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  • HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION -
    THE EARLIEST REFORMERS OF SWEDEN.


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    (1516-1523.)

    WE have just considered the Reformation in Denmark; we must now cross the Sound, and enter upon the study of that of Sweden.

    At the period of the Reformation, the three Scandinavian states, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, were, as we have stated, united and subject to the same monarch, Christian II. The peoples of these three countries had and still have some features in common; but each of them has also features peculiar to itself. Christian himself appeared under very different aspects in Denmark and in Sweden. Many different elements which we must not forget co-operate in fashioning the history of a people. The nature of a country, its geographical situation, the effect of climate, the various characteristics of its population, their historical traditions, the genius and the aptitudes of races, the intellectual and spiritual cravings of individuals, — all these combined with influences from above affect the destiny of nations and have their share in determining a religious revolution. The diversity of these causes is very conspicuous in Sweden. The Scandinavian Alps, peopled with a race of men possessing great liveliness of spirit, who are animated by a strong love of freedom and distinguished by remarkable industrial skill, were the hearth of noble aspirations and the place where those mighty arms were fabricated which gave to their country independence and the Reformation. The personages of history cannot be considered apart from the medium in which they lived. The events of the past, the conditions which environed them at the moment of their activity, contributed to the formation of their conceptions and to the origination of their actions. The modern theory which would make of political and religious actors mere organs of social necessity, cannot be too energetically rejected. Conscience, will, and freedom are the highest principles; but while we insist on and exalt these first causes, we must not disregard secondary causes. Two of these lower elements, nature and race, exerted an influence upon the Swedish Reformation. f368 Towards the close of the fifteenth century, an ironmaster named Peter Olafson was living at Orebro, a town situated in Nericia, on lake Helmar.

    The chief industry of this district was the extraction, smelting, and sale of iron. In this pursuit Olafson had acquired by his labor a certain competence. In 1497 he had a son who was named Olaf, and in another son who was called Lars or Lawrence. These boys grew up among the ironworks as Luther had done. Olaf was intelligent, lively, and active, but also somewhat violent. The character of Lawrence was of a gentler kind. In the elder boy appeared the features and the character of the inhabitants of Nericia, — lofty stature, brown hair, a fine forehead, a serious cast of countenance, a look which spoke of loyalty and of pride, but also indicated obstinacy. Lawrence, on the other hand, bore greater resemblance to the inhabitants of the borders of Gothland, having light hair, blue eyes, a slender figure of the middle height, a physiognomy full of sweetness, and a certain elevation of feeling. It is possible that his mother, Karin, may have been a native of Gothland. f369 The two boys grew up amidst the lovely scenery in the neighborhood of the Gothic castle of Orebro, which is flanked by four towers, and is situated on the shores of the lake on which the cargoes of iron are shipped for Stockholm. The coming of spring, which is sudden in these regions, filled them with delight. When the snow disappeared, the fields were at once clothed with verdure, the trees were all covered with foliage, and the flowers opened to the sun. The snow-clad peaks which rise up between these provinces and Norway, were colored in the morning with a thousand reflections of purple and gold. The masses of everlasting ice, dazzling in their whiteness, were like flashing crowns which rose majestically above the lakes with which the country is intersected, above the silvery foam of the torrents, the gloomy pine-forests, the delicate foliage of the birch trees, and the lovely green of the meadows enameled with the brightest colors.

    The children in these rural districts used to sport among the bounding flocks, their voices mingled with those of the wild birds; and when they heard the bells ring out from the lofty old towers they seemed to become meditative, and would accompany the peal with their own monotonous chants. f370 Some Carmelite monks, residing in a convent at Orebro, were esteemed the greatest scholars in the country, and they kept a school to which the ironmaster sent his two sons. Olaf, who was endowed with a keen intellect, took a liking to study, and expressed to his father a wish to devote himself to theology. Lawrence did the same. Peter Olafson was grieved that his sons should relinquish his ironworks, and he considered in what way he could meet the necessary expenses. Nevertheless he, as well as his wife, felt proud to think that his sons were to become scholars; and he consented to their wish. f371 Most of the young Swedish students used to resort to a foreign university, especially to Paris, where a seminary was established for their benefit. But in these remote cities they often remembered with regret the indefinable charms of their beautiful native land, the cascades on the swift Goeta, the romantic valleys of Wermeland, and the great Wener lake often covered with waves by a fresh north wind. To the beauties of nature were added the pleasures of society. The nobles, the priests, the owners of mines, and the townsmen used to keep open house, and to meet together in friendly parties. In winter the inhabitants of these regions muffled themselves up in furred hats, and overcoats trimmed with otter, and this gave them some resemblance to the bears of their forests. In summer, at the feast of St. John, Orebro resounded with joyous shouts. A tall greased pole was set up in an open space, and the young people of both sexes, crowned with garlands of leaves and flowers, gave themselves up to racing, dancing, and other exercises. In the night it was customary to go out and gather the usual bouquets, and to hang them on the houses to keep off misfortunes.

    The young girls in the evening plaited garlands of flowers, which they placed at their bed’s-head, that their fate, of course with regard to marriage, might be revealed to them in dreams.

    Olaf Peterson (or Petri), having reached his nineteenth year, was to go abroad in pursuit of knowledge. His masters and his parents, proud of his abilities, cherished high hopes of his future. It would have seemed natural that he should go to the Swedish seminary at Paris, which was founded by a prior of Upsala. But his mother, the pious and godly Karin, entertained a higher ambition for him. It was her wish to send her beloved son to Rome, the city of the apostles, from which Christendom received its oracles. St. Bridget, a princess of Nericia, celebrated for her marvelous prophecies, had gone to Rome, and before her death had founded an institution to which Olaf might be admitted. He therefore set out for Rome in 1515 or 1516. It is the opinion of some writers that both the brothers left Sweden together; but others suppose that the elder alone quitted his native land at this time. This seems the more probable view, for Lawrence had not yet finished his preliminary studies. But he undoubtedly joined Olaf at a later time.

    As soon as Olaf set foot on German soil he heard of Luther. He was told that at Wittenberg there was an Augustinian monk, a doctor of theology, whose preaching was attracting crowds; and that when he expounded the Scriptures it seemed as if new light was rising and shining on Christian doctrine. Olaf listened, and felt drawn by some indefinable attraction towards Wittenberg. But what would his father say? It seemed to him that he could hardly refuse his sanction if he went where the light was shining.

    He therefore halted on his way to Rome, and boldly took the road to Wittenberg. As soon as he arrived there, he presented himself at the university, passed an examination with credit, and was admitted student.

    The reformer expounded the Scriptures, and thus led the hearts of men to the Son of God. Olaf was deeply impressed by the power of evangelical doctrine. The words of the reformer were meat and drink to him. Luther soon distinguished him among his hearers, and responded to the admiration of the young Swede with much kindliness. He even indulged the hope that he should one day see him a mighty instrument in God’s hand for the spread of evangelical truth in Scandinavia. Henceforth Olaf lived in intimate relations with the Christian hero. He was an eye-witness of the courage with which Luther affixed his ninety-five theses to the door of All Saints’ Church; and he accompanied the reformer when, at the invitation of the vicar-general of the Augustines, he visited the convents of the order in Misnia and Thuringia.

    Olaf was by nature an enthusiast. A hidden fire burnt within him. He longed for truth and for righteousness, and throughout his life displayed indomitable courage in promoting their triumph. His zeal even carried him too far, and in a riper age he still showed the rashness of youth. Although Luther also would sometimes push resolution to the height of passion, he had too enlightened a mind not to keep his disciple within just bounds; and when the gentle and prudent Melanchthon arrived at Wittenberg, Olaf attended also on his teaching, and enjoyed his intimate friendship. He learnt much in Germany. His masters admired the clearness of his understanding and the eloquence of his speech; and the university, desirous of testifying its esteem for him, conferred on him the degree of master of arts. In 1519, the state of affairs in Sweden becoming more critical, Olaf resolved to return home. In taking this step he was supported by Luther’s counsel; and he embarked at Lubeck, on board a vessel sailing for Stockholm. f374 No sooner had the ship left the Pomeranian shores and got fairly out into the Baltic than it was assailed by a violent storm, and ran aground on an islet near Gothland. The passengers, however, were saved. The island of Gothland was at this time in a state of unusual commotion. Arcimbold, the papal legate, had sent his brother Antonelli to sell indulgences there, and the latter was exhibiting and retailing with much parade his worthless wares. The disciple of Luther, as indignant as his master had recently been, went to the governor of the island, the famous admiral Norby; and he, being naturally somewhat despotic, did even more than Olaf requested. He expelled the trader from the island, after confiscating the money which he had already received. The governor did all that he could to retain Olaf, but in vain. The young man, earnestly longing to go to Sweden, that he might proclaim the Gospel there, re-embarked and returned to Stockholm. The German merchants, who for business purposes resorted to the coast towns of Sweden, had brought thither tidings of the Reformation. The young Goth, however, the Wittenberg student, was to be the principal instrument in the transformation of Sweden.

    After sojourning for a time, first at Stockholm, and then with his family at Orebro, Olaf settled at Strengnaes, on Lake Maelar, about half-way between those two places. His brother Lawrence, it seems, had studied in this town and was now there. The bishop of Strengnaes, Matthias Gregorius, a pious man who was not greatly opposed to the precepts of the Reformation, soon discovered the worth of Olaf, consecrated him deacon, and then appointed him his chancellor and entrusted to his care the school connected with the cathedral. The career for which he had so earnestly longed was now opening before Olaf; and he entered upon it with all the ardor of his soul. The young prebendaries were very ignorant, and therefore Olaf, following the example of Luther, explained the Scriptures to them, taught them the holy doctrines of the Gospel, and placed in their hands the reformer’s books. This was the beginning of the Reformation in Sweden.

    It encountered, however, a formal and powerful opposition. In vain had Olaf brought the torch of the faith; the clergy cared only to put out the light. Some egotistic and senseless old men would rather have perpetuated in Sweden the reign of barbarism than be themselves deprived of the flattering homage which had hitherto been lavished on them as the sole teachers of doctrine. The setting forth in the schools of the words of Christ, of Peter, and of Paul, was enough to make the priests immediately cry out ‘heresy!’ Thus spoke Eliae, a Catholic ecclesiastic. Happily, the people were more open to conviction than the doctors were. In Olaf’s teaching there was something luminous, penetrating, living and holy, which arrested the attention of his hearers. He taught them to open and to search the Scriptures; and in them they found unknown truth, and saw there the condemnation of errors which had hitherto misled them. The labors of Olaf, which formed a striking contrast to the idleness of other ecclesiastics, won for him the esteem of all sensible men. In a short time his name became so renowned that students were attracted to Strengnaes from remote towns and country districts, from the picturesque scenes of Wermeland, from the iron and silver mines of Westmannia, from the elevated plateau of Upland, from the wooded hills and smiling meadows of Dalecarlia, from Orebro, Stockholm, and Westeraas. Matthias, rejoicing to see around him a revival of religious life, conferred on the two brothers Petri a mark of his favor by taking them with him when he went to Stockholm. The good bishop was invited to the capital to be present at the coronation of Christian II., and at the magnificent feasts which were to accompany it. Of these we have already spoken. Our readers will remember that this violent and vindictive monarch had invited thither the nobles, prelates, and councilors of the kingdom whom he suspected of having been adverse to him during the troubles of the country; that after entertaining them for three days with all kinds of merrymakings, he had suddenly ordered them to be seized (November 8, 1520) and conducted from the castle in which they were assembled to the great square of the town, and there had them slain. The father of Gustavus Vasa was one of the number. The report of this frightful massacre rapidly spread through the whole town. Fathers, wives, sons, daughters, and friends were inquiring in distress whether those whom they loved had survived the terrible butchery. Olaf and his brother trembled to think that their benefactor Matthias might be in the number of the victims. They hastened to the spot; but what was their horror when they saw the place covered with corpses! They approached, and searching about discovered the body of the pious bishop, bathed in his blood, and with his venerated head lying at his feet. Overpowered with grief at the sight, Olaf burst into tears; and then with the boldness natural to him exclaimed, — ‘What a tyrannical and monstrous deed! To have treated thus so worthy a bishop!’ He had scarcely uttered these words when his brother and himself were seized by the hair of their heads and dragged by the Danish soldiers to the place where the executioner was at his work. The sword was already drawn, and their heads were just on the point of being struck off, when from the midst of the royal retinue a voice cried — ‘Spare those two young men! They are Germans, not Swedes,’ The headsman paused, and the lives of Olaf and Lawrence were saved. Their deliverer was a young man who, while studying at Wittenberg, had lived in close intimacy with them. The two brothers quitted the capital without delay, and returned to Strengnaes, terrified at the frightful slaughter of which they had been eyewitnesses.

    Their protector had just been assassinated; what was to become of them?

    Would the work be interrupted? God took care for that. f378 Towards the close of the fifteenth century, a child born of poor parents in this very town had at an early age displayed great intelligence; and his father had applied his small savings to the cost of having the lad educated by the monks. He frequently embarrassed his masters by the unexpected questions which he put to them. Lawrence Anderson (this was his name) devoted himself to the Church; spent, it seems, some time at Rome in his youth, visited other European countries, and, after his return to his native land, became one of the priests of the cathedral of Strengnaes. Olaf, on his arrival at this town, made the acquaintance of Lawrence, talked with him of the faith which inspired him, and had no difficulty in inducing him to receive the evangelical doctrine. Anderson, who had some time before been appointed archdeacon, felt the inadequacy of the Roman system. To have won him over to the side of the Reformation in Sweden was a fact of great importance, for he was distinguished not only for his intelligence, his attainments, and his eloquence, but likewise for his prudence and enterprising spirit.

    After the bishop’s death, the administration of the diocese devolved on Lawrence as archdeacon until the election of a new prelate. Under his protection Olaf preached in several churches of the town. He proclaimed energetically that ‘no one ought to trust in mortal beings, such as the Virgin and the saints, but in God alone; that the preaching of God’s Word was of far greater importance than the celebration of mass; that evangelical truth had not been preached in Sweden for centuries; and that confession of our sins ought to be made from the heart to God alone, and not at all to the priest.’ These doctrines, which were joyfully welcomed by many, were by others stoutly rejected. Among those who heard them; no one felt more indignation than Doctor Nils, one of the leading members of the chapter, and an enthusiastic partisan of Rome. He resolutely asserted that Olaf was preaching heresies, and he endeavored to confute the Christian doctrines which the reformer proclaimed, but without success. ‘What,’ said he, ‘reject dogmas and abolish practices which have been for so many ages universally adopted in Christendom!’ But Olaf, under Anderson’s protection, continued to proclaim the truth from the pulpit, and maintained it likewise in disputations which were frequently very stormy. f379 The bonds which united the two Petri and Anderson were day by day drawn closer. The three friends studied the Scriptures together; they conversed about all the reforms which were needed in the Church; and Olaf, in order to encourage Anderson, communicated to him the letters which he received from Wittenberg, whether from Luther or from other champions of the Reformation. In this manner they were spending happy and useful days, when a domestic event occurred to disturb their pious intercourse.

    Olaf had not made any long stay at Orebro since his return from Wittenberg. His parents, and particularly his mother, were strongly attached to the Roman Church; and when in her company, while he would talk to her of the Savior, he had not courage to attack the superstitions of the Church. On a sudden, a message from their mother informed the two brothers of the death of their father, and summoned them to attend the funeral. They set out immediately without hesitation; but at the same time they foresaw the embarrassment which would arise to increase their filial sorrow. Their mother had requested the Carmelite monks to celebrate the funeral ceremony in conformity with the ordinances of the Roman ritual; and the deceased himself had set apart for this purpose a portion of his landed estate. Olaf and Lawrence journeyed to Orebro, and as they went on their way by the shore of Lake Heilmar they were in perplexity and distress of mind. They rejected the doctrine of purgatory and masses offered for the dead; and Olaf, who was no waverer between truth and error, had determined that his father should be buried in a manner accordant with the spirit of evangelical Christianity. f380 When they reached their father’s house, the brothers endeavored to console their mother; but at the same time they explained to her in a tenderly affectionate manner that the only purgatory which cleanses from all sin is the blood of Jesus Christ; and that the man who believes in the efficacy of the expiatory death of the Savior enters immediately into the fellowship of the blessed. The pious woman shed bitter tears. Vague rumors had, indeed, reached her respecting the doctrines adopted by her sons; but now she was convinced of the fact by indubitable proofs, as if she had seen and touched them. The eternal repose of her husband was at stake; and Olaf alleged that the ceremonies enjoined by the Church were superfluous; that no mass ought to be said for the salvation of his soul.

    She wept more and more. ‘Ah, my sons,’ she said, ‘when God gave you to me, and when I made great sacrifices for the sake of having you instructed in the sciences, I did not think that you would become propagators of dangerous innovations in your native land.’ ‘Dear mother,’ replied the sons, deeply affected, ‘when you hear one of the Latin masses, of what use is it to you? Call you even understand it?’ ‘True,’ answered the devout Karin, ‘I do not understand it; but while listening to it, I beseech God with so much earnestness to accept it, that I cannot doubt that He answers my prayer.’ Olaf thought that the best thing he could do was to set forth the living faith which inspired him; and he proclaimed Jesus Christ to his mother, as the only way that leads to heaven. He spoke with so much love that at length she yielded and bade them do as they intended.

    Olaf and Lawrence at once dismissed the monks, and they themselves paid the last honors to their father, with the noble simplicity and the living faith which are inspired by the Gospel. The monks were angry, and declared that the soul of the deceased was doomed to eternal condemnation. ‘Have no fear of that,’ said the sons to their mother, ‘these are mere arrogant and impious words. God is the only judge of the living and the dead.’ f381 About this time appeared a man who became in Sweden the most formidable champion of the Romish faith. Bishop Brask of Linkoping was a priest endowed with immense energy. The outcries of the monks at Orebro were heard as far as Upsala; and in July, 1523, Brask received from the chapter of this metropolitan town a letter in which he was informed that the Lutheran heresy was boldly preached in the cathedral of Strengnaes by one Olaf Petri. It appears that this information was absolutely new to the vehement bishop. Completely devoted to the Roman Church, not even imagining that there could be any other, he was greatly agitated. He heard shortly after that emissaries of the Lutheran propaganda had made their appearance in his own diocese. He looked on this as the beginning of a great conflagration which would consume the whole Church. Of haughty temper and of indefatigable activity, he put himself at the head of the champions of the papacy and swore that he would extinguish the horrible fire. When he learnt that Lawrence Anderson, himself an archdeacon, had embraced these opinions, he could refrain no longer. He wrote to the pope and implored him to name, as speedily as possible, bishops to take the places of those who had perished at Stockholm; ‘but especially,’ said he, ‘in the dioceses bordering on Russia, for the new doctrine which they want to introduce is that of the Russians .’ He then wrote a dissertation on the Russian Church, supposing that he could thus contend against the Reformation and destroy it. But he was greatly mistaken in fancying a likeness in the Evangelical to the Greek Church. The Reformation went further than the Eastern Church. It was not content with going back to the teaching of the councils of the first six centuries, but it returned to Jesus Christ, and to His apostles, and laid its foundations in the Word of God alone. Meanwhile, the Carmelites of Orebro denounced Olaf and his brother before the dean of the cathedral of Strengnaes, charging them with having spoken contemptuously of the pope and respectfully of Luther. The reformer made so forcible a reply that the dean was silenced, and thought it more prudent to leave the matter to bishop Brask. This man, indeed, did not stop short at any half- measures, but sent to Rome an entreaty that Olaf should be sentenced to death. Thus were dangers thickening day by day around the two brothers, and it appeared as if the evangelical seed in Sweden must soon be smothered. Political events of great importance were on the point of changing the face of things and of giving an entirely unforeseen direction to the destinies of the people.

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