As Taught In The
Originally Written In German,
BY AUGUST GOTTLIEB SPANGENBERG,
With a Preface
BY BENJAMIN LA TROBE,
And An Introduction
BY LANE A. SAPP
FOURTH ENGLISH EDITION
BY BISHOPS J. KENNETH PFOHL AND EDMUND SCHWARZE
A Short Biography of Bishop Spangenberg
Published and Distributed by
Calvary Moravian Church
600 Holly Avenue Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Introduction to the 2005 Edition
When I was a child, I remember seeing an engraving of an elderly gentleman who appeared to me to have had a twinkle in his eye and a peaceful sweetness in his smile. That picture, I discovered was found in lots of places, in churches, in pastor’s offices, in books on Moravian history and in provincial offices. It was later in life that I learned that the mysterious gentleman whose picture seemed to appear everywhere in the province, was none other than Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg, one of the great leaders of the Renewed Moravian Church.
My grandfather first introduced me to this “man of the picture” when I received from him a copy of Spangenberg’s book of theology entitled: Idea Fidei Fratrum: An Exposition of Christian Doctrine. Later in life, after perusing the book and attending Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, I became so intrigued with Spangenberg’s life and work in the colonial communities of Bethlehem and Bethabara that I pursued an independent study in the theology of Spangenberg using as my text the Idea Fidei Fratrum.
Through that time of exploration, I must admit that I feel in love with Spangenberg’s work. For me, Idea Fidei Fratrum, though antiquated in language and expression, contained the heart of the Christian message I had uniquely come to know and understand through the Moravian Church, which is the message of God’s love, uniquely known in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The timeless message of the Christian gospel- Christ and Him Crucified – is clearly communicated in the pages of his theology, and I commend it to lay persons, theological students, clergy and educators - to anyone searching for gems of belief that have characterized and formed the Moravian understanding of faith.
Since this treasured volume has gone out of print, and seeing that its l959 printing was a photo static copy of the original English printing and difficult for modern readers, I began to transcribe the work over two and half years ago on my laptop computer hoping that the volume might one day be republished for 21st Century Moravians. Hearing about this project, a member of the Calvary congregation, Rick Cochran, inquired as to whether he might offer assistance with the work. Thrilled by the inquiry, I turned the project over to Brother Cochran who has transcribed approximately 358 pages into a modern typeface, which will make this volume more easily accessible to modern readers. We are all in Rick’s debt for the countless hours he has spent at the keyboard preparing this new edition. I thank him, his wife Terry and a good Methodist friend of ours, the Rev. Edwin Needham, for his assistance in proofreading the final transcribed text from the original. Without the energy and vision they have given to this project it would never have come to fruition.
Finally, in a day and age when we must continually be well informed about our faith and practice, I heartily recommend Spangenberg’s theology for any who seek to understand the heart of the Moravian faith experience. As always, may our Lord and Savior be glorified through the use of this volume and it is to the praise of His Name that this new edition is presented for use by Moravians and the wider Christian Church.
Lane A. Sapp,
Third English Edition
“Idea Fidei Fratrum” – Under such title as this, the republishing of an eighteenth century book in the spiritual interest and edification of a generation of twentieth century Christians, living under vastly changed conditions, would of itself appear to presage naught but failure for such an enterprise. However, knowing something of the singularly high character of the volume, its scriptural content and the wide and profound influence which it exerted in years past, we who have been called to write a Foreword for its renewed publication, esteem it a highly privileged service. We endorse and commend the effort without reservation and wish for it God-speed.
We know of no other portion of our Heritage of the Past, in the field of Moravian literature, which if used aright, could so deepen and strengthen our world-wide Unity or offer surer promise of a rich Harvest of the Future, as this book, long since lost sight of and left lying in comparative obscurity.
Neither do we have knowledge of any other volume whose republication is more worthy of a place in the literature of the Quincentennial Period.
Written by Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg, at the urgent request of the Brethren, and in a period of great urgency and need, this unique book had its first publication, in the German language, in 1778, and is said to have “found ready favor amongst laity and clergy beyond as well as within the bounds of the Unity.” There was attendant upon its use, from the beginning, a spiritual power that gave promise of better things.
In 1779 already “The Idea” appeared in a second edition, this time in English, as translated and prefaced by Bishop Benjamin LaTrobe, a foremost scholar and leader of our Brethren’s Church in England. That this edition was received with even wider favour is witnessed to by the fact that, within the brief space of five years, in 1784 a second publishing and distribution of the LaTrobe edition had taken place. “The Idea” had become a best seller.
It was of this period that Hamilton’s “History of the Moravian Church” made the following note: “Meeting with a rapid sale, the work won friends for the Brethren in many lands, and effectually removed from them any previously existing suspicion of heterodox faith. And in the course of time it was translated into Danish, French, Swedish, Dutch, Bohemian and Polish.”
Quite evidently, the sphere of service for “The Idea” was opening and widening, the book was in great demand; but more meaningful still, its concept and the way of life to which its doctrines pointed, were finding increased approval and its high and noble purpose was beginning to bear fruit. It was having a direct and vital effect on the religious life of the period which was in sore need of it; for it had been characterized as “a period of dead orthodoxy within the Protestant division of the Church and by a strong wave of aggressive rationalism without it. The two together had paralyzed Christian growth in grace and outreach in the spread of the Gospel.”
But, with the strong impact of this singular book, under the guidance and enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, which appeared to accompany it wherever it went, renewed faith and hope and love, not only gave promise of a new day, but patiently and perseveringly ushered it in, making itself felt in all phases of the religious life of the time.
We note some of the recordings in Church History of the accomplishments of this truly remarkable book:
First, Bishop Spangenberg’s personal witness, he who had labored so diligently and devoutly in its preparation. His testimony cites its influence within the inner circle of the Unity. “I know assuredly,” he writes, “that the ‘Idea’ is agreeable to the mind of my Brethren, for we have often bound ourselves solemnly to each other, to adhere with all our hearts, to the doctrine of Christ and His apostles as we find in the Bible.”
The Danish Minister of Religion, writing as one who represented Protestantism, exclusive of our Unity, bore this witness—“Its contents correspond with my conceptions. I have shown it to various pastors and all have expressed their satisfaction with it.”
Still another, and he, “a famous philosopher at one of the leading European universities, after complaining about modern theology, said—‘I even now prefer to read Spangenberg’s Idea. Of a certainty our posterity must get back their theology from the Moravian Brethren’.”
And we close our summary of remarkable testimonies of the record of “The Idea” with these climactic observations of the biblical and well-versed students of Church history, who have declared:
“Nothing so fully established the evangelical faith of the Moravians
as the work of Spangenberg.”
“It restored the faith of many on whom the blight of a proud reason
had fallen and delivered Protestant Christianity of the early nine-
teenth century from the delusions of rationalism.”
“It saved Western Europe from infidelity.”
How such a work as “The Idea,” so influential and widely blessed of God, could have been lost to long generations of the Moravian Church, especially her administrators and religious leaders, so that few volumes can now be found, and those that still exist are to be looked for only in the unused sections of the libraries or more likely among the obsolete volumes of the archives, is not for those who write this Foreword to explain, for we ourselves might also be found among those guilty of oversight and neglect.
It is our privilege to rejoice and be encouraged that, through the foresight and generosity of a small group of our loyal and devoted laity, this same “Idea Fidei Fratrum” is to be given back to us, by the republishing in electro-plated type the La Trobe edition of 1779.
Though this now archaic type, particularly its antiquated symbol for “s”, may for a time be somewhat confusing to its reader, it is the hope of the sponsors that this slight inconvenience may be more than compensated by the fact that they have a volume in their library in the original form in which it first appeared almost two centuries ago, and a tie with the past to serve as a reminder of their debt to the courageous and godly man who served to lay the foundation on which we now build.
At all events, they, whose liberality makes possible this venture for the Church’s higher spiritual good, are actuated only by faith and hope, that it may make clear to this another age of uncertainty and need, the nature of the “Rock” whence the Brethren’s or Moravian Church is hewn, the certain validity and authority of the Holy Scriptures and the type of Christian doctrine that can again give strength to our Unity and to the larger Church beyond her borders.
But what of this book, “Idea Fidei Fratrum”, of which we speak and which we are to have the privilege of using? What of its character? And what may we expect to receive from its use?
First, let it be noted that in this English edition, the Latin title, together with the nature and intent of “The Idea” are well defined and set forth on the title page as
“An Exposition of Christian Doctrine
as taught by
The Protestant Church of the United Brethren
In seeking to classify and evaluate this book for those whom we wish to interest in it and encourage to read, study and profit by it, we can find no other volume with which it can be compared. To speak frankly with regard to it, we must say it is different and quite unique among Christian publications. So far as our knowledge goes, it has no companion volume in religious literature with which to compare. It is not a theological treatise, carrying original reflections, arguments or phrases usually found in theological discussions of creeds and symbols. It is not a concordance, bringing the thoughts and interpretations of many into one volume for the reader to reconcile or from which to make a choice. And it is not an exposition, technically speaking, as the term is usually understood, involving extended explanations of the Scriptures and their doctrine. Rather, it is the type of a Topical Bible, of limited content, and, as Hamilton has pointed out, “was intended to place before the ministers and members of the Church a scheme of Christian doctrine expressed in biblical language, and to present to its friends a vindication of its scriptural catholicity. Its twenty-four sections set forth the essentials of a sound Protestant theology, free from one-sided confessionalism. The Love of God in Christ is its central theme and the terminology of technical theology gives place to plain biblical language that makes for Christian edification.” The Scripture portions are for the most part given in full without comment and with book, chapter and verse references. So the reader need not to be interrupted in his thinking by the necessity of turning to the Bible to find the portion involved. In short, “Idea Fidei” is the Bible, limited to the doctrines, which go to make up the sum total of the Christian Faith, in the words of the Scriptures.
From the foregoing it will be evident that Spangenberg had carefully studied the doctrines of the Unitas Fratrum from the very beginning and in his long life span lived and labored with his brethren pursuant to these teachings. The “Idea Fidei Fratrum”, therefore, is unquestionably validated as a presentation of Christian doctrine from the conservative, biblical standpoint and doctrinal statement of the Moravian Church, a church which has been correctly designated a “Christ-centered, Scripture-grounded Church.”
The directives of “The Idea,” consequently, are still applicable, vital and inspiring to our ministers and members of personal Christian experience and the message and mission of the Church: “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (I Cor. 2:5) Over the years our Moravian Unity has made commendable material progress and advance in efficiency along many lines. May the reappearance of the “Idea Fidei Fratrum” and its diligent use promote a gracious spiritual awakening among us and continue to bring us in renewed dedication to our Lord for personal growth in grace and knowledge of Him and fresh outreach and zeal in soul-winning at home and farthest out.
The “Idea Fidei Fratrum” is not merely a statement of Christian doctrine supported by Scripture. It is Christian doctrine presented in a warm and winsome manner that goes out to the reader and sees him as he may and can be in Christ. The book is thoroughly readable. The present reviewers found it hard to lay down and good to take up. To have the “Idea Fidei Fratrum” made available again to our ministers and our people is timely and potentially productive of great good. We pray for it wide circulation and careful reading. May God abundantly bless this effort to His greater glory!
J. Kenneth Pfohl,
November 13, l958
AUGUSTUS GOTTLIEB SPANGENBERG
They wept for joy to see him. No one had expected him that day. Brother Joseph walked into the chapel at Herrnhut on November 12, l762, as unobtrusively as if he had but come a few miles; in truth he had just journeyed across the wilderness of Pennsylvania and through the storms of the Atlantic. He was always doing the most extraordinary things for God in the most unassuming way. As the Moravians stopped their singing to turn and greet him, their eyes looked beyond the plain brown clothes and the unpowdered hair, they could see only the glory of Christ shining in the pilgrim’s face, a face still rounded and fresh for all his sixty years, and full of serenity, courage and happiness which only the Savior can give to a man. These Moravians knew that in this dauntless missionary, the survivor of a thousand dangers, there was a scholar and a wise administrator too; but it was his simplicity which they treasured most – that simplicity, which he himself had once described:
O holy blest simplicity,
God’s wondrous gifts of grace,
In deepest wisdom, truest strength,
In all the heavenly race.
These Moravians loved Brother Joseph as children love a father. He was their man of crisis: in every difficulty he could point the way out. He lived only to serve. For over half a century he carried the practical development of the Moravian Church throughout the world upon his shoulders. By 1762 he had already safely established the Brethren in England, North America, the West Indies and Surinam; and now he had come home to restore the finances of the whole Unity and to defend the evangelical faith from the blight of Rationalism which threatened the pure Gospel in Europe.
Prepared to Serve
Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg (Brother Joseph to the Moravians) was born on July 15, 1704, the son of a Lutheran pastor at Klettenberg. He was an orphan at the age of ten. By the sheer brilliance of his academic gifts he won his way to the University of Jena in 1722 and under the influence of Professor Buddeus he turned from the study of law to theology. He longed to be a missionary and the visits of Zinzendorf and the Moravians to Jena convinced him that only among them could he find that self-less devotion and fellowship which the spreading of the Gospel across the world demanded. When he visited their Settlement at Herrnhut in 1730 he found the Christianity of New Testament times in its purity and simplicity lived out in the daily round. ‘The grace of God is uncommonly manifested in this place,’ he wrote; ‘the Moravians carefully strive to do all our dear Savior has commanded us. Whosoever is intent upon caring for the things of eternity, and is satisfied with a few pence on his journey towards heaven, will soon discover the blessedness of the communion of saints.’ He declined a Chair of Theology at the University of Halle and in April 1733, arrived in Herrnhut to begin his life-long service to the Lamb in the Moravian Church. Years later he declared: ‘I consider my acquaintance with the Brethren the means by which our Lord Jesus Christ has preserved me in the truth and way of holiness.’