The Reformation in Scandinavia.

Germany`s central position gave it a pivotal role in the spread of the Reformation. Most communications passed through the German cities in one way or another. Its universities were seats of learning for foreign students of all kinds, Emperors visited, Imperial Diets were held there with princely visitors, philosophers and scribes attending, its ports were busy in entrepot trade, and it had numerous `free towns` in which industry flourished and the faltering steps of democracy were appearing with burghal rights. With these advantages the works of Luther became widely known and were spread throughout Europe. It was inevitable that the next door neighbours - Denmark, Norway and Sweden should become converted to the Protestant creed.


There had been Christian influences since Anschar entered Sweden in 829 AD. although it remained a struggle with pagan practices until the eleventh century when Papacy struck and the Church of Sweden was linked to Rome. There followed the creation of an archbishop at Upsala, and six bishops and their sees at Linkoping, Skara, Strengnas, Westeras, Wexio, and Aabo. Soon there was a flourishing priesthood and the onset of the decay in piety experienced in other countries. The issues therefore were broadly the same as in Germany, with its people in poverty, serfdom, ground down by their religious masters, and not having a Bible in the Swedish tongue. The kingdom overall was beset with struggles between the great families with almost constant shedding of blood.

In 1515 Pope Leo X sent Johannes Arcimboldus  as legate charged with raising the funds to pay for the building of St Peter`s Church in Rome. He collected more than a million florins from Sweden and Denmark and in so doing sowed the seed of Protestantism. The throne of Denmark at this time was held by the tyrannical Christopher II. The three kingdoms were united by the Treaty of Calmar in 1397 under a common king; but each kingdom was governed by its own laws and customs. When Christian II succeeded to the throne  of Denmark in 1513, the Swedes refused to acknowledge him. Aided by the Papal legate, Arcimboldus, who provided both money and a Papal Bull placing Sweden under an interdict, Christian invaded Sweden. With great barbarity he had the body of  interim ruler Steno Sturius dug up and his bones burnt. He then had seventy members of the Senate summarily executed for alleged heresy ( refusal to give him money for his war). As with other Reformations there is a central character to drive the reform forward. In the Scandinavian countries the Protestant Reformation was led by a lay man - Gustavus Vasa, son of a senator killed by Christopher II. Vasa raised the peasantry and had several skirmishes with Christopher`s forces and eventually cast the tyrant out. Christian II was then deposed in Denmark, and Gustavas Vasa elected King of Sweden in 1523.

During his banishment Vasa had been to Lubeck  where he had taken up Lutheran views on  Protestantism. He wisely decided that instruction rather than coercion should be the way forward with religious reform. Moreover, he saw the need for Swedish Bible at the earliest opportunity. This came with the emergence of brothers Olaf Patersen  ( b 1497) and brother Lawrence ( b 1499) of Oerebro. Both eminent theologians and pious the still young brothers were employed in the great work. Olaf was made preacher in the cathedral of Stockholm and Lawrence, Professor of Theology at Upsala. Opposition was inevitable and was led by  Bishop Brask of Linkoping - a fiery man who fulminated  and denounced them. His opposition and the public debates that were held only fueled the flames and a greater support was made for Lutheranism. Olaf Paterson soon produced a Swedish New Testament . Having issued that to a hungry people, the brothers were commissioned by Vasa to translate the complete Bible. The Papists under Johannes Magnus, Archbishop of Upsala promptly attempted to produce their version of a translation. Magnus then made the mistake of attending on the king supported by his bishops, to demand the withdrawal of the New Testament because it was based on Luther`s version and was subject of an interdict by the Pope. Vasa rejected the demands saying he saw no reason to do so. Magnus then demanded a public debate on religion  which took place between Olaf Paterson and Peter Gallus, Professor at Upsala. The King himself determined the twelve points debated at Upsala in 1526. The verity of the Scriptures held the day, with Gallus unable to make other than the usual dogmatic responses.

The Upsala debate convinced the King of the way forward and he identified the necessity of reducing the bloated wealth of the Church and the need to strip from them temporal power. This he reasoned would set them free to address the spiritual matters. Such was his resolve that he further decided to postpone his coronation until he could do so as a Protestant king.

Meanwhile Christopher II, exiled king of Denmark, had been given a fleet by the Emperor Charles V ( his brother in law) to recover his throne. Vasa responded by imposing a war tax of a tenth on ecclesiastical property ( they could afford it). At this time the clergy in Sweden owned more land than the king and nobles put together. Discontent among the clergy resulted in another debate where the papists were again confounded. Vasa concluded that he would give honour and support to true  pious ministers of the Church but  nothing to the sluggards of sanctuary and monasteries. Having been firmly put in their place, the bishops decided to oppose the king and began a campaign of agitation, raising the people to oppose the measures - particularly in northern Sweden. Vasa called a meeting of the Estates at Westeras in June 1527 and laid the facts before the nobles and pointed to the state of virtual civil war that the prelates had caused. He then made a very bold decision and issued the ultimatum that he would resign the crown and retire from the kingdom if he was not supported. Very warm debates followed and came to the conclusion to receive the Protestant religion.

The Estates decreed bishops should not henceforward sit in Council, the castles and 13,000 estates  given the Church since Charles Canut (1453) should be returned and restitution made for any that had been sold. It was estimated that between 13,000 and 20,000 estates, farms and dwellings were returned to lay ownership. Districts that adopted the reformed creed were allowed to retain property; popish districts were provided with Protestant pastors who were paid out of the goods left by the Papist Church; the Bible to be read in schools; monks forbidden to beg. These and other changes caused  the Archbishop and Bishop Brask to flee and the Papist cause was sundered. On 15 January 1528 Gustavus Vasa reaped his reward and was crowned King of Sweden. In a slap at Rome he declined to go there for investiture and appointed three newly ordained bishops - Skara, Aabo and Strengnas, to perform the religious rites, and omitted from the Coronation oath reference to protecting the holy Church [ of Rome] . The Reformation in Sweden was formally completed by the Estates at Oerebro in 1529.

There were still trials and tribulations to come, however. Vasa died in 1560 and his son Eric XIV only ruled for eight years. In 1568 his brother, John, succeeded. He was married to a Roman Catholic  and conceived the idea of a semi papist liturgy for the Swedish Church - the so called "Red Book", the purpose being to return the Eucharist to the Roman format. The imposition was strongly resisted by the populace  for the whole of his reign which ended in 1592 when his son John came from Poland. The new king was met  by a declaration from the Estates for his signature, to the effect that the liturgy was abolished  and that the Protestant faith was the religion of Sweden. Sigismund was a Catholic and deferred signature while debates again took place in the Estates until the question was asked if they would stand by the declaration. The estates confirmed the decisions in February 1594 and further declared that any who declined to sign it were disqualified from civil or ecclesiastical office within the realm. Sigismund eventually signed and was crowned on 19 February, King of a Protestant Sweden.

Reformation in Denmark.

Home Scottish Reformation The Covenanters Ulster Scots English Reformation European Reformation General Topics & Glossary My Books & Bibliography Contact