musings on the church calendar from one who seldom doubts
If you have ever used the following Grace before meals, then you might be interested to know more about its author:
“ Come dear Jesus and be our guest And let this food by Thee be blest.”
Nikolaus Zinzendorf was born May 26, 1700 in Dresden, Saxony. He was a descendant of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. His great grandfather had been an Imperial Count. The family of Nikolaus had been lords of the feudal system of the Wachau Area of The Danube River valley in Lower Austria. The Count’s son, Maximilian Erasmus Zinzendorf, had chosen to sell his possessions in Austria, and move away rather than be compelled to become a Roman Catholic. Maximilian Erasmus’s children began to serve the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony. At the time Nikolaus was born his father was serving the Elector of Dresden in Saxony, however, he died just six weeks afterward. So young Nikolaus was raised by his maternal Lutheran grandmother and an aunt. That family was influenced by members of what was called the Pietist movement among Lutherans started by Philipp Jakob Spener, who became his godfather. That had a lasting effect on the young man. He was educated at the Pietist institution of Halle and in 1716 attended the University of Wittenburg where he studied law in preparation for a career in diplomacy. After 3 years there, he traveled in the Netherlands, France and Germany, encountering many good influential people of various religious persuasions.
After that he met with family members in Oberburg and revisited the family area around Castell where he loved and wanted to marry his cousin Theodora. Unfortunately, her mother opposed that and Theodora married Count Heinrich XXIX of Reuss-Ebersdorf. Nikolaus then married Reuss’s sister Erdmuthe Dorothea. He thought what had happened was a call from God to settle into being a landowner and perfom special work. He bought Berthelsdorf from his grandmother and began living with his new wife there. He called Johann Andreas Ruthe to serve as Pastor and John George Hetz to be factor.
Nikolaus wanted to start an association of Lutherans (not another denomination) to build upon the Pietist beliefs of his godfather. He, his new pastor, another pastor and a boyhood friend as a “band of four brothers” founded an association using practical benevolence by which they hoped to revive the zeal of fellow Lutherans. A printing house they started at Ebersdorf (in Thuringia) became the source of numerous low cost Bibles, catechisms, hymnals and other religious documents. It also printed Johann Arndt’s True Christianity, translated into French.
Nikolaus sought to point others to the true Christ and to rediscover the spirituality of the apostles. He had a connection with what remained of the Bohemian Brotherhood (or Unitas Fractum). He encouraged persecuted Moravians and Bohemians (from today’s Czech Republic) to establish the village of Herrnhut on one edge of his land holdings. Many other persecuted people of different religious persuasions came to the community which had a reputation for religious freedom, but their great variety ultimately led to discord. That grew so intense that Nikolaus had to take leave from his duties in Dresden to come back and spend considerable time resolving the problems with patient and tolerant persistence. This resulted in all citizens of the village agreeing to sign what became known as the Brotherly Agreement. That signed document, plus another setting out rules drafted by Nikolaus known as The Memorial Injunctions, executed May 12, 1727, brought harmony. Revised many times, today it is known as The Moravian Covenant for Christian Living and on August 12, 1727 during a special communion service such a strong sense of renewal resulted in the occasion’s being called the “Moravian Pentecost.”
It is very difficult in the space available to recount all that this special servant of the Lord accomplished. He was consecrated Bishop of the Moravian Church May 20, 1737. He became very active in missionary work among the Inuits of Greenland and Labrador, slaves in Danish areas of the West Indies, Indigenous North Americans, Livonia, the northern shores of the Baltic Sea, slaves of South Carolina, Suriname, Islands in the East Indies and the Copts in Egypt. The missionary work in the West Indies was so controversial that it resulted in Nikolaus being exiled from Saxony for a period when he became known as the Pilgrim Count. On a visit to Pennsylvania, Nikolaus met Benjamin Franklin. With the assistance of Conrad Weiser (Believing Thomas, July, 2015) he arranged for the free movement of the Moravian missionaries among the Iroquois.
Some of the leaders who were touched by Nikolaus included Cardinal Louis Antoine de Noailies, the Catholic Archbishop of Paris, John Potter, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Christian VI, King of Denmark, General James Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia, Tomochichi, Chief of the Creek Nation and Erskine, a Scottish Member of Parliament, all of whom were members of his Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed who pledged to use their powerful status to serve Christ.
He authored many hymns and a collection of sermons published in 10 volumes as well as his common table prayer one translation of it reads:
“Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest and let Thy gifts to us be blessed.”
Nikolaus died May 9, 1760 (his second wife, Anna died just 12 days later). He is honored as a hymn writer and renewer of the church by the Evangelical Lutheran Church and on the Calendar of Saints by the Episcopal Church on May 10th. I would venture the opinion that he is one wealthy person who had no trouble entering the pearly gates. +
(c) 2016 Thomas H. Peterson
Sources: Calendar of Saints (Episcopal Church), http://en.wikipedia.org: https://fn.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Zinzendorf; and http://zinzendorf.com/pages/index.php?id=count-nicholas-ludwig-von-zinzendorf