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Iceland

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an island belonging to Denmark, situated between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans, distant 130 miles from the south-east coast of Greenland, and about 850 miles west of Norway, extending between lat. 630 24' and 660 33' N., and long. 130 31' and 240. The area is 39,756 square miles, of which only 15,300 are cultivated. The total population of Iceland was, according to the statistics of 1888, about 72,000 souls.

As early as 795 the eastern coast of Iceland was inhabited by some Irish monks, but it did not receive a settled population until 860, when king Harald Harfagr, of Norway, after conquering the other kings, made himself sole sovereign of the country, and induced large numbers of the malcontents to emigrate to Iceland. Nearly all the newcomers were pagans, and thus the republic which was established by them was thoroughly pagan. The legislation of Ulfliot (about 927) created the Althing, an assembly of the wisest men of all districts, which met annually to discuss the affairs of the country, and to give the necessary laws. The first Christian missionary among the Icelanders was Thorvaldr Kodransson (981-985), with the same Vidforli ("who has made wide journeys"), who was supported by Frederick, according to the legend, a Saxon bishop. With great vigor the missionary work was subsequently continued by king Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, who not only tried by persuasion, bribery, and intimidation to gain for the Christian religion all the Icelanders who came to Norway, but also sent missionaries to Iceland, and supported their labors by the whole influence which he could command. The first to go was the Icelander Stefnir Thorgilsson (996-997), followed by the Saxon priest Dankbrand, who, after many adventures, had become court chaplain of the king (997-999); two noble Icelanders, the "White Gizur," and Hjalti Skegjason, succeeded finally in effecting a compromise with the pagan chief functionary of the island, Thorgair of Ljosavatu, according to which Christianity was made the state religion of Iceland, while many reservations were made in favor of paganism (1000). The whole people were then baptized, part of them reluctantly, yet without open resistance.

A few years later, king Olaf Haraldsson caused the last remnants of paganism to be effaced from the laws. Some traces, however, of the former religion remained in the faith and usages of the Christian Icelanders, particularly in their Church constitution. During the pagan period the erection and possession of a temple had been a private affair; as there was no separate order of priests, divine worship had been held in every temple by its owner; subsequently, when the political constitution of the island was regulated (965), a limited number (thirty-nine) of temples obtained a political importance, and every Icelander was obliged to connect himself with the owner of the principal temple as his subject, and to pay a contribution for the maintenance of the temple. Private temples were maintained beside the public, and the latter remained likewise the private property of the chiefs. The idea of chief temples ceased with the introduction of Christianity but erection, donation, and maintenance of the temples remained a private affair. The law only provided that the erection of a church involved the duty of maintaining it; and the clergy could compel the dotation of a church by delaying its consecration until dotation was provided for.

Otherwise the administration of the property of the church by its owner was very arbitrary, and he had only to take care of the maintenance of the church and of the holding of divine worship. He either could take orders himself or hire another priest. In the former case the priest was more of a peasant, merchant, or a judge than a clergyman; in the latter he was financially dependent upon the owner of the temple, and, like other servants, obliged to perform domestic or military services. Iceland received its own and native bishop in 1055, having up to that time been only visited by missionary bishops. The bishop enjoyed the benefit of the old temple duties; otherwise he had to live out of his own means. Under the second bishop, Gizur, the see was endowed, and permanently established at Skalahold; subsequently (about 1106) a second see was established at Holar, to which was given the jurisdiction of the northern district, while the three other districts remained subject to the bishop of Skalahold. The bishops were elected by the people; the priests by the owners of the several churches. Thus the clergy were less independent than in other countries, and consequently less powerful. Their influence somewhat increased when bishop Gizur, in 1097, prevailed upon the National Assembly to introduce the tithe, and when the bishops Thorlakr Runolfson and Retill Thorsteinson, by compiling the Church laws, gained a firm basis (1123: it was published in 1776 by Grim Joh. Thorkelin, under the title Jus ecclesiasticum vetus, sive Thorlaco-Ketillianum, or Kristinreur him gamli). Still the condition of the Icelandic Church continued to remain in many particulars different from that of other churches. Lay patronage was recognized to its fullest extent; no celibacy separated the clergy from the people; even the bishops were generally married. The bishops, though they had a seat in the National Assembly, had no sepal rate ecclesiastical jurisdiction; and marriage and other affairs were regulated contrary to Church law.

The Church of Iceland was at first subordinate to the archbishopric of Bremen and Hamburg; when the archoishopric of Lund was established (1103), Iceland was transferred to it finally, it was transferred to the new archbishopric of Nidaros. About the middle of the 11th century the island became subject to the crown of Norway, and was consequently affected by the war between Church and State, which took place in that country. This chiefly concerned the patronage of laymen, and sided with the adoption of a new Church law introduced about 1297 by bishop Arni. (This Church law was published in 1777 by Grim Joh. Thorkelin, under the title Jus ecclesiasticusm novum sive Arncanum, or Kristinnrettr inn nyi.) The inner condition of the people was anything but satisfactory, as immorality and other vices appear to have prevailed to a large extent among the laity as well as among the clergy. The convents which had arisen since the 12th century fully participated in the general degeneration. Externally all classes of the people showed a strong attachment to the Church of Rome, and three natives of the island obtained a place among the saints of the Church-Thorlakr, Jon, and Gutdmundr; the last named, however, was not formally canonized.

The Reformation soon found a number of adherents; among the earliest and most devoted was Oddr Gottschalksson, the author of the first translation of the New Testament into Icelandic (printed at Roeskilde, 1540). The Danish government, of which Iceland formed a dependency since the union of Norway with Denmark (1397), endeavored to introduce the Reformation, which in 1536 had been declared to be the religion of the state by the Diet of Copenhagen, by force; but the bishops, especially bishop Arason of Holar, made a determined, and at length an armed opposition, which, however, finally (1550) ended in his capture and execution. This put an end to the Church of Rome in Iceland, and in the next year (1551) the Reformation was fully carried through.

The real improvement in the condition of the Church was, however, only gradual. Many of the customs of the mediaeval Church, such as the use of the Latin language at divine service, maintained themselves for a long time; and the same was the case with the ignorance and the immorality of the clergy and the people. But gradually these defects were remedied by the establishment of learned schools in connection with the two cathedrals (1552); by the establishment of a printing-press at Holar by the excellent bishop Gudbrandr Thorlakson (1574); and in particular by the new translation of the Bible by this bishop, a service that contributed largely to a thorough reform of the Church, which now belongs to the best-educated portions of the Protestant world.

As regards the present constitution of the Church of Iceland, it resembles in its principal features that of Denmark, yet not without preserving some of its own peculiarities. The sovereign is the chief bishop (summus episcopus), who exercises his authority partly through the bishops, partly through secular officers. The bishops, in the election of whom the people take part, occupy the position of superintendents, and still have an extended jurisdiction. At the close of the 18th century the see of Skalahold was transferred to Reykjavik, and somewhat later (1825) a cathedral was established at Langanies, near Reykjavik. The episcopal see of Holar had previously (in 1801) been abolished, and the whole island placed under one bishop. Next to the bishops are the provosts, whose office was in the Middle Ages chiefly of a financial nature, and therefore I sometimes occupied by laymen. Since the Reformation (1573-1574) the dignity has been wholly of an ecclesiastical character, and includes the right and duty of superintending large districts. On the whole, there are 19 provosts, each of whom is placed over a number of parishes. The pastors were at first appointed by the bishops, contrary to the provisions of the Danish Church constitution, but since 1563 they have been elected, in accordance therewith, by the congregation, under the superintendence of the provost. To the royal bailiff was reserved the right of investing the pastor elect with his office. Subsequently the manner of appointment was somewhat modified, the appointing power being given to the bailiff, and a right of co- operation to the bishop. To the king of Denmark was reserved the right of sanctioning the appointment to one of the forty-seven benefices, whose yearly income is from 40 to 100 dollars annually. Only five of the 299 churches yield an income higher than 100 dollars. Some clergymen have an income of no more than five dollars annually. All have therefore to depend for their support chiefly on fees and on the proceeds of the lands connected with the churches. See Maurer, in Herzog, Real-Encylopadie, 7:90; Finnus Johannaeus, Histor. Eccles. Islandice (tom. 4:Havnise, 1772-78; extending to the year 1740, and continued till 1840 under the same. title by Petur Peturson, Copenhagen, 1841); M'tinter, Kirchengesch. von Denmark u. Norwegen, vol. 1-3 (Leipzig, 1823-33); Maurer, Die Bekehrung des norweg. Stammes zum Christenhume (Munich, 1855-56, 2 vols.); Harbon, Om reformationen i Island (Copenh. 1843). (A. J. S.).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Iceland'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/i/iceland.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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