Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Article excerpt

Hopes for Better Spouses: Protestant Marriage and Church Renewal in Early Modern Europe, India, and North America. By A. G. Roeber. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2013. Pp. xxviii, 289. $29.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-8028-6861-9.)

The focus of this book is the development, attempted implementation, and failed legacy of a Pietist concept of companionate marriage. As is well known, the Reformation simultaneously descramentalized matrimony and elevated it to the ideal state for all Christians. Roeber devotes the first third of the book to describing the gradual and controversial emergence of a new (modern) notion of marriage as a spiritual partnership, despite the lingering reservations of Martin Luther and other Protestant theologians about the carnal aspect of the union, itself still often conceived as a remedy to lustful urges. The most innovative aspect of this brisk survey is a suggested influence of German mysticism on the thinking of early Lutherans in this respect-an interesting thesis that remains largely undeveloped. Roeber then moves to Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, and the other early Pietists of the late-seventeenth century, for whom the orderly and social disciplinary aspects of marriage remained foremost (despite Francke's own apparThe ently warm and companionate union). The greatest theological barrier to full endorsement of a quasi-sacramental status for marriage was less patriarchy per se (which undoubtedly played a role) than mainstream Pietists' unwillingness to acknowledge sufficient divine grace after the Fall as the basis for a divine union. Some outliers, such as the admittedly obscure Christian Thomasius, argued that the divine spark in fact drove all humans to seek out marriage, but this remained a minority position until Nikolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf and the Moravians. After a chapter on the encounters of some Pietist missionaries with Tamil polygamy, Roeber returns to Europe to discuss a genuinely radical departure from Lutheran tradition. For the Unitas Fratrum-a relatively small group of at most 10,000-not only marriage but human coitus itself was considered sacramental. Although acknowledging the importance of communal concerns (and thus arranged marriages), Moravian Pietists celebrated the divine friendship of a man and a woman, with sexual consummation considered the anointment of the Holy Spirit. …

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