Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Count Nicholas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf: An Ecumenical Pioneer [*]

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Count Nicholas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf: An Ecumenical Pioneer [*]

Article excerpt


Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf- the eighteenth-century leader and theologian of the Moravian Church, which was renewed on his Saxon estate, and a pioneer of the modem mission movement-also pioneered both ecumenical relationships and ecumenical experiments. This Included attempting to create an ecumenical Protestant church in Pennsylvania in 1742 and constituting the Moravian Church as a fellowship that included three traditions: Lutheran, Reformed, and Ancient Moravian. He also explored relationships with the Roman Catholic Church and was deeply influenced by its mystical tradition. Also significant was his formulation of theology, which understood the foundation of faith as the "heart relationship with the Savior" (an intuitive response, only secondarily Intellectual) and understood the Savior in terms of Christ's woundedness and renunciation of power. Zinzendorf took most seriously the texts of the Christian scriptures that describe Christ as the agent of creation, thus establishing a continuity betw een creation and salvation (the Creator is also oar Savior, In whose saving work is accomplished the Creator's love and desire to complete the creation of each soul) and a commonality of experience between those religions who know the Creator and those who know Christ.

May 26, 2000, is the 300th anniversary of Zinzendorf's birth.

Two hundred years before "our ecumenical century," Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) [1] engaged in a number of pioneering experiments in ecumenicity. He was himself an interesting ecumenical symbol: a nobleman in Lutheran Saxony with deep Pietist roots and also, by recognition of two university faculties, a Lutheran clergyman (although never formally ordained), a Moravian bishop who was consecrated by a Reformed court preacher in Berlin who was one of two surviving bishops of the Ancient Moravian Church, and a church leader with close relations both to the eighteenth-century Evangelical Revival in England and to the Anglican Church.

Born in Dresden, Saxony, he was heir to a long, noble family line, tracing back to the duchy of Austria, upon whose head Leopold II conferred the office of count of the Holy Roman Empire. Part of the family embraced the Reformation and, under pressure during the Counter Reformation, moved north, entering into the service of the elector of Saxony. Zinzendorf's own father served as privy councilor at Dresden.

The eighteenth-century Renewed Moravian religious community [2] with which Zinzendorf was closely associated - and which became the arena for his own strong religious vocation - led to "the rediscovery of the world-wide missionary calling of the church," [3] carrying out mission efforts in five continents, from Africa to Greenland, from the West Indies to Russia. Zinzendorfs ecumenical efforts need to be seen in relation to that mission. Both were expressions of the commitment to follow the living Christ into the world. So strong was that commitment that, beginning in 1741, the Moravian Church, instead of choosing a leader from its ranks, recognized Christ as its Chief Elder. In that way it hoped truly to be open to the directions, designs, and creative dynamics of the Savior (though not always, as its history reveals, with unerring discernment). [4] The animating idea was not different from that expressed at the 1948 Assembly of the newly formed World Council of Churches: "Christ has made us His own, and he is not divided. In seeking Him we find one another."

Zinzendorf was shaped by the cultural, philosophical, and religious streams of his day. This essay will sketch the temper of those times, then examine the experiences that shaped Zinzendorf ecumenically, move on to the ventures he undertook in exploring the oneness of community united in Christ, and finally focus on the ecumenical theology that informed the ventures. Ventures and theology belong together. For Zinzendorf, as for any of us, life, religious community, and mission are the places where theology is explored and tested. …

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