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Transmission of the Texts

Information on the Transmission of the Texts

​Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Leipzig
​Research Centre
Spenerbriefe Edition
​in the Francke Foundations
Franckeplatz 1 | Haus 24
06110 Halle

Tel: +49 345 55 23073 / 75

Transmission of the Texts

The Edition of the Letters of Philipp Jakob Speners is based on a very heterogeneous transmission that can be divided into two groups: the transmission from the side of the recipient, and that from the side of the sender.

Transmission from the Recipient

Only a part of Spener’s letters has survived as an Abfertigung, that is, in the form in which Spener sent it and in which it arrived at the recipient’s address (cf. Dresden Letters, vol.1, p. XXIV). Among Spener’s correspondents, it was primarily the academics who collected his letters. Included are those letters that have come down to us with the recipients’ letter repositories; others have been transmitted as separate holdings from these repositories; while still others are found in autograph collections that sometimes have taken adventurous paths before reaching us.

Quite early, handwritten copies were made of the sent letters (cf. Frankfurt Letters, vol. 1, p.XXI). Spener’s first biographer, Carl Hildebrand von Canstein, and the Halle Pietists were interested in preserving tradition and tried to obtain Spener’s letters from his former correspondents or their heirs, having copies of these made when necessary. We are indebted to these procedures for the extensive and important holdings in the archives of the Franckesche Stiftungen (AFSt) in Halle (Saale). Learned collectors also sometimes had to be satisfied with copies of Spener’s letters, as the Uffenbach-Wolfsche collection of letters in Hamburg demonstrates.

The copies of Spener’s letters to Elias Veiel and Johann Jakob Schilter in the University Library in Tübingen form a special case: They come from the nineteenth century and were made by Pastor Wilhelm Ludwig Ergenzinger from Rommelshausen. He used originals from a collection of letters that was intended by its female owner to be broken up and given away piece by piece. The contents of five of the letters given away before Ergenzinger’s work began were recorded only in brief regesta. While the Tübingen copies for decades provided Spener research with the only knowledge of these letters, they are today once again available in the original sent-letter form after these came into the possession of the Freies Deutsches Hochstift in Frankfurt a.M. at an auction of autographs.

Several letters are transmitted only in printed form (cf. Frankfurt Letters, vol. 1, p. XXII). Other letters were reproduced with a complete text or as a Regest in early historical journals or editions of letters. Because of their authenticity, the letters transmitted in this way, form an extraordinarily important source. But, they represent a comparably smaller and, in regard to the circle of correspondents, limited body of letters.

Transmission from the Sender

The fact that we have copies of many of Spener’s letters that he himself collected and preserved is of great value for the reconstruction and publication of his correspondence.

Since his early years as Senior Pastor in Frankfurt, Spener ordered his correspondence, which grew quickly because of the importance of his office and his place of activity. He continued this practice in Dresden. In order not to lose track of his scholarly and “official” correspondence, he retained not only the letters addressed to him, but also the drafts of his own letters. He copied his letters completely, if necessary, or at least the most important excerpts, before sending them, or had them copied by a famulus living in the house. Such copies of letters were called apographon praecipuarum rerum, and in most cases deleted the beginning and the ending of the letters. Usually, Spener himself then wrote the name of the recipient in the upper right margin of the copy, and the date at the end. Finally, the letters he received were laid away in a repository together with his own replies.

Although Spener’s letters, by testamentary decree, were to pass into the care of the Theological Faculty in Halle (Saale), relatively few originals from his repository have been preserved.  But, a large and important part of Spener’s writing was included in maior printed collections of reflections and letters. Spener himself sent the first group of these letters – the four parts of the Theologische Bedencken – to press, while the second and third group – the Consilia et Iudicia Theologica (three parts) and the Letzte Theologische Bedencken (three parts) – were published by Spener’s executors, especially by Freiherr Carl Hildebrand von Canstein.

Spener pursued two objectives in preserving his reflections and letters: On the one hand, he wanted to make a contribution to casuistic theology and, on the other, to provide an apology for the personal administration of his office at the three locations of his activity since 1666 (Frankfurt/Main, Dresden and Berlin) and for the Pietist movement as a whole, which had made a number of enemies since the 1690s. The collections published out of casuistic and apologetic interests therefore comprise quite heterogeneous writings: from extensive and formal theological reflections, to complete letters, to a large number of excerpts or fragments of letters.

The fact that these volumes rely to a great extent upon Spener’s repository copies only partly explains the often fragmentary character of the letters, as well as the deletion of the names of persons and places from the publication process of originally private letters. Spener, namely, in cases where interest lay upon a decision in a pending „casus conscientiae“, consistently deleted all the names of persons and places, in part already in his repository and in part during preparations for printing  (cf., among others,  Dresden Letters, vol. 1, Letter Nr.122, 142, 182). In other letters, he sometimes neglected to enter the name of the recipient or the date on his apographon, so that he later no longer could recall the exact historical situation. Then, of course, he also to a great extent avoided mentioning living persons in print, especially in the apologetic sections of his reflections and letters, a principle that was applied less stringently in the posthumously published volumes.

Spener’s repository contained a large number of abridged copies of letters. Others were rendered anonymous. Still others frequently show misreadings by copyists and printers. All of these form a valuable material supplement to the remaining letter material preserved on the recipient side. Conversely, the detailed and authentic information from the sent letters can serve to clarify historically the bulk of onlyprinted writings and to unlock their contents.

Thus, the preparation of the texts and the commentary intertwine in a useful way in the present text-critical edition of the letters of Philipp Jakob Spener. Above and beyond the clarification of concrete factual issues and the completion of the names of persons and places, the commentary also calls for the review and, if necessary, the correction of the transmitted texts, including the identification of the recipient. Thus, the texts transmitted only in printed form can shed their timeless and general character, which they have received through their integration in, among others, the casus conscientiae literature. And, to a great extent, they can be restored to their original historical context as a letter. Thus, the reflections once again become letters.

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