About the Commemoration
Philipp Jakob Spener, the founder of German Pietism, was born of devout parents in Alsace in 1635, during the Thirty Years’ War. He was profoundly influenced by Wahres Christenthum (“True Christianity”) by the Lutheran Johann Arndt (1555-1621). Spener studied history and philosophy at the University of Strassbourg from 1651 to 1653. On a visit to Switzerland, he came under the influence of Jean de Labadie (1610-1674), a Jesuit who had converted to the Reformed Church, and his piety took on a personal and interior character. After serving as pastor in Strassbourg, Spener in his parish in Frankfort, ravaged by thirty years of war, introduced Collegia Pietatis (“piety groups,” from which came the name “Pietism”), twice-weekly devotional meetings in his house; and published his Pia Desideria (“Devout Desires,” 1675) with six major proposals for reform and revitalization of the church. He also developed a new type of catechization for adults as well as children, which led in may places to a recovery of the practice of confirmation and instituted strict discipline. His independent spirit and his efforts to give the laity a role in the church earned him the hostility of many of the clergy, and in 1686 he gladly moved to Dresden in Saxony as chaplain to the Elector and court preacher. After coming into conflict with the theological faculty at Leipzig, Spener in 1691 moved to Berlin to become rector of the Nikolaikirche. By this time his movement had become known as Pietism and made rapid progress. In 1694 the University of Halle was founded, largely under his influence, and became a powerful center of the Pietistic movement. An orphans’ home with associated schools was opened, a publication house established, a hospital founded. The first Lutheran missionaries to India, Ziegenbalg and Plutschau (see February 23) and, later, Christian Frederick Schwartz, were sent out from Halle, as was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America (see October 7). Although Lutheran orthodoxy opposed him, he won many ardent supporters, and the movement spread throughout Saxony and elsewhere in Germany and into Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. In 1698 Spener withdrew from the continuing struggle and devoted his last years to pastoral work. Spener died on this date in 1705.
His effort to establish a deeper Christian life and reform of the Lutheran Church was not a separatist movement, and his insistence on “vital godliness,” the inner religious life of the individual, helped renew the Church from the doctrinal rigidity, spiritual aridity, and moral laxity that followed the Thirty Years’ War. Pastors were made to recognize the importance of personal character and belief as essential for their ministry; They were taught a new type of biblical interpretation and effective preaching, less polemical and more edifying. Bible reading, prayer, and personal devotion were promoted. The privilege and responsibility of the laity to witness to the truth by the quality’ of their lives were stressed; leadership in the congregation passed to the laity’, often to laywomen. Missionary effort was given a new emphasis.
Pietism, however, produced an unbalanced type of Christianity that came to overemphasize individual, personal experience and promoted an asceticism, not unlike that of the Middle Ages, in its opposition to card playing, dancing, the opera, and theater, and its stress upon moderation in dress, food, and drink. The private assemblies, composed largely of laity, led to an undervaluation of the church’s liturgy’, sacraments, and clergy. The emphasis on individual piety and purity’ led to complacency and condemnation of the “unawakened” and “unconverted” and “unworthy.” Spener’s later followers moved further from the liturgical and theological tradition, and the damage had to be repaired in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Spener is included on the German Evangelical Calendar of Names compiled by Frieder Schulz and others (1962) and on the Methodist calendar in For All the Saints.
Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.
See also: Philipp Spener
From Pia Desideria by Philipp Jakob Spener
Every Christian is bound to offer himself and what he has, his prayer, thanksgiving, good works, alms, etc., but also industriously to study the Word of the Lord, with the grace that is given him to teach others, especially those under his own roof, to chastise, exhort, convert, and edify them, to observe their life, pray for all, and insofar as possible be concerned about their salvation. If this is first pointed out to the people, they will take better care of themselves and apply themselves to whatever pertains to their own edification and that of their fellow men. On the other hand, all complacence and sloth derives from the fact that this teaching is not known and practiced. Nobody thinks this has anything to do with him. Everybody imagines that just as he was himself called to his office, business, or trade and the minister was neither called to such an occupation nor works in it, so the minister alone is called to perform spiritual acts, occupy himself with the Word of God, pray, study, teach, admonish, comfort, chastise, etc., while others should not trouble themselves with such things and, in fact, would be meddling in the minister’s business if they had anything to do with them. This is not even to mention that people ought to pay attention to the minister, admonish him fraternally when he neglects something, and in general support him in all his efforts.
No damage will be done to the ministry by the proper use of this priesthood. In fact, one of the principal reasons why the ministry cannot accomplish all that it ought is that it is too weak without the help of the universal priesthood. One man is incapable of doing all that is necessary for the edification of the many persons who are generally entrusted to his pastoral care. However, if the priests do their duty, the minister, as director and oldest brother, has splendid assistance in the performance of his duties and his public and private acts, and thus his burden will not be too heavy.
Philipp Jacob Spener, Pia Desideria, part 3, section 2, trans. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), 94-95.
Almighty God, from whom every good prayer comes, you pour out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and supplication: By your Spirit and by the example of your servant Philipp Jakob Spener, deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Zech. 12:10, John 4:23; William Bright, BCP, SBH, alt. PHP
Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 46; 1 Corinthians 3:11-23; Mark 10:35-45
Hymn of the Day: “Thee will I love, my strength, my tower” (LBW 502, LSB 694)
Prayers: For a living faith; For the work of Christian laity; For lay leaders in the church; For a holy life.
Preface: Lent (1) (BCP)