Cover image for A Time of Sifting: Mystical Marriage and the Crisis of Moravian Piety in the Eighteenth Century By Paul Peucker

A Time of Sifting

Mystical Marriage and the Crisis of Moravian Piety in the Eighteenth Century

Paul Peucker


$90.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-06643-1

$28.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-06644-8

Available as an e-book

264 pages
6" × 9"
10 b&w illustrations

Pietist, Moravian, and Anabaptist Studies

A Time of Sifting

Mystical Marriage and the Crisis of Moravian Piety in the Eighteenth Century

Paul Peucker

“Peucker’s account finds grounding in careful explanation of a wide range of topics central to the period—from salvation, justification by faith and eschatology to gender roles, gender identity and sexuality. More than just an exploration of the Sifting period, the book places the events of that period in wider historical context. As a result, the volume offers a chance for amateur and professional historians alike to deepen their understanding of the eighteenth-century Moravian Church.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
At the end of the 1740s, the Moravians, a young and rapidly expanding radical-Pietist movement, experienced a crisis soon labeled the Sifting Time. As Moravian leaders attempted to lead the church away from the abuses of the crisis, they also tried to erase the memory of this controversial and embarrassing period. Archival records were systematically destroyed, and official histories of the church only dealt with this period in general terms. It is not surprising that the Sifting Time became both a taboo and an enigma in Moravian historiography. In A Time of Sifting, Paul Peucker provides the first book-length, in-depth look at the Sifting Time and argues that it did not consist of an extreme form of blood-and-wounds devotion, as is often assumed. Rather, the Sifting Time occurred when Moravians began to believe that the union with Christ could be experienced not only during marital intercourse but during extramarital sex as well. Peucker shows how these events were the logical consequence of Moravian teachings from previous years. As the nature of the crisis became evident, church leaders urged the members to revert to their earlier devotion of the blood and wounds of Christ. By returning to this earlier phase, the Moravians lost their dynamic character and became more conservative. It was at this moment that the radical-Pietist Moravians of the first half of the eighteenth century reinvented themselves as a noncontroversial evangelical denomination.
“Peucker’s account finds grounding in careful explanation of a wide range of topics central to the period—from salvation, justification by faith and eschatology to gender roles, gender identity and sexuality. More than just an exploration of the Sifting period, the book places the events of that period in wider historical context. As a result, the volume offers a chance for amateur and professional historians alike to deepen their understanding of the eighteenth-century Moravian Church.”
“This fine book offers a welcome perspective on a complex topic, and joins the growing number of books on radical Pietism, in this case via new insights into the history of the Moravian Church and its global context.”
“Peucker brings enough suspicion to his sources to allow for a compelling argument. It is the best theory of the sifting time to date and will likely prevail in Moravian studies.”
“[A Time of Sifting] illustrates the fluidity of boundaries, the wide-ranging intellectual influences, and the gender-transgressive potential within eighteenth-century Protestantism, and therefore is a strong contribution to the cultural history of religion in the Euro-Atlantic world.”
“Peucker concedes that his study has ‘only partially lifted the veil that covered the Sifting Time’, but we must be grateful that he has lifted it further than has any previous archivist or historian.”
“A concise, well-written, well-founded and clearly argued study, based on clear and explicit source assessment.”
“A major achievement of scholarship that reads like a mystery novel. Paul Peucker solves the enigma of the Sifting Time and shows that this controversial moment is even more interesting than earlier historians have assumed. He reveals a scandal at the heart of the Moravian Church—brothers becoming sisters, as well as the antinomian belief that Christ had forgiven not only past but also future sins—so troubling to church leaders that they purged their own archives to cover it up. Although focused on one specific moment, Peucker’s study explains the forces that reshaped the Moravian Church throughout the entire eighteenth century.”
“Paul Peucker’s creative and skillfully researched new work sheds equal light on the enthusiastic history of eighteenth-century religion and on the complex way in which subsequent generations of Protestants have remembered that formative time in their past. His history of the Moravian Sifting Time skillfully interweaves theology, mysticism, the history of gender and sexuality, practical exigencies, and personalities. This volume will be important to historians of early modern religion both within and beyond German Pietism.”
“In this fascinating study, Paul Peucker offers the first book-length treatment of a period of crisis in the Moravian community in the late 1740s, known as the Sifting Time. Previous studies have suffered from a lack of precision in their understanding of what constituted the Sifting Time. Features such as blood-and-wounds theology, as well as anything unusual or unorthodox, have been included in it. Peucker offers a new understanding, based on archival research and a close reading of Zinzendorf’s letter of reprimand in February 1749 and the writings of other Moravian leaders. He shows that to properly understand the Sifting Time, one must see it as a European and transatlantic story, part of eighteenth-century Protestant Christianity as a whole.
Focusing on events in the community of Herrnhaag, the main Moravian center in the 1740s, Peucker shows that the crisis of the Sifting was related to the idea of becoming sinless and to sexual transgressions. It was marked by the belief that union with Christ could be experienced during sexual intercourse, both within and outside of marriage. Peucker argues that the Sifting was the catalyst for Moravians in later decades to turn away from more radical beliefs and practices towards conservative, mainstream Protestantism. The Moravians changed from a radical Pietist movement to an accepted Evangelical denomination.
Peucker’s study is part of a new historiography that does not shy away from the dark side of radical German Pietism. Scholars of Moravian history are now focusing on issues of gender, sexuality, mysticism, and the less conventional side of Zinzendorf’s thought. Drawing on archival sources and the latest scholarship in the field, Peucker offers a new and authoritative interpretation of a crucial period in Moravian history. His book is now the indispensable reference work for understanding eighteenth-century Moravian communal life.”
“No one knows the sources better than Paul Peucker, and the story he tells here of the Sichtungszeit is extraordinarily well crafted. Addressing long-held misconceptions, Peucker reconstructs from the surviving records a rich and at times startling account of this critical juncture in Moravian history. His book will change the way we look at Zinzendorf, the Moravian movement, and the role of radical religion in Pietism. His historical sensitivity and interpretive verve open new avenues for understanding religion and culture in the eighteenth century.”

Paul Peucker is Director and Archivist at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Prologue: The Hole



Chapter One - Introduction

Chapter Two - Herrnhut and Herrnhaag

Chapter Three - Historiography

Chapter Four - The Crisis Revealed

Chapter Five - Characteristics of the Sifting Time

Chapter Six - Songs of the Sifting

Chapter Seven - The Actual Sifting

Chapter Eight - Aftermath of the Sifting

Chapter Nine - The Post-Zinzendorf Era

Chapter Ten - What was the Sifting Time?

Chapter Eleven - The Sources





The Lord led us into a sifting that admittedly is a most severe punishment, of which one cannot think but with horror.

— Interim Constitution 1762

<1>The Ceremony of December 6, 1748

During the afternoon of December 6, 1748, the single men in the Moravian community of Herrnhaag took part in an unusual ceremony. Their leader, Christian Renatus von Zinzendorf, son of the leader of this new controversial international religious movement, gathered the men in the chapel where he declared them all to be women. No longer were they to consider themselves men but from then on they would all pass as “sisters.” The following day Christel, as most Moravians affectionately called him, together with his fellow elder, Joachim Rubusch, went to nearby Marienborn, seat of the church’s theological seminary, and repeated the ceremony with the single men present there. What followed was a scandal that prompted Count Zinzendorf to intervene when he learned about it, causing great embarrassment among many in the church.

Even though three independent sources for the gender-changing ceremony exist, this event has not been discussed in any studies of eighteenth-century religion. The happenings of December 6 and 7, 1748, however, form a crucial moment in the history of the Moravian Church. Examining the developments leading up to the events as well as the reactions that soon followed will give us a good understanding not only of the Moravian movement but also of the vitality and diversity of Christian religion in the Atlantic world of the eighteenth century. When declaring the men to be women, Christel built on various aspects of his father’s theology relating to bridal mysticism, salvation, the Lutheran understanding of justification by faith, ideas on gender roles and gender identity, the ideal of imitatio Dei, sexuality, and eschatological expectations.

The gender-changing ceremony of 1748 was the most dramatic, and to many Moravians at the time, the most disturbing aspect of a crisis in the church that Moravians called a time of sifting. During the 1750s Moravians began to speak about a crisis that had recently occurred within their communities. They called this crisis a time of “Sifting,” believing the strength of their faith had been tested by Satan: “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). This idea of a Sifting occurring in the 1740s shaped later Moravian historiography, but no one has given a suitable definition or description of this Sifting Time.

I will argue that this so-called Sifting Time was a culmination of Moravian theology of the 1730s and 1740s. It was a combination of Lutheran theology with its emphasis on justification by faith alone, of bridal mysticism, and of traditional passion symbolism. It was also a reaction against the austere Pietism of the time, resulting in provocative playfulness. At the end of the 1740s these elements, combined with the belief that the union with Christ could be experienced during sexual intercourse, culminated in antinomianism and perfectionism. The actual Sifting occurred when Moravians began to believe that the union with Christ could be experienced not only during marital intercourse but during extramarital sex as well. This undermined notions of marriage as a sacred bond that lay at the core of Moravian theology. The crisis revealed deficiencies of Moravian teaching and eventually led to a transformation of Moravian piety. After Zinzendorf's death in 1760 Moravians were faced with a chaotic situation left behind by their leader: they were under attack from Lutheran and other Protestants opponents and they were faced with internal turmoil, caused by Zinzendorf's lack of leadership as the crisis of the Sifting peaked and by his refusal to acknowledge that his own theology had led to the crisis. In the end, Moravians distanced themselves from any radical elements in their teaching and adapted to more generally accepted forms of Protestantism.

The main geographical focus of this study will be the community of Herrnhaag, the Moravian center of the 1740s located north of Frankfurt am Main, but the geographical spread of ideas and practices connected to the Sifting extended far beyond Herrnhaag. Most of all, the crisis of the Sifting Time was connected to eighteenth-century ideas on religion and sexuality.

<1>Religion and Sexuality

The history of sexuality has become an important field of study during the past few decades. Whereas in 1997 the study of religion and sexuality could still be called “an underdeveloped area of research,” historians have since worked to fill this gap. Among scholars of Pietism as well, interest for questions of sexuality and marriage has increased in recent years. Religion had great influence on matters of sexuality, and Christian ideas and institutions shaped sexual attitudes. Religious concepts such as original sin, purity, marriage, and celibacy, had an impact on sexuality and religious leaders attempted to control the sexual lives of their followers. But sexuality also influenced religion: around the turn of the eighteenth century several religious people and communities separated from the established church because of the issue of sexuality.

Marriage and sexuality were central issues among early modern Protestants. A. G. Roeber draws attention to the debate among Protestants about the nature of marriage: is marriage a legal bond that asserts the authority of men as heads of the household, or is it a partnership in which husband and wife together pursue the ideal of holiness, reflecting the relationship of Christ with the church? Luther as well as Spener tended to see marriage as the latter while other theologians, among them Pietist leader August Hermann Francke, rejected the “quasi-sacramental friendship marriage.” Willi Temme has pointed out that around the turn of the eighteenth century many Pietists raised questions regarding marriage, gender, physicality, and sexuality. For many, these questions were pressing problems, solved in diverse ways. Traditionally, lust (concupiscence) was considered a sin, by which original sin passed from one generation to another. The question therefore was: if sexual lust was sinful, how could sexual intercourse be acceptable? For most Protestants of the Reformation as well as for most non-separatist Pietists the purpose of sex within marriage was procreation and was consequently sanctified.

Many radical Pietists did not accept such reasoning. For them, sex remained sinful, be it within or outside marriage. Some radical Pietists had high regard for the so-called virginal marriages in which both partners abstained from sex by mutual agreement. Others, such as Johann Georg Gichtel in the Netherlands or Conrad Beissel in Pennsylvania, taught strict celibacy because they believed the truly converted should not defile themselves with sex. Gottfried Arnold, who in his earlier works promoted celibacy, did not find much sympathy among his former admirers when he married in 1701, seemingly abandoning his earlier ideals of purity. Some groups, in fact, believed sexuality could be cleared from any sinfulness. Followers of Eva von Buttlar, united in the Society of Mother Eva, believed they could be purified from earthly desire. As such they could “blend” together with the body of Christ while having sexual intercourse among each other. Similar ideas about sinlessness and perfectionism existed among Moravians during the late 1740s.

Sexuality was a principal matter among eighteenth-century Moravians. Like other radical Pietists, Zinzendorf had struggled with the question if a true Christian could get married or not. It has been suggested that Zinzendorf was influenced by the ideas of Ernst Christoph Hochmann von Hochenau on marriage. In the discussion whether marriage was a legal institution or a holy bond, Hochmann distinguished between the marriage of ordinary (unconverted) people and true Christians. Hochmann believed secular people did not need to have their marriage legitimized by the church; he thought a strictly secular performance of their marriages sufficient. Church weddings should be reserved to Christian believers whose bond was to be a reflection of the love of Christ for the church. A higher degree of marriage, according to Hochmann, were the “virginal marriages” for true Christians who together committed their lives as warriors for Jesus. The highest degree of marriage for Hochmann was celibacy, where the individual believer was betrothed to Jesus.

Zinzendorf came to the conclusion that a Christian was able to marry. He agreed with the radical Pietists that lust by definition was sinful, even within marriage. His solution, however, was not to abstain from sex but to remove lust from sexual intercourse. When sex was performed without lust it was not merely acceptable, but sex became a divine, sacramental act. Zinzendorf taught his followers to have sex without lust during which they were able to experience the union with Christ. Zinzendorf’s teachings on marriage, especially his concept of sexual intercourse between husband and wife as a sacrament, placed the Moravians in the center of the ongoing Protestant discussion on marriage. Eventually, these same teachings, as I will argue, resulted in the crisis of the Sifting Time when Moravians began to celebrate the bond between Christ and the church outside of sanctioned, marital relationships. The Sifting Time was a crisis relating to questions of religion and sexuality.

<1>The Sifting Time

The Moravian Church began as a small group of refugees and descendants of the old Unitas Fratrum settled on the estate of Nikolaus Ludwig Count Zinzendorf in eastern Saxony, founding the community of Herrnhut in 1722. The count was not only their secular lord but also the spiritual leader of the movement that emanated from the Herrnhut community. Awakened Christians from various parts of Germany and beyond joined the Herrnhuters and founded new communities on the European continent, in Britain and in North America. Missionaries went out to the slaves in the Caribbean, to the Inuit in Greenland and Labrador, to various tribes in Africa and to non-Christian nations in the East. The Moravians claimed to be a continuation of the ancient Unitas Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren, a pre-reformation protestant church in Bohemia that had suffered under severe persecution during the seventeenth century. In fact, in 1749 British Parliament passed an act in which this claim was acknowledged. Central to their ideas was a personal surrender to Christ whose suffering and death on the cross was to touch the heart of the true believer. Chapter one will explain how the Moravians (named after the country of origin of some of the first settlers) grew into a transatlantic religious movement of thousands of people. Like the Methodists, the Moravians were one of the significant religious renewal movements of the eighteenth century. Whereas eighteenth-century Methodism was predominantly an Anglo-American movement, Moravianism attracted Germans, Scandinavians, English, Dutch, Caribbean slaves, American Indians, Balts, as well as the odd Italian, Persian, and Frenchman.

In recent years, historians have studied many aspects of the eighteenth-century Moravians such as art, education, music, sexuality, autobiographies, theology, linguistics, cross-cultural exchanges and transatlantic economics. Many of these studies imply that Moravians had a “dark side,” a period of crisis when things got out of hand, during which the use of bizarre and repulsive language alienated previous sympathizers. Moravians during the eighteenth century called this period of crisis the Sifting Time.

The Sifting Time is primarily a historiographical construct, invented by contemporaries to label a crisis in their recent past. Over time, the meaning of the historical category Sifting Time changed and shifted. As later historians were unaware of what this crisis had exactly entailed, they began filling the term with their own interpretation of anything unorthodox and out of the ordinary found in the records. The further away an observer stood from the original crisis, the longer and more comprehensive he or she considered the Sifting Time to have been. In chapter two we will look at how historians in the past have treated the Sifting Time.

The Sifting Time is the topic of this book. What was the Sifting Time and why did Moravians perceive it as a crisis? What role did the concept of a Sifting Time play in the development of Moravian self identity and historiography? How do the ideas and practices of the Sifting Time relate to other religious groups of the time? The study of this relatively short crisis will touch upon questions of gender, masculinity, marriage, sexuality and religion in the eighteenth century. We will examine the place of Moravianism within the world of radical Pietism and the influence of mysticism on a transatlantic movement during an age before national-confessional cultures dominated the stage. Examining the nature of the Sifting Time will help us get a better understanding of the vitality and inventiveness of religion during the eighteenth century.

Whereas most historical narratives on the Moravians include the Sifting Time, the exact nature of the Sifting remains vague. A general sense of embarrassment discouraged early Moravian historians from describing the precise character of the crisis and led them to discard any archival evidence that documented the crisis. Because many relevant records were destroyed, later generations of historians were faced with the problem that it became increasingly difficult to define the Sifting Time. Thus, the Sifting Time evolved from a taboo subject into an unsolved mystery of Moravian historiography. This is the subject of chapter two. Often the Sifting Time has been interpreted as a period defined by an excessive focus on the blood and wounds of Christ. Such interpretation can hardly suffice. If the Sifting Time was really about intensive blood-and-wounds language, exuberant festivities, and playful silliness, why then was the reaction from Moravian leaders so severe? The strong rejection of the Sifting Time must have been connected to something larger than what we previously thought the Sifting Time to be. A mistake of many previous interpretations was, by lack of adequate source material, to infer that anything unusual and unorthodox during the 1740s was an element of the Sifting Time.

In 1996 Craig Atwood argued that in order to understand the Sifting Time one must study how contemporaries defined the Sifting Time. Atwood was able to demonstrate that “those aspects of the theology and piety of Zinzendorf and the Brüdergemeine in the mid-eighteenth-century which later scholars have considered the essence of the Sifting Time are almost absent from Zinzendorf’s rebuke to the community.” Consequently, blood-and-wounds theology, the adoration of the Holy Spirit as Mother, the language of the Litany of the Wounds, or an “over-emphasis on religious devotion” are not particular aspects of the Sifting Time but should be considered general characteristics of Moravian piety in the eighteenth century. This book will follow a similar methodology and attempt to establish which developments in the 1740s contemporaries found so disturbing that they perceived them as a crisis. We will consider texts by contemporaries and examine how they defined the crisis. Based on a close reading of these descriptions and statements we will look at the preceding years and analyze how the crisis developed. It will be important to place the ideas of the Sifting Time in the context of other religious traditions. By finding an answer to the question what the Moravian Sifting Time entailed, we will gain better insight into the Moravian movement of the eighteenth century and how it adapted to notions of reasonable religion and to changing gender roles.

In order to gain an understanding of the Sifting Time we will lay out the chronology of events in chapter three, from the moment Moravians realized something had gone wrong, to the issuing of Zinzendorf’s letter that defined the crisis, and finally to dealing with the crisis. This chapter will also discuss the terminology used to describe the crisis and consider the question how the crisis should be dated. The crisis only became a crisis when it was named as such. By writing his letter of reprimand in February of 1749, Zinzendorf publicly admitted something had gone wrong. Based on Zinzendorf’s letter of reprimand and other contemporary texts looking back on the crisis I will attempt to detail and explain the various elements that Zinzendorf and his contemporaries believed defined the crisis. Chapter four will begin to lay out these aspects, although a full understanding of the crisis cannot occur until chapter six.

Before turning to the height of the crisis, we will pause to examine the hymns that were used during the late 1740s. Some of these hymns were never published but rather distributed in handwritten hymnbooks that were destroyed after the nature of the crisis had been revealed. Songs played an essential role in Moravian life and worship; these hymns and their connection to bridal mysticism will be analyzed in chapter five. The actual crisis will be discussed in chapter six where we will try to discern what the Sifting Time comprised, and why this crisis was considered so scandalous that most related records were destroyed.

The following chapters will treat the aftermath of the crisis: how did the church react to the crisis? Just dealing with the Sifting Time and its immediate aftermath would only be half of the story. The transformation of the Moravian Church during the second half of the eighteenth century is a consequence of the crisis of the late 1740s, as I will argue. The Sifting Time caused the Moravian Church to radically change course and to become a non-controversial mainline church, closely related to the official German Protestant churches (Landeskirchen) but with obvious Pietist leanings and with a separate identity.

Because so many records were intentionally destroyed, the nature of the Sifting Time became obscured. Moravians have taken great effort to eliminate evidence relating to this time of crisis, thereby turning the Sifting Time into an enigma. Eventually, the Sifting became the Moravians’ best kept secret. In a final chapter we will discuss Moravian record keeping, the symbolic role archives played for Moravians, and how Moravians constructed their history by consciously collecting as well as by purposely destroying historical records. We will discuss what source material survives and how these resources were able to provide an understanding of the Sifting.

The crisis of the Sifting Time was a defining moment in the history of the Moravians. It was the culmination of Moravian piety of the late 1730s and 1740s, and its aftermath determined the development of the church for many decades. In order to fully understand the Moravian movement during the period of its fast expansion, developing from a local phenomenon (Herrnhut) into a worldwide religious network, we need to study the Sifting. This study wants to seriously consider the theology and practices of the 1740s rather than dismissing them as nonsense or aberrant theology. The piety of the 1740s needs to be studied in its own right: what characterized Moravian piety during the late 1740s and how is that to be understood? Studying these years will also give us better understanding of Zinzendorf himself. We will see that the idea of a Sifting Time later served as a historiographical construct to either alienate Zinzendorf from the “true” Moravian Church or to separate Zinzendorf from his own theology. Atwood argues that the traditional understanding of the Sifting Time has “in fact distorted our understanding of the entire Zinzendorfian era and the evolution of Moravian theology and piety.”

At the same time, the Sifting Time was an expression of eighteenth-century Christianity. Thousands of people, Europeans and non-Europeans alike, were attracted to the Moravians during the late 1740s and many of them, to varying degrees, participated in what we would now label as aspects of the Sifting Time. This implies that the Sifting Time is very much part of eighteenth-century Christianity. This is not a German story but rather a European and even a Transatlantic story: European religion manifested in the Atlantic world.

Zinzendorf’s theology was perhaps not as unusual for eighteenth-century Europeans as is sometimes implied. The Moravians were one example of radical Christian social experimentation. Other groups, such as the Shakers, the Inspired, the Society of Mother Eva, the French Prophets, or Beissel’s community at Ephrata—to name but a few—practiced similar unconventional ideas but they did not leave as many detailed records as the Moravians. The Moravians, with their tradition of detailed record-keeping, provide a unique nuanced perspective on radical religion in the period of the Enlightenment.

Additional reasons for studying the Sifting Time are the resulting consequences and what it tells us about the transformation of radical religious movements over time. The Sifting Time is an important chapter in the history of the Moravian Church as it developed from a radical-Pietist group into a non-controversial evangelical group. Traditionally, Moravians have presented the Sifting Time as a period of aberration, a short but exceptional phase that was sometimes not even worthy of mentioning. Supposedly, after the Sifting Time, the church regained its true calling. I will argue instead that the Sifting Time was a crucial period in the development of the Moravian Church in the eighteenth century. It was the culmination of developments that began early in its history. At the same time, for many contemporaries inside the church the Sifting was also proof that certain aspects of Zinzendorf’s theology and practice had undesirable consequences.

The phantom of their recent history continued to loom over the Moravian congregations until the end of the eighteenth century. The fear for anything out of the ordinary and the desire to turn to the safety of mainstream Protestantism led to the conservatism of the second half of the eighteenth century. As a consequence, Moravians revisited their theology regarding marriage. From a sacramental act intended to experience the union of the believer with the Divine, Moravian marriage became a much more conventional institution. Without the Sifting Time Moravian leaders would not have changed their course so radically. We cannot understand the Moravian Church of the second half of the eighteenth century without understanding the effects of the Sifting Time. Nor can we understand Moravian piety and practice of the first decades of the eighteenth century from the perspective of the second half.

<1>The Moravians within the Context of Radical Pietism

The Moravians were the most successful group brought forth by radical Pietism. Usually, the main criterion for radical Pietism is their separation from the established church, as opposed to the ecclesiastical Pietists who remained within the church. The term is used for both individuals and groups. Schneider calls the formation of established groups within radical Pietism a new phenomenon in the eighteenth century. Examples of other groups that separated from the church and organized their own independent societies include the seventeenth-century Labadists, the Society of Mother Eve, the Schwarzenau Brethren, and the Inspirationists. Although the two latter groups still exist in the United States, they never reached the size and spread of the Moravians within only a few decades of their origin.

Zinzendorf and his followers would not have agreed with either qualification: they distanced themselves from the ecclesiastical Pietists of Halle at an early time, and they categorically denied any separatist intention. However, from its beginning, the community at Herrnhut developed its own organization and held its own church meetings, independent from the parish church of Berthelsdorf to which Herrnhut officially belonged. Zinzendorf and the Moravians disguised their separatist intentions by using the mantle of being an ancient pre-Reformation church, the Unity of Brethren or Unitas Fratrum; as such, they gained official recognition from various European governments.

Besides separatism, radical Pietists often shared other features. Both Schneider and Wallmann consider Philadelphian ideas as the binding element of radical Pietism. Shantz lists several additional common features: the language of personal and cosmic renewal as found in the works of Jakob Böhme and Johann Arndt; a migratory lifestyle; an eclectic way of drawing from other traditions such as Lutheranism, mysticism, and alchemy; downplaying the importance of confessional differences; the role of women; and the ideal of forming communities of true Christians. Some groups had charismatic leaders whom they considered divinely inspired. In his fourfold typology of radical Pietism, Shantz places the Moravians under the category of the “sect model.”

Moravians have not always been recognized as a radical-Pietist group; sometimes they have been treated as its own form of (ecclesial) Pietism. There are two reasons for this. First of all, Zinzendorf and the Moravians deliberately avoided the impression of separatism. They insisted their community was the continuation of the ancient Unity of Brethren. In addition, Zinzendorf tried his best to place his movement on a Lutheran foundation. A second reason for considering Moravianism as its own form of Pietism and not so much as a radical Pietist group is the fact that during the last decades of the eighteenth century the Moravians explicitly distanced themselves from their radical past. This reinvented, non-enthusiastic identity of the Moravians has somehow distorted the view of their earlier history. From this perspective, certain aspects of Moravian theology and practice during the first half of the eighteenth century were simply overlooked, ignored, or dismissed as premature aberrations that were not important in the long run. In this view the historiographical concept of a Sifting Time as a (brief) period of deviation made it possible to conveniently group anything unconventional as a feature of the Sifting Time. This study will focus on some of these unconventional aspects of Moravian piety.

As Shantz has recently pointed out in his study of German Pietism, there has been a shift in the historiography of Pietism. For most of the twentieth century, historians have downplayed mystical and radical influences in Pietism and emphasized the Lutheran roots of the renewal movement. In recent years, the study of radical Pietism has thrived. New studies have been published on groups like the Ephrata community, the Schwarzenau Brethren, and the Mother Eva Society. A similar shift can be seen in Moravian studies. Scholars of Moravian history have become more interested in questions of gender, sexuality, the role of mysticism, and the less conventional aspects of Zinzendorf’s theology. The works of authors like Hans Schneider, Craig Atwood, Katherine Faull, Beverly Smaby, Aaron Fogleman, Peter Vogt, Marsha Keith Schuchard, and, most recently, Seth Moglen, and Derrick Miller have to be mentioned in this context.

This is a study about Zinzendorf’s theology and how it was received by his followers. Zinzendorf’s theology was authoritative and dominant among Moravians but his followers developed his ideas further and sometimes came to conclusions that revealed undesired consequences. The Sifting Time was the logical consequence of Zinzendorf’s teachings. The relationship between Zinzendorf and his followers began on his estate during the 1720s.