Douglas H. Shantz. Between Sardis and Philadelphia: The Life and World of Pietist Court Preacher Conrad Bröske. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions. Leiden: Brill, 2008. 317 pp. $148.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-16968-5.
Reviewed by Kelly J. Whitmer (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin)
Published on H-German (January, 2010)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
A Pietist Cartesian and "Philadelphian" Millennialist
Between Sardis and Philadelphia is a microhistorical study of a radical German preacher, Conrad Bröske (1660-1713), who spent much of his life in the court of Count Johann Philipp II in Offenbach/Mayn. Bröske was an outspoken advocate of Philadelphianism, a London-based movement oriented around a female visionary named Jane Leade, whose affiliates were convinced that dramatic changes would begin to occur in the world in the year 1700. Followers used Leade's visions, in conjunction with the writings of the German mystic Jakob Böhme and the biblical book of Revelation, to help them articulate a vision for the dawning of a millennial age: that is, the transition from the so-called Church of Sardis to the Church of Philadelphia. This new church, so Philadelphian millennialists believed, would be marked by its emphasis on renewal, reconciliation, universal brotherhood, and love.
Douglas H. Shantz frames his study as a contribution to studies of early modern "popular culture," German pietism, and church history in dialogue with W. R. Ward's recent global history of early evangelicalism. Marburg church historian Hans Schneider's scholarship on pietist radicals is also an important starting point for Shantz (p. xvii), who acknowledges that Schneider introduced him to Bröske as a potential research subject in the first place. At the same time, the study calls into question several of the foundational assumptions that continue to dominate pietism studies in Germany. For example, Shantz questions the utility of continuing to impose neat lines of demarcation between radical and more orthodox pietist groups. He pointedly asks, "Can one precisely identify or define what makes a Pietist radical?" (p. xix). He sees Bröske as an outstanding example of an individual who, like many of his contemporaries, stood in between paradigms, schools, and programs. He was both a "radical" and a "moderate" at the same time, a feature Shantz argues was characteristic of many early evangelicals by the turn of the eighteenth century.
The book is organized in a linear fashion that allows Shantz to tell Bröske's story: from his experiences a student at the Reformed University in Marburg (chapter 1) and his travels through Geneva, several Dutch cities, London, and Oxford (chapter 2), to his appointment as a court preacher in Offenbach. Chapters 3 and 4 showcase Bröske's primary role as court preacher, including his duties as superintendent of schools and overseer of both the printing and distributing of books in his prince's territory.
Chapters 5 through 7 consider Bröske's millennialism using his own treatises on conversion and eschatology, his apocalyptic commentaries, and the eight dialogues between a politician and a theologian that he produced between 1698 and 1700. The first of these chapters uses records of Turkish baptisms occurring in the Ysenburg Court to reflect on the status of conversion for Philadelphians. Although the first Protestants, including Martin Luther, saw Turks as enemies and beyond the reach of salvation, Philadelphians included them as potential converts. This change in orientation, Shantz suggests, must be understood in conjunction with the changing relationship between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs at precisely this moment. It is not clear, though, how the images of "others" detailed here fit into a global history of (persistently violent) European encounters with non-Europeans--let alone a global history of evangelicalism.
The last portion of the book reflects on the culture of theological disputation in this period through the lens of Bröske's disputes with prominent reformed preachers in Elberfeld and with the legendary theologian, physician, and alchemist Johann Konrad Dippel (1673-1734). Shantz's account of the Dippel/Bröske conflict is especially insightful, as it manages to illustrate the frivolity of much of their very public feud while also taking seriously the substantive issues at stake for these men: namely, their very different ways of defining sectarianism, regeneration, and the status of the sacraments for evangelical Protestants more generally (p. 207).
Shantz's efforts to untangle and to elucidate the rich fabric of Bröske's life so as to offer the reader access to his world prove to be exceptionally fruitful and rewarding. They are so fruitful, in fact, that at several moments in the book, striking features of Bröske's person emerge that are not given enough attention. One such example appears in the author's discussion of Bröske's engagement with the philosophy of René Descartes.
While a student in Marburg, Bröske became deeply engaged with Cartesian philosophy. With the arrival of professors Reinhold Pauli and Samuel Andrae in Marburg's theology faculty in the 1670s, Shantz explains, a "new openness" to the new philosophy of Descartes emerged (p. 16). Bröske participated in two "Disputationes Physicas" in 1681 in which he offered "appreciative references" to the philosopher and cited directly from Descartes's second Meditation (1639) (p. 16). While traveling in Holland, Bröske encountered several of the most prominent theology professors there, including Peter van Mastricht--who, like his mentor Gisbertus Voetius, was an outspoken critic of Descartes--and Christoph Wittich, a "Calvinist Copernican" who defended Descartes (p. 39). Shantz concludes that Bröske had chosen to accept Cartesianism while a student and that there is no evidence to suggest he changed his mind (p. 41). Yet, as Shantz expertly shows, Bröske was an irenicist, which means he believed in the cause of reconciliation more generally. Why would he have extended his irenicism only to theological ruptures and disputes? Might his preoccupation with Philadelphianism have made him more inclined to seek out ways of uniting both critics and defenders of Descartes?
Shantz describes German pietists as inclined towards millennialism, alchemy, mysticism, and what he calls "anti-Aristotelianism" (p. 258)--all at the same time. But to arrive at this kind of conclusion is to contradict a long-standing set of assumptions about the relationship between pietism and science more generally. For Robert Merton (not to mention Max Weber), pietists were ascetic Protestants, not mystics, whose utilitarianism (in conjunction with many other factors) served as a powerful motive force for the articulation of "science" and scientific practice. For generations of scholars of the early Enlightenment who have reflected on the expulsion of Christian Wolff from the university town of Halle in 1723 at the hands of pietist theologians, pietists were Aristotelians--opposed to Cartesianism and especially Wolff's rationalism. Bröske's life story suggests we need not only to move beyond false distinctions between radical and moderate expressions of pietism, but also between asceticism and mysticism, Cartesianism and Aristotelianism, or science and religion.
. Hans Schneider, "Der radikale Pietismus im 17.Jahrhundert," in Der Pietismus vom siebzehnten bis zum frühen achtzehnten Jahrhundert, ed. Martin Brecht (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993); W. R. Ward, Early Evangelicalism: A Global Intellectual History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York. Harper & Row, 1978).
. See Steven Shapin, "Understanding the Merton Thesis" Isis 79 (1988): 594-605; Robert Merton, "Puritanism, Pietism and Science," Sociological Review 28 (1936): 1-30.
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Kelly J. Whitmer. Review of Shantz, Douglas H., Between Sardis and Philadelphia: The Life and World of Pietist Court Preacher Conrad Bröske..
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