Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Pietism)

Continued from What Happened to the History of the Gospels? (The Impact of the Enlightenment)...

An Interlude: What Happened to History, Anyway? (cont’d)

Has the Church merely abdicated?
One will often read contemporary Christian commentators who lament with bitterness what they see as abdication by the Church in Western Civilization of its involvement in science or society, claiming that it has offered no response to these challenges, and, rather than defend against them, has instead embraced them. Such commentary is unhelpful and considerably off the mark. The fact is, the Church has not merely abdicated. It has struggled mightily and in various ways against the withering onslaught of man’s great enemy – the World – yet has been forced into retreat.

The Impact of Pietism leading into the Enlightenment
But it must be realized that most of the battles that would be fought in the two centuries following the Enlightenment were already lost in the generation leading up to it, in the era of Pietism. This broad movement within the Church developed within Lutheranism in the mid- to late- 17th Century, and was finally inaugurated under the leadership of Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) with the publication of his Pia Desideria, in 1675. In it, growing spiritual malaise within the Church was identified and decried, and a program for the reformation of spiritual life within the congregations was articulated.

The structure of the Lutheran church opened it to political manipulation of the state
The 17th Century is known as the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy. It was during this time that, being tempered as it was by incessant challenges from Rome, Geneva and elsewhere, it’s theology was fully systematized and established. It had never been stronger. That sickly conditions were otherwise a reality, however, is (and was) openly admitted, but the causes were numerous, some being contemporary, and some extending back to the time of the Reformation itself. Heinrich Schmid (1811-1885) documents some of these causes in the introduction of his History of Pietism. Chief among these causes was the structure of the Lutheran Church in Germany itself, a compromise condition established around the time of the Reformation. The Reformers desired a church that was independent of the state, articulating as much in the Augsburg Confession (AC XXVIII), and carefully guarding the rights of the congregation in The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. Also desiring to avoid conflict with the princes, instead of pushing for complete separation from the state, as was their confessed desire, the Reformers compromised, agreeing to the oversight of what we would call a presbytery, or a council of laymen and clergy who would oversee the congregations on behalf of the state. Before long, however, political maneuvering of the princes insured the uninvolvement of the presbyters, and as a result, the office of the presbytery was used as a medium through which the princes would govern the congregations – a situation which, in a strictly pragmatic sense, might be tolerable if a given prince were a pious Christian; but this was rarely the case37. Before the close of the 16th Century, the control of the state over the church caused the concordist, David Chytraeus (1531-1600) to complain of what Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654) and others later lamented as caesaropapacy, observing that
    the politicians have, according to Luther’s instruction, embraced the gospel all the more eagerly, but only so that they may throw off the yoke of the bishops and take the goods of the church. They no longer want to look to the servants of the church for judgment, but want to judge everything themselves. Thus the church now has to be ruled more according to the verdict of the courts than according to the Word of God38.
As a result of this small matter of confessional compromise, all manner of worldly corruption entered into the practice of the Lutheran Church in Germany. It seems that in some ways the training of pastors descended from the political maneuvering of the princes with respect to religion, such that as students they were focused more “on papistic, Reformed, Socinian, and anabaptistic controversies”39, than on Scripture and exegetical theology. Such controversies were far more than just theological debates, but were also critical matters of political importance, given that the religious confession of the ruling class was often a determining factor in the negotiation of strategic alliances. From such priorities descended the preparation of the pastors. And such became the flavor of their preaching.

Scholasticism crept into the Lutheran method of theology
Exacerbating this situation was the entrance and acceptance of the Scholastic Method into the method of Lutheran theology – also reaching back to the time of the Reformation. Scholasticism, following the epistemology and logic of Aristotle, was a method of organizing knowledge according to the categories and hierarchy of observation, and reasoning from these observations to conclusions regarding universal truth – conclusions which can only be reached intellectually, as they lie outside the reach of the human senses. Early in the Mediæval Era,
    the Christian religion was the leading subject of thought... [Thus] its divines had put forward the claim that Christianity was not merely ...the means to reunion with God, but also a philosophy in the widest sense that the term is used – that is, a consistent speculative view of man’s condition, nature, and surrounding world. They held, without reservation, that the doctrines of the ancient philosophers had to be corrected to conform to those of revelation. The resultant theology was the only true philosophy. Thus, in its classic sense, scholastic philosophy is a philosophical doctrine of the ancient world which was amended so as to conform to or be consistent with the Christian theology of the Middle Ages40.
Scholastic Theology thus studied matters of God according to observation from Nature, Scripture, and Tradition and harmonized them with the conclusions of classical philosophy. It was from this theological tradition that Luther and the Reformers sought to free the Church, directing it back to the source of God’s revelation to man and championing a purely exegetical theology. Offered in the face of the scholastics who cited centuries of commentary, Sola Scriptura was not an attack on reason, but a subordination of reason to Holy Writ.

This did not, however, preclude utilization of the form of scholastic theology, that is, use of the categories and order of scholastic theology that was recognized by the scholastics, particularly in answer to their charges, which were naturally offered in the context of scholastic method. Beginning in 1521, Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), with the approval of Martin Luther, published his Loci Communes – a Lutheran theology expressed in the order and categories of scholastic theology – with many revisions following throughout his life. Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), following Melanchthon, began work on his Loci Theologici in 1554 – a commentary on Melanchthon’s Loci, which sought to correct the theological aberrations it contained. Despite following the form of the Loci, the character of Lutheran theology remained distinctively biblical and exegetical, even into the beginning of the early 17th Century.

By the time of Johann Gerhardt (1582-1637), however, attitudes had begun to change. The Catholic counter-reformation had been launched in 1540, with the establishment of the Jesuit Order, which was dedicated to the defense and propagation of the Roman Catholic faith, and continued in earnest in 1545 with the Council of Trent, which concluded in 1563 by issuing sweeping condemnations of nearly every protestant distinctive with which it had been forced to contend. The implications of these theological condemnations were significant, as the various provinces within the Holy Roman Empire remaining within the Roman Catholic Church were obligated to consider the anathematized as political opponents. This was a reality with which the Lutheran princes had to contend, and, no doubt, was a factor under consideration as they controlled the congregations through the presbyteries. Meanwhile, the Jesuits started schools, sent out missionaries, and mounted rigorous theological offensives against the protestant churches – using the scholastic method – mostly in an effort to turn the opinions of the nobility against Protestant teaching and to crush Protestantism in the process. Gerhard, fully acquainted and skilled with the method of exegetical theology, acquiesced to the use of the scholastic method, mostly under pressure from such challenges.

Of no small significance, René Descartes (1596-1650)41 received his early education by the Jesuits at Collège de La Flèche, and we see traces of the scholasticism he there imbibed in the dualism which emerged from his philosophy. He published his Discourse on the Method in the same year Johann Gerhard died. Some commentators suggest that the “Method” on which he “discoursed” was not just a reference to his new method of investigating truth, but was a reference to the scholastic method itself, and represented his attempt to reform and improve the method used and taught by the Jesuits. Regardless, the growing impact of rationalism was felt in culture, particularly as the nobility became more and more preoccupied with secular matters. It may just be a coincidence, but following the death of Gerhard, and for the remainder of the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy, the analytic methods of scholasticism dominated Lutheran theological methodology42.

Impact on church practice in the congregations
Not only had the training of pastors descended from these realities, and their preaching taken on characteristics representing them, the idea of the pastor as “steward of the mysteries of God” became identified solely with the role of preaching, rather than with the authoritative source of the message. Rather than Christ, the preacher was on display42. At the same time the pastoral task of shepherding became narrowed to the task of teaching43 – which was itself often accomplished only from the pulpit. Thus, the preacher again, not the people he was called to serve, became central to his ministry. “Pastors began to think that their entire ministry should center on keeping doctrine pure. Thus they were in danger of forgetting that pure doctrine is only a means to a goal,”44 not the goal itself. The public practice of the worshipers suffered, as a result. Heinrich Schmid quotes Theophilus Grossgebauer (1628-1661), who observed:
    By the public worship service I understand preaching, singing, praying, and intercessions. But today they act as if preaching and listening to a sermon alone make a worship service. Thus in the big cities I have seen people punctually stream into church at the time that the preacher climbs into the pulpit and then, when the sermon is over, stream out. Today, instead of saying with the old Christians that they have praised God with their fellow Christians, prayed from the heart for the unrepentant, received the repentant into fellowship again, encouraged one another with psalms, and heard the Word of God; the people use a new way of speaking unknown to the apostolic Christians: They say that they have “been at the sermon,” as the Roman Catholics say that they have been at mass45.
And such became the attitude of the laity toward the Sacraments, as well. Schmid quotes Heinrich Müller (1631-1675), another critic of the status of church life, who records:
    Modern Christianity has four mute ecclesiastical idols which they follow: the baptismal font, the pulpit, the confessional, and the altar. They take comfort in their external Christianity, that they are baptized, hear God’s Word, go to confession, and receive the Lord’s Supper, but they deny the inner power of Christianity46.
Such observations are what prompted Grossgebauer to also grieve, with much hyperbole, regarding the clergy:
    All preaching of the Word and all use of the sacraments is not merely unfruitful, but also soul-destroying. The bearers of the Word and the administrators of the sacraments do not have the courage and the earnestness to maintain and urge the form of congregational life that corresponds to the essence of the divine Word and sacrament...47
What Grossgbauer, Müller and other critics of the Lutheran church were concerned about was the proper use and centrality of the Means of Grace, i.e., the form of congregational life that corresponds to the essence of the divine Word and sacrament. They were not pining for a program to inspire enthusiasm for God-talk and personal experience with the Holy Spirit.

The impact of the Thirty Years’ War
It is necessary, however, to realize one other important factor responsible for the malaise which most church leaders admitted during this time: the impact of the Thirty Years’ War. From 1618 to 1648, all of Europe converged on Germany as political, economic and religious interests collided in devastating turmoil. Of direct impact church-life in Germany, territories changed hands and religious Confession through military victory and defeat, or as princes converted between Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Roman Catholicism for political advantage48, causing in some districts a whip-sawing of religious practice. Generally, human casualty and economic loss were unimaginable.
    The Swedes alone were accused of destroying nearly two thousand castles, eighteen thousand villages and over fifteen hundred towns. Bavaria claimed to have lost eighty thousand families and nine hundred villages, Bohemia five-sixths of its villages and three-quarters of its population. In Württemberg the number of the inhabitants was said to have fallen to a sixth, in Nassau to a fifth, in Henneberg to a third, in the wasted Palatinate to a fiftieth of its original size. The population of Colmar was halved, that of Wolfenbüttel had sunk to an eighth, of Magdeburg to a tenth, of Hagenau to a fifth, of Olmütz to less than a fifteenth. Minden, Hamlen, Göttingen, Magdeburg, by their own account, stood in ruins49.

    The war threw the entire cultural state of affairs in Germany back a hundred years. Poverty and moral degeneration reached a degree never seen before. Even the days after the war were not a time of fresh and cheerful prosperity. The unity of the German realm was not achieved through the Peace of Westphalia, and the territory of the realm was diminished. Foreign princes had influence on conditions in Germany, and the native princes used the freedom from imperial control they had achieved to enslave their subjects... The moral degeneration that spread during the war aroused in the congregations a stubbornness toward church discipline, against which the clergy were not able to prevail...50.
Pietists to the Rescue?
When it is understood that the Pietists recognized along with nearly everyone else that there were some serious problems among the Lutheran clergy and laity in Germany, yet decried “orthodixism” (or, loosely, "orthodoxy for its own sake") as the cause of those problems and set about implementing their own program of reforms to revive the spiritual life of the Lutheran church, the reality is that they were responding to a situation brought about by conditions far beyond this simple diagnosis. Phillip Jakob Spener prescribed the cure in 1675 with the publication of his Pia Desideria – six seemingly modest Lutheran reforms that he thought would bring about spiritual renewal among Lutherans and would extend Luther's doctrinal Reformation into the life and works of the Church and of individual believers51:
  1. a greater study of Scripture among Christians, assembled in small groups called "conventicles",
  2. the practicing of the Universal Priesthood of all Believers through lay participation in congregational ministry,
  3. encouraging Christians to live out their faith, rather than mere intellectual assent to Biblical teaching,
  4. a more brotherly treatment of heterodox teachers,
  5. ministerial training that cultivated personal piety as well as academic prowess, and,
  6. preaching which dwelt on Sanctification52,53
Special note ought to be taken of points (1) and (2). In decrying “orthodoxism,” Spener was really criticizing a church political structure which provided pure doctrine well-enough, but which extended no rights to the laity. Schmid quotes Spener, thus:
    Under the church constitution, the church is not given its rights; the greatest part of the church, the laity, is suppressed. I fear that this is the source of all corruption and that the church cannot possibly be helped by this sort of arrangement. What gave rise to the papacy was not removed by the Reformation; the rule of the clergy was in most places replaced by the caesaropapism. Therefore, even though the Reformation gave us the pure doctrine through God’s grace, nevertheless the ultimate goal of improving the church did not follow54.
Spener’s dispute with the Lutheran church had a strong political component to it, and his cure took the form of a specific kind of human action, catalyzed at first through the leadership of concerned clergy, but eventually taking on an organic life of its own. In this regard, special note ought also be taken of the fact that Spener was a student of the teaching of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) – having won his master in 1653 at the University of Strasbourg by a disputation against Hobbes’ philosophy. It would be interesting to have access to his specific objections to Hobbes, as the remedy Spener proposes for the Lutheran Church strikes one as very similar to Hobbes’ social contract theory. Schmid, quoting Spener again:
    I have little hope in human strength [referring to the character of leaders in the Church and State, and their ability to lead “effectively”], but trust that from time to time pious preachers and politicians will work at gradually gathering in his church ecclesiolae in ecclesia without causing any divisions and arrange these so that there are true Christians in them. These will not fail to be excellent examples and a yeast that works powerfully in the rest of the dough. Either I am wrong, or this is the only way the church can be cared for55.
Elevation of the Universal Priesthood and the collection of laity into ecclesiolae in ecclesia, from which they would be sent for the purposes of having a leavening influence in the church, is very near the image of a leaderless body politic, in which a natural order is organically established through mutually beneficial acquiescence and agreement. As a matter of pragmatic necessity, elevating the untrained laity to quasi-ministerial status in the Church would require attenuation of the goal and ideal of orthodoxy. Rigorous orthodoxy in the Church was the primary impediment to his idea of a more egalitarian church structure. In other words, Spener’s program sounds as much like an experiment in (then) modern social and organizational theory, as it does anything else.

If a leaderless body politic was indeed what Spener had envisioned, with a laity fully imbued with the rights of participation in the governance of the church, then he was largely successful – for very swiftly following his publication of Pia Desideria the near anarchy one would expect, resulted.
    Valentin Ernst Loescher (1673-1749), an orthodox Lutheran theologian and eyewitness to German Pietism – who was also one of the most effective opponents of it – uses the following words to describe the characteristics of Pietism in his work, Timotheus Verinus, and devotes an entire chapter of analysis to each word as it is applied to Spener's movement:

      indifferentism, contempt for the Means of Grace, the invalidation of the ministry, the confusing of righteousness by faith with works, millennialism, precisionism, mysticism, the abolition of the spiritual supports, crypto-enthusiasm, reformatism, and making divisions...57

    ...Because Pietism viewed the role of intellect in spiritual matters with suspicion and displayed strong preference for emotion and intuition, the Church largely became an unwelcome place for the intellectually capable58.
As a result, the Western Church was made exceptionally vulnerable through weakened doctrine, experiential anthropocentric practice, and unionism, and in the process forfeited to the world of secular academia a generation of men who, as theologians of potent intellect, would have been crucial to meeting the challenges which would confront it. Among Lutherans, by 1750 and the bloom of the Enlightenment, Loescher, the last of the old orthodox theologians died, rendering orthodox confessional Lutheranism essentially silent until it began to emerge again in America a century later. In the meantime, while Pietism, as a movement in the Church, succumbed in continental Europe to the reaction of “pure rationalism” – which nearly everywhere invaded the Church and society – the individualistic, experiential, and anti-intellectual personal piety and church practice it nurtured, remained.

While Pietism was not a response to attacks on the historicity of the Gospels, we see in this episode of Church History how the Lutheran church in Germany allowed contemporary culture to influence it, such that by the end of the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy, the Lutheran church itself was made into an example of Cartesian Dualism. One faction, the Lutheran scholastics (particularly the later theologians like Baier59, Quenstedt, and Calov), elevated reason in their system of theology, at some points (it is said) subordinating their exegesis to that system. Their theology was still orthodox, of course, thorough and very clear. Yet, their method provided both precedent and platform for the Rationalists of the following generation to disregard an exegetical approach, and to subordinate Scripture to man’s reason. This faction was representative of Decartes’ “sphere of reason,” and as a consequence of elevated human reason, the Christianity which flowed from Enlightenment Rationalism was named “liberal” – also representing the Cartesian significance of reason60. The other faction, representative of Descartes’ “sphere of experience,” were the Pietists, who elevated human experience, and at many points subordinated scripture and its objective teachings to the subjectivity of human intuition and emotion.

From this point forward in the culture of the West, as well as within the Church as it grappled with ideas it either imported or which otherwise seeped in from the World, the interplay and exchange of emphases between reason and experience has continued nearly unabated – not as an equilibrium between experience and reason has been sought (such as was enjoyed before the time of Descartes), but as one has been emphasized in reaction to the other.

More to come...


  1. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism (J. Langebartels, Trans.). (Original work published in German, 1863). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 1-3.
  2. Ibid. pg. 4. See also pp. 16-18.
  3. Ibid. pg. 10 (quoting Theophilus Grossgebauer [1628-1661]).
  4. Stoops, J. (1971). Philosophy and Education in Western Civilization. Danville, IL: Interstate Publishers. pg. 162-163
  5. See on Intrepid Lutherans, the previous essay in this series: The Impact of the Enlightenment
  6. The following Wikipedia article gives some information: Lutheran Scholasticism
  7. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism (J. Langebartels, Trans.). (Original work published in German, 1863). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 7-8.
  8. Ibid. pp. 8-9.
  9. Ibid. pg. 22.
  10. Ibid. pg. 13.
  11. Ibid. pg. 6.
  12. Ibid. pg. 7.
  13. Wedgwood, C. (1994). The Thirty Years War. (Originally published in 1939). Norwalk, CT: Easton Press. pp. 41-45.
  14. Ibid. pg. 512.
  15. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism (J. Langebartels, Trans.). (Original work published in German, 1863). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 15,19.
  16. Ibid. pp. 57-59.
  17. Ibid. pp. 38-51.
  18. Spener, P. (2002). Pia Desideria (Reprint edition, previously published by Augsburg Fortress Press in 1964, T. Tappert, Trans. Original work published in German, 1675.) Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. pp. 87-122.
  19. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism (J. Langebartels, Trans.). (Original work published in German, 1863). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pg. 59.
  20. Ibid. pg. 61.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Loescher, V. (1998). The Complete Timotheus Verinus (J. Langebartels & R. Koester, Trans.). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published 1718 [Part 1] and 1721 [Part 2]). pg. 249.
  23. Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism
    See also: C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry
  24. The reader may be interested to know that it was Johann Wilhelm Baier’s dogmatic compendium which was later annotated by C.F.W. Walther, and used as the Missouri Synod’s first dogmatics text. The Baier-Walther Compendium of Positive Theology was later used by Dr. Francis Pieper as the basis for his Christian Dogmatics.
  25. Recall from The Impact of the Enlightenment the impact of Descartes’ discovery that reason is the seat of existence:
      Thus reason, he discovered, is the seat of existence – not experience. As a consequence, when reason and experience interact, human liberty results only when reason directs experience – that is, when reason is the cause of human action. On the other hand, human slavery results when experience is the cause of reason, when people are prompted to the exercise of reason on the basis of what happens to them or around them.

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