MORAVIAN CHURCH, The, the common name given in England and America to the re newed Unitas Fratrum or Church of the Breth ren — for a time styled also in English the Church of the United Brethren— which origi nally flourished in Bohemia, Moravia and Po land, was disrupted and suppressed in the 17th century, was resuscitated in Saxony in the 18th century and at present exists in its reorganized form in Europe and America. with an extensive mission work in many parts of the world. It was a product of the evangelical movement led by the Bohemian reformer, John Hus, who suffered martyrdom at Constance, 6 July 1415. It developed out of an association formed in 1457 near Kunwald in northeastern Bohemia to foster pure Christian teaching and life within the National Church. Its attitude toward the abuses of the time and its rapid growth caused it soon to be put under proscription by the authorities. Drastic measures intended to sup press and disintegrate it had the contrary effect. It formed a more compact union, perfected its organization and gradually became a distinct church with its own ministry, established through the good offices of Waldensian bishops who conveyed the historic episcopate to it in 1467. A system was developed which followed primitive Christianity in its elementary princi ship. With the increase of congregations, the unit, based on Scripture, bound by a Brotherly Agreement and governed by an elected elder ship. With the increase of congregation, the Synod was formed, legislating by delegated au thority. The Synod committed executive con trol to the Council which was also elective and representative, for while the episcopacy stood at the head, the presbytery and the laity had a voice in it, with the central principle of confer ential government and collegiate administration fixed. This principle, inherited with the ancient i episcopate, is cardinal in the modern structure of the Church, adjusting together conceptions of polity commonly regarded as opposites and pre senting affinities to widely divergent church types.
Its history during the ancient period is to a great extent one of cruel persecution. Its speedy recuperation after such ordeals and its increase during intervals of peace were phe nomenal. When the German Reformation be gun in 1517, the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren numbered nearly 200,000 with about 400 places of worship. In the baronial castle
and in the peasant's cottage loyalty to their Church, which embodied the best ideals of the nation, rendered them amenable to a discipline in which they stood pre-eminent and made them a strong moral power to be coped with by ecclesiastical and political authorities. In their highest ascendency they led the educational and literary activity of the regions in which they were established. Their formulated concep tions of Christian doctrine were a gradual growth. Their last and most mature confes sion of faith before the overthrow of the Church in its original seats was published in 1573.
The Counter-Reformaion inaugurated by Ferdinand II in 1621 brought the organized ex istence of the Church to an end in Bohemia and Moravia, subjected many of its members to martyrdom and drove thousands into exile. It was excluded from the terms made to other evangelical parties in the Peace of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648, and the hope of its resuscitation in its home-lands was crushed. The parishes of its Polish prov ince, founded in 1548, maintained an organized existence much longer, but they were gradually absorbed by the Reformed Church of Poland of which ultimately even the clergy in whose per sons the episcopate of the Unitas Fratrum was being perpetuated in the hope of its renewal were legally recognized ministers.
The first step in the restoration of the Church occurred in 1722, when a little company of refugees from Moravia were given an asy lum by Nicholas Lewis, Count of Zinzendorf, on his estate, Berthelsdorf, in Saxony where, June of that year, they began a settlement which was called Herrnhut. Many others from Moravia, Bohemia and different parts of Ger many joined them during the next few and a gradual process of organization took place in which the plans of the Moravians were merged with those of Zinzendorf who had in view rather an evangelical association har monizing different confessional affiliations and Church traditions, with the necessary adaptation of the whole to its situation within the pale of the state church. The doctrinal articles of the Augsburg Confession were adopted and con cessions from the Saxon and Prussian govern ments permitted the establishment of Moravian Church order and constitution modified to suit the new conditions.