Eberhard Arnold

Founder of the Bruderhof (1883–1935)
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Eberhard Arnold, a Lutheran theologian and son of a German professor of Church history, might well have pursued an academic career. But before professing theology, he believed it was more important to be a Christian. Increasingly he was drawn to Christ’s message in the Sermon on the Mount.  

World War I impressed Arnold as a sign of the great gulf between the Spirit of Jesus and the spirit of the times. With similar seekers he started a Bible study group searching for answers about how to live today by the message of Jesus. Was it possible to give one’s life over to love of neighbors, to live a spirit of poverty, to love one’s enemies? Gradually these questions inspired the formation of the Bruderhof (“a place where brothers dwell”).  

In the Bruderhof, families lived together in community, sharing all things in common, adhering to a code of strict nonviolence, and attempting to live by the spirit of the Beatitudes. In effect, they had rediscovered the spirit of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists. In 1930 they affiliated with another living offshoot of the “Radical Reformation”—the Hutterites in North America. By this time they found themselves in conflict with the rising spirit of Nazism. Eventually, facing wholesale suppression, the community fled Germany, with many finally settling in the United States.  

Arnold himself did not make the move. He died on November 22, 1935. 

“In the name of Jesus Christ we can die, but not kill. This is where the Gospel leads us. If we really want to follow Christ we must live as He lived and died.” —Eberhard Arnold 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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