Eberhard Arnold - Bruderhof Founder



Eberhard Arnold founded the Bruderhof communities in 1920, in his native Germany. With Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a blueprint, he and a handful of friends formed a Christian community grounded in prayer, fellowship, nonviolence, and reverence for life. 

Like the first Christians, members of Arnold’s Bruderhof (“place of brothers”) renounced private property, choosing cooperative commitment instead. They claimed spiritual heritage from, and patterned their community after, the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, as well as the early Christians. For culture, they turned to the Youth Movement, which swept post-WWI Germany and defied age-old bourgeois mores.

Arnold, a prolific writer and respected theologian, had links to contemporaries Rosa Luxemburg, Martin Buber, Gustav Landauer, and Karl Barth. His vision is best expressed in his opus, Innerland, available from Plough Publishing.

Eberhard Arnold’s legacy is not confined to printed words, however; today, some two thousand members on three different continents continue the Bruderhof’s witness of radical Christian community.

New Video of Eberhard's Life

Part 1 of the Bruderhof History series


Eberhard Arnold's Report on the
History of the Bruderhof

Written in 1929


The mighty Baptizer movement which began in Switzerland in 1525 is recognized more and more clearly today as one of the strongest movements of the Reformation century. This means a great deal. Our modern nineteenth and twentieth century revivals have only very seldom approached the faith of Reformation times in their power from God and their effect on real life. A real leaving behind of the old life, a real beginning in a new form of life, of the kind that was strongest in the Hutterian Haushaben, or households, has taken place hardly anywhere.

In the Reformation century it was quite different. In the north, after the Münster catastrophe, Menno Simons gathered the reformation Anabaptists whose faith was in Christ and the Bible, the peace-minded, morally upright Baptizers. Similarly, in the south, already after the catastrophe of the Peasants' War, first Balthasar Hubmaier and, after his martyr death, Jacob Hutter and his followers, brought together many thousands of Christian Baptizers in a new way of life. Here they went a significant step further on the Christ-way of true fellowship than those in the north. Appealing powerfully to the New Testament, to Jesus' manner of life with His group of apostles, to His talk with the rich young man, to the Sermon on the Mount, and to Jesus' instructions to the twelve apostles on mission; appealing above all, however, to the fact of the great unanimous community of goods brought forth by the outpouring of the Spirit in the first Church in Jerusalem at Pentecost, they founded numerous Haushaben and Bruderhofs.

In each of these Haushaben [or households] lived several hundred persons without any personal property and without legal rights, in morally strict community of work, goods, and education. According to information from an opponent at that time, in the year 1588 these peaceful, communistic life-communities comprised over 17,000 members, big and small. In the opinion of scholars today, the influence of these Moravian living groups which had come together at more than eighty points in Moravia, extended to about 80,000 people in Bohemia, Hungary and Moravia, in Switzerland, the Rhineland, Hesse, Franconia, Silesia, South Germany, and particularly still further south, in the region of Enz, in Styria, and strongest of all in the Tirol.

Here the gospel of faith had the result, unprecedented in history, that Protestant, evangelical family life was combined with a monastic-like brotherly communism, with awe-inspiring achievement in work and with comprehensive missionary activity. The fact that it was possible for such a powerful movement to be suppressed can be explained solely by the threefold brutal force of the sword – in the violent persecutions and martyrdoms of two centuries, in the Thirty Years' War, and in the Turkish Wars.

Even today, faithful descendants of these Hutterians and their later followers, numbering more than three thousand persons, are living in South Dakota and in Canada as Hutterian Brothers in the same morally strict community of goods, taking a decided stand for peace as conscientious objectors and diligent in productive work. They confess the same Biblical truth of God and His gospel as that testified to by Peter Rideman, one of the earliest Hutterian leaders, in Hesse about the year 1540 in his "Confession of Faith" in concise clarity and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this same German countryside of Hesse a small beginning in this common life has newly arisen today. In the same inward spirit and outward form of life as that of the first Baptizer households or communities which gathered around Jacob Hutter and Peter Rideman, somewhat more than fifty big and small people live together here, united and harmonious, in one Bruderhof. It lies in the southern part of the district of Fulda, between the villages of Gundhelm, Veitsteinbach, Eichenried, Oberkalbach, and Heubach in Hesse at the foot of the Rhoen Mountains.

In this life community, joyful and serious spiritual striving is joined with strenuous physical work. During the summer the Bruderhof is sought out by large and small groups as well as individuals. On many a Sunday several meetings take place here, with lectures, talks, and many songs. Depending on the number of the visitors – mostly unexpected – up to one hundred or up to two hundred may take part on a Sunday, either in the dining room or in the courtyard surrounded by the buildings.

The Bruderhof members also travel around often to the nearby towns and villages, especially in the winter, to proclaim before one hundred to two hundred eagerly gathered listeners the redemption of the Cross and the way of Church-community. Evenings at the Bruderhof during the week, too, are often filled, deep into the night, by the liveliest discussions with seeking and struggling guests. Against the greatest variety of opinion and opposition, the little core group of twenty-eight consciously believing Christians, resolved to live as peace-minded and dedicated Baptizers, represents the truth of this way.

The Bruderhof community with its hospitality, however, does not have the purpose of a discussion or recreation center for guests, nor even that of earning income for the community. Rather, the purpose is to come to a full and animated community of work, transitory though it may be, to real uniting of all strength in common service to the great cause with the more than one thousand visitors who come to us in the course of the summer.

Women and girls help in the kitchen, the laundry, the sewing, the house cleaning, in the garden or in the harvest. Men and boys are put to work at forestry, wood-felling and chopping, building, or farm work. The Bruderhof members feel that the common work provides the best and quickest way of finding out whether a person is ready for (and capable of) true love and true fellowship of the Spirit. Work is considered here to be the crucial test to show whether one's faith is genuine. Only in the context of life does it come to light whether real life is there. Here the daily focus of experience is the fact that living and inspired work has its significant origin in faith. "Faith means life. True life is love. Love presses to action. There is no true action other than work. The action of love is work in common."

Thus the giving up of property and possessions, the giving up of all privileges, goods, and valuables to the common task is very, very essential here. But the money question, which is after all soon and quickly settled, is not really the main issue. That which is the basis of the goods and values that one gives collectively, completely, and fully to the community, is one's working strength. To give away your cloak when your coat is demanded is really in keeping with love. But putting in a second hour of work when the first is demanded is more than this! Before we can combat property, something deeper is necessary: the killing of selfishness, self-love, self-will, and self-importance. It is a matter of Gelassenheit, or surrender, which the old Baptizer writings have witnessed to so powerfully as the letting go of all things in fellowship with the Cross of Christ. It is therefore expected of each one who wants to enter such a fellowship that he gives up forever to this work his whole life including all property, all income, and all prospects and plans; above all, however, that he surrenders to it forever his voluntary obedience as well as his entire capacity for work.

The people who have found their way together on this basis beginning nearly ten years ago, first in Berlin, then in Sannerz, and now at the Bruderhof in the district of Fulda not far from Sannerz, come from the most varied walks of life and population groups of Germany. A good many of them are from academic and patrician families; others are from the working classes of human society. Some of them come from quiet and sedate middle-class officialdom, others again from the most moved youth groups with their high expectations and their revolutionary social and political ideals. Their ways have led them together from the most differing big cities, small towns, and villages. They have left publicly insured positions and salaries, teachers' positions, craftsmen's workshops, bookstores, businesses and offices. Out of the west, east, north, and south of Germany they have come together at their remote Rhoen Mountain.

Such opposing elements would never have been able to unite for the common satisfaction of their own necessities or out of human sympathy or imagined ideals! In the course of their inner development, some of them came from the evangelical revival Christianity of fellowship groups and Christian meetings, also from the Salvation Army, while the others come from modern religious skepticism, from romantic and pantheistic approaches, some even from an aversion to the Bible and from the most uncompromising atheism! To bring such opposing origins to that real unity and unanimity of faith, life, and activity on which this Bruderhof lays the highest value for the daily life of fellowship is something that can be done only by the direct and utterly undeserved action of God. The Bruderhof members confess that God himself has over and over again sent to them, as very small and poor men, His Holy Spirit and in Him His eternally living Word, His present Christ. In this way alone can their complete unanimity in all things be explained.

The religious experiences of this group have again and again meant decisions. By judgment and grace the individual is freed from all importance of his self-life, from every exaltation of his individuality, from all overestimation of his subjective feelings. The incarnation of God, the Word of Jesus and the prophets and apostles, the Cross and the resurrection, the victory of Christ over all demonic powers that separate and destroy, the unity of His Church and His coming Kingdom – this alone is the cause for which they want to live, believe, and love, and for which they take upon themselves suffering, poverty, and work.

The character of God's prophetic Kingdom, the future of Christ who shall come again – the future of love and justice – shall and can be lived now and here as a living Church-community! Where faith in Christ really directs men, God himself acts. He rules by overcoming men in Christ and bringing them to new life.

It is a matter of God's interests; and these interests of His are turned toward the whole world! Thus the work to be done here in the common life must stand open to all men. Because of this the religious, social character of the Bruderhof aims to make its opportunities for true fellowship available to all people who are in outward or inner need, regardless of the privations to its members.

In the first place, then, the children's community of the Bruderhof opens its newly built house, based on the best medical and educational principles, to all children, but especially to the youngest children and to those in greatest need. Thoroughly trained and experienced members of the Bruderhof devote themselves with joy and enthusiasm to these children. There are twenty needy children who have grown up and continue to grow up in the children's community of the Bruderhof with the ten children of member families from the earliest age onward. The children are guided, taught, and cared for in the first two years by a graduate baby nurse, in the next four years by a trained nursery or kindergarten teacher, and then for ten years by three women teachers and a handicrafts teacher. Their health needs are taken care of by the expert and trained hands of two nurses, one of whom is in charge of the babies and the other the housemother and household manager of the Bruderhof.

The school is accredited as an elementary or primary school and as intermediate school through the girls' lyceum or to the entrance examination for the 11th school year. The two oldest children of the children's community recently passed these examinations, including English and French, which means a future for the achievement of this school. For the older children the Bruderhof makes the best trainings available as manual workers, farmers, gardeners, for the calling of teacher or educator, nurse, doctor, and for home economics.

The main thing, however, is that a childlike spirit of joy in life prevails in the children's community and that among the children new movements of faith and of the love of Christ arise over and over again.

As in the case of the children, the same social-educational character of this community of life and work has its effect on the older co-workers and in a special degree on the youthful ones. Religious and social responsibility should be awakened in the work community, bringing about the most joyful dedication of all forces. The many-sided practical work in the course of the day at such a Bruderhof gives rich opportunity for this. The farm, comprising about 100 acres, the gardening and forestry with the wood-felling that belongs to it, the providing of heating fuel and the care of the livestock, as well as the work on new and old buildings, are mainly the work of the men and youths who are especially trained for it.

The household work including sewing, laundry, and baking of bread is in the hands of the women and girls; in particular the kitchen, which has to provide the common meals for the fifty to seventy people of the Bruderhof – children, co-workers, and guests. The office work, bookkeeping, correspondence, and publishing by the Eberhard Arnold Verlag, in which the "Quellen: Eine Lebensbücherei christlicher Zeugnisse aller Jahrhunderte" (Source Books of Christian Witnesses of All Centuries) are appearing, is carried out by trained persons, both men and women. The crafts, represented in the house building, the wagon smithy, the cabinet-making, saddlery (upholstery), and in a children's training shop for handicrafts – turnery, metal, and paper work--are done by qualified young men.

There are about the same number of men as women, as many boys as girls at the settlement. Strong emphasis is laid on moral discipline and purity. Of the twenty-eight members carrying the responsibility in conscious faith, all of whom are baptized on faith or are decided for the baptism of faith, eight are married so far, making four couples in the Church community.

Up to now the Brotherhood has had a hard time financially. The weakest point of this Bruderhof is its indebtedness. From the beginning it was so poor that it had to take upon itself the severest privations. Even though a good proportion of the members gave up well-paid positions and in some cases small properties for the sake of this conviction, still their combined means was hardly worth mentioning for the acquisition of the two small farms, for the building of the new children's house and two auxiliary buildings as well as a new story for the family house and the necessary establishment of facilities for the different work departments. This propertyless property of land, houses, animals, and tools could become dangerous for the community unless all members have the unconquerable faith that drastic financial help will be given at the decisive moment.

The heaviest burden in the eight and a half years of our common life has been the unlimited, unpaid hospitality and the taking in of very poor children. The hard work that is being done on all sides here, often late into the night, the growing trust on the part of the government and in Christian circles is the outward mark that shows that faith will overcome these beginning difficulties. At the Bruderhof no doubt of this can arise. They have the certainty that they stand before great tasks for the world. Their circle of believers is convinced that the hour has now come anew in which the truth of Christ and the apostles, the proclamation of the discipleship of Jesus and of true life in Church community, the renewal of the radical Anabaptism in Reformation times, shall start anew. "God wills it, and it shall happen!" This is the conviction of the Bruderhof members.

(January 1929)