Zinnendorf, Johann Wilhelm Von
Few men made more noise in German Freemasonry, or had warmer friends or more bitter enemies, than Johann Wilhelm Ellenberger, who, in consequence of his adoption by his mother's brother, took subsequently the title of Von Zinnendorf, by which he is universally known. He was born at Halle, August 10, 1731.
He was initiated into Freemasonry at the place of his birth. He afterward removed to Berlin, where he received the appointment of General Staff Sturgeon and chief of the medical corps of the army. There he joined the Lodge of the Three Globes, and became an ardent disciple of the Rite of Strict Observance, in which he took the Order name of Eques lapide nigro or Knight of the Black Stone. He was elected Master of the Scottish Lodge. He had the absolute control of the funds of the Order, but refusing to render any account of the disposition which he had made of them, an investigation was commenced. Upon this, Zinnendorf withdrew from the Rite, and sentence of excommunication was immediately afterward pronounced against him. Zinnendorf in return declared the Strict Observance of imposture, and denounced its theory of the Templar origin of Freemasonry as false.
In the meantime, Zinnendorf sent his friend Hans Carl Baumann to Stockholm, that he might receive manuscripts of the Degrees of the Swedish system, which had been promised him by Carl Friederich von Eckleff, Scottish Grand Master of the Chapter in that city. Baumann returned with the manuscripts, which, however, it appears from a subsequent declaration made by the Duke of Sudermania, were very imperfect.
But, imperfect as they were, out of them Zinnendorf constructed a new Rite in opposition to the Strict Observance. Possessed of great talent and energy, and his enemies said, of but little scrupulousness as to means, he succeeded in attracting to him many friends and followers. In 1766, he established at Potsdam the Lodge Minerval, and in 1767, at Berlin, the Lodge of the Three Golden Keys, Freemasons were found to give him countenance and assistance in other places, so that on June 24, 1770, twelve Lodges of his system were enabled to unite in the formation of a Body which they called the Grand Lodge of all the Freemasons of Germany. The success of this Body, under the adverse circumstances by which it was surrounded, can only be attributed to the ability and energy of its founder, as well as to the freedom with which he made use of every means for its advancement without any reference to their want of firmness.
Having induced the Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt to accept the Grand Mastership, he succeeded, through his influence, in obtaining the recognition and Chance of the Grand Lodge of England in 1773; but that Body seven y ears after withdrew from the connection. In 1774, Zinnendorf secured the Protectorship of the King of Prussia for his Grand Lodge. Thus patronized, the Grand Lodge of Germany rapidly extended its influence and increased in growth, so that in 1778 it had thirty-four Lodges under its immediate jurisdiction, and Provincial Lodges were established in Austria, Silesia, Pomerania, Lower Saxony, and Russia. Findel explains this great accession of strength by supposing that it could only have been the consequence of an ardent desire of the Gertnan Freemasons to obtain the promised revelations of the advanced Degrees of this system of Zinnendorf.
Zinnendorf had been elected Grand Master in 1774, an office he held until his death. But he had various difficulties to encounter in that period of authority. He found an active and powerful antagonist in the Lodge Royal York, at Berlin. The Duke of Sudermania, Grand Master of Sweden, issued an official document in 1777 and declared that the Warrant which had been granted by Eckleff to Zinnendorf, and on the strength of which he had founded his Grand Lodge, was spurious and unauthorized; the Grand Lodge of Sweden pronounced him to be a fomenter of disturbances and an insolent calumniator of the Swedish Grand Master, and in 1780 the Grand Lodge of England withdrew from its alliance.
But Zinnendorf was undismayed. Having quit the service of the government in 1779, he made a journey to Sweden in an unsuccessful effort to secure all the documents connected with the Swedish system. Returning hence he continued to preside over the Grand Lodge with unabated zeal and undiminished vigor until his death, which took place June 6, 1782. Von Zinnendorf undoubtedly committed many errors, but we cannot withhold from him the praise of having earnestly sought to introduce into German Freemasonry a better system than the one which was prevailing in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.
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