From the Archives: The Pia Desideria (Pious Desires)
The Pia Desideria or “Heartfelt Desire for God-pleasing Reform” is the classic statement of Pietism. First published in 1675 by Philip Jacob Spener of Frankfurt on Main, it is both a devotional work and a textbook on church renewal.
The churches in Germany in the century following the Reformation were weakened by sacramentalism and confessionalism and the clergy frequently engaged in endless theological disputes. Morality and spirituality among individual members were at a low ebb.
Influenced by earlier Pietistic writers in England and Germany, Spener took advantage of a Frankfurt publisher’s invitation to write a preface for a new edition of Johann Arndt’s True Christianity. As was his custom, Spener discussed his assignment with his fellow ministers and submitted his manuscript in 1675. His remarks, dedicated to all officials and pastors won immediate acclaim and within six months he published the preface separately under its own title, “Pious Desires.” In this seminal work, Spener responded to the spiritual conditions he observed with a sixfold program of church renewal. His principal concern was the “scandalous worldliness” of the churches and his hope for renewal was based on the conversion of Jews to Christianity in the first century churches.
The work is divided into three sections. In the first, Spener comments on the prevailing political, economic, and religious conditions in German Lutheranism. He is especially critical of the contemporary view of the Lord’s Supper, confession, and absolution. He notes the disregard among Christians for the rising problems of drinking and adultery. In a second short section, Spener outlines his hope for the improvement of the church. While it might not be possible to realize the ideal, ...