Written in 1943, Giertz’s work follows two brothers, Anders and Martin, whose paths diverged at the advent of the Swedish Reformation. Anders, a devout Catholic priest, and Martin, a royal scrivener (or scribe) are torn apart by civil war but brought together in the gospel through God’s Word.
This excerpt is a conversation between Martin and Herr Peder, an evangelical priest from a neighboring village. Martin, having grown disgusted with the king’s brutal treatment of the people, has recently left his post in the royal court and joined a team of merchants, many of whom were schwarmerei, who believed there had to be more to true faith than faith itself.
“You must excuse me, Martin Ragnvaldsson. It was your own fault I took you for a peasant. Why do you dress yourself in this way?”
“Because I have become a Christian since we last met.”
There was a hint of admonishment in his voice. The priest stared at him, but the scrivener did not let him speak.
“May I ask you a counter-question, worthy Herr? A question that also deals with clothing? Where in Holy Scripture is it written that priests shall dress in a frock and collar, in robes and copes? And where in the Holy Scriptures does it speak about organs and stain glass windows and all of your idolatrous temple trinkets? The only thing in all of the Bible I have found concerning idols is that it says they are forbidden! A priest ought to think on that seriously, rather than be surprised that a Christian man departs from the world and leaves behind sinful trappings to live in purity and save his soul . . .”
A slight smile crossed the priest’s face.
“Yes, yes, young friend, I hear that you are one of the new monks. It brings me joy to see a holy man. And this then is the new order’s uniform?”
He pinched the gray material.
“It is easy to stand and jest,” said the scrivener sorely. “Especially when one can’t answer in kind.”
The priest laughed again.
“There is probably a lot to say in kind here also— though I would rather laugh than quarrel. Do you not see how absurd it is with you, schwarmerei? Here we throw the doctrine of works righteousness off the front steps, and you yell ‘bravo,’ like all the others when cowls and pilgrimages and fasting and monkish vows end up in the gutter.
But then you run straight over there and pick up the false holiness again and carry it in through the backdoor. And then you say: If you want to be a Christian, you must have a gray frock and indistinct hair and coarse wool socks. But if you have a crucifix and altar and a chasuble, then you are no Christian. When will we learn that holiness does not rest in homespun clothing or silk fabric, but comes with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?”
“What of your own ceremonies then? Is not your church so full of paintings and crosses and trinkets that common people can hardly find a place to sit?”
“Calm, calm, here. We have enough ceremonies, but we do not believe that they are necessary for salvation. Certainly, we have our old customs if they are not in conflict with God’s word. One has to have some type of custom! In such things, God has left us free. But we never say that any works of any type are conditions for salvation. It is the pope and you schwarmerei that say so. In essence, you are of the same mettle. The Pope says: shave your head and fast on Wednesday and Friday and pray the whole psalter every week, and then you will be holy and pious. And you say: comb your hair flat and wear gray clothing and pray with your own words, and you will be holy and pleasing to God. But we say with the gospel: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. It is the difference between faith in grace and faith in works righteousness.”
“Of course, and so you are so justified by faith that you can do contrary to God’s command! Who has given you permission to make your images of God?”
“God himself has done that when he let his Son become a man. No one shall try to make an image of the invisible God, but the Son became man so that our eyes would be able to see God and his salvation. By the way, Christ is the end of the law, both in questions of idolatry and Sabbaths and all the rest. And by the way, how are you, holy lord? Do you keep all the statutes of the elders? Do you live according to the law? Do you keep the Sabbath on Saturday?”
“No,” answered the scrivener astonished.
“I can believe that. You still retain some Christian freedom! But it is so similar with all slaves of the law and works righteous Christians: one picks a commandment here and there, and then finds a few extra contortions, and then one puffs himself up with them and wants that to qualify for righteousness. But he who wants to be justified by the power of the law, he has fallen away from Christ, Paul says so clearly.”
The scrivener could hardly hear anymore.
“We have had enough of this dead doctrine of faith,” he said. “Just believe and believe! As if that would create any true Christianity! Show me your faith without mortification of the flesh, without the struggle of repentance, without ignominy, then I shall show you priests the evangelical faith— with sacrifice, with struggle, with mortification of the flesh and deprivation of all that is vanity right up to the next collection of trinkets.”
Now the priest put his knuckles in his side and looked at the scrivener a long time, up and down and up again.
“Do you know that your brother the papist said the very same thing, to a tee, one year ago in Fröjerum! Show me your faith, he said, without fasting, without celibacy, without obedience, then you shall see mine: with pure living, with poverty, with mortification. You can take each other by the hand, you and Andreas. It is the same leaven: the proud old Adam, who can’t possibly keep his wits about him when it is revealed that Christ’s righteousness is really enough for a sinner and that one has everything when one believes in Christ. If we shall be saved by poverty, or obedience, or repentance or any-thing else, then Christ is nothing. One must choose here. The pure gospel tolerates nothing at its side.”
“But, that’s enough now,” he continued. “God give that you find your brother and try to make him an evangelical rather than prowl around here in the flock and distort the thinking of simple Christians. But so it is with you, schwarmerei. You never plow up new fields. You leave the papists in peace, but where the gospel finds a soul with better thoughts, then you nestle in.”