The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalisation of Reform

By Rosa, Susan | The Catholic Historical Review, October 1996 | Go to article overview

The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalisation of Reform


Rosa, Susan, The Catholic Historical Review


The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalisation of Reform. Edited by Ole Peter Grell. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1995. Pp. xi, 218. $54.85.)

This slim volume consists of six essays, two on Denmark/Norway from 1520 to c. 1660, two on Sweden/Finland from 1520 to the centenary of Gustav Vasa's election in 1621, one on the Catholic Church in sixteenth century Scandinavia, and one on faith, superstition, and witchcraft during the Scandinavian Reformation. The editor has provided a brief introduction. The text also includes one map and an index. Unfortunately, there is no bibliography; while relevant secondary sources are listed in the notes, recent work is most definitely underrepresented.

It is difficult to understand why this volume was published and who should be considered its intended audience. The four essays on the kingdoms of Denmark/Norway and Sweden/Finland, while solid for the most part, are on the handbook level and, although more detailed in their presentation of events and personalities, duplicate coverage of the Scandinavian Reformation available in English in two other collections published by Cambridge in paperback, and therefor more suitable for classroom use.1 Nor, in terms of the period and area covered, do they add significantly to the overview of the Reformation in Scandinavia and the Baltic contributed by N. K. Andersen to Volume II of the New Cambridge Modern History.2 And for bibliography, the entry on Scandinavia in Reformation Europe: A Guide to Research is far more extensive.3 Moreover, even when considered as introductions to their subject, these essays fall short, especially because they frequently fail--perhaps because of space constraints--to define key terms and concepts, especially theological ones. "Christian humanism," for example, is a term that recurs often in the collection, yet is never explained adequately enough to provide clarity for undergraduates or discussed with sufficient subtlety to satisfy more advanced scholars. Indeed, the treatment of theology in general in these essays gives the impression that the authors either don't know much about it (which cannot be the case) or simply don't care--or think their readers won't. For example, we are told on page 26 that the evangelical preachers in Denmark differed from Luther in that they believed that the Bible offered directions for the spiritual, as well as the material domain." On page 120, we learn that Archbishop Laurentius Petri opposed the crypto-Calvinist theology of the Eucharist tolerated by the Swedish king Erik XIV during the 1560's. In explaining Petri's attempt to suppress such ideas, the author notes that the archbishop was influenced not only by southern German Lutheranism, but also by Philippism, a gloss on his conduct desperately in need of further explanation since Philippists were frequently accused by orthodox Lutherans of crypto-Calvinism in the matter of the Eucharist. But the ultimate theological gaffe occurs on page 68, when we are told that many Swedish and Finnish theologians of the period...moved gradually from traditional Philippism towards a mild, Melanchthonian orthodoxy." Again, the beginning student is left wondering what all this means, while the more advanced scholar, aware that the term "philippism" is derived from Philip Melanchthon and identified with his deviations from Luther, is left in an even more profound state of bewilderment. I should add that the statement I have quoted constitutes an exceptionally egregious solecism, given the centrality of Melanchthon in Reformation thought in Scandinavia. …

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