The Evangelical Universalist Forum


Anyone here spend a great deal of time studying Pietism? I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to gain some understanding of what went on in Philadephia and all the German sects, especially the Piests like Christopher Saur. Anyone do any studying on the Pietists in Halle Germany? Thanks, Gary

To clarify, this is (apparently) Gary Amirault from Tentmaker. (I say apparently because this is also the internet. :wink: )

Hi Gary!

I’m going to ping [tag]Sobornost[/tag]; he’s studied that area a lot, and I like to read his notes. :sunglasses:

OK Jason  -

From what I can remember – the Pietist in Berleburger were universalists with lots of different strands of Protestant mysticism feeding them like the the Dunkers, the Christian Cabbalists, teh Schwenkfeldians , and the English Philadelphians. Jane Lead the prophetess of the Philadelphian universalist sect was a follower of Boehme – and her insights about universal salvation came to her in visions but were almost certainly influenced by her reading of the Cambridge Platonist Lady Anne Conway and/or George Rust’s Epistle on Origen. She took Boehmenism in a Universalist direction. Not all continental Bohemnists were happy with this – Gitchel who was the head of the Bohmenist at the time rejected her views outright. But two other German Bohemneists – the Petersens – believed her insights to be genuineand founded the continental Philadelphians. Berleburger was a tolerant Principality and the Universalist were left in peace. And there they created a Universalist Bible with encyclopaedic notes giving a Universalist gloss on every single verse – it’s a massive book. Christopher Saur – Sower – the elder was the printer of this volume.

And then the old Prince died and the new Prince was not a tolerant man and the Pietist universalists were subjected to persecution. They fled to America with a lot of them settling in Germantown Pennsylvania because of the tolerant Quaker polity there under William Penn. Christopher Sower managed to take his printing press with him. And there the first new home grown Bible in English printed in America came off his press (Eliot’s missionary Bible predated this but was in a Native American dialect). This was a universalist Bible – not with compendious notes like the Berleberger one – but with the verse suggesting universal hope printed in bold. And this was re-printed by his son – Christopher Sower the younger.

The Universalists of German town consisted of Pietists, Dunkers and others like George de Beneville – converted to universalism by an NDA. He was a mentor to Elhanan Winchester; they used to travel on missionary journeys together. De Benville was also welcome to preach in Dunker pulpits and a frequent visitor to the Ephrata Cloisters – that was originally a mixed sex monastic community of Christian mystics with a theology that was tinged by the writings of Boehme.

Quakerism had been ambivalent about universal salvation but many Quakers were concerted to universalism at this time by contact with the Berleberger pietists and gave money to finance the publication of Sower’s Universalist bible. There is also speculation that Penn naming the capital of Pennsylvania as ‘Philadelphia’ was symbolic as a nod to its Universalist citizens. :slight_smile:

Squee! :sunglasses:

Uh, I mean, thanks Sobor. :ugeek: So is the ‘glossier’ Sower Bible still around? I guess it’d be in German anyway (and sounds wildly over-interpreted, so I don’t know how much use it could be).

HI Jason :slight_smile:

I think there is a book in English somewhere about the Berleberger Bible - but I’m not sure there are reprints of it anywhere and I’m not aware that it has been translated from German. You are right it is a work of over interpretation and draws much on Origenist allegorical readings, the writings of the mystics and even numerology and Cabbala as part of its interpretative method - so I don’t think it’s of much use apart from as an historical curiosity. As for the Sower Universalist Bible - the one in 17th century English where universal hope passages are set in bold - there may well be copies of that still around or a facsimile edition somewhere (but that’ll be know about by American antiquarians I would think)

All the best old china

Dick :slight_smile:

I’ve got a bit of a photographic memory and one thing sparks another – although I don’t have the books to hand that a read about this in at the moment. So some bits and bobs on the above –

The Petersens

The Petersens were’ Johann’ and ‘Eleanora’ – there is a book somewhere about how Pietism valued experience as well as theology – whereas Protestant scholasticism by the seventeenth century only valued abstract theology. And therefore the experiential women had prominent roles in Pietism and Eleanora Petersen was a case in point (and this is one of the reasons why she and her husband were willing to listen to Jane Lead, and they both searched scripture diligently before taking Jane’s views of apocatastasis on board).

Johann Petersen’s writings in defence of universalism – that only exist in German – diligently attempt to find a pedigree for universalism in Church history (and he did his best although he didn’t have good sources to hand). I noted when I first looked at Gary Arimault’s list of Universalists in the past that some of these obviously came indirectly from Petersen’s list – like Hermes Trismegistus (But actually the Hermetic writings are not Universalist). Petersen was also the first to cite a letter by Luther discussing post mortem salvation to suggest that Luther may have had Universalist sympathies – and Rob Bell was caught out by sifting this letter a few years back. Well we have looked at Luther’s letter at EU and it actually is clearly not Universalist in sympathy. However Petersen’s list gets better when he starts talking about his own times.

Oh yes and Paul Siegvolk who wrote the Everlasting Gospel which I have seen quoted at EU was a protégée of Johann Petersen (and I think Christoper Sower the Younger may have printed an Ameircan edition)

George de Beneville

George de Beneville was born and brought up a Calvinist – his parents were French exiles at the English court. I’ve seen an essay – at EU Facebook I think – suggesting it was only his Near Death Experience during a period of illness that converted him to universal hope but I don’t think this is so – and I think NDAs and vision of all kinds often simply clarify in an onrush what is already there in a person’s heart (and what they already think at a very deep and yet to be articulated level from their experience of life). As a teenager George had been given a commission as an assistant to a Captain of ship and he’d witnessed something which had already shattered his exclusivism. He had seen an Algerian ship with a Muslin crew draw alongside his ship. One of the Algerain Sailors had fallen and broken his leg and the other sailors cared for him with such tenderness that George was felt almost physically knocked down by a realisation of their common humanity with him and that they too were loved by God and part of his saving plan. When George fetched up in Pennsylvania he always had good relations with the Native Americans and developed hsi own sign language to communicate with them and was keen to learn about their traditions of herbal medicine.

The Sowers and the Dunkers

Christopher Sower the Elder was associated with the Dunkers but was not a bug part of their community. He had a good sense of humour and made a living producing almanacs for farmers from his press a lot of the time. Christopher Sower the Younger was actually a Bishop of the Dunker Church. The Dunkers are so called because they do threefold ‘dunking’ as their rite of baptism. The Dunkers today are known as The Brethren of Christ – with the Mennonites and the Quakers they are part of the historic peace Churches federation in the USA. Universalism is no longer a big part of their teaching apparently (first it was an open teaching, and then it was became a ‘secret’ teaching reserved for those who were ready to hear it, and then by becoming secret it became obsolete it would seem).

Also the Dunkers – who came from Germany where they were known as Tunkers or Dunkards – were originally an Anabaptist sect. The Anabaptists of course practised adult baptism – introducing an element of adult choice into religious affiliation which outraged the magisterial Protestants and Catholics in equal measure (Magisterial - refers to the view that the state should enforce a persons religious affiliation). And thus like the other Anabaptists they were and are pacifists. In the sixteenth century the mainstream Anabaptists were often accused of being Universalists – although there is little evidence for this; but the accusation is one reason why they were so viciously persecuted and killed in such large numbers by mainstream ‘magisterial’ Protestants. The charge was that by being universalist they were inviting Satan to sup at the table of legitimate authority and undermining all good order in the state (this evoked the memory of the Anabaptist millenarians who had taken over the city of Muster for a time – but these Anabaptist were not universalists and after the Munster episode the Anabaptists renounced violence). However there was a tradition of universalism in amongst a minority of Anabaptist – those know as the Spirituals – who were much influenced by Erasmus and the Christian humanists. At first the Spirituals – so called because they believed in the authority of the spirit within/ the inner Word as well as that of the Bible – were mainly isolated scholars (Hans Denck being the first of them); but the Dunkers appear to have been drawing on the Spirituals for their universalism. They were pacifists but also good citizens and a peacable people – and I’ve seen sources from seventeenth century America which cite them as a shining example of how the fear of eternal damnation once removed does not turn people into brute beasts and viscous subversives.

Christopher Sower the Younger supported the Royalist/loyalist cause in the War of Independence – at least in terms of his expressed allegiance (pacifists can sometimes – but not always - be very conservative when faces with any revolutionary change – because revolutionary change entails violent resistance. Because of his loyalty to the ‘Crown’– -a unit of Independence fighters were billeted in his printing house - as a form of mild punishment - and they used copies of his Universalist Bible to pad out their boots for comfort.

Reflection on early modern Universalist eclecticism

Regarding the eclectic sources from which the early American Universalists constructed their theology – well I don’t think that Evangelical Universalists and other Christian Universalists today can re-commission this with profit. However, my apologia for the early modern Universalists is that they were making things new. Universalism had become obscured in the west for centuries and even to think ‘universalisms’ was a sign of complete madness, subversion and absolute wickedness to most people in the West from the ninth to the sixteenth century. I note for example that Margery Kempe in the fourteenth century – lacking the emotional robustness of Julian of Norwich – thought like a universalist for a moment one day and then was assailed by a very unpleasant vision of male saints exposing themselves to her. I also note that Guillaume Postel the brilliant sixteenth century polymath who was the first Westerner to argue systematically (if eccentrically) for universal salvation since Erigena in the ninth century actually ended up in an asylum for the insane.

These early modern Universalists simply had to do the best that they could with the resources they had available. I’ve observed elsewhere here that some of the insights of, say, the Bohemenists have clear resonances with the Early Universalist Church Fathers. Yes they are more muddled and higgledy-piggledy – and it is not profitable to get lost in their labyrinths. However, they were on the right track and should not be dismissed because they were not supported by a living tradition at that time. And of course George de Beneville inspired Elhanan Winchester who put free wild universalism on a sound biblical basis (but the other American Universalist tradition – that of Murray – came from a different source; from the Calvinist Baptist tradition).

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+1 imho

Thanks for the thumbs up Dave old chum - that’s sweet of you :slight_smile:

I’m a big fan of Pietism. I like to eat a variety of pies! :laughing:

Now that joke really is unforgiveable Randy :smiley:

As dear old Brother Jordan (back in my AOG days) used to say: " I only like two kinds of pie - hot and cold" :laughing:

Here’s another popular use of pietism (i.e. Notice how Moe tried to peach the gospel to love your neighbor!):


3.14 being Pi, may be a mystical formula, for the trinity. 3.14 being an infinitely non-repeating number, and critical to establishing the exact size of a pie.

Pie, like pi is both irrational and transcendant ( Pietists are considered irrational by proponents of orthodoxy and ritual as the ideal expression of faith, yet they consider themselves to be transcendent.

I am irrational about pie and will go to great lengths to achieve the transcendency derived from eating it. So I guess i am, like randy, a pietist

Just another piece of “for what it’s worth” information…

The really handy thing about Pi i.e., 3.141 (and it needs to be those 4 digits) is in working out the circumference of any circle “without a calculator” is that IF you’ve worked out the sum correctly the answer will ALWAYS break down to equalling “9” -– if it doesn’t then your calculations are wrong.

For example, using metric (I’m Aussie)… multiplying the diameter of any object, say 380mm (roughly 18”) by 3.141, will give you a circumference length equalling 1193.58mm. Thus 1+1+9+3+5+8 = 27; 2+7 = “9”. Works every time. :mrgreen:

Let’s watch this excellent professor explain the history of pietism! (i.e. notice how the student tries to show up the professor - at the end! But the professor gets the upper hand!)

Some songs about pietism, to start the day.