Friday, August 12, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we look at the history of the Reformation in Denmark.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 12th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Hey, let’s talk about Denmark! Well, primarily the introduction of the Reformation into Denmark by King Christian III on this day in 1536, but let’s give this underrated Scandinavian country and a little hat for Germany a look. (And to be fair, it is the little hat on top of Germany but also an archipelago of some 400 islands to the east of the Jutland peninsula.

In Medieval times it was an important buffer between Vikings and those on the European continent. It became the center of Scandinavian power with a succession of Danish kings as part of the Kalmar Union- this was the union of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, which ran from 1397 to 1523. That the Danish King would rule the union tells you something of the strength of the small country. The union is also helpful for understanding a shared late medieval heritage for the Scandinavian countries and their parallel Reformations in the 16ht century.

Denmark would become, statistically and by a percentage of the population, one of the most Lutheran of the European countries- but the state church would be criticized in later centuries by the likes of Danes Soren Kierkegaard and Nicolai Grundtvig.

Let’s go back to 1523 and the end of the Kalmar Union. The Danish king at the time was Frederick- he had taken over for Christian II, who was chased out by the nobility and Catholic Bishops. Christian II was seen as too friendly to the new evangelical movement and thus threatened the stability of the country.

Frederick was Catholic but also saw the problem of stability, this time from the increasingly rowdy peasants who believed they were being over-taxed and under-represented. A number of clerics, some of whom had trained in Wittenberg, began preaching Lutheran doctrines and preaching a kind of freedom that was taken by the locals as both spiritual and temporal. Peasants' wars and a civil war would plague Denmark and Frederick until his death in 1532.

In the meantime, Christian II, the exiled King, had abandoned the Reformation he had once embraced and was supported by a faction of Danish Nobles to be the new King. However, Frederick’s son Christian III was a favorite of another faction and happened to be Lutheran (as the Duke of Schleswig Holstein, he had implemented the Lutheran Reformation).

This led to the Count's War- a war of succession between Catholic and Protestant claimants to the throne. And remember how the Kalmar Union had ended? This was in part because of the rise of Sweden as a major power under Gustav Vasa. Vasa, a Lutheran, supported Christian II, who became king in 1536 and pronounced the disestablishment of the Catholic Church and the official status of the Lutheran church on this day in 1536.

While the Reformation was popular with much of the populace, the implementation of the Reformation also had important political ramifications. The bishops had become an important bloc that could outmaneuver the nobility, they also received tithes held valuable land and were linked to the Holy Roman Empire and Rome. The story of the Reformation in Scandinavia can be seen thus as “from above,” that is, as a national political movement as much as it was a popular theological movement.

Like other regions where the Reformation was implemented from above, it would stagnate in the coming centuries as a “state church”- the church that would be criticized by the aforementioned Kierkegaard and Grundtvig. But the Reformation did come to Denmark with king Christian III who proclaimed a Lutheran state church on this day in 1536.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Hebrews 10- this from Eugene Peterson’s "The Message:"

Remember those early days after you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse—some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn’t touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back. So don’t throw it all away now. You were sure of yourselves then. It’s still a sure thing! But you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who will celebrate today with some rye, herring, and a Carlsberg- he is Christopher Gillespie

The show is written and read by a man who loves 0some Entenmann's- the cheese Danish is the best; I’m Dan van Voorhis

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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