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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

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

Chapter 9 — Establishment of Protestantism in Denmark

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The King summons a Conference — Forty-three Articles of the Protestants — Agreement with the Augsburg Confession — Romanist Indictment against Protestants — Its Heads — In what Language shall the Debate take place? — Who shall be Judge? — The Combat Declined at the Eleventh Hour — Declaration of Protestant Pastors — Proclamation of the King — Dissolution of the Monasteries, etc.. — Establishment of Protestantism — Transformation undergone by Denmark.

BUT the wider the light spread, and the more numerous its converts became, the more vehemently did the priests oppose it. Their plots threatened to convulse the kingdom; and Frederick I., judging an aggressive policy to be the safest, resolved on another step towards the full establishment of the Reformation in his dominions. In 1530 he summoned all the bishops and prelates of his kingdom, [1] and the heads of the Lutheran movement, to Copenhagen, in order that they might discuss in his own presence, and in that of the Estates of the Realm, the distinctive articles of the two faiths. The Protestants, in anticipation of the conference, drew up a statement of doctrine or creed, in forty-three articles, "drawn from the pure fountain of the Scriptures," and presented it to the king as the propositions which they were prepared to maintain. [2] The Romanists, in like manner, drew up a paper, which they presented to the king. But it was rather an indictment against the Protestants than a summary of their own creed. It was a long list of errors and crimes against the ancient faith of which they held their opponents guilty! This was to pass judgment before the case had gone to trial: it was to pass judgment in their own cause, and ask the king to inflict the merited punishment. It was not for so summary a proceeding as this that Frederick had summoned the conference.

Let us examine the heads of the Protestant paper, mainly drawn up by Taussan, and accepted as the Confession of the Danish Church. It declared Holy Scripture to be the only rule of faith, and the satisfaction of Christ in our room the only foundation of eternal life. It defined the Church to be the communion of the faithful, and it denied the power of any man to cast any one out of that Church, unless such shall have first cut himself off from the communion of the faithful by impenitence and sin. It affirmed that the worship of God did not consist in canticles, masses, vigils, edifices, shaven crowns, cowls, and anointings, but in the adoring of God in spirit and in truth: that "the true mass of Christ is the commemoration of his sufferings and death, in which his body is eaten and his blood is drunk in certain pledge that through his name we obtain forgiveness of sins." [3] It goes on to condemn masses for the living and the dead, indulgences, auricular confession, and all similar practices. It declares all believers to be priests in Christ, who had offered himself to the Father a living and acceptable sacrifice. It declares the Head of the Church to be Christ, than whom there is no other, whether on earth or in heaven, and of this Head all believers are members. [4]

This document, bearing the signatures of all the leading Protestant pastors in the kingdom, was presented to the king and the Estates of the Realm. It was already the faith of thousands in Denmark. It struck a chord of profoundest harmony with the Confession presented by the Protestants that same year at Augsburg.

The Romanists next came forward. They had no summary of doctrine to present. The paper they gave in was drawn up on the assumption that the faith of Rome was the one true faith, which, having been held through all the ages and submitted to by the whole world, needed no proof or argument at their hands. All who departed from that faith were in deadly error, and ought to be reclaimed by authority. What they gave in, in short, was not a list of Romish doctrines, but of "Protestant errors," which were to be recanted, and, if not, to be punished.

Let us give a few examples. The Romanists charged the Protestants with holding, among other things, that "holy Church had been in error these thirteen or fourteen centuries;" that "the ceremonies, fasts, vestments, orders, etc., of the Church were antiquated and ought to be changed;" that "all righteousness consisted in faith alone;" that "man had not the power of free will;" and that "works did not avail for his salvation;" that "it was impious to pray to the saints, and not less impious to venerate their bones and relics;" that. "there is no external priesthood; " that "he who celebrates mass after the manner of the Roman Church commits an abominable act, and crucifies the Son of God afresh;" and that "all masses, vigils, prayers, alms, and fastings for the dead are sheer delusions and frauds." The charges numbered twenty-seven in all. [5]

The king, on receiving the paper containing these accusations, handed it to John Taussan, with a request that he and his colleagues would prepare a reply to it. The article touching the "freedom of the will," which the Romanists had put in a perverted light, Taussan and his co-pastors explained; but as regarded the other accusations they could only plead guilty; they held, on the points in question, all that the Romanists imputed to them; and instead of withdrawing their opinions they would stand to them, would affirm over again "that vigils, prayers, and masses for the dead are vanities and things that profit nought."

This fixed the "state of the question" or point to be debated. Next arose a keen contest on two preliminaries — "In what language shall we debate and who shall be judge?" The priests argued stoutly for the Latin, the Protestants as strenuously

contended that the Danish should be the tongue in which the disputation should be carried on. The matter to be debated concerned all present not less than it did the personal disputants, but how could they determine on which side the truth lay if the discussion should take place in a language they did not understand? [6]

The second point was one equally hard to be settled: who shall be judge? The Protestants in matters of faith would recognize no authority save that of God only speaking in his own Word, although they left it to the king and the nobles and with the audience generally to say whether what they maintained agreed with or contradicted the inspired oracles. The Romanists, on the other hand, would accept the Holy Scriptures only in the sense in which Councils and the Fathers had interpreted them, reserving an appeal to the Pope as the ultimate and highest judge. Neither party would yield, and now came the amusing part of the business. Some of the Romanists suddenly discovered that the Lutherans were heretics, schismatics, and low persons, with whom it would be a disgrace for their bishops to engage in argument; while others of them, taking occasion from the presence of the royal guards, cried out that they were overawed by the military, and denied the free expression of their sentiments, [7] and that the king favored the heretics. The conference was thus suddenly broken off; the king, the Estates of the Realm, and the spectators who had gathered from all parts of the kingdom to witness the debates, feeling not a little befooled by this unlooked-for termination of the affair. [8]

Although the Romanists had fought and been beaten, they could not have brought upon themselves greater disgrace than this issue entailed upon them. The people saw that they had not the courage even to attempt a defense of their cause, and they did not judge more favorably of it when they saw that its supporters were ashamed of it. Taussan and the other Protestant pastors felt that the hour had come for speaking boldly out.

Setting to work, they prepared a paper exhibiting in twelve articles the neglect, corruption, and oppression of the hierarchy. This document they published all over the kingdom. It was followed by a proclamation from the king, saying that, the "Divine Word of the Gospel" should be freely and publicly preached, and that Lutherans and Romanists should enjoy equal protection until such time as a General Council of Christendom should meet and decide the question between them.

From that time the Protestant confessors in Denmark rapidly increased in number. The temples were left in great degree without worshippers, the monasteries without inmates, and the funds appropriated to their support were withdrawn and devoted to the erection of schools and relief of the poor. Of the monasteries, some were pulled down by the mob; for it was found impossible to restrain the popular indignation which had been awakened by the scandals and crimes of which report made these places the scene. The monks marched out of their abodes, leaving their cloaks at the door. Their hoards found vent by other and more useful channels than the monastery; and the fathers found more profitable employments than those in which they had been wont to pass the drowsy hours of the cell. Not a few became preachers of the Gospel; and some devoted to handicraft those thews and sinews which had run waste in the frock and cowl.

The tide was manifestly going against the bishops; nevertheless they fought on, having nailed their colors to the mast. They fed their hopes by the prospect of succor from abroad; and in order to be ready to co-operate with it when it should arrive, they continued to intrigue in secret, and took every means to maintain a brooding irritation within the kingdom. Frederick, to whom their policy was well known, deemed it wise to provide against the possible results of their intrigues and machinations, by drawing closer to the Protestant party in Germany. In 1532 he joined the league which the Lutheran princes had formed for their mutual defense at Schmalkald. [9]

It is not easy adequately to describe the change that now passed upon Denmark. A serene and blessed light arose upon the whole kingdom. Not only were the Danes enabled to read the Scriptures of the New Testament; in their own tongue, and the Psalms of David, which were also often sung both in their churches and in their fields and on their highways, but they had likewise numerous expounders of the Divine Word, and preachers of the Gospel, who opened to them the fountains of salvation. The land enjoyed a gentle spring. Eschewing the snares which the darkness had concealed, and walking in the new paths which the light had discovered to them, the inhabitants showed forth in abundance in their lives the fruits of the Gospel, which are purity and peace. [10]

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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