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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Pietism \Pi"e*tism\ (p[imac]"[-e]*t[i^]z'm), n. [Cf. G. pietismus, F. pi['e]tisme.]

  1. The principle or practice of the Pietists.

  2. Strict devotion; also, affectation of devotion.

    The Sch["o]ne Seele, that ideal of gentle pietism, in ``Wilhelm Meister.''
    --W. Pater.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

also Pietism, 1690s, from German Pietismus, originally applied in derision to the movement to revive personal piety in the Lutheran Church, begun in Frankfurt c.1670 by Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705). See piety + -ism.


n. (context Christianity often capitalized English) A movement in the Lutheran church in the 17th and 18th centuries, calling for a return to practical and devout Christianity.


Pietism (, from the word piety) was an influential movement within Lutheranism that combined 17th-century Lutheran principles with the Reformed emphasis on individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life. Although it was active exclusively within Lutheranism—it had a tremendous impact on Protestantism worldwide, particularly in North America and Europe, and its history in the centuries following the work of Philipp Jakob Spener, a German Lutheran theologian whose emphasis on personal transformation through spiritual rebirth and renewal, individual devotion and piety laid foundations for this pietistic movement. Although Spener did not directly advocate the quietistic, legalistic and semi-separatist practices of Pietism, they were more or less involved in the positions he assumed or the practices which he encouraged. Spener was one of the godfathers of Count von Zinzendorf, the leader of the Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine formed by exiles who fled to Saxony in 1722 from Moravia to escape religious persecution; his Lutheran Pietistic movement influenced the group's largely Hussitic theology. Pietism originated in modern Germany, and its forerunners included Jakob Böhme, Johann Arndt, Heinrich Müller, Johann Valentin Andrea, and Theophilus Grossgebauer.

It began in the late 17th century, reached its zenith in the mid-18th century, and declined through the 19th century, and had almost vanished in America by the end of the 20th century. While declining as an identifiable Lutheran group, some of its theological tenets influenced Protestantism generally, inspiring the Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement and Alexander Mack to begin the Brethren movement among Anabaptists.

It spread from Germany to Switzerland and the rest of German-speaking Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltics (where it was heavily influential, leaving a permament mark on the region's dominant Lutheranism, with figures like Hans Nielsen Hauge in Norway, Carl Olof Rosenius in Sweden, Katarina Asplund in Finland, and Baroness Barbara von Krüdener in the Baltics), and the rest of Europe. It was further taken to North America, primarily by German and Scandinavian immigrants. There, it influenced Protestants of other ethnic backgrounds, taking part in the 18th century foundation of Evangelicalism, a vibrant movement within Protestantism that today has some 300 million followers.

In the United States, during its some of its history Protestant denominations came to be categorized by historians as either pietistic or liturgical depending on their theology, as well as on their general support of the GOP or the Democratic Party. Pietistic Protestants included Quakers, Free Will Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Regular Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and some Protestants from the British and African-American communities—all based in the Northern United States; some of these groups in the South would rather support the Democrats. A substantial part of this group was formed by German Sectarians, Norwegian Lutherans, Swedish Lutherans, and Haugean Norwegians, and the whole group shared common values and practices deeply rooted in Pietism; therefore, it came to be called pietistic.

Though Pietism shares an emphasis on personal behavior with the Puritan movement, and the two are often confused, there are important differences, particularly in the concept of the role of religion in government.

Usage examples of "pietism".

Had Pietism, with all its extravagances, been fostered by the intellect of the pulpits and universities it would have accomplished the same work for Germany in the seventeenth that the Wesleys and Whitefield wrought in England in the eighteenth century.

Now this Pietism has some good features about it, but it acts in its own name.

Thus reasoned the enemies of Pietism, who claimed as heartily as any of their contemporaries that they were strict adherents of truth and warm supporters of spiritual life.

Church gradually came to look upon Pietism not as a handmaid, but as an adversary.

Both systems made purity of life essential, but Mysticism could not guard against mental disease, while Pietism enjoyed a long season of healthful life.

So great was the increase of attendance, both at the lectures and also at the meetings, that Francke was suspended and Pietism forbidden.

While a student at Wittenberg he applied himself to the study of Mysticism, and now claimed that its incorporation with Pietism was the only salvation of Christianity.

He believed Pietism the only means of uprooting the long-existing corruptions of education, society, and religion.

It is deplorable to see how Pietism now began to lose its first power and earnest spirit.

In the present century the church has had recourse to Pietism as its only relief from a devastating Rationalism.

Not the Pietism of Spener and Francke, we acknowledge, but the same general current belonging to both.

Rationalism in Germany, without Pietism as its forerunner, would have been fatal for centuries.

Baumgarten was the connecting link between the Pietism of Spener and the Rationalism of Semler.

No traces of the old Pietism of his harsh father were visible in the son.

Reared in the lap of the sternest Pietism, he found himself a student at Halle pursuing his theological curriculum.