Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

By the time he and Herr Riederer arrived in Paris, Ludwig could think of little else. He did his duty and visited the court of the duke of Orléans, the French regent, and his mother, the Dowager Duchess Charlotte Elizabeth, but his heart was in seeking out people who practiced what Ludwig now called “Christianity of the Heart.” Ludwig found many Christians to have fellowship with in Paris, including the head of the Roman Catholic Church there, Cardinal Noailles. At first the cardinal spent many hours trying to convert Ludwig to Catholicism, but eventually he declared that it was wasted effort and instead agreed to focus on the beliefs they held in common and not those that divided them. Ludwig was so delighted to find another man whose heart was ablaze with love for God that he invited the cardinal to join the Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed. The cardinal gratefully accepted the honor, becoming the first Catholic to join the group.

Ludwig’s tutor tried hard to convince Ludwig not to spend so much time with religious people. “I am hearing strange rumors about you,” he told Ludwig. “No one can understand why you will not accept invitations on Sundays.”

“All they need to do is ask me,” Ludwig replied. “The answer is plain enough. I will continue to spend Sundays in prayer and Bible study for the benefit of my heart. Let the people think of it what they please.”

“And the regent thinks you are a Pietist because you will not gamble or dance with the ladies in his court,” Herr Riederer continued.

Ludwig laughed. “And the irony is that the Pietists will not own me because I fellowship with a cardinal! What am I to do?”

“You could try spending more time hunting and conversing with other men of your rank,” Herr Riederer answered tersely. “Then I would have better news to report when I return to Gross-Hennersdorf.”

“That may be so,” Ludwig replied, “but I am no longer in school, and my mother and grandmother did tell me to take up the causes that interested me on my tour. Which reminds me, have you seen the Hotel Dieu Hospital yet?”

“No,” Herr Riederer replied.

“You really should come with me this afternoon. It is the most amazing hospital. It accepts even the poorest of the poor. The Christian men who run it are so dedicated. You really must see it. I love to spend time there talking with the patients and the doctors.”

Herr Riederer shook his head. “You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said. It will take someone more persuasive than I to shake you from your plans, I can see that.”

The two men stayed in Paris for a full year. Ludwig used the opportunity to study English and French and take horse-riding lessons. But by the time September 1720 rolled around, it was well past time for Ludwig to be heading home. Since Ludwig’s formal studies were all completed, Herr Riederer left Ludwig in Paris and returned directly home to Saxony. Ludwig was officially done with tutors. Finally he was on his own, and he decided to travel through Switzerland on the way back to his grandmother’s castle. He intended to stop along the way at various cities and towns and meet with church leaders. He also wanted to visit his father’s two sisters. Both had married into noble families. One was the countess of Polheim, and the other, the countess of Castelle.

Ludwig had met his aunts briefly before, but he was excited to think he would be able to get to know them and their families better. He went first to the countess of Castelle’s castle. Her husband had recently died, and Ludwig wanted to see if she needed help of any kind. He soon found that she had little idea about how to handle money or how the estate was run. He set to work untangling the account books and setting up a system she could understand.

The countess of Castelle had two daughters. One of them was eighteen-year-old Theodora, whose help Ludwig enlisted. He told himself that Theodora needed to know how to help her mother after he left. But he had another reason for wanting her to help him, one that Ludwig could scarcely admit to himself. He was falling in love with Theodora. Or at least he thought he was. It was hard to tell, since he had spent so little time around girls his own age.

As the weeks went by, Ludwig became convinced that this pretty, dark-eyed woman would make a wonderful bride. Eventually he got up the courage to talk to his aunt about it. She was delighted with the idea and promised to discuss it with Theodora.

Theodora was shy about the whole matter, but this did not concern Ludwig, who knew that girls of noble birth should not appear too eager to marry. In a flush of enthusiasm Ludwig announced that he was going home to discuss the matter with his mother and grandmother and that if they approved, he would come back in January to become officially betrothed.

Now Ludwig had a real reason to hurry home! When he got back to the castle in late November, he found that several things had changed while he was away. His grandmother had become quite frail, and her sister had moved into the castle to help look after her. His Aunt Henriette had taken over administering the estates of Gross-Hennersdorf and Berthelsdorf. Henriette had even started a small orphanage and home for the poor in Hennersdorf.

Everyone was glad to see Ludwig again. His grandmother was a bit startled to hear of his plans to marry Theodora, but she gave her permission, as did his mother when she visited at Christmastime.

As soon as it was possible, Ludwig set off in a coach for the Black Forest to formally propose to Theodora. Everything went well until they reached the Elster River, which the coach had to cross at a ford near Ebersdorf. The coach was halfway across the ice-cold water when suddenly there was a jolt followed by the cracking sound of breaking wood. The coach then lurched to the left, catapulting the driver into the cold water and leaving Ludwig sprawled on the coach floor. The icy water began to seep in under the door, and Ludwig quickly clambered out and waded ashore. As he looked back, it was obvious what had happened. The coach had hit a large boulder in the river, and the left front wheel had collapsed. Now the coach was stuck in the middle of the ford.

As the coachmen puzzled over what to do, Ludwig recalled that they had passed a castle not far back. He unhitched one of the horses and galloped off to get help. Much to his surprise, he found that the castle belonged to the Reuss family. Ludwig had met one of the sons, Count Henry Reuss, during his stay in Paris. The count had been on a similar grand tour, and the two young men had discovered that they had a lot in common.

As soon as Henry heard of Ludwig’s misfortune, he dispatched several servants to drag the coach from the water and pull it back to the castle for repairs.

That night at dinner, Ludwig sat with Henry and Henry’s mother and his sister Erdmuth. As they dined, they had a conversation that would alter the course of both Ludwig’s and Henry’s lives. Henry brought up the subject first.

“Now that I have returned from my trip, my mother thinks it is time for me to marry!” he said, half laughing.

“Have you asked anyone?” Ludwig replied.

Henry shook his head. “There are several young women who are eligible. Let me see, my mother has made many suggestions, but by far my favorite choice would be Countess Theodora von Castelle.”

“Oh,” interjected Henry’s mother, “I think we had better take her off the list. She is no longer available.” She smiled a knowing smile at Ludwig.

Ludwig felt his ears turning red. As far as he was aware, no one outside the family knew of the upcoming betrothal, and he had had no idea that his friend Henry also wanted to marry Theodora.

The conversation went on to other things, but Ludwig’s mind kept going back to Henry’s statement. He tried to recall exactly what Theodora had said to him when he left. Was she as excited about getting married as he was, or had he overlooked her reluctance because of his enthusiasm? What if she was really in love with Henry and did not know how to tell him? Such thoughts troubled him, and by morning Ludwig had made up his mind what to do.

“Henry,” he said, as the two young men met walking down the stone staircase to breakfast, “I have something I must tell you. I am on my way to the Castelle castle to become officially betrothed to the Countess Theodora.

“But,” spluttered Henry, “how do you know her?”

“She is my cousin,” Ludwig replied, “but that is not the point.”

“Then what is?” Henry asked, looking thoroughly confused and embarrassed.

“I cannot get betrothed to her knowing how highly you think of her and not knowing how she thinks of you. If she thinks as highly of you as you think of her, I will gladly step aside and allow love to take its true course.”

“What are you saying?” Henry asked as he stopped at the bottom of the stairs.

“What I am saying,” Ludwig said carefully, “is that you must accompany me to Castelle castle and we will ask Theodora which of us she would prefer to marry.”

“No, I would not think of it. Not if you have an arrangement already,” Henry exclaimed.

“And I wouldn’t think of continuing with our plans until I knew for sure that that is what she wants. So the matter is settled. As soon as the coach is fixed, we will be on our way.”

And so they were. The two young men arrived at Castelle castle and were met by a very surprised Theodora. Ludwig explained to her what had happened, and she tearfully confessed she had secretly been in love with Henry for some time but had been too nervous to bring up the matter with Ludwig.

“It is settled then,” Ludwig said. “God’s will be done. I wish you two every happiness.”

On March 9 a formal church service was held to announce the betrothal of the Countess Theodora to Count Henry Reuss. Ludwig overcame his heartache and even wrote a cantata, which he performed at the service. He left soon after the service ended, having seen his cousin happily betrothed, but not to him.

All of this gave Ludwig serious pause for thought. He decided not to look for a wife again but to pray and wait for God to bring the right woman to him. In the meantime he had plenty of other things to keep him busy.

Ever since he could recall, Ludwig had wanted to become a Lutheran minister, and his tour of Europe had made him even more certain that this was his destiny. There was just one problem. Both his mother and his grandmother were completely opposed to the idea. It simply was not appropriate for a count, especially one of the highest order as Ludwig was, to lower himself to become a pastor. There was no room for discussion of the matter with either woman. A count could become a patron of church work but never a church worker. To pursue his calling, Ludwig would have to disobey them, and this was something he could not in all conscience do. He reminded himself that the fifth commandment was “Honor thy father and mother” and that that was what he must do.

Instead, Ludwig followed his grandmother’s wishes and became a counselor in the court of Augustus the Strong, King of Saxony. This was an important position and required Ludwig to move to Dresden. However, even while a counselor in the royal court, Ludwig spent all of his spare time and all day Sunday reading and praying and writing.

In May 1721 Ludwig came of age and received the inheritance his father had left him. It was a considerable amount of money, and after praying and thinking hard, Ludwig decided to buy the estate of Berthelsdorf from his grandmother.

The estate consisted of a rambling, rundown village, a Lutheran church, and several farms. Ludwig hoped that one day he might be able to turn it into a small Christian community. As he looked out over the forested hills and valleys of his new estate, he had no idea that he was standing on a piece of ground that would one day make him famous—as well as an outlaw.

Chapter 5

Ludwig made Johann Heitz, a pietistic Swiss man, the manager of his new estate, and in April 1722 he appointed John Rothe to become the Lutheran pastor of the Berthelsdorf parish. At the time of the appointment, he told John, “I bought this estate because I wanted to spend my life among peasants and win their souls for Christ. So go, Rothe, to the vineyard of the Lord. You will find in me a brother and helper rather than a patron.”