The Reformation In The Scandinavian Countries

The Reformation In The Scandinavian Countries


As communication with Germany was the initial cause of the evangelical movement in these countries, and the Lutheran type was adopted by them, it is not inappropriate to direct a glance to them in this connection.


The Reformation in the Scandinavian countries had its real foundation in the labors of earnest preachers, and in the growing strength of popular conviction. At the same time it cannot be denied that its course was largely shaped by political influence.


At the time that the teachings of Luther began to be imported, the royal power, which had its seat in Denmark, was greatly restricted. In the two sister states, Sweden and Norway, which had been combined with Denmark into a triple realm by the peace of Calmar in 1397, the King had very little influence. Sweden, indeed, had held for some time a position of actual independence, being under the regency of native noblemen of the house of Sturé. In all quarters the nobles and the prelates, the latter of, whom were strengthened by the vast accumulations of ecclesiastical property, formed a counterpoise to the crown.


Under these conditions, the king was not unnaturally led to regard the Reformation with favor, as a means in particular of limiting the power of the bishops, and diverting a portion of their superfluous wealth. This worldly motive was, no doubt, influential with the Danish King, Christian II. (1513-1523), who gave somewhat of encouragement to advocates of reform, imposed restrictive regulations upon the bishops, and even issued an ordinance in favor of the marriage of the clergy. The selfish intent at the basis of these measures is made sufficiently apparent by his conduct in Sweden. For here, in order to regain the royal supremacy, he allied himself with the Pope and the hierarchy, and crowned his success in the contest by effecting, in the name of the binding authority of the Romish Church, a most atrocious massacre, in which the blood of many scores of the best citizens of Sweden was shed. This occurred near the end of 1520. Three years later, as a fit reward for his tyranny, he was deposed.


Frederic I., Duke of Schleswig and Holstein, who was invited to the vacant throne, was at heart a steadfast friend of the Reformation. He was bound indeed by pledges given before his accession, to respect the privileges of the Roman Catholic Church; and within certain limits he carried out his promises. Tolerance was asserted for both Protestants and Romanists. This meant a decided gain for the former. Under the influence of such a devoted teacher as John Tausen and others of a kindred spirit, the popular current see more and more towards the principles of the Reformation. Christian III. (1534-1559), therefore, found little difficulty in displacing the old ecclesiastical fabric. The prelates were deposed in 1536, and their places were filled by evangelical preachers, who bore at first the title of superintendents, but later revived the name of bishops. An eminent co-laborer of Luther, Bugenhagen, consecrated the new superintendents, assisted in re-organizing the university of Copenhagen, and, in union with the native theologians, prepared the constitution of the Danish Church. 1 See Friedrich Münter, Kirchengeschichte von Dänemerk und Norwegen, vol, iii.; Gieseler, § 17; D' Aubigné, Reformation in the Time of Calvin, Book X11.


Norway, being reduced in 1537 to the status of a province of Denmark, was placed under the ecclesiastical system of the latter. The real conversion of the country, however, was not forthwith secured. While there was early a Protestant element in Norway, the mass of the common people were but slowly disengaged from their preference for Romanism. In Iceland, Protestantism gained the ascendency by the middle of the century.


In Sweden the able evangelists, Olaf Peterson and his brother Lawrence (Olaus and Laurentius Petri), who had studied at Wittenberg; began to labor as early as 1519. With them was soon associated a man of like distinction, Lawrence Anderson. The reform may be said, therefore, to have been initiated by spiritual weapons. But scarcely had it entered upon its course, when it fell under the hand of princely control. A different event could not have been expected, considering the exigencies of the State, together with the fact that a man was at the helm who possessed remarkable energy and strength, a prince who had set a prostrate nation upon its feet.


This man was Gustavus Erichson, or, to use the name which he commonly bears in history, Gustavus Vasa, a scion of one of the noble families of Sweden. At a time when his country was paralyzed with horror and grief over the massacre which Christian II. had wrought at Stockholm, he came single-handed to the rescue. By his eloquence and indomitable spirit, he gave heart to his countrymen, and soon rallied them in sufficient numbers to his standard, to make an end of Danish rule in Sweden. The government was devolved upon him, first as regent, in 1521, and then as king, in 1523. His rule extended to 1560.


Being set over a country which afforded no adequate revenue for the efficient administration of affairs, Gustavus felt little scruple about crossing the lines or the Church to find necessary means; and rarely has an invasion of this kind been more excusable. The accumulation of ecclesiastical property had gone to a shameful extreme in Sweden. The Church owned two-thirds of the land. The prelates dwelt in fortified castles, and figured as great feudal lords. One bishop is said to have had control of more than six hundred benefices and estates, another claimed right over four hundred, while the archbishop had under his hand nearly as many as the two combined. It was felt that such a power, while it was counter to the spiritual office, was also a menace to the integrity of the realm. Gustavus therefore set himself resolutely to the task of cutting down the wealth of the Church and the power of the bishops. He encountered stubborn opposition, but he was resolved to lay down his crown rather than not succeed. And such was his ascendency over the nation, that he completely triumphed.


The patriotic and regal interest was uppermost with Gustavus Vasa; but he was not indifferent to religion. Early in his reign he showed his preference for the Lutheran faith, by promoting the brothers Peterson to important positions in the Church, and making Anderson his chancellor. As his reign went on, his patronage of Protestantism became more positive and unmistakable. Nevertheless his subjects were not compelled to renounce Romanism, and a considerable number of the old religious rites were very commonly practised. 1 As the transition to Protestantism in Sweden was not accomplished by sudden violence, the historic connections of the episcopacy were not broken. The Swedish Church, with quite as good right as the English may claim apostolic succession.


By the close of the reign of Gustavus, the leaven of evangelical teaching had truly pervaded the minds of not a few Swedes; but many remained still unaffected. There was opportunity, therefore, for a re-action to Romanism. In the reign of John III. (1568-1592), who followed the ill-starred Eric, such a re-action came. Influenced by his Roman Catholic wife, by the hope of certain worldly advantages, and by a taste for a showy ceremonial, John zealously inaugurated a return movement to Rome. All progressed well for a time. A liturgy decidedly tinged with Romanism was forced upon the clergy. Jesuit emissaries were introduced, and engaged craftily in the work of proselyting. The Reformation seemed near its downfall in Sweden. It was, in fact, near its complete triumph. The slowness of the Pope to grant the concessions for which John asked, union with a new queen who favored Lutheranism, and the manifest revolt of the popular mind against the ultra tone which the papal agents had begun to employ, caused the King to halt in his project, and indeed to renounce all thought of resuming connection with the papacy, though he continued to press the acceptance of his liturgy. As for the nation, John's manœuvring seems to have wrought in it a decided preference for Protestantism. This came forth conspicuously in the attitude assumed toward his son Sigismund, who had received the crown of Poland. Though a pronounced Roman Catholic, Sigismund was obliged to sanction a thoroughly Protestant scheme for the Swedish nation. Later, as he showed disinclination to abide by his engagement, he was denied all right of sovereignty in Sweden. The rule passed to the youngest son of Gustavus Vasa, Charles IX., who took the office of regent in 1599, and began to govern as king in 1604. It was the son and successor of this King who so nobly repaid Germany for her gift of a purer faith. An introduction to him, however, is properly postponed until we come to the story of the Thirty Years' War. I See Geijer, Geechichte Schwedens; C. M. Butler, The Reformation in Sweden; Gieseler, § 18; D'Aubigné, Reformation in the Time of Calvin, Book XII.; Häusser, chap. xii.