Above: Ribe Cathedral, Ribe, Denmark
Image in the Public Domain
HANS ADOLF BRORSON (JUNE 20, 1694-JUNE 3, 1764)
Danish Lutheran Bishop, Hymn Writer, and Hymn Translator
Bishop Hans Adolf Brorson was among the greatest Danish Lutheran hymn writers and translators. Not only did were his texts of great quality, but they were also of impressive quantity–in the hundreds.
Brorson’s family had been prosperous prior to his birth, but he entered the world at a time when they struggled with debts. His father, Broder Broderson, a Lutheran pastor, died when our saint was ten years old. Brorson’s mother, Catherine Clausen, eventually stabilized the family by remarrying. Her second husband and our saint’s stepfather was another Lutheran minister, Ole Holbech, who died in 1721.
Brorson was studious and intelligent. He graduated from the Latin school at Ribe before, from 1712 to 1717, studying theology, philology, history, and philosophy at the University of Copenhagen. Bad health forced him to leave the University, so he became a tutor in the home of his maternal uncle, a superintendent in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark. After four years of that our saint completed his final exams at the University in 1722. That year he also became a minister in the state church and married his first wife, Catherine Steenbeck Clausen (d. 1741), who gave birth to thirteen children.
Brorson rose from the office of parish minister to bishop in nineteen years. From 1722 to 1729 he served at Ronderup. Then he joined the pastoral staff of the German-Danish parish at Tonder. He worked closely with Pastor and hymn writer Johan Herman Schrader and wrote Danish-language hymns to supplement the German-language ones the congregation sang. In 1737 Brorson became a superintendent. Four years later he became the Bishop of Ribe, a position he held for the rest of his life.
Brorson published hymns in a volume, The Rare Jewel of the Faith (1739). In his later years, beset by various afflictions, he composed more than seventy hymns, which a son published in 1765, the year after our saint died.
Brorson was a faithful Christian, but he was also a Pietist, unfortunately. Pietism has several faults, including downplaying the efficacy of the sacraments, as in the first stanza of a Brorson hymn which George Alfred Taylor Rygh (1860-1942) translated in 1908:
O Father, may Thy word prevail
Against the gates of hell!
Behold the vineyard Thou hast tilled
With thorns and thistles filled.
‘Tis true, Thy plants are there;
But, ah, how weak and rare!
How slight the power and evidence
Of word and sacraments!
—The Lutheran Hymnary (1935), hymn #245
For obvious theological reasons Confessional Lutheran hymnals exclude that Brorson text. I, a ritualistic Episcopalian, make common cause with my Confessional Lutheran brethren in opposing the heresy of Pietism.
On a happier note, Brorson wrote well-crafted, theologically dense hymns, many of which exist in English translations. I have added some of them to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.
Brorson’s earthly pilgrimage ended at Ribe on June 3, 1764. He would have celebrated his seventieth birthday seventeen days later.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 13, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME
THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF HUBERT HUMPHREY, UNITED STATES SENATOR AND VICE PRESIDENT
THE FEAST OF KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW
Dear God of beauty,
you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to
Hans Adolf Brorson and others, who have composed and translated hymn texts.
May we, as you guide us,
find worthy hymn texts to be icons,
through which we see you.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH