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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 10 — Rise and Establishment of Protestantism in Sweden and Denmark

Chapter 10 — Protestantism under Christian III, and its extension to Norway and Iceland

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Scheme for Restoring the Old Faith Abortive — Unsuccessful Invasion of the Country by Christian II. — Death of the King — Interregnum of Two Years — Priestly Plottings and Successes — Taussan Condemned to Silence and Exile — The Senators Besieged by an Armed Mob in the Senate House — Taussan given up — Bishops begin to Persecute — Inundations, etc. — Christian III. Ascends the Throne — Subdues a Revolt — Assembles the Estates at Copenhagen — The Bishops Abolished — New Ecclesiastical Constitution framed, 1547 — Bugenhagen — The Seven Superintendents — Bugenhagen Crowns the King — Denmark Flourishes — Establishment of Protestantism in Norway and Iceland.

AN attempt was made at this time (1532) to turn the flank of the Reformation. Jacob Ronnovius, the Archbishop of Roeschildien, a man of astute but dangerous counsel, framed a measure, professedly in the interest of the Gospel, but fitted to bring back step by step the ancient superstition in all its power. His scheme was, in brief, that the Cathedral-church of Copenhagen, dedicated to Mary, should be given to the Franciscans or to the Friars of the Holy Ghost; that the mass and other rites should not be abolished, but retained in their primitive form; that the offices and chantings should be performed, not in the popular, but in the Latin tongue; that the altars and other ornaments of the sacred edifices should not be removed; in short, that the whole ritualistic machinery of the old worship should be maintained, while "learned men" were, at the same time, to preach the Gospel in the several parishes. This was a cunning device! It was sought to preserve the former framework entire, in the firm hope that the old spirit would creep back into it, and so the last state of the Danish people would be worse than the first. This scheme was presented to the king. Frederick was not to be hoodwinked. His reply put an effectual stop to the project of Ronnovius. It was the royal will that the Edict of Copenhagen should remain in force. The archbishop had to bow; and the hopes that the retrogades had built upon his scheme came to nothing. [1]

Scarcely had this cloud passed, when danger showed itself in another quarter. The ex-King Christian II., supported by his Popish allies in the Netherlands, and encouraged by the clerical malcontents in Denmark, made a descent by sea upon the country in the hope of recovering his throne. Discomfiture awaited the enterprise. As he approached the Danish shore a storm burst out which crippled his fleet; and before he could repair the damage it had sustained, he was attacked by the ships of Frederick, and the engagement which ensued, and which lasted a whole day, resulted in his complete rout. Christian was seized, carried to Soldenberg, in the Isle of Alsen, shut up in a gloomy prison, and kept there till the death of Frederick in 1533. [2]

So far the young Reformation of Denmark had been wonderfully shielded. It had kept its path despite many powerful enemies within the kingdom, and not a few active plotters without. But now came a short arrest. On the 10th of April, 1533, Frederick I., now in his sixty-second year, died. The Protestants bewailed the death of "the Good King." He was in the midst of his reforming career, and there was danger that his work would be interred with him. There followed a troubled interregnum of two years. Of the two sons of Frederick, Christian, the elder, was a Protestant; the younger, John, was attached to the Romish faith. The Popish party, who hoped that, with the descent of Frederick to the tomb, a new day had dawned for their Church, began to plot with the view of raising John to the throne. The Protestants were united in favor of Christian. A third party, who thought to come in at the breach the other two had made for them, turned their eyes to the deposed King Christian II., and even made attempts to effect his restoration. The distracted country was still more embroiled by a revival of the priestly pretensions. Frederick was in his grave, and a bold policy was all that was needed, so the bishops thought, to hoist themselves and their Church into the old place. They took a high tone in the Diet. They brow-beat the nobles, they compelled restoration of the tithes, and they put matters in train for recovering the cathedrals, monasteries, manors, and goods of which they had been stripped. These successes emboldened them to venture on other and harsher measures. They stretched forth their hand to persecute, and made no secret of their design to extirpate the Protestant faith in Denmark.

Their first blows were aimed at Taussan. The removal of that bold Reformer and eloquent preacher was the first step, they saw, to success. He had long been a thorn in their side. The manifesto which had been placarded over the whole kingdom, proclaiming to all the negligence and corruption of the hierarchy, and which was mainly his work, was an offense that never could be pardoned him. The bishops had sufficient influence to get a decree passed in the Diet, condemning the great preacher to silence and sending him into exile. He was expelled from the Cathedral-church of Copenhagen, where he usually conducted his ministry; every other church was closed against him; nay, not the pulpit only, the pen too was interdicted. He was forbidden to write or publish any book, and ordered to withdraw within a month from the diocese of Zealand. In whatever part of Denmark he might take up his abode, he was prohibited from publishing any writing, or addressing any assembly; nor could he discharge any ecclesiastical function; he must submit himself in all things to the bishops. [3]

When rumors of what was being enacted in the Diet

got abroad, the citizens of Copenhagen rushed to arms, and crowding into the forum filled it with tumult and loud and continued outcries. They demanded that Taussan should be restored to them, and that the Diet should refrain from passing any decree hostile to the Protestant faith, adding that if harm shoal befall either the religion or its preacher, the bishops would not be held guiltless. The Diet saw that the people were not in a mood to be trifled with, and some of the senators made an effort to pacify them. Addressing the crowd from the windows of the senate-house, they assured them that they would take care that no evil should happen to Taussan, that no hostile edict should pass the Diet, and that their Protestant customs and privileges should in nowise be interfered with; and they exhorted them to go quietly to their homes and attend to their own affairs. These words did not allay the fears of the populace; the uproar still continued. The senators now got angry, and shouting out with stentorian voice they threatened the rioters with punishment. They were speaking to the winds. Their words were not heard; the noise that raged below drowned them. Their gestures, however, were seen, and these sufficiently indicated the irritation of the speakers. The fumes of the "conscript Fathers" did but the more enrage the armed crowd. Raising their voices to a yet louder pitch, the rioters exclaimed, "Show us Taussan, else we will force the doors of the hall."

The senators, seized with instant fear, restored the preacher to the people, who, forming a guard round him, conducted him safely from the senate-house to his own home. Ronnovius, Archbishop of Roeschildien, the prime instigator of the persecution now commenced against the adherents of the Lutheran doctrine, had like to have fared worse. He was specially obnoxious to the populace, and would certainly have fallen a sacrifice to their wrath, but for the magnanimity of Taussan, who restrained the furious zeal of the multitude, and rescued the archbishop from their hands.

The prelate was not ungrateful for this generous act; he warmly thanked Taussan, and even showed him henceforward a measure of friendship. By-and- by, at the urgent intercession of the leading citizens of Copenhagen, the church of their favorite preacher was restored to him, and matters, as regarded religion, resumed very much their old course. [4]

The other bishops were not so tolerant. On returning to their homes they commenced a sharp persecution against the Protestants in their several dioceses. In Malmoe and Veiis, the metropolitan Tobernus Billeus proscribed the preachers, who had labored there with great success. These cities and some others were threatened with excommunication. At Viborg the Romish bishop, George Frisius, left no stone unturned to expel the Reformers from the city, and extinguish the Protestantism which had there taken root and begun greatly to flourish. But the Protestants were numerous, and the bold front which they showed the bishop told him that he had reckoned without his host. [5] Not in the towns only, but in many of the country parts the Protestant assemblies were put down, and their teachers driven away. Beyond these severities, however, the persecution did not advance. The ulterior and sterner measures to which these beginnings would most assuredly have led, had time been given, were never reached. Denmark had not to buy its Reformation with the block and the stake, as some other countries were required to do. This, doubtless, was a blessing for the men of that generation; that it was so for the men of the following ones we are not prepared to maintain. Men must buy with a great price that; on which they are to put a lasting value. The martyrs of one's kindred and country always move one more than those of other lands, even though it is the same cause for which their blood has been poured out. [6]

The calamities of the two unhappy years that divided the decease of Frederick I. from the election of his successor, or rather his quiet occupation of the throne, were augmented by the rage of the elements. The waters of the sky and the floods of ocean seemed as if they had conspired against a land already sufficiently afflicted by the bitterness of political parties and the bigotry of superstitious zealots. Great Inundations took place. In some instances whole towns were overflowed, and many thousands of their inhabitants were drowned. "Ah!" said the adherents of the old worship to the Protestants, "now at last you are overtaken by the Divine vengeance. You have cast down the altars, defaced the images, and desecrated the temples of the true religion, and now the hand of God is stretched out to chastise you for your impiety." [7] It was unfortunate, however, for this interpretation that these Inundations swallowed up the house and field of Romanist and of Protestant alike. And, further, it seemed to militate against this theory that the occurrence of these calamities had been simultaneous with the apparent return of the country to the old faith. There were not wanting those who regarded these events with a superstitious fear; but to the majority they brought a discipline to faith, and a stimulus to effort. In two years the sky again cleared over the Protestant cause, and also over the country of Denmark. The eldest son of Frederick, whose hearty attachment to Protestantism had already been sufficiently proved by his reforming measures in Holstein and Schleswig, was elected to the throne (July, 1534), and began to reign under the title of Christian III.

The newly-elected sovereign found that he had first to conquer his kingdom. It was in the hands of enemies, the bishops namely, who retired to their dioceses, fortified themselves in their castles, and made light of the authority of the newly-elected sovereign. Christopher, Count of Oldenburg, also raised the standard of revolt in behalf of Christian II. The

wealth of the religious houses, the gold and silver ornaments of the cathedrals, and even the bells of the churches, coined into money, were freely expended in carrying on the war against the king. Much labor and treasure, and not a little blood, did it cost to reduce the warlike count and the rebellious prelates. [8] But at last the task was accomplished, though it was not till a whole year after his election that Christian was able to enter on the peaceable possession of his kingdom. His first step, the country being quieted, was to summon (1536) a meeting of the Estates at Copenhagen. The king addressed the assembly in a speech in which he set forth the calamities which the bishops had brought upon the nation, by their opposition to the laws, their hatred of the Reformed doctrine, and their ceaseless plottings against the peace and order of the commonwealth, and he laid before the Diet the heads of a decree which he submitted for its adoption. The proposed decree was, in brief, that the order of the episcopate should be for ever abolished; that the wealth of the bishops should revert to the State; that the government of the kingdom should be exclusively in the hands of laymen; that the rule of the Church should be administered by a general synod; that religion should be Reformed; that the rites of the Roman Church should cease; and that, although no one should be compelled to renounce the Roman faith, all should be instructed out of the Word of God; that the ecclesiastical revenues and possessions, or what of them had not been consumed in the war just ended:, should be devoted to the support of "superintendents" and learned men, and the founding of academies and universities for the instruction of youth.

The proposal of the king was received by the Diet with much favor. Being put into regular form, it was passed; all present solemnly subscribed it, thus giving it the form of a national and perpetual deed. By this "Recess of Copenhagen," as it was styled, the Reformed faith was publicly established in Denmark. [9]

So far the work had advanced in 1536. The insurrection of the bishops had been suppressed, and their persons put under restraint, though the king magnanimously spared their lives. The Romish episcopacy was abolished as an order recognized and sanctioned by the State. The prelates could no longer wield any temporal jurisdiction, nor could they claim the aid of the State in enforcing acts of spiritual authority exercised over those who still continued voluntarily subject to them. The monasteries, with some exceptions, and the ecclesiastical revenues had been taken possession of in the name of the nation, and were devoted to the founding of schools, the relief of the poor, and the support of the Protestant pastors, to whom the cathedrals and churches were now opened. The work still awaited completion; and now, in 1547, the crown was put upon it.

In this year, also a memorable one in the annals of Denmark, the king called together all the professors and pastors of his kingdom and of the two duchies, for the purpose of framing a constitution for the Protestant Church. A draft, the joint labor, it would appear, of the king and the theologians, of what scented the Scriptural order, was drawn up. [10] A German copy was sent to Luther for revision. It was approved by the Reformer and the other theologians at Wittemberg, and when it was returned there came along with it, at the request of the king, Bugenhagen (Pomeranus), to aid by his wisdom and experience in the final settlement of this matter. The doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Danish Protestant Church were arranged substantially in accordance with the scheme of the king and his theologians, for the emendations of Wittemberg origin were not numerous; and the constitution now enacted was subscribed not only by the king, but also by two professors from each college, and by all the leading pastors. [11]

The Popish bishops having been removed from their sees, it was the care of the king, this same year, to appoint seven Protestant bishops in their room. These were inducted into their office by Bugenhagen, on the 7th of August, in the Cathedral-church of Copenhagen, with the apostolic rite of the laying on of hands. Their work, as defined by Bugenhagen, was the "oversight" of the Church, and their title "superintendent" rather than "bishop." [12] When installed, each of them promised that he would show fidelity to the king, and that he would use all diligence in his diocese to have the Word of God faithfully preached, the Sacraments purely administered, and the ignorant instructed in the principles of religion. They further engaged to see that the youth gave attendance at school, and that the alms of the poor were rightly distributed. The names and dioceses of these seven superintendents were as follow: - Peter Palladius was appointed to Zealand; Francis Wormord to Schonen; George Viborg to Funen; John Vandal to Ripen; Matthew Lang to Arthusien; Jacob Scaning to Viborg; and Peter Thom to Alborg. These were all men of piety and learning; and they continued for many years hugely to benefit the Church and Kingdom of Denmark by their labors. [13]

In the above list, as the reader will mark, the name of the man who was styled the Luther of Denmark does not occur. John Taussan was appointed to the chair of theology in the University of Roeschildien. It was judged, doubtless, that to train the future ministry of the Church was meanwhile the most important work of all. He discharged this duty four years. In 1542, on the death of John Vandal, he was made superintendent of Ripen. [14] Of the three Mendicant orders which had flourished in Denmark, some left the kingdom, others joined the ranks of the people as handicraftsmen; but the

majority, qualified by their talents and knowledge, became preachers of the Gospel, and in a very few years scarce a friar was there who had not renounced the habit, and with it the Romish religion, and embraced the Protestant faith. [15]

This year (1547), which had already witnessed so many events destined to mould the future of the Danish people, was to be illustrated by another before it closed. In the month of August, King Christian was solemnly crowned. The numerous rites without which, it was believed in Popish times, no king could validly reign, and which were devised mainly with a view to display the splendor of the Church, and to insinuate the superiority of her Pontiff to kings, were on this occasion dispensed with. Only the simple ceremony of anointing was retained. Bugenhagen presided on the occasion. He placed on the king's head the golden crown, adorned with a row of jewels. He put into his hands the sword, the scepter, and the apple, and, having committed to him these insignia, he briefly but solemnly admonished him in governing to seek the honor of the Eternal King, by whose providence he reigned, and the good of the commonwealth over which he had been set. [16]

The magnanimous, prudent, and God-fearing king had now the satisfaction of seeing the work on which his heart had been so greatly set completed. The powerful opposition which threatened to bar his way to the throne had been overcome. The nobles had rallied to him, and gone heartily along with him in all his measures for emancipating his country from the yoke of the hierarchy, the exactions of the monks, and the demoralizing influence of the beliefs and rites of the old superstition. Teachers of the truth, as contained in the fountains of inspiration, were forming congregations in every part of the kingdom. Schools were springing up; letters and the study of the sacred sciences — which had fallen into neglect during the years of civil war began to revive. The University of Copenhagen rose from its ruins; new statutes were framed for it; it was amply endowed; and learned men from other countries were invited to fill its chairs; [17] and, as the consequence of these enlightened measures, it soon became one of the lights of Christendom. The scars that civil strife had inflicted on the land were effaced, and the sorrows of former years forgotten, in the prosperous and smiling aspect the country now began to wear. In June, 1539, the last touch was put to the work of Reformation in Denmark. At the Diet at Odensee, the king and nobles subscribed a solemn bond, engaging to persevere in the Reformed doctrine in which they had been instructed, and to maintain the constitution of the Protestant Church which had been enacted two years before. [18]

Still further towards the north did the light penetrate. The day that had opened over Denmark shed its rays upon Norway, and even upon the remote and dreary Iceland. Norway had at first refused to accept of Christian III. for its king. The bishops there, as in Denmark, headed the opposition; but the triumph of Christian in the latter country paved the way for the establishment of his authority in the former. In 1537, the Archbishop of Drontheim fled to the Netherlands, carrying with him the treasures of his cathedral.

This broke the hostile phalanx: the country submitted to Christian, and the consequence was the introduction into Norway of the same doctrine and Church constitution which had already been established among the Danes.

Iceland was the farthest possession of the Danish crown towards the north. That little island, it might have been thought, was too insignificant to be struggled for; but, in truth, the powers of superstition fought as stout a battle to preserve it as they have waged for many an ampler and fairer domain. The first attempts at Reformation were made by Augmund, Bishop of Skalholt. Dismayed, however, by the determined front which the priests presented, Augmund abdicated his office, to escape their wrath, and retired into private life. [19] In the following year (1540) Huetsfeld was sent thither by the king to induct Gisser Enerson, who had been a student at Wittemberg, into the See of Skalholt. [20] Under Enerson the work began in earnest. It advanced slowly, however, for the opposition was strong. The priests plotted and the mobs repeatedly broke into tumult. Day by day, however, the truth struck its roots deeper among the people, and at last the same doctrine and ecclesiastical constitution which had been embraced in Denmark were received by the Icelanders; [21] and thus this island of the sea was added to the domains over which the sun of the Reformation already shed his beams, as if to afford early augury that not a shore is there which this light will not visit, nor an islet in all the main which it will not clothe with the fruits of righteousness, and make vocal with the songs of salvation.


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Thursday, September 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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