Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was among the most eligible bachelors in eighteenth-century Europe—wealthy, intelligent, charming, handsome. And utterly devoted to Jesus Christ. After finishing studies at the University of Paris, he spent a year touring Europe and, in the process, became ill in Castell. There he fell in love with eighteen-year-old Theodora von Castell. He proposed to her, and she replied, saying, “If God should incline me to it more than at present, I will not resist.”

Zinzendorf wasn’t sure what to make of those words, but he gave the impression the two were virtually engaged. He resumed his travels, only to be waylaid again, this time by high water. He took the occasion to visit his close friend, Count Henry von Reuss; and as the two talked, Reuss admitted that he, too, was looking for a girl to marry. Zinzendorf said (in effect), “Well, what about Theodora? To be honest, she didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about marrying me. Why don’t you have a go at it?” Henry hesitated, saying, “But she’s your fiancée!” Zinzendorf nevertheless took his friend to Castell where Henry and Theodora promptly fell in love and married.

Zinzendorf, though magnanimous, was miserable. He spent hours studying the Old and New Testaments on the subject of marriage, celibacy, and God’s will. And his eyes were opened.

They were opened to Henry’s sister—Countess Erdmuthe Dorothea von Reuss, whom he had met while detained by the high waters. Erdmuthe loved Christ, and in her Zinzendorf found a soul mate. They were engaged on August 16, 1722. On that day the young count wrote a hymn of praise to God and a letter of intent to Erdmuth’s mother, saying: I foresee many difficulties in this case; as I am but a poor acquisition for any person, and the dear Countess Erdmuth must not only enter upon a life of self-denial with me, but also co-operate with me in my principal design, namely, to assist me in gaining souls for Christ. …

And that’s exactly what they did—from their marriage on September 7, 1722, until the Countess’s death in 1756.

What if I could have sixty queens, eighty wives, and thousands of others! You would be my only choice, my flawless dove, the favorite child of your mother. The young women, the queens, and all the others tell how excited you are as they sing your praises. (Song of Songs 6:8,9)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 16.

*The picture in the header was taken by Jorg Blobelt. Licensing permissions can be found here.

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