Lutheranism Made Official in Denmark

Dan Graves, MSL

Lutheranism Made Official in Denmark

Christian II, King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden was so cruel that his own people booted him off the throne in 1522. He had killed Danish nobles and an archbishop, lost Sweden through brutality, and allowed his Dutch mistress to control government finances. As odd as it may seem, his follies cleared the way for the reformation in Denmark.

The Danes asked his uncle Frederick to occupy the throne. Needing Catholic support, Frederick I promised to crush the Lutherans.

Halting Lutheran ideas was important to the Catholic church. Reform teaching was leaking across the German border into Denmark. Catholic leaders feared Denmark would follow Germany and go Protestant.

On the other hand, the peasants griped that the church owned forty percent of the land. Although they paid heavy church taxes, the church did not meet their growing appetite for spiritual things. No wonder they listened to reformers when they came.

Frederick I did not keep his promise to fine and kill Lutherans. When the bishops complained, Frederick replied that "the king governs life and property but not the soul." Although he helped Catholics collect their tithes and shielded them from violence, he appointed reformers to vacant church positions. Hans Tausen, the first Lutheran to preach openly in Denmark, did so under a letter of protection from the king.

When Frederick died, Denmark's Catholics revolted. Duke Christian defeated them and was crowned King Christian III. He locked up Catholic bishops, blaming them for the rebellion. The new king reformed the church with the help of Lutherans such as Peter Palladius, a teacher who could explain complicated theology so simply that common folk could understand it. Christian III even preached the new ideas himself.

At a Diet of Estates of the Realms, Catholic bishops were officially dismissed. On this date, October 30, 1536, a bill redistributed power between the church and the state. Lutheranism became the official religion of Denmark and Christian III promised to appoint new bishops. In 1537 the king made the break with Rome irreversible when he ordered reformer Johann Bugenhagen to consecrate bishops outside of the apostolic succession.


  1. Durant, Will. The Reformation; a history of European Civilization, 1300-1564. Part VI of The Story of Civilization. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.
  2. Fabricius, A. llustreret Dansmarkshistorie for Folket. Rittendorf and Auguurd, 1854. Source of the image.
  3. Grell, Ole Peter, editor. The Scandinavian Reformation. Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  4. Ottosen, Knud. A Short History of the Churches of Scandinavia. Arhus: Dept. of Church History, Universitetet, 1986.
  5. Skarsten, Trygve R. "The Scandinavian Reformation; Ramifications for Lutheran confessional identity" in Let Christ be Christ : theology, ethics & world religions in the two kingdoms : essays in honor of the sixty-fifth birthday of Charles L. Manske; edited by Daniel N. Harmelink. Huntington Beach, Calif. : Tentatio Press, 1999.
  6. Various encyclopedia and internet articles and items from histories of Sweden.

Last updated April, 2007.

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