Arousing Anti-Catholic Sentiments on a National Scale: The Case of Marta Steinsvik and Norway

By Norseth, Kristin | European Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Arousing Anti-Catholic Sentiments on a National Scale: The Case of Marta Steinsvik and Norway


Norseth, Kristin, European Studies


Abstract

This article is a case study concerned with a key figure in the history of anti-Catholicism in Norway in the 20th century, the highly profiled author and professional lecturer, Marta Steinsvik, and her critics of the Catholic Church. Her awareness of 'the menace of Catholicism' was provoked in 1925 when the Norwegian Parliament discussed a motion to abolish the ban on Jesuits in the Norwegian constitution from 1814. By attacking the Catholic Church, she defended the liberal and modern values of Norwegian society and culture, based on a Protestant and Lutheran heritage. She represented what can be termed 'confessional nationalism'. On the international scene, she was one of many contemporaries conveying well-known anti-Catholic propaganda and stereotypes, while in Norway, she left a legacy of anti-Catholicism lasting well into the 1950's.

Introduction

In 1928, Marta Steinsvik (1877-1950) published a highly polemic book with the tide, St. Veters himmelnokler (St. Veter's Keys to Heaven), which caused a sensation as well as a lawsuit. A second enlarged edition was published in 1930, the very year the Lutheran state church, the Church of Norway, celebrated the 900th anniversary of the death of St. Olav, who is attributed with the christening of Norway, and who was regarded as a national hero. Borrowing from foreign anti-Catholic literature, Steinsvik delivered a sharp criticism of the Catholic Church in general, and the Jesuits in particular. When first published, Steinsvik was criss-crossing the country under the auspices of Volkeakademiet (The People's Acad- emy), presenting her lecture 'I Moderkirkens favn' ('In the Bosom of the Mother Church'). Her lecturing tours drew large audiences, and stirred both public debate and sentiment. The lecture itself comprised 40 of the 1930 edition's 612 pages, with the rest of the book consisting of her 'corrections' of a Catholic defence brochure and a documentation of the lawsuit. In addition, she included numerous excerpts from national and local newspapers and magazines, giving critical and applauding assessments of the first edition of her book and her lecture.1 The book is a valuable source, not only to an individual's crusade against Catholicism, but also to anti-Catholic sentiments in Lutheran Norway. Marta Steinsvik serves as an interesting case for studying the international phenomenon of anti-Catholicism in a given national context.

The Author

In the 1920s, Marta Steinsvik, a widow and mother of five children, was a well-known feminist, publisher, debater and public lecturer (Solbrekken 2012, 250). She and her husband, the anarchist and leftist Rasmus Steinsvik (1863-1913), belonged to a circle of intellectuals and artists of national significance who represented an ideological synthesis of nationalism and liberalism. In 1902, she began studying oriental languages and the history of religions, and sparked by an interest in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, she joined the Theosophical Society in 1908 after attending one of his lecturing visits to Norway. In 1918, she began studying theology at Det teologiske Menighetsjakultet (MF Norwegian School of Theology), a private institution founded in 1908, in opposition to the liberal theology taught at the Theological Faculty at the University of Oslo. By then, she had 'returned home to Christianity', as she put it, and wanted to became a minister in the Church of Norway. Nevertheless, she never completed her theological studies (Norseth 2011, 239).

In her own way, Marta Steinsvik represented the new type of women who emerged in the late 19th century, daring to express their individuality and autonomy, thus being looked upon as unorthodox and controversial. Although married and a mother, she studied at the university and took on public roles outside the domestic realm. In the public sphere, she strongly promoted her convictions through speaking and writing, both of which had a strong political impact (Steinsvik 1930, 62-3). …

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