Originally exhibited August 20–December 14, 2018
The Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Galleries
“It is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice." - Philipp Jakob Spener. Pia Desideria, 1675.
The name of the Pietists is now known all over town.
Who is a Pietist? He who studies the Word of God
And accordingly leads a holy life.
This is well done, good for every Christian.
For this amounts to nothing if after the manner of rhetoricians
And disputants one puts on airs in the pulpit
And does not live holy as one ought according to the teaching.
Piety above all must rest in the heart.
- Joachim Feller, 1689 (tr. Dale W. Brown, Understanding Pietism, 1978)
Pietism was a reform movement within seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and German Protestantism that expanded to Great Britain, North America, and around the world. The context for the development and growth of Pietism can be traced to a war of words and one of the most devastating wars in European history.
Following the deaths of Martin Luther (1483–1546) and Jean Calvin (1509–1564), the focus of Protestantism shifted from fomenting change to consolidating gains. The early reformers had championed the message of salvation by faith through grace. The next generation pursued an acrimonious quest to define this saving faith. By the early seventeenth century it seemed to some that Christianity was becoming more an intellectual exercise than a lived reality. Others wondered why the changes brought on by the Reformation had done little to improve the morality of individuals and of society.
Concurrent with these developments, the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) left Europe depopulated and demoralized. An era of religious disillusionment followed. Within Protestantism some who sought a more experiential and ethical approach to faith began looking back to the teachings of Christ, the early church, and later mystics for guidance. Through their preaching, teaching, and writings, they initiated a “religion of the heart” movement called Pietism.
Pietism’s spirituality was rooted in the transformative inner experience of spiritual rebirth (conversion) through which the Holy Spirit acts to foster a godly way of living (sanctification). Pietists stressed the application of faith (love of God and neighbor) more than the quest for doctrinal purity and uniformity. They valued Bible study for guidance while seeking new inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Pietists also emphasized the concept of the priesthood of believers and applied it to both women and men. They viewed evangelism and good works as tools through which God would transform the world.
This exhibition presents works from Bridwell Library Special Collections written by precursors to and leaders of the Pietist movement in The Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These historical materials illustrate the theological and geographic diversity of the movement during its period of greatest influence, from the late seventeenth century until the early nineteenth century.
Bridwell Library Special Collections