Sweden

At the commencement of the Reformation in Sweden the Church of Rome was well organized, very wealthy, rivaling that of the nobility, and its influence overshadowed that of the throne. It had a flourishing priesthood with a decaying piety. There was no Bible in the Swedish tongue. The people, left in darkness by their spiritual guides, and the empty ceremonies of the church were sinking back into paganism. The light of Christianity was fast fading that had been brought by godly men before the Romish church was established in Sweden. The people were ground down by oppression and poverty, and the land was torn by incessant strife among all the classes of its people.

In 1523 Gustavus Vasa I ascended the throne, having defeated the previous tyrannical ruler and established Sweden as a sovereign nation, independent of Denmark and Sweden. He set about to bring reformation to his land and church. Vasa was as wise as he was zealous. He determined that instruction and not authority should be the means employed for the conversion of the people. They were to make their own choice.

The way was already paved in Sweden for the Reformation to come by merchants who visited its ports, by soldiers whom Vasa had brought from Germany to aid him in the fight for independence bringing the writings of Luther in their knapsacks, and by students returning from Luther’s great school at Wittenberg. The Reformation came to each of the Scandinavian countries essentially from Germany, which was the only European country with which their inhabitants had frequent intercourse.

Brothers Olaf and Lawrence Paterson (also known as Petri), born in 1497 and 1499 respectively, studied at Wittenberg under Luther and Melanchthon.  Olaf is said to have been in the crowd around the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to it.  Both were eminent for their piety, their theological attainments and the zeal and courage with which they taught and published the reformed teaching they had received from Luther and Melanchthon. These two zealous and prudent brothers were employed by King Vasa to teach his subjects. Olaf was appointed preacher at the great cathedral of Stockholm and Lawrence was made the chair of theology at Upsala. Olaf translated the New Testament into the Swedish tongue using Luther’s version (recently published in Germany). Laboring diligently, in a short time, he placed this most precious treasure in the hands of the Swedish people for the first time. At the request of the king, Olaf and Lawrence together translated the whole Bible which was published at Stockholm in 1541. “New controversies,” said the king “arise every day; we have now an infallible judge to which we can appeal them.”

Opposition from the Catholic church to the work of the Paterson brothers and the public disputations which were held between the brothers and the representatives of Romism only helped to fan the flames and spread reformed teaching more over Sweden. A very important conference was held at Upsala in 1526 between Olaf Paterson and Peter Gallus on the twelve main points of difference between Protestantism and Catholicism.  Olaf Paterson, a scholar and theologian, who had thoroughly mastered the whole system of Gospel truth, won an easy victory over Rome’s champion. Vertot says, “All the world wished to be instructed in the new opinions, 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 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.”

“…The sort of men that formed the rank and file of the army of the Reformers….were not illiterate, sectarian, noisy controversialists – far from it; they were men who had studied the Word of God, and knew well how to wield the weapons with which the armoury of the Bible had supplied them. In respect of erudition they were ahead of their age….[They were] scholars and theologians; men who have thoroughly mastered the whole system of Gospel truth, and who [won] an easy victory over the sophists of the schools, and the dignitaries of Rome.”  - James A. Wylie

The 1526 conference at Upsala decided King Gustavus Vasa I and he cast in his lot without reserve with Protestantism. He saw that he must strip the Roman Catholic Church of its political and temporal power and reduce its wealth and remodel his kingdom on the great biblical principles that had triumphed in the Upsala conference. Two circumstances greatly forwarded his goals: 1. The light of the Reformation spreading among his people was already diminishing the power of the priesthood; and, 2. He determined to join in the fight with Denmark against Christian II (abdicated monarch of Denmark) knowing that Christian II would invade Sweden next. This defense of Sweden was to be partly funded by imposing a war tax of one tenth on all ecclesiastical goods. The Catholic clergy refused to submit to this tax and organized and vigorously carried out an agitation of Gustavus’ kingdom bringing it to the brink of civil war. At a meeting of the Estates of Sweden to deal with this problem, after many long and heated debates, it was decided to adopt, virtually, the Protestant religion, denying the bishops the right to sit in the supreme council of the nation and requiring them to return the 13,000 plus estates, farms, castles, and dwellings they held back to the people and nation. The bishops submitted to this decree which effectually broke their power, plus the Catholic high church officials fled out of Sweden causing them to lose heart in the fight. Further articles resolved on greatly restricted the Catholics left in Sweden and advanced the Reformation in Sweden by requiring that in all the schools the Bible must be read and the Gospel taught.

Gustavus Vasa I was crowned as a Protestant king on January 12th, 1528. A public declaration read on that day had this to say about the new king “…Who, above all, has sedulously cherished the true religion, making it his highest object to defend Reformed truth, so that the whole land, being delivered from Popish darkness, may be irradiated with the light of the Gospel.” Gustavus reigned after his coronation for 32 years during which he had the happiness of seeing the Reformed faith planted in his dominions, “and during all that time he never ceased to watch over the interests of the Protestant Church, taking care that his kingdom should be well supplied with learned bishops and diligent pastors.” –James A. Wylie

In 1529 the Reformation in Sweden was formally completed. At a Diet called by the king to which nobles and clergy came it was avowed among other things that the great end of the offices of bishops and pastors was to preach the pure Word of God; to institute the preaching of the Gospel in all the churches of the kingdom; to see that the Scriptures were read daily and purely expounded in the cathedrals; to place pure editions of the Bible in all the schools; and to give vigilance to the training of efficient preachers of the Word.

At the Synod of Upsala in 1593, after lengthy and anxious deliberation, the Augsburg Confession of 1530 was adopted as the national Confession.  Bishop Petrus Jonae asked the synod, “Do you adopt this Confession as the Confession of your faith, and are you resolved to abide firmly by it, notwithstanding all suffering and loss to which a faithful adherence to it may expose you?” To which the entire synod arose and shouted “We do; nor shall we ever flinch from it, but at all times shall be ready to maintain it with our goods and our lives.” “Then”, responded Jonae in loud, glad tones, “now is Sweden become as one man, and we all of us have one Lord and God.” The Augsburg Confession and the other resolutions made by the Synod concerning the Church were promptly and universally sanctioned by the nation with all ranks of persons, including King Sigismund, subscribing to and signing the Upsala Declaration, thus surrounding the Protestant faith of the Swedish people with all legal formalities and securities.

 

Denmark

The story of the Reformation in Denmark properly begins in 1523 with the deposing of Christian II by his subjects and his uncle Frederick succeeding him to the throne. A few years previously the ground was just starting to be broken up and some seed cast in at random with Christian II correcting some of the more flagrant abuses of the priests, and a learned and eloquent man by the name of Martin almost daily proclaiming the Gospel in 1520 from the cathedral pulpit in Hafnia (Copenhagen). Of illustrious family and distinguished virtues Petrus Parvus also labored to introduce the gracious doctrine of the Gospel into Denmark which he learned from Luther and Melanchthon in Wittenberg. For a time Paul Elia, a monk, with great courage and zeal sought to spread the truth of Luther’s writings, expose the abuses of Rome, and teach on the need for reformation among his countrymen, but then he turned back to the superstitions of Rome which he had before apparently left. Paul Elia corrected the Danish New Testament translation of Johannis Michaelis, and later helped Francis Wormord translate the Psalms into Danish.

Though banished, Christian II still sought to promote the best interests of Denmark. He did the best thing he could have. In 1524 he had Johannis Michaelis complete and publish the already begun Danish translation of the New Testament. The translators made use of the Vulgate and of Luther’s and Erasmus’ translations. In the preface Michaelis wrote, “Grace and remission of sins are nowhere save where the Gospel of God is preached. Whoever hears and obeys it, hears and knows that he is forgiven, and has 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.” The Bible did its work, and though the priests raged, the Scriptures were steadily, silently, and powerfully undermining them and bringing forth good fruit. Later, in 1529, a purer and more idiomatic version of the New Testament was published by Christian Petri.

Georgious Johannis, in 1525, returned to his native town of Viborg from Wittenberg and began to spread the reformed teachings. The king gave him letters of protection when the Bishop of Viborg opposed him, enabling him to set up a Protestant school, the first of all Protestant institutions in Denmark. This school became famous for its success, under its founder, in spreading truth and piety over the kingdom of Denmark.

Johannis Taussan was born in 1494 to poor peasant parents who were farmers and fisherfolk by the sea on the island of Fionia. He was called the “Reformer of Denmark” and the “Luther of Denmark”. Taussan was a man of great genius, pure manners, and true piety. He early showed an intelligence and desire for schooling and his parents placed him in a school about 5-6 miles from his home. Later he was a tutor in the home of a nobleman, but he wanted to study theology and belong to one of the influential classes. So Taussan begged for admittance into a monastery of the Johnnites (which followed the same rule as the Augustines) at the age of 21, and later studied at Cologne where, wearied with the futilities and fables he was being taught, he first read the writings of Luther, and the cravings of his soul were met.  Taussan decided to go to Wittenberg and sit under the teaching of Luther himself.  Back in Denmark, he was transferred from the monastery he originally had entered, because of a sermon he preached on the insufficiency of good works to save and the need of imputed righteousness, to a convent in Viborg in the north of Jutland. Here Taussan was soon tried and imprisoned because of his teaching which led to the conversion of two monks, and he was later expelled. King Frederick, coming into Jutland, heard of his imprisonment and had him released, lifting him up beside his throne and naming him his chaplain. Taussen was soon preaching in Viborg’s churches to overflowing crowds which received the Gospel with joy. In 1529 Taussen, at the king’s request, moved to Copenhagen to preach there, giving a powerful impulse to the Reformation movement. The inhabitants of Copenhagen received the Gospel gladly, forsaking the popish rites –no longer did any one go to mass or confession. Taussan cared for all the young churches of Denmark, not just his own flock, laboring to seek out and send to them able and zealous preachers of the truth. He drew up the Confession of the Danish Church in 1530. It was very much in harmony with the Augsburg Confession.

King Frederick I, though bound by his oath to protect the Roman Catholic church in Denmark, was a Lutheran who did not believe he had to defend all “the errors and old wives fables in that church which no man of sane mind can defend.” As soon as he became king, Frederick issued an edict formally establishing religious liberty for both Catholics and Protestants. “Let no one,” he said, “do any injury to his neighbor in his estate, his honor, or his body, on account either of papist or Lutheran doctrine; but let every one act with respect to religion as his own conscience dictates and in such a manner that he may be able to give a good account to Almighty God.”  In 1527 Frederick and the Estates of Denmark passed an edict and various regulations giving liberty to all Danish subjects to profess either the Lutheran or Catholic religion as they desired without oppression or injury. They also declared that monks and nuns were free to marry if they chose, that they might leave or stay in their convents as they pleased, that no money was to be sent to Rome, and that ecclesiastical power and jurisdiction was limited to church affairs.

A powerful influence in Denmark that greatly promoted the Reformation and the spread of the truth of the Scripture was the singing of hymns and Psalms in church by the people. This was true wherever the Reformation advanced, bringing with it the sounds of melody and praise, but nowhere more so than in Denmark. “The part which Rome assigns to her people in her public worship is silence: their voices raised in worship are never heard.” –James A. Wylie Nicolaus Martin, together with John Spandemager, translated some of the sacred hymns of Germany into Danish and published the first hymnbook of the Reformed Church of Denmark in c.1527. Francis Wormord (a native of Holland), with the help of Paul Elia, translated the Psalms of David into Danish accompanying it with notes that explained the Psalms in a Protestant sense and directing the reader’s eye to the Greater than David. This was published in 1528 “with the favor and privilege of the king.” The Psalms quickly displaced the ballads previously sung, and were heard in the nobles’ castles and Protestant assemblies.  The Danish people, filled with joy at the clear light come unto them in their darkness, “poured forth their gratitude in thundering voices in the Psalms of David, the hymns of Luther, and in other sacred canticles.”

In all the towns where the Reformation obtained a footing the printing press was at the same time established, and printers, booksellers and books came to the town. Out of the struggles of the Reformation a taste for reading sprang up everywhere.

Malmoë was the first of all Danish cities to fully receive the Gospel. In 1527 they invited Nicolaus Martin to preach the Gospel to them, which he did on the 1st of June outside the city walls. Day by day loud Psalms and songs of praise were lifted up outside the walls as the congregation grew until one day the gates were opened and the congregation marched in, to the consternation of the Romanists, to share the Gospel with their fellow townsmen. Churches were opened to the preachers and the praises sung outside the walls were now heard within them. Mass was abolished and in 1529 almost the entire population of Malmoë professed the true religion of the Scriptures. By the king’s order and with his financial support, a theological collage was established in Malmoë, which contributed mightily to the spread of biblical truth in Denmark, sending out many able teachers. Among its professors were Nicolaus Martin, Francis Wormord, Peter Lawrence, and Olaus Chrysostom.

In 1530, in response to the vehement opposition to and plots against the Protestants by the Catholics, King Frederick I took a definitive step toward dealing with that problem and establishing the Reformation in his dominions by calling together all the Catholic bishops and prelates of Denmark and the heads of the Lutheran movement to discuss the distinctive articles of their faiths before himself and the Estates of Denmark. The Protestants presented the Confession of the Danish Church (very similar to the Augsburg Confession), drawn up by Johannis Taussan, and signed by all the leading pastors.  The Catholics brought forth only a list of 27 charges of the errors and crimes of the Protestants against the Catholic religion. In the midst of a heated debate over which language the discussions should be held in (Latin or Danish) and who should be the judge (God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture or the Catholic interpretations of Scripture and the pope) in which neither party would yield, the conference was suddenly broken off as some of the Romanists just then discovered that the Lutherans were heretics and low persons that it would be a disgrace for them to debate, and others claimed they feared the military guard present, that they would be denied the free expression of their beliefs, and that the king favored the heretics,  and so they left! This greatly disgraced the Roman church in the eyes of the people. Taussan and other Protestant pastors took this opportunity to write a paper laying out the neglect, corruption and oppression of the Catholic hierarchy, which was distributed throughout the nation. Many left the Catholic church and the numbers of Protestant confessors rapidly increased.

After this event, “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….The inhabitants showed forth in abundance in their lives the fruits of the Gospel, which are purity and peace.” – James A. Wylie

King Frederick I died on April 10th, 1533 at the age of 62. There followed a very troubled two years. Frederick I had two sons, Christian, a Protestant, and John, a Catholic. The Protestants desired Christian as their next ruler. The Catholics wanted John, and took the occasion to seek to bring about a revival of their religious rites and extend their power. A third party attempted to restore the deposed Christian II.

“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 place 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.” –James A. Wylie

On July 4th, 1534 Frederick I’s eldest son was elected to the throne and began to reign under the title of Christian III. His first year as king was spent in conquering his kingdom which was in the hands of his enemies, the bishops mostly. It took much labor, treasure, and blood to reduce the rebels to submission. That done, Christian III called together the Estates to a meeting in Copenhagen and presented a decree before them for adoption. It was received with much favor, all present subscribed it, making it a national and perpetual deed and publicly establishing the reformed faith in Denmark. This national deed was called the “Recess of Copenhagen” and contained the following main heads: The order of the episcopate should be forever abolished; the wealth of the bishops should revert to the state; the government of the kingdom should be exclusively in the hands of laymen; the rule of the church should be administered by a general synod; religion should be reformed; the rights of the Roman church should cease; all should be instructed from the Word of God; and those ecclesiastical revenues and possessions, not consumed in the war just ended should be devoted to the support of learned men, and the founding of academies and universities for the instruction of the youth.

King Christian III brought a very important constitutional change to Denmark by bringing into the Diet in October, 1536, in conjunction with the nobility and in the place of the prelates, representatives chosen by the burgesses of the towns and by the peasantry of the country districts. This was the first Diet at which the people were represented.

In 1537 King Christian III called together all the pastors and professors of the collages of his kingdom to draw up a constitution for the Protestant Church. It was sent to Martin Luther and other theologians at Wittenberg for revision. It was approved by them with few emendations. Johannes Buganhagen came back along with the revised constitution to aid with his wisdom and experience in the final settlement and arrangement of the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Danish Protestant Church. The king, all the leading pastors, and two professors from each collage signed this constitution. King Christian III was crowned king that same year, Bugenhagen presiding.  This godly, wise and magnanimous king now had the satisfaction of seeing the work of Reformation, by God’s grace, completed in his country, on which his heart had been so greatly set.

Johannes Bugenhagen (also known as Pomeranus) was a friend of Martin Luther and a superintendent at Wittenberg. He was a man of a conciliatory and impartial nature. He could well distinguish between things essential and things indifferent, and was more attached to the spirit than the letter. Bugenhagen organized the churches of Pomerania (his native country), Brunswick, Hamburg and Lübeck. He was asked by King Christian III to come and do the same for Denmark. The elector of Saxony agreed to give him up for two years. So, in 1537, Bugenhagen came to Copenhagen with his family and several students from Wittenberg. He reorganized the university of Copenhagen, and did much to spread the knowledge of the Scriptures among the clergy. Along with the reformers of Denmark, Taussan, Wormorsen, Chrysostom, Sadolin, Peter Larssen and others, he wrote a constitution for the renovated Church of Denmark.

Jørgen Jensen Sadolin (c. 1490-December 29, 1559 in Odense) was a Danish reformer, the son of Jens Christensen, a curate and subsequently a canon of Viborg Cathedral. Sadolin settled at Viborg with King Frederick I’s permission in 1525 to teach young persons of the poorer classes “whatever might be profitable.” He sided with Johannes Taussan when the latter first began to preach the gospel at Viborg and Taussan, shortly before he left Viborg, ordained Sadolin in 1529. At the diocesan council on May 27th, 1532, during the absence of the bishop, he presented to the assembled priests a translation of Luther’s catechism, with Luther's name omitted, and pleaded earnestly in favor of a better system of education and a more practical application of the Christian life. In the following year Sadolin published the first Danish translation of the Confession of Augsburg. He helped prepare a constitution for the Danish Church along with Johannes Bugenhagen, Taussan and other Danish reformers. On September 2nd, 1537, Sandolin was consecrated by the German reformer, Johannes Bugenhagen, as superintendent, or first evangelical bishop, of Funen. As bishop he was remarkable for the success with which he provided the necessary means for the support of churches, schools and hospitals in his widespread diocese, which had been deprived of its usual sources of income by the wholesale confiscation of church property. Towards the Catholics Sandolin adopted a firm, but moderate and reasonable tone. He gave the funeral oration over Christian III in St John’s Church at Odense in February 1559, though he was now very infirm and blind, and died at the end of the same year.

 

Norway

Initially Norway refused to accept Christian III as its king, the opposition being led by the Roman Catholic bishops. “There was no region of the north in which Roman Catholicism had more resolute adherents.” However, when Christian III triumphed in Denmark and was crowned in 1537, the Archbishop of Drontheim fled to the Netherlands with the treasures of his cathedral, and the hostile party was broken and the country submitted to Christian III. Consequently the same doctrine and church constitution already established among the Danes was introduced into Norway. Later in 1607 Norway finally received its own much needed national Church Ordinance. “Its introduction can be seen as a sign that the Reformation had finally succeeded in Norway. From then on the religious developments in the country were to follow events in Denmark closely, while the interchange of personnel and ideas became so extensive that only minor variations can be seen.” –Thorkild Lyby and Ole Peter Grell

The middle and lower strata of the Norwegian population showed a much stronger and more lasting commitment to Catholicism than did the other Scandinavian countries. The central principle behind the introduction of the Reformation into Norway was a gradual and piecemeal approach by the government.  Government officials were expressly instructed to act cautiously. Even so the few gradual changes introduced caused serious difficulties. Many ecclesiastical posts remained vacant for years after the Catholic church officers were removed before Lutheran ministers or superintendents were appointed.  A number of evangelical preachers were active, and found adherents among leading noble families. 

he necessary books and documents for the new Lutheran services and catechizing were scarce in Norway. Danish books were used to some extent. In 1541 Peter Palladius published an exposition of his catechism for Norwegian pastors.

Two influential Norwegian bishops who took part in the work of reformation in Norway were Johan Reff and Geble Petersen. Reff went to Copenhagen, resigned his temporal power and accepted the new constitution of the Danish church. Petersen gave up his whole fortune towards the foundation of a school, the repair of his cathedral, and the erection of a parsonage house. He refused to marry, he said, in order that he might be able to fully devote himself to the service of the public. Petersen daily gave instruction in the school he founded, and sought unsuccessfully to have masters and ministers of the Gospel sent to him.

Jørgen Erickssen was born in 1535 in Hadersley, Jylland, Denmark and died June 5th, 1604. When he was 24, Erickssen was made rector of the cathedral school in Bergen in 1559 and in 1560 chaplain at Bergenhus.  In the period 1566-1570 he studied in Wittenberg and Copenhagen. His theology was influenced by Philip Melanchthon among others. On November 4th, 1570 he became the canon in Bergen and on January 27th, 1571 he was appointed bishop of Stavanger. On July 29th, 1571 he was ordained as the superintendent or bishop at Our Lady’s Church in Copenhagen and sent to the much neglected diocese of Stavanger. He retained his position in Bergen.  Through his diocesan synods and his visitations Erickssen promoted evangelical teaching. The significance of his work can be seen from the fact that he was labeled “the Norwegian Luther”. Erickssen’s first wife was Barbra Trond. After her death, he married Adriane Jensdatter Skjelderup on October 21st, 1571, the daughter of Jens Skjelderup the superintendent of Bergen, who helped advance Erickssen’s work in Bergen. His children were Helvig, Daniel, Johannes, Susanne, and Jens.  In 1592 his sermons were published, including those on the Book of Jonah. Through these Erickssen became very influential throughout the whole of Norway. He died June 5, 1604 during a church service in Bergen. He was buried in Stavanger Cathedral.

Iceland

This small, seemingly insignificant island, a land of burning lava and eternal ice, the farthest Danish possession to the north, far from the great currents of civilization,  had as strong a battle waged for it by the powers of evil and superstition as they did for many a larger and fairer domain. At the time of the Reformation Iceland had been under despotic, cruel bishops for more than a century and the current ones were ignorant, domineering, vindictive, hated the Scripture and were two or three centuries behind the rest of the world. In 1540 Gisser Enersön, who had been a student at Wittenberg, was inducted into the See of Skalholt after examination by the professors of Copenhagen and with the approval of Christian III. Under Enersön the work of Reformation began in earnest, but moved slowly because of strong opposition from the plotting priests, tumultuous mobs, and tenacity with which the rugged people in their remote communities clung to the beliefs of their forefathers (though they were quite ready to do away with the abuses). The truth moved slowly, but surely and deeply among the Icelandic people and was at last received by them. The Danish ecclesiastical constitution was accepted and embraced by the Icelanders as it was in Norway and Denmark.

Oddur Gottschalksen, son of a former bishop, was educated in Norway and under Luther in Wittenberg where he gained knowledge of the truth of the Gospel. On his return to Iceland he became secretary to Oegmund Paulsen, Bishop of Skalholt, who hated the Holy Scriptures. Oddur was naturally fond of study and determined to devote himself to this rather than to active ministry. For this purpose he brought many German and Latin books back with him to Iceland. Knowing how the tyrannical bishops behaved towards their inferiors he was timid and prudent and did not speak of the Gospel before them or their loyal followers. However Oddur privately taught the way of salvation to many of his fellow countrymen. He secretly worked, in a cowshed, on translating the New Testament into the Icelandic language. He also spent much time in fervent prayer for Iceland in his solitary shed. Later Oddur went to Copenhagen with Gisser Enersön, the episcopal delegate, desirous of having his New Testament printed. King Christian III ordered an examination of Oddur’s translation, then that it should be printed.

Gisser Enersön was 25 when he became bishop of Skalholt. He had been brought up by Bishop Oegmund to succeed him. Against Oegmund’s wishes he had gone to Wittenberg to study instead of to Hamburg. Enersön was a pious man who founded schools, compelled many convents to instruct the young, and spared himself no pains in training good ministers. Enersön died young. After his death was a time of trouble and persecution and a rise again of the power of Catholicism under its fiery champion Bishop Johan Aresen until his execution in 1550. After that Christian civilization began to make progress. Schools were multiplied by the Protestant bishops, and the whole Bible was translated, printed, and circulated in the vernacular tongue. The Roman services gradually became extinct.

Finland

Finland was under Sweden’s rule, Gustavas Vasa I gaining control over it in 1523. The Catholic church during the Middle Ages had a privileged status in society with its leaders studying at foreign universities, having considerable wealth, and exercising ecclesiastical and political power. The Reformation in Finland followed the developments in Sweden to a great extent, but had its own special character. There appears to have been remarkable agreement on doctrine among the leading Finnish and Swedish reformers. The main work of reform was done by young Finnish theologians who learned of the teachings of the Reformation at foreign universities, predominately in Germany.  Pietari Särkilahti, after studying abroad for some years, returned to Finland in 1524 and became the first Lutheran canon and later archdeacon in Åbo/Turku and, until his untimely death in 1529, exerted considerable influence over the younger priests.

“The principle that the Word of God had to be preached to people in their mother tongue, and that they should be given the opportunity to read it in the vernacular, helped to create and nourish new written languages in remote and obscure parts of Europe. Literature published during the Reformation in Swedish and particularly in Finnish was mainly written for ecclesiastical purposes. This was a significant cultural achievement of lasting importance.” –E.I. Kouri

Books played a significant role in the Reformation in Finland. Books published on the Continent, particularly in Germany, quickly found their way to Finland. German booksellers visited Scandinavian towns and native printers ordered books from abroad, students who studied abroad brought books back with them too, many of them on theology.

Märten Skytte, a pious Dominican Catholic reformist, became the bishop of the See of Åbo/Turku in 1528. He represented traditional Catholic piety, but he was not opposed to either the new evangelical ceremonies and customs or to the crown’s reduction of church property.  Skytte made the important decision in the early 1530s to send talented young Finnish students to Wittenberg to study. This had far-reaching significance for the Finnish Reformation. The first of these students returned in 1536. It was these scholars who widely spread the truths of the Reformation among the Finnish people.

In Finland services in the vernacular were introduced about 1537. Simultaneously, the Reformation took a sharp evangelical turn. For example, monasteries were closed and their property confiscated.

Mikael Agricola was born around 1510 on the southern coast of Finland. He was one of the young men upon whom the preaching of Pietri Särkilahti made a profound impression in the late 1520s. In 1528 he came to Åbo/Turku where he later became Märten Skytte’s secretary. In 1536 Agricola left for Wittenberg where he listened to Martin Luther’s lectures on Genesis and to Philip Melanchthon. Three years later he received his MA and returned to Åbo/Turku where he became headmaster of the Latin school and nine years later an assistant to Skytte. After Skytte’s death Agricola succeeded to his post in 1554. Agricola was known as the reformer of Finland and as the father of Finnish literature. The first work to appear in Finnish was Agricola’s ABC book which included a translation of Luther’s Small Catechism published in 1543. The following year his biblical prayer book was printed. It was the only one of its kind in Scandinavia and was a large manual of almost 900 pages containing material from the Bible, the church fathers, medieval authors and reformers. As a young man in Wittenberg Agricola started to translate the New Testament into Finnish, and he continued this work on his return to Finland. It was published in 1548. About a quarter of the Old Testament was published in 1551 to 1552. Agricola’s substantial literary output consists mainly of translations of Latin, German and Swedish writings. Agricola was a Melanchthonian traditionalist, not a radical reformer. In liturgical questions he was old fashioned and the situation in Finland gave him no reason to aggressively attack the Roman Catholic church. He stressed the importance of catechetic instruction and believed that the first duty of the priest was to teach. His tolerant attitude toward various forms of religious doctrine and life makes him a typical representative of early Reformation religious thinking in Finland. Agricola became increasingly involved in diplomatic negotiations between Sweden and Russia after war broke out between them in 1555. He died in 1557 on his way home from Moscow where he had been sent as a peace negotiator.

The Finnish New Testament was translated by Mikael Agricola from the Greek text published by Erasmus, Erasmus’s Latin translation, the Vulgate, Luther’s Bible, the Swedish New Testament of 1526, and Gustavus Vasa’s Bible of 1541. The Psalter and parts of the books of the Prophets from the Old Testament were translated by Agricola, assisted by a group of scholars. The prefaces to the Gospels were translated from Erasmus’s Latin New Testament, those for the other New Testament books were taken from Luther’s Bible, except for the Book of Revelation which came from the Swedish Bible. Summaries of the Psalms came from the works of Luther’s colleagues, Veit Dietrich and Georg Major, and those for the Books of the Prophets from Veit Dietrich and Johannes Bugenhagen.