*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 4th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
In today’s show, I will tell you the story of a fascinating Dane from the last century, and I’ve divided his life into 3 acts- and this is appropriate as one of those acts is as a famous playwright.
His name was Kaj Munk- although he was born Kaj Petersen on the Danish island of Lolland in 1898. His father died when he was one, and his mother died when he was 5. He was taken in by the Munk family- members of the Inner Mission Movement.
(Ooh, this is a good one for another show- essentially, in Denmark, the Danish church tried to keep the so-called Pietists inside the national church instead of forming Free Churches…)
At school, he was influenced by Kierkegaard’s existential faith and the earthy, practical faith of Grundtvig. During World War I, he had a crisis of faith and found that writing plays gave him an avenue to play with ideas that systematic theology could not. He graduated with a degree in theology from the University of Copenhagen, married Lisa Jorgensen in 1929, and served a church in a town on the west coast of Jutland. He served there until the Nazis murdered him on this day in 1944.
Having studied those two famous Danes: Kierkegaard and Grundtvig, Munk’s theology could be described as “typically Danish.” He could be brooding, stubborn, practical, and asking questions about what Jesus means for us in all of this mess. And the second person of the Trinity is the key to understanding fallen humanity, according to Munk. He would tell his parishioners that God himself says, “you may call me Jesus.”
And while he had faith in the state (perhaps typical of state-employed preachers), he was horrified at the news of Mussolini in Africa and Hitler’s treatment of the Jewish Germans. He asked what courageous Christianity looked like in the face of evil.
As a playwright, he aimed the powerful, though subtly. One of his first plays was an absolute flop- called “En Idealist.” It was the story of Herod from Herod’s perspective- it seems the ironic subtly didn’t hit the mark until he later became famous, and this work was reevaluated. One of his plays I saw as a film in graduate school- is called “Ordet” (translated as “The Word”). It surprisingly won the best picture at the Venice Film Festival and Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes in 1956. And oh my… I’m going to tell you if this makes any sense (and if it does, then it will), it’s like a blend of Ingmar Bergman, Kierkegaard, and the Swedish theologian novelist Bo Giertz.
As the Nazis invaded Denmark in 1940, many clergy members had to support the invaders or go underground nominally. Munk did neither. In 1942 he published a new play- Niels Ebbesen. Ebbesen was a medieval Danish hero known for killing an illegitimate German usurper. You could imagine that the Gestapo had their eyes on him. And his friends tried to get him to go underground- but he refused. In December of 1943, he illegally preached an Advent sermon from the Copenhagen Cathedral.
On January 4th, he was arrested- a group of Danish traitors known as the Petergruppen is thought to have killed him that night as an example of Schalburtage. That is a kind of public assassination to terrorize the locals. The following day, his body was recovered in a ditch with a note purporting that Munk was conspiring with the Germans (this is patently false). Thousands would illegally gather for his funeral. Today we remember the pastor, playwright, and martyr Kaj Munk, born in 1898. He was murdered on this day in 1944. He was 45 years old.
The last word for today comes from Luke 2:
Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
“Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word because my eyes have seen your salvation.
You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.”
His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite monks include Kaj, William of Baskerville (from the Name of the Rose), and Thelonious. He is Christopher Gillespie
The show is written and read by a man who apologizes for mistaking the animated characters of Little John and Friar Tuck on yesterday’s show. Both are .animated animals of the cloth- but Little John is the bear, and Friar Tuck is a badger. 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.