Spener, Philip Jacob
Spener, Philip Jacob the father of Pietism (q.v.), and one of the most remarkable personages in the Church of the 17th century, was born in Alsace, at Rappoltsweiler, in 1635, though he was wont to consider himself a Strasburger because the family had originated in that city. Reared amid pious surroundings, and possessed of a naturally serious and retiring disposition, he was easily impressed with religious things; and the influence of his godmother, a dowager countess of Rappoltstein, the reading of edifying books like Arnd's True Christianity, and the habit of prayer, early cultivated, contributed to a rapid development of his religious character while he was yet a child. He was indebted for both religious and intellectual training to Joachim Stoll (subsequently his brother-in-law, and from 1645 preacher to the counts of Rappoltstein [see the biographical sketch of Stoll in Rühlich, Mittheilungen aus d. evang. Kirche des Elsasses (1855), 3, 321]), and entered the University of Strasburg when in his sixteenth year. His theological instructors in Strasburg were Dorsche (who left in 1653), Dannhauer, J. Schmid, and Sebastian Schmid. Dannhauer indoctrinated him in the strictest tenets of the Lutheran faith, J. Schmid became his "father in Christ," and Seb. Schmid ranked as one of the most accomplished exegetes of his time. To these must be added Bocler, who excited in the youth an abiding love for the study of history.
Spener filled the position of tutor to the two sons of the count-palatine Christian II from 1654 to 1656, and afterwards entered on the then usual peregrinatio academica. He went to Basle in 1659, and studied Hebrew under the younger Buxtorf, and thence to Geneva, for the purpose of studying French. A severe illness detained him at Geneva a whole year, and the association with Reformed clergymen which thus became possible to him greatly enlarged his views and sympathies. His letters of this period breathe the warmest admiration of the Genevan Church. He met Labadie and published a German edition of that fiery preacher's Manuel de Priere. On his return from Geneva he visited the court of Wurtemberg in the capacity of companion to count Rappoltstein. His bearing impressed the duke favorably, and induced the latter to offer him an appointment; but a call to Strasburg, which allowed him the privilege of devoting a portion of his time to the delivery of historical and philosophical lectures in the university, intervened, and was accepted in 1663 by Spener, who was in consequence obliged to apply for the doctorate of theology. Three years afterwards, in 1666, Spener became minister and senior at Frankfort-on- the-Main. This position gave him authority over clergymen older than himself, and involved heavy responsibilities. A low state of discipline existed in the churches, and the constitution of the city rendered improvement difficult, inasmuch as. the civil authorities were charged with the supervision of the churches, and their indifference prevented the application of any thorough measures of reform. Spener, however, did what he could. He infused new energy into catechetical instruction, by giving to it his personal attention, and urging a clearer exposition of the subject matter than had been usual in the former practice of the Frankfort churches. He also published, as aids to the teachers, an Einfaltige Erklärung der christl. Lehre (1677), and the Tabule Catecheticoe in 1683. In preaching he discussed a wider range of subjects than a slavish following of the prescribed pericopes would admit of, his intention being to afford his people opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with the contents of the entire Scriptures. His preaching was rather didactic than pathetic or emotional, and yet the effect produced was often profound and of abiding influence. His force lay in an intimate acquaintance with the Bible and in a devout walk, whose agreement with the doctrines he advocated in the pulpit was known to all his hearers. A sermon preached by him in 1669 on the insufficient and false righteousness of the Pharisees caused a division among his hearers, which resulted in 1670 in a closer union of the more earnest ones for their mutual edification. Spener invited them to assemble in his study for religious and social intercourse, and, after a time, for the study of the gospels. Their number was at first small, but it grew in time so that more than a hundred persons were habitually present at these gatherings; and after repeated applications had been made, the authorities granted, in 1682, the use of a church for their assemblies. Such was the origin of the "Frankfort conventicles." (See Spener, Sendschreiben an einen christeifrigen Theolog. etc.; Becker, Beitr. zur Frankf. Kirchengesch. , p. 87. Gijbel, in Rhein.-westphall. Kirche, 2, 560, gives a different account, as do a number of other writers, but their statements are effectually disposed of by Spener, Abfertigung von D. Pfefer, p. 108, etc.)
Spener had in the meantime acquired reputation as a zealous promulgator of strict Lutheran teachings; and as he was endowed with great prudence and modesty, and was always willing to share in the burdens of the ministry, he was able to avoid unpleasant controversy for a time, even in that polemical age. The calm was broken, however, when he ventured, in 1675, to publish his book Pia Desideria, etc., whose burden was a "heartfelt sigh for such improvement of the true Evangelical Church as shall be pleasing to God." The work was approved by the ministerium of Frankfort, and its statements were everywhere guarded by appeals to the most approved authorities. Its complaints, strong and startling as they might appear, were echoed by numerous voices in every part of the land, so that Spener was subsequently able to publish more than ninety letters of commendation received from leading theologians, among whom was Calovius. The remedies proposed for the evils existing in the Church were also in harmony with the Word of God and the spirit of Christianity, but the book was, nevertheless, unfavorably criticized, particularly at Strasburg. The hostility so aroused became more intense when the collegia pietatis, by which name Spener's assemblies of laymen for mutual edification became known, were extended beyond the community in which they first originated, and when it was observed that their multiplication was attended with a growing spirit of exclusiveness, a tendency towards separatism, and occasional eccentricities on the part. of their members. The attack on the Pietists, as they were now dubbed by their opponents, was led by a former friend of Spener, the court preacher of Darmstadt, Mentzer, and by Dilfeld of Nordhausen, who wrote a work entitled Theosophia Horbio-Speneriana (1679), in which he denied that the new birth is essential to a correct theology. Spener replied in Gottesgelahrtheit aller glaubigen Christen, and disarmed his assailants; and then wrote a work entitled Klagen über das verdorbene Christenthum, etc. (168, 4), in which he successfully combated the separatist tendency which had crept in among his followers without fault of his. He did not introduce similar meetings for edification in his subsequent fields of labor, and it has been supposed that they no longer commanded his approval; but a letter written in A.D. 1700 to Francke, in which he deprecates the action of the authorities of Frankfort by which the collegia pietatis were prohibited, affords positive evidence that his confidence in their utility was undiminished.
After a pastorate of twenty years in Frankfort, Spener received a call to the court of Saxony as principal court preacher, at that time, it may be said, the most prominent ecclesiastical post in Protestant Germany. (1686). His call emanated from the elector Joh. Georg III himself, and was brought about by his own faithfulness as a minister of the Gospel. The elector at one time became sick while at Frankfort, and Spener was invited to visit him officially. He assented, on condition that he might minister to the prince as to a simple man, and without other reference than the soul's relation to its Maker. This plain dealing pleased the elector, and resulted in the transfer of Spener to the court of Dresden. He departed from Frankfort July 10, 1686.
It was soon apparent that the influence of the court preacher was largely confined to the power he might exercise as the spiritual counsellor of the prince; but the warlike elector was rarely in his capital, and was not disposed to yield to the control of his chaplain. The self esteem of the Saxon clergy had been wounded by the appointment of a foreign theologian to the highest ecclesiastical position in the land, and they began a course of systematic opposition to the new incumbent. Various motives combined to intensify their hostility, among them the fact that Spener's unselfish and earnest piety was a constant reproach to their self seeking and formal dispositions. The source of this opposition was the Leipsic University, where Carpzov was nursing the disappointment of having failed to secure the appointment to the court in Spener's stead, and where a rebuke administered by the high consistory on Spener's motion because of the neglect to expound the Scriptures which prevailed had excited the ill will of the faculty. A still stronger occasion for trouble was given by Thomasius, a relative of Spener's son-in-law, who in 1688 began to publish a satirical journal, in which the clergy, and especially Carpzov and the professors extraordinary Alberti and Pfeifer, were roughly handled. Spener endeavored to restrain the foolhardy editor, but in vain, and was held personally accountable for conduct of which he disapproved. The faculty had countenanced the study of the Scriptures in the original tongues by certain masters of the university as early as 1686; but when in 1689 Francke (q.v.), Anton, and Schade associated themselves with Spener. and began the holding of collegia Biblica in German for the edification of themselves and others, among them laymen, this favor was withdrawn; Carpzov and Alberti began to preach against the "Pietists," the collegia Biblica and even the original Philobiblicum were suppressed, and Francke was cited before the bar of a legal tribunal. To these troubles was added the complete loss of the favor of his prince, occasioned by the. exercise of the same quality which had at first recommended him to that favor the unflinching fidelity and frankness with which he fulfilled the duties of the office of confessor. The alienation of the prince was of course made more complete by the machinations of Spener's enemies, and became so extreme that he spoke of having to change his residence unless Spener were removed from his sight. Efforts were made to induce the obnoxious preacher to resign his charge, which he refused to do; and then the court of Berlin was influenced to request his transfer from the court of Saxony to that of Brandenburg. The request having been acceded to, Spener removed to Berlin in April 1691, and was made consistorial-councilor and provost of St. Nicolai Church.
The house of Brandenburg was at this time committed to the policy of toleration in religious matters, and none of its members were directly interested in Spener's work. The queen, indeed, became directly hostile to him, and the king did not grant him audience. The intolerant orthodox party was, however, restrained equally with the "Pietist," and certain friends in high position at the court were able to render effective aid in the promotion of a vital piety in the Church. Spener at once inaugurated a thorough course of catechetical instruction, as he had previously done at Frankfort and Dresden. He preached twice a week and gathered a circle of candidates about him with whom he entered on a thorough study of the Scriptures. His influence was even more effective indirectly, as appears from the appointment of a large number of persons of like mind with himself to responsible positions in the Church. It was through such appointments to the faculty that Halle became the nursery of the pietist theology, being manned by such professors as Breithaupt, Francke, Anton, and their adjuncts Joachim Lange and Freylinghausen.
A new trouble for Spener was occasioned in Berlin by his loved colleague Schade, who was unable to refrain from a public denunciation of the practice of private confession as it existed in the Lutheran Church. He issued a tractate in 1697 in advocacy of his views, and supported them, moreover, in a sermon preached from his own pulpit; and when the next occasion for the administration of the sacrament of the Lord's supper had arrived he broke through the limitations of the rubric, and after public prayer and confession pronounced a general absolution over the assembled congregation. he excitement caused by these bold measures was immense, but Schade was finally permitted by his superiors to exercise his ministry without being required to administer private confession; and a similar exemption was granted by edict in 1698 to all who had conscientious scruples against that practice. Francke and Freylinghausen were lighting a similar battle at Halle, and in other cities irresponsible visionaries appeared who were guilty of real excesses. The responsibility for every trouble of this kind in the Church was at once charged upon Spener by his opponents. Wittenberg and Leipsic rivaled each other in abusing him, employing personalities and calumniations rather, than arguments and solid proofs to support their asseverations; and as the temper of the times required of him who would not be regarded a confessed and convicted malefactor a reply to every charge raised by an opponent, Spener was compelled to find time for such polemical labors. Among the numerous writings from his pen which originated under such circumstances a response to the fulminations of the Wittenberg faculty of 1695, entitled A frichtige Uebereinstimmung mit der augsburg. Confession, and a reply to the pamphlet Beschreibung des Unfugs, written by Carpzov and others, deserve special attention — the latter because it contains Spener's version of the entire progress of the Pietistic controversies. The polemical abilities of Spener were at about this time employed upon another controversy, not connected with his owl direct work. The Calixtine party had, under the guidance of Leibnitz (q.v.), drawn near to the Romish Church, and their influence was making itself felt among the tutors of the university. Pfeifer, professor extraordinary of theology, had openly commended Roman Catholicism, and was deprived of his office in 1694. The families of certain officials regularly attended mass. Ernest Grabe, another professor extraordinary, had placed in the hands of the consistory a work in which he alleged that the Evangelical Church had, by renouncing the apostolical succession, removed itself from a Christian basis. The elector committed the work of answering the various treatises written in support of this movement to three theologians, among whom was Spener. He produced in 1695 the work Der evang. Kirche Rettung vor falschen Beschuldigungen, which restrained Grabe from going over to Romanism as Pfeifer had done, though he removed to England and joined the Anglican establishment. Soon afterwards the elector Frederic Augustus of Saxony, a former pupil of Spener, apostatized. to Romanism. A doctrinal work on the eternal Godhead of Christ brought Spener's literary labors to a close. He died Feb. 5, 1705. A few years later, on the accession of queen Sophia Louisa (1708), the tendency represented by him began to prevail. The court preacher, Porst, inaugurated prayer meetings at the court, which even the king attended from time to time; and associations for religious improvement were multiplied among the clergy and laity of Berlin.
Spener's family consisted of his wife and eleven children, eight of whom survived his departure. One son, John J., occupied the chair of physics and mathematics at Halle, and died in 1692. Another, William Louis, began the study of theology. Jacob Charles was first theologian, then jurist, and eventually became the victim of melancholy, which unfitted him for public life. The youngest, Ernest Godfrey, also studied, theology, but fell into vicious habits. After being reclaimed, he abandoned theology and entered on the law, in which profession he succeeded; so that when he died, in his twenty-sixth year, he held the position of chief-auditor.
Spener was inferior to none of his contemporaries in theological culture and acumen. His ability as an exegete is attested by his sermons and his valuable book Gemissbrauchte Bibelspruche (1693). In systematic theology he was thorough and eminently clear, though hampered by the formalistic methods of his time. It appears, however, that his knowledge, or, at any rate, his interest, particularly towards the close of his life, did not transcend the bounds of theology. He was wanting in imagination, but gifted with a strong and practical mind, as well as with a warm heart, the former of which is evidenced by the choice of genealogy and heraldry among historical studies as the subjects of special inquiry. An important work in heraldry, entitled Insignium Theoria, was published by him as late as 1690. He also lacked a good literary and rhetorical style. All his writings are intolerably verbose. He had experimented unsuccessfully with Latin verse, after the manner of his time; but at least one German hymn from his pen deserves mention — So ist's an dem, dass ich mit Freuden, etc. His ecclesiastical attitude was that of thorough and sincere subordination to the confession of his Church; but he endeavored to widen, so far as he safely might, the limits within which theologians had restricted the confession. The evils in the Lutheran Church which he censured had all been repeatedly assailed by leading writers. He differed from his predecessors, however, in according a much larger measure of charity to reformers whose excess of zeal might drive them into error, and he even asserted that real piety may exist in the hearts of persons whose beliefs concerning even important matters of the faith are found to be very erroneous. He conceded, nevertheless, that every departure from a correct belief impairs the religious life and constitutes a fault. His only heterodoxy was chiliasm (q.v.), without a rejection of art. 17 of the Augsburg Confession (q.v.). The hope of a general ingathering of the Jews into the Church of Christ, to which he held, had been asserted by a number of the earlier theologians of his Church.
In ecclesiastical polity Spener had, almost alone, discovered a great deficiency in the organization, though not in the theory, of his Church. The so-called third estate, the laity, held no position of trust or duty in the practical administration of the Church, save as it was represented by persons employed as teachers of the young or officers of the government. Spener believed in the divine institution of the ministry of the Word, but he held that the Church could not afford to dispense with the services of laymen; and, as the Church needed their services, so they were entitled to participate in her government.
In his private character Spener was eminently pure. His public and private life are open to inspection in the writings of himself and his contemporaries, but it would be difficult to raise a single objection against his moral character. He was gentle, modest, loving, and yet manly and energetic. He never laid aside his dignity. "To do no sin" was his great concern, and he affords an eminent example of the length to which a determined Christian may carry the practices of watchfulness and prayer. To these he added occasional voluntary fasts. He himself claims, however, that nature had endowed him with an equable. and happily constituted temper.
In his work Spener's greatness appears in the effect he was able to produce upon his own age. Protestant theology was at that time turning away from dogmatism and concerning itself more especially with the interests of subjective piety, and Roman Catholic theology revealed, in France, a tendency to Mysticism and Quietism. There is no question, however, that Spener was the most influential exponent of the new tendency, not merely because of the exalted stations he was called to fill at Dresden and Berlin, but also through the force of his Christian personality and his lofty moderation as a theologian. He first gained the confidence of a number of German princes and influential statesmen. His relations with the ducal family of Wurtemberg and with that of the counts of Wetterau have already been referred to. Duke Ernest sought his advice with reference to the Calixtine troubles as early as 1670. Gustavus Adolphus of Mecklenburg counseled with him in regard to reformations which he intended to inaugurate. Ulrica Eleonore, consort of Charles XI of Sweden, corresponded with him in relation to the call of a chaplain for her court. The Saxon princesses were with but few exceptions his supporters. He was also a rallying point for all the Lutheran theologians who were not extreme zealots. His correspondence was immense, and involved the treatment of grave and serious questions; and of the academical peregrinants then so common, many came to sit at his feet. To these must be added the numerous candidates whom he was accustomed to receive into his house and bring under his influence. Finally, we must consider the literary productions which he was able to send out into the world, though his time was frequently occupied with sessions of the consistory from 8 A.M. till 7
P.M. Canstein's list of Spener's writings extends over seven folio pages, and enumerates 63 vols. in 4to, 7 in 8vo, and 46 in 12mo, aside from numerous prefaces, etc. To gain time for such labors he was accustomed to withdraw himself almost entirely from social gatherings. When he died the theological tendency of the Church was greatly changed from what he found it at the beginning of his career. More than half the faculties and a majority of the consistories were still opposed to his views; but a number of like-minded men had attained to high positions in the Church; and the universities of Halle and Giessen, and, somewhat later, those of Jena and Königsberg were training a great number of pupils in his spirit and according to his views.
See Walch, Streitigkeiten innerhalb der luth. Kirche; Canstein, Lebensbeschreibung Spener's (1740); Steinmetz, in his ed. of Spener's minor works (1746); Knapp, Leben u. Character einiger frommen Manner des vorigen Jahrhunderts (1829); Hossbach, Leben Spener's (2d ed. 1853); Thilo, Spener als Katechet (1841).