Denmark

Christianity developed in Denmark from about 735 to 1060, partly through influences from the Anglo-Saxon world, partly through direct Christian mission from the south (see Anskar). The baptism of King Harold Blue Tooth about 960 gave impetus to the movement and gave the Christian Church an officially recognized status in the kingdom. The mission period was followed by a great church-building era. Before the end of the twelfth century, about 1,800 parish churches were built throughout the country. In 1104 a Scandinavian archbishopric was established in Lund. Generally, the subsequent history of the medieval church in Denmark advanced along the same lines as in other European countries. Archbishop Eskil of Lund (1137-71), who was inspired by Gregorianism, succeeded in realizing several of his ideas of church policy. At the same time he laid the foundation of a durable and harmonious cooperation of church and crown. There were indeed quarrels between 1231 and 1340, and during the late Middle Ages the church frequently had to endure the interference of king and councils, but in many respects the cooperation between church and state was continued for the good of both.

The Reformation in Denmark (1500-1560), as in other countries, was a complicated process, closely bound up with social and political conditions. The way was prepared by a biblical humanism of the Erasmian type. During the period 1523- 36, the preaching of some Lutheran ministers brought about a spiritual revival that finally led to the official accomplishment of the Reformation in 1536 (see Odense, Diet of; Tausen, H.; Palladius, P.). During the “Age of Orthodoxy” (1560-1700) nothing but pure Lutheranism was tolerated in the kingdom. About 1660 Denmark became a hereditary and absolute monarchy. In fact the church had no kind of independence, but was simply the institution through which the absolute monarch ruled the religious affairs of his country. Nevertheless, throughout this age of political and religious absolutism, true spiritual life was upheld and nourished by the prevalence of serious biblical preaching and through the reading of devotional works such as J. Brochmand's book of family sermons. This period fostered also Thomas Kingo, one of the Danish Church's greatest hymnwriters.

About 1700 the influence from German Pietism was felt in Denmark; soon the revival developed into two different main streams: a church-pietism, adopted and supported by the clerical authorities and the king; and a conventicle-revivalism, which was decidedly critical of the church and developed separatistic tendencies. The church-pietism was victorious, but died out shortly after the middle of the century. The conventicles were put under the strict control of the clergy by a special decree (Konventikelplakaten) in 1741. After this, only a few small groups survived here and there. More lasting effects of the Pietist revival were achieved through the beginning of a foreign mission in 1705, a number of philanthropic and educational initiatives, and through the hymns of H.A. Brorson, the greatest hymnwriter of the Pietist movement. For some years after 1750 supranaturalism was predominant, but soon it was superseded by various shades of rationalism. During the “Age of Enlightenment and Rationalism” (1750-1800), much energy was spent on useful social reforms. Otherwise it was a period characterized by widespread religious indifferentism and serious spiritual decline.

The first half of the nineteenth century was a period of transition. Gradually the old rationalism was overcome through the influence of men such as N.F.S. Grundtvig,* J.P. Mynster,* and H.L. Martensen,* and through the rising tide of revivalism, originating in the conventicles of pietistically minded laymen. In 1849 the common people's fight for freedom and independence, religiously as well as politically, finally led to the overthrow of the absolute monarchy and the spiritual coercion of the state- church system. The principle of religious liberty and freedom of conscience was legally established in the basic law of the new constitution. From about the middle of the century, many from “the awakened circles” joined the Grundtvigian movement. Others founded the more pietistic Indre Mission.* Smaller groups joined the Lutheran Mission (Bornholmians*) or various free churches. Although he never became the founder of a movement, S. Kierkegaard* exerted a deep and lasting influence.

Twentieth-century church life in Denmark has developed mostly as a continuation along the lines established in the nineteenth century. None of the old movements, however, has escaped the influence of modern trends: liberal theology, Neoorthodoxy, existential and secular theology. The most important influence has been exerted by the Tidehverv (i.e., epochal turning point) movement, started in the late 1920s by a group of theologians inspired by Kierkegaard, the early Karl Barth, Luther, and afterward more profoundly by Bultmann. The post-World War II years have been characterized by religious indifferentism and by moral and spiritual decline, but there have also been some signs of an approaching evangelical renewal and awakening.

So far the great majority of the population maintain membership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, recognized and supported by the state as the national church. The free churches have not gained much following in Denmark: Roman Catholics number 26,000; Baptists no more than 8,000; Salvation Army 5,500; Methodists 3,500; Pentecostals 4,000; Seventh-Day Adventists 4,000; and Mission Covenanters 2,500.

Most of the material is in Danish, but books in English include J.C. Kjaer, History of the Church of Denmark (1945); E.H. Dunkley, The Reformation in Denmark (1948); P. Hartling (ed.), The Danish Church (1964).