The letters of Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), the founder of Lutheran Pietism, are not only first-rate sources for research on the beginnings of Pietism, the most important renewal movement of Protestantism since the Reformation, but also for the church and cultural history of the early modern period. Some of them are handwritten records and can be found in archives and libraries far beyond Germany. Others are printed in old collections, collections acquired by Spener himself or in posthumous collections, which were previously hardly usable as historical sources because the names of the addressees and often references to persons directly involved were regularly erased from them.
The edition of the Spener Letters is the first to offer a complete collection of Spener's letters, whereby, with precise knowledge of Spener and the historical, ecclesiastical, and theological situation of his time, it is possible to identify the great majority of the addressees. As a result of this and the precise commentary, an epoch of early modern religious and cultural history which had hitherto been far in the dark, has for the first time been given clearer contours. The project focuses on the edition of Spener's letters from his time in Berlin (1691-1705), but also includes the completion of the edition of his letters from the Frankfurt (1666-1686) and Dresden (1686-1691) periods.
During his time as a provost at St. Nikolai and Konsistorialrat in Berlin, Spener was at the peak of his influence in church politics. Initially still involved in the “pietistic disputes” that had been massively breaking out since the beginning of the 1690s - respected on the one hand as the “head” and Apologet of the new movement and attacked on the other - Spener was able to prepare and contribute to crucial decisions through his correspondence. For example, in Brandenburg-Prussia, “Pietists” who had fallen into distress elsewhere were taken into office, the Friedrichs-Universität in Halle became a theological centre of Pietism and Francke's “Anstalten” in Glaucha outside Halle became a “power-house of Pietist” (Joke Spaans).
Spener's letters document the possibilities of Pietist personnel policy in the years around 1700 and show which keyboards had to be played in order to win over the Reformed elector (surrounded by Reformed court preachers) for the interests of Lutheran pietists. Parallel to this are Spener's letters, in which he pursued the formation of the Pietist movement and its distancing from separatist tendencies (for example in the confrontation with Gottfried Arnold). However, Spener's Berlin letters also show - as much as they provide material for a new view of the beginning of the symbiosis of “Prussianism and Pietism” (Carl Hinrichs), of the beginnings of Halle University and its denominational-political classification or of the beginning of “Francken's Foundations” and their worldwide reform claims - that Spener in turn has kept an eye on overarching contexts: on the relationship between state and church, the question of denominational tolerance, the relationship between Christians and Jews, the fate of the Protestants in Silesia (about which he wrote to the Queen of Sweden), the role of France and the Habsburgs, the possible threat to Christianity by Sociinianism.
The edition of Spener's Berlin Letters is intended to make this central source material of research accessible in a historical-critical edition for the history of the Church and theology, but also for the general intellectual and cultural history of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, for the establishment phases of Pietism and Enlightenment, for the dimensions of denominational politics, universal reform and everyday history of this period.