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Count von Zinzendorf Nikolaus Ludwig

1700-60. Founder of the Moravian Church. Born in Dresden to an Austrian noble family, he was the son of a high Saxon official who died during Zinzendorf's youth. He was raised by his maternal grandmother, a Pietist and close friend of Spener* and Francke,* and educated at the Halle Pädagogium (1710-16). A deeply religious youth, he became interested in foreign missions after meeting the Danish-Halle missionaries to India, but his family pressured him into a governmental career. In 1716-19 he studied law at Wittenberg, a center of orthodox Lutheranism, and he tried unsuccessfully to reconcile orthodoxy and Pietism.* While traveling in W Europe in 1719-20, he came into contact with Reformed theology, non-churchly groups, and Roman Catholicism which further broadened his understanding of Christianity. After entering the Saxon civil service in 1721, he sponsored religious assemblies in his Dresden home and purchased an estate at Berthelsdorf where in 1722 he invited a group of Bohemian Protestant refugees (Unitas Fratrum) to form a Christian community called “Herrnhut.”* In 1727 he retired from government service to devote full time to the colony.

His religious thought matured during these years, and he broke with the Halle Pietists. He stressed “heart religion”-a deep mystical, spiritual, experiential faith-as well as Christian community, worldwide evangelism, and ecumenical relationships. He felt Francke's successors had become too rigid, while the Pietists questioned the validity of his conversion and criticized his extravagant mysticism, supposed heterodoxy, and utopian ideas of reunion with the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. Orthodox Lutherans also attacked him, and in 1734 his beliefs were formally examined. He then became a theological candidate in Tübingen and in 1737 was ordained a bishop by the Berlin court preacher D.E. Jablonski,* which meant official recognition for Zinzendorf and his movement, although circumstances eventually forced the Moravians into a separate organization.

While visiting Copenhagen in 1731, a chance meeting with a West Indian Negro rekindled his interests in foreign missions. The first Moravian missionaries were sent to the Caribbean in 1734, and Zinzendorf himself visited St. Thomas in 1738-39. Expelled from Saxony in 1736, he settled in the Wetterau and traveled around Europe founding Moravian communities, the most significant being those in Holland and England. In 1741-43 he journeyed to America, where he labored in Indian missions and in building up the Moravian congregations. He attempted in vain to unify the German Lutheran churches in Pennsylvania, a task finally carried out by H.M. Mühlenberg* while the Moravian churches went their own way.

Zinzendorf returned to Herrnhut in 1747 and engaged in pastoral work there except for the five years (1749-50; 1751-55) he spent working with the congregation in England. His last years were marred by personal tragedy (death of his son and wife) and financial difficulties. His importance lies in the creation of a missionary, service-oriented, ecumenical free church based upon a common experience of salvation and mutual love, and the emphasis upon deep, emotional religious expression (especially in his hymns, prayers, poems, and “daily watch words”) which infused new life into Protestant orthodoxy.

J.R. Weinlick, Count Zinzendorf (1956); E. Beyreuther, Zinzendorf und die sich allhier beisammen finden (1959) and Zinzendorf und die Christenheit, 1732-1760 (1961); A.J. Lewis, Zinzendorf, the Ecumenical Pioneer (1962); Zinzendorf's Hauptschriften (ed. E. Beyreuther, 7 vols., 1962-64); G.W. Forell, Zinzendorf: Nine Public Lectures on Important Subjects in Religion (1973).