Moravian Church

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Moravian Church (or Moravian Brethren), the name in America and England of the church known in Europe as Unitas Fratrum, Brüder-Unitüt, or Herrnhuter (Gemeinde). Its history is divided into two distinct parts, viz., the "old" (1457) and the "new" (1722 or 1736) Brüder-Unität. Whereas the former group was nearly exclusively made up of members of Czech nationality (both in Bohemia and Moravia), the new Brüder-Unität has been predominantly German. Its spiritual and organizational center was and still was in the 1950s Herrnhut in Saxony; its guiding spirit was the inspired and "pietistic" leader Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf. This new, re-established church, in many ways similar to the German Lutheran state church and yet independent of it as well as of any state, now became very aggressive, evangelizing and doing extensive mission work. Soon it spread to West and East, that is, to England and America on the one side and to Russia on the other.

Since the article Bohemian Brethren discusses the historical background, and the article Moravians in the Netherlands the particular development of this group during the 18th and 19th centuries, the present article will restrict itself to contacts between Moravians and Anabaptism.

As far as the "old" church (in Czech called Jednota Bratrska) is concerned, its contacts with Anabaptists in Moravia (none in Bohemia) were minor, apparently primarily because of language barriers. The Anabaptists never worked among non-German groups and, on the other hand, the Moravians not among non-Czech people. Moravia in the 16th century was a most tolerant country; thus both groups could live peacefully side by side without too many visible contacts. In 1534 the Bohemian Brethren abolished their practice of adult baptism, retaining only a form of "confirmation" with their adolescents, thus adding another reason for mutual distance. Early in the 17th century the last bishop of the Bohemian Brethren, John Amos Comenius (Komensky), more than once expressed his admiration for the Hutterian Brethren and his sympathy for their suffering while being expelled from Moravia. He called their constitution "perfect as with no other society in the world" (Fragen über die Unität, 1633), and again in 1661, "I have known these simple Brethren from my youth on, and I know that they always held to their faith."

In the 18th century, however, when a new church arose in Herrnhut burning with missionary zeal, contacts with Anabaptists became almost inevitable, even though the two groups represent rather different spirits of Christian witnessing. J. T. Müller in his excellent study of 1910 (see bibliography) collected all available evidence concerning these contacts, a condensation of which may also be found in Friedmann's book, Mennonite Piety (51-54). Since contacts with Dutch Mennonites are dealt with in another article, and of contacts with Mennonites in Germany and Switzerland nothing essential has become known, this article is concerned exclusively with contacts with Hutterites, both in Slovakia and in Russia.

The first document of significance is a letter of Count Zinzendorf of 1727, handed to a Slovakian Hutterite brother visiting Herrnhut. In this letter the basically different orientation becomes quite apparent: "To follow the ordinances of the perfect church [most likely he meant the practice of community of goods] . . . is not our primary concern. . . . Each one should ground himself in Jesus Christ and thus receive regeneration from above. It is on this that we base all brotherhood. . . . We believe in an invisible church of Jesus in the spirit."

A second letter by Zinzendorf (1731) to the brethren in Slovakia deals with the Lord's Supper and its meaning. Again the difference between the new spirit of Pietism and that of old-type Anabaptism becomes obvious. "The coming together (at least twelve times a year), the testing, eating, drinking, believing, possessing [of sacramental grace], feeling, enjoying—this is what I must testify out of a sincere love." Most likely the Hutterian Brethren in Slovakia had little understanding for this kind of "subjectivism" and emotionalism. Their Lord's Supper, celebrated usually twice a year, meant something very different to them. They were rather ignorant of the new trend of "enjoying one's own salvation"; to them the Supper meant simply commitment to the path of discipleship and strengthening of the spirit of genuine community and brotherhood.

In 1782 a Hutterite brother Jakob Walter of Sobotište in Slovakia, on his way to his brethren in the Ukraine, passed through Herrnhut and there received help and support; likewise some later emigrants from Slovakia. Apparently the Moravians considered them as some remnants of the older Unitas Fratrum.

Quite remarkable is the contact of the Hutterite Brethren with Moravians in Russia, the Hutterites living in Radichev in the Ukraine, the Moravians in Sarepta on the Volga River, some 700 miles to the East. This contact covered the period of 1797 to 1811; the main actors were Johannes Waldner, the Vorsteher at Radichev, and Johann Wiegand (or Wygand), pastor of the Brüdergemeinde in the Volga district. In 1802 the latter visited the Hutterite Bruderhof and thereupon reported in detail of his experiences (Zieglschmid, Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 413-418). He assured the reader that "not only the Moravians but also the Hutterites consider as the sole foundation of all righteousness and salvation the merit of Jesus Christ" (Zieglschmid, 415). But immediately afterwards he lamented the formalistic rigidity of the Hutterites, who had not changed since the 16th century, and he likewise deplored their lack of a missionary spirit. The two groups exchanged writings, and in one of his letters Johannes Waldner highly praised Spangenberg's Idea Fidei Fratrum (one of the basic texts of the Moravians). But the gulf between the two groups remained unbridged, mainly due to the Moravians' insistence on infant baptism. In 1803 Wiegand asked Herrnhut for some relief work among the Hutterites, and added that such help might also promote further rapprochement and in the long run perhaps even complete fusion. When Wiegand died in 1808 Waldner sent a letter of sympathy to his successor, full of personal warmth and appreciation even though he could not avoid saying, "There are a number of points between us which separate us. . . . But we want to bear with each other in the love of Jesus since we are one in the great work of redemption and reconciliation through the blood of Jesus" (Friedmann, 54).

The archives of the Herrnhut center still have the gifts received from Johannes Waldner, namely, one booklet containing catechetical instructions and the form for the ceremony of (adult) baptism (50 pages), two sermons to be preached at Easter time on the occasion of the Lord's Supper (Abendmahlsrede) of 1644 (140 pages), one sermon for Christmas concerning the deity of Christ, written at Kesselsdorf, Slovakia, in 1657, and a hymn describing the exodus of the Carinthians in 1756 and the new beginning in Transylvania until 1760, 50 stanzas in 19 pages (perhaps composed by Matthias Hofer). The archives hold also the entire correspondence mentioned above, including letters by Waldner to Wiegand's successor Friedrich Gregor.


Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967: 169-173.

Friedmann, Robert. Mentionite Piety Through the Centuries. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1949.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I: 279-85.

Loserth, J. "Deutsch-Böhmische Wiedertäufer, ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Reformation in Böhmen." Mitteilungen des Vereins für die Geschichte der Deutschen in Böhmen, (1892).

Müller, J. T. "Die Berührung der alten imd neuen Brüderunität mit den Täufern." Zeitschrift für Brüdergeschichte (1910).

Müller, J. T. Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 3 vols., 1922-1931 (v. I: 1400-1528; v. II: 1528-1576; v. Ill: 1548-1793 [Polnische Unität] and 1575-1780 [Bömisch-Mährische Unität]).

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947

For Comenius see

Spinka, M. John Amos Comenius, That Incomparable Moravian. Chicago, 1943.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Moravian Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 29 Nov 2023.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1957). Moravian Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 November 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 750-751. All rights reserved.

©1996-2023 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.