Speaking to Body and Soul
Instructions for the Moravian Choir Helpers, 1785–1786
Edited and translated by Katherine M. Faull
Speaking to Body and Soul
Instructions for the Moravian Choir Helpers, 1785–1786
Edited and translated by Katherine M. Faull
“Speaking to Body and Soul may be [Faull’s] most important work yet in terms of practical usefulness to clergy and average church members alike, because it shows how each member was spoken to and effectively cared for in the past.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
In monthly “speakings”—regularly scheduled dialogues between the choir helper and individual church members to determine whether the congregant could be admitted to communion—men and women received spiritual guidance on topics as varied as the physical manifestations of puberty, sexual attraction, frequency of intercourse, infant care, and bereavement. From their founding in 1722, the Moravians were remarkable for their positive evaluation of the body; they held that the natural manifestations of masculinity and femininity were integral elements of spiritual consciousness. The “Instructions for the Choir Helpers”—which were highly confidential at the time and passed on only by permission of the church administration—reflect that philosophy, providing insights into an interpretation of the body as a holistic system that should be cared for as a vessel for the spirit.
A unique resource for scholars of religious history, gender studies, and colonial American church history, Faull’s translation of this fascinating set of documents provides an unprecedented glimpse into a period of foundational change in Moravian history.
“Speaking to Body and Soul may be [Faull’s] most important work yet in terms of practical usefulness to clergy and average church members alike, because it shows how each member was spoken to and effectively cared for in the past.”
“This edition, a valuable resource for scholars and students alike, with high cross-disciplinary appeal, offers fresh perspectives for research on the interconnections among religious beliefs and sexuality as well as on the history of adolescence. It questions common assumptions concerning the relation between the sacred and the secular and offers a new focus on the surprising attention that was given to physical health and bodily concerns in the process of the formation of the religious self.”
“For Moravians, pastoral care meant care for body and soul. Katherine Faull has uncovered an intriguing set of eighteenth-century documents instructing Moravian leaders how to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of their sheep. These detailed instructions offer rare insight into the positive evaluation of each person’s individual needs based on their gender, age, and development.”
Katherine M. Faull is Professor of German and Comparative Humanities at Bucknell University.
Chapter One: The Single Sisters
Chapter Two: The Single Brethren
Chapter Three: The Married Choir
Chapter Four: The Widows Choir
The Moravian Church
Since the eighteenth century, many members of the Moravian Church have claimed the origin of this Protestant group to be in the Unity of the Brethren, or Unitas Fratrum, a Protestant church founded in 1457 by followers of Jan Hus (1373–1415), the Czech religious reformer. Within the dominant historical narratives of the Moravian Church in North America, Moravians link these early Protestants with what is known as the Renewed Church. Their emphasis on primitive Christianity, manifested in an emphasis on scriptural authority, the integration of spiritual and social life, and the use of women to give pastoral care to women is particularly important for this volume’s focus on the pastoral care of the members of the congregation. For the early Moravians, public and private worship was in accordance with scriptural teaching and modeled after the apostolic church; above all else, living a godly life was an essential part of faith.
By the closing years of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth, the early groups of brethren were almost completely decimated. Small pockets of secret communities were said to exist in Poland, Moravia, and Bohemia, but they seemed to be on the brink of extinction. It was at this point that Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760) entered the history of the Moravian Church.
Zinzendorf was born in 1700 in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, and was a descendant of Protestant Austrian nobility. He was raised by his grandmother, Henriette Catharine von Gersdorff, after his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage. His grandmother, an educated and talented woman, exercised great influence on the politics and pietism of the day. Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, Karl Hildebrand Canstein, and Paul Anton, the major proponents of the Halle school of Pietism, were all welcome guests at her castle of Großhennersdorf. Zinzendorf was educated at Francke’s school in Halle and in 1716 sent to the University of Wittenberg, the bastion of Lutheran orthodoxy, to study law, although his interests and passion grew more and more to be the study of theology.
Zinzendorf’s theological and intellectual debt to the traditions of German mysticism and Pietism is important to understanding the system of Moravian pastoral care described in this book. His reaction to the orthodoxy of Wittenberg’s Lutheranism caused him to embrace the visual emphasis of mysticism, as manifested in the work of Gottfried Arnold, Paul Gerhardt, Franz Buddaeus, Madame Guyon, and François Fénelon. Zinzendorf also owed much to the theology of the Pietists Philipp Jakob Spener and August Hermann Francke, with their emphasis on the development of a personal relationship with Christ.
In the 1720s Zinzendorf allowed a small group of refugees from Moravia to establish a village on his estate. These religious refugees wanted to revive the church of their ancestors, the Ancient Unity. But not only these early Protestants came to Zinzendorf’s estate in Saxony. The village also attracted Christians from all over central Europe who wanted a more intense life of faith. Lutheran, German Reformed, and various types of Pietist believers were united into a Brüdergemeine, or congregation of the brethren. The village was named Herrnhut (God’s Watch), and under Zinzendorf’s leadership it became a Christian community. Many distinctive Moravian practices developed in this early period, such as the choosing of Daily Texts for each day of the year, the drawing of the lot to determine God’s will in the decisions of the church, and the choir (Chor) system.
These early Moravians in Herrnhut held that ordinary men and women, regardless of race and social class, could be chosen as leaders and priests—a belief highly controversial to the authorities of the time. Moravians of mixed social rank and racial origin lived together in community and called one another brother and sister. From the very outset in Herrnhut, women (most notably, Anna Nitschmann, 1715–60) were allowed to hold leadership positions, even those of deacon and presbyter. As can be seen from the documents translated in this volume, women provided pastoral care to women, single, married, and widowed. Even children were deemed to lead spiritual lives and had their own choir and worship services. But all these practices gave rise to much criticism from outside the church.
Another organizational principle that shaped life in Herrnhut and later Moravian congregations was that of the choir system. To promote Christian growth and spirituality, most congregations were divided into choirs of children, older boys, older girls, single brethren, single sisters, married persons, widowers, and widows. The single brethren, single sisters, and widows lived, worked, and worshipped together in their respective choir houses. This well-planned and practiced homosocial structure has long been considered to be the linchpin of the religious group’s success in the town congregations and missions of both Europe and North America. Within the choirs, each member of the church had his or her specific place that was determined by sex, marital state, and age. Multiple daily services were held within the choir. During the earliest period of the Bethlehem congregation, known as the General Economy (1742–62), even married couples lived with other members of their choir and not their spouses.
The Moravian choir structure was based on the notion that creation, redeemed by Christ, was divinely blessed; thus, Zinzendorf maintained, the natural order constituted the best way for the mutual development of piety. In his Berliner Reden (1738) Zinzendorf stated, “the difference in class, temperament, life, age all make an immediate difference to the way in which the individual serves the Savior.” Indeed, in 1751, August Gottlieb Spangenberg, Zinzendorf’s successor, went so far as to describe the choirs as “Propheten-Schulen,” schools of prophets. In keeping with this notion, the choirs developed into the hallmark of Moravian life on all the continents of its activity in the eighteenth century.
The choir system originated in Herrnhut in February 1728, when a group of unmarried men moved to their own dormitory to worship, live, and work together. In 1730 the unmarried women, led by fifteen-year-old Anna Nitschmann, made a similar move and founded the first single sisters’ house. Eventually, there existed choirs of boys, girls, single men, single women, married men, married women, widowers, and widows. Those choirs that could support themselves financially were able to enjoy living in their own separate structure, but others, mostly the widows and widowers, could not. This abundance of distinct groups of the faithful gave rise to a multiplicity of religious services, as each group celebrated its own Communion and foot-washing (Pedilavium) rituals. The choirs also instituted more informal forms of worship, such as the love feast (Liebesmahl), singing meeting (Singstunde), and choir quarter-hour (Chorviertelstunde) service.
The Speaking (Sprechen)—a monthly conversation that the choir’s spiritual counselor, known as the choir helper (Chorhelfer/Chorhelferin) or sometimes as the laborer (Arbeiter) or laboress (Arbeiterin), held with each member of the choir—aided in the maintenance of faith. These spiritual conversations with choir members focused on the state of each individual’s body and soul. In the Speakings the choir helper carefully guided conversation through the matters of the body and soul to probe whether there might be any impediment to celebrating Holy Communion. The instructions contained in this volume were intended as a guide for the choir helper in this process. In accordance with Zinzendorf’s understanding of the “natural order,” the Speakings between a choir helper and a teenage girl (greater girl) differed substantively from those with a newly widowed woman or a single brother or a single sister. And, as we see from the texts that follow, in all these life stages, the instructions assume one underlying principle: Christ’s incarnation blesses the corporeality (inclusive of sexuality) of all humans.
From early in the history of the Moravian Church, each member participated in the Speaking prior to Communion, a conversation designed to invite individuals to reflect on their own spiritual and secular path. Initially, according to historical accounts, Zinzendorf himself counseled the men and married couples in Herrnhut, and within the single sisters’ choir Anna Nitschmann counseled the single sisters, despite her young age. But as the Moravian Church grew and new congregations were formed around the world, the office of choir helper was established for the choirs of the single brethren, single sisters, married persons, and widows and widowers. Office holders were privy to the most intimate details of individuals’ lives: their spiritual and emotional state, their physical condition, and for the married persons, even their economic status or health. As confidants, choir helpers had to be persons of the highest integrity, with the ability to keep confidences and the discretion to avoid prying too deeply into the private emotions of individuals (doing so might cause resistance). They needed to be tactful and possess a friendly and trustworthy demeanor that invited the interlocutor to “open a window in their breast.”
The efficacy of the Speakings was directly related to how they took place, both structurally and theologically. Living within the choir system reinforced the message that an individual’s life of faith mattered to the community and thus should be scrutinized by another. Indeed, the most problematic choir for the Moravian Church was that of the married persons, in that the members (a) looked first to their marriage partners as interlocutors and (b) practiced the most intimate part of Zinzendorf’s sex-positive theology. The regulation of sexual intercourse in fact proved to be the bone of contention that eventually caused the demise of the Speakings.
The manner in which this sacralization of the sexual was to be experienced was the central topic of the Speakings. As Jesus was born of Mary, a woman’s body is blessed and to be treated with respect; as Christ’s mother nursed Him, so a nursing mother is to be treated; as Christ was born of a woman, so the “monthly cleansings” of women should be venerated; as Christ was circumcised, so the single brother should treat his male organ with respect. As the Eternal Bridegroom of all Moravians, male and female, the single brethren were to look to Christ as a model of masculinity. Married brethren were to conduct marital relations as Christ’s viceroy, in His place.
Zinzendorf introduced another dominant and controversial practice to the Moravian Church during the eighteenth century, perhaps following Martin Luther—that of the drawing of the lot. The lot played a crucial role in the lives of those ministered to through the Speakings, especially the single brethren and single sisters. In the eighteenth century Moravians made frequent use of the lot in an effort to determine the will of God in any situation in which the right course of action was not clear to them. The lot was usually drawn after a prayer, and then slips of paper, usually containing Bible verses, were drawn as an answer to the question at hand: affirmative, neutral, or negative. Deferring to the will of God was based on the conviction that Christ, who since 1739 was a chief elder of the church, could thereby make His will known. As the instructions for the single sisters and brethren show, the lot was frequently drawn when making decisions about marriage between a single brother and a single sister.
These practices were not limited to the congregation village of Herrnhut. Moravian town and mission settlements were quickly established in Germany, North America, Greenland, and the Caribbean. This impetus toward the worldwide spread of the Moravian Church lay in Zinzendorf’s early days, when he, still a student at Francke’s pedagogium in Halle, had met his first missionaries, who had returned from the Danish colony of Tranquebar, today Tharangambadi, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. At this time Zinzendorf also most likely read Falckner’s Curieuse Nachricht von Pennsylvania, which described the attractions of the North American colonies. From his contact with the Halle missionaries who had been in Tranquebar, Zinzendorf was well aware of the problems Protestant missionaries had already encountered in their contacts with other cultures. The refusal of some missionaries to mix with the non-Christians or to live at their level of poverty was, for Zinzendorf, contrary to the spirit of Christ. Missionaries and non-Christians alike, he claimed, should both show deference only to the invisible Savior. For Zinzendorf, to convert the non-Christian was to extend the Kingdom of God and also create another individual instance of Christ in the world.
Zinzendorf’s particular understanding of mission policy meant that baptisms, whether in the Caribbean, North America, or Greenland, were performed individually or in small groups and not en masse. The individual’s path to salvation was charted by means of frequent Speaking with spiritual helpers, usually from the same national or language background as the candidate. Within the home church as well as in the missions, this meant that each convert was a member of a small group of persons (referred to in the instructions as bands, classes, or societies) who came together regularly in the evenings to discuss their spiritual growth, exchange confidences about their personal problems, encourage and forgive one another, and help one another toward Christ. This emphasis on the individual connection between missionary and convert, as well as the importance of shared ethnicity, would have significance for Moravian missionaries in their exchanges with indigenous men and women throughout the Moravian missions. And the Speakings were an important part of this relationship.
After Zinzendorf’s death in 1760, this complex network of congregation towns, missions, and settlements throughout what has been called the “Moravian Atlantic” was left in the hands of Zinzendof’s “lieutenant,” August Gottlieb Spangenberg (1704–1792). Spangenberg was a very different sort of man and theologian from the count. Although having been initially an adherent of Gottfried Arnold and other Separatist groups, Spangenberg was later considered to be profoundly practical and pragmatic and as such the ideal guide for the Moravian Church through its initial mission efforts, its building of North American congregations, and the realignment of the church after Zinzendorf’s death. As Craig D. Atwood has argued, scholars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have actually considered Spangenberg to have had a more lasting impact on the religious thought, praxis, and modus of the Moravians than Zinzendorf, especially in North America. Spangenberg’s best-known work, the Idea Fidei Fratrum (1779), translated by British Moravian bishop Benjamin Latrobe in 1784, contains within it a sober and far more orthodox account of Moravian piety than is found in Zinzendorf’s writings. But within Spangenberg’s volume we can also find many of the notions of pastoral care that are then elaborated on in the instructions and enacted within the choir houses across the Moravian world. This is no surprise, as the principal author of the instructions was Spangenberg himself.
The Moravian system of pastoral care was designed to ensure that every Moravian engaged regularly with a member of the community whose role it was to identify troubled souls, listen to their doubts, prepare them for Communion, and thus alleviate their paths through life. But as the social structure of the choirs changed, it became harder and harder to enforce the regulation of interior and intimate life. The Speakings, as conceived by Spangenberg, should consist of a discussion of the individual choir member’s previously conducted process of close self-examination of the soul. As Spangenberg noted at the 1775 synod, “the Speaking that takes place before Communion should not be taken for the actual examination which actually should occur beforehand.” In other words, the Speaking was not an examination of the brother or sister by the choir helper but rather an opportunity for each individual to speak with the choir helper about how he or she had examined themselves in conversation with Christ, their “invisible friend.” This conversation, referred to repeatedly within the Moravian memoirs, was the necessary precursor to a successful Speaking with the choir helper.
The notion of Christ as interlocutor prior to the actual Speaking is long lived within the Moravian community, as we find in the minutes of the Provincial Conference held with the laborers of the Moravian Church in Great Britain in 1795. The minutes there record the explicit statement, “No communicant should imbibe the idea that self-examination is less necessary when there is Speaking, or more, when there is none: because our conversation with our Savior can never be supplied by the activity of any human being.” In their conference the choir laborers within the British Moravian Church elaborated on this idea with these words:
If Brn. and Srs. come to Speak with their laborers, glad to have a bosom-friend, appointed by our Savior himself, with whom they are indebted to converse in a confidential manner, and desirous to obtain the aim of Speaking with their respective laborers: then none will have occasion to lament that the Speaking does not answer the purpose. This regulation in the Unity of the Brethren is both a privilege and a duty. And the whole Prov. Conference is so fully convinced of the essential blessings to be derived from it, that we resolved, that whoever neglects coming to the Speaking (to be Spoken with) previous to the H. Communion without mentioning before the Communion some urgent (sufficient) reason for this neglect, is to be informed that he or she cannot be admitted to the Communion for that time.
Despite both its prevalence and importance for the spiritual life of the members of the Moravian Church as a practice in Moravian pastoral care, the Speaking has hardly been discussed in the secondary literature. The only scholarly investigation in English of this particularly Moravian practice is a doctoral thesis in which the author’s main focus is the possibility of reintroducing the practice into today’s church. In German, a recent study by Christine Lost on the Moravian memoir (or Lebenslauf) briefly discusses the practice of the Speaking as the author examines the role of communication in the Moravian Church. Developing her earlier work on the role of education in children’s development in the Moravian Church, Lost sees Moravian pedagogical philosophy as imbued with a thoroughly holistic thinking about children and discusses the various means the Moravians implemented to bring children into fellowship with their peers to, among other things, provide the opportunity to record and also to hear autobiographical reflections in letters, memoirs, and diaries. According to Lost, these oral and written forms of communication, in conjunction with the gender-specific structures of the community through the choir system, underscored the Moravian notion that the human being is not divided into realms of mind, body, and spirit but rather consists of a holistic unity. The Speaking served a similar function; alongside the letters, memoirs, and diaries identified by Lost, it constituted a central form of communication within the Moravian communities and served as a crucial factor in the process of shaping Moravian conceptions of self, spirituality, and identity.
The power of the instructions stems from those passages that focus on specific instances of the intersection of care for the body and soul, and these instances might have caused the most contention within the Moravian choir system in the eighteenth century. Indeed, the demise of the Speakings in the early nineteenth century was directly linked to the perceived intrusion of the Moravian Church, and specifically the helpers of the married persons’ choir, into the most intimate realm of human coexistence, the marriage bed.
The Speakings were part of life in the Moravian congregations from the very beginning of the church. The efficacy of such spiritual conversations was best implemented within the Moravian choir structure, because that structure was intact and regulated. In the post-Zinzendorf era, however, the general reevaluation of the theology and praxis of the Moravian congregations brought with it the perceived need for a new definition and codification of Moravian practice.
In the period after 1760, as recent scholarship on the fascinating post-Zinzendorf era of the Moravian Church has discussed, Spangenberg and other leaders felt the need for the outward promotion of a new Lutheran orthodoxy, coupled with a retrenching of earlier emancipatory tendencies in gender politics. This redefinition brought with it a less than liberal turn for Moravian theology. But composed within this climate of a new conservatism, the instructions themselves reflect an interesting amalgam of Zinzendorfian sex-positive theology and Spangenbergian orthodoxy. As external contributing factors to the drawing up of the principles and instructions, we can certainly count the death of Zinzendorf and the confusion caused by the Seven Years’ War in Europe and North America (1755–64). But Spangenberg also recognized the pressing need to closely examine and codify the choir system.
The primary and secondary sources make it clear that in the 1760s the choir system faced a range of challenges: social, ideological, and financial. According to Elisabeth Sommer, in her comparative study of Herrnhut and Salem, North Carolina, the post-Zinzendorfian era posed challenges to the authority and discipline of the Moravian community. Whether it was in regard to the lot or the regulation of sexual conduct, the Herrnhut and Salem records show a significant growth in expulsions from the congregations for the single brethren. Changes in notions of reason, free will, and increasing economic opportunities in North Carolina, as well as what Sommer calls the “Second Generation” problem, all fueled the push to undermine the strict rules that governed life in the congregations. Troubles, especially in the single brethren’s choir, to which the instructions allude consisted of members opting to not attend morning devotions but rather act in a disruptive fashion. There were also disciplinary issues where single brethren frequented taverns, arranged secret meetings with single sisters and young women from outside the congregation, and went shooting in the surrounding countryside rather than attend services. The disciplined life of the first-generation members of the Moravian congregations was being disrupted and challenged from within and outside.
In North America the great distance from the European centers of the Moravian Church further exacerbated these internal problems. The dissolution of the General Economy in Bethlehem in 1762 and the chaos leading up to the Revolutionary War made the imposition of order from Herrnhut very difficult. As noted in the minutes of the 1775 synod, the physical distance between the U.S. settlements and the central point of Herrnhut led to concerns about the faithfulness with which the choirs in North America were functioning. With the dissolution of the General Economy, the education of children had moved to the parental home, with the concomitant loosening of oversight as to what the children were actually being taught. Furthermore, the disbanding of the choir houses for the married men and women and the establishment of family households created a rival source of knowledge and experience about the relationship between the body and the spirit. As the education of children moved into the parental home, the need for clear guidance in the practice of the Speakings increased, as did the difficulty of monitoring the practice of Moravian sexuality. Clearly, when children and adults spent their lives in the formalized and ritualized physical and spiritual space of the choir and its house, the need for codified spiritual instruction was not as overt, but as the individual choir members moved into the economic and social structures of the family economy, the importance of instruction in one’s spiritual life was heightened.
Spangenberg recognized the dangers of an unregulated domestic space. In the introduction to the instructions, he records, “At that time it was already known what sort of harm had often resulted from awakened women engaging in confidential discourse with men concerning their internal and external circumstances.” Bethlehem and the other North American congregations were considered to be the primary locations where this “damage” might occur. For one thing, the Revolutionary War had a significant effect on the social organization of Moravian settlements. American soldiers were billeted in Moravian towns, soldiers slept in dormitories once intended only for young men, communication between settlements (a crucial part of maintaining the Moravian spiritual community) was disrupted, and Moravian householders were separated from the centers of their religious life. The disruption of Moravian lines of communication, whether physical or metaphysical, was a cause of great concern to the Unity elders back in Germany, particularly the suspicion that North American Moravians might be moving away from the principles of the German church. To clarify and codify pastoral practice within the choirs, the post-1760 synods turned to the compilation of a set of principles (the principia) for each of the choirs, and then the composition of instructions to the choir helpers of each of the choirs, who would see that these principles were upheld.
Thus the 1764 synod of the Moravian Church, the first after the death of Zinzendorf, was opened by Spangenberg, who expressed a burning desire to examine and clarify what he considered to be the defining element of the Moravian communities around the world and their lives of faith, namely, the choirs. He declared, “Now we must consider what in the future is the gracious will and counsel of our dear Lord in the matter of our Congregation’s Choir Houses and of bearing witness; and in general in internal and external consideration of our whole constitution and leadership.”
The 1764 synod discussed at length the need for a body of men to compose the principia and issued the call for Spangenberg to occupy himself for the next five years with the composition of the detailed instructions that would guide the monthly Speakings. The codification of what had, from the beginning of the community, been an informal and very personal spiritual conversation between either Zinzendorf himself or his close circle of leaders was considered paramount due to the vast criticism the community was subjected to from outside. At the synod Spangenberg specifically expressed his concern about contact between the sexes, whether married or single, during the monthly Speakings: “Not in regard to one or the other specific person, but generally, I have been very concerned for several years that one must be more convinced of and concerned about the necessary separation of the sexes and the careful prevention of any unnecessary intercourse and conversation between brethren and sisters, whether they are single or married.” One of the most effective ways to control contact between the sexes was through the regulation of same-sex gender groupings such as those found in the Moravian choirs. It is then no surprise that at these synods held in the two decades following Zinzendorf’s death, committees of choir helpers compiled the principles of the choirs, followed by Spangenberg drawing up the instructions for the choir helpers. As the minutes of the 1764 synod state,
A brother noted at this whether or not it was the problem that our brethren and sisters did not have enough repetition of and clarification of those things that belonged to the order of the church and choirs and the correct principles from which they came. For, if things were right with the hearts [of the brethren and sisters] otherwise, then wouldn’t they adhere to everything with pleasure. And (as another brother noted) if one thought, that people who have lived in the church for 10, 12, or 20 years, could not lack correct principles, from experience one could find many examples that there were some people who definitely did lack them, and that for this reason one should never tire of teaching them these and making the rules that came out of them more pleasant.
Thus, a lack of clear principles of each choir, especially for new members, was considered to be contributing to the discipline problems. This discussion was taken up again five years later, at the 1769 synod at Marienborn, and focused on the desirability of having written principles that would delineate exactly the intention of the Savior for each choir.
Consequently, ninety men and women from Europe decided and delineated the principles and the bylaws of these groups of brethren and sisters, defined by age, sex, and marital status. The committee of choir helpers that had been constituted already at the 1764 synod was then sent away to think about these principles, and their deliberations were approved. In the minutes to the 1769 synod, we find the following description of the principles: “The central principles of the church and Choirs . . . we must defend with our bodies and souls. These all revolve around one central point: the sanctification of the body and the soul by means of Jesus’s incarnation and death. They vary only in the way in which they are applied to the various sexes and classes, but must have only this one purpose—the main principle must operate with all the children of God, whether in the Diaspora or in the congregation.
While the principia revolve around the central idea of the role of Christ in the life of the individual and the relationship of the former to the corporeality of the believer, Spangenberg spent the next five years, until the 1775 synod, occupying himself with the composition of specific instructions to the choir helpers. He was commissioned to compose the “Instructions for the Choir Helpers” of those groups that would guide the pastoral counseling of every man, woman, and child across each continent where the Moravians were active, from the end of the eighteenth century into the beginning of the nineteenth.
The text of the instructions is written in an open and frank style that is remarkable for its simplicity; however, the text is also quite categorical in its assertions about the workings of Christ within what would seem to be the most practical and corporeal of concerns. The pervading tone is one not of stern self-castigation but rather of love and compassion. Spangenberg describes how all human existence, all our worries, pains, aches, and illnesses, imagined and real, can be understood within a framework of contemplation of Jesus’s suffering and sacrifice for us. He compares all pain, physical or emotional, to that of Jesus on the cross; he assures the reader that all anguish can be alleviated by Jesus and all physicality understood in the context of service to God.
It is important to realize that the choir helpers who read these instructions were not expected to give prepared answers to commonly posed questions or situations. Rather, they were to provide a theological context in which to redirect the bodily concerns of the individual to a focus on Christ. For example, the onset of menstruation, a traumatic moment in the life of any girl, is interpreted as the passage of the girl from childhood to the state of virginity and, as one of the virgins (Jungfrauen), the girl is to dedicate herself to the Savior. Spangenberg writes, “the choir helper will take the opportunity to talk with them sincerely and to explain to them that, due to this circumstance and their physical condition, they are now to be counted among the virgins. Because of this important change, therefore, they should place themselves very especially in the care of the Savior, the true physician for body and soul, and should implore Him to sprinkle them with His blood and to bestow on them and preserve in them a pure heart, directed to Him alone.” If the girls can maintain this relationship with the Savior, a relationship that looks to Him as their healer, they will be able to understand their physical changes in the light of Christ’s suffering. This interview, occasioned by the girl’s first shedding of blood, is concluded with the laying on of hands and a blessing.
One of the dominant themes in all the sets of instructions, whether to the single sisters, the single brethren, the married persons, or even the widows, is the topic of how marriage was to be understood within the Moravian Church. Both the instructions for the single sisters and single brethren contain sections on how the choir helper should prepare the brother or sister for marriage; the actual mechanics of intercourse are discussed by the choir helpers of the married persons after the marriage ceremony. But the helpers of both the single sisters and the single brethren performed the preparatory work of molding both male and female virginity to the service of the Savior, ensuring that both man and woman become a “fruitful branch on the vine.”
In this way, Spangenberg’s instructions are not just about the spirit. They are also about the body. Contemporary scholarship on the history of the human body during the European Enlightenment has all too frequently employed the lens of cultural theory. Literary critics have used the methodological approaches of literary anthropology, body theory, feminist and gender theories, and queer theory as tools to redefine the modern human body to show how eighteenth-century notions of corporeality view the body as a theoretically and culturally constructed matrix. Basing their arguments on eighteenth-century literary, cultural, political, and medical texts, authors cited range from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Karl Philipp Moritz, Heinrich von Kleist, and Immanuel Kant. To date, only a few scholars have published archival material from the eighteenth century to reveal the patient’s perspective on the connection between body and soul. For example, in her groundbreaking work, The Woman Beneath the Skin, Barbara Duden analyzed a doctor’s notes on the perceptions of rural peasantry in early eighteenth-century Germany of the symptoms and cures of their diseases. Unfortunately, there has been, to date, a dearth of primary materials that reveal what critics claim is the modern turn to a connection between “soma” and “psyche.”
In the last half of the eighteenth century, the medical system that still dominated the Moravian communities was a late Aristotelian, Galenic humoral system, as best described in Christian Richter’s volume Die Höchst-nöthige Erkennnis des Menschen vom Leibe. Moravian leaders and bishops, such as Zinzendorf and Johannes Ettwein, and the congregation medici—such as Adolph Meyer, John Friedrich Otto, and his brother John Matthew Otto, the physicians working in Bethlehem in the congregation’s first forty years—sought out this popular manual for its advice on maintaining the flow of the motus vitales around the body. Vestiges of this notion of the flow are present in the instructions to the single brethren and the single sisters.
Furthermore, these documents and the Moravian theory and praxis of the body and its relation to the soul fit squarely into the contemporary eighteenth-century notions of sexuality, marriage, and concepts of sexual difference. In them, we can see, as Thomas Laqueur has famously argued, the shift from a concept of the sexes as complementary (that is, of one origin but manifesting in opposing ways) to dimorphous (manifesting as having two completely different origins). Furthermore, the well-known eighteenth-century debates on the scourge of masturbation are clearly played out in the instructions, especially those to the single sisters and single brethren.
In the pages that follow, we can find evidence that supports and also interrogates these debates on the body and soul in the eighteenth century. For example, the single sisters’ choir helper must take great care that the greater girls (the girls in their teenage years) are not permitted to form friendships that are too close, nor should two girls be allowed to be alone together, and they should be ready to answer questions about their “flow.” For the single brethren, the choir helper’s scrutiny is directed toward nightly emissions and their source. Are they a result of diet and appetite or of more illicit fantasies? The instructions provide us with original source material that adds to the corpus of material that helps us to understand how the early modern body became modern.
The importance of the Speakings to the maintenance of faith within the Moravian Church in the eighteenth century, both in Europe and North America, and the complexity of relationships between the choir helpers and those they counseled—the married and unmarried men, women, and children—cannot be underestimated. The enormous corpus of autobiographical material that exists within the collections of Moravian memoirs provides ample evidence of commonly occurring crises that required the assistance and intervention of a choir helper in the maintenance of proximity to God. For example, Brother Nikolaus Lorenz Bage (1732–1789) reports consulting and conversing with multiple people through his Erweckungsprozess, or spiritual awakening. He writes of how he vividly sees his spiritual state before him but is unable to tell either his schoolmaster or his parents about this crisis. Only after he is accepted into the boys’ choir in Herrnhut and is under the spiritual care of the choir helper, Brother Metschel, do the Speakings finally allow him to perceive that he can receive forgiveness with the words of the hymn, “O You Precious, Worthy Bridegroom.” Valentin Führer (1724–1808), the later innkeeper and toll collector on the Lehigh River, writes of his own spiritual crisis, which occurs in 1747, a year after having been accepted into the Bethlehem congregation; again, his perceived distance from the Savior is overcome through the Speakings with his choir helper. In her memoir, Anna Boehler (1740–1809) tells of the same kind of spiritual paralysis. But rather than leading her to her choir helper, this crisis causes Boehler to avoid her. She writes in her memoir how a spiritual crisis in her seventeenth year gripped her, but she refuses help from her choir helper and continues to suffer greatly. Not until she is in the single sisters’ choir (which would have been when she turned eighteen) does she explicitly refer to gaining confidence in her choir helper and seeing their honest relationship as a “blessing.”
This pattern is repeated in the memoirs of both men and women. Again and again we see the path of life described as oscillating between a distance from and proximity to God, and the conversations with the choir helper, the regular Speakings, and the self-examination that needs to occur prior to the monthly pastoral conversations repeatedly bring the interlocutor back to God.
Instructions in the Missions
This book provides a modern English translation of the instructions and reveals the frank and surprising detail with which these conversations went into the physical and spiritual state of the interlocutor. This frankness is perhaps most clearly seen in the discussion of sexual intercourse. The frequency, manner, and reason for intercourse became part of the practiced theology of the Moravian Church. This, for the married persons’ choirs, became the greatest bone of contention, most especially within the mission field. For, in addition to opening up the discourse of the Speakings in the town congregations, the instructions also help reveal the substance and nature of the Speakings between the Moravian missionaries (male and female) and those in the missions: Native Americans and enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and Suriname. Whereas the extant diaries of these missionaries (almost exclusively written by men) do include mention of Speakings and visits among the native peoples, with the instructions, we can begin to reconstruct what those conversations might actually have contained.
By the time the instructions were composed, in 1785, the Moravian Church had been running missions for more than forty years. The spread of these worldwide missions gave the church cause to rethink the universality of its concepts of sexuality and the body. As A. Gregg Roeber has argued in his exploration of the reevaluation of marriage in the Lutheran and Reformed churches, occasioned by their missions to India, their crisis was in part brought about not so much by political and economic revolutions but by the encounter with social structures very different from the church’s own, above all in the mission movement. Here Roeber claims that the mission movement of the 1740s brought about a call for a “new life,” not only for the converted but also for those converting. And this new self-understanding was needed, especially within the realm of marriage.
This need also revealed itself within the Moravian Church in that the expansion of the Moravian worldwide mission brought with it also a need to formalize the pastoral care of its adherents. Simultaneous with the composition of the 1786 “Instructions for the Choir Helpers for all the Congregations in Europe and North America,” Spangenberg drew up a set of instructions and an official statement (Gutachten) on the problem of marriage within the “Heathen” congregations. Based on fifty years of experience in the missions and the changing concepts of what constitutes the political state (most likely occasioned by the revolution in North America), the 1786 Gutachten makes the strong statement that the assumptions about the possibility of regulating the frequency and form of sexual intercourse within the European and North American congregations did not hold for the “heathen.” As we will see in the section on the married persons’ choir instructions, the sex-positive theology of Zinzendorf that made possible such a radical reshaping of the intimate realm was considered impossible to regulate for the newly converted. Whether in the choice of partner (governed in congregations by the use of the lot) or in the timing and nature of intercourse, this 1786 statement argues firmly that the sexuality of populations who had not grown up under civic laws (bürgerliche Gesetze) could not be regulated. It would then seem that the regulation of the intimate realm in Moravian congregations was dependent, to an extent, on an external, well-organized, and policed Christian state (Christlichen Staat), where laws against adultery and divorce existed.
This difficult balance between the external societal and political forces and the internal need for a different order also contributed to the demise of the Speakings overall. The difficulties (alluded to earlier) that were inherent in administering the Speakings in the North American context because of their perceived intrusion into the structures of authority within the patriarchal family led those congregations, in 1818, to ask that the General Synod abolish the Speakings in North America. The request was refused at that point.
As stated in the preface, the documents translated here are to be found in the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They are copies of the original German manuscripts held in the Unity Archives in Herrnhut, Germany. There we find instructions for the single brethren (Spangenberg’s handwriting), the single sisters (unknown handwriting), the married persons (Spangenberg’s handwriting), and the widows (Spangenberg’s handwriting), all dating from 1785. The handwritten circulated copies of these documents are translated in this volume. There are no extant instructions for the children or for the widowers. But older boys and girls are included in the instructions for the single brethren and single sisters after they have left the children’s choir and have been accepted to partake in Holy Communion. The four sets of instructions are of varying length: seventy-one pages to the helpers of the single sisters’ choir; sixty-six pages to the helpers of the married persons’ choir; forty-one pages to the helpers of the widows’ choir; and thirty-six pages to the choir helpers of the single brethren. The reason why the instructions to the single sisters are almost twice as long as those to the single brethren is not explicitly stated.
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