Daybreak in Sweden

Christianity was first introduced to Sweden in 829 when Anschar, the great apostle of the North, arrived on the shores of Sweden, bringing with him the gospel. He continued his work until his death. After him, others arose but the facilities for spreading the light were limited and for 400 years Christianity had to maintain an uncertain struggle with paganism. By the end of the eleventh century Sweden was still considered a mission Church, the people being yet without fixed pastors. It was not until the twelfth century that we find the beginning of an organized church. This, however, was only the prelude to subjugation by the Papal Roman Church.

By the middle of the twelfth century, the consolidation of the Church of Sweden as part of the Church of Rome was complete. The condition of the kingdom became that of all countries under the jurisdiction of Rome. It exhibited a flourishing priesthood with a decaying piety. Clergy, enjoying enormous revenues, mimicked the magnificence of princes, and even coped with royalty itself.

By contrast, the people were steeped in poverty and ground down by the oppression of their masters. Left without instruction by their spiritual guides, with no access to the Word of God—as the Scriptures had not yet been translated into the Swedish tongue—with no worship save one of mere signs and ceremonies, which could convey no truth into the mind, the Christian light that had shone upon them in the previous centuries was fast fading, and the superstitious beliefs and pagan practices of old times were returning.

Moreover, the country was torn with incessant strife. As the great families battled with one another for dominion, involving with them their vassals, the kingdom, from the monarch downward,  was little better than a state of chaos. Such was the condition in which the Reformation found the nation of Sweden.

In the year 1515, Pope Leo X. dispatched Johannes Angelus Arcimboldus as legate to Denmark and Sweden, commissioning him to open a sale of indulgences. Quite contrary to its intended purpose, this was to eventually lead to the weakening of the influence of the Papal See, thereby giving occasion for the introduction of Protestantism.

Christian II of Denmark

In order to better understand the introduction and rise of the Reformation in Sweden, it is helpful to understand the peculiar political constitution of the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. By the settlement of Calmar (1397) the three kingdoms were united under a common sovereign. In order to secure the liberties of the States, it was provided that each kingdom should be governed according to its peculiar laws and customs. However, when Christian II ascended the throne of Denmark (1513), so detestable was his character that the Swedes refused to acknowledge him as their king, and appointed an administrator to hold the reins of government. Christian waited a few years to strengthen himself in Denmark before attempting the reduction of the Swedes.

At length he raised an army for the invasion of Sweden; his cause was espoused within the kingdom by the Archbishop of Uppsala, and Arcimboldus, the Pope’s legate and indulgence-monger, who largely subsidized Christian out of the vast sums he had collected by the sale of pardons, and who moreover had influence enough to procure from the Pope a bull placing the whole of Sweden under interdict, and excommunicating all the members of the government.

Once he had successfully conquered the Swedes, Christian ruled with great barbarity. Finding himself in want of money, and knowing that the Senate would refuse its consent to the sums he wished to levy, with the approval of the Archbishop of Uppsala, he caused them to be apprehended. The offense imputed them was that they had fallen into heresy. Without even the delay of mock trial, the senators and lords, seventy in number, were marched out into the open square, surrounded by soldiers, and executed.

At the head of these victims had been Erie Vasa, the father of Gustavus Vasa, who was later to became the the restorer of his country’s liberties, as well as the author of its Reformation.

With the death of his father, Gustavus Vasa fled and remained for some time in hiding. At length, emerging from his place of security, he successfully roused the peasantry of the Swedish provinces to attempt the restoration of their country’s independence. He defeated the troops of Christian in several engagements, and after a difficult struggle, he succeeded in driving him from the country. Receiving the crown of Sweden, he established it as an independent sovereignty.

Christian’s loss of the Swedish throne eventually resulted in the loss of Denmark. His oppressive and tyrannical measures kept a smoldering dissatisfaction among his Danish subjects that at least broke out in open rebellion. Depose, he fled and joined the court of Charles V, whose sister Isabella he had married.

Gustavus Vasa

Seated on the throne of Sweden (1523), under the title of Vasa I, Gustavus addressed himself to the Reformation of his kingdom and Church. During his absence while in hiding, Vasa had been introduced to the Reformed doctrine at Luebeck and he was now confirmed in it by the conversation and instruction of the Protestant divines whom he gathered round him after having ascended the throne. The way for the Reformation had been further paved by merchants who visited the Swedish ports and by soldiers whom Vasa had brought from Germany to aid him in the war of independence, and who carried Luther’s writings with them.

Vasa was as wise as he was zealous. He resolved that the persuasion of instruction, not force of authority, should be the only instrument employed for the conversion of his subjects. He knew that their minds were divided between the ancient superstitions and the Reformed faith, and he resolved to furnish his people with the means of judging between the two, and making their choice freely and intelligently.

There were in his kingdom two youths, Olaf Patersen and his brother Lawrence, who had studied at Wittenberg under Luther and Melanchthon. Olaf is said to have been in the crowd around the door of the Castle-church of Wittenberg when Luther nailed his Theses to it. Both brothers were eminent for their piety, as well as their theological attainments. These men the king employed in the instruction of his subjects in the doctrines of Protestantism. Olaf Patersen he made preacher in the great Cathedral of Stockholm, and Lawrence Patersen he appointed to the chair of theology at Uppsala.

As the movement progressed, enemies arose but the opposition only helped to fan the flame; and the public disputations to which the Protestant preachers were challenged, and which took place, by royal permission, in some of the chief cities of the kingdom, only helped to enkindle it the more and spread it over the kingdom.

Olaf Patersen began to translate the New Testament into the tongue of Sweden. Taking Luther’s version, which had been recently published in Germany, as his model, he labored diligently at his task, and in a short time he was able to place the New Testament in Swedish in the hands of the people.

After the New Testament had been issued, the two brothers, at the request of the king, undertook the translation of the entire Bible. The work was completed in due time, and published in Stockholm. “New controversies,” said the king, “arise every day; we have now an infallible judge to which we can appeal them.”

The Popish clergy, hoping to extinguish the light which the labors of the two Protestant pastors had kindled, determined upon a course they thought admirably suited to the accomplishment of such an end. They resolved that they too would translate the New Testament into the vernacular of Sweden. To each university was assigned a portion of the sacred Books which it was to translate. As one fire is said to extinguish another, it was hoped that one light would eclipse another, or at least so dazzle the eyes of the beholders that they should not know which was the true light.

Meanwhile, however, the Bishop of Uppsala thought it exceedingly dangerous that men should be left to the guidance, of what he did not doubt was the false beacon. Going to the kind, he offered to make good in public the charge of heresy which he had preferred against Olaf Patersen and his associates. The king, who wished nothing so much as that the foundations of the two faiths should be sifted out and placed before his people, at once accepted the proposition. It was arranged that the discussion should take place in the University of Uppsala; that the king himself should be present, with his senators, nobles, and the learned men of his kingdom.

Olaf Patersen undertook at once the Protestant defense but there was some difficulty in finding a champion on the Popish side. The challenge had come from the bishops, but no sooner was it taken up than “they framed excuses and shuffled. At length Peter Gallus, Professor of Theology in the College of Uppsala, and undoubtedly their best man, undertook the battle on the side of Rome.