Feast of Thomas Hansen Kingo (October 14)   1 comment

Danish Flag

Above:  The Flag of Denmark

Image in the Public Domain

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THOMAS HANSEN KINGO (DECEMBER 15, 1634-OCTOBER 14, 1703)

Danish Lutheran Bishop, Hymn Writer, and “Poet of Eastertide”

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Thomas Kingo is the psalmist

Of the Danish temple choir.

This his people will remember

Long as song their hearts inspire.

–Nikolai Grundtvig’s epitaph for Bishop Thomas Hansen Kingo

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Thomas Hansen Kingo (1634-1703) was the first great Danish hymn writer and the “singer of orthodoxy.”  Martin Schwarz Lauten wrote of our saint’s hymns:

In grant fashion, he can describe nature’s beauty and grieve over the corruption of all things.  A healthy joie de vivre and words about daily devotional performance stand side-by-side with penitential Christianity’s confession of sin, a condemnation of human nature, and with revivalistic proclamation–all written out of the personal experiences of a sensitive and vulnerable artistic mind.

I have added translations of some of those hymns to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.

Denmark 1951

Above: Denmark, 1951

Image Source = Hammond’s Complete World Atlas, 1951

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Thomas Hansen Kingo (1634-1703) entered the world at Slangerup, near Copenhagen, Denmark, on December 15, 1634.  He was the son and grandson of Scottish emigrants who worked as weavers.  Our saint attended the Latin school at Slangerup, where the instruction was poor and the discipline was harsh, so he transferred to the Latin school at Fredriksborg.  The rector of that institution recognized and nurtured Kingo’s budding poetic talent.  Our saint, unlike most of his peers, who studied German literature, chose to study Danish literature instead.

Kingo’s vocation was the ordained ministry.  He completed his theological studies at the University of Copenhagen in 1658.  For the next three years he worked as a private tutor.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, the state church, ordained him in 1661.  Kingo served at a parish near Verby from 1661 to 1668, became pastor at Slangerup in 1668, and left that post in 1677 to begin duties as the Bishop of Funen (Fyn).

Kingo married three times.  In 1669 he married his first wife, Cecille “Sille” Lambertsdatter Balchenborg (circa 1630-1670), a widow with children.  Wife number two was Johanne Lauersdatter Lund (1618-1694), another widow with children.  (He had quite a blended family!)  The third wife was Birgitte Christophersdatter Balslev (1665-1744), a noblewoman who survived him and remarried after becoming a widow.

Bishop Kingo was a literary nationalist.  He wrote both sacred and secular poetry, but his reputation rests on the former.  Many of his hymns had Easter themes, hence his label “Poet of Eastertide.”  He published Spiritual Songs (First Part, 1673; Second Part, 1681).  Kingo dedicated the first volume to King Christian V (reigned 1670-1699) and the second to Queen Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel, King Christian V’s consort.  Our saint wrote in the introduction of the First Part that Danish Christians should cease to depend so heavily on translated foreign hymns.  In the introduction of the Second Part Kingo praised the German-born Queen Charlotte Amalie for learning the Danish language so well.  Our saint’s literary nationalism found expression in beautiful language.  His hymns, according to the 1968 Encyclopedia Britannica,

mark the zenith of Danish baroque poetry.

In these hymns, Nikolai Grundtvig (1783-1872), another great Danish hymn writer, wrote, Kingo

effected a combination of sublimity and simplicity, a union of splendor and fervent devotion, a powerful and musical play of words and imagery that reminds one of Shakespeare.

Edward A. Hansen, in his article about Danish hymnody in Marilyn Kay Stulken‘s Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship (1981), wrote that the dominant characteristic of Danish Lutheran church life in the late 1500s and early 1600s was

a rather staid and unimaginative orthodoxy.

However, Hansen wrote,

The poems and hymns and Thomas Hansen Kingo (1634-1703) stand out against the literary barrenness of this period as an exceptional phenomenon.

Kingo, an orthodox Lutheran, not a Pietistic or Rationalistic one, became a nobleman in 1679 and a Doctor of Theology in 1682.  In 1683 King Christian V appointed Kingo to prepare a hymnal to replace Den danske Psalmebog, the hymnbook the Danish Church had used since 1569.  According to royal decree, copies of this hymnal were in all churches and schools.  The hymnbook which Pastor Hans Thomisson (1532-1573) had prepared had proved to be an enduring legacy.  Time did pass, however, and the state church changed its hymnal eventually.  Our saint had to obey a few rules:

  1. To follow the church year,
  2. To remove undesirable hymns,
  3. To revise outdated rhymes and expressions in traditional hymns while not overhauling those hymns,
  4. To include some of his hymns, and
  5. To make no changes in the meanings of Martin Luther‘s hymns.

Kingo finished part one of his proposed hymnal in 1689.  He had written 136 of the 267 hymns (covering Advent to Easter), about 51% of the content.  The volume proved controversial, for some thought that he had eliminated too many traditional hymns (a complaint many who have prepared hymnals have heard, often legitimately).  The Church rejected this book and started over with another hymnal in 1690.  Three years later a second proposed hymnal, which contained no hymns by Kingo, debuted and met rejection also.  Finally the Church turned to Kingo again.  The Ordained New Church Hymnbook, or Kingo’s Hymnbook, debuted in 1699 and became the replacement for the 1569 hymnal.  Kingo had written 87 of the 297 texts, about 29% of the content.  Some congregations used Kingo’s Hymnbook as late as 1850.  (Scandinavian Lutheran hymnals tend to remain in use for a long time.)

One controversial aspect of Kingo’s hymns (in his several publications of sacred texts) was the music to which he set them.  He, consistent with a tradition, set hymns to folk tunes–in his case, Danish folk tunes.  This met with objections from many people.  (Whether a particular folk tune is suitable for worship is a legitimate question, I propose, but many folk tunes have proven appropriate for use in hymnals.)  Kingo also composed tunes for other texts he wrote.

Kingo died at Odense, Denmark, on October 14, 1703.  His hymns survive him, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SYLVESTER II, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF ISAAC WILLIAMS, WELSH ANGLICAN PRIEST, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

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Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,

thank you for those (especially Thomas Hansen Kingo)

who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.

May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 25:1-8

Psalm 145

Revelation 15:1-4

John 4:19-26

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN

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One response to “Feast of Thomas Hansen Kingo (October 14)

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  1. Pingback: Thomas Hansen Kingo | GATHERED PRAYERS

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