“Pia Desideria” (Pious Desires) – Philip Jacob Spener

“Every Christian is bound not only to offer himself and what he has, his prayer, thanksgiving, good works, alms, etc., but also industriously to study in the Word of the Lord, with the grace that is given him to teach others, especially those under his own roof, to chastise, exhort, convert and edify them, to observe their life, pray for all, and insofar as possible be concerned about their salvation.” (Pia Disideria, Fortress Press, 1964, p. 94)

Introduction

Philip Jacob Spener’s Pia Desideria was first published in 1675 written as an instructional treatise intended for ministers of the church. Spener was a Lutheran bishop who had originally written a preface for Johann Arndt’s True Christianity.  Within six months, he published Pia Desideria also known as “Pious Desires.” Its purpose was to respond to barren spiritual conditions in the church, of which he described as “slothful,” “a terrible ignorance,” and consequently a “disorderly life” (93).

3 Dimensions

The main theme revealed in the selected excerpt is that of the personal Christian lifestyle. Under the assumption that the readers are themselves Christian who have experienced salvation, Spenner emphasizes the outcome of that salvation has having three main dimensions. Firstly that of the inward dimension; that “every Christian is bound” to “offer himself and what he has.” This of course is closely associated to a preceding dimension that is assumed in the text, that of upward relations with God manifested in salvation. Lastly, and perhaps most emphatically is the outward dimension; the edification of fellow Christians by means of a community centered on good works and the study of Scripture. This is the visible manifestation of the Christian lifestyle seen in three dimensions; upward, inward, and outward.

The Big Idea

The outward dimension of the personal Christian lifestyle is the main emphasis of the document. The author assumes that the reader is a Christian, and “all Christians are made priests by their Savior, are anointed by the Holy Spirit, and are dedicated to perform spiritual-priestly acts” (92). This inward dimension of the Christian life is one of assuming a responsibility,  Spenner ardently claims that “the people must have impressed upon them and must accustom themselves to believing that it is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice” (95). Upon acquiring this responsibility, the Church experiences edification on primarily a personal level, and leading up to a universal level, “more and more would be achieved, and finally the church would be visibly reformed” (95).

Historical Impact

The protestant reformation, though essentially a positive shift in orthodox theology, came with some unfortunate consequences of extremism. Prior to the reformation, there existed an immense fear of sin, purgatory, hell, and ultimately God (perhaps for wrong reasons).  17th century scholastics who sought to systematize doctrine and rational thought, positively emphasized the importance of the Christian mind, breaking down notions of anti-intellectualism. The unfortunate repercussion was an antinomian lifestyle dominating the church. The challenge offered by Spener in Pia Desideria was one that instigated the change from a religion of the head to one of the heart. The dry and lifeless Christianity of the 17th century was now “coming alive” with the help of Spener’s legacy and the many who built upon it.