Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Between Sin and Salvation: The Human Condition in Legends of the Black Book Minister

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Between Sin and Salvation: The Human Condition in Legends of the Black Book Minister

Article excerpt

In an article on Norway's Lutheran Reformation, theologian Andreas Seierstad argues that post-Reformation Christians felt greater assurance of salvation than their pre-Reformation (Roman Catholic) counterparts. Only evangelical Lutheranism with its doctrine of justification by faith not works, he asserts, could provide this increased certainty:

Fyrst nar Guds frelsargjerning i Kristus vart den einaste tolde frelsesgrunn . . . og ingen skropeleg menneskeleg prestasjon skulde kunna spela med i verket, og fyrst nar Guds klare lovnader i ordet skulde gjelda utah menneskelege tillegg og atterhald - fyrst da kunde frelsesvissa koma for den truande. (Seierstad 32)

(Not until God's act of salvation through Christ became the only permitted basis of salvation . . . and when no frail human act could intervene, not until God's clear promises in the Word applied without human additions or detractions - only then could the believer truly be certain of salvation.)

While Seierstad's view of the salvation assurance of post-Reformation Christians represents the generally accepted theological view, oral tradition - specifically legends of the Black Book Minister - suggests that the tradition participants had quite a different perspective. These accounts reflect considerable consternation over the issue of salvation, as they portray individuals unable to resist the sinful acts that endanger their salvation while also lacking a participatory role in achieving forgiveness. Ultimately these legends express the fear that salvation may simply lie beyond human reach.

Migratory legend type 3015 "The Card Players and the Devil" reflects this view of the human condition particularly well. Before turning to an analysis of this legend's content, however, I wish to address Reidar Christiansen's classification and naming of the entire legend type.(1) As the category now stands, it includes legends of two fundamentally different structures:

A                                                B

card playing // other sinful activity          " "
the Devil appears                              " "
sinful activity ceases                         " "

                                        the Devil refuses to leave
                                        BBMinister is fetched
                                        BBMinister exorcises Devil

Since Christiansen classifies the card playing legend under the larger heading of "Experts in the Black Book of Magic," only category B properly belongs, for only these legends feature the appearance of an expert in the magical compendium. Legends of type A seem more closely related to those in category ML3070 "The Demon Dancer" in which the Devil's sudden presence puts an end to that "sinful" activity. I would also argue against Christiansen's title for the type ("The Card Players and the Devil") since legends having this structure and theme portray any of several additional mechanisms to summon Satan, including drinking, swearing, failure to observe the Sabbath or other Christian holiday, fighting, marital quarreling, murder, infanticide, and suicide. That portion of the legend thus comprises a "folk catechism," and demonstrates the new consciousness of ethical issues that derived from the biblical education efforts which comprised the primary thrust of sixteenth-century orthodox Lutheranism.(2)

Though the Black Book Minister legends discussed here were not collected until the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, their prominent mention of Wittenberg and of Martin Luther(3) suggest an origin during the Reformation period. They retained their pertinence and hence survived because Lutheran orthodoxy continued to dominate Norwegian church life until late in the nineteenth century (Nelson and Fevold 12).

This article will focus on variants of ML3015 having structure B and will primarily concentrate on the motif of the Devil's refusal to leave, exemplified here in an account from Nord-Trondelag:

En gang i gamle dage hendte det pa garden Finnbuan i Leksvik at presten matte hentes for a drive djevelen ut. …

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