Archive for the ‘John Amos Comenius’ Tag

Feast of David Nitschmann, Sr.; Melchior Nitschmann; Johann Nitschmann, Jr.; Anna Nitschmann; and David Nitschmann (October 5)   6 comments


Chart and Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor





“Father Nitschman;” Moravian Missionary

father of 


Moravian Missionary and Martyr

brother of


Moravian Missionary and Bishop

brother of


Moravian Eldress

cousin of


Missionary and First Bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church


The process of researching the Nitschmanns led me through a number of contradictory sources.  I paid close attention to minor details to determine relationships.  There were, for example, four David Nitschmanns (two of whom became bishops) and two Johann (or John) Nitschmanns (both of whom became bishops).  I am not surprised, therefore, that some writers whose work I consulted confused one Johann (or John) Nitschmann with another.  They were contemporaries (one born in 1703 and the other in 1712), after all.  Also, I am aware that, in the age of the Internet, I can gain easy access to more information easily from home than was possible with more effort not long ago.  Even with that ease of access to information I became confused along the way, until I checked details (such as birthplaces and geographical locations of certain people in specific years) again and again.  I admit the possibility that I have made some mistakes or at least arrived at some inaccurate determinations (given the material available to me as well as human imperfection), but I have tried to be as accurate as possible.

I am aware that following the proverbial bouncing ball can prove challenging, so I have repeated certain details, such as lifespans and relationships frequently.  I have reduced the bouncing-ball factor by breaking up one post into four, for the benefit of clarity.

Shall we begin, O reader?


The Nitschmann family belonged to the underground Bohemian Brethren, or the “Hidden Seed.”  The Moravian Church/Bohemian Brethren/Unitas Fratrum/Unity of the Brethren/Ancient Unity, with March 1, 1457, as its official date of founding, had gone underground in 1620, early in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).  The diaspora spread out across Europe, meeting in homes at a time when the union of church and state was normative and religious toleration was not.

David Nitschmann, Sr. (1676-1758), or “Father Nitschmann,” was a leader of the “Hidden Seed.”  He, like his father, hosted a house church.  This saint was, by trade, a carpenter, a wheelwright, and a sometime farmer.  The native of Zauchtenthal, Moravia, married Anna Schneider in 1700.  The family moved to Kunewald, Moravia, in 1704.  There the large house church (as many as 200 people sometimes) attracted the hostile attention of local authorities, who forbade such continued gatherings.  David, Sr., and his son, Melchior (1702-1729), committed civil disobedience and went to prison repeatedly.

At this point in the narrative David Nitschmann (1696-1772), son of Georg Nitschmann (born 1662), brother of David, Sr., enters the story.

Nephew David Nitschmann (1696-1772), also a native of Zauchtenthal, Moravia, visited uncle David, Sr., and family in 1725, for the purpose of convincing the uncle to relocate the family to Herrnhut, the new (since 1722) Moravian Church settlement on the estate of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) in Saxony.  The nephew succeeded.  David, Sr., and his family left for Herrnhut, stayed a week, then relocated to nearby Berthelsdorf.  They returned to Herrnhut two years later.

The three children of David Nitschmann, Sr., and Anna Schneider Nitschmann of whom I write in this post were:

  1. Melchior (1702-1729);
  2. Johann (or John), Jr. (1712-1783); and
  3. Anna Caritas (1715-1760).

Melchior Nitschmann (1702-1729), a weaver by trade, had, with his father, led a house church of the Bohemian Brethren/Ancient Unity.  Melchior became on the first four elders of the Renewed Moravian Church at Herrnhut on May 12, 1727.  Another elder was Christian David (1690-1751).  These two elders were away on a mission trip to Hungary on August 13, 1727, the Moravian Pentecost, at Herrnhut.  The following year Melchior and one George Schmidt were missionaries in Moravia when Austrian officials detained them.  Melchior died in Schmidt’s arms on February 27, 1729, in a prison at Schildberg, Moravia.  Schmidt remained incarcerated for five more years.  He, a free man again, continued as a missionary.

Anna Caritas Nitschmann (1715-1760) found her niche in the Renewed Moravian Church, which was more egalitarian than the surrounding culture.  Gender roles were not entirely irrelevant in the Renewed Moravian Church in the 1700s, but they were less stringent than elsewhere at the time.  The basis of leadership in the Church was ability, not social status.  Thus the fourteen-year-old Anna became an eldress in March 1730.  On May 4 of that year she and the seventeen-year-old Anna Schindler (later Dober) (1713-1739) founded the Single Sisters’ Choir at Herrnhut, with Anna as the leader.  (A choir was a communal group.)

Johann (or John) Nitschmann, Jr. (1712-1783), later a bishop, emigrated to Herrnhut with his family.  He studied theology at Halle from 1728 to 1731.  In 1731 he became a tutor at the orphanage at Herrnhut.  Then, in 1732 and 1733, he studied medicine at Halle.   Johann, Jr., returned to Herrnhut, serving as Count Zinzendorf’s private secretary in 1733 and 1734.  Then, from 1734 to 1745, Johann, Jr., engaged in missionary work in Lapland.

David “Father” Nitschmann, Sr. (1676-1758), had skills the nascent Renewed Moravian Church needed.  His carpentry skills proved essential in building up Herrnhut, for example.  He also served as a missionary to the West Indies in the 1730s.  His wife, Anna Schneider Nitschmann, died on the island of St. Croix on June 30, 1735.  He returned to Herrnhut in 1737, remained for fourteen months, and shortly thereafter left for Pennsylvania.  He cut down the first tree at the site of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1741.  He did much to build and supervise the building of that settlement, where he spent the rest of this life.  Father Nitschmann died on April 14, 1758.

Nephew David Nitschmann (1696-1772) was also a foundational figure in the Renewed Moravian Church.  He was one of the pioneers of Herrnhut.  There Christian David (1690-1751) taught him carpentry.  In late 1727 the two men served as missionaries to Austria.  In 1732 Nitschmann accompanied Johann Leondard Dober (1706-1766) to St. Thomas, in the West Indies, to help Dober start missionary work there.  Nitschmann departed for other duties after sixteen weeks; Dober remained for about two years until the Church recalled him to Herrnhut to become the Chief Elder.

David Nitschmann (1696-1772) traveled widely.  He started a Moravian community in Holstein in 1734.  On March 13, 1735, in Berlin, Daniel Ernst Jablonski, a grandson of John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) who had become a bishop of the Bohemian Brethren/Ancient Unity in 1699, ordained Nitschmann the first bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church.  The new bishop traveled widely in North America (including in Georgia) in 1735 and 1736 then returned to Germany in 1736.  The following year, in Berlin, he and Jablonski ordained Count Zinzendorf the second bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church.  In 1737 and 1738 Nitschmann helped to found the ill-fated Herrnhaag settlement in Saxony.  At Herrnhaag the excesses of the “Sifting Time” (1743-1750) were the most extreme and in the worst taste.  And, in 1740 and 1741, he helped to found Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which his uncle, David, Sr., did much to construct.

Anna Nitschmann (1715-1760) became an authority in the Moravian Church.  From 1735 to 1737 she accompanied Benigna, Count Zinzendorf’s daughter, to England.  In 1740 Anna and her father, David, Sr., traveled to Pennsylvania ahead of Count Zinzendorf.  There she wrote authoritatively to people regarding church matters and even preached.  In 1740 she preached to men and women at a Quaker meeting-house.  She preached to a group of Indian women the following year.  Anna was not unique, for there were many women preaching in the Moravian Church.  This fact prompted much criticism from Lutheran and Reformed Church circles at the time.

Herrnhaag 1750

Above:  Herrnhaag in 1750

Image in the Public Domain

Count Zinzendorf returned to Europe from America dissatisfied with strong criticisms of the Moravian Church from Lutheran and Reformed competitors.  He concluded that such attacks were examples of legalism.  So, unfortunately, the Count looked the other way for a few years as the Moravian emphases on the wounds of Christ and on familiarity with God, not to mention an exalted opinion of sexuality, mixed with excessive emotionalism and became simultaneously childish and NSFW, especially at Herrnhaag.  Erotic imagery mixed with the wounds of Christ, gender roles blended in violation of sexual orientation (admittedly an anachronistic category for the timeframe), and Moravian simplicity gave way to as many as forty lavish festivals each year.  Excesses of this “Sifting Time” (1743-1750) radiated from Herrnhaag, becoming the cause of scandal.  Eventually the Count, acknowledging his accountability for the state of affairs, heeded the counsel of advisors, such a Christian David (1690-1751), and clamped down on excesses.  Herrnhaag closed in 1753.

Johann Nitschmann, Jr. (1712-1783), continued to serve in the Moravian Church.  He returned from eleven years of missionary service in 1745.  From 1745 to 1750 he was deacon at Herrnhaag.  Then, from 1750 to 1758, he was deacon at Herrnhut.  In 1758 Nitschmann became the twenty-first bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church.  Four years later he received the responsibility of oversight of the communities in England and Ireland.  Then, in 1766, he became the leader of the community at Sarepta, Russia.  There he died on June 30, 1783.  Along the way he had written hymns.

Anna Nitschmann (1715-1760) remained single until her forty-first year of life.  She traveled as part of Count Zinzendorf’s entourage on trips to England (1743) and Russia (1743 and 1744).  Erdmuth Dorothea von Zinzendorf, the Countess died in 1756.  The Count observed a mourning period of a year;  then he remarried.  He and Anna became husband and wife in June 1757.  He was a nobleman and she was a peasant.  Such distinctions were irrelevant in the relatively egalitarian culture of the Moravian Church, however.  Count Zinzendorf died on May 9, 1760.  Anna succumbed (perhaps to cancer) twelve days later.  During her lifetime she had also written hymns.

David Nitschmann (1696-1772) remained in service to God via the Moravian Church for the rest of his life.  He returned to St. Thomas in 1742.  The bishop, en route to Europe in 1745, became a prisoner of the Spanish.  Once free, he traveled in Denmark, Norway, and Silesia.  He returned to Pennsylvania in 1748.  Then the bishop served at Herrnhaag from 1749 to 1753 as part of the clean-up operation there.  Rosina Schindler Nitschmann, whom he had married in 1726, died there in 1753.  The following year the bishop returned to Pennsylvania, where he remained.  He married Maria Barbara Leinbach (1722-1810), widow of missionary and bishop Friedrich Martin (1704-1754), in 1754.  The new couple lived at Lititz, Pennsylvania, from 1756 to 1761.  There Maria gave birth to a daughter, Anna Maria Nitschmann (1758-1823), who married Christian Heckewelder, a merchant of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Hope, New Jersey.  Bishop Nitschmann and Maria resided at Bethlehem starting in 1761.  He died there in 1772.

Here ends the first installment of this series of posts.





Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses:

Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of your servants

David Nitschmann, Sr.; Melchior Nitschmann; Johann Nitschmann, Jr.; Anna Caritas Nitschmann; and David Nitschmann;

may persevere in running the race that is set before us,

until at last we may with them attain to your eternal joy;

through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Micah 6:6-8

Psalm 15

Hebrews 12:1-2

Matthew 25:31-40

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 724


Feast of John Amos Comenius (November 15)   4 comments

John Amos Comenius

Image in the Public Domain



Father of Modern Education


In The Emperor’s Club (2002), one of my favorite movies, William Hundert tells his young students,

Great ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance.  What will your contribution be?  How will history remember you?

Jan Amos KomenskyJohn Amos Comenius in the Anglicized version of his name–suffered because of insignificant conquests with lasting effects and left a fine legacy in the realms of education and the church.  Not only did he preserve the “Hidden Seed” of the persecuted, underground Moravian Church (partially by publishing the Ancient Unity’s last hymnal, small enough to fit inside an exile’s pocket, in 1659 and a catechism in 1661 from exile in Amsterdam, The Netherlands) until Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) stepped up to provide a safe haven for Moravians in 1722, but our saint also became the Father of Modern Education and the Father of the Elementary School.

Perish sects.  Perish the founders of sects.  I have consecrated myself to Christ alone.

–Comenius in his later years

The life of our saint was replete with difficulties, including wars, religious persecution, and times of exile.  Comenius, born at Nivnitz, Moravia, on March 28, 1592, grew up in the Moravian Church, the oldest Protestant denomination.  His parents died of plague, making him an orphan at six years of age.  Our intelligent saint studied at Nassau, Rhineland-Palatinate, and at Heidelberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, before serving as the Rector of the Moravian school at Prerov, Moravia (1614-1616), then as the minister at Fulnek, Moravia.  Then warfare and religious intolerance descended upon Comenius.

Europe was far from a hotbed of religious toleration in the 1600s.  In fact, religious toleration was one of the more admirable values of the Enlightenment (late 160os-1700s), itself partially a rejection of the excesses of Christendom.  The Moravian Church went underground for about a century (1620-1722), the period of the “Hidden Seed”  Comenius started 1620 as the Moravian minister at Fulnek, Moravia.  The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was young and about to change the life of our saint and the lives of all members of the Unitas Fratrum drastically.  That year the Spanish Army pillaged and plundered Fulnek, committing violence against non-combatants.  Comenius lost all of his possessions and manuscripts in a fire then his wife and one child en route to refuge at the estate of Baron Charles von Zerotin at Bradeis-on-the-Adler, Moravia.  Our saint’s first exile had begun.  Comenius and other Moravians whom Baron von Zerotin sheltered had to leave the estate in 1628 due to pressures from the Hapsburg Dynasty.  Moravian exiles had settled many corners of Europe starting in 1620; Comenius led a band of Moravians to Lissa, Poland.  There, in 1636, he became a bishop–the last bishop of the Ancient Unity, in fact.

At Brandeis Comenius wrote an allegory, The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1623), to comfort Moravian exiles.  He wrote of Moravians as ideal Christians in that classic work of Czech literature.  Our saint depicted the violence and upheaval of the Thirty Years’ War and condemned social problems and endemic lack of concern for others.  His prescription for remedying the situation was a renewed dedication to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as the Moravian Church expressed it.  Competition among sects had contributed to much violence in Europe, so the cessation of such rivalries, replaced with unity to realize God’s will, would bring peace, he reasoned.

In Poland Comenius, who hoped for better times despite appearances of current events, started his educational revolution, which he spread to other countries, such as England, Hungary, Prussia, and Sweden.  The theologically mystical bishop advocated for universal, liberal arts education with a classical core.  He considered science and religion complementary, not antagonistic.  Our saint argued for teaching in vernacular languages, not Latin, not that he opposed Latin.  In fact, our saint revolutionized the teaching of that dead language.  His Latin textbooks, which came to exist in seventeen languages, set the standard in the field during his lifetime.  And Comenius supported a rigorous education for girls and women.  After all, were not mothers the first teachers of their children?  He recognized that holding about half of the population back “in its place” constrained entire societies also.

Comenius traveled widely in Europe.  He lived and worked in England in 1641-1642, inspiring the eventual founding of the Royal Society there and of similar institutions elsewhere.  In 1642 our saint rejected an offer to become the President of the new Harvard College.  He did, however, leave England, where the first of three civil wars within a decade was starting, for Sweden, where the government invited him to reform the schools.  Comenius had to leave after a few years, for his involvement in ecumenical activities angered some prominent ministers in the state Lutheran Church.  He returned to Poland, where, in 1648, he became the leader of the entire Moravian Church.  War struck again in 1656, when Comenius lost all his manuscripts in another fire related to a military action.  Thus Comenius relocated to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where he died on November 15, 1670, about fifty-two years before Zinzendorf rescued the Moravians and started the modern era of the denomination.

The Moravians survived as a church until 1722 in large part due to the labors of Comenius.  His published theological works–including the 1659 hymnal and the 1661 catechism–kept the flame burning for a few more decades.

Some of our saint’s published works exist in English.  These include a hymn I found in the 1923 and 1969 North American Moravian hymnals and some of his books, such as those for which I have found texts at and linked into this post.






O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [John Amos Comenius and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34