Online Encyclopedia

PIETISM

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 594 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PIETISM, a movement in the Lutheran Church, which arose towards the end of the 17th and continued during the first half of the following century. The name of Pietists was given to the adherents of the movement by its enemies as a term of ridicule, like that of " Methodists " somewhat later in England. The Lutheran Church had, in continuing Melanchthon's attempt to construct the evangelical faith as a doctrinal system, by the 17th century become a creed-bound theological and sacramentarian institution, which orthodox theologians like Johann Gerhard of Jena (d. 1637) ruled with almost the absolutism of the papacy. Christian faith had been dismissed from its seat in the heart, where Luther had placed it, to the cold regions of the intellect. The dogmatic formularies of the Lutheran Church had usurped the position which Luther himself had assigned to the Bible alone, and as a consequence only they were studied and preached, while the Bible was neglected in the family, the study, the pulpit and the university. Instead of advocating the priesthood of all believers, the Lutheran pastors had made themselves a despotic hierarchy, while they neglected their practical pastoral work. In the Reformed Church, on the other hand, the influence of Calvin had made less for doctrine than the practical formation of Christian life. The presbyterian constitution gave the people a share in church life which the Lutherans lacked, but it involved a dogmatic legalism which imperilled Christian freedom and fostered self-righteousness. As forerunners of the Pietists in the strict sense, not a few earnest and powerful voices had been heard bewailing the shortcomings of the Church and advocating a revival of practical and devout Christianity. Amongst them were Jakob Boehme (Behmen), the theosophic mystic; Johann Arndt, whose work on True Christianity became widely known and appreciated; Heinrich Muller, who described the font, the pulpit, the confessional and the altar as the four dumb idols of the Lutheran Church; the theologian, Johann Valentin Andrea, the court chaplain of the landgrave of Hesse; Schuppius, who sought to restore to the Bible its place in the pulpit; and Theophilus Grossgebauer (d. 1661) of Rostock, who from his pulpit and by his writings raised " the alarm cry of a watchman in Sion." The direct originator of the movement was Philip Jacob Spener, who combined the Lutheran emphasis on Biblical doctrine with the Reformed tendency to vigorous Christian life. Born at Rappoltsweiler, in Alsace on the 13th of, January 1635, trained by a devout godmother, who used books of devotion like Arndt's True Christianity, accustomed to hear the sermons of a pastor who preached the Bible more than the Lutheran creeds, Spener was early convinced of the necessity of a moral and religious reformation of the German Church. He studied theology, with a view to the Christian ministry, at Strassburg, where the professors at the time (and especially Sebastian Schmidt) were more inclined to practical Christianity than to theological disputation. He afterwards spent a year in Geneva, and was powerfully influenced by the strict moral life and rigid ecclesiastical discipline prevalent there, and also by the preaching and the piety of the Waldensian professor, Antoine Leger, and the converted Jesuit preacher, Jean de Labadie.' During a stay in Tubingen he read Grossgebauer's Alarm Cry, and in 1666 he entered upon his first pastoral charge at Frankfort-on-the-Main, profoundly impressed with a sense of the danger of the Christian life being sacrificed to zeal for rigid orthodoxy. Pietism, as a distinct movement in the German Church, was then originated by Spener by religious meetings at his house (collegia pietatis), at which he repeated his sermons, expounded passages of the New Testament, and induced those present to join in conversatien on religious questions that arose. They gave rise to the name " Pietists." In 1675 Spener published his Pia desideria, cr Earnest Desires for a Reform of the True Evangelical Church. In this publication he made six proposals as the best means of restoring the life of the Church: (I) the earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings, ecclesiolae in ecclesia; 1 Labadie had formed the ascetic and mystic sect of "The Regenerati " in the Church of Holland (c. 1660), and then in other parts of the Reformed Church. the work of the Church, against the assumptions and despotism of an arrogant clergy. " It was," says Rudolf Sohm, " the last great surge of the waves of the ecclesiastical movement begun by the Reformation; it was the completion and the final form of the Protestantism created by the Reformation. Then came a time when another intellectual power took possession of the minds of men." Some writers on the history of Pietism—e.g. Heppe and Ritschl—have included under it nearly all religious tendencies amongst Protestants of the last three centuries in the direction of a more serious cultivation of personal piety than that prevalent in the various established churches. Ritschl, too, treats Pietism as a retrograde movement of Christian life towards Catholicism. Some historians also speak of a later or modern Pietism, characterizing thereby a party in the German Church which was probably at first influenced by some remains of Spener's Pietism in Westphalia, on the Rhine, in Wurttemberg, and at Halle and Berlin. The party was chiefly distinguished by its opposition to an independent scientific study of theology, its principal theological leader being Hengstenberg, and its chief literary organ the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung. The party originated at the close of the wars with Napoleon I. Amongst older works on Pietism are J. G. Walch, Historische and theologische Einleitung in die Religionsstreitigkeiten der evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche (1730); A. Tholuck, Geschichte des Pietismus and des ersten Stadiums der Aufklarung (1865); H. Schmid, Die Geschichte des Pietismus (1863) ; M. Goebel, Geschichte des christlichen Lebens in der Rheinisch-Westfalischen Kirche (3 vols., 1849—186o) ; and the subject is dealt with at length in J. A. Dorner's and W. Gass's Histories of Protestant theology. More recent are Heppe's Geschichte des Pietismus and der Mystik in der reformirten Kirche (1879), which is sympathetic; A. Ritschl's Geschichte des Pietismus (3 vols., 188o-1886), which is hostile; and C. Sachsse, Ursprung and Wesen des Pietismus (1884). See also Fr. Nippold's article in Theol. Stud. and Kritiken (1882), pp. 347—392; H. von Schubert, Outlines of Church History, ch. xv. (Eng. trans., 1907) ; and Carl Mirbt's article, " Pietismus," in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopadie fur Prot. Theologie u. Kirche, end of vol. xv.
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