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9-08-2015, 17:59

Spiritualism and pietism

Within Protestantism, opposition to state churches began as early as the Reformation itself, among groups such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, and other radicals who advocated a voluntary church of believers with no relation to the state. In the sixteenth century, as we saw in chapter 5 , radical groups were persecuted by Catholics and magisterial Protestants, and many fl ed to areas that were more tolerant, such as Moravia, Silesia, Transylvania, and other parts of eastern Europe. The disruption of the English Civil War allowed radical and dissenting groups to fl ourish in England for a brief period, but the Restoration brought renewed suppression by royal and Anglican authorities. Some English groups and other radicals migrated to the Netherlands, eastern Europe, or Britain’s New World colonies. In the seventeenth century, several groups continued the emphasis on inner devotion that had characterized some of the earlier radicals, downplaying the importance of the Bible, an ordained clergy, outward ceremonies or sacraments, higher education, and sometimes reason. These groups are often called “spiritualists,” of which the most organized was the Society of Friends, called the Quakers, founded by George Fox during the 1650s. Fox had a powerful conversion experience, which he described as receiving the Inward Light of Christ, and he regarded this contact with the divine as open to all people. Quakers had no ordained clergy or formal services, but worshipped in silence until someone was moved by the spirit to speak or pray; decisions were made communally, by discussing a matter until an agreement was reached. They refused to pay tithes, swear oaths, or show deference to their superiors; they dressed simply and addressed each other as “thee” and “thou,” the older and less formal version of “you,” to signify their rejection of hierarchy and their distinctiveness from others. Early Quakers were often very vocal in their rejection of other forms of worship, disrupting services they saw as ungodly. Quaker men and women preached throughout England and the English colonies in the New World, and were active as missionaries also in Ireland, continental Europe, and occasionally elsewhere in the world. They were whipped and imprisoned, and often wrote apocalyptic prophecies or “encouragements” for co-believers while in prison. Many Quakers moderated their position with the accession of William and Mary in 1688 and the Toleration Act of 1689, agreeing to pay tithes and moving out of politics. Both British and American Quakers continued to be involved in social action, however, and were among the founders and leaders of the international antislavery and women’s rights movements. Other spiritualist leaders never achieved the level of organization that Fox did, and their groups remained much smaller than the Quakers. Jakob Boehme (1575–1624), a German cobbler, began having mystical visions as a young man, which gained him admirers but also brought him to the attention of the Lutheran authorities. His visions, which he wrote down in a series of works, mixed together Christian themes with ideas from magic and alchemy to develop a complex theory of the dialectical emergence of the world from chaos into being through God’s power. His language about “virgin wisdom,” the eternal womb of God, and the power of intuition to hear the sympathetic vibrations of God’s emergence in nature, often confused the theologians who were trying to determine whether his ideas were heresy or not. What seemed more clearly dangerous was Boehme’s rejection of the importance of the Bible, and his stress on the freedom of the spirit and direct revelation. The town council where Boehme lived ordered him to stop writing, an order he followed for a while, but toward the end of his life writing streamed from his pen. Many of his works were published later in the Netherlands and England, where they infl uenced Fox and many other religious thinkers; they were also important to Romantic poets, including William Blake, and later German philosophers, including Georg Friedrich Hegel. Jane Lead (1623–1704) was one of those who read Boehme, writing that true religious knowledge came only through turning inward and fi nding one’s own inner light. She organized a circle of like-minded people called the Philadelphian Society, urging them to seek the “virgin wisdom of God” and not go “whoring after Lord Reason.” Jean de Labadie (1610 –74), a French ex-Jesuit, and Antoinette Bourignon (1616–80), a French mystic, also developed spiritualist ideas, writing that spiritual rebirth was more important than baptism, so that Jews and Muslims might also be blessed and resurrected. They gained a small group of followers, usually called Labadists, and were forced from France to Flanders, then to Germany, and fi nally to the Danish-controlled city of Altona and to the Netherlands, which provided a refuge for Philadelphians and Quakers as well. By the late seventeenth century, the Netherlands was the most tolerant part of Europe, so that it was also the most common place of publication for the works of radical religious thinkers. Though Boehme and Lead were suspicious of reason, not all spiritualists were antiintellectual. Some of them carried on the tradition of the Italian reformer Fausto Sozzini, who had emphasized the links between reason and revelation. The Swedish nobleman Emanuel Swedenborg ( 1688–1772), for example, edited the fi rst Swedish scientifi c journal, and was interested in geology and cosmology. He investigated the lobes of the brain, deciding that the soul was located in the cortex, and combined scientifi c and religious speculation to explain the origins of the world. Like Fox, Boehme, and Madame Guyon, he had a mystical vision he regarded as a direct message from God about true reality; this vision would usher in a new age of the spirit, he wrote in his many works, in which all that exists would be shown to be simply a refl ection of God. Swedenborg had few followers during his lifetime, but after he died the Church of the New Jerusalem based on his writings was founded in London; there are small groups of Swedenborgians still around today, most of them in North America. Except for the Quakers, most of the spiritualist groups remained very small. A much larger movement, and one that did not break totally with state churches, was pietism, a word that originated as a term of ridicule and derision but, like Yankee, was later used positively by those who had been so labeled. Different pietists had different specifi c aims, but in general pietists wanted to build a meaningful religious fellowship within the state church through devotion, moral discipline, and personal religious experiences. Puritanism in England is similar to pietism, as it also emphasized personal conversion, voluntary prayer meetings, and rigorous moral standards. Lutheran pietism developed late in the seventeenth century. The German pastor and theologian Philipp Spener (1635–1705) set up Bible study groups that he called “colleges of piety” in Frankfurt during the 1670s, and in 1675 published Pia desideria , which outlined a program for the enhancement of piety through reforming the seminaries, charitable activities, and prayer circles for lay people. Spener called for preachers to emphasize the word of God in their sermons instead of complicated doctrinal issues, and to provide evidence of their own personal spiritual regeneration as well as their theological training before being given a position. He never directly attacked any Lutheran doctrine, but the orthodox Lutheran theologians at the University of Wittenberg and elsewhere decided he was a Calvinist, as he emphasized sanctifi cation – holiness of life, achieved through the power of God – more than justifi cation by faith. Spener was forced to leave fi rst Frankfurt and then Dresden. Despite – or perhaps because of – this opposition, lay people organized and joined colleges of piety in many German cities, and other Lutheran pastors also began to advocate similar ideas. August Francke (1663–1727), a pastor in Leipzig, was forced to step down from his position for his emphasis on spiritual conversion and lay involvement; he joined Spener at Halle in Brandenburg – the most tolerant state in Germany – where they established a new university. The University of Halle became the largest divinity school in Germany, and its graduates set up orphanages, schools, and study groups. They were the fi rst Protestants to engage in missionary activity; in 1707, the king of Denmark sent two graduates of Halle to the Danish colony of Tranquebar in India, and soon pietist Protestant missionaries were in Lapland, Greenland, and colonial America. Lutheran pietists varied in their reaction to political changes. Some of them were politically passive, while those in the expanding state of Brandenburg- Prussia played an important role in the establishment of the bureaucratic absolutist state.

 

 

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