The Reformation Established in Sweden

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.

Pastor Olaf at the Conference of Uppsala

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.

That the conference might accomplish its stated purpose, the king ordered a list to be made out beforehand of the main points in which the Protestant Confession differed from the Pontifical religion, and that in the discussion point after point should be debated till the whole program was exhausted. Twelve main points of difference were noted down, and the discussion came off at Uppsala in 1526. The resulting discussion resulted in the turning point of the Reformation in Sweden.

One of the consequences of the debate was that it decided the king in favor of the Reformation. Any lingering doubts that he had were gone and he cast in his lot without reserve with Protestantism. He saw the course he must pursue in order to remodel his kingdom in keeping with the great principles which had triumphed in the disputation. He must reduce the overgrown wealth of the Church and strip the clergy of their temporal and political power. He was not blind to the immense obstacles he would encounter in prosecuting these reforms, but he realized that until they were accomplished he would never reign in peace.

One source of encouragement for Gustavus was the rapid spread of the Reformation that followed the conference at Uppsala.  Just to the extent that the light was spreading, the power of the clergy was diminished. His great task was becoming less difficult every day; time was fighting for him. His coronation had not yet taken place and he determined to postpone it until he should be able to be crowned as a Protestant king. This was, in fact, to tell his people that he would reign over them as a Reformed people, or not at all.

In the mean time, Christian II, the abdicated monarch of Denmark, returning to his homeland, with a fleet equipped by his brother-in-law, Charles V, determined to recover his kingdom. Gustavus Vasa, knowing that his turn would come next, resolved to fight the battle of Sweden in Denmark. Summoning a meeting of the Estates at Stockholm, he presented to them the common danger that hung over both countries and the necessity of providing means for the defense of the kingdom. It was agreed to lay a war tax upon all the estates, to melt down the second largest bell in all the churches, and to impose a tenth upon all ecclesiastical goods. The possessions of the clergy, consisting of lands, castles, and hoard wealth, were enormous. It was estimated that the clergy of Sweden possessed more than the king and all the other Estates of the kingdom combined.

Not surprisingly, despite all their wealth, the clergy refused. Some opposed the measure openly and others by evasive opposition, and by way of retaliating on the authority which had imposed it, raised tumults in various parts of the kingdom.

Vasa summoned a meeting of the Estates in June 1527. Addressing the assembled nobles and bishops, he appealed to the facts that all were familiar with, pointing out that the kingdom was in the brink of civil war, largely as the result of the opposition of the clergy to shouldering their just share of the burdens of the State. He further informed them that unless the necessities of the government were met, and the power of the throne upheld, he would resign the crown and retire from the kingdom.

Matters had come to a crisis. The Swedes could not afford to lose their noble and devoted king. The debates in the Diet were long and warm but in the end, the Diet came to a resolution, virtually to receive the Protestant religion. It was decreed that from that time on, the bishops would no longer sit in the supreme council of the nation and that the castles and estates which had been given to the church were to be returned and where they had been sold, restitution was to be made to those nobles from whose ancestors they had been taken. The result was that the power of the bishops was effectively broken.
The coronation of Gustavus Vasa had been delayed until the kingdom was quieted and now took place on January 12, 1528. The following year, the Reformation of Sweden was formally completed.

Coronation of Gustavus Vasa

Gustavus’ reign continued for another thirty years during which time the nation prospered. When he died in 1560, the reforms he had been influential in bringing about continued despite the attempts of some of his immediate successors to lead the nation back into the Papal Church; these being firmly resisted by the nobles.

Upon Vasa’s death, the scepter passed to his son, John, who later married a Roman Catholic princess. John sought to introduce a new liturgy which was clearly Catholic and though he won over many of the clergy, a minority firmly resisted and in the end resulted in the Reformed movement being even more firmly established than before. Nevertheless, the contest between John and the Protestant party continued until the day of his death when he was succeeded by Sigismund, his son. Upon his arrival from Poland to claim his crown, Sigismund found a declaration of the Estates awaiting his signature, to the effect that the liturgy of John was abolished, and that the Protestant faith was the religion of Sweden.

Sigismund occupied the throne of Sweden for only a few years before being replaced by Charles IX, the third son of Gustavus Vasa. When dying, Charles, looking forward to the coming days of conflict, is reported to have laid his hand upon the head of his son and to have uttered the prophetic words, “He will do it.” It was Gustavus Adolphus, the grandson of Gustavus Vasa, of whom these words were spoken.