A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Unitas Fratrum

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UNITAS FRATRUM, i.e. the Unity of the Brethren; or FRATRES UNITATIS, the United Brethren, is the denomination of a society of christians, usually called Moravians, because they first arose as a distinct church in Moravia; and sometimes Hernhutters, from one of their first settlements in Hernhutt.

In their history, as given by Crantz, their historian, they are distinguished into ancient and modern. The former refers to them before their settlement in Upper Lusatia in 1772; the latter after it.

In an address on their behalf to the English privy council in 1715, they are called The reformed episcopal churches, first settled in Bohemia, and since forced by the persecutions of their enemies to retire into the Greater Poland, and Polish Prussia. In an address also from themselves to the church of England, in the time of Charles II. they claim to have been "free for almost 700 years from the encroachments of the Romish see;" and speak of Huss, and Jerome of Prague, as their famous martyrs, by whose blood the church of Bohemia had been watered and enriched. By the Bohemian church, however, can only be meant the christians, who resided in that country; for Mr. Crantz places the beginning of the church of The United Brethren in the year 1457, and represents it as rising out of the scattered remains of the followers of Huss. " This people, in order to free themselves from the tyranny of Rome, had applied in 1450 for a re-union with the Greek church, of which they had been anciently a part, and their request was cheerfully granted; but on the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, about two years after, which put an end to the Greek empire, this proposed junction came to nothing. After this they resolved to establish a community among themselves, and to edify one another from the word of God. But as this would expose them in their own country to persecution, they obtained permission to withdraw to a part of the king's domain, on the boundary between Silesia and Moravia, to settle there, and regulate their worship according to their own conscience and judgment.

"In the year 1457, they assumed the above denomination of United Brethren, and bound themselves to a stricter church discipline, resolving to suffer all things for conscience's sake; and instead of defending themselves, as some had done, by force of arms, to oppose nothing but prayer and reasonable remonstrances to the rage of their. enemies.

"From this period to the reformation they were severely persecuted, but still preserved their unity. A connexion was also formed between them and the Waldenses, who had for many centuries borne witness to the truth. They had several conferences with Luther, Calvin, and other reformers, and some attempts were made for an union. They approved of the Augsburg confession; but not agreeing in discipline, they still continued a distinct body.

"After various persecutions, distresses, and discouragements during the seventeenth century, they became in a manner extinct: but about the year 1720, a remarkable awakening took place among the posterity of the Brethren in Bohemia; and as no free toleration could be obtained for them in that country, they agreed to emigrate. Christian David, who had been very useful amongst them, applied on their behalf to Nicholas Lewis, Count Zinzendorf, who granted them permission to settle on his estates in Upper Lusatia. Thither, in 1723, a company of them repaired, and formed the settlement of Hernhutt. Within the first four or five years they had well nigh been broken up by religious dissensions, occasioned (it is said) by parties from among the Lutherans and the Reformed coming to settle with them. At length, by the exertions of Count Zinzendorf, the Unity was renewed, and in 1727 rules agreed to, by which divisions might in future be avoided. The Count, who from the first was friendly, now became united to them, and, in 1755, was chosen to be their bishop; having been the preceding year received into clerical orders by the Theological Faculty of Nubingen.

With respect to their doctrinal sentiments, they, as before observed, avow the Augsburg confession; and, in 1784, they published an Exposition of Christian doctrine in harmony with it. In a summary of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, published in 1797 for the instruction of their youth, they say nothing on the trinity, but merely quote passages of scripture which relate to it. Under the article of the Holy Spirit, however, they say, "He is very God with the Father and the Son." They appear to avoid the doctrine of unconditional election, and believe that "Jesus Christ died for all men, and hath purchased salvation for all."[1] Yet they say, "We do not become holy by our own power; but it is a work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

There is no doctrine on which they seem to dwell with such delight, as that of the cross, or the love of Christ in laying down his life for sinners. This they say, has been the preaching which the Lord hath mostly blessed to the conversion of the heathen.

The church of the United Brethren is episcopal; and the order of succession in their bishops is traced with great exactness in their history; yet they allow to them no elevation of rank, or preeminent authority; their church having from its first establishment been governed by synods, consisting of deputies from all the congregations, and by other subordinate bodies, which they call conferences. The synods, which are generally held once in seven years, are called together by the elders, who were in the former synod appointed to superintend the whole Unity. In the first sitting, a president is chosen, and these elders lay down their office, but they do not withdraw from the assembly; for they, together with the bishops, lay elders, and those ministers who have the general care or inspection of several congregations in one province, have seats allowed in the synod. The other members are one or more deputies sent by each congregation, and such ministers or missionaries as are particularly called to attend. Women, approved by the congregations, are also admitted as hearers, and are called upon to give tbeir advice in what relates to the ministerial labour among their own sex; but they have, no vote in the synod.

In questions of importance, or of which the consequences cannot be foreseen, neither the majority of votes, nor the unanimous consent of all present can decide; but recourse is had to the lot. For this practice the brethren allege the examples of the ancient Jews, and of the apostles, (Acts i. 26.) the insufficiency of the human understanding, amidst the best and purest intentions, to decide for itself in what concerns the administration of Christ's kingdom; and their own confident reliance on the promise of the Lord Jesus, that he will approve himself the head and ruler of his church. The lot is never made use of, but after mature deliberation and fervent prayer; nor is any thing submitted to its decision which does not, after being thoroughly weighed, appear to the assembly eligible in itself.


In every synod, the inward and outward state of the Unity, and the concerns of the congregations and missions, are taken into consideration. If errors in doctrine, or deviations in practice have crept in, the 'synod endeavours to remove them, and by salutary regulations to prevent them. for the future.' It considers how many bishops are to be consecrated

to fill up the vacancies occasioned ' liy death ; and every member of the synod gives a vote for such of the clergy as he thinks best qualified. Those who have the majority of votes arc taken into the lot, and they who are approved are consecrated accordingly.

Towards the close of every synod a kind of executive board is chosen and called, "Tfaqi Elders' Conference of the Unity," divided into committees or departments—(1.) The missions9 department, which superintends all the concerns of the missions into heathen countries. —(2.) The Iielpers' department, which watches over the purity of doctrine, and the moral conduct of the different congregations.—(3.) The servants' department, to which the economical concerns of the Unity are committed.—(4.) The overseers' department, of which the business is to see that the constitution and discipline of the Brethren be every where maintained. No resolution, however, of any of these departments, has the smallest force, till it he laid before the assembly of the Elders' Conference, and have the approbation of that body.

Besides this general Conference of Elders, there is a Conference of Elders belonging to each congregation, which directs its affairs, and to which the hishops and all other min- isl;ers, as well as the lay mem- Jbers ofi the congregation, are snbjeet. f his body, which is cnl-

led, "The Elders' Conference of the Congregation," consists, J'—(1.) Of the minister, as president, to whom the ordinary care of the congregation is committed—(2.) The warden, whose office it is to superintend all outward concerns of the congregation.—(3.) A married

spiritual elders, or bishops, whcr are appointed to watch over the constitution and discipline of the United Brethren j over the observance of the laws of the country in which congregations or missions are established, and over the privileges granted to the Brethren by the

pair, who care particularly for governments under which they the spiritual welfare of the live. ' i! v.1"!'"i"'"

married people.—(4) A single clergyman, to whose care the young men are more particularly committed.—And, (5.) Those tvomen who assist in caring for the spiritual and temporal welfare of their own sex, ;and who in this conference have equal votes.

Episcopal consecration does not, in the opinion of the Brethren, confer any power to preside over one or more congregations ; and a bishop can discharge no office but by the appointment of a synod, or of the Elders' Conference of theUnity. Presbyters amongst them can perform every function of the bishop, except ordination. Deacons are assistants to the presbyters, much in the same way as in the chnrch of England; and deaconesses are retained for the purpose of privately admonishing their own sex, and visiting them in their sickness: but though they are solemnly

They have economies, char-houses, where theyiI together in communities: the single men and single women, widows and widowers apart, each under the supermtendance of elderly persons of their own class. In these housed every person who is able, and his not an independent support, labours in his or her own occupation, and contributes a stipulated sum for their .maintenance. Their children are educated with peculiar care. In marriage they may ;only form a connexion with those of their own communion: iitb.e brother, who marries out «f the congregation, is immediately dismissed from churchTfellb'w- ship. Sometimes, however, a sister is by express license from the Elders' Conference pertnit- ted to marry a person of approved piety in another dotri- munion, yet Still to join'in their church ordinances as before.

blessed'to this office, they are As all intercourse between the not permitted to teach in" uub- different ses*s is carefully a- lic, and far less to administer the ordinances. They have

likewise seniores tivlles, or lay

voided, very few opportunities of forming particular attachments are found; and they

elders, in contradistinction to usually refer their choice to the

church ratljer tban decide for ing .to. communicate

themselves, And as the lot must be cast to sanction their :itiioii, e.ucii receives his partner as a divine appointment. They do not consider a literary course of education as at all necessary to the ministry, provided there he a thorough knowledge of the word of God, a solid christian experience, and a well regulated zeal to serve. God and their neighbours* They consider the church of Christ as not confined to any particular denomination : and themselves, though .united i$ one body or visible church, aa spiritually joined in the bond of Christian love to all who at* taught of God, and belong Jo iiic universal church of Christ, howev«r much they may differ in f«rm% which they deem npt essentials.

Their public worship is very simple j their singing, accompanied by an organ, played very soft and solemn. On a Sunday morning they read a liturgy of their own church, after which a sermon is preached, and an exhortation given to the children. In tbe afternoon they "have private mcetisgs, and public worship in the evening* , Previous to tho sacra- meat, which is administered once a month, smsl oii Mimnihiy Thursday, every peeson intetidr

, converse? elders on tne The celebra-

with one of the state of. his soul, tiuu of the communion is preceded by a .love-feast; and on Alauiiday Thursday by a solemn washing of each other's feet, after which tbe kiss of charity is bestowed. All the above-named ceremonies they consider as obligatory, and authorized in all ages of the church; quoting John xiii. 1,4. Romans xvi. 16. On. Easter- Sunday they attend the chapel, or in some places the burial ground, where they read a, peculiar liturgy, and call over the names of all their members, who died in the preceding year. And every morning in Kastep- week they meet at seven o'clock to read the harmonies of the Gospel on the crucifixion, &c. But the most distinguishing feature of this denomination is their earnest and unremitted labour in attempting to convert the heathen. They seem to have considered themselves within this last century as a church of missionaries. And though other denominations have of late emulated their ,K$al, yet they are said to be far behind them * By the most in4efatigable labour and sufferings they have sent the gospel to the four quarters of the eartbuf For an account of

Crantz's History of tii'» United Brethren. Summary of the Doctrine of Jesus Chritrt. Ha*eiB' ChU!*lv Hist. vol. iii. '

f The-MonMans' have,miww'n»Hes established in the Dtniah W«st-Indi» islands. Two Moravian mi:isionaries formed the project; and were exceedingly 'desirous of selling themselves as slaves, that they might have an opportunity of preaching Christ to the negfro slaves at St. Thomas'. The) suppo»- SP

their numerous missionary settlements, see Appendix.

  1. Crantz's History of the Brethren, section 182