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Schönherr, the son of a non-commissioned officer at Memel in Prussia, was educated at the university of Königsberg, where at that time the theological faculty, under the influence of Kantian idealism, was strongly rationalist in tendency. The lad, who was miserably poor, was dissatisfied with a philosophy which stopped short of an explanation of the "thing in itself," and, having been reared in the strictest orthodoxy, set to work to develop, with the aid of the Bible, a philosophy of his own. In the end he believed himself to have reached ultimate knowledge, and became the prophet of a dualistic theosophy so closely analogous to Gnosticism that it might have been taken for a deliberate revival, had not Schönherr's lack of study in such theology precluded any such idea.
Among his converts was Ebel, who from 1810 onwards gained a great reputation in Königsberg as an earnest preacher of the orthodox doctrines of "sin, grace and redemption, and in 1816 was appointed "archdeacon," i.e. principal pastor, at the old church in Königsberg. In the pulpit he was orthodox; but he gathered about him a select circle of the initiated, to whom in private he taught Schönherr's doctrines. Schönherr himself sank into the background, and eventually died in 1826. But Ebel continued his teaching, and was joined in 1827 by Heinrich Diestel, also a Lutheran pastor of Königsberg. They became father confessors to a wide circle of fashionable people in the Prussian capital. In view of their peculiar teaching as to "the purification of the flesh," which involved the minute regulation of the intercourse of married people, scandal was inevitable. Matters came to a head in 1835, when Count Finckenstein, himself formerly an initiate, denounced the two pastors and accused them of immorality.
Diestel wrote two violent tirades against the count, who brought an action for slander and won it. The group itself was dissolved in 1839. The evidence taken in the case was then laid before the consistory, and proceedings followed which became famous as the Königsberger Religionsprozess (1835–1841), ending in sentences of deprivation on both Ebel and Diestel. The charges of actual immorality were dismissed; but there is no doubt that some of their followers established practices akin to those of the Agapemone and the Perfectionists. Some of them migrated to Brazil, where in 1874 at Porto Alegre a company of them came into collision with the military.
1911 Britannica ReferencesEdit
- J. I. Mombert, Faith Victorious (London, 1882).
- Hepworth Dixon, Spiritual Wives (1868).
- Paul Tschackert, article on Schönherr, by in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie (3rd. ed., Leipzig, 1906), xvii. 676.