PIEPER LECTURES 1998
Concordia Historical Institute & the Luther Academy
September 17-18, 1998
"THE ROOTS AND FRUITS OF PIETISM"
Ronald R. Feuerhahn
Pietism has been, and continues to be, one of, if not the most, influential movement within Lutheranism but also in the traditionally Reformed churches and even within Roman Catholic history, e.g. in the form of Jansenism. One historian has asserted that, "...the dominant influence among Lutherans in North America was pietistic." Like similar movements it has often caused controversy: it has brought comfort to some and consternation to others.
Our examination of the movement will be focused on the life, theology and practice of Philipp Jakob Spener, the so-called "Father of Pietism."
1 Formative Influences
Philip Jakob Spener was from Strasbourg. That city represents a number of "roots" for the life and thought of Spener. It was the place, for instance, were Martin Bucer had worked and Johann Arndt had studied. But first of all, it was here that he knew Dannhauer, his teacher, who, we are told, "acquainted Spener with Luther's writings." Johann Konrad Dannhauer was a theologian of Lutheran orthodoxy who had himself studied at Strasbourg (1623-25) as well as other places. At the University of Jena, for instance, he came to know John Gerhard. By 1633 he was professor of theology at the University of Strasbourg where he became the most influential theological of his century.
The link between Spener and Dannhauer interests us because, as we will discuss later, their relationship represents that between Pietism and Orthodoxy. Spener was very fond of his teacher who, according to Spener himself, was the professor of theology who influenced him most. In Pia Desideria, for instance, he says: "I hardly know anything better to recommend than the Christeis of my distinguished teacher, the sainted Dr. John Conrad Dannhauer."
The university at Strasbourg was considered a "citadel of Lutheranism" after its founding in 1621. But before that the theology of the Reformed tradition was dominant and had an abiding influence. The predecessor school was the place of Martin Bucer (1491-1551), Wolfgang Capito (1478-1541), Caspar Hedio (1494-1552), and Jakob Sturm (1489-1553). These four were the authors of the oldest Reformed symbol in German, the Confessio Tetrapolitana, or "Confession of the Four States," which was presented at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Bucer and Capito had represented the Reformed position at the Wittenberg Concord in 1536. Under the influence of Sturm, the school at Strasbourg was established "in a spirit of supra-confessional Christian humanism." Though Sturm, and later other Reformed theologians (e.g. Peter Martyr Vermingli), were expelled from Strasbourg, the new Lutheran influences were "influenced by Bucer and Calvinism."
b Bucer et al
The question of influence of Martin Bucer of Strasbourg (d. 1551) upon Spener is an open one. Bucer died in 1551, one century before Spener matriculated in the university there. Spener's view of the pastoral office resembles that of Bucer. Indeed, Bucer's emphasis upon the mutuality of the Christian life, and practice of "mutual edification" in group meetings at Strasbourg in the 1540's, may in some sense have furnished a model to Spener. August Lang presents the thesis that through Puritanism and especially though William Perkins, there is a connection from Bucer to Spener. In 1546 Bucer began the "christliche Gemeinschaften" which would be the model for the later conventicles. In Spener's time, Bucer's original memorial to the town council of Strasbourg regarding this venture was reprinted under the title: "Defense of the so-called Collegiorum pietatis" in 1691 and 1692.
Puritanism arose roughly one century before the birth of Pietismin the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It was also contemporary with Jansenism in France. Such movements of revival of moral and religious fervor produced great leaders: John Bunyan, the English Puritan, Nicholas Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravians, John Wesley of the Methodists, Gilbert Tennent for Presbyterians in America and Blaise Pascal of the Jansenists. There appears to have been some connection in these movements, a common emphasis on morality or sanctification. In the post-Reformation era, this emphasis which had been there already in Calvin, seems to have followed a trail of Reformed sites. From the England of returned Marian exiles, the fathers of Puritanism, to Holland, then to France and Switzerland, and finally to Germany and Scandinavia, the thread runs. Spener had personal and other contacts with representatives of the Swiss, French, and Dutch movements.
Ever since his youth Spener had read translations of the devotional writings of the English Puritans: First was Lewis Bayly's Practice of Piety (1610) and Emmanuel Sonthomb's Golden Jewel. Later he was introduced to other Puritan works by his brother-in-law and mentor, Joachim Stoll, who, in 1647, became court preacher in Rappoltsweiler, Spener's birthplace. Stoll had drawn attention to Daniel Dycke's Nosce te ipsum (Know Yourself) and True Repentance. It may have been Stoll's intention to balance the otherworldliness of Bayly and Sonthomb with a more churchly emphasis in Dycke and Johann Arndt.
Later in his ministry in Frankfurt, in the collegia, which he started in 1670, passages were read from Bayly's Practice of Piety. At one time Spener expressed a preference of Lewis Bayly over Johann Gerhard, an opinion which brought Stoll's disapproval.
The works by Bayly and Sonthomb were particularly popular in Strasbourg at this time; these two devotional books, "despite the strong anti-Calvinistic sentiment in Lutheran Orthodoxy, had permeated Lutheranism in the first half of the century and found their way into Strassburg piety." All of these devotional books by English Puritans were critical of conventional Christianity.
After he completed his theological studies in the summer of 1659, Spener spent two years in travel. He spent varying lengths of time in Basel, Bern, Lausanne, and Geneva in Switzerland, Lyons and Montebéliard in France, and Freiburg and Tübingen in Germany.
At Geneva Spener "became acquainted with the polity and inner life of the Reformed Church. He always considered himself to be a Lutheran. But he was less interested in doctrine than in practical piety." In Geneva, "the Lutheran theology he had willingly imbibed at Strasbourg was fertilized by Calvinism... Though he remained a zealous Lutheran [sic. ?], Spener too was warm in his admiration for Geneva."
Here Spener often went to hear Jean de Labadie (1610-1674), zealous French Reformed preacher. The fact that Spener had one of Labadie's French tracts published in a German translation about six years later suggests that his had been a lasting impression. Labadie attempted to found a new church of the regenerate, on the primitive model. It is likely that he may have derived form him some suggestions toward his later concept of the ecclesiola or little church of true saints.
e Reformed "Leaven"
The "progression" of the these revival movements (or perhaps it was basically one movement) had another common factor. It was a movement within the Reformed churches England, Netherlands, France and Switzerland, before it reached German Lutheranism. There were, of course, differences from place to place. The protest against episcopacy and liturgy which was a prominent feature of English dissent, for instance, had no meaning to the Reformed churches on the continent. On the other hand, for "Lutheran" Pietists there was a concern about the "formalism" of liturgy. Unlike the Puritans and the revival movement in the Netherlands the Pietists of Germany did not seek ecclesiastical reforms.
The Pietists of Lutheranism were clearly influenced by Reformed theology and piety. The final result of this Reformed leaven "was an emotionalism which deprecated the power of the means of grace as such and stressed spiritual exercises as being more important."
f Johann Arndt (1555-1621) & Mysticism
German Lutherans were made receptive to these influences from abroad by two elements which they inherited form the age of Orthodoxy. On the one hand, there had been a revival of mysticism in the Lutheran church during the seventeenth century. The most influential Lutheran writer of mystical literature was Johann Arndt, whose book of sermons on the gospels, the Postilla, was the occasion for Spener's major writing, the Pia Desideria of 1675.
That Johann Arndt had a strong influence is almost too obvious for comment. Perhaps our first question, however, is: What do we make of Arndt? If, as some might assert, his influence on Spener and others of such revival movements indicates a more internal, subjective and less doctrinal piety, his impact, then, is less than Lutheran. But in his life we find evidences of a very Lutheran consciousness. In 1590, for instance, he left Badeborn (Anhalt) because he would not yield to the Reformed ordinances of the duke. He was a close friend of Johann Gerhard, with whom he had much in common. In what way does a man with such "orthodox credentials" come to be so influential for a movement which is said to have disavowed the chief emphases of Orthodoxy?
Arndt's Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum (ET True Christianity), a devotional book (1606-09), was the first German Lutheran devotional books for the common people. Next to Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ it was the most widely circulated devotional books. Toward the close of his life he explained why he wrote it:
It contained an appeal for sanctification and called for repentance. It condemned "mere theory" and the "art of disputation." Here, in True Christianity, were found such medieval notions as the imitation of Christ and contempt for this world; these emphases helped prepare the way for Pietism. Arndt's aim was to induce theologians and lay people to turn from controversy to fellowship and charity, and from the confessions of faith [fides quae creditur] to faith itself [fides qua creditur]. He held it essential to add holiness of life to purity of doctrine. Arndt has passages that accord with salient ideas of Pietism.
Offense was taken at the manner in which he quite unhesitatingly accepted medieval and other mystics (e.g., Bernard of Clairvaux); also at his emphasis on sanctification. Some of his critics asserted that he put an emotional type of piety into the place of a Lutheran Christianity based on the Word and on faith.
g "Early" Luther
Spener's citation of Luther is noticeably weighted to the early Luther, pre-1525, or in the period of the more pronounced anti-Roman polemic or the time when Luther was still struggling with his own Roman piety. "The pietists found fault with Luther's boldness and obvious enjoyment of life, with his occasional violence and carelessness in speech, with his biblical criticism and concern about doctrine." Some pietists held that while Luther and the Reformation had indeed corrected matters of doctrinal error, they had not completed the task with regard to life and worship. We will discuss this later, for instance, under the title of "The Second Reformation."
The Germany of the 17th century was dominated by the Thirty Years War. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 brought a welcome relief and has been assigned by some scholars as the threshold of the Modern Era. The war has been referred to as "the last of the religious wars and the first of the great conflicts of modern times." It also provided for legal recognition of the Calvinists. This had been secured through the demands of the Elector of Brandenburg. There had been an expansion of the Reformed at the close of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries into territories, e.g. Anhalt, Baden, Hessen, Brandenburg, which had previously been Lutheran. Whether the Peace of Westphalia provided for or was an indication of the rising power of the Reformed confessionalist is debatable. But it was at least an indicator of the growth of Reformed strength and influence which would come to dominate German Protestantism by the end of World War II.
b Thirty Years War
The birth of Pietism came in the period of, or at least immediately following, the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). It was one of the most devastating wars of European history which inflicted its moral as well as material deterioration particularly on Germany. It has been observed that the main causes of Pietist, "are undoubtedly to be found in the conditions following the Thirty Years' War, when a generation of people which had become estranged form an orderly church life had to be trained in the faith and in the ordinances of the Church." It might be asserted that the history of the church has been marked by movements of reaction following periods of conflict which are marked by a turning away from dogma and confessions, as causes of conflict, toward a more subjective and inward piety.
c Church Life
During the seventeenth century there had been repeated complaints about the decay of church life, and these were accompanied by pleas for reform. Nor were the Pietists the only ones calling for reform. Many noted Orthodox leaders had voiced the plea before: John Valentine Andreae (1586-1643), grandson of Jakob, co-author of the Formula of Concord, "criticized the contentiousness of theologians, the interference of princes in the affairs of the church, and the religious illiteracy of the people while he engaged actively in social reform." Balthasar Meisner (1587-1626), professor in Wittenberg and an unrelenting contender against Calvinism, lectured about the shortcomings of the clergy and civil rulers. Above all, at least in stature among the Orthodox fathers, Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), called the "Archtheologian of Lutheranism," called for reform. His Sacred Meditations, was translated into all major European languages and attained a circulation next in order to the Bible and Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ.
Theodore Tappert describes how class distinctions were manifest even in the churches. There was often a distinction of seating in the church. "The upper classes often insisted on having their baptisms, weddings, funerals, and communions in private (whether in the church or at home)." The clergy, especially court chaplains, "became as obsequious toward their rulers as other courtiers."
Interconfessional polemics was prominent at this time. This was particularly unpleasant for the Pietists, as, noted above, it had been for Arndt.
It has become almost a commonplace to describe Pietism as a reaction to the period of Orthodoxy. Thus one can read about Pietism that it was, "a movement of the late 17th and early 18th centuries against the prevailing orthodoxism." However, the writer does add: "in spite of the fact that men like Arndt, Herberger, and Nicolai tried to combine full orthodoxy and spiritual life." There are a few scholars who, on the other hand, challenge that widespread assumption, Bengt Hägglund, for one. Tappert's description of this reaction is perhaps typical:
Arndt had noted it in his day:
Tappert offered a rather optimistic interpretation:
Partly as a consequence of the Thirty Years' War, partly as a reaction to the polemical stance of many of the Orthodox theologians, but chiefly because of the emphasis on sanctification over justification, the role of doctrine was demoted.
The emphasis on "pure teaching" seems to some observers to have been almost a unique feature of the Orthodox. It is sometimes associated with the controversial and polemical character of the age. Of course it was there in Luther and the 16th century as well!
Pietism has focused the church's attention on sanctification. That is not unique; there is a common thread in the church's history of such movements, Puritanism and Methodism to name but two. Such movements were in part a reaction to an apparent or real lack of piety in the church. As a corrective to the situation of the time, these movements gave an emphasis to the Christian life, usually to the neglect of doctrine. In fact one might say that for the Pietists the following slogan is appropriate: "Life verses doctrine." It was a movement which asserted the primacy of feeling in Christian experience.
b Practical Christianity, Living Faith, Fruits of Faith
One way of expressing the aim of sanctification was in terms of "living," "fruits," or "practical Christianity." Martin Schmidt, a leading scholar on Pietism, describes this.
c fides qua creditur
This shift of emphasis effectively places the Law in a position over the Gospel in the sense of giving chief attention to man's subjective faith over the external faith.
d Second Reformation
Pietism's "avowed purpose was to bring about a second reformation." This has been discussed in detail by Carter Lindberg. The first Reformation was seen as incomplete.
This was also a common view of the Reformed, according to Hermann Sasse. Lutheranism was conceived, especially by Reformed Churches, as a "form" of Evangelical Christianity, a "school" or "branch" of the Reformation church. For example, John George Schmucker, the father of Samuel Simon, says in his Prophetic History:
FRUITS & CONSEQUENCES
1 Prolegomena & Authority
Pietism fostered a shift in epistemology, that is, how we "know" things, especially, but not limited to, the area of religion.
This analysis has been supported by Hägglund.
b Word of God
While the Pietists gave great emphasis to Bible reading, nevertheless the Scriptures were viewed differently than had been in the church of the Lutheran Reformation.
In Lutheranism, the confessions have a role of authority second only to the Scriptures. But like the Scriptures, they too are an external authority. Furthermore, the Confessions, as fides quae creditur, are seen as marginal in importance, especially as they also confess negative propositions about the declarations of others.
d Authority of Doctrine & Theology:
The Pietist view of doctrine may be understood as very modern. Once again, doctrine is an external thing; furthermore, it and the theological endeavor in general are perceived are intellectual activities which had little appeal for the Pietists.
There have been various theologies based on consciousness; Pietism has been one. It, for instance, had a marked influence on Friedrich Schleiermacher, called the "Father of Modern Theology," and a Pietist of a "higher order."
a Rationalism & the Aufklärung (Enlightenment), e.g. Halle University
It can be said that Pietism prepared the way for rationalism and the Enlightenment. Bengt Hägglund has observed this.
In fact, by its emphasis on the subject (away from the objective), it became the fertile soil "for several modern movements: Neology, rationalism, Enlightenment, romanticism." This was illustrated at the Pietist University of Halle; as Pietism had cleared the dogmatic spirits of the day out of Halle, so they left the doors open for the even more evil spirits of Rationalism. "Pietism broke the hold of orthodoxy, but in so doing left the intellectual field in Germany and Scandinavia open to the inroads of English deism and French skepticism."
Robert Handy stated this in a very similar way:
b Prussian Union
Pietism also fostered the Prussian Union. It was among three movements which "allowed" the Union to be effected, Nationalism, Rationalism and Pietism.
This was also observed by Hermann Sasse in one of his most forceful critiques of the Reformed influences on Lutheranism.
It was clear that Christian experience was not limited to Lutherans, and since experience was stressed rather than doctrine, denominational differences tended to be disregarded.
There were three features of pietistic ecclesiology which are prominent.
Less importance was attached to the church; it was viewed as an mere institution. The organized church was often criticized as "Babylon, as corrupt, and the formation of conventicles (ecclesiolae in ecclesia) had the effect of taking individuals or groups of individuals out of the larger community of Christians.
b Baptism & Confirmation
In his Pia Desideria, Spener made a very Lutheran confession of baptism.
On the other hand, infant baptism had less meaning. Pietists stressed the need for a conversion experience; baptism continued to be observed but was supplanted by the rite of confirmation.
c Confession & Absolution
I assume that Dr. Krispin will be dwelling on this topic. I therefore offer only this summary description and comments on it.
There was a move, then, away private to a general, public confession. Even here we can note evidences of Pietist influence. This can be observed in some forms of Confession and Absolution, e.g.:
Perhaps an even more telling form of pietistic practice is found in the following form of absolution [?]; it begins in the declarative statement, no uncommon in Lutheran rites:
Now notice what is added immediately in the very next sentence:
The words following seem a weak attempt to recover the full promise and joy of the absolution offered so recently.
Here the Pietists may have attempted to address a concern even expressed by "more orthodox" Lutherans: "Can the pastor responsibly pronounce the forgiveness of sins in such a blanket manner or in such a public (contra private) setting?" The problem became real when the church lost the practice of private confession and absolution.
d Lord's Supper
In the same way that Spener had offered a Lutheran confession of baptism (above), so he also spoke of the Sacrament of the Altar.
"Occasionally pietists showed reluctance to receive Communion, either because they felt that they were themselves unworthy or because they were unwilling to receive it with unworthy people or at the hands of unworthy ministers." The reluctance could perhaps explain that in parts of Estonia and Latvia it has been customary to commune only once a year.
e The Office
Pietism sought to transform the minister's office, "making him a shepherd of souls and a preacher of salvation, not simply an administrator of sacraments and a protector of pure doctrine." This conforms with the overall aims of Pietism: an emphasis on the internal will detract from, neglect and reshape the theology and practice especially of the holy office and sacraments. For these are external gifts of God.
Repentance occupied a dominant place in the theology and life of the pietists. The emphasis on the inner life encouraged, even demanded, serious and constant self-examination. This "self-analysis...cast them on the iron couch of introspection."
This was very indicative of a shift in theology which in turn had practical consequences, i.e. that it placed the believers right back under the law.
All of these changes reflect the shift of accent from institution to individual, from outward act to inner experience.
g Forensic Justification - Regeneration
Pietism expressed many of its concerns in what I describe as an "adverbial" manner: e.g., " Do you really repent?" This question was especially with reference to confession itself. (See above) "Are you really saved? The same may be observed in much "Evangelical" piety today. Arthur Repp noted that Spener "looked for some means by which he as pastor could deal with the individual to assure himself that his parishioner was truly converted."
Spener fostered a tradition of mystical spiritualism.
Thus there was a shift away from forensic, justification talk. This came under the influence of Eastern Christian ascetic tradition and elements of mysticism in the West.
This "most important" shift is further explained in the following:
h Luther & the Pietists on Regeneration:
On an important point which separated Luther from the Pietists, Martin Schmidt, a leading German scholar on Pietism, wrote the following:
While most of confessional Lutheranism has recognized that many of the concerns of the Pietists have been good, and many of the fruits can be appreciated, nevertheless the close examination of its theology and its consequence must bring us to a clear refutation (Titus 1:9; 2 Timothy 3:16) of its errors.
I have overlooked some of its more positive accomplishments, e.g.
But by its very aims, in terms of the ethical and moral, the experience and inner life, it was a return to the law (Galatians 1:6f, 4:9), directing the soul not first and primarily to God but to self. By its confusion of justification and sanctification, law and gospel, it threatens the Christian's understanding and experience of the grace of God and robs him of the comfort of God's promises. Such an error is damnable, literally, according to St. Paul (Galatians 1:8 & 9). We, however, are not to judge the faith of the Pietists (even though they often have sought to do that of fellow Christians). Rather we turn our attention once again to God's promises for us and His church. We "are known by God" (Galatians 4:9) and placed into the family of the baptized. Baptism marks us as what we are, and that not of our own doing, our own "birth." We are fed the body and blood of His Christ, which forgives us and grants us life and salvation. The Word of our lives is His Word. Everything about our "lives" as Christians is HisHis life, His doing, His justification, His holiness, His redemptionwhich He graciously gives to us. (1 Corinthians 1:30).