Hopes for Better Spouses: Protestant Marriage and Church Renewal in Early Modern Europe, India, and North America

Hopes for Better Spouses: Protestant Marriage and Church Renewal in Early Modern Europe, India, and North America

Hopes for Better Spouses: Protestant Marriage and Church Renewal in Early Modern Europe, India, and North America

Hopes for Better Spouses: Protestant Marriage and Church Renewal in Early Modern Europe, India, and North America

Synopsis

Modern Protestant debates about spousal relations and the meaning of marriage began in a forgotten international dispute some 300 years ago. The Lutheran-Pietist ideal of marriage as friendship and mutual pursuit of holiness battled with the idea that submission defined spousal roles.

Exploiting material culture artifacts, broadsides, hymns, sermons, private correspondence, and legal cases on three continents -- Europe, Asia, and North America -- A. G. Roeber reconstructs the roots and the dimensions of a continued debate that still preoccupies international Protestantism and its Catholic and Orthodox critics and observers in the twenty-first century.

Excerpt

Just as the series preface to the volume Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva explains, this book also seeks to “tell a story that is almost totally unknown.” Martin Luther’s attempt to create a synthesis between the inherited canon law of marriage and his vision of the relationship between husband and wife that reflected the holiness conveyed by Christ to his church triggered, a century and a half after the Reformer’s death, an enormous, global debate in early modern Protestantism that has been largely forgotten. Luther famously despised the canonical legal tradition and wanted to jettison it entirely. in actual practice, the marriage relationship he envisioned built upon, but quickly came to be frustrated by, the law of marriage. I became curious a decade ago about marriage and the early modern Protestant renewal movement known as “pietism” when I learned that Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) shared Luther’s hopes and vision of the relationship between husband and wife as a partnership in which the couple pursued holiness together. Still, although Spener’s famous “charter document,” the Pia Desideria, proclaimed its “hope for better times for the church,” marriage did not appear as part of that hope. Given the importance of the proper relationship between husband and wife in Spener’s Lutheran tradition, this struck me as odd, and justification enough to appropriate Spener’s

1. Don S. Browning and John Witte Jr., series preface to Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva, vol. 1, Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage, by John Witte Jr. and Robert M. Kingdon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), p. xviii.

2. John Witte Jr., Law and Protestantism: the Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 53-85.

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