Zinzendorf, Count Nicholas Ludwig von (1700-1760)

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), a Silesian Pietist nobleman, renewer of the Moravian brotherhood, b. 26 May 1700, in Dresden, Germany. Although by profession he was a legal adviser at the court of the King of Saxony in Dresden until 1727, his primary interest was the kingdom of God and the saving of men. He was ordained a Lutheran minister at Tübingen in 1734. Banned from Saxony in 1736 because of his "separatistic" activities, he established his headquarters first in western Germany in the Wetterau, then 1751-55 in London, and at last on his own estate in the village of Herrnhut.

The chief interest of Zinzendorf's life, however, was the Moravian Brotherhood (Unitas Fratrum). In 1722 he gave the pitiful remnants of the Bohemian Brethren, fleeing from their homeland, asylum on his family estate of Berthelsdorf. The village that was built for them was named Herrnhut (i.e., The Lord's Protection). In 1727 the Brethren, some 300 in number, were reorganized, with Zinzendorf as their leader, becoming a new church within the general framework of Lutheranism, but with an intense sense of mission to revive the general church and to evangelize the heathen. Zinzendorf was ordained bishop of the Renewed Brotherhood in 1737 and served until 1741, when he resigned. His intense passion for the unity of all true believers, which was a dominant motive throughout his life, made him one of the first "ecumenical" leaders, although in practice no visible results in this direction were attained and he remained throughout his life basically the great leader of a great evangelistic and missionary group, called in America the Moravian Brethren Church.

Zinzendorf spent much of his life from 1737 on in traveling on two continents in the promotion of his missionary and ecumenical vision. His first major trip was to the West Indies in 1739, followed by two (1741-43) years in America (chiefly Pennsylvania). Switzerland, Holland, England, and Livonia were also included. He was directly connected with the establishment of the Moravian settlements in Pennsylvania in 1741, himself giving the name Bethlehem to the new town. Zinzendorf died at Herrnhut, 6 May 1760.

Zinzendorf's direct connection with the Mennonites is limited to two areas, Holland and Pennsylvania. In Holland it was with the Amsterdam Mennonite minister Joannes Deknatel (1695-1759), whom he met during his visit to Amsterdam in February and March 1736. A warm friendship developed between them, and Deknatel, while remaining a Mennonite, actually joined the Moravian Brethren congregation in Amsterdam, organized 25 November 1738. Zinzendorf celebrated communion in Deknatel's home in 1737. The influence of Zinzendorf and the Moravians upon Deknatel, the Dutch Mennonite Pietist, was profound. Later the relationship cooled off, influenced among other things by Zinzendorf's inability to repay a loan from Deknatel.

The second contact with the Mennonites was in Pennsylvania. Zinzendorf attempted to establish a united fellowship of all German-speaking Christians in the colony in 1742, an attempt that failed dismally. For this purpose he called a series of seven synods, to which representatives of all groups were invited, in the hope of forming "The Pennsylvania Congregation of God in the Spirit." These were held as follows: 1 January 1742 at Germantown; 14 January 1742 at the home of the Schwenckfelder George Hiebner; and 21 February 1742 at the home of the Huguenot Jean DeTurck at Oley. Only the first three synods were important, for the movement was obviously a failure, and the remaining four synods accomplished little but to condemn all the sects except the Moravians and the Quakers.

According to the published proceedings Mennonites were present in at least the first three synods, although nothing is known of their identity. On 12 January 1742, Zinzendorf is said to have visited "a venerable but unnamed Mennonite leader" to explain to him the purposes of the synods and the aims of the Unitas Fratrum, and to invite him to attend the Second Synod. "The Mennonite received the count graciously, listened patiently, but declared that the time was too short to send qualified delegates to his meeting" (Stoudt). Apparently the Mennonites in attendance at the synods were not official delegates. One of the last four synods is said to have met in a Mennonite home in the Oley region. No trace of these meetings has been found in any Mennonite records, and there was no observable influence of Zinzendorf's work upon the Mennonites of Pennsylvania.

Augustus Spangenberg, next to Zinzendorf the outstanding leader of the Moravian Brethren, who had come to Pennsylvania as an evangelist and missionary, gave added impetus to a unique interdenominational fellowship established in 1736, called the Associated Brethren of Skippack, of which Henry Antes was the real leader, and which lasted about three years, and may have had some bearing on the Mennonites in this area. Meetings were held monthly at the home of Christoph Wiegner, a Schwenckfelder, on a farm at Skippack. "Some twenty to thirty men from communities as widely separated as Skippack, Fredericktown, Oley, and Germantown comprised the core of the union," whose meetings were for the purpose of "edification and mapping of strategy for evangelizing the Germans." "The Wiegner farm was Spangenberg's home during his first stay of three years in Pennsylvania and his evangelistic labors were greatly facilitated by the co-operation which the group meeting there gave him" (Weinlick). The Associated Brethren was the forerunner of Zinzendorf's ecumenical attempt, and according to Stoudt its membership formed the nucleus of Zinzendorf's synods. It would be surprising if none of the Skippack Mennonites were ever in contact with or attended the meetings of either the Associated Brethren or the synods. (See Moravian Church, Moravians in the Netherlands, and Pietism.)


Doopsgezinde Bijdragen. (1885): 71 ff.

Stoudt, John J. "Count Zinzendorf and the Pennsylvania Congregation of God in the Spirit, the First American Ecumenical Movement." Church History IX (1940): 366-80.

Weinlick, John R. Count Zinzendorf. New York, 1956.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Zinzendorf, Count Nicholas Ludwig von (1700-1760)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 16 Apr 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Zinzendorf,_Count_Nicholas_Ludwig_von_(1700-1760)&oldid=79030.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1959). Zinzendorf, Count Nicholas Ludwig von (1700-1760). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 April 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Zinzendorf,_Count_Nicholas_Ludwig_von_(1700-1760)&oldid=79030.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 1030-1031. All rights reserved.

©1996-2021 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.