Two papers presented at
the Society's Annual Meeting in 2009.
Relations : An Update by the Rev Dr Charlotte Methuen
Relations in Tanzania by Bishop Michael Westall
Í LUNDÚNUM 8. MARS 2008
These three papers
were presented at the Society's Annual Meeting in 2008.
Pétursson´s Passion Hymns
and his Literary Context
Church of Iceland among all the Other Churches
At the Annual Meeting in 2006 two papers
on ethical issues were presented.
Ethical Issues be Church-Dividing?
Pétursson´s Passion Hymns
Lutheran Society, London March 8, 2008
and Gentlemen. I thank you very much for the invitation to the
Annual Meeting of the
Anglican-Lutheran Society to speak to you about the Passion Hymns
of Hallgrímur Pétursson.
I divide my lecture into four parts. The first part is on hymns
as part of Lutheran
spirituality. The second part is on the Reformation in Iceland.
The third part deals
with Luther´s Theology of the Cross. The fourth, and main
part of my lecture, will deal
with Hallgrímur Pétursson´s Passionhymns in
the context of Lutheran theology and spirituality
of the Cross.
Hymns and Lutheran Spirituality
Hymns are one of the
main characteristics of Lutheran spirituality. In his book An
Order of Mass and Communion
in July 1523 (Fomula missae et communionis) where Luther proposes
an order for the mass in Latin, he says:
I also wish that we
had as many songs as possible in the vernacular which the people
could sing during mass,
immediately after the gradual and also after the Sanctus and Agnus
Dei. (LW Vol 53, p. 36) At the end of year 1523 Luther wrote to
court chaplain George
Spalatin where he asks him to write hymns and help Luther to provide
for hymnographers and
Following the example of the prophets and fathers
of the church, I intend to make German Psalms for the people,
i.e. spiritual songs so that the Word of God even by means of
song may live among the people. (LW 53, p. 221)
When this letter was written Luther had begun writing
psalms or hymns in German. He wrote about 40 hymns, ten of which
are Psalm paraphrases. He did not write any hymn on the Passion
of Christ but he wrote hymns for Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
The first Lutheran Hymnbook was published in 1524 and others followed.
In his German Mass and Order of Service (Deutsche
Messe) from 1526, Luther proposed hymns for some of the ordinary
parts of the mass such as the Creed – We All Believe in
One True God (Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) no 411) –
and the Sanctus – Isaiah in a Vision Did of Old (ELW no.
Biblical poems were one genre of Lutheran hymns.
In his letter to Spalatin Luther asks him specifically to turn
Psalms unto hymns. In his preface to Burial Hymns published in
Wittenberg in 1542 Luther says:
But if anyone should have the gift and desire
to put these verses into good rimes, that would help to have
them read more gladly and remembered more easily. For rime and
verse make good sayings and proverbs which serve better than
ordinary prose. (LW 53, p. 330)
Lutheran poets soon began writing hymns which were
paraphrases not only of Biblical psalms and canticles but also
of stories from the Bible in order to instruct the people and
make the biblical stories known.
The Reformation in Iceland
The Lutheran Reformation spread to Denmark very early and already
in 1528 the first Danish, Lutheran hymnbook appeard and the second
in 1535. Yet, the Reformation was not officially established in
Denmark until 1537 with the inauguration of the Church Order for
Denmark whose main author was Johannes Bugenhagen from Wittenberg
who also crowned King Christian III and consecrated the first
Lutheran bishops in Denmark.
Iceland was at the time of the Reformation a part
of the Danish-Norwegian Monarchy and the Danish Church Order was
ratified by the Althing in 1541 for the southern diocese in Iceland
and ten years later for the northern diocese.
One can certainly say that the Reformation was forced
upon the Icelanders by royal decree. Yet, we had our own reformation
leaders or reformers who had become convinced Lutherans and undertook
to establish the Reformation in the country. One of them translated
the New Testament into Icelandic, and it was published as early
as 1540, and another translated the Church Order into Icelandic.
These first translations enabled that Icelandic became the official
language of worship in Iceland. This was different from the other
parts of the Danish Realm, Norway and the Faroe Islands, where
Danish became the official language of the Church.
Very soon, Icelandic church leaders began shaping
the worshipping life of the church in Icelandic. The first hymnbooks
were published in 1555 and 1558 consisting of hymns that were
translations of German and Danish hymns.
The person who consolidated the Reformation in Iceland
was bishop Guðbrandur Þorláksson (1542-1627)
who soon after he became bishop in 1571 began publishing books
in Icelandic for instruction and education. In 1584 the Bible
was published, in 1589 the hymnbook appeared with 330 hymns, mostly
translations but a few by Icelandic poets. In 1594 he published
a Gradual, which contained the ordinary and propers of the mass
and was the official book of worship of the church in Iceland
until the beginning of the 19th century.
Luther´s Theology of the Cross
“True theology and recognition of God are in the Crucified
Christ,” says Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518.
There Luther develops his Theology of the Cross as opposed to
the Theology of Glory. The theologian of glory seeks God apart
from Jesus Christ. The theologian of the cross knows that God
is only revealed in and through the cross of Jesus Christ:
19. That person does not deserve to be called
a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though
they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually
happened [Rom. 1:20].
20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends
the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering
and the cross. (LW 1, p. 40)
The passion and cross of Christ had had a prominent
role in Medieval spirituality and theology mainly through the
works of St. Bernhard and Franciscan spiritual writers. It resulted
in the Passion Mysticism of the late Middle Ages. Main emphasis
of this spirituality was imitation and suffering with Christ through
In a sermon on the right meditation of the Passion
of Christ held during Lent 1519 Luther criticized the spirituality
of imitation and ascetism. Instead Luther emphasized that the
Passion of Christ reveals God´s love. Christ suffered and
died for us.
Ten years later, in his Holy Week sermons of 1529,
Luther emphasized this again and rejected false notions of the
Passion and suffering of Christ and maintained:
In the Passion of Christ all wisdom and pertinent
pieces have been written for our instruction. These things were
not heretofore dealt with when one used to preach on the Passion.
Instead of these things they worked at moving old women to tears
and even to pointing out the wickedness of the Jews. But that
is not the main point. Rather one should consider the prophecies
of the holy prophets, especially Isaiah, that the Passion of
Christ is a punishment for our sins. And this is what one should
consider and emphasize continuously. (The 1529 Holy Week and
Easter Sermons, p. 89f)
Criticizing passion mysticism he admonishes us
to distinguish between Christ´s suffering and our suffering:
Therefore make a distinction between the suffering
of Christ and our suffering, just as one must make a distinction
between the work of Christ and our works, between those by which
we should serve our neighbor and that through which we become
righteous. Our works should remain on earth. We become righteous
by faith alone.
[...]Your suffering is an earthly suffering and a work to mortify
your flesh. Christ´s suffering is a heavenly suffering
and a work that makes you righteous. (The 1529 Holy Week and
Easter Sermons, p. 90)
The Passion and suffering of Christ manifest Christ
as the Lamb of God who was offered once and for all and takes
away all sins:
For this reason Christ´s Passion must therefore
be preached so that each person considers it true for him or
herself. If you look at Christ hanging on the cross with his
wounds, then consider: These are my sins! and do not think about
[...] this is the greatest article of faith, to believe that
no one should nor can take away our sins but Christ alone. (The
1529 Holy Week and Easter Sermons, p. 92f)
The Passionhymns of Hallgrímur Pétursson
The Passion Hymns of Hallgrímur Pétursson express
faithfully the Lutheran theology and spirituality of the cross.
They are a collection of 50 hymns and their title is: The History
of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ with Its Proper
Articles of Doctrine, Admonition and Consolation together with
Prayers and Thanksgivings, composed and written in hymns adapted
for singing, with various musical settings in the Year 1659.
According to this title the hymns tell the History
of the Passion and expose it or interpret for instruction in faith,
for admonition in right living and for consolation in suffering
and in hope for eternal life.
This structure of the hymns corresponds to the interpretation
principle of the fourfold sense of Scripture, the literal, the
allegorical, the moral and the anagogical.
The hymns are meditations in the sense that they
penetrate deeply into the text and draw from them, with the aid
of the Holy Spirit, what can be learnt from the story in order
that we may lead a righteous life in faith towards God, in good
works towards the neighbour and in hope towards the future glory.
Luther himself had defined meditation thus in his
exposition of Psalm 1:
To meditate is to think carefully, deeply, and
diligently, and properly it means to muse in the heart. Hence
to meditate is, as it were, to stir up in the inside, or to
be moved in the innermost self. (LW 10, p. 17)
The Passion hymns are 50 in number. The reason for
that may be that one hymn was meant to be read for each weekday
from Monday in Septuagesima to Holy Saturday and these are 50
week or ordinary days.
It is also possible that fifty has a symbolic meaning.
Psalm 50 according to the Septuagint and Vulgate numbering of
the Psalms, but 51 in the Hebrew Bible, is the psalm of meditation
par excellance. Therefore, the number 50 became symbolic for meditation
and we recall the 50 beads of the Rosary and Johann Gerhard´s
Meditations which are 50 in number.
The Passion Hymns are based on a synopsis of the
History of the Passion from the Manual for priests which was originally
composed by Bugenhagen. Other sources of Hallgrímur while
writing the hymns are i.a. Soliloquium animae de passione Christi
by the Lutheran mystic Martin Moller and Johann Gerhard´s
The first 8 verses of the first hymn serve as a
preface to them all and verses 5 – 7 express some theological
ideas on the contents of the hymns and the significance of Jesus´
death. In quoting the Hymns here I use a prose translation by
the American professor emeritus Michael Fell who has translated
several Icelandic religious works into English. In his prose translation
verses 5-7 of Hymn 1 are:
1.5: My soul, let us ponder on the sweet sacrifice
by which we, once condemned, have now been reconciled to our
Lord God. What rapture it is to dwell on this!
1.6: What can better calm the heart´s anguish than our
Lord´s sacred torment and sufferings? What can hold sin
and disgrace in firmer check than the bloodstained image of
the Lord Jesus?
1.7: Where, my soul, can you perceive better and more clearly
the true character of God´s loving heart, bestowed on
me by the Father of mercies, than here in the anguish of Jesus?
According to these verses the significance of Christ´s
suffering and death is that it is the sacrifice which reconciles
us sinners to God. Christ´s death calms all anguish and
holds sin and disgrace in check and, finally, Christ´s death
manifests God´s love in the surest way.
The metaphors used to describe Christ´s death
are all classical and Hallgrímur uses different imagery
in describing its benefits and significance: Jesus´ death
is ransom, it is vicarious suffering, satisfaction, punishment
for our iniquities, it is reconciliation and atonement. A very
prominent image is that of Christ´s victory over death,
sin and the devil. Hallgrímur also emphasizes Christ´s
example, not that we are to follow his way of suffering but that
we learn from him to endure our sufferings, always hopeful in
the belief that He is there with us and sustains us.
The Passion of Christ is described not as an isolated
event in history but as an eternal event. The Passion is a cosmic
drama where God himself fights with his enemy and the enemy of
all creation, the devil, and wins the final victory which is still
valid and beneficial to all. Hallgrímur follows Jesus step
by step and meditates upon the events of the Passion and each
event manifests, as it were, the whole drama of salvation. I myself
am part of the story. It is my sin, my wrongdoing, which cause
the agony and suffering of Jesus as Luther had emphasized in his
Holy Week sermons of 1529.
Hallgrímur addresses his soul in the hymns.
This is a biblical imagery, cf. Psalm 103, and very common in
Lutheran hymns and meditative litterature. Besides being biblical
this also has a sacramental significance. In the Small Catechism
Luther describes the meaning of baptism for our daily life in
Baptism means that the old Adam in us should be
drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil
deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person
should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity
Meditating on the Passion emphasizes very strongly what it is
to die and rise with Christ. The soul is my innermost self whom
Christ, my new being, addresses, calls to faith, new living, renewed
In the remaining minutes, I want to dwell on some
topics which are characteristic of Hallgrímur´s theology.
In the first Hymn, On Christ´s Walk to the
Garden of Gethsemane, Hallgrímur emphasizes that we in
our lives shall focus on Christ as the one who leads the way.
The hymns then can be described as walking with Christ on the
Via dolorosa from Gethsemane, through Golgotha, to the grave in
the hope of the Resurrection.
In the Second hymn, On Christ´s Suffering
in the Garden, Hallgrímur refers to the fact that Christ
took with him the three disciples into the garden because he did
not want to be there alone. From this we can learn that in serious
temptations we should never be alone:
2.10: If grievous temptation assails you, at such
times avoid being alone. Seek most of all the company of those
who fear God, for they will always give you the best counsel.
Man receives consolation from man; God´s mercy has ordained
This refers directly to the church. The Christian
community is a fellowship of brothers and sisters where people
console each other. Thus religion is not a private matter between
the individual soul and God but communal reality.
In the third hymn, on Christ´s Mortal Agony
in the Garden, Hallgrímur uses a classical metaphor when
he says that since Adam fell in a garden, Christ had to begin
our redemption in a garden. Adam´s fall brought curse upon
the earth, Christ´s sweat and blood cleansed the earth so
that it will forever be fruitful.
When Christ suffered in the garden he fought a battle
with death and won:
3.8 This was the spot and the hour when Jesus´
battle with death finally took place. And on that very night
my deathbed sufferings too were made a blessing to me. The Lord
conquered and death was defeated; and that glorious victory
he gave to me.
This is what Luther referred to as fröhlicher
Wechsel – the joyful interchange: Christ takes upon himself
what is mine, my sin, my punishment, my death, and gives me what
is his, his justice, his innocence, his life. This is a very common
theme in the hymns: Jesus is punished, I am free, Jesus is condemned,
I am acquitted. Hearing the story in faith gives me all the benefits
of Christ´s suffering and death.
Also in the third hymn the communal and sacramental
aspect of faith is very prominent e.g. in verse 13:
3.13: When grief pierces my heart, I betake myself
straightway to Your garden. There, my Lord, I gather up the
drops of Your blood into the treasure-house of my heart. That
payment alone is acceptable before God to atone for my vile
This does not refer to subjective contemplation
but to the fellowship of the Church where the Gospel is preached
and the Eucharist celebrated:
The fourth hymn, On Christ´s Discourse with
the Disciples, builds on the fact that Jesus had gone but a stone´s
throw from his disciples and that little distance resulted in
that the disciples fell asleep. This leads to a meditation on
the fellowship between Christ and the believer. The garden symbolizes
the Church and there Christ calls us to stay awake:
4.8 My dear Redeemer has brought me into the garden
of His grace so that I might keep awake here. Of this my baptism
In the same way as the disciples I am prone to fall
asleep if Christ does not constantly wake with me and call me
to stay awake. This leads to the admonition on prayer [Glæra]:
4.22: Let prayer never fail you! With manifold
trials poised to assail you, even when body and soul are afflicted
and worn out, prayer is the key to the Lord´s grace.
Without prayer the soul is dead as a lifeless dead
4.23: A lifeless corpse is good for nothing; it
is dead to all sight, hearing, and speech. Likewise without
prayer the soul is destitute, without perception, cold, numb,
and utterly lifeless.
This leads to the beautiful prayer which still today
is used as an evening prayer by many:
4.24: Keep watch, my Jesus, keep watch within
me! And let me likewise keep watch in You! May my soul be keeping
watch when my body falls asleep, in the safety of Your care
Here Christ´s presence is also his presence
within which is a common theme in Hallgrímur´s meditations
both in the Passion hymns and in his other religious poems. It
was also a prominent feature of Lutheran spirituality at this
time, often combined with bridal mysicism. Luther uses this image
in his A Freedom of a Christian and it plays a major role in Johann
Jesus is the high priest who intercedes on our behalf.
This is prominent in the fifth Hymn, The Jews Come Into the Garden,
where the poet meditates on Jesus´ answer: I am He! This
answer manifests Jesus as the eternal mediator in heaven when
God judges me for my transgressions and within myself when my
conscience accuses me. This leads to this beautiful confession:
5.10: This is my response: “I am he who
loves You, Jesus, from my heart!” Let your word to me
be the same; tell me: “I love you too!” May this
be our eternal dialogue, beginning here on earth. This is my
prayer: amen, so may it be!
The intercession and mediation of Christ in heaven
is a very common theme in the hymns. In the 34th hymn, on the
first word on the cross, Hallgrímur meditates on Christ´s
prayer as high priest in heaven.
The hymns emphasize very strongly the real suffering
of Jesus. In the seventh hymn, On Peter´s defense and Malchus´
Wounded Ear, Hallgrímur admonishes us not to take revenge.
He also teaches on how we in our own sufferings can trust that
Jesus is with us and has himself endured a greater part of suffering
7:15 Jesus calls His torments “a chalice
poured out for Him.” You too should give the same name
to your cross and to all your miseries here. For the Lord drank
to your health when He was tortured for your sake. For your
salvation, my soul, do the same gladly for Him in return.
7:16 Let this be your consolation that He knows the weakness
of man. He is well aware of your struggles. You need not be
apprehensive about His portion of the draft; He Himself drank
the bitterest part. It is the gentler share, smaller by half,
that is allotted to you.
Jesus´ suffering and torment is very real,
there is no trace of docetism in Hallgrímur. And Jesus´
suffering is also God´s own suffering. In Hymn 41, Christ´s
Fourth Word on the Cross, he says in the third verse:
41.3: The sun was ashamed to shine brightly when
it saw its Creator suffering, though we know that it was not
responsible for this terrible outrage. O, how mortified should
that creature be, how overcome with sadness and dismay of heart,
who intensified the Lord´s suffering!
Jesus felt himself abandoned by God. Therefore,
God will never abandon me:
41.9: The Son of God declared Himself abandoned
when His bitter torments assailed Him. Therefore, for His sake,
the eternal God will never abandon me. Because of the Lord´s
cry of distress the supreme Godhead will assuredly answer my
But we are not called to feel sorry for Jesus but
to tread our way in the certainty that Jesus is there with us
and has been there before us:
30.12: Christian soul, if you are subjected to
a bitter cross, heed this advice: When the flesh begins to grumble
and wrangle, remember where your duty lies; think to yourself
that you see Jesus walking ahead of you.
I shall end my talk by referring to the 25th Hymn
which by many is regarded as their peak. Its subject is Jesus
is Led Out from the Assembly Hall, and Pilate proclaimed, Behold
the Man – Ecce homo! He was led out tortured but the torments
which Jesus endured were what I had deserved. Christ´s going
out opened the way for me into the Kingdom of God (verse 9).
The meditation leads Hallgrímur before the
throne of God where the angels proclaim, “Behold this man!”
“Through the blessed blood of the Lamb his warfare is finished,
and he rejoices in victory!”
The answer of the soul is to praise the Saviour
who has granted victory to his servant and joins in with the heavenly
host in praise:
Son of God art Thou truly.
Thou hast, Jesus my Lord,
Thy sonship´s legacy fully
On sinful man outpoured!
Thou only-begotten Word!
With holy exultation
By men of every nation
Be ceaselessly adored. (Michael Fell translator)
This verse is very often sung at the end of mass
and the congregation remains standing. It has, therefore, become
a creedal formula.
In conclusion, I say that the Passionhymns of Hallgrímur
Pétursson are a faithful expression of Lutheran spirituality
and have provided the people with prayers, praises and supplications.
Often children learn as their first prayer a prayer by Hallgrímur.
Hallgrímur Pétursson is generally
recognized as one of the best poets of Iceland even by those who
are not professed Christians.
and his Literary Context
The Anglican Lutheran Society, London, March 8,
Dr. Margrét Eggertsdóttir
The manuscript tradition, preservation and
edition of Hallgrímur Pétursson’s poetry.
Thank you very much for the invitation. As a research
Professor at the Arni Magnusson Institute in Reykjavik I am, together
with my colleagues, working on a complete edition of the works
of Hallgrímur Pétursson. The edition we are preparing
will be a textually critical one, which means that all preserved
transcriptions of each poem will be examined before choosing the
text that will be edited. It is, in other words, based on the
rules of traditional textual scholarship, which means that all
versions of a text will be taken into account when drawing a stemma
that shows their relationship. It will hopefully be a reliable
record of the manuscript tradition and the basis for both popular
and student editions, as well as translations.
Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674)
is without doubt the most important poet of early modern Iceland.
Some thirty years after his death, the manuscript collector Árni
Magnússon referred to him in a letter as a ‘national
poet’ (þjóðskáld), suggesting that
the poetry of Hallgrímur had in some sense become public
or national property. This manuscript collector goes so far as
to say that Hallgrímur's Passion Hymns “surpass most
or even all other poetic works of the northern part of Europe."
Hallgrímur’s reputation has indeed always been closely
connected with his Passion Hymns, 50 poems in different metres
on the passion and death of Christ. It soon became the custom
in Iceland to sing or read these Hymns as part of devotional practice,
and they are still recited on the Radio during Lent. They have
been published over eighty times - more often than any other Icelandic
work - and have been translated into various languages.
The Passion Hymns are preserved in one autograph
manuscript together with two separate hymns, one of which is sung
at almost every funeral in Iceland. Apart from this manuscript,
and another one in the British Library in London, containing Hallgrímur’s
commentaries on the skaldic stanzas in Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar,
Hallgrímur's poetry is known to us only in manuscript copies.
These exist in amazing number, testifying to the popularity of
Hallgrímur Pétursson’s poetry, both religious
and secular. There are doubtless more transcriptions extant of
Hallgrímur’s poetry than of any other Icelandic poet.
Manuscripts containing poetry attributed to him number at least
600. In comparison scholars have identified some 250 manuscripts
containing poems by his famous near-contemporary in England, John
Donne (1572–1631). In the middle of the eighteenth century
(about eighty years after his death) the first printed editions
of Hallgrímur’s poetry were published, but nevertheless
the copying of his poems in manuscripts continued as before. The
manuscript copies and the printed editions overlap, and the two
traditions influenced each other. Thus the text was, for example,
sometimes copied by a scribe from a manuscript, without taking
into account the printed version; the printed text was not necessarily
regarded as more authentic. The editions from the eighteenth century
are not what we would call critical, even though the editor, a
headmaster at the cathedral school in Hólar, was very ambitious,
and claimed that he would not print a poem unless he had at least
three manuscript copies of it. On the other hand, the headmaster
did not have the same access as we have today to information about
extant manuscripts, preserved in different collections, some of
them abroad. Modern editors of Hallgrímur’s poetry
have to choose between transcriptions not made by the author himself,
and which are thus usually, to a lesser or greater extent, corrupt.
Indeed, this textual instability is in itself interesting, and
new approaches to textual scholarship suggest that changing, correcting
and emending texts in earlier times was a natural thing.
Another difficulty with Hallgrímur’s
poetry lies in the question of authorship. It is very common that
texts attributed to Hallgrímur Pétursson are also
attributed to other poets. The same is true of John Donne, who
is supposed to have written all kinds of poetry he never actually
did; the names of famous poets seem to have attracted the works
of other authors.
As the bulk of Hallgrímur Pétursson’s
poetry cannot be dated reliably, his poetry has in the new edition
been arranged by themes, although this too is not entirely an
easy task. It raises questions on classification and genre, questions
which also have to be considered within a European context.
Iceland and the outer world in the 17th
century; baroque (and other) influences from Europe; Germany and
What was Iceland like in the 17th century? Does
Icelandic literature have anything in common with literary texts
written and composed in Europe at the same time? The two centuries
following the Reformation are traditionally referred to as the
Age of Learning (Lærdómsöld). This is an appropriate
term in that the Renaissance humanism which made its way to Iceland
in the wake of the Reformation (rather than the other way around
as was the case in many other countries) brought with it, as elsewhere
in Europe, a renewed interest in the learning of the past, in
Greek and Roman antiquity. In Iceland this humanism was particularly
characterized by a resurgent interest in the country’s own
history, as well as its topography and natural and cultural phenomena,
reflecting contemporary European scientific developments and the
study of man and his environment.
At the same time, the epithet reflects the fact
that, during this period, the majority of Icelandic poets were
members of the educated, official classes (clergymen, magistrates
etc.), and representative of an attitude toward poetry itself:
that learning was necessary in order to write it. Ideas of individual
creative genius and originality of expression were not to appear
until much later.
Iceland was a remote island, far away from royal
courts and urban civilization, but it was nonetheless a society
which exhibited the same cultural patterns as other parts of the
Danish realm. On the European continent the seventeenth century
is associated primarily with the baroque; in England it is the
age of the metaphysical poets (with great poets such as John Donne,
George Herbert, Andrew Marvell and Henry Vaughan), and the Icelandic
literature of the period reveals many of the same themes and ideas
that were prominent in neighbouring countries. In Iceland the
educational system and culture were closely tied to Denmark, where
the Lutheran church was extremely powerful and played a shaping
role in all cultural activity. The literary genres that were cultivated
in Iceland were to a large extent the same as those which were
prominent in Denmark. Some of them were more tied to certain classes
than others: occasional poems, for example, were composed for
the upper class; wisdom poetry directed its advice at particular
classes and groups, while hymns were designed for everyone, both
high and low.
It has been a subject of debate as to whether it
is appropriate and relevant to apply the concept of ‘baroque’
to 17th and 18th century Nordic literature in the way that it
is done in relation to other European literatures. There is a
consensus, however, that the courts of Copenhagen and Stockholm
at the time were under the extensive influence of German baroque
literature. The 17th and 18th centuries are the period of baroque
music, baroque churches and palaces. But what does the word baroque
Louis L. Martz (a popular English professor at Yale
for more than four decades, whose greatest impact was on the study
of 17th-century metaphysical poetry) suggested the term ‘the
meditative tradition’ for what is usually called the ‘metaphysical’
in English literary history (Martz 1954). But in his article ‘The
Concept of Baroque in Literary Scholarship’, René
Wellek (Postscript 1962; Wellek 1963:115-127) maintains that the
term ‘baroque’ is the most appropriate designation
for literature in the seventeenth century:
[baroque] is the one term for the style between the
Renaissance and classicism which is sufficiently general to
override the local terms of schools; and it suggests the unity
of a Western literary and artistic period. (Wellek 1963:127)
Recently some scholars in Scandinavia have focused
on the term ‘the baroque text’, which is a broad concept
that refers primarily to a certain philosophical and aesthetic
attitude toward the text and the writing of texts. Baroque styles
are characterised by the use of elaborate and excessive imagery,
allegory, wordplay, contrast, artificiality and extremes of expression.
They usually flourish with the rise of absolute monarchy and an
increasingly powerful church, their highly structured nature reflecting
the underlying idea of a fixed, supreme order governing all aspects
of life. Baroque genres include panegyrics on exalted individuals,
hymns, and a great deal of occasional poetry.
Hallgrímur Pétursson’s poetry
is varied, written in different genres, both religious and secular.
His younger contemporaries in Scandinavia were Thomas Kingo (1634–1703)
in Denmark and Petter Dass (1647–1707) in Norway, great
hymnists and baroque poets. I think it is important to view Hallgrímur
Pétursson and his works in the context of European culture
and tradition, and more precisely in the context of a north-European
In my opinion the term ‘baroque’ is
a useful tool for highlighting the features which Icelandic literature
of the seventeenth century shares with continental literature,
as well as those which are particulary Icelandic. Hallgrímur
Pétursson considered himself to be a poet in the same mould
as other learned poets in Europe of his time. These poets - whom
we can now call ‘baroque poets’ - regarded their profession
as part of a long tradition of Christian culture and learning.
A great deal of the cultural and poetic tradition of the seventeenth
century had its roots in the Middle Ages or even the Classical
life history and social position.
Hallgrímur Pétursson’s background
is unusual in many ways. He studied at the cathedral school at
Hólar in the northern part of Iceland. After that it would
have been easy for him to pursue further education; bright young
men usually went to the University of Copenhagen to continue their
studies in the hope of getting good positions, as officials or
clergymen, when they returned to Iceland. For reasons not entirely
clear, Hallgrímur was expelled from Hólar and travelled
abroad. It appears that he took up with foreign seamen, and he
was next heard from in Glückstadt (North Germany, but part
of Denmark at that time), where he was employed by a blacksmith
who treated him badly. It is said that Brynjólfur Sveinsson,
later Bishop of Skálholt, had, by sheer coincidence, been
passing by the smithy and heard someone denouncing his employer
in a vigorous and not very pretty Icelandic. Brynjólfur
found that the lad was good with words, although what he had heard
was quite crude, and after talking to him decided that he was
very talented. He arranged for him to attend the School of Our
Lady in Copenhagen. There, a new chapter in the life of Hallgrímur
Pétursson began. He quickly achieved good results and was
soon counted among the best students.
Hallgrímur was around 22 years old when dramatic
events occurred. A group of Icelanders who had been abducted and
enslaved by North African pirates some ten years earlier arrived
in Copenhagen. They had finally been ransomed by the Danish King,
and Hallgrímur Pétursson was employed to reeducate
them in Christian teachings. A member of the group was Guðríður
Símonardóttir, a wife and mother from the Vestmannaeyjar
who had been separated from her husband and child in the raid.
Hallgrímur and Guðríður fell in love and
soon she was pregnant with his child. Guðríður
was 38 at the time, so there was a sixteen-year age difference.
Hallgrímur Pétursson abandoned his
studies for the second time and the two travelled to Iceland.
They learned then that Guðríður’s husband
had died. Hallgrímur married Guðríður and
provided for his family with hard manual labour. Times were difficult
for the couple; they were poor and lost several young children.
Again, however, radical changes occurred in Hallgrímur’s
life and circumstances. For the second time, Brynjólfur
Sveinsson, now Bishop of Skálholt, altered things, when
he ordained Hallgrímur as a priest in 1644 and arranged
a parish for him. Hallgrímur’s early years in the
priesthood cannot have been easy for him; some people could not
forget that he had been a poor labourer. An old source says people
found it peculiar for the bishop to have ordained this poor fellow,
but they changed their minds after hearing him preach. Only one
of Hallgrímur’s sermons, a funeral oration, has been
preserved, but it is known that he was considered a splendid preacher.
Another indication of growing admiration for Hallgrímur
is that when the much wealthier parish of Saurbær (north
of Reykjavík) became available in 1651, it was granted
The next decade was a fruitful period for Hallgrímur’s
writing. His greatest work is from this period; all of it religious.
There were two books of hymns, Samúelssálmar (Hymns
of Samuel) from the Old Testament’s Book of Samuel, and
the Passíusálmar (Passion Hymns). There were also
two books on religious practice: Sjö guðrækilegar
umþenkingar (Seven Pious Contemplations) and Diarium Christianum
or Dagleg iðkun af öllum drottins verkum i.e.‘The
Daily Practice of all the Lord’s Works with Comparison of
the Ten Commandments of God to Creation, and the Memory of the
Name of Jesus’. This work is thought to have been written
in 1660, but it was printed at Hólar in 1680. The Diarium
is a meditation, where God’s creation on each day of the
week is linked with the day’s name and one or two of the
Ten Commandments. The work makes it clear that the world has a
natural order proscribed by God. The workings of the celestial
spheres, for instance, suggest reasons for our own obedience to
authority. The poet uses a variety of classical rhetorical devices
and quotes several other learned authors. When discussing the
creation of the birds, for example, he applies metaphors linked
to birds and flying to people’s lives:
My Lord Jesus, make my heart fly up from earthly
vanity to you in heaven … Do not let me become a disgusting
carrion bird in your sight, nor have the bird of prey’s
nature or the raven’s disposition towards my neighbour
Based on the belief that an almighty God inspired
everything with meaning and purpose, the dominant view was that
everything in His creation was governed by a supreme order, that
every object had its fixed purpose and role, and that natural
phenomena had a symbolic meaning from which mankind might learn.
Natural descriptions of the period, therefore, are usually mainly
in praise of the Creator.
In 1662, the farm at Saurbær burned. This
was a tremendous shock, although plans were immediately made to
rebuild it. After this Hallgrímur’s health began
to deteriorate. He was diagnosed with leprosy, from which he died
in 1674, aged sixty.
The heritage of Hallgrímur Pétursson;
religious and secular poetry.
The works written by Hallgrímur Pétursson
include maxim poems, morning and evening hymns, quatrains and
hymn-sequences. During the seventeenth century the governing view
was that poetry was meant to educate, encourage, teach and admonish.
Didactic poems for children composed by Hallgrímur have
endured well and are still used in primary schools in Iceland.
Occasional poems played an important social role
in the baroque period, not merely in urban centers and at royal
courts, but also in rural Iceland, although there they were largely
confined to the class of office-holders. Hallgrímur wrote
many such poems for his fellow office-holders; these poems helped
to solidify his position and build up his prestige. Occasional
poems and hymns are two poetic genres which often merge into one,
as can be seen in Hallgrímur's travel hymns, New Year's
hymns, wedding poems and memorial poems.
Hallgrímur also composed three sets of rímur
("Rímur af Lykla-Pétri og Magellónu,"
"Króka-Refs rímur" and the latter part
of "Flóres rímur og Léos"). The
rímur were the people’s main form of entertainment
and can be seen as a uniquely Icelandic genre. They consisted
of a story of some sort, usually based on extant material, transformed
into verse. One characteristic of the rímur is their use
of the ancient poetic language of skaldic verse. The reciting
of the rímur continued one evening after another and they
were usually so long that they became a sort of serial. Although
the rímur are a type of popular poetry, rímur poets
came from all levels of society.
Despite this emphasis on moral instruction, poets
did not ignore the lighter side of life in their works, evidenced
by the many poems preserved that concern various pleasures of
life such as alcohol and tobacco. The value of moderation in drinking
is the subject matter of Hallgrímur Pétursson’s
poem ‘Nú er ég glaður á góðri
stund’ (‘Now I am Merry at a Delightful Moment’).
His poem ‘Leirkarlsvísur’ compares a man’s
destiny with a jug of wine. The poem is cheerful, but nontheless
bears religious and philosophical thoughts and conclusions. Actually
it can be read both as a jesting poem and a serious piece of worldly
In the poem ‘Aldarháttur’ (‘Ways
of the Present World’) we see the baroque view of the past
as superior to the present, which goes back to the humanistic
admiration for the classical world. It is a contemporary polemic
in which Hallgrímur compares his own times to those of
the Commonwealth, that is, in the period before Icelanders were
ruled by a king. In those days, people were valiant, appreciated
their freedom more than gold, and did not submit to oppression
by threat. Here, Iceland’s medieval past is glamorised in
Icelandic poetry for the first time. The poet criticises his own
era for laziness, lack of solidarity, cowardice, and an unjust
legal system. With a degree of certainty the poem can be dated
to 1663, a year after Icelanders had pledged an oath to the King
of Denmark as absolute monarch. This event probably inspired the
poem. ‘Aldarháttur’ is written in a classical
hexameter, a variation on leonic metre, the first example of its
kind in Icelandic. In Germany and the Nordic countries poets were
learning to use precisely this and other classical meters such
as the alexandrine. At the same time it is interesting that Hallgrímur
Pétursson directly imitates the poetic language of the
dróttkvætt verses from Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar,
but, as stated before, he had already written commentaries to
the stanzas. The poem is, thus, remarkable in the way that it
is constructed equally from the classical traditions of Europe
and the indigenous traditions of Iceland.
In his other satires Hallgrímur attacked
the latest fashions in clothing and other forms of vanity –
these were favorite topics in foreign poetry of the time. In his
of a Dandy’) a man is described dressed in all the latest
fashions. He wears floral gloves, four pairs of trousers, an open-neck
shirt with a Danish silk scarf and Spanish boots and spurs. His
whole attitude is arrogant, and when spoken to he reveals his
stupidity and ignorance.
Hallgrímur also attacked materialism, greed
and corruption of justice, but not in connection with specific
persons or events; he preferred to set everything in the larger
context of life and death and the eternal state of the soul. Seventeenth-century
satire has a clear sense of the world as a carefully organized
whole in which everything and every person has a well-defined
place and role. Whoever disturbs this order, whether he be an
arrogant laborer or a corrupt judge, acts counter to the will
Funeral elegies were extremely widespread after
the Reformation. As with other occasional poems, they are shaped
by classical oratory and Christian ideas of virtue and salvation.
Their purpose was to transform grief into celebration, and get
people to come to terms with the loss of a loved one or of an
important member of society. Hallgrímur Pétursson
lost his daughter, Steinunn, when she was only three-and-a-half
years old. He wrote two funeral elegies for her, which are among
the most beautiful funeral poems in Icelandic. The initial letters
of the second of these form the words: Steinunn mín litla
hvílist nú (“My Little Steinunn is Sleeping
Now”). Bright and beautiful images are drawn of the saved,
who celebrate and sing in heaven, free of all grief and suffering,
and the poet consoles himself with the thought of his baby being
there now. Although she was only three when she died, the poet
describes her as having been ‘sensitive, bright and sweet
tempered’. Her illness is also described and although it
was short, the reader feels the evident pain of a parent who watches
over his dying child but cannot save her.
Reflections on the Passion Story
Hallgrímur Pétursson’s Passion
Hymns is the best known work of Icelandic poetry of the seventeenth
century. The suffering and death of Jesus is a major subject of
Christianity and the pivot of Luther’s theology. It became
a popular practice to reflect on the passion story, especially
after the Reformation. Around forty reflections on the Passion
exist in print in German, Danish and Swedish from the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. Besides Hallgrímur Pétursson's
work, at least three other Passion reflections were originally
composed in Icelandic, although they are now almost completely
forgotten. In short, the difference between these three hymns
and Hallgrímur's Passion Hymns is the absence in the former
of dramatic staging and the lack of an effective mode of storytelling;
they are mainly direct recapitulation without commentary.
As mentioned before it has become a tradition to
sing one of Hallgrímur Pétursson’s hymns at
funerals in Iceland. The hymn actually consists of 13 verses and
very seldom are all of them sung; usually only the first and the
last two verses are sung at the end of the ceremony. The hymn,
‘Allt eins og blómstrið eina’ (‘Everything
like the One Blooming Flower’), which in the author’s
manuscript bears the title ‘Um dauðans óvissa
tíma’ (‘On the Uncertain Hour of Death’),
is a reflection on death, and begins with a quote from the Psalms
of David suggesting that the days of man are like the grass in
the fields. In the first part of the poem there is a relentlessly
developed metaphor for death, destruction and the impermanence
of human life. In the second part, however, the belief in Christ
brings light and hope to the poem. The hymn concludes with a beautiful
and effective confession that, with faith, man has nothing to
fear, not even death, and he can thus welcome its arrival at any
I have tried to convey an image of the poet Hallgrímur
Pétursson and explain his significance to the Icelandic
nation and its culture. I spoke of the importance of viewing him
and his works in a broader context; of examining his world view
in connection with European literature and culture. There may
actually seem to be a contradiction in examining a national poet
in an international light. By doing so, however, we can better
see what Hallgrímur Pétursson shared with contemporary
foreign poets; that he absorbed the most popular trends and was
in many ways a child of his time. His popularity can, I believe,
be explained by many different factors: among other things, the
rather adventuresome course of events in his life, the romantic
story of him and his wife Guðríður, and the fact
that he belonged to both the upper class and the people, all endeared
him to folk in all walks of life. His secular poetry reflects
a popular tone and an attitude toward authority that appealed
to common people. His religious verse is earnest, bright, and
richly faithful, which touched people and continues to inspire
them. Last but not least, it his command of the Icelandic language
that explains his renown and influence.
The Church of Iceland among all the Other Churches
Anglican-Lutheran Society Annual Meeting 8th March
Our church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland,
is a small church. That is the first thing we have to accept when
we enter the international Lutheran scene, not to mention the
ecumenical scene. Actually it was quite an experience for me when
I travelled for the first time to a foreign country, France, at
the age of 20 and discovered that there were no Lutherans there.
Coming from a country where at that time more than 96% belonged
to the Lutheran tradition and only a few foreigners to the Roman
Catholic, I had unconsciously assumed that all Christians were
Lutherans, that these two words had the same meaning. It was quite
All around us in the Lutheran community are the
‘big brothers’. Many of our young people have studied
and visited in the United States where the Lutheran church counts
4.7 millions, and they have felt overwhelmed, not to mention those
who have visited Germany where the German Lutheran churches count
almost 13 millions. Even the Nordic sister churches count their
membership in several millions; the Swedes are 7m, the Danes and
Finns are 4.5m. - and the Norwegians are 3.8m.
But we count 250,000. Sometimes we say ‘a
quarter of a million’, with a strong emphasis on the word
million! That sounds a bit better!
These big brothers and sisters are very kind to
us - for instance at the Nordic meetings, but they do not always
see us even though we sit in their midst. A Norwegian may be describing
a problem and add at the end; ‘Well that is how we deal
with it, I don't know how you do it in Denmark, Sweden or Finland.’
If he stops there, it works well to kick his leg under the table,
when he always adds hastily; ‘Oh, yes! And in Iceland!’
This is understandable. We are not always there
- the air tickets are costly, we can not always afford to show
up at all those Nordic Church meetings. But such experience does
not embellish our self image. We must constantly interpret their
information into our Icelandic reality which is not always very
encouraging and even shows our inability to follow their path.
Small yet not so small
You will therefore understand my joy when I made
an important discovery some years back. I was then on the staff
of the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva and had been assigned
to a working group which decided on financial support to the needy
member churches. The group had to look squarely at each of the
140 member churches and the 10 recognized congregations and scrutinize
their situation. And what did I discover? That the Church of Iceland
is 29th in size among the LWF members, even when we count the
different German Landeskirchen separately. That means that we
belong to the top 20% Lutheran churches in size. If we count the
countries with Lutheran member churches, we climb even higher,
and are placed in seat number 20.
So, the small Church of Iceland is not so small
if counted in the real, the global context!
It is also very encouraging to be here in Great
Britain, for the Lutheran Church of Britain is only half the size
of our Church. We should meet them more often!
I also discovered another fact about my church when
we were investigating the member churches of the Lutheran World
Federation. My church has both much longer history than most of
them and a much more interesting history. History that I had always
taken for granted.
The Sisters, Church and Theatre in Iceland
The theatre is an important factor in Icelandic
culture. The interest and the attendance are simply amazing. Last
weekend I counted the plays which are on the stage presently in
the capital and its neighbouring towns. The population of this
area is about 190,000. You can choose between 27 plays and one
opera. There are two professional repertory theatres in Reykjavik
besides all the independent playhouses.
As a young pastor, I served in a fishing village
with 112 inhabitants. Many of the men were fishermen whose boats
left at midnight and brought back their catch next day around
suppertime. As in other villages, the people wanted to have their
annual play performance on the stage in their small meeting house.
I was asked to direct. How could I refuse? They selected a comedy
by Molière. The rehearsals were every other night. So when
the fishermen had landed their catch, they ran home to have a
bite and to wash themselves a bit and hurried back for the rehearsals.
There were five or six fishermen in the cast, and others did the
settings, the lights etc. We had three performances, all to full
houses, and most of the villagers went to two or even all three
shows. The play became a part of the daily reality of these people.
Why this strong interest in theatre? We think that
it has grown out of the strong story telling tradition which is
common in sparsely populated and isolated areas, where guests
are so welcome when they share the news and tell new stories.
This storytelling tradition can be traced back to the settling
time of the country and it developed into the Saga writing tradition
in the 12th-13th centuries. This interest or, shall I say, this
need to write and read texts is still prevailing among our people.
In 2007 almost 1500 books were published and the average Icelander
obtained 7 books. Books are still a common Christmas gift.
This interest in presenting dramatic events also
found its outlets later near the 18th century when the so called
Rimur became very popular. The Rumur involves chanting numerous
verses telling the stories of heroes and Vikings and also Bible
characters. Listening to that helped to shorten the long, cold
and dark evenings in the wintertime.
But why is it that this tradition of dramatic expressions
finds such fertile ground in our country, where it is seemingly
more vibrant than in the neighbouring countries?
Again, let us turn to the present day theatre. One
of the experiments so successfully done these days in our theatre
is a kind of a monologue. An actor works with one of the old Sagas,
retells its plot, explains the characters and their background,
and then presents the discoveries of the scientists and academics
about lifestyles and values in those times. The actor shows us
the persons in their context and helps us to approach them from
our own context.
I saw one such monologue last month. A young and
gifted actress presented a personality, the slave Thorgerdur Brak,
from Egla, in the story of Egill. The actress wrote the monologue
herself after intense research. Egill Skallagrimsson (910-ca 990)
was a rough Viking, sometimes a berserker, who killed for the
sheer joy of revenging an insult. Once he slaughtered more than
20 persons single handed. But at the same time his is considered
among the finest of ancient Nordic poetry, certainly he is one
of our foremost poets
In the story of Egill, we hear about Thorgerdur
Brak, his nursemaid, or rather surrogate mother, who stood by
him in all his endeavours, whatever happened. She was a slave
of Celtic background. To support Egill she even opposed his father
which was forbidden for a slave, so that man killed Brak. But
Egill gave his firstborn daughter the name Thorgerdur in memory
of the slave Thorgerdur Brak, which was unheard of at that time.
The actress made this all come alive for us in a fascinating way
and made us conceive the richness of the story.
Now, why all this storytelling? What am I trying
to tell you?
The settlers of Iceland came mainly from Norway
from 874 to the middle of ninth century. The first settlers were
mostly men who dared to sail into the unknown over the rough sea.
But they often stopped en route in the isles near Ireland and
Scotland and attacked the people in the Viking style and took
slaves, both men and especially women, and brought them to Iceland.
It has been suggested that 65% of the women living
in Iceland in the ninth century were slave women of Celtic background.
And of course, these women brought with them their Celtic culture,
storytelling, music, poetry and they simply brought up young Icelanders
like Egill Skallagrimsson. Many of these women were Christians
and they shared their Christian values as well as their cultural
heritage of storytelling and poetry.
In the monologue, the actress/ researcher pointed
out that this Celtic heritage makes the Icelanders somewhat different
from their Nordic neighbours. This transference of Christian values
to the young by the Celtic nurses may, or rather, must have had
strong effect and impact on the Christianization of Iceland.
The Christianization of Iceland
In 996 Earl Hakon of Norway was dethroned and Olafur
Tryggvason became the king. He had been in England where he was
baptized into the Christian faith. He became an ardent Christian
with a missionary spirit, so he sent several missionaries to Iceland.
Furthermore, when young Icelanders came to visit their relatives
in Norway, he often invited them to the court and had strong influence
on them. In the year 1000, he asked two of the Icelandic leaders
who had been staying at his court to go on a missionary trip to
Iceland. They came to the annual meeting of the Althing and to
make a long story short, the two groups met there, the Christians
and the heathens. They decided to ask an old and wise man, a heathen,
to make a decision. He came to the conclusion that if there were
two religions in the country, there would be no peace. "Let
us therefore become Christians," he said. But the heathens
should be allowed to maintain some aspects of their faith in secret.
Those present looked for the hot springs all around and got baptized
in warm water! Not one drop of blood was shed at this event.
A few weeks later King Olafur died in the battle
at Svoldur. Several of the settlers were Christians and King Olafur
had been a strong influence on the faith of the young leaders,
yet it is difficult to understand the process of this rapid Christianisation
without taking into consideration the impact of the Celtic slaves,
especially the nurses, like Thorgerdur Brak. They prepared the
soil, and presented to the young the values and stories of the
Bible through their storytelling, their music and their love and
care as the disciples of Jesus. They formed the Christian values
and attitudes within them.
Of course it took years to establish the church
in the country, as there was no organisation, no pastors, no churches,
no church law - no nothing! But in 1056 the first bishop was consecrated
in Skalholt, where he opened a school to train pastors and the
formal church came gradually into being.
The Church of Iceland Today
And now we are in year 2008. Some years ago we celebrated
1000 years of Christianity in Iceland.
Looking back it is striking how fast the church
established itself in the country, how easily it became an integral
part of everyday life. The bishops at Skalholt and Holar soon
became national leaders both in secular and spiritual matters
and poets and preachers like Hallgrimur and Vidalin formed and
nourished the thinking and the faith of the nation so it could
survive, despite hunger, exploitation and the extreme, hostile
climate at times. The population in the 18th century dropped to
40- 50,000 people
The church owned many farms which provided livelihood
for its pastors, as we were a farming nation until villages and
later small towns came into being with increasing fishing technology
some 200 years ago.
The Lutheran Church is a Folk church and as such
has its foundation in the Constitution. There has always been
very close cooperation between the church and the state. Until
recently the Ministry of Church affairs had much power in the
outward matters of the church, whereas the bishop led the inner
matters. However, the process towards independence started some
25 years ago and it has now reached the point of practical independence.
The Church Assembly decides on most Church matters. However some
bills have to be approved by the Althing. The Ministry of Church
affairs will soon be dissolved as the Church takes over its duties
and services. On the other hand, the office of the Prime minister
will take over the relations with the religious communities in
Iceland, the Lutheran church included.
The church sold most of its farms to the state and
the state agreed as payment to pay the salaries of the pastors.
It was a contract signed by two independent parties, based on
Icelandic law. The state also collects the church tax along with
other taxes, also for other religious bodies. The separation of
church and state has happened very smoothly compared with the
experience in the other Nordic countries.
The church is always there, ‘like the clean
water and the fresh air,’ our former president Vigdis once
said. I think she expresses the attitude of most Icelanders. We
take the church for granted but it is interwoven into the life
of most Icelanders. Around 94% of us belong to Christian churches,
and out of those 85% belong to the National church. This percentage
however is on the decline with the increase of immigrants. There
is shortage of manpower so thousands and thousands of foreign
labourers have been imported which explains the growth of the
Roman Catholic and the Muslim communities.
But the Church is a prominent factor in our culture
and our heritage. A good example is Christmas Eve. There are hardly
any movements in the streets, neither humans nor cars, between
6pm and 7pm that evening. The whole nation is celebrating Christmas.
Being members of a national church, we have common background
and traditions. That evening gives us a strong sense of belongingness.
So far most youngsters are confirmed, in 2003, out
of 4498 persons born in 1990, 4304 got confirmed, we do not have
new figures about baptism. It has been around 90%, but may be
somewhat on the decline. In 2003 seven out of eight children were
baptised or 88%. That year 1,619 church weddings took place, while
289 couples went to the judge.
What is very encouraging about the life in the church
is the increase as participation in the Holy Communion is concerned.
In 1988, 39,472 persons were there. In 2004 the figure is 99,691(from
40,000 to 100,000 in 16 years). Practically everyone is buried
from a church.
These good figures do not apply to the Sunday Services,
but are there any organisations which can collect large groups
on Sunday mornings week after week, year after year? Our modem
times have created new venues for encounters and communications,
new lifestyles have been created that make older venues redundant.
And the churches all over the world are looking for effective
channels where the Good News can be encountered and received by
New Areas of Concern
The invasion of immigrants is relatively new in
our country, as the name Iceland has not been too attractive for
those from the Southern hemisphere. Now we are getting more people
from Eastern Europe. Those who come must have a work permit, which
means that we do not have ghettos of unemployed immigrants as
we see in the other Nordic countries.
The church ordained a creative Japanese theologian
as a pastor for the immigrants and he has turned out to be an
efficient bridge enabling them to move into the Icelandic society.
Some congregations have also offered special services to immigrants.
We have welcomed large flocks of Roman Catholics, mainly Polish
people, who are using our Lutheran churches in the villages all
along the coastal line. We also welcome the Orthodox brothers
and sisters. Their young priest has enjoyed much support from
our bishop and some congregations in Reykjavik. The ecumenical
work is finally becoming a relevant issue for our church.
On the other hand, the increase of non-Christian
children in schools has created an area of concern for the church.
The easy and natural access of pastors and other church workers
to the schools with their message, something we have had for centuries,
has been questioned of late and even hindered. We tend often to
bend over backwards in trying to be fair. Following that, we have
experienced recently a wave of aggressive criticism from very
loud and vocal club of non-believers. Fortunately they have also
bent over - forward - and gone too far and lost some of their
credibility. However, there is more discussion in society on faith,
church and religion than before, perhaps less indifference than
A national church is always somewhat vulnerable
in such situations. She represents the tradition, the majority,
she is not exciting, she is perceived as resistant to change.
At the same time people want her to bring stability and to nourish
their roots, be true to the Bible and be the warden of traditions,
whilst still being a part of a society in rapid change. This crystallizes
in the discussion of the new translation of the Bible this year.
Some complain that the beautiful text which they read in their
grandmothers Bible is no longer there, whereas others complain
about the highly literary and exclusive language. The whole debate
on homosexual partnership or "marriages" is reflecting
the same contradictory attitudes
For centuries, isolation was our enemy. But in our
time the concept of isolation must be redefined. It is all here
now at your fingertips. Now in the time of globalisation, some
might even desire more isolation in our country. With the non
-stop movements between countries, of information, of people,
of ideas, we have to adopt a new lifestyle, a new sense of belonging.
Are we ready for that? Are we able to do so?
In a globalized world, we are all in the focus or
rather nobody is. For many of us nothing is in focus, except ever
growing greed and secularization. The overpowering greed is paralyzing
the old values of love and honesty, which makes the world a colder
place, a more insecure place.
What is the role of our churches now in the present
world situation? How can they be the saving grace which is needed
now, and they are intended to be? This applies to my church, your
church, all churches, for we are all in the same boat. We may
have different answers, but for me it is of major importance that
our people are provided with a foundation, some solid foundation
to stand on in this whirlwind, that nourishes our roots so we
can better understand ourselves, our life situation, our hope
for the future. And this foundation is plainly the Good News,
the fact that you are loved, you are precious in the eyes of God,
and that there, with him, is your place, wherever you may go.
For he will always walk with us.
And how do we go about it, how do we pass on this
truth, this aspect of faith?
There are surely many roads to the goal but in this
group I will particularly mention the secret weapon, which is
perhaps not enough in use nowadays but used to be the most effective
way of transferring the Good News. That is, the Grandmothers –
and, of course, the grandfathers too.
Christianization happens in moments of peace and
stillness, where time passes lovingly with caring grandparents
who share their experience with the young, share their joy and
sorrows, tell the stories, sing the songs, like the Celtic slave
nurses in the Viking time, like my grandfather did and your grandmother
most likely did too - perhaps with the result that we are here.
The secret weapon for the re-Christianization of our people is
in us! It is ours to make the old prayers relevant and personal
for the young in these strange and complex times, like the Celtic/Icelandic
prayer which forms the end of this address - with thanks for your
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always on your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rain fall soft upon your field,
And until we meet again-
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Ethical Issues be Church-Dividing?
Lecture at meeting
of Anglican-Lutheran Society
11 March 2006
Southwark Cathedral, London
This paper is
copyright : Kenneth G. Appold, Institute for Ecumenical Research,
The title of today's
conference posed a number of problems for me. As I thought about
the question, Must ethical issues be church-dividing?, I was tempted
to say, simply, “no”. They are not inevitably church-dividing.
If the church can find a way of sustaining a reasonable
amount of diversity in life and practice, they won't be. But,
I suspect, that is not how the question was meant.
Couched within is a question of another order, and
I can hear the question posed in different tone, much like a teacher
scolding a wayward pupil: “Must you bring that animal to class?”
In that tone, the question has a different character—we
are being asked not whether such behavior is inevitable,
but whether it is appropriate or legitimate. And that is how I
will approach today's topic. Is disagreement over
ethical issues legitimately church- dividing? And
if so, when?
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Issues be Church-dividing? Homosexuality, Change and the Anglican
Society's AGM, 11 March 2006
This paper is
copyright : Jeremy Morris, Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
This paper is a modified
version of a paper I gave last July in Strasbourg, at the summer
conference of the Ecumenical Institute which was also devoted
to the theme of homosexuality and bio-ethics as church-dividing.
It has been modified first, because the discussion
within Anglicanism has moved on a little since then, and second,
because my own thinking on this question has changed somewhat
since then - not dramatically so, admittedly, but
enough to make me realize that I was neglecting the
question of moral pluralism, or rather, the doubt that moral pluralism
is an intrinsically coherent theoretical position.
I've been involved over the last eighteenth months
in working with Professor Oliver O'Donovan on two responses to
developments within the Church of Sweden on the question
of homosexuality, and whilst the two of us undoubtedly
come at things from contrasting positions, still I have
to acknowledge a greater force to the arguments Oliver has advanced
on this question of the incoherence of moral pluralism
than I think at first I was prepared to concede. It
will be interesting to see what you think of all this! What I
am going to offer is not - it cannot be - a comprehensive
survey of the state of the arguments over homosexuality
and bio-ethics in the Anglican Communion, and of their ecclesiological
implications. I am going to say next to nothing on bio-ethics,
on which I am woefully ignorant. Bio-ethics is clearly
a question of considerable ecumenical sensitivity,
but it is not clear (yet, at any rate) that it is a question that
in Anglican terms alone is likely to be church-dividing.
But even in relation to homosexuality, my expertise
is limited. I'm not an ethicist, nor a biblical scholar, but a
church historian, who is also actively involved and
interested in ecumenical activity.
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