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    an impressionistic painting of a blue mountain

    New Children of the Spirit

    Seekers of God’s kingdom follow the call to a radical new way of life.


    June 23, 2020

    Eberhard Arnold was a Christian leader in pre-World-War-I Berlin – a popular speaker and writer, with a secure position in a publishing house. The following excerpt from his biography Against the Wind by Markus Baum describes how his life was transformed by the war and post-war chaos, leading to the search for an alternative life that would more completely embody Jesus’ teachings. This was the genesis of the Bruderhof Communities.

    The years of war sapped Eberhard’s energy, attention, and spiritual strength. But when at last Eberhard shook free of the shackles of war, his entire perception of reality suddenly changed. Social deprivation and similar real-life issues concerned him. Once again he pondered humanity’s primordial vocation to live in interdependent community.


    Despite the many warning signs, Germany’s collapse caught most of her people by surprise. On October 29, 1918, German sailors mutinied in Wilhelmshaven. Soldiers’ and workers’ councils formed in the towns. On November 7 revolution broke out in Munich, on November 9 in Berlin. “The Kaiser has abdicated!” newspaper special editions announced. “No shots fired!” The Social Democrat Philip Scheidemann declared the country a republic. Still acting in his official capacity, Chancellor Max von Baden handed over the government to the Social Democratic party’s leader, Friedrich Ebert. Eberhard and Emmy were among the thousands of Berliners present at the election of the new government in the Busch Circus, the largest hall in Berlin. They had been as shocked and downcast as most other Germans by the terms of the armistice, which had destroyed any hope of an honorable peace agreement.

    During the communists’ Spartacus revolt of January 1919 and the consequent clash with the army, the sound of gunfire became accustomed background noise in Landauerstrasse. While [the Arnold children] Emy-Margret and Hardy walked to school in the mornings, the rattle of machine guns ceased for a time – a touch of humanity amid the civil war. At some places in the city center the streetcars ran directly between the fighters’ barricades. The survival rules were simple: keep your head in, lie flat. Such matter-of-fact methods helped the Arnolds and most other Berliners through these dangerous times.

    Defeat and revolution had aroused profound questions in even the calmest people. Visitors came one after another to the Arnolds’ [Berlin] home (first in Wilmersdorf, and after Easter of 1919 in Steglitz, at Lutherstrasse 14 – “another big house, but simpler”).1 Sometimes people stayed overnight, sleeping on the living room sofa or on the dining room floor. Some had to keep out of sight because of their political views. On one occasion two diametrically opposed extremists were put in different rooms; they knew nothing of each other’s presence and, like sodium and water, were not to meet under any circumstances. A Thursday evening discussion group (which would later meet several times a week) gathered at the Arnolds’ house and attracted members of the Student Christian Movement, officers, journalists, anarchists, artists, pietists, and English Quakers, as well as people from the revival movement and representatives of every aspect of the Youth Movement.2 Soon as many as fifty to seventy people were regularly participating in the group, and on occasion as many as one hundred people attended.

    “Jesus’ words burst on us with the force of a thunderclap. We felt we could not go on living as we had.”

    These discussions could easily have become dead-end dialogs, fruitlessly rehashing the problems of humanity – had it not been for the Sermon on the Mount. Emmy would later write that the meaning of these passages from the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 58, was revealed to them in a wonderful way: “The Beatitudes, the words about love of enemies, the ‘Our Father,’ giving in charity, seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness – all these struck us like a bolt of lightning. After the injustice of the war and the years leading up to it, Jesus’ words burst on us with the force of a thunderclap. We felt we could not go on living as we had. Faith must lead to action, and we must set out on new ways.”3

    Pentecost in Marburg

    “We had planned a bible study to speak about the Sermon on the Mount. And – lo and behold! – something very rare happened: the Bible spoke directly to us!” reported an enthusiastic member of the gathering that assembled one sunny morning on the lawns around the Frauenberg ruins, a castle in Marburg. It was June 13, 1919, and the Pentecost conference for Christian scholars was in progress. On this memorable day Eberhard described the change that occurs when a person is seized by the reality of the Beatitudes. According to the report printed in the SCM newsletter:

    Speaking with a simplicity that can come only from humble discipleship of Jesus, and in a wonderful way that can derive only from the holy assurance of the message of revelation in Christ, Eberhard described this new type of person . . . The meetings for general discussion were nearly all occupied with questions concerning the practical application of this type of life which now burst upon us as the way for a Christian to live out the Sermon on the Mount consistently.4

    In the words of another SCM member:

    What was it that took hold of us? It was the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, the spirit of Jesus himself. The Sermon on the Mount spelled out for us the consequences of Jesus’ words: “repent and believe in the gospel.” And what are the consequences? What is new about them? The Beatitudes became very important for us; they showed us the character of the citizens of the kingdom. Citizens of the kingdom are people with unconquerably joyful hearts, happy people. They are charged with the explosive power of the life that flows from God. That is what they should manifest to the world. They are to possess the earth; they are called to serve the earth . . . We felt in Arnold’s words that Jesus was seeking for our souls, seeking for us to belong to him completely, for us to love in earnest – and we strove for this with all our might.5

    Is any further explanation necessary? In Marburg at Pentecost 1919 a miracle not unlike the first Pentecost took place: these young men and women heard in their own twentieth-century language the age-old, yet timeless, words of Jesus – and understood them as never before. Eberhard himself was filled with wonder: “I felt so caught up by Jesus’ spirit of absolute truth and absolute love, that I had to speak and testify from my very heart with a directness that has seldom come to me in my life.”6 Unfortunately only a short summary of Eberhard’s bible study on the Sermon on the Mount has been preserved, but even these few lines are telling:

    The true and natural objective of the Sermon on the Mount is human nature in its fullest sense of representing the image of God: to be human means to love, again to love – and only to love. Therefore citizens of the kingdom surrender all legal rights. They do not resist evil by force. They reach out in love to everyone. Such a life takes place in secret and shuns all desire for recognition by the masses . . . The prayer of a citizen of the kingdom is characterized by clearness and few words . . . People who base their lives on communion with God in this manner know only a holy either-or. They reject all wealth and possessions. They declare unrelenting war on mammon and oppose the whole mammonistic world order. They have only one purpose: to set their hearts on God.7

    All previous spiritual threads in Eberhard’s life now seem inextricably interwoven: the dedication and obedience of faith in the revival period; Hermann Kutter’s social conscience and the war against the spirit of mammon; the community of love among the early Christians. When all was said and done, the question still remained: at what point in the Arnolds’ life would they put this renunciation of private property into effect? They were still firmly ensconced in their middle-class lifestyle – not exactly extravagant, but far from poverty-stricken. As a starting point they made attempts to break down class distinctions, at least within their own home. Eberhard made a practice of cleaning the shoes for everyone in the household without exception. The servant girls were moved into a spacious room. When guests came to visit, Eberhard and Emmy vacated their bedroom and shifted to the servants’ quarters. Despite their best intentions the Arnolds’ steps were of a rather clumsy and symbolic nature. The servants absorbed only half of the message, and this resulted in unrealistic demands and considerable head shaking.

    After one particular Free German Youth Conference in Tübingen, Eberhard returned home to Berlin sporting a new look.8 He had left home dressed in his typical, conventional dark business suit, stiff collar, necktie, hat, and coat. Now he cheerfully presented himself to his family in knee britches and a loose tunic with a Byron collar open at the neck – the costume adopted by the youth movement as a sign of their determined and irreversible departure from the bourgeoisie. At first Emmy did not know whether to laugh or to cry, and so she did both.9 After her initial astonishment she agreed with the change, and she would later recount that the family never wore conventional styles again. But even this change of wardrobe could not disguise the fact that the Arnolds still had not arrived at a practical life of faith. They had not yet found the new way they were seeking.

    Can a Christian Be a Police Officer?

    Marburg served as the prelude to a series of conferences during the summer and fall of 1919. A conference of the Student Christian Movement was held in Bad Oeynhausen (about thirty miles west of Hannover) from August 47, 1919. It was the first “annual” conference since the war’s end and the revolution, and it took place under the slogan “Constructive Powers of our Faith in a Time of Collapse.” Eberhard, as the second speaker on this theme, sparked a discussion that five months later had not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion: “Our new position in the world is that of ambassadors who must proclaim the will of their King in its entirety.” By calling them ambassadors Eberhard meant that Christians are no longer subject to the laws of the world.

    In the next day’s discussion he put it even more plainly: whenever the gospel was to be preached, the moral values of Jesus were to be taught with it. True, Jesus had acknowledged the authority of the state, but he had described the kingdom of God as something completely different. A Christian represented a constant corrective to the state – a spur to conscience, a reinforcement of the will for justice, a leaven, an alien element. Whenever the state employed violence, a Christian must refuse to cooperate. Therefore a Christian could not be a soldier, an executioner, or a police officer.

    One of Eberhard’s fellow students from his first semester in Halle took up the gauntlet: no, Christians are not completely separate and perfect; they are bound and limited by the sins of all humankind. To this Eberhard replied, “We continue sharing in the collective sins of humanity only because on earth, due to our weakness, we never become completely spiritual people.” He refused to agree that a Christian was compelled to participate consciously in the sins of humanity.

    The central question of the conference (though no one ever stated it so transparently) became whether it was possible to live in accordance with the demands of the Sermon on the Mount. Is it true that Christians are redeemed from the compulsion to do evil? If they are, then they must really avoid any tasks that involve force and violence. If they are not, then they may not and must not shy away from their responsibility to the state, the use of violence, and coercive methods.

    A week later at the second SCM conference the debate resumed. Eberhard reiterated his position: “Government authority does not fulfill the law; we fulfill it when we act in accordance with God’s kingdom . . . It is our duty to witness in word and deed that Jesus’ words must not be distorted! The unconditional demand to obey God rather than people is always there. We believe that we are in the world as a corrective to the accepted norm.”

    “The church went to sleep on the pillow of grace.”

    Eberhard had stepped out on a limb. But he was by no means alone. Karl Heim, a professor in Münster, basically seconded him with a lecture titled “Tolstoy and Jesus” that attracted much attention. “The church . . . went to sleep on the pillow of grace.” How did that happen? “Because the Sermon on the Mount had been robbed of its power,” Heim censured the “negotiated peace between the Sermon on the Mount and capitalism, between the Sermon on the Mount and power politics . . . [which is] just as much a fault of Lutheranism as of pietism. As if it were possible to have peace of heart without following God’s commandments and working to transform the world. Every compromise between the Sermon on the Mount and the power politics of this world is like a water ditch dug by human firefighters – it limits the movement of divine life, dampens the spirit, and prevents the holy fire from spreading.”

    Eberhard gave his closing lecture on Heim’s heels, with only a slight shift in emphasis. His talk made it particularly obvious that he was not exaggerating the role of a Christian in a fanatical way. “Even our living in the spirit of Jesus will not turn the world into the kingdom of God. But the demands of the Sermon on the Mount remain if we understand and live them out according to Romans 8.”

    Speechless at Barth’s Message

    Germany, unlike neighboring Switzerland, still had no organized religious-socialist movement. In the post-revolution era, however, hundreds of theologians identified themselves as religious-socialists for as many different reasons. Pastor Otto Herpel of Lissberg made an attempt in the late summer of 1919 to gather together all these self-styled religious-socialists, inviting about five hundred pastors, ministers, and socially active Christians from Germany and Switzerland to a September conference at Tambach on the theme of “The Christian in Church, State, and Society.” About one hundred actually took part, sixty of them theologians. Zurich pastor Leonhard Ragaz, a leading representative of the religious-socialist movement in Switzerland, was solicited for the keynote address, but he was not particularly enthusiastic and declined, citing poor health. In his place came the Swiss pastor Karl Barth. Apparently Barth, who was still completely unknown in Germany, had certain preconceived notions for the coming conference.10 Even beforehand he had written to a friend, “What is to be done in this atmosphere where one can still hear undertones of ‘with God for emperor and fatherland’ echoing through the cheers for religious socialism? How can any kind of hearing be won for a reminder of the totaliter aliter of the kingdom of heaven?” Totaliter aliter – totally other – was the attractive common denominator of Barth’s theology. The German conference participants, many of them young theologians with the greater part of their careers still before them, would receive their first dose of Barth’s theology at these meetings.

    At first everything proceeded in an orderly pattern: a lecture from a Swiss and then from a German, followed by a discussion. It was soon clear that the Swiss participants were not too keen on the Germans’ revolutionary fire or their radical criticism of the church.

    Then Karl Barth launched into his theme: “The Christian in Society.” What his listeners expected to hear is not clear. What they did hear is. Barth’s argumentation soared to the highest heights, where the air was so thin that few could follow him. But everyone understood that something incredible was happening. He began by asserting that the traditional, church-oriented religion “is the only religion conceivable and possible within society.” He declared that Søren Kierkegaard and Leo Tolstoy were lovable utopians and dreamers – nothing more. So were Fyodor Dostoevsky, Hermann Kutter, the Christian mystics, the Anabaptists, and a formidable list of others. The kind of people that were counted blessed in the Sermon on the Mount simply did not exist. For Christ’s “truly, I say to you” commands, there was no imaginable application, neither in today’s society nor in any other. “Thus,” Barth asserted, “we must now safeguard ourselves from the error of trying to satisfy the conditions of the kingdom of God by criticizing, protesting, reforming, organizing, or by introducing democracy, socialism, or revolution.” His methods were obvious: First of all he shattered everything that had been important and holy to his dear colleagues moments before. Then came the formula, totaliter aliter – God is totally different. In a nutshell: man is insignificant. God spans the entire horizon, end to end, top to bottom. Man can do nothing. God must do everything.

    Barth summed up his pronouncement in his closing words: “What should we do, then? . . . There is but one thing we can do. And even that one thing is not really done by us. For what can a Christian do in society other than pay attention to what God is doing?”11

    What a scene! In point of fact, however, Barth’s lecture was merely a dry run for what would later become known as “dialectic theology.” And it is impossible to avoid the impression that Barth had his fun in taking the wind right out of the sails of this learned assembly. Undoubtedly it was a brilliant lecture, a rhetorical stroke of genius. But at what a cost! He had snubbed the conference organizers and had split the meeting. In the end he was left surrounded by a speechless, admiring group of followers, while a helpless, bewildered group remained sidelined. Many left the conference early. Others puzzled through to the end of the conference, wondering what had just happened – a thunderstorm, a revelation?

    Barth’s talk provoked such a strong reaction that it nearly blotted out awareness of anything else at the conference. At times scholars have even disputed whether Eberhard ever gave the scheduled second lecture on the same theme. But he most certainly did – contemporary documents prove it beyond all doubt.12 In doing so, Eberhard showed courage. From the very outset Barth had denied all meaning and validity to anything that had been said before him or that could be said after him. It did not matter what arguments were now put forward. God remained totally other and was quite likely laughing up his sleeve at these laborious efforts to build up his kingdom or even to understand the tiniest part of it. Totaliter aliter: for some, this concept meant the death of the religious-socialist movement in Germany even before it was born.13

    Eberhard took the affair calmly. It is possible that he alone among the German representatives at the conference had known about Barth’s ideas beforehand. He had written a letter to Barth on September 13, explaining that he, Eberhard, was to lecture on the same theme, and he had asked Barth to send him the main ideas of his speech in advance.14 Eberhard immediately acknowledged Barth’s outstanding theological intellect, and he would later make repeated efforts to get him to provide articles and other material for publication.15 Barth could not deflect Eberhard – not from his literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and still less from his inner relationship to God, which, according to Barth – totaliter aliter – had no right to exist.16 But that inner relationship obviously existed nonetheless.

    In December of 1919 Georg Michaelis [the leader of Germany’s Student Christian Movement], reported in the SCM newsletter that “from now on Dr. Arnold is working full time as SCM secretary . . . Although some of the content and manner of his message seems somewhat questionable to us, so that we cannot always reject as unfounded the complaints leveled against him on these counts, we nevertheless hope that in the future he will join in the happy cooperation and harmonious spirit of our other secretaries.” This put the facts plainly enough and expressed the reservations within the SCM leadership [as Arnold’s radical ideas began to cause a rift between him and those with whom had had been working].

    Plans, Plans, and More Plans

    By the end of 1919 the gap between Eberhard’s ideals and actual reality had widened unbearably. “I can’t speak or lecture anymore until I have patterned my life after Jesus’ example,” he told his friends.17 The Sermon on the Mount, the Acts of the Apostles, and a particular New Testament verse – “Let Christ Jesus be your example as to what your attitude should be” (Phil. 2:5) – all urged him at long last to give the issue hands and feet. How best to do this was discussed at the “open evenings” and among close friends. Plans were fleshed out and then rejected.

    For a brief moment Eberhard and Emmy entertained the very romantic idea of buying a gypsy caravan and taking to the road. They would travel through the countryside, stop at villages, speak, hold meetings for children, and help out wherever necessary. It is easy to guess what would have happened to Eberhard’s publishing work under such circumstances. But how it would have worked out practically, with five children, defies imagination.

    “We leave the old gray city and head to the woods and fields!”

    A hotly debated topic was Urban vs. Rural. For those from the youth movement and from working-class groups there was but one answer: get away from the big cities! Follow the slogan of the Wandervogel: “We leave the old gray city and head to the woods and fields!” To them the city was unhealthy, the breeding ground for immorality and unbearable social conditions. The Arnolds could see examples of this right before their eyes in north and east Berlin. On the other hand they knew that cities were the very places with the most problems. The inner city was most in need of constructive work.

    The Arnolds’ first real opportunity for a practical undertaking came in early February of 1920 through their circle of friends back in Halle. The Halle fellowship had started a “Hebron Charitable Society” and had bought a house, intending to establish a “biblically inspired social service in love to the poor and needy” of the city. It was proposed that the Arnolds would occupy the house and begin the work. Eberhard enthusiastically agreed to the concept. On February 10 he wrote to the mayor of Halle and explained the plan in detail. In the end, though, the project failed because the housing office would not grant permission, and the occupant of the house in question refused to move out. That decided the matter.

    [In the meantime another opportunity had arisen in the town of Schlüchtern, some 300 miles southwest of Berlin, where the publishers of a periodical Das Neue Werk shared Arnold’s ideas. They invited him to edit their paper.]

    “The early church lit up the new way for only one brief stretch of time, but new children will always be born to the Spirit.”

    Through these endeavors Eberhard’s idea of the “Early Church” became much clearer, and a completely new possibility took shape. He jotted down a few short phrases about this on February 22: “Poverty and love; the poor in spirit! The poor! Sell everything! Leave everything! Follow Jesus! Live for the poor. Not law, but love! John 12:24 . . . Community of suffering, of death, of joy, of bodily strength.”18 Of course he was not so naïve as to see the past in such a glowing light that he tried merely to copy what had happened in the lives of the early Christians. “We must not be surprised that the early church lit up the new way for only one brief stretch of time,” he wrote shortly afterwards, “ . . . but new children will always be born to the Spirit. It would be senseless to try to create similar life patterns artificially or by force, for this would only result in disaster. What matters is to be open to God, to the spirit of Jesus . . . When love includes and permeates everything, manifest life, in all its fullness, will then inevitably arise.”19

    One thing led to another in rapid succession during the first weeks of 1920. Writing on behalf of a “free youth movement of young people for Christ,” Eberhard sent out invitations for a mountaintop conference on the Inselsberg on March 7. These invitations went to hundreds of addresses: to the group centered around Schlüchtern, to Das Neue Werk subscribers, to people from the Marburg Student Christian Movement, and of course to those who attended the Arnolds’ “open evenings” in Steglitz, as well as to countless other friends all over the country. In many cases Eberhard backed up the invitation with a personal letter. He begged for support for the project and promised cash-strapped students that if they came their fares would be refunded.

    On March 7, 1920, the small company left Fröttstädt at the base of the mountain and sang their way up the Inselsberg. They were such a motley assortment of humanity that an outsider would have looked in vain for some common factor: tolstoyans,20 communists, Wandervogel, YMCA and SCM members, Free Germans, representatives from revolutionary and working-class youth groups, to say nothing of Marie Buchhold, a woman influenced by Buddhism. In fact the only thing that brought this remarkable group together was Eberhard’s unerring eye for sincere seekers, “inner” people searching “for freedom and love, inward truthfulness and vitality.” He was seldom deceived.

    The Inselsberg conference focused on exchanging ideas and advice about practical steps toward a communal life. Eberhard revealed a vision to this colorful audience, the vision of an effective community, working with one common spirit and purpose. His speech appeared somewhat later in Das Neue Werk entitled “Extended Households and Life in Settlements.”21 A short extract:

    The way to community lies in deepened spirituality and greater intensity of spiritual experience. The uniting spirit wants to gather all those who in their innermost being belong together. When people who have an inward kinship are led together in this manner, this in no way separates them from others . . . Growing together in communal life results rather in an increase of strength and vitality. Only living minds and souls can form a spiritual fellowship that aims at far-reaching effects . . . Humankind is meant to be one living entity: a body with one spirit, one head, one soul, one heart.

    This makes it clear that Eberhard did not envision a conglomeration of every possible spiritual trend. Quite to the contrary – an inward affinity was not enough for him. One spirit, one head, one soul, and one heart. No misunderstanding is possible. It is pure New Testament:

    Unless the common spirit for which we yearn is the Holy Spirit of the living God, it will deteriorate into a spirit of commonness – common in the sense of mean and base. Only the Holy Spirit can stand the test as the uniting power of true community. Only God can bring about the ultimate unity of voluntary and joyful creativity, of inner independence, social justice, genuineness in each person’s life, and complete love. The spirit of God is the power of truth that separates what is bad or only half good from what is entirely genuine, and the spirit of God is the power of love to make us want and do what is good . . . The divine spirit is the spirit that awakens to life; it is the spirit that binds together in unity. It is the spirit of the divine life . . . that is in Jesus.”

    Eberhard called his listeners to form communities in the spirit of Jesus, to start settlements, “voluntary associations of working people.” Up to this point he could count on everyone’s applause. But his underlying thoughts went much further, and he made concrete suggestions: farming and gardening; schools and welfare work among children; publishing work and outreach; a children’s home especially for war orphans; arts and crafts.22 Although everyone found these proposals desirable no one could see any possibility of realizing them in the near future. Nonetheless the idea of a settlement inspired by early Christianity now captured the imaginations of a much greater number than before.

    a painting of horses running by colorful trees

    Wassily Kandinsky, Blue Mountain (Public Domain)

    Gustav Landauer

    Eberhard’s plans for a settlement, his ideas of spiritual and working community, his uninhibited relationship with revolutionary and working-class young people, his public discussion of communism and anarchism, and many characteristics of the community settlement that actually took shape – all these would have been unthinkable were it not for the influence of the writer and social philosopher Gustav Landauer. Certainly Eberhard knew Landauer’s book For Socialism inside out.23 It is probable that Eberhard had read Landauer’s writings and had adopted some of his views even before Landauer was murdered by soldiers in Munich on May 1, 1919, a murder which occurred during the suppression of the Bavarian proletarian republic. It is also possible that they had met each other. Gustav Landauer had lived in Hermsdorf, near Berlin, until May 1917. He had lectured the Free Student fellowship, a youth movement element that met in a Berlin settlement house. Landauer had published numerous articles and books, most of which would have been available to Eberhard.24 He wrote pithy short stories and wrote about Christian and Jewish mystics, the Reformation, God and socialism, and Tolstoy. He was one of the best-read and most acute thinkers of his time. Though a Jew, he nonetheless admired and respected Jesus.

    Landauer had refined Peter Kropotkin’s and Bakunin’s ideas about “domination-free socialism,” or anarchism, developing them into a breathtaking system of thought that any attentive reader of the Bible will find peculiarly familiar.25 Eberhard must have realized at a glance that virtually all of the admirable, practical ethics of the anarchist Gustav Landauer were drawn from the New Testament and that only a small fraction of them stemmed from new socialist ideas. If one takes the lifestyle of the early Christians minus the references to Jesus, one arrives at Landauer’s anarchism. Or the other way around: if one expands Landauer’s thoughts by simply adding the idea of the kingdom of God, the living Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, one has the early Christian community of love. Eberhard must have seen this connection.

    In February of 1920 Eberhard wrote to an SCM friend, “I find it so interesting that the most radical communists turn into anarchists and the most consistent anarchists are communists. When there is absolute consistency from the very heart in all the practical realities of life, this leads to truly Christ-like living . . . Here is redemption from all the enslavement to which men are subjected.”26

    Probably this insight explains why Eberhard was not afraid of contact with anarchist groups, and why from time to time he even sought them out. In his lecture at the Inselsberg on “Extended Households and Life in Settlements,” Eberhard drew on Landauer’s ideas in For Socialism, concepts which were certainly familiar to most of his audience. In 1921 Eberhard tried to obtain Martin Buber’s support for a collection of extracts from Landauer’s works.27 The Neuwerk Publishing House even advertised the book in advance.28 The justification for this project: “The memory of Gustav Landauer must not fade, and it is important to express exactly what was most important about him, what God meant to him, and what God could be for him.”29

    Even in the last years of his life, though barely able to walk, Eberhard could not be prevented from standing up each May 1 to honor the memory of Gustav Landauer as an upright and honest man.


    One of the most curious incidents in Eberhard’s life took place during the Kapp putsch, an attempt by rightist factions within the army to overthrow the government in Berlin. Though no more than an anecdote it is a well-documented and very characteristic one. During the days of the general strike and the street fighting following March 13, 1920, the telephone rang at Lutherstrasse 14 in Steglitz. Lieutenant Helmut von Mücke, a highly decorated marine officer, announced that he was coming to visit the Arnolds. True to his word, he stopped by for a cup of coffee.30 His purpose: to ask Eberhard to take on the new Department of Youth that would be established under the rebel government of the former director of agriculture, Kapp. The Arnolds made it very plain to him that theirs was a different calling. A letter from Eberhard describes quite soberly the role he played during the days of the attempted revolt: “My house became a kind of headquarters for influential people. As I was constantly in touch with both warring parties, I had the opportunity to use my influence to a certain degree – not strongly enough to make our spirit victorious, but not without a certain effect . . . We were able to come to an understanding with the communist party leaders that led to a significant reduction of the so-called black list – the list of officers to be killed.”31

    A few days after a general strike caused the putsch’s collapse, Eberhard’s name appeared among others on a leaflet calling all pacifists and opponents of war to strengthen their spiritual solidarity with each other:

    We do not judge those who turn to the use of force. Rather, through total dedication to the community of our nation and of all nations, among and with the working class, we want to serve the spirit of love, which will one day bring an end to all violence. We testify that we are urged forward by the living spirit of Christ toward the kingdom of love and brotherliness, and we want to work with full commitment for a transformation of society and the establishment of a brotherly bond among all peoples.

    This incident provides a clear indication of the position Eberhard took up after the war. Certainly he was no communist – he was too religious and conciliatory for the left. But he was no longer middle class either – he was too radical for bourgeois society. Eberhard was, first and foremost, a mediator and interpreter of the message of Jesus Christ, and revolutionary jargon was as much at his command as the intellectual jargon of the highly educated and the religious language of the pious. He allowed no one to dictate whom he could or could not address. But Eberhard certainly had not chosen this continually changing and thankless role of the odd man out.

    The Pentecost 1920 conference in Schlüchtern reunited most of the Inselsberg conference participants, and it brought together many people associated with the “Early Church” movement as well. The Arnolds, accompanied by a crowd of young people from Berlin, traveled fifteen hours – fourth class, by slow train. They arrived in Schlüchtern at eight o’clock in the evening, with a hill still to climb. But when they crested the hilltop, the Pentecost fires blazed. On Pentecost Sunday Eberhard spoke on “The Mystery of the Early Church.”32 He witnessed to the spirit of Pentecost, which is much more than the “collective soul of world revolution.” Eberhard proclaimed that only the spirit of Pentecost could pour unreserved love and fellowship into the hearts of the believers. With this he anticipated what was in fact to happen only a few weeks later and only a few miles away.

    On May 26, 1920, with the conference meetings officially behind them, Eberhard and Emmy and a handful of young people walked from Schlüchtern to nearby Ahlersbach. They stopped on their way at the little village of Sannerz and entered the inn, the Gasthaus zum Stern. They had heard that a sizable house was for sale and discovered that it was a large brick villa opposite the inn. Its owner, a certain Konrad Paul, had made money in America and on his return had invested it in this house. He was friendly and forthright and proved willing to sell or rent the property, but he would not name a fixed price. During the days of the conference the Arnolds had visited the Habertshof, a communal settlement on a meager farm near Schlüchtern. Konrad Paul’s property, with its kitchen garden, orchard, cow stalls, pig sties, and chicken coop, seemed in comparison almost too elegant. But the house had fifteen rooms, and it would surely be big enough.

    Before the Arnolds returned to Berlin they arranged with Lotzenius, the innkeeper of the Gasthaus zum Stern, to lodge at the inn for several weeks during the summer. Nothing else was settled. Once home Eberhard and Else von Hollander tied up a few loose ends at the Furche Publishing House, while Emmy began to pack up the household. Many of their acquaintances only now realized that the Arnolds were in earnest about their plans. Then, all at once, everything moved ahead rapidly. Monika, the youngest child, had suffered for a long time from enteritis and had grown very thin. A doctor had advised a stay in the country with the necessary care and nursing, and the Arnolds did not want to wait any longer. In a letter of June 8 they announced to Lotzenius that they would arrive on June 18. Lotzenius replied by telegram: “summer vacation, 3 rooms, outbuildings, wardrobe, bed linen, kitchen utensils, children’s beds, 3 windows – Lotzenius.” Actually it was not until June 21 that Eberhard and Emmy and two-year-old Monika could move into the outbuildings of the Gasthaus zum Stern at Sannerz and could telegraph Else von Hollander in Steglitz: “well-accommodated here – thousand greetings, Eberhard.”


    1. Emmy-Margret Arnold, Kindheitserinnerungen
    2. Eberhard Arnold to Otto Herpel, July 2, 1919, BA.
    3. Emmy Arnold, Aus unserem Leben bis 1920, 22.
    4. K. Amborn, in DCSV Mitteilungen, no. 223 (Aug. 1, 1919).
    5. Willi Völger, in DCSV Mitteilungen, no. 223 (Aug. 1, 1919).
    6. Eberhard Arnold to Otto Herpel, July 2, 1919, BA.
    7. Willi Völger’s report in the DCSV Mitteilungen contained a summary of the lecture, presumably taken down in shorthand.
    8. In the summer of 1919; cf. Hardy Arnold, “Sannerz II,” handwritten notes from June 2, 1978, BA. All that is clearly documented, however, is Eberhard’s participation in the “world outlook week” (Weltanschauungswoche) in August 1918.
    9. According to Heinrich Arnold, as related in August 1972, BA.
    10. Karl Barth: 1886–1968. Just how unknown Karl Barth was in Germany at that time can be seen from the fact that Eberhard’s first letter, written on September 2 (identical in content to the one Karl Barth actually received), was mistakenly addressed to Peter Barth in Madiswil. The latter, a brother of Karl Barth, probably corrected the mistake.
    11. Karl Barth’s address was published by the Patmos Publishing House, Würzburg, 1920.
    12. The periodical Herrnhut reported: “Karl Barth and Eberhard Arnold spoke on ‘The Christian in Society’ . . . the difference between the Swiss and German emphasis was particularly clear from Eberhard Arnold’s words.” Günther Dehn, a conference participant, observed in his notes on the lectures:
      If we come from the pietistic side, I am afraid we will not be able to bear the need of the world. The desire to cut oneself off from it, to be alone in a little circle of like-minded people, will be too strong and will win out in the end. I received this impression from Arnold’s talk as well. It showed a strong desire for socialism, but it was not sufficiently down to earth . . . But that will have to be overcome if God’s thoughts are really to have an effect on people.
      Unfortunately the text of Eberhard’s speech has not been preserved.
    13. E.g., Günther Dehn: “Neither the founding of a religious-socialist union nor the union of socialist pastors was achieved, and I welcome this as a victory of faith,” in Geschichtsband (collected documents 1907-1935, BA) vol. IV, bk. 1, no.13.
    14. Barth had, in fact, prepared his lecture in advance, as is shown by a letter Eduard Thurneysen wrote to Barth on September 14: “I have just read your lecture with great attention: it has real punch. It will strike our zealous and troubled German friends as exceptionally restrained and yet radical at all points.”
    15. Both Barth and Thurneysen, however, had virtually nothing good to say after the conference and made disparaging remarks about the German organizers, especially Otto Herpel. Eberhard did not fare much better: “Have you noticed what Eberhard Arnold writes in Das Neue Werk with his SCM and its belief in Christ? It seems that everything said in Tambach ran off him like water off a duck’s back!” (Thurneysen to Barth, December 1, 1919). The relationship did, however, ease in the following two years; cf. chap. 9.
    16. It is enlightening to read the notes Eberhard jotted in his copy of Max Strauch’s book Die Theologie Karl Barths [The Theology of Karl Barth]. Eberhard contested the idea that the relationship between God and individual people – between Creator and created being – is “only indirect, with no possible communication.” He stressed exactly the opposite: “That relationship does exist.”
    17. Emmy Arnold, Aus unserem Leben bis 1920.
    18. Geschichtsband, vol. II, bk. 1, no. 14.
    19. From Siegmund-Schultze’s Die soziale Botschaft des Christentums [The Social Message of Christianity] third edition (Halle: Paul Seiler, 1921), 25f. Eberhard wrote the third chapter, titled “Sie Hatten Alles Gemein” [They had all things in common].
    20. Regarding the tolstoyans: Count Leo Tolstoy, the great nineteenth-century Russian novelist and thinker, taught that the meaning of life could be found through the literal application of Christ’s teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount. Tolstoy sought to rescue the true teachings of Christ from what he perceived to be the irrelevant, irrational doctrines of faith. He emphasized the creed of absolute nonresistance (thus, incidentally, Tolstoy made a profound impression on Gandhi). This creed included the abhorrence of physical force, detestation of legalized exploitation of the poor, condemnation of private property (because ownership was secured by force), and a rejection of government (since it existed primarily for the sake of the rich and powerful). Many of Tolstoy’s followers banded into colonies, but Tolstoy himself distrusted such organized efforts, and most colonies did not last long.
    21. German title: “Familienverband und Siedlungsleben,” Das Neue Werk, no. 20/21, 65.
    22. In Emmy Arnold’s Gegen den Strom (Torches Together) (Moers, 1983), 32. These points are not contained in the printed version of the lecture.
    23. Gustav Landauer: 1870–1919. German title: Aufruf zum Sozialismus (the second edition appeared in 1919). The English edition (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1978) is titled For Socialism, as it appears in the text.
    24. Cf. Brotherhood meeting, Rhön Bruderhof, December 1934. Eberhard Arnold: “When we were in Berlin our intellectual and inner interests were tremendously wide-ranging . . . We discussed every new book on any spiritual theme.”
    25. The first proponents of anarchism continually disputed whether the government-free society they aimed at could or could not be brought about by terror and force. Landauer was a pacifist and had a deep, intense loathing for violence: “Anarchism must in no way be identified with chaos and terrorism. The theorists on public law who first worked out models for an anarchistic society at the end of the eighteenth century understood anarchy to mean a society ‘without public coercion, yet not without order, peace, and safety.’” Gustav Landauer, “Zur Geschichte des Wortes Anarchie” [On the history of the word anarchy] in Der Sozialist (May 15–June 6, 1909).
    26. Eberhard Arnold to Hans Thelemann, February 18, 1920, BA.
    27. Eberhard Arnold to Martin Buber, May 9, 1921, BA. The project could not be carried out due to the terms of Landauer’s will and the fact that Landauer’s correspondence was widely scattered and unedited.
    28. In 1920 Otto Herpel’s Zinzendorf: Über Glauben und Leben [Zinzendorf: on Faith and Life] carried an advertisement for the “forthcoming” book Gustav Landauer in seinen Briefen [Gustav Landauer in His Correspondence], which was to be published by Karl Josef Friedrich.
    29. Eberhard Arnold to Karl Josef Friedrich, November 8, 1920, BA.
    30. A few years later Helmut von Mücke became leader of the NSDAP, the National Socialist German Workers’ party, in Saxony.
    31. Eberhard Arnold to Otto Herpel, April 1, 1920, BA; cf. Eberhard Arnold to Friedrich Kleemann, March 17, 1920, BA.
    32. German title: “Das Geheimnis der Urgemeinde,” printed in Das Neue Werk, no. 20-21, 160.
    Contributed By

    Markus Baum, a German journalist and radio commentator, is the author of Against the Wind: Eberhard Arnold and the Bruderhof.

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