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Peter Palladius, Denmark's Dedicated Reformer

Published Apr 28, 2010
Peter Palladius, Denmark's Dedicated Reformer

When Luther's Reformation began in Germany, it was inevitable that his ideas would seep through border cracks into neighboring Scandinavia. The most vigilant efforts of Denmark's government and its established church could not stop German ideas, books, and preachers from slipping into the country.

A shoemaker's son was the chief agent of reform in Denmark. Peder Palladius was still a student when Reformation ideas arrived. He found himself agreeing with the Reformation call to a life of faith grounded on the word of God alone. The writings of Melanchthon drew him as the scent of flowers draws bees.

Denmark fought a civil war over the Reformation in 1533 when its Catholics revolted at the prospect of a Protestant king. Duke Christian defeated them and was crowned King Christian III. Since the Catholics had fomented the war, he asked their churches to pay his war debts, but the bishops refused, so he locked them up. (When he later released them, some joined his side.) Although Christian III was so reform-minded that he sometimes even preached from pulpits himself, he was remarkably tolerant for those times, and eventually pensioned off the Catholic churchmen who refused to join the Reformation.

In 1537 the Danish church broke completely with Rome. King Christian had Johann Bugenhagen consecrated several bishops outside of the apostolic succession. Palladius had just completed his doctoral exams at Wittenberg, the center of Lutheran thought in Germany. Christian III summoned the scholar and appointed him to the highest church office in Denmark--Superintendent of Zealand. At the same time, he ordered Palladius to wear another influential hat: theology professor at the University of Copenhagen.

Palladius showed everyone what a bishop should be. Not only did he visit all of the 390 parishes under his oversight, but he held hundreds of seminars, preached, taught at the university, and wrote books that explained complicated theology so simply that the common folk could understand it.

The hard-working bishop prepared a liturgy in the Danish language, too. Of course, some Danes didn't want to become Lutherans. Palladius instructed their bishops to accept this hesitancy with patience and educate them in the new doctrine.

When Palladius died, on this day, January 3, 1560 (it is thought), he left behind a lasting legacy of devotional and professional writings. His life had been so zealous that the new generation eagerly studied his works to imitate him.


  1. Dunkley, E. H. The Reformation in Denmark. Pub. for the Church Historical Society. London, S.P.C.K., 1948.
  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. Official Denmark. "Church and Religion." http://um.dk/Publikationer/UM/English/Denmark/kap1/1-14-1.asp)
  5. Ottosen, Knud. A Short History of the Churches of Scandinavia. Arhus: Dept. of Church History, Universitetet, c1986.
  6. Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  7. "Palladius, Peter." Encyclopedia Americana, 1957. Source of the date.
  8. 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, California: Tentatio Press, 1999.
  9. Various encyclopedia and internet items.

Last updated May, 2007.


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