The Reformation Begins In Sweden

In her book “The Acts of the Apostles” Ellen White writes “Holiness is not rapture, it is an entire surrender of the will to God”.The power of the Reformation rested upon men and women who embraced a lifestyle of a constant, continuous and entire surrender of themselves to God. It is this seed of truth that proved to be the impetus that galvanized the entire movement across Europe in the 16th century, creating strongholds in Germany, Switzerland, England, and Scotland leaving a trail of conflict and martyrdom in its wake. From the Place de Greve in France to Oxford in England, the smoke from the pyres of the martyrs rose like a cloud of incense over the continent, a silent witness to the terrible cost exacted by Rome from those who chose this way of life. But in the Nordic countries of Sweden and Denmark, the truth took hold in a quieter, more unobtrusive way, not because it was built upon a different foundation but perhaps because they were not as politically significant as some of the other nations of Europe.

Scandinavia

The wellspring of the Reformation in Scandinavia can be traced back to the work of Luther and Melancthon at the University of Wittenberg. We begin our story in Orebro, Sweden, in the home of a humble blacksmith, whose sons, Olaf and Laurentius Petri, were the vanguard of the protestant reformation in their native country. Olaf, born in, 1497 and Laurentius, born in 1499 both received their basic education at a Carmelite Cloister following which they both went to study at the University of Wittenberg.

Some reports suggest that when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle church at Wittenberg, Olaf was among the crowd that stood around him. After completing their education at Wittenberg they both returned to Sweden, taking with them the truths they had absorbed while under the tutelage of Luther and Melancthon. Upon their return to Sweden, the King employed them in broadcasting the seeds of Protestantism throughout Sweden by placing them in key positions of spiritual influence. He appointed Olaf as the preacher in the great Cathedral in Stockholm and he appointed Laurentius as the chair of Theology at the University of Uppsala. They used these platforms to infuse Swedish society with the ideas they had brought back from Wittenberg making a deep impression on the country.  Olaf Petri then began to translate the new testament into his native tongue using Luther’s German translation of the same as his model. They championed the cause of Protestantism in Sweden leading to the entire country being declared Lutheran at the Diet of Vasteras in 1527.

Next, we turn our eyes to Denmark and to the man who earned himself the title “reformer of Denmark”, Hans Taussen. Taussen was born in 1494 to Danish peasants whose meager income did not provide Taussen with the opportunity of receiving the kind of education he longed for. His family being Catholic he soon joined the ranks of a monastic order where the diligence with which he executed his tasks caught the attention of the head of the order who offered him a scholarship to any University of his choosing, except the poisoned Protestant stronghold of Wittenberg.

He chose Cologne and while he was there he was given the writings of Luther which sparked a fire in his bones, leading him to leave Cologne for Wittenberg without alerting his benefactors to the change. Around 1523 Taussen returned to Denmark, receiving a doctorate in Divinity shortly after. This opened the door for him to teach others the truths that he had learned at Wittenberg. He went back to the monastery that had offered him the scholarship and he began to quietly teach the Reformed faith to the students there. Before long, however,  the head of the order, who had provided him with the scholarship, realized what was happening and had Taussen locked up at the convent of Viborg and there, unable to contain himself, Tausan began to preach to the inmates of the convent through the bars of his prison cell. At this point, they expelled him from the monastic circle altogether and this gave him the freedom to travel throughout Denmark preaching and teaching wherever he went. Tausen translated the New Testament into Danish and was instrumental in leading the whole country to accept the reformed faith.

Looking at the stories of these men one thing that stands out is their commitment to taking the truths they had learned back to their native lands. Without this commitment, the truth of the gospel would not have entered Scandinavia. It would have been tempting for them to remain in Wittenberg, which was a hub of protestant action, hobnobbing with the brightest and best minds that the Reformation had to offer but they chose the road less travelled, choosing to go back to their home countries to continue the work alone and what an impact they made for God. While it is always more exciting to be where the action is to think about this; if everyone congregated where the action was what would happen to those places that were on the periphery? How would they head the truth? How would they be built up and flourish? It is important for us to willingly embrace the work that God has given us to do in the place he has asked us to do it regardless of how small they both may be. Remember that the smallest stone can make the most far-reaching ripples and embrace the day of small things.

Further Reading

  • Wylie, J.A. (1878) – The History of Protestantism
  • White, E.G. (1911) – The Great Controversy