After a brief stay in the grammar school of Colmar he went to Strassburg in 1651, where he devoted himself to the study of philology, history and philosophy, and won his degree of master (1653) by a disputation against the philosophy of Hobbes. He then became private tutor to the princes Christian and Charles of the Palatinate, and lectured in the university on philology and history. From 1659 to 1662 he visited the universities of Basel, Tübingen and Geneva, and commenced the study of heraldry, which he pursued throughout his life. In Geneva especially his religious views and tendencies were turned in the direction of mysticism.
He returned to Strassburg in 1663, where be was appointed preacher without pastoral duties, with the right of holding lectures. Three years afterwards he was invited to become the chief pastor in the Lutheran Church at Frankfurt. Here he published his two chief works, Pia desideria (1675) and Allgemeine Gottesgelehrtheit (1680), and began that form of pastoral work which resulted in the movement called Pietism. In 1686 he accepted the invitation to the first court chaplaincy at Dresden. But the elector John George III, at whose personal desire the post had been offered to him, was soon offended at the fearless conscientiousness with which his chaplain sought to discharge his pastoral duties. Spener refused to resign his post, and the Saxon government hesitated to dismiss him. But in 1691 the Saxon representative at Berlin induced the court of Brandenburg to offer him the rectorship of St Nicholas in Berlin with the title of "Konsistorialrat."
In Berlin Spener was held in high honour, though the tendencies of the court and the government officials were rather rationalistic than pietistic. The university of Halle was founded under his influence in 1694. All his life long Spener had been exposed to the attacks and abuse of the orthodox Lutheran theologians; with his years his opponents multiplied, and the movement which he had inaugura,ted presented increasingly matter for hostile criticism. In 1695 the theological faculty of Wittenberg formally laid to his charge 264 errors, and only his death on the 5th of February, 1705, released him from these fierce conflicts. His last important work was Theologische Bedenken (1700-1702), to which was added after his death Letzte theologische Bedenken, with a biography of Spener by CH von Canstein (1711).
Though Spener has been justly called the "father of Pietism," hardly any of the errors and none of the extravagances of the movement can be ascribed to him personally. So far was he from sharing them that A Ritschl (Geschichte des Pietismus, ii. 163) maintains that "he was himself not a Pietist," as he did not advocate the quietistic, legalistic and semi-separatist practices of Pietism, though they were more or less involved in the positions he assumed or the practices which he encouraged or connived at. The only two points on which he departed from the orthodox Lutheran faith of his day were the requirement of regeneration as the sine qua son of the true theologian, and the expectation of the conversion of the Jews and the fall of Papacy as the prelude of the triumph of the church. He did not, like the later Pietists, insist on the necessity of a conscious crisis of conversion, nor did he encourage a complete breach between the Christian and the secular life.
Spener was a voluminous writer. The list of his published works comprises 7 vols. folio, 63 quarto, 7 octavo, 46 duodecimo; a new edition of his chief writings was published by P Grunberg in r889. See V Hossbach, Philipp Jakob Spener und seine Zeit (1828, 3rd ed., 1861); A Ritschl, Geschichte des Pietismus, ii. (1884); E Sachsse, Ursprung und Wesen des Pietismus (1884); P Grunberg. P. J. Spener (3 vols., 1893-1906).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.