The Life of Lady Johanna Eleonora Petersen, Written by Herself: Pietism and Women's Autobiography in Seventeenth-Century Germany

Overview


In a time when the Pauline dictum decreed that women be silent in matters of the Church, Johanna Eleonora Petersen (1644?1724) was a pioneering author of religious books, insisting on her right to speak out as a believer above her male counterparts. Publishing her readings of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation as well as her thoughts on theology in general, Petersen and her writings created controversy, especially in orthodox circles, and she became a voice for the radical Pietists?those most at odds with ...
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The Life of Lady Johanna Eleonora Petersen, Written by Herself: Pietism and Women's Autobiography in Seventeenth-Century Germany

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Overview


In a time when the Pauline dictum decreed that women be silent in matters of the Church, Johanna Eleonora Petersen (1644–1724) was a pioneering author of religious books, insisting on her right to speak out as a believer above her male counterparts. Publishing her readings of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation as well as her thoughts on theology in general, Petersen and her writings created controversy, especially in orthodox circles, and she became a voice for the radical Pietists—those most at odds with Lutheran ministers and their teachings. But she defended her lay religious calling and ultimately printed fourteen original works, including her autobiography, the first of its kind written by a woman in Germany—all in an age in which most women were unable to read or write.

Collected in The Life of Lady Johanna Eleonora Petersen are Petersen's autobiography and two shorter tracts that would become models of Pietistic devotional writing. A record of the status and contribution of women in the early Protestant church, this collection will be indispensable reading for scholars of seventeenth-century German religious and social history.

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Editorial Reviews

H-German
As an early example of an autobiography written by a German woman, this document would also be useful in literary history classes, especially in conjunction with Becker-Cantarino's introduction, which provides a good discussion of the place of this work in the history of the genre... The Life of Lady Johanna Eleonora Petersen, Written by Herself provides us with an interesting and useful example of an early modern woman's voice, and another valuable addition to the Other Voice in Early Modern Europe series.

— Tryntje Helfferich,

Studies Historiae Ecclesiasticae
This is the story of a remarkable woman whose mystical-spritual immersion in God's word inspired her to serve as an example for women to find their own voice and a goal for their lives, Her life changed perceptions about women at a time when this was all but unimaginable. This book is well written and very readable.

— Francis Klopper

Seventeenth-Century News
By making the entire autobiography with annotations available in a compelling translation, Becker-Contarino gives students and teachers of early modern German an excellent new resource. . . . The lively translation of Petersen's Life will be particuolarly welcome in the classroom and go a long way in conveying the dynamism and character of the Pietist movement to students of history, religion, and literature.

— Jonathan Strom

Clio
Offer[s] much to the scholar and the student of early modern history and not just to those interested in Germany, women, [or] theology.

— Mary Lindemann

H-German - Tryntje Helfferich

"As an early example of an autobiography written by a German woman, this document would also be useful in literary history classes, especially in conjunction with Becker-Cantarino's introduction, which provides a good discussion of the place of this work in the history of the genre... The Life of Lady Johanna Eleonora Petersen, Written by Herself provides us with an interesting and useful example of an early modern woman's voice, and another valuable addition to the Other Voice in Early Modern Europe series."
Studies Historiae Ecclesiasticae - Francis Klopper

"This is the story of a remarkable woman whose mystical-spritual immersion in God's word inspired her to serve as an example for women to find their own voice and a goal for their lives, Her life changed perceptions about women at a time when this was all but unimaginable. This book is well written and very readable."
Seventeenth-Century News - Jonathan Strom

"By making the entire autobiography with annotations available in a compelling translation, Becker-Contarino gives students and teachers of early modern German an excellent new resource. . . . The lively translation of Petersen's Life will be particuolarly welcome in the classroom and go a long way in conveying the dynamism and character of the Pietist movement to students of history, religion, and literature."
Clio - Mary Lindemann

"Offer[s] much to the scholar and the student of early modern history and not just to those interested in Germany, women, [or] theology."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226662985
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2005
  • Series: The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Barbara Becker-Cantarino is research professor in German at The Ohio State University.
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Read an Excerpt

THE LIFE OF LADY JOHANNA ELEONORA PETERSEN, WRITTEN BY HERSELF
Pietism and Women's Autobiography in Seventeenth-Century Germany
By Johanna Eleonora Petersen
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS
Copyright © 2005 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-66298-5



Chapter One
THE LIFE OF LADY JOHANNA ELEONORA PETERSEN, NÉE VON UND ZU MERLAU, WIFE OF DR. JOHANN WILHELM PETERSEN, WRITTEN BY HERSELF AND PUBLISHED BECAUSE OF MANY EDIFYING EVENTS, BEFITTING AS A SEQUEL TO HER HUSBAND'S MEMOIRS. PAID FOR BY WORTHY FRIENDS (1718). A SHORT NARRATION OF HOW GOD'S GUIDING HAND HAS LED ME HITHER AND WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR MY SOUL.

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION

Johanna Eleonora Petersen first published her autobiography at the age of forty-five, an account from childhood until her early married years, under the title A Short Narration of How God's Guiding Hand Has Lead Me Until Now and What He Has Done For My Soul. She appended this "narration" as the final section to her first devotional publication, The Heart's Conversations with God, in 1689 (see the annotated bibliography of Petersen's works). This version was expanded (to sixty-seven printed pages) in a publication almost thirty years later (1718) and appeared together with her husband's autobiography, but as a separate part with its own title page: "The Life of Lady Johanna Eleonora Petersen, née von und zu Merlau, Wife of Dr. Johann Petersen. Written by Herself and Given to the Public Because of Many Edifying Events, As a Sequel to Her Husband's. Payed for by Worthy Friends" published in 1718 (see the annotated bibliography). Johann Wilhelm Petersen's autobiography makes up the first part of the volume. The husband's life is fashioned like a professional scholar's vita as the title indicates: The Life of Jo. Wilhelm Petersen, Doctor of Theology, Formerly Professor at Rostock, then Preacher at St. Egid's in Hannover, After that Superintendent for the Bishop of Lübeck and Court Chaplain, Finally Superintendent in Lüneburg. As Witness to Christ's Truth and His Realm, According to His Great Economy in the Return of All Things. Printed at the End of 1717, at the Expense of Good Friends. The husband's autobiography is about three times as long, wordy, and defensive of his theological dogmas and professional activities.

My translation of Johanna Eleonora Petersen's autobiography follows the 1718 edition, which comprises the "Narration" of 1689 augmented by the addition of some twenty-two pages. A short transitional section has been inserted between the old and the new part, and the division of the text into thirty-eight long, thematic paragraphs is new here. Some very minor changes in wording are insignificant and probably due to printer's errors or corrections.

My translation into English intentionally stays close to the original for two reasons. Johanna Eleonora Petersen's German is, on the surface, disarmingly plain and accessible even today, because it is based in biblical language, often called "Luther's German," because Luther's translation of the Bible was so successful that it became the common language for Protestants and to a large extent also for Catholics by the late seventeenth century. It superseded the regional dialects as the written language in printed books (not as the spoken language). "Luther's German" was the language used in sermons, prayer books, and devotional literature, by far the most popular and most widely read literature until the second half of the eighteenth century in the German-speaking lands.

The notes are intended to aid in an immediate understanding of the text only; further historical, cultural, and theological information and discussion of issues raised in the autobiography can be found in the preceding introduction. Occasionally, the German word for a key term is given in the note. Readers interested in the German text can now consult a modern edition of Petersen's Leben by Guglia Guglielmetti, in Kleine Texte des Pietismus 8 (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2003).

TRANSLATION

1. So that you, dear reader, will know how wonderfully the Lord has guided me since my childhood and has drawn me to him on many occasions, I have written down the story of my life in a short version; especially since I, following the example of the Savior, had to endure many and various libels and lies. For many people resented that in my young years I did not run along with the crowd in a wasteful life, and they derided me for this. Some said I must have committed a great sin, because I wanted to atone in such a way; others said I had lost my senses, since the devil was in me and that my behavior was from the devil. I would not do good and would meet a bad end, and more such things. And when I could not be deterred by these and similar accusations, but tried to choose the path of truth and to pursue it, more malicious libel began that I was wrong in my faith. Soon they accused me of this, then of another heretical act of which I had never heard nor seen anything. In the beginning this was very strange to me, because I lived a simple life according to holy scripture and according to the words that the preachers uttered from the pulpit on how one should live. And when I tried to follow them, when I talked about them and went along, I was attacked, though I was considered Christian and virtuous in many places then. However, when I strove to become a doer of such words (according to my lowly status), I was accused from that moment on of many errors, so that I became very upset. And I felt compelled to talk to my God with the following prayer: Oh my God, you see my heart and that I seek nothing more than to do what I have heard of your word, and in the sermon of the word; you have moved me to this, since you have revealed to me in holy scripture that he who listens to your word without doing it resembles a foolish man and that not those who say Lord, oh Lord, will go to heaven, but those who do your bidding. Now, that I have turned my heart to you, have let your spirit move me to do what pleases you, it seems strange not only to the godless people but also to those who carry such words in their mouth whose doer I would like to be. Oh my God! Reveal to me why I am offensive to my neighbor; you see that I do not seek a new way but am only a follower of your beloved son whom you have given me as a model so that I may follow in his footsteps. Why does it confound those who read your word and who know that I seek nothing but what is said in your word and what has been demanded ? It is a sign of our love that we keep your commandments. What is it, my Lord? Such words I had with my Lord until it was revealed to me from his word that it had to be thus: the beautiful words of grace blind mankind. The word and the power of the deed have been mocked for a long time. Thereupon I was content and learned to be happy that I would be worthy to be derided because of his holy name. Almost daily I received new humiliation but also a new strength and grace in the word and in the recognition of all the good we have in Christ. Indeed, I learned that what Paul says is a holy truth: "Yea, and all that will live godly in Jesus Christ shall suffer persecution."

2. Only when we bend under the Father's hand and accept the punishment do we learn how much such holy guidance by the Lord who tests his children through temptation can benefit us. Then we understand the lesson of the cross, then we see how beneficial this is and how the people's gossip gives us cause for a strict examination of how we stand before God: whether we have something about us that we do not know as yet, whether we earlier believed something evil about others, whether we gave way to the gossip to believe or to repeat what we had heard, and whether we agreed with it and thought that there was something to it. These and similar impurities are being purged out by such sufferings, and we are made observant of all that happens to us.

3. I wanted to place this as an introduction to my life so that the Christian reader will not take it amiss when reading in my little treatise that I speak of much uncleanliness and complain as if the slander of the deceitful world were true, and that such things had driven me to leave this world and its indifference. I am witness before God that it was the Lord's power and his almighty word that led me away from worldly pleasures, that it was God who saved me from the crude sins that this world can punish, and that there will be no one on earth who can truthfully prove only one of all the scandalous things said about me. Everyone will have to confess that what they have heard and credulously believed were other people's hot air and words. On the contrary, I can assure you with humility in my heart that there are still many people alive who have witnessed my life from childhood on and who have praised God's grace in me.

What I have written in my little book aims at totally different things. It speaks of the evil in our heart that we have to acknowledge if we want to recognize Jesus Christ, his holy service, and the forgiveness of our sins. For how will he who does not know man's condition after Adam's fall recognize the Savior? Or, how can he who has not felt the misery in which he exists believe in the necessity of precious salvation, each according to his own measure, inasmuch as he partakes in Christ or as he is in need for his self-awareness, and for his heart's true humility that only comes from self-recognition? I thank my Lord that he hid his grace from me for a short moment and that he let me recognize my inability to do good and the wicked nature of the human heart, so that I may understand in truth that all we think, talk, and act is grace; and that there is no sin so great that we might not fall into if we lack grace. Therefore I have not prided myself in God's grace, have not considered myself better than others who fell into evil sin, but I have only God's grace to thank for protecting me. And I have realized that for some of us, who recognize our own wickedness, our fall would turn out for the better, while the hypocrites falsely believe they are just and good. But they have not yet washed off their profanity and they are inflated in vain in their mortal mind. I say this so that you do not think I would pride myself in not falling into such sins because of God's grace. Rather, with all my heart I credit everything to God's grace and understand that likewise within me is the sordid ground from which all kinds of impure desires might arise if we tolerate it. Sin had to be created not that we have a cause for pride, but so that we work for our salvation with fear and trembling, according to the words of Saint Paul.

4. The fear of the Lord has protected me and his grace and faithfulness have guided me; to him alone be praise, honor, and glory. I am writing this so that you, dear reader, may recognize his manifold wisdom, how he attracts people to him in sundry ways, some in their tender youth, others at a more advanced age. As far as I am concerned, I have felt the influence of his kind spirit since early childhood but I have often opposed this same kind spirit out of ignorance. I have hindered him with many a worldly activity because of my mundane nobility, until I came to my senses when the wholesome word affected me with its persuasive power. For when I was about four years old it happened that my parents, who had lived in Frankfurt for a while because of the war, moved back into the country since there was peace everywhere; many things had been taken again into the country. Also my late mother with my two sisters and myself moved to the Philippseck estate near Heddernheim and all went well. One day the servants came and reported that a company of soldiers on horseback was approaching. Everyone quickly tried to save his own possessions and left my mother alone with three small children. The oldest was seven, I was four years old, and the youngest was still a baby. My mother took her youngest in her arm, took us other two children by the hand, and walked without a nursemaid all the way to Frankfurt, a distance of well over five miles. It was summer and the corn was in the fields. We could hear the noise of the soldiers passing by on another road, only a pistol shot away. My mother became very frightened and admonished us to pray. When we had reached the city gates and were safe, my mother sat down with us and made us thank the Lord for protecting us. My oldest sister who was three years older than I said: "Why should we thank the Lord now when they can no longer attack us?" Then I felt a deep concern in my heart about these words: it hurt me that she did not want to thank the Lord and thought it was no longer necessary. I chided her for this out of a fervent love for God, whom I thanked with all my heart. Likewise, when I was told that it is the midwife who brings little children from heaven, I felt the desire to talk to her. I told her to give my greetings to Jesus, and I wanted to know from her whether Jesus loved me, too, which I felt with all my heart. These were the first thoughts in childhood of which I can recall only very little.

5. When I was six years old and my mother was once again about to give birth, I noticed that my mother was crying a lot. Then I asked my oldest sister what the reason for my mother's crying was. She told me that a well-known noblewoman had turned into a whore. I did not really know what a whore was, but I thought that it had to be something very bad since my mother was crying so hard. I went outside alone, fell on my knees, and prayed to God with tears that he should protect me that I would not become a whore. The Lord has listened to this simple child's prayer, and he not only saved me from any such situation but also gave me a heart that abhors uncouth talk and gestures, so that I stayed only with such people as were honorable and refined. Nevertheless, the malicious gossip-devil has spread his lies against me through his instruments, fabricating the rumor that my sister's daughter who has been living with me was my illegitimate child and that she was born in Praunheim, an hour's way from Frankfurt, and baptized by the minister Johann Harff who is still living. However, at that time I lived more than two hundred miles away at court and I returned home only nine years later. Her father is a von Praunheim and her mother is my middle sister. Thus the devil does not shy away from telling gross, obvious lies that for a child of God are not worth complaining about, since anyone who loves the truth can easily find out that such gossip is nothing but lies, especially since there are people who travel to these places where one can find out the truth..

6. When I was nine years old, we lost our mother and we had a very difficult time. Since our father lived at court quite a distance away from our estate, he hired a teacher's widow for the household, who had her own children in the village and who gave to them what was ours. She let us starve so that we often gladly ate what others did not want. She also had the habit of often leaving us alone in the house when people dressed in white robes, their faces covered with honey and flour, walked around with torches in the house, forced open chests and cupboards and took what they wanted. We were so frightened by this that we hid behind the stove in fear. This happened until the house was almost empty. Since our father was very strict with us, we did not dare tell him, but we were relieved when he had gone again. We suffered through this for a long time until one day von Praunheim (who is now married to my sister and who was then very young) visited us and we told him about our troubles. He decided to stay in the house until evening to see if the ghosts would come again. When the ghosts arrived, went to the cupboard, forced it open and were about to take things from it, Praunheim jumped out of his hiding place and discovered that they were people from the village, sons of a coach builder, who were well acquainted with the widow. But since he was alone, they escaped and denied that they were the thieves. But the ghosts did not reappear and we retrieved also many things that they had hidden in the attic above our kitchen.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE LIFE OF LADY JOHANNA ELEONORA PETERSEN, WRITTEN BY HERSELF by Johanna Eleonora Petersen Copyright © 2005 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments
Series Editors' Introduction
Johanna Eleonora Petersen, née von und zu Merlau (1644-1724): From Noblewoman to Radical Pietist
Volume Editor's Bibliography

The Life of Lady Johanna Eleonora Petersen, née von und zu Merlau, Wife of Dr. Johann Wilhelm Petersen, Written by Herself
Editor's Introduction
Translation

Appendix A
Editor's Introduction
A Supplication to the Magistrate of Frankfurt (1677)
Appendix B
Editor's Introduction
A Letter to Her Sisters: The Nature and Necessity of the New Creature in Christ (1699)
Series Editors' Bibliography
Index

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