PART 3 of 5

Johann Schleyermacher’s father was Daniel Schleyermacher, a pastor whose life was as tumultuous as the world in which he lived in the early 1700’s.  The impact of the Renaissance, the industrial revolution and the reformation of religion created an upheaval that had a dramatic effect on the history of mankind.  Schleyermacher was a devout Christian whose passion for developing a relationship with God would put his life in harm’s way. Daniel was a pastor seeking an intense emotional relationship with God. He was not comfortable with the orthodox dogma and doctrine of the existing Lutheran Church.  To be grounded only in logic and rationality was not enough for him.  He was a dreamer and subscribed to the Pietism of  Jakob Spener (1635-1705). Spener espoused six principles that set him apart from the Orthodox Lutheran:

  1. One should study the Bible in private meetings in the home as well as church
  2. Every member should share in church governance
  3. Knowledge of the Bible should be accompanied by practice
  4. We should treat unbelievers in a sympathetic and kindly manner (Rather than burning them at the stake, as an example)
  5. Theological training should promote devotional life
  6. Preaching needs to have less rhetoric, and focus on the power of faith and the goodness it brings to life on Earth.

This all sounds good.  So, how could this end in hot water for Daniel?  Our good pastor, Daniel, joined Elias Eller (Financier) as a founder of a Zionite sect.  The sect, an offshoot of a Philadelphian society founded at Elberfeld in 1726 was a collaborative effort.  The Catholic Encyclopedia identifies Eller  as the foreman of a factory owned by a rich widow. Eller devoured the writings of ancient and modern visionaries, and then formed an apocalyptic, millenarian system of his own. He made such an impression on the widow, twenty years his senior, that she married Elias Eller.

The marriage allowed Eller the financial means to draw followers, including the pastor Schleyermacher (the grandfather of our celebrated theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher). After the death of his wife, Eller married the prophetess of his society, Anna van Bushel. She called herself Mother of Zion, her husband (Elias Eller) was the Father of Zion. Each had dreams and visions and saw apparitions. Anna prophesied that she would bear the saviour of the world.  That is correct.  She would become the next Mary.  She predicted that the new order of the world was to begin in 1730.  Her first child was a daughter.  This of course confounded the population as the role of “Savior” had to be played by a male.  The Ellers consoled their society with scripture and maintained their authority. A son born in 1733 died two years later. In the short span of two years the infant failed to save the world. Elias Eller realized he was on thin ice with his wife’s prophecy and made himself the central point of theology. He would be the Savior.  With Eller at the helm a cult like atmosphere quickly evolved.

In 1737 the sect left Elberfeld and founded Ronsdorf which soon prospered, and, through Eller’s influence, was raised by the State in 1745 to the rank of a city. Eller took the most important offices for himself, lived with his wife in great pomp, and governed tyrannically. When Eller’s wife died suddenly in 1744 doubts arose in the mind of Daniel Schleyermacher, who was pastor at Ronsdorf.  Daniel confessed that he had errored in developing his personal belief system, and sought to open the eyes of the deceiving leader, Eller. But Elias had a good thing going and launched a counter attack that would destroy Daniel Schleyermacher and impact Daniel’s family. He convinced the state government and his church that Daniel was a heretic. A warrant for the arrest of Daniel was issued and a courtroom drama would certainly end in either life imprisonment or death for the pastor.  Daniel wasted no time in fleeing and found refuge in Holland.

The sect was carried on by the pastors who took Schleyermacher’s place, by Eller’s stepson Bolckhaus, and continued to exist until 1768. The new pastor chosen in 1768 and his successors took the population of Ronsdorf from Eller’s brand of Pietism to Protestantism. The impact of Eller’s work would impact Europe into the next century.  Daniel Schleyermacher had been disgraced and his ties to Eller branded him as a fanatic.  So much so that his son Johann would forever wrestle with his own theological beliefs and seek to distance himself from the principles that had driven his father.  Johann was shipped off to an academy at the age of 14. He would never see his parents again.  His mother would die shortly after his departure.  While he would write to his father, and confess his disagreements with his father’s teachings, it is believed that he did not see his father again.

In his journey, seeking truth and light, Johann would at first embrace the down to earth rathionalism of the Moravian Brothers.  Grounded in logic they allowed Johann to break from the Eller influence that had caused his father to appear as a fanatic.  The Moravian’s were dedicated to working among the impoverished population. They believed that the downtrodden of the world could lift themselves up spiritually and economically if they could believe in Christ as their savior.  Johann’s work among the peasants of southern Poland and Silesia reflected this belief.  The Moravian influence would also be felt in the New World wilderness as European settlers moved into the homeland of the native Indians.

Next up:  The Plight of Matthias Slaymaker Amid the Tumult of Europe