Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig

1783-1872. Danish bishop and hymnwriter. In his youth he experienced a personal crisis that led him first to the Romantic view of nature and religion, later to a personal Christian faith and more clarified biblical convictions. Except for short periods of service as a pastor, he lived as an independent writer (1810-25), struggling for the reintroduction of an orthodox Lutheran Christianity. About 1824 he once more experienced a religious crisis, caused by biblical criticism, which seemed to him to make his former orthodox view of the Bible untenable. It was during this crisis that he made his “unique discovery.” This he published in 1825 in a pamphlet called Kirkens Genmaele (“The Church's Reply”), which argued that the sure foundation of faith is not to be found in the Bible, but in the living Word of God in his living congregation, i.e., in the risen Christ Himself, who lives and works in His congregation, when it gathers around the sacraments.

About 1830 Grundtvig three times visited England and was strongly impressed by the spirit of liberty and activity which he found characteristic of English society. This made him in later years an indefatigable advocate of liberty in both church and society. It is also reflected in his fairly optimistic view of man and in his educational ideals which made him one of the fathers of the Danish folk-high-school movement. From 1825 he was the leader of an ever-increasing following. In 1839 he was appointed clergyman of the Vartov Foundation in Copenhagen, where he worked until his death. He was given the rank of bishop in 1861. Through his views of church and sacraments, through his educational and liberal ideals, and as an unsurpassed writer of innumerable hymns, he left a lasting mark upon the Danish Church as a whole and on Danish society.

N. Davies, Grundtvig of Denmark (1944); E.L. Allen, Bishop Grundtvig: a Prophet of the North (1947); P.G. Lindhardt, Grundtvig: an Introduction (1951).