Denmark, The Catholic Church in
DENMARK, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Kingdom of Denmark, located in northwest Europe on the Jutland Peninsula, is separated from Norway to its north by the Skagerrak channel, and from Sweden to its east by the Kattegat channel, the Øresund and the Baltic Sea. It borders Germany on its south, and its western shore edges the North Sea. A number of surrounding islands, among them Sjaelland, Fyn and Bornholm, are also under Danish rule, while Greenland and the Faeroe Islands have been sovereign territories of Denmark since the 14th century.
Predominately lowlands and rolling plains, Denmark has an extensive shoreline indented by fjords and lagoons. The country's highly developed agricultural base includes wheat and other grains, sugar beets, dairy and meat products, making food one of its main exports. Denmark's primary economic strength lies in the areas of machinery and instrumentation, fuel, ships, fish and chemicals. A member of the European Union, it abstained
from adopting the euro in 1999 and was involved in fishing disputes with several of its North Sea neighbors.
Early History: 800 to the Reformation
Christian Origins, 826–960. Inhabited by Teutonic Danes by the 6th century, Denmark was the launching point for many Viking long ships, as these Scandinavian explorer-pirates raided much of Great Britain, France and western Europe through the 8th and 9th centuries. Nothing was sacred, even the wealth of the Church, and many monasteries and other Church lands were pillaged. Viking long ships even threatened the distant city of Constantinople, while Viking settlements were established as far away as Greenland and even Newfoundland. Although initially pagans, the Viking raiders became receptive to the teachings of the Church after repeated exposure to it during their explorations, and many returned home as Christians.
Denmark's first contact with Christianity came in the 7th century via Frisian merchants from Dorstad who traded with Danish merchants at Ribe, in Jutland, and Hedeby, in Schleswig. Christian missionaries soon followed these merchants. The first known missionary bishop was St. willibrord of utrecht, who reached the court of the Danish King Agantyr c. 710. When he returned home, he took with him 30 young Danes to be instructed in the Christian faith. In 823 Archbishop ebbo of reims undertook a brief missionary journey to Denmark as papal envoy. A turning point in the region's missionary history occurred in 826, when St. ansgar, a Frankish Benedictine, received a commission to evangelize Denmark with the political support of Emperor Louis the Pious. Together with the newly converted Danish King Harald Klak, he traveled to Hedeby, where he preached for two years. In 831 the Diocese of Hamburg was created with Ansgar as its first bishop; a year later Pope Gregory IV appointed
him archbishop of Hamburg and papal legate for the North. After the destruction of Hamburg in 845 by the Dane Wikinger, the seat was transferred to Bremen, which was united with Hamburg. Before his death in 865 Ansgar built missionary churches in Hedeby and Ribe. St. Ansgar is justly considered the founder of the Danish mission and the apostle of the North. Under his successors in the archiepiscopal See of Bremen-Hamburg, missionary work came to a temporary standstill until the conversion, c. 960, of the Danish King Harald Blaastand ("Bluetooth"), who vigorously promoted Christianity. To this day a huge runic stone in Jutland contains the oldest Nordic picture of Christ; it is inscribed: "King Harald erected this stone.… Harald, who conquered all of Denmark and Norway and converted the Danes to Christianity."
Establishment of the Church, 960–1104. The first Danish sees were established by 948 in Schleswig, Ribe and Aarhus, under Archbishop adaldag of Bremen-Hamburg. However, the actual conversion of the Danish people was undertaken only from 960–1060. Promoting Christian culture and ecclesiastical and monastic life, Canute
II (1018–35) invited to Denmark bishops and priests closely associated with the cluniac reform. During Canute II's reign, relations between Anglo-Saxon and Danish churches were close, and under his successor, King Svend Estridson, Denmark was organized into eight sees: Schleswig (created in 948), Ribe (948), Aarhus (948), Odense (956), Roskilde (1022), Lund-Dalby (1048), Viborg (1065) and Vestervig (1065; later Börglum). Adam of Bremen, the historian of the Nordic Church, counted approximately 300 churches in Skaane, 150 on the Sjael-land islands and 100 on the island of Fyn during his journey to Denmark c. 1070. St. canute iv, king from 1080–86 and a son of Svend Estridsen, increased respect for the clergy while aiding the construction of churches, advocating the observance of Church laws and the practice of tithing. While the severity of his measures led to his murder in St. Alban's Church at Odense, Canute IV was later venerated as a martyr and the patron saint of Denmark. His brother Eric I ("Evergood"; 1095–1103) successfully urged Pope Urban II to establish an independent ecclesiastical province in the North, and in 1104 the North became a province with Lund as the metropolitan see. In 1152 norway became an independent Church province, with Trondheim as metropolitan, as did swe den in 1164, with Uppsala as metropolitan.
West of Denmark, in Greenland, Catholicism was introduced c. 1000, and a diocese established there in 1124. From the work of modern archeologists, it is known that Greenland was home to the first known church buildings in the Western Hemisphere, 19 of which have been determined by scholars to date from the 11th century.
The Golden Age: 1104–1340. Under the first two archbishops of Lund, Asger (1104–37) and eskil (1138–77), the Danish Church successfully negotiated its independence from Bremen-Hamburg, sought to free itself from state control and put into effect the Gregorian reform ideas. After the 1131 murder of Duke Canute the Saint, civil war weakened the country until the golden age of Catholic Denmark was ushered in with Waldemar I, the Great, king from 1157 to 1182. At the head of the Church were such notable men as Eskil, who was completely loyal to Rome; absalon (1177–1201), an exemplary statesman and ecclesiastic; and Anders Sunesen (1201–24), whose poem Hexaemeron condensed the philosophy and theology of his time into 8,040 Latin hexameters. Saxo Grammaticus wrote his Gesta Danorum, an outstanding contribution to the historical literature of the Middle Ages. Monasteries produced a wealth of annals, chronicles and biographies which would later be useful historical documents.
During the 12th century approximately 2,000 stone churches were erected in Denmark, many of them with valuable altars and frescoes that are still extant. The cathedrals of Lund, Viborg, Ribe, Roskilde, Odense and Aarhus continue to bear monumental witness to their Catholic past. Danish youths studied at the University of Paris, whose professors included Martin of Denmark, a logician, and Boethius of Denmark, a philosopher. Peter of Denmark composed learned works on astronomy and mathematics, which were widely read and acclaimed in Europe. The country's 12 Benedictine, 11 Cistercian and three Praemonstratensian monasteries were centers of Christian culture and piety. Later, 25 Franciscan and 23 Dominican houses became centers for pastoral work in the towns.
Harmony between Church and State brought Denmark to its most flourishing state (1160–1240). Zeal for the Crusades rallied Danish knights under Waldemar the Great, Archbishop Absalon, King Waldemar Sejr and Archbishop Anders Sunesen to aid in the realization of a goal at once ecclesiastical and political: the conquest and evangelization of the territory of the Wends (West Pomerania and Rügen, 1169) and of Estonia (1219). The crusaders' white cross with red background has since been the Danish national flag. From this political and cultural peak, the years 1241–1340 witnessed a temporary decline, as internal decay was experienced by both Church and State. The stubborn struggle between them, especially under the brave defender of ecclesiastical independence and freedom Archbishop Jakob Erlandsen (1254–74) and the adamant Archbishop Jens Grand (1290–1302), drained the energies of the nation and stifled prosperity and progress.
Gradual Decline: 1340–1523. Under the politically talented King Waldemar Atterdag (1340–75) and his devout daughter, Queen Margrete (1387–1412), prosperity returned and Church life improved externally. The rise of pious foundations and brotherhoods, the splendid presentation of divine services and the increase of religious instruction through more frequent sermons and edifying literature (devotio moderna) in the second half of the 15th century were evidence of a higher standard of piety among the populace. The increase of Marian devotion found an outlet in the poetry of Peder Raff Lille and Michael Nicolai of Odense, a priest. The reform program of the Council of Basel (1431–37) was carried out in most Danish monasteries. Several Benedictine monasteries joined the Bursfeld Congregation and a few Augustinian monasteries entered the Windesheim Congregation. The Order of the Knights of St. John was also reformed, while between 1470 and 1517 numerous Franciscan houses joined the strict observance. Monasteries of the Bridgettines in Maribo and in Mariager were centers for the production of devotional literature and the 11 Carmelite monasteries stimulated the study of the Bible and Marian devotion. New trends in theology at the University of Copenhagen (founded 1479) had as their chief representatives the Thomist Peder Skotte and the Biblical humanist Povl helgesen.
Abuses among the higher and lower clergy nevertheless existed. Almost without exception, episcopal sees and higher ecclesiastical positions in cathedral chapters were held by nobles. Ecclesiastical and political cooperation between the Roman Curia and the Danish king weakened the position of the bishops and the independence of the Church. The poverty of the lower clergy created a spiritual proletariat who later joined the Lutheran Reformation without hesitation. The last Catholic king, Christian II (1513–23), adhered to the reform ideas of Wittenberg. Resisted by bishops and nobles in his attempts to establish a National Church independent of Rome, Christian II was forced to flee the country. His successor, King Frederick I (1523–33), was well disposed toward Martin Luther and prepared the way gradually for the transition to Lutheranism.
From the Lutheran Reformation to World War I: 1536–1914
Despite his oath at the beginning of his reign to defend the Catholic Church against the reformers, Frederick I secretly supported Lutheranism. At the Diet in Odense in 1527 he placed Luther's adherents on a parity with Catholics, a catastrophe the episcopate was incapable of preventing. Of the eight Danish bishops, five had not been consecrated at that time, three lacked papal confirmation and four had promised not to resist the Reformation. Helgesen attempted vainly, by preaching and writing, to defend the Church against Lutheran attacks and to introduce reforms in the Catholic sense. The Diet of Copenhagen (1530) rejected these reform proposals. In the same year began the seizure of monasteries and a wave of iconoclasm. The 1534 election of the Lutheran-minded King Christian III sealed the fate of the Catholic Church in Denmark. On the recommendation of his German advisers, on Aug. 12, 1536 the King deposed and imprisoned the Catholic bishops and ordered ecclesiastical property to be confiscated. In Greenland, the Church was eradicated entirely after 1537, Catholic priests not returning to that island until the 1930s [see reformation, protestant (on the continent)].
The Growth of Lutheranism. The Lutheran Church Discipline, formulated in 1537 by Luther's friend Johann bugenhagen with the cooperation of Danish preachers, led to a complete break with the Catholic Church. The apostolic succession was intentionally broken when Bugenhagen, only a priest, "consecrated" Denmark's first seven Lutheran bishops. The king was the highest ecclesiastical authority; the bishops were royal officials who administrated the Church. To facilitate the conversion of the people, most of whom still adhered to Catholic customs, much of the exterior cult of the Catholic Church was retained for a while. Certain of the Catholic-minded clergy, especially in the cathedral chapters, recognized the new discipline with the reservation that they would submit to the decisions of the coming general council. The freedom of conscience that had been promised was soon abolished. In 1569 a law concerning the supervision of immigrants (Article 25) hermetically sealed the country from all outside Catholic influences.
Contact with the Catholic Church could not, however, be completely prevented. Toward the end of the 16th century Danish students attended by preference Jesuit colleges in Braunsberg, Vilna, Olmütz, Vienna and Augsburg. To prevent a Catholic reaction, King Christian IV forbade Jesuit students to hold public offices, fined their families and in 1604 expelled them from the country. After the founding of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (1622), Dominicans and Jesuits secretly entered Denmark to investigate the possibilities of founding a mission, but such plans were dismissed after a 1624 law prohibited, under penalty of death, the residence of Catholic priests within the country. When the Spanish, French and German embassies were erected in Copenhagen at the end of the Thirty Years' War, Catholic ambassadors received special permission to erect private chapels and to have chaplains, who were almost exclusively Jesuits. Embassy personnel, and as a rule, foreign Catholics were thereby enabled to attend divine services. These were the beginnings of a Catholic community for foreigners in Copenhagen. A second Catholic community, also restricted to foreigners, was established at Fredericia in Jutland (1674); it was made possible by the presence of numerous Catholic mercenaries in the Danish army. Its central location made the garrison city of Fredericia the center of the military care of souls in Jutland and on the island of Fyn. When foreigners residing in Fredericia were granted freedom of worship within the city in 1682, a small Catholic community soon developed, receiving permission in 1686 to build a chapel and a school. A small baroque chapel, built in 1767, is still in use. Small Catholic communities also grew in Altona, Friedrichstadt, Nordstrand, Glückstadt and Rendsborg, places that then belonged to Denmark. The immigration of Catholic artisans, merchants and artists considerably increased the number of foreign Catholics in Copenhagen and Fredericia.
Because the conversion of a native Dane involved loss of property and expulsion from the country, Danes entered the Catholic Church only in foreign countries. Much comment followed the conversions of the natural scientist, anatomist and saintly bishop Niels stensen (1667); of the professor of anatomy and surgery Jacob Benignus Winsløw (1669); and of the archeologist George Zoega (1783). Following the suppression of the Society of Jesus (1773), secular priests took charge of pastoral work in Copenhagen and Fredericia after 1800. The census of 1841 recorded 865 Catholics in Denmark proper, 550 of whom were in Copenhagen and 58 in Fredericia. The mission stations in the Kingdom of Denmark were first under the jurisdiction of the nuncio in Brussels until 1678, when they were placed under the vicar apostolic of the Northern Missions.
Constitution Brings Religious Freedom. In 1849 a constitutional hereditary monarchy and a democratic constitution replaced Denmark's former absolutist government and Lutheranism was declared the state religion. The constitution of June 5, 1849 granted civil equality to all, regardless of religious belief, and thus extended to Catholics complete freedom of worship. Gradually Danes began to join the Church and began to play an important part in Catholic communities. The first prayer book in Danish appeared in 1852. The Ansgar Union, founded in 1853, began its activity with the printing of the Scandinavian Church Journal for Catholic Christians. This publication, eventually renamed the Catholic Weekly, remained in print through the 20th century. In 1854 the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery became Denmark's first congregation of religious women. The first Catholic hospitals were founded by the Sisters in Copenhagen (1875) and in Fredericia (1879).
After 1861 attempts were made to join the Danish mission with the Prefecture Apostolic of the North Pole, established in 1855. It was to the advantage of the Danish mission that this plan be abandoned; in its place the Prefecture Apostolic of Denmark was created in 1869, encompassing the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faeroe Islands and iceland. Hermann Grüder, a convert, became the first prefect apostolic (1869–83) and under his care the mission thrived. The number of Catholics rose from 865 to 3,000. New parishes were established in Horsens (1869), Aarhus (1873), Kolding (1882) and Svendborg (1883), in addition to those founded in 1867 in Randers (Jutland) and in Odense on the island of Fyn. In 1872 Grüder invited to Denmark Jesuits who had been expelled from Germany during the Kulturkampf. One of the schools started by the Jesuits was the College of St. Andrew, a secondary boarding school located in Ordrup, that developed into an intellectual stronghold of Catholic life before closing in 1920 for financial reasons.
Vicariate Apostolic of Denmark Established. In 1892 Pope Leo XIII raised the status of the Prefecture Apostolic of Denmark to that of vicariate apostolic, and Johannes von Euch became the first vicar apostolic. Owing to Bishop Von Euch's energy, optimism and organizational ability, the Church expanded and flourished. With the financial support of the German St. Boniface Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Lyons, 18 new mission parishes, 19 elementary schools and 17 hospitals were erected. Missionary work in Iceland, which had continued from 1859 to 1875, was renewed in 1895. Nine religious institutes of men and ten of women entered Denmark. Their efforts in pastoral work, teaching and nursing were of great apostolic value. Marian congregations, brotherhoods, St. Vincent de Paul societies, workers guilds and other Catholic associations increased greatly. A society for Catholic university graduates, founded in 1896, debated contemporary problems from a Catholic viewpoint in its meetings. Johannes Jørgensen published a weekly, the Catholic (1898–1903), while the Catholic monthly journal Varden (1903–13) added its voice to Church-related issues. The first Catholic translation of the New Testament into Danish appeared in 1893.
The Modern Era: World War I and Beyond
Despite the climate of rising political unrest felt throughout Europe at the turn of the 20th century, the Catholic Church in Denmark continued to expand its evangelical activities. During von Euch's years as bishop the number of Catholics grew from 3,000 to 15,000. There were also 14,000 Polish temporary farm workers before World War I, although these numbers would decrease to 8,000 by 1918. A Danish Messenger of the Sacred Heart was established in 1913. After World War I— during which Denmark declared itself a neutral party— the youth movement received special attention. The Catholic Youth Organization of Denmark, started in 1919, published a biweekly journal, Catholic Youth, which became popular among the country's youth. And the convert movement was rewarded by an average annual total of 100 to 150 conversions.
In 1922 the Belgian Praemonstratensian Josef Brems succeeded von Euch. During his years as vicar apostolic (1923–38), 30 churches and chapels were built, five new parishes were founded, and seven schools and nine hospitals were opened. To promote the publication and dissemination of religious literature, Knud Ballin, a pastor, founded the publishing house St. Paul's Circle in 1933. On the occasion of Cardinal Willem van Rossum's visit to Scandinavia in 1923, the Church in iceland was made a prefecture apostolic (1929, vicariate apostolic). The mission in the Faeroe Islands was revived in 1930 and in 1934 a parish and a school were started in Thorshavn. The first Scandinavian Eucharistic Congress met in Copenhagen in 1932. In 1938, when Bishop Brems resigned because of ill health, the number of Catholics had increased to 22,000.
Theodore Suhr, OSB, a native Dane and convert, succeeded Brems and set about systematically reorganizing the internal workings of the Church. However, war soon broke out in Europe again. This time Denmark would not be able to maintain a peaceful state of neutrality; the country's occupation by Nazi Germany resulted in grave financial difficulties because of the discontinuance of all support from Catholic sources outside the country. To finance the vicariate, Guilds of St. Canute were founded in 1941; their weekly collections covered one-fifth of the Church's expenses. Financial considerations caused the Catholic Church Weekly to be combined with the Youth Journal in 1939, and the three Catholic schools in Copenhagen were merged into one central school a year later. An institute to supply parish workers, founded in 1946 and directed by the Sisters of St. Lioba, handled most of the social and charitable works in the vicariate.
Apart from its horrors, World War II awakened great public interest in the spiritual and moral strength and significance of the Church and of the papacy. Literary works by Catholic authors such as Robert Hugh Benson, Karl Adam, Georges Bernanos, G. K. Chesterton, Christopher Dawson, Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac, Graham Greene, Bruce Marshall, Daniel-Rops, Sigrid Undset and Evelyn Waugh were translated during the war years and read widely by a Danish public searching for meaning in the face of a war that shattered their moral sphere.
At the end of World War II, the Church was faced with the unusual task of ministering to numerous refugees. Among the 250,000 German and 24,000 allied refugees were 51,000 Catholics. Following the war the Catholic Bureau for German and Non-German Refugees was established in close cooperation with the State's refugee administration. In 1947 Father Ballin founded "Caritas Denmark" a Catholic organization to aid warstricken countries. During his lecture tour of the United States in 1947, Bishop Suhr obtained financial help for his Church and established contacts with st. ansgar's scandinavian catholic league. The Church's commitment to help refugees continued into the 21st century, as reflected by Pope John Paul II's words of encouragement to the Danish ambassador in 1999. "People should have the right to immigrate freely in search of freedom, security, or a better way of life," the Pope noted.
Church Moves into 21st Century. The Danish Church was the only Catholic Church in Scandinavia that did not experience a rapid population increase following World War II, a consequence of both the small number of immigrants to Denmark and to the static number of Danish Catholics. Administering to the country's 50 parishes by 2000 were 99 priests (down from 131 in 1964; 46 secular, 53 religious) affiliated with Jesuit, Redemptorist, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Premonstratensian, Franciscan, Lazarist, Benedictine and Montfort orders. A small Trappist monastery was founded in 1966. In 2000 there were 240 religious sisters from 15 congregations, more than half of which were aged 65 or older. Although Catholic hospitals were closed, the Church continued to operate 23 primary and secondary schools, many around Copenhagen. Three Catholic publishing houses remained in operation and the diocesan newspaper Katolsk Orientering was delivered gratis to all Catholic households.
Despite the decreasing numbers of Church clergy, ecumenical work continued to take place in Denmark, in large part because of the efforts of Bishop Martensen. A recognized Luther scholar, Martensen was a member of the Secretariat for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians and former co-chairman of the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic Theological Commission. In 1997, during a meeting with Scandinavian bishops, Pope John Paul II encouraged a continued effort toward the ecumenical efforts promoted by Denmark's bishop.
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[a. j. otto/eds.]