Among the most influential individuals in the early formation of the group that came to be known as Brethren was Ernest Christoph Hochman von Hochenau who became the most virulent spokesman for the Separtist wing of the Pietist movement in the early 1700s. Influenced by Gottried Arnold and Hermann Franke, Hochman gave up a promising law career to become an itinerant preacher traveling the European countryside. He was a persuasive preacher who roamed the countryside preaching to both nobleman and commoner alike the power of the Gospel. His message that the only true church was a spiritual one that was separated from the organized church and governmental influence was one that resulted in his frequent arrest and expulsion by the three state churches.
Hochman had a powerful influence on both Alexander Mack and Peter Becker, early Brethren leaders. Mack invited Hochman in 1706 to visit Schriesheim, Germany and the mill he operated to meet with a small group of friends for bible study and prayer. Local officials broke up the meeting threatening to have them arrested. Mack in turned moved to the village of Schwarzenau where he found more freedom to worship outside the established state churches.
Mack also joined Hochman briefly in 1707 for a preaching tour to encourage the Pietists that took them near Switzerland. When Hockman was arrested and imprisoned, the Pietists in Schwarzenau looked to Mack for leadership. In 1708 when a small group led by Mack decided to be rebaptized in violation of state law, they turned to Hochman for counsel who suggested that they "count well the cost."
As a condition for release from the prison of Detmold Castle, Hochman was required to state in writing his religious beliefs. This Detmold Confession provides us a clearer understanding of many of the beliefs of the early Brethren. It shows his belief in an almighty omnipresent God to whom we must humbly submit ourselves. He speaks clearly that baptism is for adults and not for children, that Christ is the head of the church and that we must follow in deed and truth.
However, Mack and Hochman differed on one major belief. Hochman did not believe it necessary to have an organized church while Mack and his followers chose to follow a New Testament model of an organized church.
Hochman spent the latter years of his life in quiet retreat in Schwarenau, living in a simple hut and visiting those seeking spiritual counsel. He died in early January 1721. In the months before his death Mack and the Schwarzenau congregation numbering about 200 moved to Holland on their way eventually to the New Land in America, where Peter Becker had led an earlier emigration the previous year.
Ernest Christoph Hochman von Hochenau, a spiritual counselor to the early Brethren.