Moravian Theology and Iconography in the 18th century
Lecture given at the Art in Clay Symposium at Old Salem Museum, April 16, 2011
Craig D. Atwood
Introduction: Good morning. It is always a pleasure to be here in Old Salem and talk about the Moravians. I’ve been so impressed by the presentations, and I have to warn you that I know next to nothing about working clay, but I hope what I have to say this morning will enrich your experience and give you a deeper insight into the art of the Moravians. I can tell you that Moravians were aware that the prophet Jeremiah compared God to a potter, and they held potters in high esteem. The first Moravian missionary, Leonard Dober, was a potter by trade. Unlike other churches at the time, the Moravians believed that potters and other craftsmen could bring the good news of salvation to distant shores. I think we should take a fresh look at Moravian decorative arts. [Slide 2]
Here is an example of a devotional miniature prepared by a Moravian in Europe in the middle of the 18th century. The artist was probably a teen-age girl who was closely associated with the Zinzendorf family. If you did not know for sure that it was by a Moravian artist, you might assume that this was prepared by a Catholic nun during the middle ages. Of course, it you knew nothing about Christian doctrine and symbolism, you might think this was some kind of avante garde shock art of the 1960s. If you look carefully you can see that there is a girl, perhaps the artist herself, in a cave that resembles an open wound. Blood is pouring over her as she prays, but on the hill above beautiful flowers are blooming. I think they are roses, which symbolize the Virgin Mary and the atonement of Jesus. Even though the central focus is on blood and a wound, all in all this is a very sweet miniature that anticipates Victorian floral art. Clearly this is not intended to be realistic. Either the flowers are enormous or the worshiper is tiny. In fact, she looks almost like a fetus in the womb. By the end of the lecture I hope you will be able to make sense of this curious bit of art as an expression of the Moravians devotion to the wounded Savior.
Well into the 19th century Moravians theology centered on the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross as the atonement for human sins. This, of course, is fairly traditional Christian teaching, but the Moravians were unusual in the intensity of their devotion to the crucified Son of God. From the mid-1730s until the 1800s they focused much of their religious devotions on the wounds that Jesus suffered during his passion. [Slide 3] Here is an excerpt from one of the most popular liturgical prayers in the Moravian Church in the 18th century. It is called the Litany of the Wounds of the Husband and portions of it were prayed almost every Friday evening in Moravian communities, including the communities in North Carolina. The stated goal of this litany was to “paint” the crucifixion in the mind of the worshiper.
Iconophiles: The idea of painting an image of Christ in the mind of the worshiper reminds us that one of the things that distinguished Moravians from most Protestant churches in colonial America was how much they employed the visual arts, especially painting, in their religious life. They did not share the Calvinists’ fear that beautiful music and painting were too sensual and might distract the worshiper from proper concentration on God. Over three hundred Moravian paintings have been preserved in Moravian archives in Europe and America. Many were lost or destroyed over the years. Even in the mission fields and backwoods of America, Moravians used art to communicate the gospel to people, especially to native peoples who had never heard of Christ. It was easier for them to see the salvation that God prepared for the Gentiles (Luke 2:30) when it was painted. [Slide 4] This is a small drawing, probably for a child, depicts Christ as both the shepherd and the Lamb of God. There is a lot of theological argument in this simple picture, but the overall affect is one of charming childlikeness.
If the purpose of preaching and liturgy is to paint the Savior in the minds of listeners, to direct their minds, hearts, and souls to their creator and redeemer, why not paint on canvas and other media? What better way to make doctrine come alive for people than to make visual images of Christian teaching? The most famous Moravian painter was the Englishman John Valentine Haidt who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1740s, but he was not the only artist. At least for a while the Moravians had a workshop where they taught painting in Herrnhut. [Slide 5] Here is a collection of miniatures drawn by different Moravians in the 18th century, perhaps school children. They were presumably as devotional cards for children. The frame in these pictures is shaped like the wound in Jesus’s side between his ribs. We’ll look at some of them closer as we go along. The Moravians also liked to make beautiful calligraphy, especially to educate children. [Slide 6] Notice the preference for the colors red and green, which you see in Moravian calligraphy and pottery. Red is symbolic blood and green for health.
People are often misled by the simplicity of the Moravian worship space, or Saal, with its white walls and white benches. [Slide 7] We forget that white is a festive color, which is why we use white at weddings. Moravian Saals are painted white so that they reflect and amplify the light of the sun, the candles, and the presence of the God. White walls have another purpose, though. They allow you to display art. Rather than having permanent art built into the walls and windows, the 18th century Moravians brought art into worship according to the liturgical season. [Slide 8] In this way, artwork, like music, enhanced the meaning of the festival. We have many descriptions of Moravian worship spaces richly decorated with greenery, flowers, and paintings for festivals, especially Christmas and Easter. Often they illuminated paintings to make beautiful tableau. [Slide 9] Thousands of people in Europe and America flocked to Moravian festivals in the 18th century to be inspired by the beauty of the liturgy, the music, the art, and the sermon.
Zinzendorf and Herrnhut So, who were these Moravians? The leader of the Moravian Church until 1760 was Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, a German aristocrat from a devout family in Saxony. [Slide 10] He was not only the patron and protector of the church; he was their major theologian and liturgist. In 1722 Zinzendorf allowed a group of Protestant refugees from neighboring Moravia to settle on his estate in Saxony. They claimed to be descendants of the Unity of the Brethren, a Protestant church in Moravia and Bohemia that was destroyed during the Counter Reformation. The refugees built a village called Herrnhut, [Slide 11] and when word went out that the Count was sheltering religious dissidents, the village grew, along with controversy. After a period of intense internal conflict, the residents of Herrnhut signed a Brotherly Agreement in May 1727 that set forth rules that established Herrnhut as a religious community. Herrnhut was the model for all subsequent Moravian settlements like Salem. There was no real distinction between secular things, including the economy, and spiritual things. [Slide 12] On August 13, 1727 they experienced a revival during a communion service, and so that date is often used as the founding of the modern or Renewed Moravian Church.
The Herrnhuters quickly became the most dynamic and controversial religious group in Europe. They created new forms of worship and revived practices from the New Testament, like the kiss of peace and footwashing. [Slide 13] They sent out teachers and evangelists throughout eastern and northern Europe, and they sent hundreds of missionaries to African peoples enslaved in the New World and to native peoples in the Americas. Unlike other churches at the time, the Moravians preferred to sent potters and other skilled artisans as missionaries because they could earn a living and have a ready entre into the lives of the people. They had remarkable success. [Slide 14] If you were a Moravian Brother or Sister in the 18th century, you were part of the most socially egalitarian, and gender inclusive organization in the world. This is illustrated in a famous painting by the Moravian artist John Valentin Haidt called first fruits.
The Moravians did not create a perfect society by any means, but judged by the standards of the 18th century, but they had a remarkably cosmopolitan yet inter-racial and multi-cultural community. Their attempt to bring all people into the body of Christ as brothers and sisters challenged many of the norms of Western society. It was a community in which European aristocrats washed the feet of peasants and Africans; a church where Cherokee women studied alongside the daughters of white planters here in Salem. [Slide 15] And it was church that highly valued the leadership of women and included women even on the governing boards, at least while Zinzendorf was alive. Here is a picture of a Moravian synod and you can see that many of the voting delegates are women. This is a picture of Anna Nitschmann who was elected as an eldress when she was only fifteen. [Slide 16] She founded the Single Sisters Choir and was one of the most prominent leaders of the church until her death. Many of the settlers here in Wachovia simply called her “Mother.” Notice that in this portrait she is shown like Christ opening his side wound, and notice that the wound is on the left over her heart. [Slide 17]
The Body of Christ: Christians used the term “the body of Christ” in many ways. It can refer to the physical body of Jesus, the institutional church, the mystical body of believers, or the eucharistic body of Christ in Holy Communion. [Slide 18] For the Moravians, it meant all of these and more. Herrnhut, Bethlehem, Bethabara, Salem, and the other Moravian settlements on four continents were created to be living, visible expressions of the body of Christ, and each member of those communities was supposed to understand his or her human existence as a sharing in the humanity and divinity of Christ. [Slide 19] Here we see each Moravian congregation as a leaf on the vine of Christ. According to Zinzendorf, the Christian church was born on the cross when the body of Christ was pierced by the centurion’s spear and blood and water poured out. The church must remain grafted into Christ in order to remain a living church. [Slide 20]
The Moravians used the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Augsburg Confession, which all affirm the humanity and divinity of Jesus, but Zinzendorf believed that theologians in his day had missed the significance of the ancient creeds. Modern philosophers and theologians who focused primarily on God the Father were obscuring the most important teaching of the New Testament: that Christ is the Savior and head of the church. Zinzendorf perceived that God the Father is an eternal mystery that no mortal mind can comprehend. This God is too awesome for mortals to know, much less love. Humans have no direct access to the Father, but Jesus Christ is a different matter. He was God veiled in human flesh. [Slide 21]
People saw Jesus, touched him, and recorded his words even after the resurrection. Those who want to know God merely have to look at Christ and they will see the human face of God. The human, physical reality of Jesus was as important as his divinity to Zinzendorf. The Single Brothers were reminded in one their hymns: “So his brow sweated; So he stood up, So lay down upon a wretched bed; So he was tired, So he was hungry. That everything he did on earth in human fashion is an immeasurably praise-worthy blessing to us.” [Slide 22] Zinzendorf spoke of a union of the divine and human in Jesus that was so complete that one can say that God was born in a stable to a virgin. God sweated in agony in Gethsemane. God died on the cross. The story of the salvation is that God took on human form and willingly suffering for the sake of his creation. [Slide 23] Humans were enslaved to sin, death, and the devil, but Christ redeemed them from their misery. Christ came to reconcile the world to God, and the crucifixion stands as the assurance of forgiveness and makes it possible for the creature to become the bride of the creator. The blood streaming from the cross impresses the believer with the reality of his or her ransom from sin. [Slide 24] “[W]e are purchased from wrath, from judgment, from the curse, from the Fall and all ruin, from sin, death, the devil and hell through a true, legal and complete payment, namely, through the blood of the one who tasted death for us all through the grace of God.” This is what John meant when he said that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is also why lambs figure so prominently in Moravian iconography. [Slide 25]
The blood of Jesus has the power to cool lusts and cauterize sin. The bleeding side of Jesus is symbolic of salvation and healing; it is a vision of God’s love. [Slide 26] Seen in the light of salvation, blood becomes a very concrete symbol of health and wellbeing in Moravian theology and iconography. It is symbolic of the healing of the soul and the release from sin and death. The blood and wounds of the Lamb are reminders of Christ’s triumph over death. [Slide 27] The blood of lamb of God pours divine life into the dying bodies of the children of God; thus it is “the proper principle of life.” Christ’s blood becomes the lasting connection between the heart of the Christian and the heart of the Savior. Therefore “we have indeed the great blessing that we are bathed in and swim in Jesus’ blood.”
Swimming in the blood of Christ is not a morbid image for Zinzendorf, it is an expression of the soul’s desire for eternal life in Christ; a life that is purchased only by the spilling of his blood. [Slide 28] He goes even further to say that this spilled blood was the conduit of the Holy Spirit and the means of re-creating the entire world. Blood is thus a symbol of immersion in the divine life; it is a fountain in which the believer swims and from which she drinks. [Slide 29] It is a fluid symbol of vitality and strength.
The Wounds of Christ In December of 1743 one of the old Moravian brothers, John Nitsche died in Herrnhut. [Slide 30] As he died he continually prayed to the wounds of Jesus, and those around him were so impressed by his faith and his death that they made his prayers the basis of the Litany of the Wounds. When August Gottlieb Spangenberg [Slide 31] arrived in Bethlehemon October 30, 1744, he brought with him the Litany of the Wounds, and an observer wrote that when it was first read, “An aura of blood prevailed, refreshing our hearts.” When the Single Brothers built their choir house in 1748 they dedicated it to the side wound of Jesus with the words Gloria Pleuriae carved in stone. [Slide 32] At least once a week for decades the Moravians prayed portions of the wounds litany. The Moravians believed that the Litany of the Wounds was what made their mission to tribal peoples so successful. We cannot go into all of the details of the cult of the wounds, but a few words are necessary to make sense of Moravian theology and iconography. [Slide 33]
The wounds of Jesus provide nourishment for the soul. [Slide 34] The wounds are described as a warm and soft bed in which to lie. The worshiper says, “I like lying calm, gentle, and quiet and warm. What shall I do? I crawl to you.” The believer longs to return to the womb, to crawl inside the “deep wounds of Jesus” and lie there safe and protected. The brothers and sisters joined the “many thousand kinds of sinners” who sat in the “treasure hoard” of the “cavernous wounds of Jesus.” As shocking as such language appears to us, the Moravians claimed that it would be better for those who have questions about their beliefs to read this litany than any theology book.
The Side Wound of the Savior In Moravian art and liturgy salvation, sanctification, community life, and divine protection were all brought together into a single striking symbol: Jesus with his heart pierced and opened to the believer. [Slide 35] This side wound becomes the organ of spiritual birth in Zinzendorf’s theology, the passage from death into eternal life. Zinzendorf saw a parallel between the rebirth of the soul and the creation of Eve from the side of Adam. When Jesus fell asleep on the cross, his side was opened, and God took human souls from the side, just as God in Genesis opened the side of the sleeping Adam and “took out his future wife from his side.” This idea is expressed in the Pleurody, which was a hymn of praise the side wound of Jesus. [Slide 36]
In a series of sermons on the Augsburg Confession, Zinzendorf spoke of the desire that Christians have to be born into a new life. “I will see whether you are a divine child. That I will see in your longing for your Mother’s womb, in whether you have entered into the new world through the right door, through which the pleroma of the new Spirit exited, namely through the side of Jesus.” Christians are thus portrayed as being doubly united with Christ; not only did he become human, the church was born from his side.
[Slide 37] Zinzendorf drew on the imagery of the biblical book Song of Songs in his wounds mysticism. The lover in that book is like a dove hid in the cleft of a rock (2:14). Those who have been redeemed experience being “led with body and soul into the side hole,” which is the place of healing and salvation.  [Slide 38] The popular Isaac Watts hymn “Rock of Ages, Cleft for me” uses this same imagery, but most people are not aware that they are singing about the side wound of Christ when they sing “let me hide myself in thee.” According to the Moravians in the 18th century, the side wound opens directly into the heart of the Savior and invites the believer in. [Slide 39] In this picture a young Moravian sister is looking out from the heart of Jesus through the spear cut. And to make clear that this is an image of life and growth, the heart is sprouting flowers like a tulip bulb.
Daily Union with Christ One of the cardinal tenets of Moravian teaching was that believer’s entire life should be a liturgy to Christ. The most trivial aspects of human life, such as eating and sleeping, were blessed by the Incarnation of the creator in the person of Jesus. Christ ate and slept; therefore communal eating and sleeping connects one to Christ. Every task can be an act of worship and identification with the Savior. The church tried to overcome the temptation to divide life into sacred and secular realms. In short, for the disciple of Christ, life is liturgy. [Slide 40] Here we have a little drawing of a home placed in the side wound of Jesus. Your home, your job, your marriage, everything should be lived in the wounds of Christ.
Every hour, waking or sleeping, was sacred time because God himself labored, slept, and died on this earth. Around the time Wachovia was settled, a preacher reminded the residents of Bethlehem “that everything that we do can be done in the name of Jesus, small or large, and thus in this way the most insignificant act becomes for us a liturgy.” Spangenberg wrote to Zinzendorf that the brothers and sisters “mix the Savior and his blood in their rail-splitting, land-clearing, fence-making, plowing, harrowing, sowing, mowing, washing, spinning, in short, in everything.” [Slide 41] At night the children were tucked into bed with prayers about being tucked into the side of the Savior, and when Moravians buried their dead, they prayed that they would rest in his wounds.
[Slide 42] This is an interesting little picture of flowers within the side wound. The verse describes the believer like a bee taking nectar from the flowers. Moravians used this as analogy for Holy Communion. Like many Christians, the Moravians taught that the bread and wine in communion were the body and blood of Christ. Zinzendorf called Communion the most “palpable” way for Christians to experience union with Christ. “Then we experience that through the tormented body of Christ we are united with the divine nature and come into a condition which foreshadows something of the resurrection.” This union with the divine occurs when the worshiper sets his mouth to his side and drinks of the blood from the wound that ever opens anew. Zinzendorf compares Christ to a nursing mother who provides nourishment for her children. Believers rest tenderly in the arms of their Savior. [Slide 43] During Communion, the Moravians sang “Draw us to thee, and we will come/ Into thy Wounds’ deep Places,/ Where hidden is the Honey-comb/ Of thy sweet Love’s Embraces.” At the point of partaking of the bread, the communicants sang “Pale lips, kiss us on the Heart! Open arms, take us!” When they drank from the cup they sang “To thy Heart now put us, on thy Wounds press us, In these blest Sacrament-Hours so precious, Lamb, Lamb, O Lamb!” [Slide 44]
Multiple emotions were expressed through the adoration of the wounds. For the Moravians the death of Jesus was both horrifying and beautiful because his voluntary sacrifice was the source of salvation and healing. [Slide 45] Notice the flowers growing around the cross in this silk embroidery from the 1800s. Flowers, in Moravian iconography, especially roses, express the great mystery of faith that the Son of God was the ransom for sin. [Slide 46] The rose is beautiful, but it also draws blood when you pluck it. Rather than writing complex books of theology, Moravians sang about the wounded Savior and painted images of his wounds like this one. [Slide 46] I’m sure you have some questions.
 Paul Peucker, “Kreuzbilder und Wundenmalerei: Form und Funktion der Malkunst in der Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine um 1750,” Unitas Fratrum 55/56 (2005):125-174. For examples of this artwork see Paul Peucker, ed. Graf ohne Grenzen: Leben und Werk von Nikolaus Ludwig Graf von Zinzendorf (Herrnhut: Comeniusbuchhandlung, 2000).
 He is particularly critical of the Apostles’ Creed, which he recognized was not by the Apostles themselves. Einundzwanzig Diskurse (ZH 6) 2, p. 61.
Von allen diesen drey Sachen, von der Unbekanntschaft mit GOtt; von der gefährlichen Bekanntschaft mit den unergründlichen Tiefen, darüber man in die Finsterniß gefahren wäre, in loca horrida & lurida, in die entsetzlichen Ewigkeiten, davor sich auch sterbende Philosphen erschüttert haben; und endlich von derselben kindischen Gottesdienstlichkeit, darüber sich die gescheute Leute, die nicht weit genug denken, und die Realität davon nicht verstehen, unzeitig moquiren: von alle dem, hat uns befreyet der glükselige Gedanke: daß unser Schöpfer ein Mensch worden, und daß uns das Göttliche Wesen endlich, nach langem Warten, ein Bild aufgestellt, daran wir uns ewig erfreuen können. Wunden Reden 2, pp. 19-20.
 So was Abiad, Elgibbor, So ging sein puls, sein odem, So ging verändrung bey Ihm vor, So dünstete sein Brodem, So stund Er auf, so legt’ Er sich Auf schlechte lager-stätte, So ward Er müde, hungerig, So redt Er, wenn er redte; … Das Er auf menschen-weise So macht; ist uns ein meritum Von unschätzbarem preise. 1757 Ger. Lit. Book, pp. 207 f. The translation in the 1759 English litany book is interesting, “So was the everlasting God, So He felt Alteration, So He drew Breath, so mov’d his Blood, So was his Perspiration, So He lay down on a poor Bed, So He did rise each Morning, So He felt Hunger, so eat Bread, So spoke, and so was turning. … In short, by ev’ry Thing He did on Earth in human Manner He hath great blessings merited And brought our State to Honour.”
 For a discussion of the Christological developments and controversies in early Christianity, see Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), vol. 1 of The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971):144-146, 203-207, 226-275.
 Wir sind wahrhafftig bezahlt, wir sind gekaufft, wie man ein Gut von einem andern kaufft, wie man einen Gefangenen loßkauffen kan, so sind wir vom Zorn, vom Gericht, vom Fluch, vom Fall und allen Verderberben, von Sünde, Tod, Teuffel und Hölle gekaufft, durch eine wahren, in GOttes Schatz allein guultige und gantze Bezahlung, nehmlich durch das Blut des der, von GOttes Gnaden für uns alle den Tod geschmecket. Berlinische Reden, reprinted in Hauptschriften in sechs Bänden, edited by Erich Beyreuther and Gerhard Meyer (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1962), vol. 1, sermon 8 (men), p. 98.
 Gemein Reden 33, p. 86; Wundenlitanei Homilien 1, p. 8.
 Wir haben zwar die grosse seligkeit, daß wir gebadet sind in JEsu, und daß wir in JEsu blut geschwimmen; aber als würmlein, mit vieler unanständigkeit, in einer geringen gestalt. Gemein Reden 2, p. 40.
 David Cranz, Ancient and Modern History of the Brethren, translated by Benjamin LaTrobe. (London, 1780), p. 298.
 Nov. 7 and Dec. 19, 1744, Bethlehem Diary; translated by Kenneth Hamilton, The Bethlehem Diary. Volume 1, 1742-1744 (Bethlehem, Pa.: Archives of the Moravian Church, 1971), pp. 210 and 214.
 Nov. 8/19, 1748, Helpers Conference Minutes, Moravian Archives (Bethlehem, Pa.).
 Gemein Reden 19, p. 286; Ein und zwanzig diskurse 4, p. 105.
 Wenn einer sagt, ich gläube es; nun so werde ich sehen, ob du ein göttlich Kind bist? das werde ich an deinem Verlangen nach deiner Mutter Leib sehen, ob du durch die rechte Thüre in die neue Welt gegangen bist, dadurch das Pleroma des neuen Gesites heraus gegangen, nemlich durch die Seite JEsu. Ein und zwanzig diskurse 2, p. 73.
 Kinder Reden (ZE 6) 11, p. 59; Gemeinreden (ZH 4) 12, p. 206.
 Bettermann, pp. 69-75. We see this same linking in one of Zinzendorf’s favorite medieval authors, Bernard of Clairvaux; Bynum, Jesus as Mother, p. 117.
 Dec. 7, 1758, Bethlehem Diary.
 April 26, 1746. Herrnhut Archives, R.14, A18, 31, quoted by Erbe, p. 92.
 Wunden Reden 4, 43, 49.
 Zinzendorf, Nine Public Lectures on Important Subjects in Religion Preached in Fetter Lane Chapel in London in the Year 1746, tr.and ed. by George W. Forell (Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 1973), 20.
Kinder Reden, reproduced in Ergänzungsbände zu den Hauptschriften (hereafter ZE), ed. Erich Beyreuther and Gerhard Meyer (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1964-1985), sermon 56, 282. Ein und zwanzig diskurse (ZH 6) sermon 3, 89.
 The Litany-Book, According to the Manner of Singing at present mostly in Use among the Brethren, again revised, and in this convenient Form set forth by the Brethren’s Chantor. Translated from the fourth German Edition (London, 1759)(hereafterLitany-book), 232; cf. Das Litaneyen-Büchlein nach der bey den Brüdern dermalen hauptsächlich gewöhnlichen Singe-Weise von neuen revidirt, und in dieser bequemen Form ausgegeben von dem Cantore Fratrum Ordinario, 4th ed. (Barby, 1757) (hereafter Litaneyen-Büchlein), 256. This idea of the wounds of Christ dripping honey also has medieval precedent. Again, Aelred of Rievaulx: “then one of the soldiers opened his side with a lance and there came forth blood and water. hasten, linger not, eat the honeycomb with your honey, drink your wine with your milk. the blood is changed into wine to gladden you, the water into milk to nourish you.” De instituione, chap. 31, Opera omnia 1:667; trans. McPherson, Works 1:90-91; quoted by Bynum, Jesus as Mother, 123
Litany-book, 240; cf. Litaneyen-Büchlein, 263.