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date: 29 April 2017

Martin Luther in Norway

Summary and Keywords

Until 1814, Norway was under Danish rule, and the story of Luther’s reception in Norway is included in the story of Luther’s reception in Denmark (cf. Niels Henrik Gregersen’s article on Luther in Denmark). The Reformation was introduced in Norway in 1536 along with Danish rule and loss of Norwegian national sovereignty. Most pastors—some Danes, but gradually also more Norwegians—were educated at the University of Copenhagen and were strongly influenced by the training they received there.

In the period of national awakening in the 19th century, national identity and Lutheran identity were more difficult to combine in Norway than in neighboring Lutheran countries like Denmark, Sweden, or Germany. This period lasted quite long after 1814 until a specific tradition for Luther’s reception was established in Norway. Along with the Luther renaissance in Germany and Sweden in the 1920s and 1930s, a new interest in Luther and the Reformation also emerged in Norway. Luther texts (primarily texts from his early career) were translated into Norwegian, a Luther Society was established, and the first academic dissertation dealing with Luther’s theology was published. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Reformation in Denmark/Norway, a comprehensive collection of essays was published in 1937 in order to reintroduce Luther and Reformation topics into religious and public debate. After World War II, scholarly research on Luther gradually increased in importance, and several Luther dissertations were published in international languages during the second half of the 20th century. In 1979 to 1983, six volumes of Luther’s writings were translated into Norwegian.

Keywords: Martin Luther, Norway, Denmark, Luther renaissance, centenary, Sigurd Normann, Eivind Berggrav, Inge Lønning

The Specific Profile of Norwegian Protestantism

The story of Luther’s reception in Norway is one that can be told in quite different ways. Until 1814, it was a story very closely interwoven with the story of Luther’s reception in Denmark, where the University of Copenhagen, the king in Copenhagen, and publishers in Copenhagen played central roles in deciding how Luther’s ideas should be communicated to Denmark and Norway.

A specific Norwegian tradition for Luther’s reception slowly emerged in the decades after 1814. One might think that the new Norwegian University in Kristiania, established in 1811 with its own theological faculty, played an important role here. But that was not the case. Luther was not an important theological theme at the university during the first generations of its existence, and neither was the Reformation. This attitude was closely connected to the specific character of the Norwegian Reformation. The Reformation was not at all an honorable or memorable part of Norwegian history or cultural memory. It was often associated with the loss of political sovereignty and national freedom. In the 1530s, the Reformation in Norway had very little support from below, from popular Protestant movements. Support came through political decisions and from Danish sovereignty. Since the Danish Reformation of 1536–1537, Norway was no longer defined as a kingdom in its own right, but as part of the Danish Crown. This situation lasted for almost 300 years, until 1814. Therefore, in the early 19th century, when the process of Norwegian nation-building was about to become more important, the preoccupation with Luther and the Reformation might easily seem to be of no great relevance. Very few positive connections could be established between the process of nation-building and the religious heritage of the Reformation.1

This was not only due to the negative cultural memory of the Reformation as the starting point of Danish suppression of Norwegian language and national culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. There were also other, more specific reasons that had to do with 19th-century Norwegian church history and with conflicts related to the Danish theologian, poet, and church leader N. F. S. Grundtvig.

In Grundtvig’s thought, expressions and interpretations of Christianity were closely connected to the contexts of the nation and the people. And in his view, Denmark and Norway belonged together, as parts of the same “folk.” On this basis, Grundtvig and his followers tried to influence not only Danish Protestantism, but also Norwegian Protestantism and church life. He succeeded in Denmark, but only to a small degree in Norway, because the most important theological and ecclesiastical leader in the Kristiania University of the 1850s and 1860s, Gisle Johnson, firmly opposed Grundtvig and his contextual interpretation of Christianity. Johnson’s alternative was a Lutheran confessional model of Protestantism. Because of the threatening influence of Grundtvig in Norway, Johnson tended to disconnect his confessional Lutheranism totally from the political and cultural cause of nationalism. This disconnection between conservative Lutheranism and nationalism was much more outspoken in Norway than in Sweden or Germany.

Consequently, the mid-19th-century European model of Luther as a national hero and freedom fighter never became important in Norway, neither in connection with the liberation from Danish cultural imperialism nor in connection with the building of a new national culture and the reestablishment of the national language. Neither was an increased preoccupation with Luther’s theology introduced to serve the cause of confessional Lutheranism in the tradition of Johnson. Here the theological creativity was rather put into an attempt to renew confessional Lutheranism by means of the theological ideas of Schleiermacher.2

From 1817 to 1917: The Centennial Jubilees as Mirrors


There were some exceptions to this general picture though. One of the most interesting was the speech that Svend Brochmann Hersleb, one of the first two theological professors at Kristiania University, gave on the occasion of the centennial celebration of the Reformation on November 3rd in 1817.3 He asked, “What and how is the liberty worthy of a Christian human being, which Luther supported on the basis of the Reformation of the church?” Hersleb was by no means a Luther scholar; he had to lecture on all theological disciplines in the founding years of the new university. His tribute to Luther and the Reformation was interesting because of its rhetoric of Lutheran freedom. The inner freedom of De libertate Christiana wasn’t praised, but rather the freedom from the tyranny of Rome:

After three centuries, we now once again witness the return of the day on which Luther—the most venerable doctor of theology—for the first time declared his well known holy war against hierarchy, ignorance and empty superstition, these horrible tyrants, under which the poor church had to suffer. With the help of God, the chains of shameful servitude have been broken and gained a glorious victory has been brought back to us, a victory which we celebrate today.4

Hersleb, even though he was born and grew up at Herøy on Helgeland in Northern Norway, had studied in Copenhagen and was deeply influenced by Grundtvig.5 His rhetoric of Lutheran freedom is easier to identify as part of Danish rather than Norwegian Reformation thought, since freedom from suppression had never been part of the Norwegian Reformation experience. In 1817, just after the liberation from Denmark, this way of talking about freedom might have been more relevant in Norway. But Hersleb—as a follower of Grundtvig—did not establish this connection. He was talking in general terms about freedom from religious and political tyranny as the core message of the Reformation—probably as the first in the history of Luther’s reception in Norway.

The official framework for the celebrations in 1817 was decided in a specific Reglement, som bestemmer de Høitideligheder, der i Anledning af det befalede Jubilæum for Reformationen skal finde Sted (Regulations, specifying the celebrations that are going to take place on the occasion of the Reformation Jubilee) ordained by the king in Stockholm. These instructions prescribed a number of details for the celebrations: where they were going to take place (universities, churches, and schools), who should play the most important roles (the role of the bishops was especially emphasized), and a detailed description of the liturgy, including psalms, prayers, biblical readings, etc. The overall context of the celebration was expressed very clearly in King Carl’s introduction to the regulations:

We Carl, by God’s Grace King of Sweden and Norway … announce hereby: That, just as there has in the Kingdom of Norway on the two preceding centenaries on the day, when Luther started the task of his Reformation been celebrated a “Secular feast” in memory of the rebirth of Religion and Science within many kingdoms of Europe: in the same manner, We also this time want a similar jubilee to be celebrated.… 6

This focal point and main reason for remembering Luther and the Reformation, “the Rebirth of Religion and Science,” was elaborated in a specific historical text with the title Udsigt over den Christelige Kirkes Tilstand før og efter Reformationen (Outlook on the Condition of the Christian Church before and after the Reformation) that was going to be read in every church all over the country before the sermon. This text was also written by Professor Hersleb and tells a story about the church before and after Luther as a story of the greatest possible contrast.7 After the sermon, according to Article 7h in the regulations, “a cantata composed for this specific day” or a psalm of praise like Gud Dig vor Tak og Lov (Praise and Thanks to You, God) would be performed.


In 1917, the decisions to celebrate the jubilee were made separately by the university and the church. At the university, the faculty of theology, and especially the eminent medievalist Oluf Kolsrud,8 had put a great effort into the task of documenting the celebrations in 1817. The 1917 volume of Norsk Teologisk Tidsskrift included a special edition: Norsk Teologi til Reformationsjublæet 1917, and the dominant contribution here was Kolsrud’s Minder fra jubilæet 1817. The official regulations for the celebrations and Hersleb’s Udsigt over den Christelige Kirkes Tilstand appeared in this volume, as well as a number of regional contributions to the celebrations in 1817, including the invitations for the celebrations from all the five Norwegian bishops and eight different texts for cantatas to celebrate the day: four from Kristiania, two from Bergen, two from Trondheim, and one from a school in the small town of Drammen. In the 1918 volume of the same journal, Kolsrud supplemented the list with one more cantata from Trondheim and one from Kristiansand.

Reformation cantatas were not just historical traditions in 1817. In 1917, the board of the university had decided that a new cantata should be written for the celebration in October. The author Theodor Caspari had been asked to write the text, and the music instructor of the university, Per Winge, had been asked to compose the music. However, the latter refused to take on the task.9

Caspari’s cantata is more modern in language, but it fits well ideologically into the rhetoric of the Luther celebration one hundred years earlier, with its focus on the contrast between medieval darkness and bondage and Reformation light and freedom:

  • Der steg en ringe Munk før Dag
  • Ud af sit stille Kammer
  • Paa kirkens dør han slog et Slag
  • Med Ordets sterke Hammer
  • Han slog et slag for kristen Tro,
  • Da letted Morgentaagen,
  • Paa Kirkens Dør et Slag han slog,
  • Da var al Verden vaagen.10

The main speech at the university celebration was given by Professor Andreas Brandrud. He too developed his argument on the basis of the fundamental opposition between Luther and the Middle Ages. But he was highly aware that he had to say something new, something different from the 19th-century heroic image of Luther. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “we should truly say that for the majority of the educated part of the people, or at least for the religiously and historically educated, the old image of Luther—or more correctly: the old images of Luther—for there are many of them, since each generation has drawn Luther in their own image: all these images are more or less obsolete.”11

Brandrud was a very competent professor of church history, and his attempt to renew the image of Luther for the early 20th century and show his educated audience that Luther still deserved to be celebrated as a hero concentrated on Luther’s break from the medieval papacy. “He (Luther) has more than anyone else broken up from the power of the Medieval Pope and the Medieval Church.” In this perspective, Luther’s Reformation was, most of all, a church political revolution, with historical world consequences. Brandrud defended the use of the word “revolution” to characterize the historical change brought about by Luther’s protest.

His speech was not a research contribution, but rather an ideological statement, put forward with a considerable degree of awareness of contextuality. The 1917 jubilee was celebrated as the war was still going on in Germany and other parts of Europe. Brandrud mentioned this in his speech, and the political interpretation of Luther may have also been related to this situation.

As a research contribution to the celebrations in 1917, Andreas Brandrud had, together with Oluf Kosrud, been commissioned by the rector of the university to publish one of the few existing 16th-century-specific Norwegian (i.e., not Danish) Reformation sources, namely, a collection of sermons from the first protestant bishop of Oslo: the humanist and reformer Jens Nilssøn.12 This publication was also part of the official program of the University of Kristiania.

The other research contribution to the celebration, the special edition of Norsk Teologisk Tidsskrift with the title Norsk Teologi til Reformationsjublæet 1917, contained no articles from the field of Luther research or Reformation history. The only trace of Reformation history was in the dedication on the first page of the book: “Martin Luthers minde. Wittenberg 31. Oktober 1517, Leipzig 5. Juli 1519, Worms 18. April 1521—helliges disse blade.”13

Instead of offering a volume with Luther or Reformation research, the faculty contributed articles on a great variety of theological themes, ranging from Litterær komposition i de gammeltestamentlige skrifter (Literary composition in the Old Testament writings) by Sigmund Mowinckel to Aabenbaring og stedfortrædende soning (Revelation and vicarious atonement) by Christian Ihlen. Closest to a contribution on Reformation history was Johannes Ording’s Reformationen og det religiøse erfaringsprincip (The Reformation and the principle of religious experience). But even this article, written within the tradition of liberal theology, gave the Reformation sources only a few pages and concentrated on a more general discussion of religious experience.

The volume effectively demonstrated the weak position of Luther and Reformation research in Norway in the early part of the 20th century. The mythology of Luther as the hero of the Protestant Church was quite effectively supported, and attempts were made to renew it. But theological research concentrated on other fields and topics.14

A Norwegian Pioneer: Sigurd Normann, Lutherlaget, and the 1937 Celebration

One of the most interesting figures in the 20th-century history of Luther’s reception in Norway is Sigurd Normann. He was not a university man,15 even though he was the first Norwegian to write a doctoral thesis on Luther’s theology. Like Hersleb, he was born in the north (Hamarøy), and at the age of thirty in 1909, he started his career in Kristiania, first as a schoolteacher and soon also as pastor. For almost twenty years, he served as a pastor of Grønland Church in Kristiania’s east end, and most of his published texts were written during this period. Shortly before his death in 1939, when he was sixty years old, he was called as a bishop to Tromsø.

Normann’s first important text on Luther was published in 1917, on the occasion of the centennial celebration. The title was Luther i kamp for kirken (Luther fighting for the Church), and the book was quite different from other more popular texts on Luther published in Norway that year.16 Normann stayed close to Luther’s own texts, more through paraphrase than through quotation. His idea was to give an introduction to Luther’s thoughts on the church by letting Luther, to a great extent, speak for himself. In the introduction to the book, Normann also referred to a considerable number of then-recent German, Danish, and Swedish research publications on Luther.

In 1928, Normann founded Norges Lutherlag (Norway’s Luther Society), aimed at “enhancing the influence of Lutheranism in the Norwegian people and at a deeper appropriation of the spiritual values and life values of Lutheranism.” One of the most important activities of this society was the publication of books and pamphlets. The first volume of Norges Lutherlags skrifter, published in 1931, was Vidnesbyrd av den unge Luther (Testimony from the young Luther). The book was a separate edition of a Luther volume (edited by Normann) in a broader series of texts from Christian classics through the centuries.17 Normann’s focus on the younger Luther is interesting. The volume includes translations of and introductions to three sermons from 1519, the Preface of the Lecture on the Romans from the September Testament 1522 and the Unterricht on the gospels from 1522.

In the world of religious texts, Luther had mainly been present in Norwegian translations through the catechisms, selections from biblical commentaries, different editions of the indulgence theses (1917), and new translations of the main Reformation texts from 1520 (published in 1917).

Another volume of Norges Lutherlags skrifter was published on the occasion of the celebration of the Danish and Norwegian Reformation in 1937. A comprehensive Festskrift with the title Vår lutherske arv (Our Lutheran heritage) had been edited by Sigurd Normann and contained twenty-five contributions on different aspects of the Reformation and Lutheran theology.18 The volume did not offer a bibliography, and only a few of the contributions included footnotes or references to literature in the text. Consequently, it was not easy to trace inspiration and influences from the German or Swedish Luther renaissance that had offered important impulses for theological renewal in the Lutheran north during the 1920s and 1930s.19 Nevertheless, the volume was an attempt to bring Luther more actively into contemporary discussions on church and religion.

An important context for interpreting the role of Normann and his activities through Norges Lutherlag is the alternative Christian-national tradition of St. Olaf, which was distinctively present in Norway between the great wars. One obvious occasion was the celebration of the millennium since the Christianization of Norway by St. Olaf (1030) in 1930. The complicated relationship in Norway between the Reformation and nation-building had caused Norwegian and church historians to take more interest in research on the period of Christianization in the 10th and 11th centuries, rather than the Reformation. The Christianization, which in Norway had little to do with Rome and the papacy, and had contributed to strengthening royal power in Norway, could very well serve national purposes.20 Against this background, it was a particular challenge to confessional Lutherans precisely in the early 1930s to reinvent and reintroduce the ecclesiastical importance of Lutheranism. It is interesting to note that one of the contributions in the Festskrift from 1937 deals exactly with the difficult and important subject of “The National in the Lutheran Reformation.”21

Sigurd Normann was not only a propagator of Lutheran ideas and values and an editor of Luther texts. Along with his work as a pastor, he also published regular research contributions. Most important was without doubt his dissertation printed in 1933 and defended two years later: Viljefrihet og forutbestemmelse i den lutherske reformasjon inntil 1525 (Freedom of Will and Predestination in the Lutheran Reformation until 1525).22

The more-than-500-page book was an impressive contribution from a researcher working alone and far away from the centers of Luther research. Normann was well informed about contemporary German research; he involvd himself in detailed and thorough discussions with Karl Holl on the interpretation of justification in the Dictata super Psalterium. An important methodological principle for Normann was to read Luther texts in extenso, rather than to make an argument based on mixed, isolated quotations from different parts of Luther’s authorship. Normann also covered a wide range of sources as a basis for his own analysis, including those of Luther’s contemporaries and associates (like Andreas von Karlstadt, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Bugenhagen, and Melanchthon), in developing a new understanding of the freedom of the will. The aim was to demonstrate that there existed a “Reformation position,” shared not only by Luther, in these analyses.

A similar analysis of scholastic theology, by Gabriel Biel, as a context for understanding Luther was, however, absent from Normann’s argument. Biel was discussed, sometimes extensively, but only on the basis of secondary sources or references in Luther’s texts. Normann died four years after finishing his doctoral dissertation and had no opportunity to pursue a further academic career on the basis of his work on predestination.

The Two Regiments and Protest against the Nazis: Eivind Berggrav

In the church historical discussion of the last decades, there was one particular case of Luther’s reception in Norwegian theology that was noticed on an international level. It was a case less connected to academic Luther research than to the practical political use of Luther’s theology. In article V of the confessional text “Kirkens Grunn” from April 1942, directed against the Nazi rule over the Church of Norway, the author, Oslo Bishop Eivind Berggrav, introduced Luther and his doctrine of the zwei Regimente—not in order to defend obedience to the political government, but in order to defend political protest against a weltliche Regiment that overstepped its limits. Berggrav had already discussed the political relevance of the Zweiregimentenlehre in two public speeches in 1941,23 in which he defended similar points of view. Kirkens Grunn was presented to the congregations of the Church of Norway (that were facing the threat of Nazi takeover) on the Easter Day services of 1942, and shortly afterward, most of the priests in Norway solemnly withdrew their oaths of obedience to the state.

Berggrav’s argument was explicitly rooted in an interpretation of Luther: In his 1941 speech, “When the coachman is mad. Luther and the duty to disobey,” he says:

Lately, the topic of Luther and the two regiments has often been introduced. It has been interpreted as an isolated topic, and this has led to confusion. It is time to make clear that for Luther—as for us—there is only one regiment, and that is: God’s regiment. Otherwise, it might be assumed that we, with the “two regiments,” that is to say the spiritual and the worldly, belong to two different masters and owe them two different kinds of obedience. That would be the most severe misuse of Luther. We only have one Lord, and there is only one obedience. This is the main point.

Life is for Luther a great battlefield. The war is fought between God and Satan. Here is the “dualism,” the double character of world history. A different kind of dualism does not exist. Neither does any kind of neutral field exist, like for instance a worldly “Obrigkeit” which belongs neither to God nor to Satan. No one can escape, everyone takes part in the great drama.

If this is not clearly understood, it is most dangerous to talk about two kinds of rule or of a double obedience. This could easily imply that we owe obedience to Satan, if he is “in charge of the actual power.”24

These quotations are taken from the beginning of the speech. Berggrav goes on to make his point by discussing Luther’s political theology in detail, with several concrete examples from the Reformation history. Berggrav was not a Luther or Reformation scholar. He had defended his thesis within the field of psychology of religion for the theological doctorate in 1925, but he never attached himself closely to Norwegian academic institutions. A more important academic base was the theological faculty at the University of Lund.25 There he had close contact with his mentor Anders Nygren and leading Luther scholars like Gustaf Aulén and Einar Billing. In the period from 1922 to 1926, Berggrav spent much time in Lund, and the influences he experienced there were no doubt important for his theology.

Arnd Heling is therefore probably on the right track, when he concluded in his dissertation26 that Berggrav’s argument in Kirkens grunn and Når kusken er gal was more influenced by the Swedish Luther renaissance than German. Gustaf Törnvall’s dissertation Andligt och verdslegt regemente hos Luther from 1940, shortly before Berggrav’s speeches on this topic in 1941, argued in the same line as Berggrav: “Wenn sie (i.e., die Regimente) nicht mehr der göttlichen Majestät im Wort untergeordnet sind, hören sie auf, Regimente im Sinne Luthers zu sein.”27 The weight placed by Berggrav on the fundamental dualism between God and the devil in Luther’s Zweireichelehre is also an argument in accordance with Luther’s reception of the Swedish Luther renaissance.

This combination of Swedish Luther research and the concrete political application of Luther’s political theology in a dramatic situation of modern Norwegian history is an important part of the history of Luther’s reception in Norway and the general history of Luther’s reception—much more so because Zweregimentenlehre was mostly interpreted in a different way in Luther’s homeland, with quite negative consequences.

Anti-Catholic Confessional Luther Research: Carl Fredrik Wisløff

After the World War II, there was another Luther renaissance in Norway, with several scholarly dissertations published on Luther themes.28 The variety in research topics and interests was considerable. One church historian and one systematic theologian, the first belonging to the more conservative side of Norwegian theology, the second to the more liberal side, may serve as examples illustrating the variety of research strategies and interests.

Carl Fredrik Wisløff was an influential professor at the Menighetsfakultetet for several decades. He was not just a researcher and teacher; he also held a central position as leader of one of Norway’s greatest lay organizations. Even though he did not pursue a research career as a Luther scholar, he wrote his dissertation on Luther and his teaching on the Lord’s Supper.29 In the introduction to his book, the author presented an outspoken attitude toward the relationship between Erkenntnis und Interesse: In Luther research and also in Lutheran churches, the question about Realpräsenz and the closely connected discussion about the difference between the Lutheran and Calvinist positions had been by far the dominating issue. Less effort had been spent on Luther’s other front of polemics: the one against the Catholics. Wisløff observed that dangerous discussions were going on within the context of ecumenical dialogue, and he also observed that discussions about the cultic mystery of the Lord’s Supper challenged the traditional Lutheran position rejecting the sacrificial character of the Eucharist. He wanted to make clear the Lutheran position and, implicitly, its radical difference from the Catholic position.

An interesting thing about Wisløff’s book is that he, in spite of this vested-interest attitude toward his own research project, demonstrated a very conscientious approach to the textual sources. Especially noteworthy were his diligent analyses of several important late medieval texts. Whereas Gabriel Biel was represented by Sigurd Normann twenty years earlier as second-hand information, Wisløff went into detail in interpreting the Canonis Missae expositio—in order to presuppose and historically demonstrate the radical opposition between the Lutheran and the Catholic views. One has to bear in mind that he did this long before the critical Oberman edition of this work.30

A Late Arrival of the Luther Renaissance: Inge Lønning and the Hermeneutical Turn

Fifteen years after the publication of Wisløff’s thesis, Inge Lønning’s dissertation Kanon im Kanon was published by Kaiser Verlag in Munich. Lønning had been trained in Tübingen and was influenced by scholars like Gerhard Ebeling and Ernst Käsemann. Like Sigurd Normann, Lønning established a historical context for interpreting Luther’s understanding of the New Testament canon that was dominated by Luther’s contemporary adversaries. Late medieval discussion of the question of the New Testament canon was practically absent. More important as context for discussion was the systematic theological debate on the question in the 1960s, especially in Germany. To Lønning, Luther was a highly relevant source of theological inspiration within a liberal theological context dominated by the theoretical approach of modern hermeneutics.

Lønning pursued his interest in Luther research within an international context, publishing his dissertation and also several contributions in international languages. He was a board member of the International Luther Congress, and he also played an active part in the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. At the same time, he was important on a national level, contributing decisively to an increased interest in Luther and Luther research in Norway since the 1970s up to the present day.31 One of his most important initiatives was the translation of Luther’s works into Norwegian during the years preceding the Luther anniversary of 1983.32

Review of the Literature

Norwegian historians dealing with the Reformation history in Norway most often interpret it first and foremost as a story of lost sovereignty and national traditions. The hero of the Norwegian Reformation was the Catholic Archbishop Olaf Engelbrektsson, who prior to the Reformation was not only archbishop in Nidaros, but also the head of the council of the state.33 In recent church historical research, little work has been done on Norwegian Reformation history. This has to do with the fact that Norway—as opposed to the other Nordic countries—had no prominent Reformation leader or theologian; nor was there any Reformation movement preparing for Reformation ideas and practices from below. There was, however, a group of humanist scholars, primarily located in Oslo, interested in national history (and in the Old North language), as well as the biblical exposition inspired by the Reformation. They were mostly trained in Copenhagen and influenced by Niels Hemmingsen. One of them, Bishop Jens Nilssøn of Oslo, has during the last decades been studied as a representative of North European humanism.34

During the last few years, Norwegian church historians have taken several initiatives to deal comparatively with the Reformation histories of the Nordic countries, as well as the history of remembering the Reformation in the Nordic countries in post-Reformation times.35 Several research projects currently give priority to this kind of comparative approach in order to transcend the traditional national histories and engage in a broader international discussion of varieties of Protestant reformations.36

Luther research in a stricter sense has been inspired by Inge Lønning and by different international contacts, and it has taken place in a church historical context37 and in a context of systematic theology.38

Further Reading

Aschim, Per Kristian, and Tarald Rasmussen. Reformasjon nå. Luther som utfordring og ressurs for Den norske kirke. Oslo, Norway: Eide, 2016.Find this resource:

Grell, Ole Peter, ed. The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalization of Reform. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Lønning, Inge. Kanon im Kanon. Zum dogmatischen Grundlagenproblem des neutestamentlichen Kanons. Oslo, Norway: Uniersitetsforlaget, 1972.Find this resource:

Lønning, Inge, and Tarald Rasmussen, eds. Martin Luther. Verker i utvalg (selected works in Norwegian translation). Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1979–1983.Find this resource:

Normann, Sigurd. Viljefrihet og forutbestemmelse i den lutherske reformasjonen inntil 1525. Oslo, Norway: Norges Lutherlags forlag, 1933.Find this resource:


(1.) In other Nordic countries, this was quite different. In Sweden and Denmark, the Reformation came along with the founding of strong hereditary royal dynasties, and with consolidation of national power and national institutions. In Finland (which was a part of Sweden), the reformer Michael Agricola was honored as a national reformer because of his efforts to translate the Bible and Lutheran texts into the Finnish national language.

(2.) More about these developments can be found in Liv Bliksrud, Geir Hestmark, and Tarald Rasmussen, Norsk idéhistorie, vol. IV (Oslo, Norway: Aschehoug, 2002).

(3.) On the tradition of Danish centennial celebrations of the Reformation, see Carsten Bach-Nielsen, Fra Jubelfest til kulturår. Danske reformationsfejringer gennem 400 år (Aaarhus, Denmark: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2015).

(4.) Norsk Teologisk Tidsskrift (NTT) 18 (1917), 359: “Tribus interjectis seculis, redeuntem nobis contigit videre diem, quam primum Martinus Lutherus, Theologiae Doctor summe venerabilis, hierarchiae, ignorantiae, diræque superstitioni, quibus crudelissimis tyrannis misere parebat ecclesia Dei, bellum illud sacrum indixit, a quo, iuvante Deo, fractis ignominiosæ servitutis vinculis præclaram victoram nobis reportavit, de qua et hodie gloriamur.”

(5.) The close relationship between the two of them is described in Svend Brochman Hersleb, Mindekrands fra hans sørgende Disciple (Christiania, Norway: Carl L Roshaauw, 1836), 10–13. Grundtvig and Hersleb spent much time together at Valkendorfs Collegium in Copenhagen, and when they parted in 1812, Grundtvig wrote a long poem to Hersleb, quoted in the Mindekrands.

(6.) “Vi Carl, af Guds Naade Konge til Sverige og Norge, … gjøre vitterligt: At, ligesom der i de tvende foregående Aarhundreder udi Kongeriget Norge er på den dag, da Luther begyndte sit store Reformationsverk, høitdeligholdt en Sacularfest, til Erindring om Religionens og Videnskabernes Gjenfødelse i en stor Deel af Europas Riger og Lande: saa ville Vi og, at et lignende Jubilæum dennesinde skal festligholdes.” NTT 18 (1917): 296.

(7.) NTT 18 (1917), 309–314.

(8.) On Kolsrud, see Helge Fæhn, "Oluf Kolsrud," Norsk Biografisk Leksikon, 2009.

(9.) NTT 19 (1918), 1. Winge informed the university that he had no time available for this job.

(10.) NTT 19 (1918), 5: “Before dawn, a humble Friar went/out of his silent chamber/On the church door he hit a stroke/with the hammer of the word/He hit a stroke for Christian faith/and see, the morning fog vanished/On the church door he hit a stroke/and the whole world woke up.”

(11.) NTT 19 (1918), 10.

(12.) To og Tredive Prædikener holdt i Aarene 1578–1586, av M. Jens Nilssøns, eds. A. Brandrud and O. Kolsrud, Christiania, 1917. On Jens Nilssøn, see Vibeke Roggen, "Jens Nilssøn," Norsk Biografisk Leksikon, 2017.

(13.) These pages are consecrated to the memory of Martin Luther, Wittenberg, October 31st, 1517, Leipzig, July 5th, 1519, Worms, April 18th, 1521.

(14.) Few other publications were printed in Norway on the occasion of the 1917 jubilee. Two non-research contributions should nevertheless be mentioned: Fredrik Paasche, Luther (Oslo, Norway, 1917); Paasche was a renowned historian of literature; and Luther, Et festskrift i anledning av Reformationens 400 aars jubilæum, utgit ved prester i Bergen og omegns presteforening (Bergen, Norway, 1917).

(15.) Two semesters lecturing at Menighetsfakultetet; NBL X, 232.

(16.) Normann’s book was published in Kristiania: Norsk Lutherlags forlag, Norway, in 1917.

(17.) The book was also included as vol. 3 in the series Hovedverker av den kristne litteratur (Oslo, Norway: Lutherstiftelsen, 1931) (Oslo changed its name back from the Danish Kristiania to the old (pre-1624) Oslo in 1924).

(18.) Traditional theological topics like justification, grace, baptism, and the Lord’s supper are treated in the volume, but so are church law, liturgy, Luther’s hymns and their influence on church life in Norway, Bible interpretation (with obvious impulses from the German Luther renaissance), Luther and the “social question,” or the relationships between Lutheranism and Calvinism and Lutheranism and Catholicism. Few of the authors are really experts. Still, the volume was an important contribution to the Norwegian reception of Luther in the 1030s.

(19.) On the German Luther renaissance, cf. Heinrich Assel, Der andere Aufbruch. Die Lutherrenaissance—Ursprünge, Aporien und Wege: Karl Holl, Emanuel Hirsch, Rudolf Hermann (1910–1935) (Forschungen zur systematischen und ökumenischen Theologie; Bd. 72) (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994).

(20.) See Tarald Rasmussen, Erkjennelse og interesse—middelalderen i norsk kirkehistorieskriving, in Steinar Imsen, ed., Den kirkehistoriske utfordring, 27–34 (Trondheim, Norway: Tapir, 2005).

(21.) Thorstein Gunnarsson, Det nasjonale i den lutherske reformasjon, 329–337. An interesting part of the literary Luther reception in Norway in the 1930s is the famous author Sigrid Undset’s attacks on Normann and Luther. Undset was provoked by several of the publications from Norges Lutherlag and published articles in newspapers presenting traditional Catholic attacks on Luther both as a person and a theologian. Bernt Oftestad has studied these polemical texts in his article “det er noget kastrert ved den—Sigrid Undsets oppgjør med protestantismen, in NTT 107 (2006): 211–229. Norges Lutherlag continued its work a few years after Normann’s death. The last volume of its Skrifter, Luther i dag (Luther today) was published in 1942.

(22.) Published in Norsk Lutherlags forlag in Oslo.

(23.) See Torleiv Austad, Kirkelig motstand. Dokumenter fra den norske kirkekamp under okkupasjonen 1940–1945 (Kristiansand, Norway: Høyskoleforlaget, 2005), 65ff.

(24.) Austad (2005), 71f.

(25.) Heiene (1992), 187f.

(26.) Arnd Heling, Die Theologe Eivind Berggravs im norwegischen Kirchenkampf. Ein Beitrag zur politischen Theologie im Luthertum (Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1992), 245f.

(27.) Quoted from Heling (n. 27), 246.

(28.) Dissertations published in international languages: Ivar Asheim, Glaube und Erziehung bei Luther (Pädagogische Forschungen; Bd. 17) (Heidelberg, Germany: Quelle und Meyer, 1961); Ole Modalsli, Das Gericht nach den Werken. Ein Beitrag zu Luthers Lehre vom Gesetz (Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte; Bd. 13) (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963); Inge Lønning, Kanon im Kanon. Zum dogmatischen Grundlageproblem des neutestamentlichen Kanons (Forschungen zur Geschichte und Lehre des Protestantismus. 10, Reihe Bd. 43) (Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget, 1972); and Tarald Rasmussen, Inimici ecclesiae: das ekklesiologische Feindbild in Luthers “Dictata super Psalterium” (1513–1515) im Horizont der theologischen Tradition (Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 44) (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1989).

(29.) Carl Fredrik Wisløff, Nattverd og messe: en studie i Luthers teologi (Oslo, Norway: Lutherstiftelsens forlag, 1957).

(30.) Gabriel Biel, Gabrielis Biel Canonis Misse Expositio, eds. Heiko Oberman and William J. Courtenay (Wiesbaden, Germany: Steiner, 1965–1967).

(31.) On Inge Lønning, see Svein Aage Christoffersen, "Inge Lønning," Norsk Biografisk Leksikon, 2016.

(32.) Inge Lønning, Sigurd Hjelde, and Tarald Rasmussen, eds., Martin Luther 1483–1546. Verker i utvalg, vols. I–VI (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1979–1983). A selection of the translated texts was published in the volume Luthers reformasjon. Hovedtekster 1517–1521 (Oslo, Norway: Pax, Norway, 2004) (ed. Tarald Rasmussen).

(33.) Most recently, this dominant view has been expressed in Steinar Imsen, Da reformasjonen kom til Norge (Oslo, Norway: Cappelen Damm, 2016).

(34.) One contribution to this research is Egil Kraggerud, ed., Johannes Nicolai. Biskop Jens Nilssøns latinske skrifter (Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget, 2004).

(35.) An overview of Luther’s reception (primarily in the 20th century) in the Nordic countries is presented in Tarald Rasmussen, “Luther in Skandinavien”, in Luther: Zankapfel zwischen den Konfessionen und “Vater im Glauben”? Historische, systematische und ökumenische Zugänge, eds. Mariano Delgado and Volker Leppin (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2016), 265–276.

(36.) Cf. Death In Early Protestant Tradition, research project, University of Oslo, 2011; The Ambiguous Memory of Nordic Protestantism (MEMORY), research project, University of Oslo, 2014; and Protestant Legacies in Nordic Law, research project, University of Copenhagen.

(37.) Tarald Rasmussen, Inimici Ecclesiae: Das ekklesiologische Feindbild in Luthers Dictata super Psalterium (1513–1515) im Horizont der theologischen Tradition (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1989).

(38.) A recent example is Marius Mjaaland, The Hidden God. Luther, Philosophy and Political Theology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).