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Last Updated 05/24/00

Records of the Moravians in North Carolina
edited by Adelaide L. Fries and others

Short Account of the Brethrenís Church or
Unitas Fratrum

[Taken from the Answer of the Disciple Aloysius1 to Marcus the 106th Abuna or Patriarch of the Copts and Abyssinians at great Cairo in Egypt, and from the Instructions For Traveling Brethren, published in London, 1755.]

The early Eastern Church, which for 300 years bore no other name among Christian nations except “the Brethren” according to the suggestion of our dear Lord,óthis early Church acknowledged no other origin than the forty days after Easter, the days of the blessed Son of Man, during which He Himself founded His Church, and Himself ordained its first teachers. And as He in His last Testament, John XVII, had made only the one provision for its continuance in that men should believe on Him through the words of the Apostles, so Paul and John added thereto that men must receive Him and His Spirit.

The region of Pannonia,2 from which we come, has been so often plundered, harried and burned that the few records that may have been there have long since been lost, and we make no attempt to create new ones in place of the old, as that would be contrary to truth. Therefore of more than nine hundred years it is only to say that through the efforts of our early ministers the then Kingdom of Moravia was converted.3

Since that time there has always been something of this Church in Moravia and its neighbor Bohemia, sometimes great and glorious, sometimes small and weak. Finally, through the power of the Romish Church, it came to pass in the XVth Century, fifty years before the Reformation, that the only remaining evangelical Eastern Church, indeed the only avowed Evangelical Church anywhere, was in the village of Lititz, given to the Brethren by King George of Bohemia.

The Brethren took an important part in the Reformation in Germany and in England, but in the Peace of Religion that followed it our Church was the only one neglected by all Protestant Kings and left in utter ruin, so far as outward form is concerned. There remained only a little, peaceful company, scattered in Moravia, Bohemia, Poland, Prussia, and Silesia, who held their meetings in the woods, and in holes in the ground, and were driven about for over one hundred years, seeking among the Christian nations for Christians who prayed in spirit and in truth. Finally their bishop, Amos Comenius, found himself in the state of the Prophet Elijah, I Kings, XIX, and feared that their end had come, yet “in Spem contra Spem” he ordained certain Bishops and teachers.

Now when all lay in darkness, and the Christian Religions wrote and spoke of the ancient Unitas Fratrum as a noble seed and race which had come to an end, He Who is ever faithful remembered His grace and mercy and His covenant with those who trusted in Him, and whom He had appointed for a continuing existence. He sought under the ashes for the spark of the holy fire of His baptism of sacrifice, He took the candle from under the bushel and set it again upon a candlestick, and led the remnant of these, His ancient Brethren, to His servant, appointed and foreordained thereto, the nobleman Nicolaus Ludwig,4 Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Lord of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf, whom we now call the Disciple of the Lord. The Count gathered them once more into a visible company, and built for the exiles a village called Herrnhut on his estates near the border of Bohemia, in upper Lusatia. Thither came many seekers after God, out of various denominations and sects, and the Holy Spirit baptised them all into one congregation; and there the Church of Christ, as it was in the forty days after Easter, may be said to have been reorganized, and the seed of the martyrs and the followers of the early witnesses for Jesus received from the same Master the commission to fulfill His testament, to work as leaven in all parts of His kingdom, and make disciples for Him, yea, to preach His gospel to the heathen and baptise them.

Through His word and grace during the last twenty-five years about 300 have been employed in the service of the gospel, and more than one hundred have given their lives for it. In Greenland near the North Pole, in the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, Jamaica, and Antigua, in South and North America, and at the Cape of Good Hope, more than 3000 heathen have been brought to Christ, and here and there have been gathered into congregations for Him.

And since our Lord died to gather together the scattered children of God, and to prepare for Him a willing people, so it is the custom of the Brethrenís Church to organize congregations and build separate villages where the word of God can be taught in simple purity, and men can live righteously as becomes the children of God. Colonies have also been established here and there, where our Lord may rule, and be King over all hearts. So groups in Germany, Denmark, Livonia, in Saxony and Silesia, in Switzerland, in Holland, England, and Ireland, have built for themselves new villages, and settlements have been made in Pennsylvania, in Barbice, and in Surinam.

In the year of our Lord and Saviour, 1752, in the 26th year of the reign of our gracious King George II of Great Britain, the Advocatus Fratrum, the above-mentioned Disciple of the Lord, bought one hundred thousand acres from My Lord Granville, Proprietor of a portion of the Royal Province of North Carolina, for a settlement for the Brethren, and the Vicar General of America, our honored Brother Joseph, that is August Gottlieb Spangenberg, stationed at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, received orders to go thither and select the land.

[The remaining paragraphs of this sketch deal with the journey of Bishop Spangenberg, and the beginning of the Wachovia settlement, of which the story will appear in more detail in the following papers.]


1 Saint Aloysius, (Louis Gonzaga), of the Roman Catholic Church. He died in 1591.

2 Originally a Roman Province south and west of the Danube. The Diocese of Pannonia in the ninth century included Bohemia and Moravia.

3 “In the first half of the ninth century Christianity dawned in Moravia, and came from the Latin Church, through the Franks. Everything else touching its introduction remains unknown. *  *  *  On New Yearís Day, of 845, fourteen Bohemian nobles, while visiting Louis the German, were baptized at Regensberg. *  *  *  In both countries, however, the new light shone feebly. *  *  *  It was in the East, above the horizon of the Greek Church, that the Sun of Righteousness appeared to the Czechs as a people. *  *  *  In 863 Cyrill and Methodius arrived in Moravia from Constantinople. Wherever they came they preached repentance and remission of sins. They trained young Czechs as native priests. They finished the Slavonian version of the Bible which Cyrill had previously begun. They built up a national Church in which the Czechs felt at home. Cyril and Methodius, therefore, deserve their title of ĎApostles of the Slavoniansí.” [de Schweinitz.]

4 Nicholas Lewis, Count Zinzendorf, was born in Dresden, May 26, 1700. His father dying soon after, and his mother marrying again, he was brought up at Gross Hennersdorf by a pious grandmother, the Baroness von Gersdorf. He was educated at the Universities of Halle and Wittenberg, then took office in the Court of Saxony. Sept. 7, 1727, he married Erdmuth Dorothea, Countess Reuss. They had a number of children, all but three dying in infancy. In 1727 the Count retired from Court and gave all his time to the management of his estate and the care of the exiled Moravians. In 1734 he took orders as a Lutheran clergyman; and in 1737 was consecrated a Bishop of the Unitas Fratrum. In 1743 he became Advocatus et Ordinarius Fratrum, that is chief representative of the Unity of Brethren. He died at Herrnhut, Saxony, May 9, 1760.

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