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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

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

Chapter 3 — Introduction of Protestantism into Sweden

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Influence of Germany on Sweden and Denmark — Planting of Christianity in Sweden — A Mission Church till the Eleventh Century — Organized by Rome in the Twelfth — Wealth and Power of the Clergy — Misery of the Kingdom — Arcimbold — Indulgences — Christian II. of Denmark — Settlement of Calmar — Christian II. Subdues the Swedes — Cruelties — He is Expelled — Gustavus Vasa — Olaf and Lawrence Patersen — They begin to Teach the Doctrines of Luther — They Translate the Bible — Proposed Translation by the Priests — Suppression of Protestant Version Demanded — King Refuses — A Disputation Agreed on.

IT would have been strange if the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, lying on the borders of Germany, had failed to participate in the great movement that was now so deeply agitating their powerful neighbor. Many causes tended to bind together the Scandinavian and the German peoples, and to mould for them substantially the same destiny.

They were sprung of the same stock, the Teutonic; they traded with one another. Not a few native Germans were dispersed as settlers throughout Scandinavia, and when the school of Wittenberg rose into fame, the Scandinavian youth repaired thither to taste the new knowledge and sit at the feet of the great doctor of Saxony. These several links of relationship became so many channels by which the Reformed opinions entered Sweden, and its sister countries of Denmark and Norway. The light withdrew itself from the polished nations of Italy and Spain, from lands which were the ancient seats of letters and arts, chivalry, to warm with its cheering beam the inhospitable shores of the frozen North.

We go back for a moment to the first planting of Christianity in Sweden. There, although the dawn broke early, the coming of day tarried. In the year 829, Anschar, the great apostle of the North, stepped upon the shores of Sweden, bringing with him the gospel. He continued till the day of his death to watch over the seed he had been the first to sow, and to promote its growth by his unwearied labors. After him others arose who trod in his steps. But the times were barbarous, the facilities for spreading the light were few, and for 400 years Christianity had to maintain a dubious struggle in Sweden with the pagan darkness. According to Adam, of Bremen, the Swedish Church was still a mission Church in the end of the eleventh century. The people were without fixed pastors, and had only the teaching of men who limerated over the country, with the consent of the king, making converts, and administering the Sacraments to those who already had embraced the Christian faith. Not till the twelfth century do we find the scattered congregations of Sweden gathered into an organized Church, and brought into connection with the ecclesiastical institutions of the West. But this was only the prelude to a subjugation by the great conqueror. Pushing her conquests beyond what had been the Thule of pagan Rome, Rome Papal claimed to stretch her scepter over the freshly-formed community, and in the middle of the twelfth century the consolidation of the Church of Sweden was the consolidation of the Church of Sweden was completed, and linked by the usual bonds to the Pontifical chair.

From this hour the Swedish Church lacked no advantage which organization could give it. The powerful body on the Seven Hills, of which it had now become a humble member, was a perfect mistress in the art of arranging. The ecclesiastical constitution framed for Sweden comprehended an archiepiscopal see, established at Upsala, and six episcopal dioceses, viz., Linkoping, Skara, Strengnas, Westeras, Wexio, and Aabo. The condition of the kingdom became that of all countries under the jurisdiction of Rome. It exhibited a flourishing priesthood with a decaying piety. Its cathedral churches were richly endowed, and fully equipped with deans and canons; its monkish orders flourished in its cold Northern air with a luxuriance which was not outdone in the sunny lands of Italy and Spain; its cloisters were numerous, the most famous of them being Wadstena, which owed its origin to Birgitta, or Bridget, the lady whom we have already mentioned as having been three times canonized; [1] its clergy, enjoying enormous revenues, rode out attended by armed escorts, and holding their heads higher than the nobility, they aped the magnificence of princes, and even coped with royalty itself. But when we ask for a corresponding result in the intelligence and morality of the people, in the good order and flourishing condition of the agriculture and arts of the kingdom, we find, alas that there is nothing to show. The people were steeped in poverty and ground down by the oppression of their masters.

Left without instruction by their spiritual guides, with no access to the Word of God — for the Scriptures had not as yet been rendered into the Swedish tongue - with no worship save one of mere signs and ceremonies, which could convey no truth into the mind, the Christian light that had shone upon them in the previous centuries was fast fading, and a night thick as that which had enwrapped their forefathers, who worshipped as gods the bloodthirsty heroes of the Eddas and the Sagas, was closing them in. The superstitious beliefs and pagan practices of old times were returning. The country, moreover, was torn with incessant strifes. The great families battled with one another for dominion, their vassals were dragged into the fray, and thus the kingdom was little better than a chaos in which all ranks, from the monarch downwards, struggled together, each helping to consummate the misery of the other. Such was the condition in which the Reformation found the nation of Sweden. [2]

Rome, though far from intending it, lent her aid to begin the good work. To these northern lands, as to more southern ones, she sent her vendors of indulgences. In

the year 1515, Pope Leo X. dispatched Johannes Angelus Arcimboldus, pronotary to the Papal See, as legate to Denmark and Sweden, commissioning him to open a sale of indulgences, and raise money for the great work the Pope had then on hand, namely, the building of St. Peter's. Father Sarpi pays this ecclesiastic the bitter compliment "that he hid under the prelate's robe the qualifications of a consumate Genoese merchant." The legate discharged his commission with indefatigable zeal. He collected vast sums of money in both Sweden and Denmark, and this gold, amounting to more than a million of florins, according to Maimbourg, [3] he sent to Rome, thus replenishing the coffers but undermining the influence of the Papal See, and giving thereby the first occasion for the introduction of Protestantism in these kingdoms. [4]

The progress of the religious movement was mixed up with and influenced by the state of political affairs. The throne of Denmark was at that time filled by Christian II., of the house of Oldenburg. This monarch had spent his youth in the society of low companions and the indulgence of low vices. His character was such as might have been expected from his education; he was brutal and tyrannical, though at times he displayed a sense of justice, and a desire to promote the welfare of his subjects. The clergy were vastly wealthy; so, too, were the nobles — they owned most of the lands; and as thus the ecclesiastical and lay aristocracy possessed an influence that overshadowed the throne, Christian took measures to reduce their power within dimensions more compatible with the rights of royalty. The opinions of Luther had begun to spread in the kingdom ere this time, and the king, quick to perceive the aid he might derive from the Reformation, sought to further it among his people. In 1520 he sent for Martin Reinhard, a disciple of Carlstadt, and appointed him Professor of Theology at Stockholm. He died within the year, and Carlstadt himself succeeded him. After a short residence, Carlstadt quitted Denmark, when Christian, still intent on rescuing the lower classes of his people from the yoke of the priesthood, invited Luther to visit his dominions. The Reformer, however, declined the invitation. In the following year (1521) Christian II. issued an edict forbidding appeals to Rome, and another encouraging priests to marry. [5] These Reforming measures, however, did not prosper. It was hardly to be expected that they should, seeing they were adopted because they accorded with a policy the main object of which was to wrest the power of oppression from the clergy, that the king might wield it himself. It was not till the next reign that the Reformation was established in Denmark.

Meanwhile we pursue the history of Christian II., which takes us back to Sweden, and opens to us the rise and progress of the Reformation in that country. And here it becomes necessary to attend first of all to the peculiar political constitution of the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. By the settlement of Calmar (1397) the union of the three kingdoms, under a common sovereign, became a fundamental and irrevocable law. To secure the liberties of the States, however, it was provided that each kingdom should be governed according to its peculiar laws and customs. When Christian II. ascended the throne of Denmark (1513), so odious was his character that the Swedes refused to acknowledge him as their king, and appointed an administrator, Steno Sturius, to hold the reins of government. [6] Christian waited a few years to strengthen himself in Denmark before attempting the reduction of the Swedes. At length he raised an army for the invasion of Sweden; his cause was espoused within the kingdom by Trollius, Archbishop of Upsala, and Arcimboldus, the Pope's legate and indulgence-monger, who largely subsidized Christian out of the vast sums he had collected by the sale of pardons, and who moreover had influence enough to procure from the Pope a bull placing the whole of Sweden under interdict, and excommunicating Steno and all the members of his government. [7] The fact that this conquest was gained mainly by the aid of the priests, shows clearly the estimate formed of King Christian's Protestantism by his contemporaries.

The conqueror treated the Swedes with great barbarity. He caused the body of Steno to be dug out of the grave and burned. [8] In want of money, and knowing that the Senate would refuse its consent to the sums he wished to levy, he caused them to be apprehended. His design, which was to massacre the senators, was communicated to the Archbishop of Upsala, and is said to have been approved of by him. The offense imputed to these unhappy men was that they had fallen into heresy. Even the forms and delay of a mock trial were too slow for the vindictive impatience of the tyrant. With frightful and summary cruelty the senators and lords, to the number of seventy, were marched out into the open square, surrounded by soldiers, and executed. At the head of these noble victims was Erie Vasa, the father of the illustrious Gustavus Vasa, who became afterwards the avenger of his father's death, the restorer of his country's liberties, and the author of its Reformation.

Gustavus Vasa fled when his sire was beheaded, and remained for some time in hiding. At length, emerging from his place of security, he roused the peasantry of the Swedish provinces to attempt the restoration of their country's independence. He defeated the troops of Christian in several engagements, and after an arduous struggle he overthrew the tyrant, received the crown of Sweden, and erected the country into an independent sovereignty. The loss of the throne of Sweden brought after it to Christian II. the loss of Denmark. His oppressive and tyrannical measures kept up a smoldering insurrection among his Danish subjects; the dissatisfaction broke out at last in open rebellion.

Christian II. was deposed; he fled to the Low Countries, where he renounced his Protestantism, which was a decided disqualification in the eyes of Charles V., whose sister Isabella he had married, and at whose court he now sojourned.

Seated on the throne of Sweden (1523), under the title of Vasa I., Gustavus addressed himself to the Reformation of his kingdom and Church. The way was paved, as we have already said, for the Reformation of the latter, by merchants who visited the Swedish ports, by soldiers whom Vasa had brought from Germany to aid him in the war of independence, and who carried Luther's writings in their knapsacks, and by students who had returned from Wittemberg, bringing with them the opinions they had there imbibed. Vasa himself had been initiated into the Reformed doctrine at Lubeck during his banishment from his native country, and was confirmed in it by the conversation and instruction of the Protestant divines whom he gathered round him after he ascended the throne. [9] He was as wise as he was zealous. He resolved that instruction, not authority, should be the only instrument employed for the conversion of his subjects. He knew that their minds were divided between the ancient superstitions and the Reformed faith, and he resolved to furnish his people with the means of judging between the two, and making their choice freely and intelligently.

There were in his kingdom two youths who had studied at Wittemberg under Luther and Melancthon, Olaf Patersen and his brother Lawrence. Their father was a smith in Erebro. They were born respectively in 1497 and 1499. They received the elements of their education at a Carmelite cloister school, from which Olaf, at the age of nineteen, removed to Wittemberg. The three years he remained there were very eventful, and communicated to the ardent mind of the young Swede aspirations and impulses which continued to develop themselves during all his after-life. He is said to have been in the crowd around the door of the Castle-church of Wittemberg when Luther nailed his Theses to it. Both brothers were eminent for their piety, for their theological attainments, and the zeal and courage with which they published "the opinions of their master amid the disorders and troubles of the civil wars, a time," says the Abbe Vertot, "favorable for the establishment of new religions." [10]

These two divines, whose zeal and prudence had been so well tested, the king employed in the instruction of his subjects in the doctrines of Protestantism. Olaf Patersen he made preacher in the great Cathedral of Stockholm, [11] and Lawrence Patersen he appointed to the chair of theology at Upsala. As the movement progressed, enemies arose. Bishop Brask, of Linkoping, in 1523, received information from Upsala of the dangerous spread of Lutheran heresy in the Cathedral-church at Strengnas through the efforts of Olaf Patersen. Brask, an active and fiery man, a politician rather than a priest, was transported with indignation against the Lutheran teachers. He fulminated the ban of the Church against all who should buy, or read, or circulate their writings, and denounced them as men who had impiously trampled under foot ecclesiastical order for the purpose of gaining a liberty which they called Christian, but which he would term "Lutheran," nay, "Luciferian." The opposition of the bishop but helped to fan the flame; and the public disputations to which the Protestant preachers were challenged, and which took place, by royal permission, in some of the chief cities of the kingdom, only helped to enkindle it the more and spread it over the kingdom. "All the world wished to be instructed in the new opinions," says Vertot, "the doctrine of Luther passed insensibly from the school into the private dwelling. Families were divided: each took his side according to his light and his inclination. Some defended the Roman Catholic religion because it was the religion of their fathers; the most part were attached to it on account of its antiquity, and others deplored the abuse which the greed of the clergy had introduced into the administration of the Sacraments…. Even the women took part in these disputes…all the world sustained itself a judge of controversy." [12]

After these light-bearers came the Light itself — the Word of God. Olaf Patersen, the pastor of Stockholm, began to translate the New Testament into the tongue of Sweden. Taking Luther's version, which had been recently published in Germany, as his model, he labored diligently at his task, and in a short time "executing his work not unhappily," says Gerdesius, "he placed, amid the murmurs of the bishops, the New Testament in Swedish in the hands of the people, who now looked with open face on what they had formerly contemplated through a veil." [13]

After the New Testament had been issued, the two brothers Olaf and Lawrence, at the request of the king, undertook the translation of the whole Bible. The work was completed in due time, and published in Stockholm. "New controversies," said the king, "arise every day; we have now an infallible judge to which we can appeal them." [14]

The Popish clergy bethought them of a notable device for extinguishing the light which the labors of the two Protestant pastors had kindled. They resolved that they too would translate the New Testament into the vernacular of Sweden. Johannes Magnus, who had lately been inducted into the Archbishopric of Upsala, presided in the execution of this scheme, in which, though Adam Smith had not yet written, the principle of the division of labor was carried out to the full. To each university was assigned a portion of the sacred Books which it was to translate. The Gospel according to St. Matthew and the Epistle to the Romans were allotted to the College of Upsala. The Gospel according to St. Mark, with the two Epistles to the Corinthians, was assigned to the University of Linkoping; St. Luke's Gospel and the

Epistle to the Galatians to Skara; St. John's Gospel and the Epistle to the Ephesians to Stregnen; and so to all the rest of the universities. There still remained some portions of the task unappropriated; these were distributed among the monkish orders. The Dominicans were to translate the Epistle to Titus and that to the Hebrews; to the Franciscans were assigned the Epistles of St. Jude and of St. James; while the Carthusians were to put forth their skill in deciphering the symbolic writing of the Apocalypse. [15] It must be confessed that the leisure hours of the Fathers have often been worse employed.

As one fire is said to extinguish another, it was hoped that one light would eclipse another, or at least so dazzle the eyes of the beholders that they should not know which was the true light. Meanwhile, however, the Bishop of Upsala thought it exceedingly dangerous that men should be left to the guidance, of what he did not doubt was the false beacon, and accordingly he and his associates waited in a body on the king, and requested that the translation of Pastor Olaf should be withdrawn, at least, till a better was prepared and ready to be put into the hands of the people.

"Olaf's version, he said, "was simply the New Testament of Martin Luther, which the Pope had placed under interdict and condemned as heretical." The archbishop demanded further that "those royal ordinances which had of late been promulgated, and which encroached upon the immunities and possessions of the clergy, should, inasmuch as they had been passed at the instigation of those who were the enemies of the old religion, be rescinded." [16]

To this haughty demand the king replied that "nothing had been taken from the ecclesiastics, save what they had unjustly usurped aforetime; that they had his full consent to publish their own version of the Bible, but that he saw no cause why he either should revoke his own ordinances or forbid the circulation of Olaf's New Testament in the mother tongue of his people."

The bishop, not liking this reply, offered to make good in public the charge of heresy which he had preferred against Olaf Patersen and his associates. The king, who wished nothing so much as that the foundations of the two faiths should be sifted out and placed before his people, at once accepted the challenge. It was arranged that the discussion should take place in the University of Upsala; that the king himself should be present, with his senators, nobles, and the learned men of his kingdom. Olaf Patersen undertook at once the Protestant defense. There was some difficulty in finding a champion on the Popish side. The challenge had come from the bishops, but no sooner was it taken up than "they framed excuses and shuffled." [17] At length Peter Gallus, Professor of Theology in the College of Upsala, and undoubtedly their best man, undertook the battle on the side of Rome.


Lectionary Calendar
Friday, September 21st, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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