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Pietism

PIETISM

Broadly defined, pietism denotes a distinctive quality of religious life issuing in rigorous morality and personal piety. jansenism, puritanism, precisianism, and methodism share this quality. In a stricter sense, it refers to its expression within German Lutheranism, particularly by P. J. spener, A. H. francke, and N. L. von zinzendorf.

The spirit of Pietism, as set forth by Spener in his Pia Desideria, revealed the influence of Arndt's Von wahren Christentum, the writings of the English Puritans and the Reformed Christianity of Geneva. It called for a return to personal devotion and morality in response to the decay of German life following the Thirty Years' War and in reaction to the arid intellectualism of the Protestant scholasticism then dominating orthodox Lutheranism. It deemed Christianity more a matter of the heart than of the intellect; the mark of a Christian was more properly love of one's neighbor than right doctrines. Spener urged that a greater emphasis be given to devotional than to doctrinal and polemical studies in theological education, with a corresponding reformation of preaching. The errant and heathens were to be won by love and persuasion.

Pietism did not produce the sweeping reforms that Spener desired for the church. However, an improved moral climate was achieved and a greater emphasis given to the study of Scripture, along with a wider use of Scripture in preaching. Perhaps the greatest impact on church life occurred in Lutheran hymnody. Similarly the movement produced no immediate transformation of orthodox Lutheran theology, the two positions, indeed, differing not greatly in doctrines per se but rather in the emphasis given to doctrine. Nevertheless, Pietism revealed the weaknesses of Lutheran scholasticism and helped prepare the way for the theological resurgence of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The failures of Pietism were largely a result of its individualistic emphasis and a lack of organization. Spener never exercised the control over this movement that Wesley did over Methodism. Separatism was a constant threat in Pietism. Spener early founded the collegia pietatis, small devotional gatherings that he envisaged as a spiritual leaven within the church. Nevertheless, this drawing apart of a spiritual elite led to strained relations with the rest of Lutheranism. Some of Spener's more enthusiastic followers finally broke away from the Church but Spener (and Francke agreeing with him in this) being opposed to separatism broke with them and suppressed the collegia. Extremism plagued Pietism and detracted from its influence. Unlike Spener's, Francke's spiritual development had been traumatic and he regarded this as the norm for all true conversion, tending to impose this character upon the movement. Excessive and false religiosity both found frequent expression. In fact, Ritschl questioned Spener's classification as a Pietist because he confessed no such traumatic conversion. Extreme individualism in Biblical interpretation occasionally marred the Pietists' free study of Scripture, and subjective approaches to religion led to bizarre theological expressions, such as those of Zinzendorf. The deemphasis of doctrine inherent in Pietism also tended to weaken its impact. In reaffirming the necessary subjective aspect of faith, it tended to neglect the equally valid objective side. Consequently, the Halle school under Francke produced little scholarly research. In contrast, the less radical form of Pietism at Würtemburg under Bengel pursued scholarly research and continued as a significant force after the more extreme Pietism had disappeared.

The Pietist emphasis upon a quality of life rather than orthodoxy of belief tended to produce a softening of religious divisions and an improved relationship between the Lutheran and Reformed churches. Contact with likeminded Roman Catholics, initially inhibited by Spener's strong opposition to the papacy, developed late in the 18th century only to succumb to the ultramontanism prevailing on the Roman side. The movement was, in this respect, a forerunner of religious freedom. Unlike the Puritans, the Pietists never became a political force. Nevertheless, they had considerable social impact, humanizing society and inspiring the growth of philanthropy. The Halle orphanage and schools under Francke were a precursor of the Innere Mission, the home mission, social service movement. Pietism fostered an upsurge of missionary effort. Inspired by Pietism, Frederick IV of Denmark commissioned two men from Halle for service in India. An active campaign was conducted to evangelize the Jews by establishing the Institutum Judaicum at Halle. The Moravians later gave a new impetus to the mission cause with their use of lay personnel. Pietism was influential also in the founding in England of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, with its decidedly missionary purpose.

This movement was destined to be a factor in shaping the theologies of schleiermacher and ritschl, and through the Moravians it promoted the rise of Methodism. Some cite a connection between Pietism and the rise of both rationalism and German nationalism. However, these latter movements in their developed expressions certainly did not reflect the spirit of Pietism.

Bibliography: a. ritschl, Geschichte des Pietismus, 3 v. (Bonn 188086). h. heppe, Geschichte des Pietismus und der Mystik in der reformierten Kirche namentlich der Niederlande (Leiden 1879). e. sachsse, Ursprung und Wesen des Pietismus (Wiesbaden 1884). h. schmid, Die Geschichte des Pietismus (Nördlingen 1863). m. stallmann, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegnwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 5:370383. l. cristiani, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 12.2:208493. c. mirbt, s. m. jackson, ed. The New Schff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 13 v. (Grand Rapids, Mich. 195154) 9:5367. j. t. mcneill, Modern Christian Movements (Philadelphia 1954).

[j. c. hoffman]

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