The New International Encyclopædia/Moravians

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The New International Encyclopædia
Moravians
Edition of 1905. See also Moravian Church on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

MORAVIANS. Called also The United Brethren (Unitas Fratrum) and The Moravian Church. An evangelical Church which arose in Bohemia and Moravia among followers of John Huss (q.v.); originally known as Bohemian Brethren (q.v.). They secured the episcopacy from the Austrian Waldenses in 1467. Fraternizing with the Reformers of both Germany and Switzerland, they increased rapidly, and after the Schmalkaldic War established a third province in Poland. By 1617 they numbered at least 200,000. With the granting of the Bohemian charter, in 1609, they obtained a legal status, but were systematically suppressed and exiled during and after the Thirty Years' War. Their Polish province, with its centre at Lissa, now acquired importance, and a number of parishes were founded in Hungary. But the Peace of Westphalia excluded Austrian lands from the benefits of religious liberty, and in 1656 Lissa was destroyed in the war between Poland and Sweden. The Polish parishes were gradually absorbed by other Protestant bodies. Meanwhile a ‘hidden seed’ of the Unitas Fratrum remained in Bohemia and Moravia, and their bishop, Johann Amos Comenius (q.v.), republished their history, confession, and discipline, and took steps to perpetuate the episcopate. Hence for about fifty years clergymen who at the same time served parishes of the Reformed Church were consecrated bishops of the Unitas Fratrum.

A revival of religious life among the ‘hidden seed’ in Moravia led the awakened to abandon their homes and secretly flee to Saxony to secure religious liberty. Here, in 1722, they began to build the town of Herrnhut on the estate of Count Zinzendorf (q.v.), who had granted them an asylum. Herrnhut became the rallying place for descendants of the Brethren, several hundred of whom migrated from Austrian lands. They introduced the discipline handed down by Comenius, and in 1735 the episcopate was transmitted from its surviving representatives, Jablonski and Sitkovius. The development of the Unitas Fratrum now took a new form. Zinzendorf became the leading bishop, and strove to subordinate denominationalism to the promotion of Christian life. He did not permit the Church to expand, as other churches expand, nor distinctly to sever connection in every respect with the State Church; but established on the Continent, in Britain, and in America an ‘exclusive system’ by which it was attempted to secure a membership solely of converted men and women. Their culture in spiritual life was promoted by exceedingly close supervision, by an abundant supply of the means of grace — daily services, and services for the several divisions of the congregation distributively — and by an effort to separate them from the rest of the world. The members of the establishments were indefatigable in missions among the heathen, maintained schools for young people not of their communion, and conducted the so-called Diaspora, or inner mission, among members of the State churches of Germany, the Baltic Provinces, Scandinavian lands, Holland, and Switzerland, seeking the conversion of individuals without drawing them from their former communion.

Though the ‘exclusive system’ was wholly abandoned in America in 1856, and practically so in Britain, while in Germany it has been much modified, the three chief forms of activity continue. Missions among the heathen are maintained in Labrador and Alaska, among the Indians of North America, amoung the negroes of the West Indies, in Nicaragua, British and Dutch Guiana, Cape Colony, German East Africa, Australia, and among Tibetan people of the Western Himalayas. A home for lepers is maintained near Jerusalem. Thirty-three schools are carried on, in addition to colleges and theological seminaries. The mission in Greenland, maintained since 1733, was transferred to the Danish Lutheran Church in 1900.

The Moravian Church now consists of four provinces — the German, the British, and the American, North and South — which are united as one body in regard to doctrine, ritual, discipline, and mission work. Internally each province is independent, its affairs being administered by a synod, which elects a provincial executive board, consisting of bishops and other ministers. This board appoints the ministers to the various congregations. The executive boards of the four provinces constitute the Directing Board of the Unity. Every ten years a general synod convenes, each province and the missions having representatives. This synod takes cognizance of the life, doctrine, and activity of the entire Church, elects the mission board, and to it the mission board is responsible.

The Moravian Church has a complete ritual, including services for the Lord's Day and other forms, but allows of free prayer in public worship; its music, vocal and instrumental, is highly developed. It perpetuates the three orders of the ministry, but its bishops, who alone ordain, do not exercise administrative functions ipso facto. It observes the Christian year; admits new converts by confirmation; receives members of other churches by certificate; encourages lay work; and exercises strict discipline. The cardinal points of Moravian teaching are those held in common by all evangelical churches. Eight cardinal points, in regard to which the teaching of Holy Scripture is plain, have been repeatedly reaffirmed by the General Synod in the language of Scripture. As formulated by the General Synod of 1899, these doctrines teach: (a) Total depravity of human nature; (b) the love of God the Father, who has ‘chosen us in Christ’; (c) the real Godhead and real humanity of Jesus Christ; (d) reconciliation and justification through the sacrifice of .Tesus Christ; (e) the Holy Ghost and the operation of His grace; (f) good works as the fruit of the Spirit; (g) the fellowship of believers; (h) the second coming of Christ and the resurrection. These truths are held not as a rigidly formulated confession, but as the Moravian conception of the main contents of Christian doctrine. The resuscitated Moravian Church has never issued a confession of faith, as such.

The Moravian Church in America. Moravian emigrants went to Georgia in 1735; but five years afterwards they removed to Pennsylvania, where they built the towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth. A form of communism was temporarily adopted, as a quick mode of subduing the wilderness and at the same time promoting missions. The lands were the property of the Church, and the farms and industries were carried on for its benefit; but he who had means of his own retained them; there was no common treasury. This system, ‘The Economy,’ continued for twenty years. Each member was pledged to devote his time and powers as they might be best applied for the spread of the Gospel, and missionaries went to the Indians of New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, and later Ohio. Though the ‘Economy’ was of short duration, the American division of the Church was administered from Germany, and the exclusive policy prevailed until 1856. According to statistics compiled in 1902, the American provinces reported 15,873 communicants and a total membership of 23,896. There were 112 congregations, and 100 ministers actively engaged. In the home provinces, including the Bohemian-Moravian mission, there are 38,844 members; in the foreign missions 137 stations and 71 out-stations, with 402 missionaries, exclusive of secretaries, etc., 62 native missionaries and 1807 other native agents. The communicant membership of the missions was 34,641, with a total membership of 96,833.

The American Moravians have a theological seminary, founded in 1807, at first as a department added to the academy at Nazareth, begun in 1759, and known as Nazareth Hall. It has been situated at Bethlehem since 1858. A collegiate department preparatory to the theological proper was inaugurated at an early period. Buildings have been erected valued at $75,000, exclusive of the ground. The endowment fund is now $118,000. A six years' course of study is pursued, three and one-half years classical and two and one-half theological. Four professors constitute the permanent faculty. The number of students varies from 35 to 40.

Bibliography. For the period prior to 1722, consult: Gindely, Geschichte der böhmischen Brüder (Prague, 1856-57); id., Ueber des Johann Amos Comenius Leben und Wirksamkeit (2d ed., Znaim, 1893); Sohweinitz, The History of the Unitas Fratrum (Bethlehem, 1885). For the period since 1722: Cröger, Geschichte der erneuerten Brüderkirche (Gnadau, 1852-54); Hamilton, A History of the Moravian Church During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Bethlehem, 1900). For the Moravian Church in the United States, consult: Reichel, The Early History of the Church of the United Brethren in North America (Nazareth, 1888); Hamilton, History of the Moravian Church in the United States, in the “American Church History Series” (New York, 1895). For Moravian missions, consult: Thompson, Moravian Missions (New York, 1882); Hamilton, History of the Missions of the Moravian Church During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Bethlehem, 1901).