May 10: Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Prophetic Witness, 1760

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Nicolaus von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) was a Count of the Holy Roman Empire who always had more interest in religious matters than in affairs of court. Following studies at the pietist center of Halle, he developed his own “theology of the heart,” which placed great emphasis on a close personal relationship with the suffering Savior.

This “heart religion” was not just inner emotion, however, but was to result in a life totally devoted to the Savior. “All of life becomes a liturgy,” said Zinzendorf, and even the most mundane task can be an act of worship.

Always a champion of the underdog, he granted asylum to Czech Protestant exiles. Following a unifying experience on August 13, 1727, in their settlement of Herrnhut on his estate, the old church of the Unitas Fratrum or Bohemian Brethren was reborn and developed a rich liturgical and devotional life. This Moravian Church as it came to be called launched pioneer mission work, first in the Caribbean and then around the world. Zinzendorf himself became a bishop, and devoted his personal fortune to furthering the work of the church.

He was an early advocate of ecumenism, and in America he attempted to bring Protestant denominations together in the “Pennsylvania Synods.” He was not a systematic theologian, but produced numerous theological writings, widely read in Germany. In addition to these, he was a prolific hymn writer, and many of his hymn texts remain in use today in the Moravian Church and beyond. His view of the church is summed up in his stanza:

Christian hearts, in love united,
seek alone in Jesus rest;
has he not your love excited?
Then let love inspire each breast.
Members on our Head depending,
lights reflecting him, our Sun,
brethren—his commands attending,
we in him, our Lord, are one.
(Moravian Book of Worship 1995: 673)


I. God of life made new in Christ, who dost call thy Church to keep on rising from the dead: We remember before thee the bold witness of thy servant Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, through whom thy Spirit moved to draw many in Europe and the American colonies to faith and conversion of life; and we pray that we, like him, may rejoice to sing thy praise, live thy love and rest secure in the safekeeping of the Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II. God of life made new in Christ, you call your Church to keep on rising from the dead: We remember before you the bold witness of your servant Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, through whom your Spirit moved to draw many in Europe and the American colonies to faith and conversion of life; and we pray that we, like him, may rejoice to sing your praise, live your love and rest secure in the safekeeping of the Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Psalm 101:1–4

Nehemiah 12:27–31a, 43

2 Thessalonians 2:13–3:5

John 16:16–22

Preface of a Saint (3)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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21 thoughts on “May 10: Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Prophetic Witness, 1760

  1. It is about the most verbose Collect we’ve had. It does not flow and it is hard to read out-loud with
    clarity. It needs a re-vamp ! Please. Where did he die– colonial N America ? Not clear to me.
    Pietists make me as nervous as the Fundamentalist in our present time. It is a mind-set I do not
    grasp nor respond to with ease.

  2. If I understan Pietism correctly, it was a reaction against the rather dry Protestant orthodoxy of the late 17th & early 18th centuries, which emphasized doctrinal correctnes, and would parse every phrase of scripture with an almost scientific precision to extract every bit of doctrine one coul out of it–and would analyse other people’s preaching and writing with a lawyer-like scrutiny to find and identify and expose doctrinal errors. Being a Christian was all about giving intellectual assent to various assertions of doctrine and dogma.

    Pietism pointed out that doctrinal correctness had its place, but if one’s heart wasn’t filled with the love of Christ, it didn’t do much good; and that you could profess these doctrines until you were blue in the face, but if it didn’t make you a better, nicer, kinder, more loving person, what good was it? Pietism also revived the missionary spirit in European Protestantism, taking seriously the ‘great commission.’ Pietism also stimulated what we would today call the ‘social gospel’, calling on Christians to work to make this world a better place; much of the anti-slavery movement, for example, came for Pietistic sources. (In Europe, Pietism remained a movement within the Lutheran and Reformed Churches; in Britain, while some Pietists remained within the Anglican and Presbyterian Churches, many broke off to become the Methodists.)

  3. This commemoration is for Trial Use. All elements (Title, Collect, Lections, and Proper Preface) are new.

  4. Readings. They are all about happiness, singing and joy. Fair enough., I guess.

    Bio. He needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement; and a ‘He died in 1760’ statement.
    Including his dates in parentheses is inconsistent with HWHM use.

    2nd paragraph. ‘Following a unifying experience …’ What is that? Would I like to have a unifying experience, too?
    A comma needs to follow Unitas Fratrum and Bohemian Brethren. Again, commas are needed after Moravian Church and ‘as it came to be called’.
    Overall, I don’t think that this bio reads in the same style as other HWHM bios.

  5. Adding Zinzendorf to the calendar seems a logical follow up to our new relationship to te Moravian Ch0urch. The collect seems appropriate

    • I have to say that, while I certainly no qualms about Mr. von Zizendof, the collect seems needlessly wordy:

      “God of life made new in Christ, who dost call thy Church to keep on rising from the dead: We remember before thee the bold witness of thy servant Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, through whom thy Spirit moved to draw many in Europe and the American colonies to faith and conversion of life; and we pray that we, like him, may rejoice to sing thy praise, live thy love and rest secure in the safekeeping of the Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (95 words)

      Going through it:

      “God of life made new in Christ” — not too bad, but couldn’t “new life in Christ” get it across more directly. It’s sort of a fluffly invocation for my taste and might be better combined with what goes below: “Father/Lord/God/etc. (pick one) who doth call thy Church to rise from the dead into new life in Christ”

      “who dost call thy Church to keep on rising from the dead” — I don’t know much about Zizendorf so if this is a important reference please excuse me, but I really have no idea what this actually means, particularly the “keep on rising” part. Isn’t that one of those over-and-done effects of baptism? (And it only calls to mind a slightly different association:

      “We remember before thee the bold witness of thy servant Nicolaus von Zinzendorf,” — I, avowed Anglo-Catholic that I am, have a very different idea of what our relationship with the Saints should look like, but this seems to broad enough to incorporate all interpretations of the “communion of saints.” (Though “bold witness” more often than not seems to mean political rather than Christian witness — I might prefer “faithful witness”)

      “through whom thy Spirit moved to draw many in Europe and the American colonies to faith and conversion of life;” — I think you can drop “in Europe and the American colonies” with no loss. This isn’t necessary an exhaustive biography…

      “and we pray that we, like him, may rejoice to sing thy praise, live thy love and rest secure in the safekeeping of the Lord” — far too many words here. I think any one of these three petitions is sufficient (“live thy love” is my favorite) to get across the core of Pietist spirituality, but together it’s just verbose. (I am happy to see that the “L”-word made it past the HWHM committee at least once though)

      “who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” — Good stuff.

      The collect also seems a little confused on the relationship between “Christ” at the top and “Lord” at the bottom; my ear expects one of those endings that includes “the same Christ our Lord” that seem to show up whenever one of the persons of the Trinity is mentioned multiple times in a collect.

    • I agree, good addition. But I too wondered about “unifying experience. Wonder if John 17 – “that all may be one” might not be a better choice for the gospel.

  6. Forgive me, but my overall impression is that I am reading a first draft and not a fully worked out brief biography of Nicolaus, Count Zinzendorf. This biography could use a substantial rewrite with an attention to focus since there are many areas of the life of Nicolaus, Count Zinzendorf which could be the reason for the commemoration.

    Nicolaus, Count Zinzendorf was born in Dresden (now in Saxony, Germany) on 26 May 1700 and died in Herrnhut (now in Saxony, Germany)10 May 1760. As has been noted previously, HWHM is inconsistent about recording the birth and death of those being commemorated. Some consistency would really be helpful to someone reading the biographies.

    The first paragraph seems to focus on Pietism which emphasizes the need to “feel” one’s faith and have a real “change of heart.” This leads a person to practice a personal devotional life and demonstrate that faith through personal behavior. Faith is more than intellectual belief and preaching is more than rhetoric. Zinzendorf was born into a pietist family. I suppose he could have rebelled against Pietism, but instead he embraced it. [Comments on Pietism already in comments above.]

    Believing in Pietism, seems to be trivialized by the expression, “champion of the underdog.” I assume that the focus here is supposed to be profound influence that Zinzendorf had on the persecuted members of the Unitas Fratrum. But the paragraph misses the point as new written. [As an aside, we remember Jan Hus, the father of this pre-Reformation protestant movement on July 6, even if he is not the actual founder of the Moravians.] Anyway, Protestants were outlawed in Bohemia in 1627 and religious practice of Roman Catholicism was forcibly applied to dissenters. The Protestant churches, hymnals and bibles were all destroyed. Many thousands died due to the Thirty Years War, disease and starvation. The Treaty of Westphalia allowed only Roman Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed churches depending on the religion of the ruling “prince.” Despite this extreme suppression, a remnant of the Unitas Fratrum struggled on for another century. Zinzendorf offered a refuge on his Bertheldorf estate which became a thriving community called Herrnhut after a few years.

    “Following a unifying experience” is such a vague term that I do not know want it meant. Though the date of August 13, 1727 is given, the events are not told. The whole community assembled for a service of Holy Communion and they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit among them. Zinzendorf later recollected that on the day, “they had quit judging each other because they had become convinced, each one, of his lack of worth in the sight of God and each felt himself at this communion to be in view of the noble countenance of the Savior.” After the service, the people gathered for a simple meal of fellowship and friendship which is commemorated in the Moravians’ Lovefeast. The special example of the Easter celebration among the Moravians is left out completely though Court Zinzendorf was not directly involved in the formation of the Easter rituals.

    This spirit of forgiveness and fellowship did not just happen at the August 1727 service of Holy Communion. The Count has spent the whole summer at Herrnhut trying to settled many sectarian quarrels among the persons living at Herrnhut, since many groups of dissenters had settled at Herrnhut besides the remnants of the Unitas Fratrum. Before the eventful summer, there was much bickering and name calling such a referring to the local minister as a “False Prophet” and referring to Zinzendorf as “the Beast.” Zinzendorf began by insisting that no matter what their individual beliefs they all had to conform to the Augsburg confession. There were regular lessons about the Bible and Bibles were distributed to the villagers. The Count issued “Injunctions and Prohibitions” to end “self-love, self-will, disobedience and free thinking.” It was in this setting of working out a practical, daily Christianity, that the group experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    One of the fruits of this experience was the wide spread missionary movement, though five years elapsed from August 1727 before missionaries were sent out from Herrnhut.. Before Zinzendorf’ s death in 1760, there were missionaries in St. Thomas (Virgin Islands) (1732), Greenland (1733), Georgia, (USA) (1734), Lapland (1735), Surinam (1735), Cape Town, South Africa (1737), Ghana (then called Dutch Gold Coast) (1737), Guyana (1738), Jamaica (1754) and Antigua (1756). Therefore the statement “launched pioneer mission work, first in the Caribbean and then around the world” sounds nice but it not quite accurate. The Moravians in the Caribbean were working to convert slaves, primarily African slaves, to Christianity. They were also teaching slaves to read and write. This caused much enmity among the slaveholders who reacted by burning the religious literature of the missionaries. The slaveholders saw the missionaries as a challenge to the institution of slavery even if the missionaries did not see this themselves since their focus was on individual conversion, not social injustice.

    In was in the spirit of missionary work that Zinzendorf traveled to the West Indies (1739) and then the American colonies (1741-3). It was in Pennsylvania that Zinzendorf met with many notable persons which included Benjamin Franklin and Conrad Weiser (July 13). An agreement was worked out that permitted the Moravian missionaries to work among the Native Americans. [Just a note. Zinzendorf’ s extensive missionary work was well established even before William Carey, remembered on Oct. 19 for his Protestant missionary work, was even born!] This missionary trip to Pennsylvania also brought about Count Zinzendorf’s encounter with the Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, mentioned below.

    The third paragraph skips to a third idea, Zinzendorf’s interest in the unification of Lutheran and Reformed churches under “simplified dogmas.” He thought the foundation for this unity should be the Nicene Creed and the decisions of the Councils of the Church during its first five centuries. From 1741 until his return of Europe in 1743, Zinzendorf actually tried to get the Lutheran and Reformed churches as well as Quakers, Baptists and others in eastern Pennsylvania to unite under the “Church of God in the Spirit.” The Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (remembered on October 7) adamantly opposed Count Zinzendorf, a point which is not mentioned in Muhlenberg’s biography. Muhlenberg’s view of Zinzendorf’s proposal was that it was apostasy. Muhlenberg points out that Zinzendorf might have money and status but Zinzendorf has never been “properly” ordained and has not been called to minister to the people of Pennsylvania as he Muhlenberg has been. Thus though we may look upon ecumenical movements with favor, it was seen with great suspicion at the time. Thus denominationalism prevailed.

    The unifying idea for this biography should be Zinzendorf’s own idea that “there can be no Christianity without community.”

  7. Zinzendorf has been an inspiration to my wife and I, as we follow in the Honorable Order of the Mustard Seed, which Zinzendorf and a couple of his closest friends founded. It is a threefold vow, to be true to Christ, to be kind to all people, and to preach the gospel to all nations. For centuries, a sign of this vow has been the wearing of a ring with the inscription “We live not for ourselves,” often in Greek. My wife and I took this vow on our wedding day before our guests and had our wedding rings inscribed with these words. This vow has made a resurgence partly through the neo-monastic movement, and through being featured in Evangelical prayer warrior Pete Grieg’s book “The Vow” (

    For more on the Honorable Order of the Mustard Seed, see

  8. Generally speaking, I agree with Suzanne about the organizational weakness, with Richard Lewis about the wording in the collect, and Michael H about the overall style difference and vagueness about “unifying experience.” I think the relation between TEC and the Moravian Church is worth a brief acknowledgement and a summary sentence about what we hold in common (mindful that agreements may change but books don’t update themselves). I won’t elaborate these points further, being a man of so few words (choke, cough, gasp).

    • PS – “Organizational weakness” in my comment above is about the narrative’s organization — not the church’s disorganization. The former is a short essay; the latter, something else again..

  9. I attended the noon Holy Eucharist service at St. Mark’s Cathedral yesterday, my first experience with such a service in an Episcopal church, and my first exposure to Holy Women, Holy Men. There was no music in the service, all of the liturgy was spoken, and it was interesting if a bit disjunctive to me as a Baptist hymnologist—not at all accustomed to worship without singing—to attend such a service where the homily was on a man (Zinzendorf) indelibly labeled “hymnist” in my mind. I haven’t actually read the collect in question, so I won’t attempt to critique it in detail, but I hope to get hold of a copy and see what other hymnists figure in its commemorations.

  10. The subject died on May 9. I see no good reason why, under the new guidelines, he is not commemorated on that date, together with Gregory of Nazianzus.

    Line 1, first paragraph: substitute ” was born in Dresden (now part of Germany) on May 26, 1700″ for “(1700-1760)”.

    Line 3, second paragraph: add “, in Saxony, now part of Germany,” after “Herrnhut”.

    Add a final paragraph:”Von Zinzendorf died at Herrnhut on May 9, 1760″.

  11. His role in teh establishment of Bethlehem, PA (named by the Moravians–and Zinzendorf himself!)) and his relationship with William Penn may also need to be considered as additions (as well as the community established in Winston-Salem). Which I believe proceeded the Caribbean mission work (I may be wrong, though). His wife, Countess Benigna was also instrumental in this work as well, I say this because its the Episcopal Church calendar and should maybe include more domestic connections which are only alluded to in this hagiography.

  12. Omissions in hagiogrpahy:
    Role of William Penn and Bethlehem settlement (Bethlehem, PA was actually named by Zinzendorf). The American settlements actually preceeded the Caribbean mission work if I am not mistaken. The role of his wife Countess Benigna is never mentioned. The other settlement in Winston-Salem. I think the domestic North American connections to Zinzendorf got short shrift in this hagiography.

    Thanks for these corrections. Next time we need your full name, please. — Ed.

  13. Friends — allow a Moravian to weigh in! “Champion of the underdog” is too weak. The Moravian missions were (and still are!) dedicated to ministering to people forgotten and ignored by others. The Moravian mission in St Thomas began in 1732, Bethlehem was established in 1741. Salem was planned by ZInzendorf but he died before he could visit. More information at Thank you for honoring this amazing man.

  14. Benigna was his daughter. Erdmuthe was her mother; Zinzendorf’s first wife. His second wife was Anna Nitschmann.

  15. I got an email just now from “Standing” informing me of John Jackman’s “new” comment, which was quoted in full. But that comment is nearly a year old. The email should have mentioned Karen Malcolm and quoted her comment, but it didn’t. In any event, both are good comments, and useful, and correct others’ vague and not quite correct recollections posted in earlier comments.

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