Bruderhof History Series – 3 – Origins: Eberhard & Emmy Arnold and Else von Hollander


In this video I’m going to talk about the
movement’s founders, Eberhard and Emmy Arnold and also Emmy’s sister Else von Hollander
and the influences that led them to founding a communal movement that exists to this day
Eberhard, who was born in 1883, came from a family of scholars. His father was a doctor of theology and philosophy
teaching in Königsberg, Germany and his mother’s father and grandfather had both been professors
of theology in prestigious German universities. Eberhard’s childhood was certainly a privileged
one and he was exposed to a great deal of cultural thought and activities as well as
religious instruction. However, although he loved and respected his
parents he became aware at an early age of the social abyss between the educated prosperous
elite and the simple working-class people he met on the streets and this dichotomy troubled
him throughout his youth. There are a number of stories in which Eberhard
tries in some way to bridge the gap – in one instance he is said to have exchanged his
hat for the cap of an elderly destitute man and in return receives not only a scolding
from his parents but head lice as well. On the surface though Eberhard enjoys the
same pastimes as his peers – fencing matches, secret clubs and the like. Then at age sixteen Eberhard spends the summer
with a relative of his mother, a pastor Ernst Ferdinand Klein. This pastor is somewhat of a firebrand with
a great love and concern for the poor in his congregation and a deep awareness of the social
implications of the Gospels. Eberhard is very impressed with him and through
his influence Eberhard reads the New Testament seriously for the first time leading him to
experience a Christian conversion that determines the course of the rest of his life. Following this experience, Eberhard gives
up any attributes that mark him as an upper-class gentleman: He avoids all the usual parties
and social events in order to found contacts with other young Christians in bible study
groups and participates in Salvation Army meetings. This behavior naturally brings him intoconflict
with his parents who mistake his enthusiasm for misguided fanaticism. Eberhard’s father Carl Franklin in particular
would like to see his son attain a professorship and pushes him to give up his dreams of becoming
a missionary medical doctor in order to study theology. So Eberhard reluctantly began his studies
in 1905, first at Breslau University and later at the Royal University of Halle-Wittenberg. There he becomes an active member in the local
chapter of the Student Christian Movement and is eventually elected chairman. Under his leadership the chapter grows rapidly
in strength and missionary zeal for other university students. In 1906 Eberhard helps bring a lecture series
entitled “The Living Christ” to Halle featuring a well known lawyer and public speaker, Ludwig
fon Gerdtell. Fon Gerdtell is at this time known across
Germany for his popular religious lectures. These lectures are a sensation in Halle and
bring about a Christian revival among educated middle-class people which lasts for months
leading many prominent citizens to drastically alter their way of life. According to one participant it was, “rare
that a newly converted person did not give up his career” for reasons of conscience:
One well-known actor abandoned the theater and the daughter of a wealthy industrialist
renounced her life of privilege to found a home for street urchins and orphans. In the wake of the lectures, many revival
meetings are held in private homes around Halle and Eberhard as a student leader is
frequently invited to speak. At one meeting in the house of a prominent
surgeon, he first meets Emmy fon Hollander and thinks, “the girl I marry will be like
that.” Emmy comes from a privileged background as
well. Her father teaches law at the university and
as is customary, employs a troop of servants to care for his wife and their seven children. Their household is not particularly religious
and yet at a young age Emmy feels called to a life of service to God especially after
the death of her fourteen year old sister Gretchen. She is attracted to the nursing profession
early on and ends up training as a deaconess. In March 1907 when she arrives in Halle on
vacation from her job in a neighboring town she finds herself in the middle of a revival
that is affecting many of her acquaintances. Emmy’s sister Else describes the lectures
and subsequent meetings in glowing terms and urges her to attend the evening gathering
where Eberhard is speaking. Within days of that first chance encounter,
Eberhard proposes to her and they become engaged. Now an important aspect of this revival movement
is the position that fon Gerdtell and other influential revival speakers take on the compromises
the state church has made with the straight-forward message of the New Testament. In specific, they reject infant baptism as
human invention and promote baptism only of adults who have been converted. Else is especially convinced by these arguments
and ends up getting re-baptized against the express wishes of her parents. This constitutes an unheard-of break with
the state-church and generations of tradition. Eberhard and Emmy take a more deliberate route
and spend months seeking objective grounds in the Bible before concluding that baptism
of adult believers is the only biblically valid baptism and are baptized themselves. This causes a crisis as both Eberhard and
Emmy’s parents are appalled not least by the fact that Eberhard is now unable to sit for
his doctoral exam in theology due to the doctrinal breach with State church authorities. He switches course, studying philosophy and
completes the doctoral requirements by 1909 with a dissertation on Christian and anti-Christian
elements in the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s development. This clears the way to financial security
and marriage which Emmy’s parents reluctantly consent to. The course of their two year engagement is
well documented in their voluminous correspondence which Eberhard later had bound into nine volumes. These letters provide a fascinating window
into their unconventional and Christ-centered relationship. Following their marriage in 1909, Eberhard
and Emmy settle down in Berlin where Eberhard keeps a busy schedule of speaking engagements
on a variety of religious questions in addition to working as an editor at a religious publishing
house. Then the First World War begins and everything
changes. During the first difficult years of the war,
the pressing social, economic, and political issues of the day cause Eberhard and Emmy
to read the Bible with new eyes. Over time they are led far beyond the experiences
of the Halle revival to a discipleship that demands more than church-going and a series
of edifying experiences. In the face of the poverty and starvation
they see in Berlin especially as the war progresses, they come to feel that a completely different
way must be possible – a new society in which the causes of war – greed and hatred between
nations – are removed. Thus they find themselves joining with people
who are also dissatisfied and are challenging public life and human relationships – a motley
crew of anarchists, socialists, artists, former army officers, and even some pietists. In open evenings held at their house they
read the Sermon on the Mount together and decide to rearrange their lives completely
– Eberhard gives up his job at the publishing house and together with Emmy and Else, who
is now helping to care for their growing family in addition to acting as Eberhard’s secretary,
they search for a practical way to live out their new found convictions.

Comments 1

  • catholicism is not christian its pagan.UK is ridelled with Freemasons.cultural things are demonic.secret societies are Freemasons etc.was he baptised with out checking them out the "doctrines of man" theology not right.was he delivered did they ask the Lord be born again follow Holy Spirit baptism is full.immersion in water.and children can ask to be baptised.yes because "church taxes" are like tithing which is not biblical we ate to give what we decide with cheerfulness.

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