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Pietism, German PIETISMUS, an influential religious reform movement that began in German Lutheranism in the 17th century. Emphasizing personal faith in protest against secularization in the church, Pietism soon spread and later expanded its emphases to include social and educational concerns.

Throughout Christian history, pietistic movements have arisen in revolt whenever religion has become divorced from experience. By the beginning of the 17th century, Lutheranism had hardened into a scholastic system useful for contending with Roman Catholic and Reformed opponents but not for spiritual nourishment. Out of the devastation wrought upon Germany by the Thirty Years' War there appeared some notable signs of renewal. Interest was awakened in devotional literature and the pious mystical tradition. Influences of English Puritanism reached the European continent through the translation of works by Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, and others. Religious exiles in the Netherlands, among them William Ames, generated a distinctive brand of Dutch Pietism that soon spread into Germany as part of the reform movement that had already begun to take shape in German Lutheran circles as "Reform Orthodoxy." The "pectoral heart theology" of these orthodox Lutherans found its highest expression and widest audience in the writings of Johann Arndt (1555-1621). Lutheran hymnody of the period also contributed significantly to the atmosphere of spiritual renewal.

The various streams of the renewal movement converged in the life and work of Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705). Upon assuming an administrative pastorate in Frankfurt am Main, Spener became distressed by the degenerate life of the city and organized the first collegia pietatis ("assembly of piety"), in which lay Christians met regularly for devotional reading and spiritual exchange. The practice quickly became characteristic of the movement, and those who attended the conventicles acquired the name Pietists.

In his most famous work, Pia Desideria (1675; Pious Desires), Spener assessed contemporary orthodoxy's weaknesses and advanced proposals for reform. His proposals were: (1) greater private and public use of the scriptures, (2) greater assumption by the laity of their priestly responsibilities as believers, (3) the importance of bearing the practical fruits of a living faith, (4) ministerial training that emphasized piety and learning rather than disputation, and (5) preaching with the aim of edification. The collegia pietatis was the ideal instrument for such reforms.

From Spener, the leadership of German Pietism eventually passed to August Hermann Francke (1663-1727) of the University of Halle. Francke's capable leadership made Halle a thriving institutional centre of Pietism. Among the illustrious figures sent out from Halle was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (see Muhlenberg family ), the organizer of colonial American Lutheranism.

Another Halle alumnus, Nikolaus Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf (1700-60), founded the Moravian church (q.v.) among Pietist-influenced Moravian refugees on his estate in Saxony. In contrast to the Halle Pietists' demand for penitential remorse, Zinzendorf's followers preached belief in Christ's atonement as the only requisite for salvation. It is perhaps through the efforts of Zinzendorf that Pietism exerted its greatest direct influence outside Germany. (see also Moravian church)

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, received his salutary inspiration among the Moravians and incorporated important pietistic elements, such as the emphasis on saving grace, into his fledgling evangelical movement. Other denominations felt the influence of Pietism on pastoral theology, mission activity, and modes of worship. The zenith of Pietism had been reached by the mid-18th century, but the movement continued to exist and still survives, both explicitly in parts of Germany and in the Moravian church elsewhere and implicitly in evangelical Protestantism at large. The religious revival movements of the 19th and 20th centuries were connected directly or indirectly with Pietism, which in its turn received stimulation from them.




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This page was last modified 2001/09/26