Above: Map of Sweden and Its Environs, 1550
Image in the Public Domain
OLAVUS PETRI (JANUARY 6, 1493-APRIL 19, 1552)
Swedish Lutheran Theologian, Historian, Liturgist, Minister, Hymn Writer, Hymn Translator, Dramatist, Bible Translator, and “Father of Swedish Literature”
Also known as Olaus Petri, Olof Persson, and Olof Pettersson
LAURENTIUS PETRI (1499-OCTOBER 27, 1573)
Swedish Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala, Bible Translator, and “Father of Swedish Hymnody”
Also known as Lars Persson
The Great Man (and Woman) Theory is my favorite approach to history. This Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is, in fact, an exercise in the study of great men and women, famous, obscure, and between those two poles. The Petri brothers, whose lives and labors overlapped, belong on such a catalogue of holy people. Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), the service book-hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), lists the Petris as “renewers of the church.” I agree with that assessment while concluding that the pithy label is inadequate.
Olof and Lars Persson were natives of Orebro, Sweden, and sons of a blacksmith. Our saints learned to, among other things, read and write from Carmelite monks and became monks themselves. The order sent young Olof, known in Latin as Olavus (or Olaus) Petri, to study at Wittenberg, Germany, in 1516. There he lived in the home of Martin Luther, one of his professors. Both Petri brothers studied in that city, where they learned from Luther as well as Philipp Melancthon. The brothers returned to Sweden in 1518, with their heads full of Lutheran theology.
At the time Sweden was (A) officially Roman Catholic and (B) part of the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Norway. (Interdynastic marriages had led to the union of the three crowns in 1389.) The union of Denmark and Norway proved to be durable, ending only in 1814, due to the politics of the Napoleonic Wars. The political situation in Sweden, which included Finland at the time, was different, however. Separation from Denmark and Norway was final in 1523, with the coronation of Gustav I Vasa (reigned 1523-1560) as the King of Sweden after a war of liberation.
Also active in the war of liberation was Laurentius Andreae, also known as Lars Andersson (circa 1470-1552), who aided Gustav Vasa during the war of liberation then crowned him in 1523. Andreae had studied in Skara and Uppsala before pursuing a Master’s degree at Rostock, Germany, and studying canon law in Rome. By 1520 he had become the archdeacon of the Diocese of Strangnas. On November 8 of that year King Christian II of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (reigned 1513-1523) ordered the execution of about 100 people in Stockholm. Among the victims of the Stockholm Bloodbath, as it went down in history, was Bishop Mattias, Andreae’s superior. Andreae administrator of the diocese after that event. He, the political engineer of the Swedish Reformation, served as the Vasa’s secretary (chief advisor) and a member of the council of state.
Andreae and the Petri brothers were leaders of the Swedish Reformation. The Petris preached that Reformation, converting most of the population. Olavus, whom Bishop Mattias had ordained to the diaconate, served as the secretary of the Stockholm city council for a time. From 1531 to 1539 he was the chancellor of the realm, until Vasa removed him from that post. Olavus had a strong personality and a mind of his own. These were hazardous characteristics in the presence of Vasa, who charged Olavus and Andreae with treason and sentenced them to death in 1540. The monarch pardoned and fined them two years later, but their political careers were over. These two men locked horns with Vasa, who had favored Lutheranism for years but got around to making it mandatory in 1540. They also liked Lutheranism yet opposed the monarch’s methods of religious reform.
Olavus, a priest since 1539, was the foremost theologian in Sweden. He spent his final years (1542-1552) as pastor of the Storkyrkan (Great Church) of Stockholm and the first Lutheran minister in the city.
Olavus was the main author of the Swedish Reformation, with some help from his brother Laurentius and from Laurentius Andreae. The three men collaborated on the project to translate the Bible into Swedish (New Testament, 1526; Old Testament, 1541). Olavus prepared and published the first Swedish hymnal, Swedish Hymns and Songs (1526), containing probably 8 to 12 hymns. He revised and expanded the hymnal in 1530 and 1536, increasing its contents to 46 hymns and an appendix containing songs about the Antichrist, in 1536. Olavus’s books of sermons (1528 and 1530) proved influential in the Lutheran evangelization of Sweden also.
Olavus was an influential liturgist. He published the first Swedish service book in 1529. His was a conservative revision, retaining many Roman Catholic customs yet dropping, for example, the blessing from salt at baptism and omitting the rites for blessing food and candles. He revised the service book in 1533 and 1537. His brother Laurentius revised it in 1541, 1548, and 1557. In 1531 Olavus published the Swedish-language order of the Mass, creating a participatory service for the congregation (a break with tradition) and rewriting the Eucharistic canon to remove any reference to the Mass as a sacrifice (another break with tradition). It was appropriate that Olavus worked on that project, for the day of his wedding (February 11, 1525) was probably the occasion of the first vernacular Mass in Sweden.
[Aside: I found a detailed explanation of Olavus’s Eucharistic theology and the Petris’ liturgical revisions in Frank C. Senn, Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997), pages 403-418 and 467-470. I refer you, O reader, to that text.]
Olavus was the “Father of Swedish Literature.” Prior to 1526 fewer than ten published titles in the Swedish language existed. Aside from the books I have written of already, Olavus’s catalogue of Swedish-language publications included Tobiae comedia (the first drama in Swedish) and the influential Chronicle, a work of Swedish history. He also composed and translated hymns. I have found a few of his hymns in English translations and added most of those to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog. There was one hymn I found online but not in any of my old hymnals, so I have provided a link to “Thou, Jesus Christ, Didst Man Become.”
Laurentius Petri was able to maintain a better relationship with Vasa than his brother Olavus did, and for a longer period of time. Laurentius, formerly professor of theology at the University of Uppsala, became the first Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala in 1531. He died in office on October 27, 1573. Laurentius proved crucial in maintaining Apostolic Succession in Sweden, for Vasa preferred to govern The Church of Sweden via superintendents while leaving bishoprics vacant. Laurentius was able, eventually, via the church order of 1571, to help separate the Church from royal control.
Although Olavus edited the first three Swedish hymnals (1526, 1530, 1536), Laurentius became the “Father of Swedish Hymnody.” He composed hymns, none of which I have found in English translations. Laurentius also edited four editions (1543, 1549, 1567, and 1572) of The Swedish Psalm Book.
The Petri brothers were giants in The Church of Sweden. Their influence has never ceased to be evident in Swedish Lutheranism, from hymns to living legacies in theological thought and liturgical practice. They were indeed great men.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 13, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME
THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW
Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,
thank you for those (especially Olavus Petri and Laurentius Petri)
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
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