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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

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

Chapter 7 — Introduction of Protestantism into Denmark

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Paul Elia — Inclines to Protestantism — Returns to Rome — Petrus Parvus — Code of Christian II. — The New Testament in Danish — Georgius Johannis — Johannis Taussanus — Studies at Cologne — Finds Access to Luther's Writings — Repairs to Wittemberg — Returns to Denmark — Re-enters the Monastery of Antvorskoborg — Explains the Bible to the Monks — Transferred to the Convent of Viborg — Expelled from the Convent — Preaches in the City — Great Excitement in Viborg, and Alarm of the Bishops — Resolve to invite Doctors Eck and Cochlaeus to Oppose Taussan — Their Letter to Eck — Their Picture of Lutheranism — Their Flattery of Eck — He Declines the Invitation.

IN tracing the progress of the Reformation in Sweden, our attention was momentarily turned toward Denmark. Two figures attracted our notice — Arcimboldus, the legate-a-latere of Leo X., and Christian II., the sovereign of the country. The former was busy gathering money for the Pope's use, and sending off vast sums of gold to Rome; the latter, impatient of the yoke of the priests, and envious of the wealth of the Church, was trying to introduce the doctrines of Luther into Denmark, less for their truth than for the help they would give him in making himself master in his own dominions. Soon, however, both personages disappeared from the scene.

Arcimbold in due time followed his gold-bags to Italy, and Christian II., deposed by his subjects, retired to the court of his brother-in-law, Charles V. His uncle Frederick, Duke of Holstein and Schleswig, succeeded him on the throne. [1] This was in 1523, and here properly begins the story of the Reformation in Denmark.

Paul Elia, a Carmelite monk, was the first herald of the coming day. As early as 1520 the fame of Luther and his movement reached the monastery of Helsingfor, in which Elia held the rank of provincial. Smitten with an intense desire to know something of the new doctrine, he procured the writings of Luther, studied them, and appeared heartily to welcome the light that now broke upon him. The abuses of the Church of Rome disclosed themselves to his eye; he saw that a Reformation was needed, and was not slow to proclaim his conviction to his countrymen. He displayed for a time no small courage and zeal in his efforts to diffuse a knowledge of the truth in his native land. But, like Erasmus of Holland, and More of England, he turned back to the superstitions which he appeared to have left. He announced the advent of the heavenly kingdom, but did not himself enter in. [2]

Among the early restorers of the Gospel to Denmark, no mean place is due to Petrus Parvus. Sprung of an illustrious stock, he was not less distinguished for his virtues. Attracted to Wittemberg, like many of the Danish youth, by the fame of Luther and Melancthon, he there heard of a faith that brings forgiveness of sin and holiness of nature, and on his return home he labored to introduce the same gracious doctrine into Denmark. [3]

Nor must we pass over in silence the name of Martin, a learned man and an eloquent preacher, who almost daily in 1520 proclaimed the Gospel from the cathedral pulpit of Hafnia (Copenhagen) in the Danish tongue to crowded assemblies. [4] In 1522 came the ecclesiastical and civil code of Christian II., of which we have already spoken, correcting some of the more flagrant practices of the priests, forbidding especially appeals to Rome, and requiring that all causes should be determined the courts of the country. In the year following (1523) the king fled, leaving behind him a soil which had just begun to be broken up, and on which a few handfuls of seed had been cast very much at random.

In his banishment, Christian still sought opportunities of promoting the best interests of the land which had driven him out. One is almost led to think that amid all his vices as a man, and errors as a ruler, he had a love for Lutheranism, for its own sake, and not simply because it lent support to his policy. He now sent to Denmark the best of all Reformers, the Word of God. In Flanders, where in 1524 we find him residing, he caused the New Testament to be translated into the Danish tongue. It was printed at Leipsic, and issued in two parts — the first containing the four Gospels, and the second the Epistles. It bore to be translated from the Vulgate, although the internal evidence made it undoubted that the translator had freely followed the German version by Luther, and possibly by doing so had the better secured both accuracy and beauty. [5] The book was accompanied with a preface by the translator, Johannis Michaelis, dated Antwerp, in which he salutes his "dear brethren and sisters of Denmark, wishing grace and peace to them in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ." He bids them not be scared, by the bulls and other fulmination's of the Vatican, from reading what God has written; that the object of Rome is to keep them blindfolded, that they may believe implicitly all the fables and dreams she chooses to tell them. God, he says, has sent them, in great mercy, the Light by which they may detect the frauds of the impostor. "Grace and remission of sins," says he, "are nowhere save where the Gospel of God is preached. Whoever hears and obeys it, hears and knows that he is forgiven, and has the assurance of eternal life; whereas, they who go to Rome for pardon bring back nothing but griefs, a seared conscience, and a bit of parchment sealed with wax." [6] The priests stormed, but the Bible did its work, and the good fruits appeared in the following reign.

Frederick, the uncle of Christian, and Duke of Holstein and Schleswig,

was now upon the throne. A powerful priesthood, and an equally powerful nobility attached to the Romish Church, had exacted of the new monarch a pledge that he would not give admission to the Lutheran faith into Denmark; but the Danish Bible was every day rendering the fulfillment of the pledge more difficult. In vain had the king promised "not to attack the dignity and privileges of the Ecclesiastical Estate," [7] when the Scriptures were, hour by hour, silently but powerfully undermining them.

A beginning was made by Georgius Johannis. He had drunk at the well of Wittemberg, and returning to his native town of Viborg, he began (1525) to spread the Reformed opinions. When the Bishop of Viborg opposed him, the king gave him letters of protection, which enabled him to set up a Protestant school in that city, [8] the first of all the Protestant institutions of Denmark, and which soon became famous for the success with which, under its founder, it diffused the light of truth and piety over the kingdom.

After Johannis came a yet more illustrious man, who has earned for himself the title of the "Reformer of Denmark," Johannis Taussanus. He was born in 1494, in the country of Fionia; his parents were peasants. From his earliest years the young Taussan discovered a quick genius and an intense thirst for knowledge, but the poverty of his parents did not permit them to give him a liberal education. Following the custom of his time he entered the Order of John the Baptist, or Jerusalem Monks, and took up his abode in the monastery of Antvorskoborg in Zealand.

He had not been long in the monastery when the assiduity and punctuality with which he performed his duties, and the singular blamelessness of his manners, drew upon him the eyes of the superior of the order, Eskildus. [9] His parts, he found, were equal to his virtues, and in the hope that he would become in time the ornament of the monastery, the superior adjudged to the young Taussan one of those bursaries which were in the gift of the order for young men of capacity who wished to prosecute their studies abroad. Taussan was told that, he might select what school or university he pleased, one only excepted, Wittemberg. That seminary was fatally poisoned; all who drank of its waters died, and thither he must on no account bend his course. But there were others whose waters no heresy had polluted: there were Louvain, and Cologne, and others, all unexceptionable in their orthodoxy. At any or all of these he might drink, but of the fountain in Saxony he must not approach it, nor taste it, lest he become anathema. His choice fell upon Cologne. He had been only a short while at that seat of learning when he became weary of the futility's and fables with which he was there entertained. He thirsted to engage in studies more solid, and to taste a doctrine more pure. It happened at that time that the writings of Luther were put into his hands. [10] In these he found what met the cravings of his soul. He longed to place himself at the feet of the Reformer. Many weary leagues separated Wittemberg from the banks of the Rhine, but that was not the only, nor indeed the main, difficulty he had to encounter. He would forfeit his pension, and incur the wrath of his superiors, should it be known that he had gone to drink at the interdicted spring. These risks, however, did not deter him; every day he loathed more and more the husks given him for food, and wished to exchange them for that bread by which alone he felt he could live. He set out for Witternberg; he beheld the face of the man through whom God had spoken to his heart when wandering in the wilderness of Scholasticism, and if the page of Luther had touched him, how much more his living voice!

Whether the young student's sojourn here was known in his native country we have no means of discovering; but in the summer of 1521, and about the time that Luther would be setting out for the Diet of Worms, we find Taussan returning to Denmark. His profiting at Wittemberg was very sufficiently attested by a most flattering mark of distinction which was bestowed on him on his way home. The University of Rostock conferred upon him the degree of Doctor in Theology, an honor which doubtless he valued chiefly because it admitted him to the privilege of teaching to others what himself had learned with joy of heart at the feet of the Reformers. [11]

The monastery at whose expense he had studied abroad had the first claim upon him; and some time elapsed before he could teach publicly in the university. He brought back to the monastery, which he again entered, the same beautiful genius and the same pure manners which had distinguished him before his departure; but the charm of these qualities was now heightened by the nameless grace which true piety gives to the character, "As a lamp in a sepulcher," says one, "so did his light shine in the midst of the darkness of that place." [12] It was not yet suspected by his brethren that they had a Lutheran among them under the cloak of their order, and Taussan took care not to put them upon the scent of the secret, nevertheless, he began betimes to correct the disorders and enlighten the ignorance of his fellow-monks — evils which he now saw had their origin not so much in the vices of the men as in the perversity of the institution.

He would draw them to the Word of God, and opening to them in plain language its true meaning, he would show them how far and fatally Rome had strayed from this Holy Rule. At the Easter of 1524

he preached a sermon setting forth the insufficiency of good works, and the need of an imputed righteousness in order to the sinner's justification. "All the blind supporters of the Pontifical superstition," says the historian, "were in arms against him." [13] The disguise was now dropped.

There was one man whose wrath the sermon of the young monk had specially roused, the prior of the convent, Eskildus, a bigoted upholder of the ancient religion, and the person who had sent Taussan abroad, whence he had brought back the doctrine, the preaching of which had converted his former friend into his bitter enemy.

That he might not corrupt the monks, or bring on the monastery of Antvorskoborg, which had preserved till this hour its good name untarnished, the terrible suspicion of heresy, the prior formed the resolution of transferring Taussan to the convent of Viborg, where a strict watch would be kept upon him, and he would have fewer opportunities of proselytizing under the rigorous surveillance which Prior Petri Jani was known to exercise over those committed to his care. The event, however, turned out quite otherwise. Shut up in his cell, Taussan communicated with the inmates of the convent through the bars of his window. In these conversations he dropped the seeds of truth into their minds, and the result was that two of the monks, named Erasmus and Theocarius, were converted to the truth. [14]

The horror-struck prior, foreseeing the perversion of his whole brotherhood should he retain this corrupter a day longer in the monastery, again drove Taussan forth. If the prior saved his convent by this step, he lost the city of Viborg, for it so happened that about that time a rescript (1526) of King Frederick was issued, commanding that no one should offer molestation to any teacher of the new doctrine, and Taussan thus, though expelled, found himself protected from insult and persecution, whether from the prior or from the magistrates of Viborg. By a marvelous providence, he had been suddenly transferred from the monastery to the city, from the cell to the vineyard of the Lord; from a little auditory, gathered by stealth at his grated window, to the open assemblies of the citizens. He began to preach. The citizens of Viborg heard with joy the Gospel from his mouth. The churches of the city were opened to Taussan, and the crowds that flocked to bear him soon filled them to overflowing. [15]

It was now the bishop's turn to be alarmed. The prior in extinguishing the fire in his convent had but carried the conflagration into the city; gladly would he have seen Taussan again shut up in the monastery, but that was impossible. The captive had escaped, or rather had been driven out, and was not to be lured back; the conflagration had been kindled, and could not now be extinguished. What was to be done? The bishop, Georgius Friis, had no preachers at his command, but he had soldiers, and he resolved to put down these assemblies of worshippers by arms. The zeal of the citizens for the Gospel, however, and their resolution to maintain its preacher, rendered the bishop's efforts abortive. They bade defiance to his troops. They posted guards around the churches, they defended the open squares by drawing chains across them, and they went to sermon with arms in their hands. At length there came another intimation of the royal will, commanding the disaffected party to desist from these violent proceedings, and giving the citizens of Viborg full liberty to attend on the preaching of the Gospel. [16]

Foiled in his own city and diocese, the Bishop of Viborg now took measures for extending the war over the kingdom. The expulsion of Taussan from the convent had set the city in flames; but the bishop had failed to learn the lesson taught by the incident, and so, without intending it, he laid the train for setting the whole country on fire. He convoked the three other bishops of Fionia (Jutland), the most ancient and largest province of Denmark, and, having addressed them on the emergency that had arisen, the bishops unanimously agreed to leave no stone unturned to expel Lutheranism from Denmark. Mistrusting their own skill and strength, however, for the accomplishment of this task, they east their eyes around, and fixed on two champions who, they thought, would be able to combat the hydra which had invaded their land. These were Doctors Eck and Cochlaeus. The four bishops, Ivarus Munck, Stiggo Krumpen, Avo Bilde, and Georgius Friis, addressed a joint letter, which they sent by an honorable messenger, Henry Geerkens, to Dr. Eck, entreating him to come and take up his abode for one or more years in Jutland, in order that by preaching, by public disputations, or by writing, he might silence the propagators of heresy, and rescue the ancient faith from the destruction that impended over it. Should this application be declined by Eck, Geerkens was empowered next to present it to Cochlaeus. [17] Neither flatteries nor promises were lacking which might induce these mighty men of war to renew, on Danish soil, the battles which they boasted having so often and so gloriously fought for Rome in other countries.

The letter of the four bishops, dated 14th of June, 1527, has been preserved; but the terms in which they give vent to their immense detestation of Lutheranism, and their equally immense admiration of the qualities of the man whom Providence had raised up to oppose it, are hardly translatable. Many of their phrases would have been quite new to Cicero. The epistle savored of Gothic rigor rather than Italian elegance.

The eccentricities of their pen will be easily pardoned, however, if we reflect how much the portentous apparition of Lutheranism had disturbed their imaginations. They make allusion to it as that "Phlegethonian plague," that "cruel and virulent pestilence," [18] the "black contagion" of which, "shed into the air,"

was "darkening great part of Christendom," and had made "their era a most unhappy one." Beginning by describing Lutheranism as a plague, they end by comparing it to a serpent; for they go on to denounce those "skulking and impious Lutheran dogmatizers," who, "fearing neither the authority of royal diets nor the terrors of a prison," now "creeping stealthily," now "darting suddenly out of their holes like serpents," are diffusing among "the simple and unlearned flock," their "desperate insanity," bred of "controversial studies." [19]

From Lutheranism the four bishops turn to Dr. Eck. Their pen loses none of its cunning when they come to recount his great qualities. If Lutheranism was the plague that was darkening the earth, Eck was the sun destined to enlighten it. If Lutheranism was the serpent whose deadly virus was infecting mankind, Eck was the Hercules born to slay the monster. "To thee," said the bishops, casting themselves at his feet, "thou most eloquent of men in Divine Scripture, and who excellest in all kinds of learning, we bring the wishes of our Estates. They seek to draw to their own country the man who, by his gravity, his faith, his constancy, his prudence, his firm mind, is able to bring back those who have been misled by perverse and heretical teachers." Not that they thought they could add to the fame of one already possessed of "imperishable renown, and a glory that will last throughout the ages;" "a man to whom nothing in Divine literature is obscure, nothing unknown;" but they urged the greatness of their need and the glory of the service, greater than any ever undertaken by the philosophers and conquerors of old, the deliverance even of Christianity, menaced with extinction in the rich and populous kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. They go on to cite the great deeds of Curtius and Scipio Africanus, and other heroes of ancient story, and trust that the man they address will show not less devotion for the Christian commonwealth than these did for the Roman republic. Their hope lay in him alone — "in his unrivalled eloquence, in his profound penetration, in his Divine understanding." In saving three kingdoms from the pestilence of Luther, he would win a higher glory and taste a sweeter pleasure than did those men who had saved the republic. [20]

This, and a great deal more to the same effect, was enough, one would have thought, to have tempted Dr. Eck to leave his quiet retreat, and once more measure swords with the champions of the new faith. But the doctor had grown wary. Recent encounters had thinned his laurels, and what remained he was not disposed to throw away in impossible enterprises, he was flattered by the embassy, doubtless, but not gained by it. He left the Cimbrian bishops to fight the battle as best they could.

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Thursday, October 22nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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