Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remark on the fascinating and curious life of Jean de Labadie.

It is the 13th of February 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


As you might know, on this program, we do an “on this day” model, such that I am taken far away in both time and location for church history and such that I don’t ride the same hobby horse on every show. And you might know that my primary research interests have been, for more than 20 years now, West Coast American Evangelicalism and its antecedent in Post-Reformation Europe: that which is broadly referred to as “Pietism”. If you want to link the world of the Reformation to the modern world, I think these are two crucial outposts for characters and ideas.

Add to that, the man I will claim is the single most overlooked character in this long drama. Add to that- we have yet to introduce him to this program (he’s overlooked by even those of us who find him very significant) and he is one of those special characters born and died on the same date. He was Jean de Labadie- founder of the Labadists- born and died on the 13th of February in 1610 and 1674, respectively.

Jean de Labadie was born to aristocratic parents in the French town of Bourg, near Bourdeaux in the South of France. At the age of 8, he was sent to a Jesuit school to join his brothers and sisters.

Young Jean was characterized as “short,” “sickly,” “restless,” “independent,” and gifted. He would become a novice with the Jesuits to join the order. However, his religious fervor and call to reform the church were perceived as too extreme. Upon a period of convalescence from sickness and what he believed were visions from God, he renounced the Jesuits and began to look for a more fitting order. He visited the Jansenists (something like Catholic Calvinists) and the Fathers of the Oratory (a Catholic order devoted to the inner Reformation of the clergy). He didn’t join either and began traveling around France, teaching privately and being chased by authorities for doing so with a lack of proper credentials.

He would read John Calvin’s Institutes and join the Reformed church at Montauban in 1650, where he would also serve as a professor. His radical notions- usually his high expectations for spiritual living and separation from the world- had him expelled in 1657, and he made his way to Geneva, where he was initially hailed as “the second Calvin.” Here, the Lutheran Phillip Jakob Spener heard him preach and was introduced to the idea of “societies” of Christians. These “small groups” or “conventicles” would be meetings in addition to weekly church services where the faithful would sing, read a passage of scripture and discuss it, and then pray and summarize what they learned. This will become the model for the “Radical” Pietists. Once again exiled for his propensity for extremes, he made his way to Amsterdam.

Here, his “Labadists” would attract those critical of the perceived spiritual stagnation in the church and would form “societies” that included the aristocracy and the mayor of Amsterdam. Their visitors included King George I of England, William Penn, and John Locke.

For a period, they would hold to celibacy before a leader of the church and his wife were found to be with a child. They would develop practices of communitarian living and child-rearing (all except the Child's parents would be referred to as “Aunt” and Uncle”). Anna Maria van Schurman, the well-known scholar and proponent of women's education, would join the group. In fact, she would take the name “mama” to Labadie’s “papa” amongst the group. Labadists would spread across Europe and as far as Surinam in South America and Baltimore in the English Colonies.

Labadie’s reputation, a tract called the Manual of Piety and The Reform of the Church through the Clergy, would spread his ideas amongst Lutheran Pietists, Reformed Separatists, and Puritans. He would spread the last years of his life on the run from authorities and under the protection of members of the aristocracy in Herford, Germany, and then Holstein near Denmark. The “Labadists” proper would cease to be a group in the generation after his death but his call to a reformation of both doctrine and life, and in small groups dedicated to Holy living, would be a crucial development in the Post Reformation Lutheran, Reformed, and Evangelical churches (and those that would blend all three).

Jean de Labadie- overlooked prophet of Protestant renewal and religious outlaw, born on the 13th of February in 1610, died on this the same date in 1674 at exactly 64 years old.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and 1 Timothy 3.

14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who once believed the Radical Pietists to be like regular Pietists but with cooler sunglasses and skateboards; he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows of both Montauban France and Ricardo Montalban, purveyor of fine Corinthian leather- I’m Dan van Voorhis.   

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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