Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

In June 1713 Ludwig was not well and returned to Gross-Hennersdorf castle. He had a weak chest and was prone to lung problems. Baroness von Gersdorf was concerned about him, especially since both Ludwig’s father and grandfather had died in their late thirties, and they had lived longer than most Zinzendorf men.

While he recuperated, Ludwig continued with his studies under the guidance of his tutor. Finally, in September, he was well enough to return to school in Halle, though he was less than enthusiastic about going back. It had been so easy to again be in the warm and encouraging environment of his grandmother’s castle.

Back at the Paedagogium, Ludwig did well at his studies. He was soon reading the New Testament in Greek and enjoyed the Greek classics as well. He also loved Latin and spoke French as fluently as he spoke his native German. In addition, he found poetry a joy and composed many poems, some of them containing up to three hundred verses. By the time their final year at the Paedagogium rolled around, Ludwig and his friend Johannes had finished all their classes. Since they were too young to go on to university, a special class was set up for them to study science, philosophy, and theology.

Finally his days at the Paedagogium were over, and Ludwig left Halle in April 1716, confident he would be back in the fall to begin university. But this was not to be. When he arrived at his grandmother’s castle, Ludwig learned that his Uncle Otto had enrolled him at the University of Wittenberg. To his uncle, Halle University was too Prussian. The University of Wittenberg, on the other hand, was Saxon and the only place fit to prepare a young man who was destined for a life in the service of the king of Saxony.

Ludwig was disappointed at his uncle’s decision, but he knew better than to complain about it. To his surprise, when he told his grandmother about the University of Wittenberg, she agreed with the change. “It is time you fit your education to your social rank,” she told him. “Within a few years you will be secretary of state, as your father was, and you must know how to conduct yourself and the affairs of state properly.”

Ludwig spent the summer at Gross-Hennersdorf reading books from the baroness’s library, riding in the countryside, writing poems, listening to lectures by his tutor, and taking long walks with his Aunt Henriette.

Summer drew to a close, and the time to start university approached. Ludwig and his tutor, Daniel, visited Ludwig’s Uncle Otto, who gave Ludwig firm written instructions as to how he was to behave while at Wittenberg. Ludwig’s uncle also laid out the things he expected his nephew to learn while at university. Among other things, Ludwig was to exercise regularly and take lessons in dancing and fencing. He was to sleep regular hours and attend public worship rather than conventicles, private religious meetings. The message was clear. Ludwig was to keep himself busy, learn how to act like a count, and avoid participating in religious behavior outside the Lutheran Church. Ludwig was glad that Uncle Otto did not know about the Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed. That knowledge would undoubtedly have sent his uncle into a rage.

In August 1716 Ludwig and Daniel, who was employed to make sure that Uncle Otto’s instructions were followed, set out for Wittenberg. They arrived on August 25. It was Ludwig’s first trip to the city, and he peered out the window of the coach to see this place that had had such an impact on the course of Christianity in Europe.

The coach passed the castle church, the great medieval stone church that had been the birthplace of Protestantism. It was here that a Saxon priest named Martin Luther, then a professor at Wittenberg University, had nailed to the church door his ninety-five theses challenging certain practices and doctrines of the Catholic Church. While this act began as an effort to reform the Catholic Church, it eventually led to the forming of the Lutheran Church and other Protestant denominations throughout Europe. Ludwig eyed the church with awe. In several weeks Wittenberg would be celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold act, and people were busy cleaning and tidying the church building and grounds for the occasion.

Ludwig finally arrived at the university and was shown to his new lodgings. He was to stay in the home of Burgomaster Keil, where he had his own private drawing room and a combination study and bedroom. He also had a servant to attend to his needs. It was all very elegant, befitting someone of Ludwig’s social rank. To add a personal touch to his new accommodation, Ludwig brought along with him a number of gilt-framed portraits, including those of the kings of Prussia and Poland, the Russian czar, his grandfather von Gersdorf, and his great grandfather. Once the servant had hung the pictures on the walls of the drawing room and study, Ludwig felt quite at home.

Soon Ludwig was busy following the directives his uncle had laid out for him, though he still found time to write letters in German, French, Greek, and Latin. He studied philosophy, church law, feudal law, and languages, but he found Hebrew a struggle. He also disliked mathematics. Uncle Otto had forbidden him to take any theology classes because they would only encourage his strange “preoccupation with religion,” as he put it. However, whenever he could, Ludwig read theology books and studied his Bible in Greek.

In addition to keeping up with his classroom studies, Ludwig played badminton, chess, and balloon, a soccerlike game played with a large, inflated leather ball. He also took classes in fencing and dancing, as his uncle had instructed, but he did not particularly enjoy either of these activities, since he did not believe in fighting or see any value in dancing. He viewed these activities simply as items to be checked off in the quest to fulfill all his uncle’s requirements.

Ludwig made the time to spend two hours each day in prayer and meditation. Somehow he also kept in touch with his old friends from the Paedagogium in Halle. As the five young men wrote to one another, the Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed continued to take shape. The members of the order pledged to stay true to the teachings of Jesus, show love and kindness to their fellow men, avoid gambling, look out for the welfare of others at all times, and work for the conversion of others. Ludwig had rings made that were inscribed with the words, “No one liveth unto himself.” He sent one to each member of the order, along with a green silk ribbon embroidered with a cross and a mustard tree.

In Wittenberg, Ludwig found himself at the center of the struggle taking place within the Lutheran Church between Pietists and Traditionalists, who emphasized strict observance of Lutheran practice and theology. Since Halle was the center of the Pietist movement and Wittenberg, home of the Traditionalists, Ludwig had a good grasp of both sides of the struggle. He hated to see the way in which gossip and misinformation were keeping the two sides from really understanding each other’s point of view.

Ludwig wrote a tract titled Various Thoughts on Peace to the Quarreling Lutheran Churches, which was well received. Soon he found himself trying to arrange a meeting between August Franke and Professor Wernsdorf, theology professor at Wittenberg, in the hope of settling the dispute once and for all. It was a bold step for an eighteen-year-old, but something inside Ludwig drove him on. He hated to see Christian men arguing over religious matters.

When Ludwig’s mother heard about his efforts, she was horrified. Soon afterward Ludwig received a letter from his stepfather, Field Marshall von Natzmer, forbidding him from having anything more to do with trying to heal the rift within the Lutheran Church. It was ridiculous, his stepfather wrote, to imagine that an eighteen-year-old boy would think he could do anything about such a difficult problem. From now on Ludwig was to remember that he was a count, and counts did not meddle in church affairs. Church affairs were left to clergymen.

Ludwig had no choice but to obey his stepfather, especially with his tutor, Daniel, watching his every move and sending regular reports home. Disappointed that he had not been able to do what he set out to do, Ludwig withdrew from trying to arrange a meeting between the two men. Instead he poured his efforts into his studies, and soon he was finished at Wittenberg University. Upon graduation Ludwig did what every wealthy student of the day did. He took a year off to tour Europe and round out his education.

Chapter 4
Ecce Homo

Ludwig climbed the stone steps of the art gallery in Düsseldorf. The doorman bowed low, and Ludwig nodded in recognition of the gesture. It was May 20, 1719, and this was the fifth art gallery he had been to since setting out on the trip a week before. Ludwig strolled around, taking in the various masterpieces that were on display. With him were his new tutor, Herr Riederer, and his older half-brother, Fredrick, who had joined him for the early portion of the grand tour of Europe. The excursion to the art gallery was much like the others Ludwig had made on the trip, until he came to one particular painting. For some reason he felt attracted to it. He stopped and studied it closely. The painting, by Domenico Feti, was titled Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), and it showed Jesus with a crown of thorns on His head. At the bottom of the picture, the artist had painted the words:

This I have done for you.

What have you done for me?

The question astonished Ludwig. It seemed to hang in the air as he pondered what, indeed, he had done for Christ. The usual answers came to mind. He had loved Him, read the Bible, prayed, and sang hymns, but somehow these things seemed insignificant compared to all that Christ had done by dying on the cross. Ludwig repeated the question to himself: What have you done for me? His mind went back to the dining room at the Paedagogium in Halle. He thought about the time he sat at the table listening to all that Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg, the missionary from India, had to say. Now, there was a man who was doing something for Christ!

“I will do more,” Ludwig vowed quietly as he stood in front of the painting. “My life will not be spent in idle touring and visiting.”

“Don’t you want to see the rest of the gallery?” Fredrick asked, his voice breaking into Ludwig’s thoughts. “You’ve been standing here in a trance for fifteen minutes.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose I must go on,” Ludwig replied, taking one last look at the painting.

Ludwig went on to view the work of famous Dutch and German artists, but he could not get out of his mind the idea that it was time to do something for Christ.

The grand tour continued on through Leipzig, Eisenach, Frankfurt am Main, and Mainz and then to Utrecht in the Netherlands, where Fredrick said good-bye and returned home. Ludwig then enrolled in a three-month course at the University of Utrecht, where he studied theology and medicine. Despite all he had seen and learned so far, nothing impressed or challenged him like the Ecce Homo painting.

Everywhere he went, nineteen-year-old Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf was invited into the highest orders of society. In Amsterdam he dined with the Prince of Orange, rode in the country with other counts, and visited still more nobles. But all of this was somewhat boring to Ludwig. What really was exciting to him was meeting with bishops and common people from every branch of Christianity. He talked with members of the Reformed Church, Roman Catholic cardinals, Lutherans, Mennonites, Armenians, Anglicans, mystics, and Pietists in every place he visited. And the more he talked to these people with their different views of religion, the more convinced he became that they would all find that they had much in common if they could just stop and listen to one another.

As he traveled around, two thoughts—What have you done for me? and All Christian religions have a common bond—whirled around in Ludwig’s head until they merged into one big idea. Right there in the middle of a lavish tour of Europe, Ludwig caught a vision of his life’s work. What could he do for Christ? It was so obvious to him now: he could use his life and his money to try to bring all Christians together into one family—one fellowship that would accept and tolerate one another’s differences.