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Definition: Pietism from Philip's Encyclopedia

Influential Christian spiritual movement within Protestantism, founded in the late 17th century by a German Lutheran minister, Philipp Spener (1635-1705). Its aim was to revitalize evangelical Christianity by emphasizing spiritual rather than theological or dogmatic issues.


Summary Article: Pietism
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(pī'ӘtĭzӘm), a movement in the Lutheran Church (see Lutheranism), most influential between the latter part of the 17th cent. and the middle of the 18th. It was an effort to stir the church out of a settled attitude in which dogma and intellectual religion seemed to be supplanting the precepts of the Bible and religion of the heart. Although the movement bore resemblance to aspects of Puritanism, e.g., use of distinctive dress and the renunciation of worldly pleasures, the essential aim of the true Pietist was to place the spirit of Christian living above the letter of doctrine.

The first great leader was Philipp Jakob Spener, who began (1670) to hold devotional meetings. His Collegia Pietatis were designed to bring Christians into helpful fellowship and increase Bible study. Spener's book, Pia desideria (1675), emphasized the need of earnest Bible study and the belief that the lay members of the church should have part in the spiritual control. Although Spener did not intend separation from the church, his repudiation of the importance of doctrine and his desire to limit church membership to those who had experienced personal regeneration tended to undermine orthodoxy, and Pietism was severely attacked.

After Spener's death the work was carried on by August Hermann Francke, but after his time Pietism declined. Its effect was strongest in N and central Germany, but reached into Switzerland, Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe. A number of foreign missions were begun. Through Count Zinzendorf the Moravian Church was influenced by it. Pietism earned a lasting place in the European intellectual tradition through its influence on such figures as Kant, Schleiermacher, and Kierkegaard.

  • See Shantz, D. H. , An Introduction to German Pietism (2013).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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