New Stirrings in the Danish Church, by C. J. de Catanzaro (1961)

FOR some time past Anglicans have been aware of a Catholic movement in the Church of Sweden and a courageous struggle not only to preserve the rather considerable Catholic survivals within that Church, but also to revive what has been long neglected and forgotten. That a similar movement should have been launched in the sister church of Denmark will surprise many, even those who have had knowledge of that church and contacts with it.

The Danish Church is, in many respects, in a similar position as that of Sweden. Both churches are not only established, but State-dominated; a condition which is aggravated in Denmark by the absence of even that limited self-government which the Swedish Church enjoys. In both countries more than nine-tenths of the population adheres to the State Church and pays the special church tax; in neither is more than a small percentage, perhaps one person out of twenty, active in the Church’s life and worship. The extent of State control was shown in 1947, when the Danish government authorized the ordination of women, a step recently followed in Sweden as well as Norway. In neither country was this desired by the Church, nor has opposition been sufficient to prevent such ordinations on the part of compliant prelates.

Despite the loss of the apostolic succession in 1536, Denmark has hitherto exemplified a very conservative type of Lutheranism. In the externals of worship tradition has been remarkably tenacious, with crucifixes and chasubles, candles, chanting of the service, and the sign of the cross, remaining the norm, and the Sunday morning service commonly findings its climax in communion. The actual liturgy, however, has suffered severely, not least from eighteenth century rationalism, retaining a bare outline of the pre-Reformation Mass, which suffices both for morning and evening services.

Many Danish churchmen, though alarmed at the religious apathy of most of their countrymen, are content that things should remain as they are within the Church. For them a rich tradition of hymnody, borne by writers such as Thomas Kingo in the seventeenth century, Hans Adolf Brorson in the eighteenth, and Nicolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig in the nineteenth century, amply supplies the deficiencies of the liturgy. For the devout Dane his hymn book is as important for his devotional life as the Prayer Book for an Anglican.   Others, however, disquieted at the growing secularization of life in Denmark, have begun to wonder how long the Church will be safe at the hands of the secular State. A growing ecumenical awareness is opening minds to the possibility of learning from their fellow-Christians elsewhere.

Accordingly, during the past generation, there has in some circles taken place a rediscovery of the Church’s ancient tradition. Some of it has been inspired by Anglican contacts, some by contacts with Eastern Orthodoxy or awareness of new movements in the Roman Church in France and Germany. More direct influences have been the German “Hochkirchliche Bewegung”, and not least the movement in the Swedish Church. The divine office, disused since the sixteenth century, has been revived, partly based on the Swedish models, but drawing no little inspiration from Anglican office books such as “Hours of Prayer” and “Prime and Hours,” the tentative experiments of some thirty years bearing fruit this year in the publication of a complete Danish breviary, “Dansk Tidebog,” with forms for the complete cycle of eight offices. In this work “Theologisk Oratorium,” a society of clergy and theological students, have played a leading part. The “Hojmesse,” “high mass,” as the morning service still is called, has not been neglected, and enrichment has quietly been carried out, to which the official restoration of the occasional use of the Nicene Creed and that of the Kyrie and Gloria in a couple of cathedrals has given encouragement.

This liturgical interest, however, has proved to be merely the symptom of deeper and more theological stirrings. Those desirous of a Catholic restoration saw in the ordination of women in 1948 and subsequent years a danger signal, and began to rally. This resulted a couple of years ago in the appearance of a quarterly, “Re-formatio”, under the editorship of Pastor Per Dolmer of Laurbjerg, and in a meeting of clergy in the spring of 1960 at Virring in Jutland, where the incumbent, Pastor Borge Barsoe, has been a notable pioneer in liturgical renewal.

A larger meeting of both clergy and laity from all over Denmark, held September 3-5 last year, may be held to have launched the movement in earnest, and probably will be succeeded by a series of such meetings. It was held at the parish church of Risskov, a suburb of Aarhus, the principal city of Jutland, with nearly a hundred participants, including members of two religious communities of women founded within recent years. Through the kindness of Danish friends the author was able to attend.

Liturgical worship occupied a prominent place and sounded the keynote of the meetings.   Each day began with a sung Mass, with sermon and with general communion, celebrated according to a considerably enriched rite, and the offices of None, Vespers, and Compline were sung later in the day. On the first morning the Mass was of the Annunciation of Our Lady, with the preacher stressing the Incarnation as the basic fact of the Church’s life and worship. At the Sunday mass, celebrated with deacon and sub-deacon, the preacher presented the healing of the deaf-mute as God’s restoration to man of the power to hear God’s word and to offer Him praise. On the Monday morning the theme of the Mass was the Unity of the Church, the preacher stressing the Church’s mission as the continuation of the mission of God Incarnate from the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Provision was made for the sacrament of Penance, in accordance with older Lutheran tradition.

The fare of the afternoon and evening meetings was solid theology, with papers on “the Need for a Theology of Creation”, “the Mass — the Church’s Service”, “the Universal Priesthood of Christians”, and “the Catholicity of the Danish Church — Presupposition and Obligation”. The papers and the discussion showed clearly a strongly-felt need for the reassertion of Catholic faith and life in the Danish Church, as well as a conviction that this was implied, at least in principle, in the Confessio Augustana and other formularies of the Danish Church.

On the final day the clergy of the area were invited to hear the case of the movement and to state their reactions. Here some strong criticisms were voiced, directed against the stress on grace as being divine power as well as divine favour, and on the visible Church, no less than smaller matters such as the use of the term “Catholic” and the revival of ancient ceremonies, as being un-Lutheran, and were answered with patience and charity.

A movement has thus made its appearance, which may well be of great importance for the future of the Danish church. It is bound to face external difficulties, such, as hostility and attempts at repression. Of the internal difficulties it would seem that, sooner or later, the need will have to be faced for a restoration of Catholic orders. Those who believe in their call to exercise a Catholic ministry will not be able to rest content with rationalizations such as the theory that a true priesthood was continued despite the lapse of a true episcopacy. Here is a movement which Anglican Catholics would do well to watch with prayerful interest and active encouragement.

—Cowley, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 135-137.

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