It is the 14th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1703.
In the northernmost parts of Europe, that year was marked by the nascent Great Northern War and the establishment of St. Petersburg by Tsar Peter I of the Russian Empire. Russia's rise will be a major theme for both the East and the West for the next 300 years.
But for Russia to become a regional economic and military powerhouse, they would need a window of opportunity. And the Great Northern War was that opportunity. The war, which would parallel the War of Spanish Succession to the South, saw some of the same combatants involved. The main combatants were the Swedes and Russians, but the Ottomans, Dutch, and English, among others, fought with the swedes while Saxony, the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, and Denmark-Norway fought on the side of the Tsar.
The eventual Russian victory would lead to a power vacuum in the realm once dominated by Sweden. And those Nordic states that aligned themselves against the Swedes saw something of a resurgence. Revivals of nationalist sentiment followed the Russian empire's growth in, among other places, Denmark. At least as far as cultural identity and religion, the story of Denmark can be seen in the likes of Grundtvig and Kierkegaard. We have looked at these 18th-century and 19th-century characters and their impact on the church.
However, those two men were preceded by a character of similar disposition and brilliance, the great Danish poet and pastor Thomas Kingo, who died on this, the 14th of October, in 1703. He lived in that transitional time between the Reformation and the coming age of absolutism. His hymnbook, which would be the Danish church's songbook, did much to consolidate the theology of the church in the perilous years that came with the Great Northern War and its aftermath.
Kingo was born in 1634 near Copenhagen. His grandfather had been a Scotsman who immigrated to Denmark and became a successful weaver and cloth trader. His father was less successful, but Thomas was able to attend university after living for a time with his school principal, whose brother was a professor at the University of Copenhagen.
Mungo established himself as a keen student of theology and as a budding young poet. Kingo was ordained in 1661, amidst conflicts with Sweden, an outbreak of the plague, and a dwindling interest in the church. Kingo's sermons and hymns would be an antidote for the Danish malaise, but not by ignoring the dire situation. Modern readers of Kingo might even suggest that he was part of the malaise, with hymns like "Sorrow and Unhappiness." The hymn includes the lines:
Is there then no one that cares,
Is there no redress for sorrow,
Is there no relief to borrow,
Is there no response to prayers,
Presaging Kierkegaard, "the Melancholy Dane," Kingo had a similar ability to recognize sorrow and angst. But his optimism and trust in the Gospel were never far from his darkest of lyrics. Consider this stanza:
Sorrow and gladness oft journey together,
Trouble and happiness swift company keep;
Luck and misfortune change like the weather;
Sunshine and clouds quickly vary their sweep.
A collection of his hymns, the "Spiritual Song Choir," was popular. And when Kingo became Bishop, he was tasked with putting together the national hymnbook for which he wrote some 85 hymns.
Known as the "singer of Orthodoxy," he is credited with helping to steer the Danish faithful between the Scylla and Charybdis of radical pietism and rationalism. While Kierkegaard and Grundtvig are rightly esteemed as pillars of the Danish church, their way was paved by Thomas Kingo. Born in 1634, he was 68 years old when he died on this, the 14th of October, in 1703.
The reading for today comes from Kingo. I highly recommend you check out his hymnody if you aren't familiar with it. This is his "Softly Now the Day is Ending," a fine benediction before going to sleep.
Softly now the day is ending,
Night o’er hill and vale descending,
I will kneel before Thee, Lord.
Unto Thee my thanks I render
That Thou didst in mercy tender
Life and peace to me accord.
May Thy church Thy peace inherit,
Guide our leaders by Thy spirit,
Grant our country strength and peace.
To the straying, sad and dreary,
To each Christian faint or weary
Grant Thou solace and surcease.
Keep me, Jesus, while I slumber!
From my perils without number,
Shield me, Master, in Thy might,
That, released from sin and sorrow,
I may sing this song tomorrow:
Jesus was my Sun this night.
That was "Softly Now the Day is Ending" by Thomas Kingo, translated from the Danish by J.C. Aaberg.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the living embodiment of Hygge, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.