What Was Schartauan Pietism?

by Robert Greenwall

Some cues to the character and customs of Covenant founders might be observed in the slightly different appraisals made of Henrik Schartau (1757-1825), a Swedish cleric associated with one of the spiritual movements preceding the revivals of the nineteenth century. He was Dean of the cathedral in Lund and an influential preacher and writer who opposed lay preaching and conventicles and was critical of some aspects of pietism.

G. Everett Arden, in his Augustana Heritage, 1963, writes:

[Schartau] was a staunch churchman who opposed the emotional and subjective emphasis in religion, and stressed instead the role which man’s mind and understanding must play in Christian life. He sought to educate his people in Christian fundamentals by clear, expository sermons and penetrating catechetical classes, while he fostered good churchmanship by careful use of the prescribed liturgical and ceremonial forms. (p. 5ff.)

So, while observing that Schartau participated in the "quickening spirit of Pietism, with its emphasis on the emotional and subjective aspects of Christian experience and the ethical and moral demands of sanctification" (ibid.), Arden sees him as deleting the more excessive forms of the "emotional and subjective." He places Schartau between the influence of the Moravian missionaries on one hand and the introduction of an emphasis on personal conversion as essential, introduced by Sellergren and Nyman in Småland later.

Histories of Augustana Synod Lutheran churches in the Midwest cite an "older Pietism"—the kind more measured and less inclined to separatism, which they describe as "Schartauan" in their discussions of the Mission movement. Consider for example, Peter Wedin, Pastor of the Princeton, Illinois church, Mission Synod, in 1878. When the Skogsburg revival meetings at Princeton doubled the size of the congregation, Wedin soon departed. Covenant history then loses the "mysterious" Wedin, but Augustana history picks up the story at Ong (Edgar), Nebraska, in a Lutheran mission work. Apparently, Skogsburg’s was not the approved kind of "conversion." Whether Wedin should be linked with Schartauan churchmanship, or with the similar opponents of "new measures" of evangelism in the American great awakening is unknown, but evidently he had seen enough.
A glimpse of those "new measures" is found in B.A. Weisberger’s They Gathered at the River. In describing the era of evangelist C.G. Finney, he notes that "…in twenty-five years after the completion of the Erie Canal, western New York produced Mormonism, spiritualism, millennialism, perfectionism and the anti-Masonic, Liberty and Free Soil parties" (p.108).

In the exercise of his own evangelistic gifts, Finney encountered the following resistance from both conservative Presbyterians and religious liberals:

Most of the complaints centered on Finney’s use—or, at least, the use by youthful converts of Finney—of certain vigorous "new measures" to speed the redemptive work. For one thing, meetings were held almost daily, and prolonged until the small hours of the morning, so that the ordinary business of life virtually came to a standstill and whole communities were groggy with a mixture of exaltation and sleeplessness. In those meetings individual sinners were "prayed for" by name, and thus put under devastating social pressure to "find" conviction in their hearts…. Lastly, Finney and his disciples were accused of making attacks on "unconverted" ministers and rousing their flocks against them. (ibid.)

This last offense may have been the greatest, for the aspersion on the settled shepherds was practically implicit in the very meetings themselves, let alone the matter of making the pastors’ deficiencies explicit.

What specifically constitutes "new measures?" The term is very relative. It was used in the context of revivalistic preaching in which the above techniques emerged. Once the term was coined, it might have retrospective application to such things as the "anxious bench" or to descending from the pulpit to preach in the aisles, etc.

In By One Spirit, Karl Olsson places Schartau in the category of "legalist" and directly in the stream of those whose call to penitence prompted "preaching sickness" (p. 60 ff). The sordid excesses of ecstatic speech, "criers," and underage charismatic prophets are duly chronicled; but can it be that the sober Schartau with his "orders of blessedness" shares this blame?

Perhaps a better picture appears in the Dr. Olsson’s footnotes:

In Sweden, champions of Lutheran orthodoxy rallied around the name of Henrik Schartau. Schartau, who was Dean of the Cathedral of Lund for many years, had been converted according to the Moravian pattern in 1781. But his orderly intellect reacted against the Herrnhut view of conversion as a resting in the blood and wounds of Christ. He developed a doctrine of justification which implied an ingrafting into Christ himself according to an "order of faith." There are strong reminiscences in Schartau of the old Lutheran piety of Arndt and of Pietism. He insisted upon the necessity of conversion and a personal relationship with Christ which would result in a growth in grace. Among his followers, Schartau’s doctrine tended to be restated in terms of a cramped Lutheran orthodoxy, and the University of Lund became the center for its development and propagation in Sweden. The Schartauan form of piety still holds sway in parts of southwestern Sweden and is characterized by strong loyalty to the established church and an austere and legalistic attitude toward the Christian life." (p. 658)

To subsequent revivalists, Schartau may have seemed "no better than his fathers," with his cautious practices. But to those threatened by various forms of enthusiasm, he became a model of sanity. This is specifically true of the Augustana churches beleaguered by Mission evangelists.

As I read of this man and the movement associated with his name, I am struck with certain characteristics that are still present among the people of my home church and community, indeed of my own family. My maternal grandmother was born to a family of the "Swedish Christian Congregation" of Wausa, Nebraska, but was taken to the local Augustana Lutheran Church for baptism "into the kingdom of God." Separatism did not come naturally to this immigrant family.

Then there were the great aunts who seemed shaped by some prehistoric (to me) catastrophe which left them ever unsmiling. When the Covenant Youth Caravan came, the presentation was, it seemed, good and substantial—until the final banquet. The congregation was invited to join in a lighthearted singing of a nonsensical tune having to do with paying the mortgage on the cow. My young skin crawled as I tried not to look at the great aunts or how they might be taking this. It was clear that they didn’t approve. They, I now believe, were Schartauans.

This has led me to a kind of "you may be Shartauan, if____" test. Perhaps you would enjoy trying it if you have a feeling for this kind of thing. For example, "you may be Schartauan if, when picking out a car, you visualize how it would look in a funeral procession." Or if early in spring you think, "what a beautiful day…only man is vile." Or if in the middle of a good mood you think, "I know I’ll pay for this later." A Schartauan axiom might be, "no enjoyment goes unpunished."

Schartauan thought builds on the Scandinavian reputation for a propensity toward dour fatalism, perhaps related to generations of sunlight deprivation. I have a deep conviction that readers of Pietisten will know exactly what I am talking about. But whatever displeasure God may have with me, I am not required to act like a fool for it as in the "new measures" of evangelism. Thus they were suspect and the old gospel and sacraments seemed so sound. I now believe there were a lot of Schartauans in my home church. I believe there may be a lot of Schartauans out there in Pietisten land. I believe I am one myself.

An article "The Radical Pietism of Count Nicholas Zinzendorf as a Conservative Influence on the Awakener, Gilbert Tennent" by Milton Coalter in the March 1980 issue of Church History illustrates the tension between a Pietistic movement emphasizing conversion and the existing church structure.

At the height of the Awakening, (Gilbert) Tennent was the unquestioned leader of the middle colony Awakening forces. Yet his advocacy of the Awakening was not always so unswerving as his leadership might suggest. Prior to 1741 when the Awakening tide crested, Tennent sought a rejuvenation of lay spiritual life by emphasizing heartfelt conversion and pious action over theological formulae and ecclesiastical polity. But after 1741, Tennent’s fervor for the Awakening cooled and a new concern for reconciliation among his divided Presbyterians took its place. (Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 35-6)

The article explores the theory that this change of heart followed a face-to-face encounter with Zinzendorf. Coalter has also cited a helpful identification of varying stripes of Pietism made by John Franz. Franz isolated three types of pietists who thrived in the middle colonies during the Great Awakening: sectarian, ecumenical, and confessional pietists. Although sharing a common concern for the practice of piety, representatives of these three types did differ drastically in the degree to which they adhered to the rites and doctrines of the established churches. Sectarian pietists were separatists who sought in their separation the creation of "pure religious communities." The ecumenists worked for the union of all Christians and, in order to achieve that end, were eager to ignore differences of creed. The confessionalists, on the other hand, were strong advocates of both the rites and dogmas of their respective communions.

Although they recognized the emptiness of such ecclesiastical symbols when unaccompanied by the practical piety of the laity, these Christians did not agree with their counterparts that such symbols were either detrimental or irrelevant to the creation of piety.

Perhaps there were representatives of each of these three types in early Covenant history, and perhaps there remain examples of each among us today. When Augustana historians descry the separatist efforts of the Mission Friends, they use the term "sectarians" freely. It was also clear that the very impulse to form a more pure fellowship was present among them. When the same historians characterize the more loyal (ecumenists? confessionalists?) among them as "Schartauan," it sends us back to this reappraisal of just what that meant. Whether conforming to a neat scheme such as that of Franz or being more a matter of "style" or "attitude," I believe its echoes are still to be heard in our memories and in the pages of Pietisten!


John B. Franz, "The Awakening of Religion among the German Settlers in the Middle Colonies," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series 33 (April 1976): 274, 281-2) cited by Coalter

Arden, G. Everett, Augustana Heritage, Augustana Press, Rock Island, 1963.

Olsson, Karl A., By One Spirit, Covenant Press, Chicago, 1962.

Weisberger, Bernard A., They Gathered at the River, Little Brown, Boston, 1958.