1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Muckers

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[ 954 ]

MUCKERS (Ger. Muckern, i.e. canting bigots, hypocrites), the nickname given to the followers of the teaching of Johann Heinrich Schönherr (1770-1826) and Johann Wilhelm Ebel (1784-1861). Schönherr, the son of a non-commissioned officer at Memel in Prussia, was educated at the university of Königsberg, where at that time the theological faculty, under the influence of Kantian idealism, was strongly rationalist in tendency. The lad, who was miserably poor, was dissatisfied with a philosophy which stopped short of an explanation of the “thing in itself,” and, having been reared in the strictest orthodoxy, he set to work to develop, with the aid of the Bible, a philosophy of his own. In the end he believed himself to have reached ultimate knowledge, and became the prophet of a dualistic theosophy[1] so closely analogous to Gnosticism that it might have been taken for a deliberate revival, had not Schönherr's lack of education precluded any such idea. Among his converts was Ebel, who from 1810 onwards gained a great reputation in Königsberg as an earnest preacher of the orthodox doctrines of sin, grace and redemption, and in 1816 was appointed “archdeacon,” i.e. principal pastor, at the old church in Königsberg. In the pulpit he was orthodox; but he gathered about him a select circle of the initiated, to whom in private he taught Schönherr's doctrines. Schönherr himself sank into the background, and eventually died in 1826. But Ebel continued his teaching, and was joined in 1827 by Heinrich Diestel, also a Lutheran pastor of Königsberg. They became father confessors to a wide circle of silly fashionable people in the Prussian capital. In view of their peculiar teaching as to “the purification of the flesh,” which involved the minute regulation of the intercourse of married people, scandal was [ 955 ] inevitable. Matters came to a head in 1835, when Count Finckenstein, himself formerly an initiate, denounced the two pastors and accused them of immorality. Diestel wrote two violent tirades against the count, who brought an action for slander and won it. The evidence taken in the case was then laid before the consistory, and proceedings followed which became famous as the “Königsberger Religionsprozess” (1835-1841),[2] ending in sentences of deprivation on both Ebel and Diestel. The charges of actual immorality were dismissed; but there is no doubt that some of their followers established practices akin to those of the Agapemone and the Perfectionists. Some of them migrated to Brazil, where in 1874 at Porto Alegre a company of them came into collision with the military.

See J. I. Mombert, Faith Victorious (London, 1882); Hepworth Dixon, Spiritual Wives (1868); and, more especially, the article on Schönherr, by P. Tschackert, in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie (3rd. ed., Leipzig, 1906), xvii. 676.

  1. Schönherr distinguished two primal powers or principles — one male and active, the other female and passive — having both personality and volition; he called them Light and Darkness, Fire and Water. They moved freely in the void, and from their ultimate contact God and the world sprang into being. Evil came into existence owing to the fall of Lucifer, a Light-being created by God, who in revenge lent his aid to the powers of Darkness. Sin came with the Fall of Man; and this infection, inherited with the blood, necessitated redemption in order to restore the harmony of the primal powers. This was the work of Christ, who descended into a world the inhabitants of which are divided into children of Light and children of Darkness. The power of the Holy Ghost, emanating from Christ, perfects the higher natures in whom Christ's “law of righteousness” is represented and who to a certain extent share in his being; it becomes their duty to obtain control over the lower natures so as to struggle against the powers of Darkness in them — powers which can be overcome by prayer, fasting and self-mortification generally. The end was near and the triumph of the Light assured. Anti-christ (Napoleon) had already appeared, and when Christ came he would find no faith on the earth (Luke xviii. 8) because faith would be swallowed up in knowledge.
  2. The contemptuous designation Muckern dates from this time.