A brief history of Norway’s Christianity

Olaf II Haraldsson

Photo: Wikimedia
Olaf II Haraldsson, born in around A.D. 995, is credited with Christianizing Norway.

David Moe
Sun City, Calif.

Olaf II Haraldsson, born in around A.D. 995, is credited with Christianizing Norway. As a teenager, he went to the Baltics, Denmark, and England, and wintered with Duke Richard II of Normandy on his way home. It was here he converted to Christianity and was baptized at the Notre Dame Cathedral. He returned to Norway in 1015 and declared himself king. He then put an army together and rode into the countryside to tell the peasants to become Christians or die. The peasants rose up against him, and he was killed at the Battle of Stiklestad on July 29, 1030. He was buried under the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim and later declared a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

During the Reformation, Norway was under Danish rule, and the Catholic Church owned roughly one-third of Denmark’s land. Frederick I pressed for church reform. Hans Tausen and Jørgen Sadolin, who had studied under Luther at Wittenberg, Germany, started to preach Lutheranism. When Christian II came to the Danish throne, the transition to Protestantism was completed. At the Diet of Copenhagen (1536), he stripped the bishops of their property, transferring the church’s wealth to the state. In 1537, Christian attempted to extend the Reformation to Norway, which remained under Danish rule. Most bishops fled, and as the older clergy died, they were replaced with Reforming ministers.

Jørgen Erikson, the “Norwegian Luther,” was appointed Bishop of Stavanger in 1571, but it was not until after he died in 1604 that a Lutheran church order was formally established. Financial support of the church was established, and the clergy were employees of the state. Only the clergy could administer communion, so they had great control over the people.

Norway viewed the early churches in America as an extension of the Norwegian State Church, as there were no Norwegian Lutheran seminaries in America.

The young men in America who wanted to study for the ministry had to attend the German Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis. Missouri was a slave state and justified slavery with the Bible, so these young men went back to their communities and preached the justification for slavery. This infuriated many of the Norwegian immigrants, who then worked to establish their own seminaries in America.

Norwegian immigrants went on to form many synods, including Eielsen, Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana, Norwegian-Danish Conference, United Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, and many others.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 15, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784.4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.