; and the Confession of 1573, in Latin and German, based upon all the previous confessions, giving the matured doctrines of the Church, embracing a historical procemium by Riidinger, and printed at Wittenberg, under the direction of the theological faculty of the university, the Latin Confession found in Lydii Waldensia, 3:95-256, and the German in Kocher, pages 161-256. The hymnology of the Brethren was one of the chief means which they used for spreading the Gospel and promoting spirituality. They gave to the national fondness for song a sacred direction. Their hymns were doctrinal; the German versification was hard, the Bohemian soft and smooth; the tunes, which were printed out in the hymn-books, were in part the old Gregorian, in part borrowed from the German, and in part popular melodies adapted. In spite of their roughness, the German hymns, whose simplicity and devotion, fervor and loving spirit, Herder highly commends, found favor in the churches of the Reformation, while the Bohemian expressed, says Chlumecky, “the deep religious feelings of the people, and were a blossom of the national life, showing forth the Slavonic ideal of a sanctified mind.” The first Bohemian Hymn-book appeared in 1504; the second, which was the masterpiece of the Brethren’s hymnology, containing 743 hymns, in 1661. This latter passed through a number of editions. The first German Hymn-book was published in 1531; the second in 1543; the third and best in 1566. This was dedicated to Maximilian II. contained 411 hymns, and was frequently republished. Polish hymn-books came out in 1554 and 1569.

  1. Doctrines. — For an exposition of the cardinal views of the Christian faith, as taught by the Brethren, the reader is referred to the works cited below. These doctrines agreed, in the nain, with those of the Reformers. Gindely (R.C.), Zezschwitz (Luth.), and some other writers, try to show that the Unitas Fratrum did not hold to justification by faith. Gindely asserts that its stand-point in this respect was altogether Romish; but this is disproved by the standards, although some of the private and polemical writings of Luke of Prague produce such an impression. In order to promote holy living, the Brethren strongly insisted on good works; but they taught that men are saved by faith, which they never understood in the Romish sense, and they utterly rejected an opus operatum. In their earlier confessions and catechisms, following Huss, they distinguished between credere de Deo, credere Deo, and credere in Deum.

The first is faith in God’s existence; the second faith in his revelation through his Word; the third that faith by which a man appropriates to himself God’s grace in Christ, and consecrates himself to Christ’s service. Prior to the Reformation, the Brethren accepted the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church; after that, about 1530, they repudiated all but baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Up to that time, moreover, their views of baptism were peculiar. They rebaptized converts from the Roman Catholic and national churches, because they deemed both to be idolatrous; and they extended this practice to the young, because they considered personal faith an essential condition of the baptismal covenant. But they did not on this account reject infant baptism. Children were baptized soon after their birth, and thus dedicated to God; then they were rebaptized, after a thorough course of instruction in the Catechism, when old enough to exercise personal faith, and thus brought into full communion with the Church.

This practice, however, was relinquished by a formal act of the General Synod of 1534, and confirmation substituted in the place of rebaptism. Touching the Lord’s Supper, the Brethren taught that it is to be received in faith, to be defined in the language of Scripture, and every human explanation of that language to be avoided, except in so far that the spiritual, and not the real, presence is to be held. To this view they remained faithful, and were consequently often misunderstood both by the Catholics and the Utraquists on the one part, and by the Lutherans and the Reformed on the other. The great aim of the Brethren was to discountenance speculations and controversies with regard to this point. Finally, from the earliest times, they rejected purgatory, the adoration of the saints, and the worship of the Virgin Mary.

The Renewed Moravian Brethren

SO called because they form the resuscitated Church of the Ancient Moravian Brethren. They are commonly known as “The Moravians,” and “The Moravian Church,” inasmuch as they originally came from Moravia. Their official title is “THE UNITED BRETHREN,” or Unitas Fratrum.

Nicolaus Zinzendorf preaching to people from many nations
  1. History. — At the close of the Bohemian anti-Reformation (1627), a remnant of the Brethren remained concealed in Bohemia and Moravia, and for many years kept up religious services in secret according to the faith and usages of the fathers. This “hidden seed,” as it is generally called, was revealed in 1722, when two families, named Neisser, escaped from Moravia under the guidance of Christian David, “the servant of the Lord,” and settled on the domain of Berthelsdorf, in Saxony, by the invitation of its young owner, count Nicholas Lewis de Zinzendorf (q.v.). In the course of the next seven years (1722-29), about three hundred other Brethren from Moravia and Bohemia emigrated in little companies to the same place, leaving their houses and lands to be confiscated by the Austrian government, and braving the punishments which were inflicted on those refugees who fell into its hands. They built a town called Herrnhut, or “The Watch of the Lord,” to which godly men from various parts of Germany were soon attracted, so that its population rapidly increased. In the midst of this colony the Church of the Brethren was renewed, through the introduction of the ancient discipline, preserved in the Ratio Discipline of Amos Comenius, and through the transfer of the venerable episcopate, which had been kept up with such care, in spem contra spem, even after the ancient Church, as a visible organization, had ceased to exist. This transfer was made at Berlin, March 13, 1735, on which day David Nitschmann was consecrated as the first bishop of the Renewed Church, by Daniel Ernst Jablonski and Christian Sitkovius, the two surviving bishops of the ancient line.
‘Vogtshof’ in Herrnhut – administrative centre of the worldwide Moravian Church.

In considering this renewal, two points are important. First, it was not a scheme of man, but altogether a work of God. Hence it bears a reality, and assumes its place in history with an authority, for both of which we would look in vain had a mere human plan been carried out. When Zinzendorf offered his estate as a refuge for the Brethren, he had not the remotest idea of renewing their Church, of which he knew little or nothing. Long before they came to his domain his aims in the interests of the Gospel had received an entirely different direction through the pietism of Spener. Nor did the Moravians themselves, when they began to emigrate, agree to reorganize in some other land. They left the issue of their flight in the hands of God. It was only by degrees that both parties were led to understand the divine will. The failure of his own plans, and other circumstances beyond his control, at last induced Zinzendorf to identify himself with the Brethren, and to labor for the resuscitation of their Church; while the gradual increase of their number at Herrnhut, and the opportunity which they there had to consult and to tell each other of the pious hopes of their fathers, gave them courage to maintain their independence, and to look for a new Unitas Fratrum. Secondly, this renewal involved a union of the German element of pietism with the Slavonic element of the ancient Brethren’s Church. Thus arose some principles which were not found in the latter, and a polity of exclusivism that gave a peculiar tendency for more than a century to the Moravians of the modern period. Zinzendorf was a Lutheran by birth, education, and conviction. He was devoted to the system of Spener, who had been one of his sponsors at his baptism, and especially to the project of establishing “little churches in the Church” (ecclesiolae in ecclesia), in other words, unions or associations of converted persons within a regular parish, for the purpose of personal edification. Hence the great aim which shaped his course was not to interfere with the State Church, but to develop Spener’s idea in such a way that the Brethren would constitute, on the one hand, an independent Church, and yet, on the other, be a union of believers within the ecclesiastical establishments of the various countries in which they might settle. Accordingly, wherever they spread, exclusive towns were founded, in which religion controlled not only spiritual, but also social and industrial interests; from which the vices and follies of the world were banished, and where none but Brethren were allowed to hold real estate. That the Church could not, with such a system, enlarge its borders to any great extent in its home-field is evident. That its avowed purpose was to remain small is equally clear. The Moravian element, indeed, which drew its life from the old Unitas Fratrum, struggled for a time to gain free scope and expand. But Zinzendorf’s views prevailed in the end and were consistently carried out. Here and there Moravian villages were planted, as a leaven in Christendom. Such villages were to know nothing of a mere nominal Church membership. All their inhabitants were to be true followers of Christ; and within their secure retreats, they were to cultivate simplicity and lowly-mindedness, to foster holiness and love, to show forth a guileless spirit and a beautiful brotherhood. This constituted Zinzendorf’s ideal, which was crowned with wonderful success.


At the time of Zinzendorf’s death (1760), the Brethren were established in most of the Protestant states of Germany, in Holland, Great Britain, and North America, and after his decease they spread to Russia, Denmark, and Baden. In all of these countries they were represented by exclusive settlements; in Great Britain and America they had, besides, a number of churches in which their peculiar system did not prevail. The various governments granted them liberal concessions, and made them independent of the State Church; the Parliament of Great Britain, with the full concurrence of the bench of bishops, acknowledged them in 1749 as “an ancient episcopal Church,” and passed an act encouraging them to settle in the North American colonies. On the part of the theologians of the day, however, the same fraternal spirit was not always manifested. Lutheran divines, especially, began to publish bitter attacks upon the Brethren. That these, in this early period of their history, gave just cause of offence, at least to some extent, cannot be denied. In the first place, the controlling influence of the Church was carried to unreasonable extremes, particularly as regards the sacred rights of the marriage relation and of the family. These were interfered with. In order to educate a chosen generation for work in the kingdom of God, the Church Undertook the training of the children almost to the exclusion of parental rule. In the second place, about the year 1745 there began to appear in the churches of Middle Germany a spirit of fanaticism, which spread to some other Moravian’ towns on the Continent, and even to Great Britain. Those in America were not affected. It was a fanaticism which grew out of a one-sided view of the relation of believers to Christ. The Brethren spoke of him in a fanciful and antiscriptural style. A new religious phraseology, unwarranted by the Bible, gained the supremacy. The wounds of Jesus, and particularly the wound in his side, were apostrophized in the most extravagant terms. Images were used more sensuous than anything found in the Song of Solomon. Hymns abounded that poured forth puerilities and sentimental nonsense like a flood. This state of affairs, which in Moravian history is designated “the time of sifting,” continued for about five years, reaching its climax in 1749. When Zinzendorf and his coadjutors awoke to a sense of the danger which was threatening the Church, they adopted the most energetic measures to bring back the fanatics to the true faith. By the blessing of God they succeeded; the Church was fully restored to sound doctrine and scriptural practice. This is an experience without a parallel in ecclesiastical history, and shows how firmly it was founded upon Christ as its chief corner-stone. This, too, is the sufficient answer to those assaults which were then made upon it by Rimius, by the author of The Moravians Detected, and by a legion of other writers, whose publications have been collected by the librarian of the archives at Herrnhut, where they fill up a large book-case, and are examined as literary curiosities by the visitor of the present day.

The best evidence of the entire suppression of fanaticism is the fact that the Moravian settlements, subsequent to 1750, not only continued to be centres of a widely spread influence for good, but also exercised such influence in an ever-increasing degree throughout the world. However exclusive their system, they were not market-places in which the people stood idle all the day; on the contrary, there were various ways in which these towns made their power to be felt. They gave a direction to chosen men of God, who became illustrious leaders in other parts of Christendom- as, for instance, to John Wesley, to Schleiermacher, and to Knapp; they were cities of refuge for the pure Gospel during the long reign of rationalism in Germany; they educated in their boarding-schools thousands of young people not connected with the Moravian Church; they originated a vast home missionary work, which will be described below, under the head of “’Diaspora;” and they sent out so large an army of missionaries into heathen lands that by common consent the Moravians are recognised as the standard-bearers in the foreign missionary work of modern times.

Since the beginning of the present century various modifications have been introduced in the Church, especially such as set aside any undue interference on its part with the rights of the family. The General Synod of 1857 undertook a thorough revision of the Constitution, on the basis of local independence in the three “provinces” of the

Unitas Fratrum.

  1. Moravian Towns. — There still exist fifteen exclusively Moravian settlements on the Continent of Europe, and four in Great Britain. In such settlements the membership is divided into seven classes, called “choirs,” from the Greek χορός. These classes are: the married couples, the widowed, the unmarried men, the unmarried women, the boys, the girls, and the little children. Each class is committed to the supervision of an elder. Growing out of this system, we find in every Moravian town a Brethren’s, a Sisters’, and a Widows’ House. In a Brethren’s House, unmarried men live together and carry on trades, the profits of which go to support the establishment, as also the enterprises of the Church in general. A Sisters’ House is inhabited by unmarried women, who maintain themselves by work suited to their sex. In each house there is a prayer-hall, where daily religious services are held. A common kitchen supplies the inmates with their meals. There is nothing monastic in the principles underlying these establishments, or in the regulations by which they are governed. The inmates are bound by no vow, and can leave at their option. A Widows’ House is a home for widows, supplying them with all the comforts which they need at moderate charges, and enabling the poorest to live in a respectable manner. Each house has a spiritual and a temporal superintendent. The settlements in general are governed by two boards: the one, called the ’Elders’ Conference,” with the senior pastor at its head, attends to the spiritual affairs; the other called the “Board of Overseers,” with the “warden” as its president, to financial and municipal matters. On business of importance, a general meeting of the adult male members is convened. These towns at present count among their inhabitants not a few who are not members of the Moravian Church. Such residents, until recently, were not permitted to own real estate. This fundamental principle is now undergoing a change which will, without doubt, gradually lead to the abolition of the entire system of exclusivism.
In 1772, John Ettwein and his group of some 200 Lenape and Mohican Christians traveled west along The Great Shamokin Path from their village of Friedenshütten (Cabins of Peace) near modern Wyalusing on the North Branch Susquehanna River to their new village of Friedensstadt (City of Peace) on the Beaver River in southwestern Pennsylvania.

III. The American A Moravian Church. — The Moravians settled in Georgia in 1735, but left that colony in 1740, on account of the war which had broken out with Spain. In the following year they founded Bethlehem, and subsequently Nazareth, in Pennsylvania. These towns, together with several smaller settlements, not only adopted exclusive principles, but also instituted a communism of labor. “The lands were the property of the Church, and the farms and various departments of mechanical industry were stocked by it and worked for its benefit. In return, the Church provided the inhabitants with all the necessaries of life. Whoever had private means, retained them. There was no common treasury, such as we find among the primitive Christians.” This peculiar social system, which bore the name of” Economy,” and which has given rise to the erroneous idea that there prevailed at one time a community of goods among the Moravians, existed for twenty years (1742-62). It accomplished great results. Each member of the “Economy”’ was pledged ” to devote his time and powers in whatever direction they could be most advantageously applied for the spread of the Gospel.” Hence, while there proceeded from the Moravian settlements an unbroken succession of itinerants, who traversed the colonies and the Indian country in every direction, preaching Christ Jesus and him crucified, there labored at home a body of farmers and mechanics in order to maintain this extensive mission. After the abrogation of the Economy,” the Church for eighty years continued to uphold its foreign exclusive polity. It is true there were a number of organizations not exclusive, but these were looked upon as of secondary importance, and were characterized as mere “city and country congregations.” Consequently the Moravians of the United States could expand as little as their brethren in Europe. From 1844 to 1856, however, the old system was gradually relinquished and has now ceased to exist. There no longer are any Moravian towns in this country. The American Moravian Church now stands on the same footing as the other Protestant denominations of the land and is pursuing the same policy of extension. In the last twenty years, it has nearly doubled its membership and flourished in other respects.

  1. The Constitution. — The Unitas Fratrum is distributed into three provinces, the German, British, and American, which are independent in all provincial affairs, but form one organic whole in regard to the fundamental principles of doctrine, discipline, and ritual, as also in carrying on the work of foreign missions. Hence we find a provincial and a general government. Each province has a Provincial Synod, which elects from time to time a board of bishops and other ministers, styled the “Provincial Elders’ Conference,” to administer the government in the interval between the synods. To this board is committed the power of appointing the ministers to their several parishes. It is responsible to the synod. The Provincial Board of the American Province consists of three members, has its seat at Bethlehem, Pensylvania, and is elected every six years. The American Provincial Synod, composed, of all ordained ministers and of lay delegates elected by the churches, meets triennially; and the province is divided into four districts, in each of which a District Synod is annually held. Every ten or twelve years a General Synod of the whole Unitas Fratrum is convened at Herrnhut, in Saxony. It consists of nine delegates from each province, elected by the Provincial Synod; of representatives of the foreign missions; and of such other members as are entitled to a seat by virtue of their office. This synod elects a board of twelve bishops and other ministers, styled the “Unity’s Elders’ Conference,” which oversees the whole Church in so far as general principles come into question, and superintends the foreign missionary work. At the present time, the same Conference acts as the Provincial Board of the German Province. It has its seat in the castle of Berthelsdorf, the former residence of count Zinzendorf.
  2. Doctrines. — The Renewed Moravian Church does not, as was the case in the ancient Church of the Brethren, set forth its doctrines in a formal confession of faith, nor does it bind the consciences of its members to any which are not essential to salvation. Such essential doctrines, however, it publishes in its Catechism, its Easter-morning Litany, and its Synodical Results, or code of statutes, drawn up and published by each General Synod. From this latter work, as issued by the Synod of 1869, we quote the following extract:

“The points of doctrine which we deem most essential to salvation are: “

  1. The doctrine of the total depravity of human nature: that there is no health in man, and that the fall absolutely deprived him of the divine image.
  2. The doctrine of the love of God the Father, who has ’chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world,’ and ’so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’
  3. The doctrine of the real godhead and the real manhood of Jesus Christ: that God, the Creator of all things, was manifested in the flesh, and has reconciled the world unto himself; and that ’he is before all things, and by him all things consist.’
  4. The doctrine of the atonement and satisfaction of Jesus Christ for us: that he ’was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification;’ and that in his merits alone we find forgiveness of sins and peace with God.
  5. The doctrine of the Holy Ghost, and the operations of his grace: that it is he who works in us the knowledge of sin, faith in Jesus, and the witness that we are children of God.
  6. 6. The doctrine of the fruits of faith: that faith must manifest itself as a living and active principle, by a willing obedience to the commandments of God, prompted by love and gratitude to him who died for us.

“In conformity with these fundamental articles of faith, the great theme of our preaching is Jesus Christ, in whom we have the brace of the Lord the love of the Father, and the communion of the Holy Ghost. We regard it as the main calling of the Brethren’s Church to proclaim the Lord’s death and to point to him, ’as made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”


An authorized manual of doctrine is bishop Spangenberg’s Exposition of Christian Doctrine as taught in the Church of the U.B. (Lond. 1784); a systematic work for theologians, although not authorized by the synod, is Evatngelische Glaubenslehre nach Schrift und Efaciahrung (Gotha, 1863), by Dr. Plitt, president of the German theological seminary. See also Zinzendorfs Theologie (Gotha, 1869-74, 3 volumes), by the same author.

  1. Ministry, Ritual, and Usages. — The ministry consists of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. The episcopal office is not provincial, but represents the whole Unitas Fratrum. Hence bishops have an official seat, not merely in the synods of the provinces in which they are stationed, but also in the General Synod; hence, too, they can be appointed only by this body, or by the Unity’s Elders’ Conference, although the American Province has secured the right of nomination. From all this it is evident that the Moravian episcopacy is not diocesan, and that bishops are not rulers of the Church ex officio, as was the case among the ancient Brethren. They are, however, almost invariably connected with the government by election to the Unity’s Elders’ Conference, or to the Provincial Boards. The president of the former is always a bishop; the presidents of the latter are, as a general thing, the same. The contrary is the exception. In the episcopate is vested exclusively the power of ordaining; it constitutes, moreover, a body of men whose duty it is to look to the welfare of the entire

Unitas Fratrum, in all its provinces and missions, and especially to bear it on their hearts in unceasing prayer before God. At present there are eleven bishops in active service: four in America, two in England, and five in Germany. Of these, seven are members of the governing boards.

The ritual is liturgical in its character. A litany is used every Sunday morning; free prayer is allowed in connection with the litany, and at other times. There are prescribed forms for baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confirmation, ordination, marriage, and the burial of the dead; special offices of worship for parochial, boarding, and Sunday schools; liturgical services for the various festivals of the ecclesiastical year, such as Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, etc., which are all observed; and a particular litany for Easter morning, prayed annually at sunrise, and, wherever practicable, amid the graves of them that sleep. Certain days commemorating important events in Moravian history are celebrated, and in those churches in which the division of the membership into “choirs” has been retained, which is the case not only in the exclusive settlements, each class observes an annual day of praise and covenanting, the festival closing with the Holy Communion. Love-feasts are held, in imitation of the ancient “agape,” preparatory to the Lord’s Supper, and on other occasions. At all liturgical services sacred music forms a prominent feature. Foot-washing (pedilavium) was formerly practiced on certain occasions within the limited circles of some of the ” hoirs,” but has been universally discontinued since the beginning of the present century. The statement in this Cyclopaedia, volume 4, page 616, taken from Herzog’s Real-Encyklopiadie, 4:630, that the Moravians still practice foot-washing, is therefore incorrect. At one time the lot was employed in the appointment of ministers, and in connection with marriages. Its use in the former case has been greatly restricted, and is left to the discretion of each provincial board. In the American Church it is scarcely ever resorted to, except when a minister receiving an appointment requests its use. Touching marriages by lot, they were abolished, as a rule, by the General Synod of 1818. Since that time they have been almost unknown in the American Province. This usage, which has been so generally misunderstood and ridiculed outside of the Church, was a legitimate result of its controlling influence in all the relations of its members, and constituted, moreover, a wonderful example of the childlike faith of the early Moravians. They gave themselves entirely into the hands of God. He was to lead them in all respects. In view of the loose ideas that prevail in our day with regard to the marriage contract, an intelligent mind cannot but admire such a spirit. That God did not put the confidence of the Brethren to shame is evident from the results of this practice. While it continued, there were fewer unhappy marriages among them than among the same number of people in any other denomination of Christians. This is a well-known fact, which can be established by statistics. Not a single divorce ever occurred. Without going into the details of this usage, we will merely add that any woman was at liberty to reject an offer of marriage even when sanctioned by the lot.

Portrait of a group of Moravian Church members with King George II of Great Britain, attributed to Johann Valentin Haidt, circa 1752–1754

VII. Schools and Missions. — The Moravians have 35 flourishing boarding-schools: 17 in the German Province, 14 in the British, and 4 in the American. They are intended for young people not connected with the Church, and educate annually about 2500 pupils of both sexes. The schools in the American Province are the following: Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, founded in 1785 (200 pupils); Nazareth Hall, for boys, at Nazareth, Pennsylvania, founded in 1785 (125 pupils); Linden Hall, at Litiz, Pennyslvania, founded in 1794 (75 pupils); Salem Female Academy, at Salem, N.C., founded in 1802 (200 pupils); Hope Academy, for girls, founded in 1866 (75 pupils). This province, moreover, has a flourishing theological seminary, with a classical department. at Bethlehem. It was founded in 1807; reorganized in 1858. The British theological seminary is located at Fulneck, Yorkshire, England; and the German seminary at Gnadenfeld, in Silesia. The German Province has a prosperous college at Nisky, in Prussia. The work of foreign missions was begun in 1732, only ten years after the first house had been built at Herrnhut, and when that settlement counted but 600 inhabitants. Leonhard Dober and David Nitschmann were the pioneers, and established the first mission among the negro slaves of St. Thomas. Since that time the home Church has sent out 2171 missionaries, male and female. The following missions proved unsuccessful: Lapland (1734-35); among the Samoyedes, on the Arctic Ocean (1737-38); Ceylon (1738-41); Algiers (1740); Guinea, West Africa (1737-41, and 1767-70); Persia (1747-50); Egypt (1752-83); East Indies (1759-96); among the Calmucks- (1768-1823); Demerara, South America (1835-40). At the present time the work embraces the following fields, called “Mission Provinces:” Greenland (begun 1733); Labrador (1771); Indian Country of North America (1734); St. Thomas and St. John (1732); St. Croix (1732); Jamaica (1754); Antigua (1756); St. Kitt’s (1775); Barbadoes (1765); Tabago (1790, renewed in 1827); Mosquito Coast (1848); Surinam (1735); South African Western Province (1736, renewed in 1792); South African Eastern Province (1728); Australia (1849); Thibet (1853). This extensive work is supported by the contributions of the members of the Church, by the interest of funded legacies, by the donations of missionary associations, and by such revenue as the missions themselves can raise through voluntary gifts and the profits accruing from mercantile concerns and trades. The annual cost of the foreign missions is about $250,000. On retiring from the field in consequence of sickness or old age, missionaries are pensioned. Their widows also receive a pension, and their children are educated at the expense of the Church. In other respects they are satisfied with a bare support. The converts are divided into four classes: New People, or applicants for religious instruction; Candidates for Baptism; Baptized Adults; Communicants. The principal missionary associations are the following: The Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen, founded in 1787, at Bethlehem, Pennyslvania; The Wachovia Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen, founded in 1823, at Salem, N.C.; The Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel among the Heathen, founded in 1741. in England, supporting the mission in Labrador, and owning “The Harmony,” a missionary ship annually sent out to supply the missionaries with the necessaries of life; The London Association in Aid of the Missions of the United Brethren, founded in 1817, and composed chiefly of members not connected with the Moravian Church; The Missionary Society of Zeist, in Holland, founded in 1793; and The Missionary Union of North Sleswick, founded in 1843.

In addition to these foreign missions, the last General Council inaugurated a work in Bohemia (1870), in the midst of the ancient seats of the Brethren, which promises to be successful. It already numbers four churches.

Independently of the other provinces, the German Province carries on its Diaspora. This is a mission which receives its name from the Greek διασπορά in 1Pe_1:1, and which has for its object the evangelization of the European state churches, without depriving them of their members. Hence missionaries itinerate through Protestant Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Livonia, Estonia, and some other parts of Russia, and organize “societies” for the purpose of prayer, of expounding the Scriptures, and of edification in general. The members of such societies do not leave the communion of the state churches. In the event of their disestablishment, however, which seems to be approaching, it is more than probable that the members of such “societies” will fully join the Moravian Church, whose membership will thus be increased by thousands. Indeed such a change is now taking place in Switzerland, where, since the adoption of the new ecclesiastical laws (1873), three independent Moravian churches have grown out of the Diaspora.

The Present Moravian Brethren

The modern Moravian Church, with about 750,000 members worldwide, continues to draw on traditions established during the 18th-century renewal. In many places, it observes the convention of the love-feast, originally started in 1727. It uses older and traditional music in worship. Brass music, congregational singing, and choral music continue to be very important in Moravian congregations. In addition, in some older congregations, Moravians are buried in a traditional God’s Acre, a graveyard with only flat gravestones, signifying the equality of the dead before God and organized by sex, age, and marital status rather than family.

Friedensthal Moravian Church Christiansted, St Croix, USVI founded in 1755

The Moravians continue their long tradition of missionary work, for example in the Caribbean, where the Jamaican Moravian Church has begun work in Cuba and in Africa where the Moravian Church in Tanzania has missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. This is reflected in their broad global distribution. The Moravians in Germany, whose central settlement remains at Herrnhut, are highly active in education and social work. The American Moravian Church sponsors the Moravian College and Seminary. The largest concentration of Moravians today is in Tanzania.

The motto of the Moravian Church is: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love.”

Some Moravian scholars point to a different formula as a guide to constructive debate about faith. This formula was first advanced by Luke of Prague (1460–1528), one of the bishops of the ancient Unitas Fratrum. Luke taught that one must distinguish between things that are essential, ministerial, or incidental to salvation. The essentials are God’s work of creation, redemption, and sanctification, as well as the response of the believer through faith, hope, and love. Things ministerial are such items as the Bible, church, sacraments, doctrine, and priesthood. These mediate the sacred and should thus be treated with respect, but they are not considered essential. Finally, incidentals include things such as vestments or names of services that may reasonably vary from place to place.

Moravian Brethren Beliefs

  • In the Book of Order the several provinces of the Moravian Unity accept:
  • The three Ecumenical Creeds: Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian
  • The first 21 articles of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession
  • The Confession of the Unity of the Bohemian Brethren of 1535
  • The Barmen Declaration of 1934
  • The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
  • The Synod of Berne/Berner Synodus of 1532
  • The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England
  • The Heidelberg Catechism
  • According to the Ground of the Unity of 1957, fundamental beliefs include but are not limited to:
  • The Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son or Logos/Word, and the Holy Spirit.
  • The Fatherhood of God
  • God’s Love for fallen humanity
  • The Incarnation of God in the God/Man Jesus Christ
  • Jesus’ sacrificial death for the sinful rebellion of humanity
  • Jesus’ Resurrection, Ascension and Exaltation to the Right Hand of the Father
  • Jesus’ sending of the Holy Spirit to strengthen, sustain and empower believers
  • Jesus’ eventual return, in majesty, to judge the living and the dead
  • The Kingdom of Christ shall never end
  • There is one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Rebaptism is not allowed.
  • Infants are baptized most commonly, but all forms of baptism are accepted (infant or adult; pouring, sprinkling or immersion).

Moravian doctrine teaches that the Body and Blood of Christ are present in Holy Communion. Without seeking to explain the “Mode” or the “How” of the Presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist, they teach a sacramental union whereby with the Bread and the Wine the Body and Blood are also received. Individual believers are allowed to believe in other interpretations, however. Cf. the “Easter Morning Litany” of the Moravian Church, a statement of faith, in the Moravian Book of Worship, p. 85.

These tenets of classical Christianity are not unique to the Moravian Church. The emphasis in both the Ancient Unity and the Renewed Unity is on Christian living and the fellowship of believers as a true witness to a vibrant Christian Faith.

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

Spirit of the Moravian Church

An account of the ethos of the Moravian Church is given by one of its British bishops, Clarence H. Shawe. In a lecture series delivered at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Shawe described the Spirit of the Moravian Church as having five characteristics: simplicity, happiness, unintrusiveness, fellowship, and the ideal of service.

Simplicity is a focus on the essentials of faith and a lack of interest in the niceties of doctrinal definition. Shawe quotes Zinzendorf’s remark that “The Apostles say: ‘We believe we have salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ….’ If I can only teach a person that catechism I have made him a divinity scholar for all time” (Shawe, 1977, p. 9). From this simplicity flow secondary qualities of genuineness and practicality.

Happiness is the natural and spontaneous response to God’s free and gracious gift of salvation. Again Shawe quotes Zinzendorf: “There is a difference between a genuine Pietist and a genuine Moravian. The Pietist has his sin in the foreground and looks at the wounds of Jesus; the Moravian has the wounds in the forefront and looks from them upon his sin. The Pietist in his timidity is comforted by the wounds; the Moravian in his happiness is shamed by his sin” (p. 13).

Unintrusiveness is based on the Moravian belief that God positively wills the existence of a variety of churches to cater for different spiritual needs. There is no need to win converts from other churches. The source of Christian unity is not legal form but everyone’s heart-relationship with the Savior.

Fellowship is based on this heart relationship. Shawe says: “The Moravian ideal has been to gather together kindred hearts…. Where there are ‘Christian hearts in love united’, there fellowship is possible in spite of differences of intellect and intelligence, of thought, opinion, taste and outlook. … Fellowship [in Zinzendorf’s time] meant not only a bridging of theological differences but also of social differences; the artisan and aristocrat were brought together as brothers and sat as equal members on the same committee” (pp. 21,22).

The ideal of service entails happily having the attitude of a servant. This shows itself partly in faithful service in various roles within congregations but more importantly in service of the world “by the extension of the Kingdom of God”. Historically, this has been evident in educational and especially missionary work. Shawe remarks that “none could give themselves more freely to the spread of the gospel than those Moravian emigrants who, by settling in Herrnhut [i.e., on Zinzendorf’s estate], had gained release from suppression and persecution” (p. 26).

Attribution: This article incorporates text from the public domain: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


  • Church of England & the Moravian Church in Great Britain and Ireland, Anglican-Moravian Conversations: The Fetter Lane Common Statement with Essays in Moravian and Anglican History (1996)
  • Engel, Katherine Carte. Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America (2010)
  • Fogleman, Aaron Spencer. Jesus Is Female: Moravians and the Challenge of Radical Religion in Early America (2007)
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