Pietism

A movement among Protestants in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which emphasized the necessity for good works and a holy life. It began in Germany shortly after the Thirty Years' War* (1618-48) when the churches had become entangled in confessional rigidity, and the time is often called the Age of Orthodoxy or the period of Protestant Scholasticism. The ideas of the Reformers had become so systemized and schematized that there was little comfort to be found in them.

The leader of the Pietist revival was Philipp Jakob Spener* (1635-1705). In 1674 he was invited to write an introduction to a new edition of sermons by Arndt. His work took the form of an independent tract prefixed to the book and entitled Pia desideria (Pious Longings). This manifesto of the Pietist Movement condemned the sins of the day and presented six requirements for reformation. These included a better knowledge of the Bible on the part of the people, the restoration of mutual Christian concern, an emphasis on good works, avoidance of controversy, better spiritual training for ministers, and a reformation of preaching to make it more fervent.

Spener's influence spread widely. Some praised and imitated him while others attacked him and even accused him of being a Jesuit. His prestige increased when he was called to be court preacher at Dresden (1686), and his teachings were taken up at Leipzig University where a group led by A.H. Francke* met for prayer and Bible study. When these men were expelled from Leipzig, Spener helped Francke secure an appointment at the University of Halle (1692).

The history of the Pietist Movement next revolves around Francke, who wrote the story of his activities in an account entitled Pietas Hallensis: or a Public Demonstration of the Footsteps of a Divine Being Yet in the World, in an Historical Narration of the Orphan House and Other Charitable Institutions at Glaucha near Halle in Saxony (1701; ET 1727). The work that he discusses grew out of his concern for the destitute and deprived people of Halle and its environs. A whole series of institutions were founded, including a school for the poor, an orphanage, a hospital, a widows' home, a teachers' training institute, a Bible school, book depot, and Bible house. Foreign missions were also emphasized, and in 1705 two young men, Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg* and Heinrich Plütschau, went to serve in India. From their activities a mission work was established which was directed by Francke until his death. Several other Pietists-such as Count von Zinzendorf* who created the Moravian Church from refugee fragments of Hussitism; J.A. Bengel; and the community that fostered the “Burleburg Bible”-deserve mention.

Historians disagree as to the nature of Pietism. Some feel it was essentially a revival of medieval monastic and mystical piety stimulated by contact with the Puritans. Others believe it represented progress in Lutheranism and looked forward to the modern world. One author finds in it a force that made for the rise of German nationalism. Whatever view one takes, Pietism has fostered a desire for holy living, biblical scholarship, and missions without which Protestantism would be much poorer.

A. Ritschl, Geschichte des Pietismus (3 vols., 1880-86); K.S. Pinson, Pietism as a Factor in the Rise of German Nationalism (1934); P.J. Spener, Pia Desideria (ET 1964); M. Schmidt, Das Zeitalter des Pietismus (1965); F.E. Stoffler, The Rise of Evangelical Pietism (1965).