The Light & the Dark: Volume XXX - DISPRIVILIGED GROUPS
Chapter III - THE DESTRUCTION OF UNITY
Part 4 - ALTERNATIVE RELIGIONS
1. A different situation
The religious situation of 1650 differed much from that
of 1550. The recruiting power of the Reformation was spent. There were
occasional crossings-over, but no longer there were mass conversions. There was
a bewildering array of Churches of the Reformation. First of all, there were
the three mainline Churches, the Evangelical, the Reformed and the Anglican
Churches. Next to these there were more or less deviant communities, the
Puritans and the Quakers in England, the Baptists or Mennonites in Germany and the
Dutch Republic, and the Armenians or Remonstrants in the Republic.
The position of the Roman Catholic Church
and of the Churches of the Reformation was, in consequence, by no means so
simple as it might seem. During the seventeenth century they were increasingly
subjected to criticism, which came both from within and from without. With the
criticism from without I mean Enlightenment ideology, as it began to develop
after 1650. I shall return later to this. Actually, the criticism from within
began already with Calvin, who found Luther's doctrine not strict enough,
especially with regard to the tenet of predestination, and his liturgy not
sober enough. And many people agreed with him, especially in England, where
Puritans and Presbyterians conducted a violent campaign against the `popish'
Church of England.
During the period of Commonwealth and the
Protectorate a new form of Christianity originated, Quakerism. Its founder,
George Fox, found the existing denominations, and most of all Presbyterianism,
too arid, too rigid, too dogmatic; he wanted something more informal and more
charismatic. Fox's adherents did not found a new Church, but, instead, the
`Society of Friends'. Usually, however, they are called the `Quakers'. Their
opposition to those in power, both in state and Church, was dualistic and
anarchical. Their call for charisma, for less doctrine and for more of the
Spirit, found a ready response in continental Europe.
2. Dissatisfied Evangelicals
In Germany there was widespread dissatisfaction with the
Evangelical Church, dominating religious life in the northern half of Germany.
Many, often deeply religious people did not feel at home in it; its dogmatic
system was found too rigid, its liturgy too impersonal, its sermons boring and
too long. The counter-movement that originated is called Pietism, from pietas,
piety. Its forerummer was Johann Arndt (1555-1621), who became highly
influential through his famous book Wahres Christentum. In this book he
pleaded for a form of Christendom in which piety as a personal experience would
be more important than doctrine. A truly religious life should begin with an
inner conversion. The idea of the `reborn Christian' has its origin here.
The founder of Pietism is Philipp Jakob
Spener (1635-1705). In 1666 he was appointed as pastor of the Lutheran Dom in
Francfurt on the Main, where he became a famous preacher. In this city he
composed his main work, Pia Desiderata (1675). His thesis was that the
Evangelical Church was in a deplorable state and sorely needed revitalization.
What people needed was conversion: from a worldly way of life to a truly
religious existence. His book became a Protestant classic. Already in 1670 the
first Collegium pietatis was founded, a small group of likeminded
faithful who came together to read the Bible, to meditate and to pray. It
spread like wildfire. Yet there was also opposition. A rift in the Evangelical
Church became discernible. Pietism is not doctrinal or theological, but
spiritual; its idea of being a Christian is personal and individualistic,
rather than communal and ecclesiastical.
From the first there was a possibility of Pietism
distancing itself radically from the main Church. Johann Jakob Schütz
(1640-1690) was influenced by Tauler's mysticism and underwent a personal
conversion. Whereas Spener always remained a member of the Church, Schütz
distanced itself evermore from it, until the rupture became complete in 1682.
Many adherents followed him. He even broke with Luther. A true Christian does
not need justification, but regerenation; he must be reborn.
Schütz had successors in the married couple
Petersen, Johanna Eleonora (1644-1724) and Johann (1649-1726). The couple lived
in the Saalhof in Francfurt, for more than fifty years the headquarters
of German Pietism. A typical trait of their ideology was their eschatology,
with the idea of the Allversöhnung: at the end of times hell would be
abolished and all mankind would be reconciled with God.
The radicalism of Schütz and the Petersens
opened the way for still more radical ideas. Eva Maria von Buttlar (1620-1721),
who conceived of herself as Sophia, divine wisdom, taught that a reborn
Christian had a spiritual body and therefore could not commit sexual sins. She
preached Philadelphia, general love. With what was popularly called the Buttlarsche
Rotte she founded in 1700 a Philadelphian Society in Allendorf, soon
illfamed because of its loose sexual morals.
4. Later Pietists
A new generation of Pietists had its origin in August
Hermann Francke (1663-1727). He underwent an inner conversion after which he
founded a circle for Bible reading. The lectures of the Letters on St.Paul,
which he gave in Leipzig, became immensely popular. They led to the Erweckungsbewegung
of people who wanted to live an inspired and renewed Christian life.
A third generation of Pietists began with
count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf (1700-1769). He found all doctrinal differences
unimportant; what counts is devotion to Jesus, the Herzensreligion: religion
is something of the heart, not of the head. He became renowned as the founder
of the Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine, officially an Evangelical community, in
reality a dissident Pietistic one. Its members led a strictly regulated
religious life. In 1735 Herrnhut separated itself from the main Church.
5. Influenced by Pietism
Without actually becoming Pietists, some remarkable men
and women were influenced by Pietism, for instance, Antoinette Bourignon
(1616-1680). Although having been baptized as a Roman Catholic, she went her
own way. She distanced herself from all mainstream religions, including her own
Catholicism. There are two distinctive Pietistic elements in her: to her
primitive Christianity was the ideal, and a tendency to apartheid. She
distrusted and rejected all kinds of theology and had no lack of adherents
whose `spiritual mother' she was. In 1671 she founded her own community, but it
never really flourished. Its last member died in 1719 in Rijnsburg, near
The second was Jean de Labadie (1610-1674),
who became a Jesuit, broke with his Order, was then a Reformed pastor, and
emigrated to the Dutch Republic to become a pastor in Middelburg. In 1678 he
published a manual, De la piété, the tenor of which is typically
Pietistic: the aim of Christian life is the mystical union with God. Finally,
he also broke with the Reformed Church and started his own community. This
Labadist community was at home in several places, the last one being Wiewerd in
Dutch Friesland, where it died out in 1744.
6. Pietism and Lutheranism
The distance between the Evangelical Church and Pietism
was big enough to dub it dualistic; even if Pietists did not openly break with
the Church, the rupture was virtually a fact. On several main points Pietism
differed from Lutheranism. The balance between doctrine and piety, devotion,
was disturbed and shifted towards devotion. And whereas for the mainline
Protestant Churches justification was the core tenet, for the Pietists it was
regeneration, the need of being `reborn'. Moreover, Pietistic faith was
something personal, rather than communal. For this reason they found ordinary
evangelical services too massive and impersonal; they preferred the much
smaller conventicles. They had one thing in common with the mainline Churches
of the Reformation: they abhorred Catholicism. Finally, it should be noted that
there was also a split within the Pietistic movement, namely between moderates
and radicals. When Schütz broke with the Church, Spener broke with him.
England too had its deviant and partly also defiant
religion, namely, Methodism. The Church of England had its critics who made the
same objections as the German Pietists to their Church: it was arid, formal,
lifeless. This was not wholly justified, for the Anglican Church of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was healthier and more vibrant than its
opponents would have it to be. The real founder of Methodism was John Wesley
(1703-1785), with the cooperation of his brother Charles (1707-1788). John
became a priest of the Church of England.
We discover in Methodism several elements
that were also present in Pietism, first of all the need of conversion and
being reborn; both brothers underwent a conversion. Then there was the
distancing from the official Church and a predilection for conventicles. The
Methodist Religious Societies had no fixed liturgy, no Book of Common Prayer;
they doted on free expression. Here too doctrine did not play a great role;
personal experience was far more important. Often the meetings had an emotional
character. Naturally, all this led to alienation from the Church of England.
The final rupture with the Church of England came about 1795, when one Society
after another broke away.
8. Methodists and Protestants
Methodists conceive of themselves as Protestants, but at
a few crucial points they are different. First of all, there is the Pietistic
background. Next, the Wesleys rejected Calvin's core tenet, predestination; the
saving grace is given to all mankind. Methodists do no set great store by
doctrine and liturgy; just as Pietism Methodism is a Herzensreligion, a
movement of spiritual renewal.
Just as there was a split in Pietism, there
was also one in Methodism. An important member of the movement, George
Whitefield (1714-1700), steadfastly adhered to the doctrine of predestination.
A fierce dualistic conflict with the Wesleys was the result. The movement split
into predestinarians and anti-predestinarians, the former now being found in
the Presbyterian Church of Wales.
9. Methodism and Pietism
One facet of Methodism is not found in Pietism, namely, field-preaching.
Not being welcome in Anglican parish churches and not feeling at home there,
John Wesley took recourse to preaching in the open air, drawing large crowds