In this paper I will try to describe what has been called the “high church” or “catholic” movement in the Church of Sweden. To be able to say something about the catholic movement in the C of S you have to survey the church history of Sweden, which is rather different from the church history of, for example, England.
It does no good to behave like the wife of Lot and always say that everything was better before. If you do that you will not be the salt of the earth but rather become a pillar of salt — toxic salt that no one enjoys. But still, the fact is that what we in Sweden usually call “the high church movement” has drawn to itself people who have been more than a bit more conservative and do tend to look back. This movement has always included some fools too and these two facts have not made the general public’s view of the high church movement very positive. High church is regarded by many as meaning people with a stiff upper lip — a movement with people who think they are better than others and very prejudiced when it comes to the question of whether or not women can do anything in the church.
High church is regarded by many as meaning people with a stiff upper lip.
To understand why this is so, you must indeed look backwards and try to understand the church history of Sweden. In the beginning of the 16th century it was regarded as quite normal to travel abroad for studies — and not only for theology. That had been so for many centuries and went on after the foundation of the first university in Sweden in Uppsala in 1477. (Sweden had been evangelized from the south, beginning with the mission of Ansgar, archbishop of Hamburg and Bremen.) The effect of people going abroad was that what happened on the continent, not least in the various German states, became quickly known in Sweden too. In the year 1521 Sweden got a new elected king, who tried to form and unite the whole of Sweden into one self-conscious country. This king, Gustaf Vasa, saw that the new theological ideas from Germany, particularly that the church should not necessarily be under the pope, could give him the possibility of having a church organization of his own in the country. He wanted to have a church loyal to the crown, which could promote the new king’s political ambitions.
The Swedish Reformation
When students in the 1520s came back to Sweden they had met or heard of Luther and his followers in the different states of Germany and universities, and the king saw his opportunity to use the Reformation ideas for his own purposes. The Swedish reformation started around 1522 and was more or less carried out in 1527, although the situation was rather unstable for a long time and was not settled until we got our first Church Order in 1572. The first Archbishop of Uppsala after the reformation was Laurentius Petri, brother of Olaus Petri, who was the main preacher and vicar in Stockholm’s most important church. Laurentius Petri was anxious to ascertain, along with other bishops and church leaders, that the goal was not to set up a new church. It was still to be the church of the country and (as certified at a meeting in Uppsala 1593) its confession consisted of the three old church symbols (creeds) and the Confession of Augsburg, “Confessio Augustana” of 1530, which really has a catholic intention.
During the 17th and 18th centuries a much more conservative tradition of “Lutheran orthodoxy” spread in the country. You must remember too that the king, Gustaf II Adolf, fought for the true faith during the Thirty Years’ War. after many battles on the continent, he was killed at Lützen in 1632, but the war went on another sixteen years. In Sweden we never had a real Calvinistic influence and it was seen as quite normal that we should have bishops who ordain the priests. The diaconate disappeared in spite of the fact that some people tried to renew this part of the ordained ministry. It was still the same church in the country as before the Reformation. The Swedish church did not yet officially bear the name Lutheran (that happened as late as 2000) but it was aware of the fact that the reformation of the country had come from the Lutheran origins in Germany. The whole Book of Concord, which includes most of the different Lutheran confessional writings of the 16th century, was regarded by some people as belonging to the confessional books of the country and they are mentioned as commentaries in the Church Law of 1686. But in the second-to-last constitution of the whole country in 1809 just the three catholic creeds and the Confessio Augustana are counted among the confessional books.
One typical result of our historical connections with Germany is that in the creed for the word “catholic” we use a translation into Swedish of the German word allgemeine; hence we have allmännelig as the term for the church. The Swedish word “catholic” has not been used until the last thirty years to signify what we usually have called “high church”. The word catholic in Swedish has been and still is a dangerous word — meaning popish.
Why then did this high church movement start? The simple answer is: due to contacts and impressions from Britain and from Germany. The contacts towards the south were important for the faculty in Lund during the last part of the 19th century. From the German renewal we took over the calling to start training for deaconesses, and four “deaconess houses” were founded. They all started in the German tradition, but after 1967 deaconesses are ordained without having to make a vow of celibacy. This vow is the reason why the calling of women to the religious life for a long time found its way in the work of the deaconess community. It took quite a long time — until the second part of the 20th century — before the “religious life” with sisters and brothers started again in Sweden. But for a long time the deaconess houses supported what was promoted by “the high church” people — i.e. the high respect for the church, its ministry and sacraments.
During the last part of the 19th century and during the first 10-15 years of the 20th, many contacts were made by Swedish priests traveling to England. They were rather surprised by the effect the catholic movement (Anglo-Catholic) had there. This movement had already been going on for half a century. The Church of England at the same time went into negotiations with the Church of Sweden to allow intercommunion. One of the reasons for that was that the C of S was regarded as having kept the apostolic succession, perhaps from the beginning even more certainly than the C of E. For the Church of Sweden that was not an important argument but it was for the Church of England. The First World War caused a break in the negotiations but inter-communion was “accepted” through a statement from the Lambeth Conference in 1920 answered by the Swedish bishops in 1922.
Vestments are used by everyone and to an extent that is not understandable and certainly not desirable.
In England many amazed Swedish priests found the same revival of the church’s diaconal work and above all a liturgical revival and renewal, including the use of vestments, which caused a lot of enthusiasm. We kept the liturgical vestments until the 19th century, but when the “neology” came into to the church, they were put aside. That has meant that there was quite a battle to reintroduce vestments during the first part of the 20th century. But by now vestments are used by everyone and to an extent that is not understandable and certainly not desirable.
Priests who had better knowledge of the German language than the English (and until World War II that was most of them) read the liturgical works of the Augustinian Chorherr Pius Parsch in Klosterneuburg near Vienna in Austria. Surrounded by the overwhelming Baroque style of the abbey there he wrote important books about “Volksliturgie” and very much influenced the liturgical thinking in the Roman Catholic Church, which led up to the renewal of the Roman Catholic liturgical books and the liturgy during the Second Vatican Council. If you go to Klosterneuburg, it is very difficult to understand how he could promote liturgical renewal in such a Baroque setting.
The Swedish Archbishop from 1914, Nathan Söderblom, had the ambition to gather the whole of Christendom in Stockholm 1925. The Roman Catholics did not attend but many others did representing Anglican, Orthodox, Lutheran and Calvinist traditions and a few others as well. Nathan Söderblom always emphasized that the Church in Sweden was the same after “the great church improvement” during the 16th century as during the four or five centuries before that.
Having many contacts with England meant that priests found friends in Anglican priests and parishes that were of catholic tradition. But the official line up to and after WW II was: just contacts towards the south (i.e. Germany). One of the early high church or catholic priests in the diocese of Lund 1944 published a dissertation about the Anglo-Catholic theologian Charles Gore and had great difficulty getting it approved because English theologians were not acceptable. The faculty in Lund was still German-friendly and the dissertation was not given high points, for political reasons.
Church Renewal and the Catholic Movement
Two Swedish priests have meant more than others for “church renewal” and the catholic movement in Sweden. One is Bo Giertz, who first was an ordinary parish priest in the diocese of Linköping. He wrote many books about the living a life of faith and the care of souls. He wrote three novels that are still read. The first one of these novels is published in English under the title The Hammer of God. In 1948 he was appointed bishop in Gothenburg and was a leading person in the Swedish Church even after his retirement until his death. He opened the eyes of many priests and others to the fact that one’s own parish church is the place to which the Lord is coming today in the same way as when he was walking around in Palestine after being incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. Giertz too was, as long as he lived, the main opponent of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the C of S.
Rosendal . . . spread joy and happiness over the beauty of the liturgy and the rich heritage of the parish life.
The other leader was “Father” Gunnar Rosendal, who in 1935 published the book Kyrklig Förnyelse or “Church Renewal”, in which he invented the term “Church Renewal”. No one else has had the same influence as he in spreading joy and happiness over the beauty of the liturgy and the rich heritage of the parish life in the Church of Sweden. He too wrote a lot of books, which have had an enormous impact on the liturgical life of the C of S during the 20th century. His enthusiasm was infectious and through him both the idea and the reality of church renewal was established.
A third person who was very influential on this movement was Bishop Bertil Gärtner, who died in 2009. Until his death he was the leader of the loyal opposition in the church and served as the spiritual leader of the Swedish Church Union.
Many young priests have also taught ordinary people in the congregations to regard themselves members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, even if they used that other word for “catholic” in the creed.
The renewal of the religious life was also very much inspired by England. Father Hugh from Cerne Abbas and Father A. G. Hebert from Kelham both played important roles in helping especially men to find the way into starting a community for men. Whitby was a starting point for many women. Now some religious communities have gone over to Rome, and we have one male (Benedictine) community and five or six religious communities for women.
The church confessed in the creed exists all over the world in different churches. All these churches are called to seek that unity about which the Lord himself prayed (John 17) and the last century saw an enormous renewal of the ecumenical thought as well. But the ecumenical movement has more or less collapsed because churches like the C of S have started to think that they can make changes even in main parts of the Christian faith by themselves without listening to what other churches say.
Influence from the Swedish Parliament
The decision to ordain women into the priesthood and to become bishops is one of these issues in which the C of S does not care about what is said by other churches and the same is now the case with the “same-sex marriages”. When the Swedish Parliament decided in favor of same sex marriages the Archbishop immediately said that the Church has been longing for this. Who is then the church? The Russian Orthodox Church warned us about this! We had good contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church until the C of S said that this about same-sex marriage.
Let us admit that there is today a greater awareness about the pastoral challenges in modern society and a much greater liturgical richness in the C of S. The high church or catholic movement was, in fact, beginning to have much influence on the life of the Swedish Church. But the issue of the ordination of women turned out to be a catastrophe for the high church/catholic movement.
There is today a greater awareness about the pastoral challenges in modern society.
The decision to ordain women was very much promoted by the Government and the Parliament. The “Church Assembly” (Kyrkomötet) in 1957 said no to this question, and the Government called an assembly the very year. (Until then church assemblies had been held just every six years.) At the 1958 the majority said yes and the first ordinations took place in 1960.
Many organizations were emerged to defend the true faith. “The Swedish Church Union” was started in the aftermath of the decision in 1958 and formally established in March 1959, and that is why we have celebrated our 50 years in August last year. The question about women priests has been a crucial point for the catholic movement for 50 years. First we had a conscience clause, and a few understanding bishops allowed the ordination of opponents of the ordination of women. But now everyone asking for ordination has to express his or her intention to cooperate with both men and women within the priesthood. In most dioceses candidates for ordination must sign a paper saying this and the same is necessary for priests who apply to be appointed vicars. There is no “bound conscience” on this issue.
The Church Union still exists. Many priests and laymen come to our conferences and read and use the books we publish. But we are a small minority and not loved by the majority in the Church. In Sweden we suffer too from the fact that people who sit in the Church Assembly, the diocesan boards and parish councils very often are more loyal to the political parties, who nominated them, than to the church and the Christian faith.
The priests and theologians from the catholic wing of the church have written a lot of books on parish work, liturgy and spiritual life. These books have had an enormous impact in the church, but the authors have never really been officially accepted by the church. During these fifty years Missals for the Church of Sweden have been published and used more than the official books produced by the church. But still many young priests who share the opinions of the catholic movement have decided not to become members of the Church Union out of fear that this might cause a problem in their relationship with the bishop.
We still have the freedom of the pulpit, but at the expense of its authority. And the knowledge of Christian faith in the country is now nil. People have been leaving the church; this has gone up and down over the years, but still people are leaving the church. Because of this drop in membership we now know that the economic situation in 2011 will be the first very critical year financially for the C of S. We have been used to having a lot of money, since every church member has had to pay his or her church tax. But after the disestablishment in 2000 it is called “church fee” and every member can see the amount on the taxation papers. Many, after seeing what they would have to pay to the church to be a member, decided to leave.
The knowledge of Christian faith in [Sweden] is now nil.
One result of the good economy in recent years is that the church has “employed away” most of the voluntary helpers. And the bishops say that the problem with the opponents (i.e. in the ordination question) will soon disappear “the natural way”. The bishops want to be political correct and are saying yes to whatever the normal public asks for and the politicians decide in the Parliament, as now happened in 2009 about “same sex marriages”.
The faith has all but disappeared and the official teaching of the church is more or less an attempt at being so focused on the world that traditional faith should not be mentioned. You can hear almost anything being proposed to be the Christian interpretation for today. We are back in the neology, which was taught during the 19th century. Gnosticism is the trend in modern theology. I think that today openness for wonder is greater in some weeklies than in the church and especially among the bishops and priests.
We have a “Church of Sweden Newspaper” that often by the catholic-minded called “The Thursday Depression”, and every week it gives you more and more arguments for just leaving the C of S and running to something else. Catholic people of the church usually say that the church has been occupied by foreign forces and the question is whether this is a hopeless situation or not. There could be a change because of the money situation! There is a popular hit song from the 1950’s, which invited us to dance while the vocalist was singing: “Money is the root of all evil”. I hope that in the future the financial crisis might be the salvation for the C of S. When (not if) money decreases, the situation for the church will be totally different. The power over it will not be seen in connection with having money any more. If the church has no money, perhaps the politicians will be less interested in it.
Treason against what Jesus said about his brothers (and sisters) is a very dangerous way for a church to live.
We left the State Church System in the year 2000, but we still have enough money to prevent anything radical from happening during the next few years. Most of the money is needed to pay salaries to too many employees. Working within the church could sometimes give you a rather good salary, especially if you work on the diocesan level or in Church House in Uppsala. This is a fact at the same time as the new poverty is spreading over all the countries of the western world. The destitution is an accusation against the church, which always should speak up for poor people and be the voice of the underdogs. Treason against what Jesus said about his brothers (and sisters) is a very dangerous way for a church to live.
The one great problem for the C of S and for its catholic movement is that we have not built up catholic-conscious parishes or congregations. The Anglo-Catholic priests often started their work in parishes with great social problems and with mostly working class people living there. We now need a diaconal revival among the thriving middle class people, who dominate the church. We still hope that church history will go in waves in the future too and that the next renewal will create living congregations, who together can do what many people will be asking for. We made the mistake of not building parishes that can take care of themselves when the priest leaves. In Sweden a good parish can die in a very short time. The problem is that we have not really taught what diaconal work in a parish must be. Perhaps the fact that we reintroduced the diaconate the German way and during a long period in which it had no liturgical function is the reason why it became so difficult for the Swedish church to see the connection between word and table.
And we lack love in the conversation between the different parts/traditions of the church. Most people cannot understand that you could be very different in your views and still not be enemies but allow one another to work differently. This is very difficult in Sweden, where we have been brought up with the doctrine that everyone should do, think and pray exactly the same way as all the others.
Plans for the Future
In the catholic movement, Church Renewal, we still go on arranging conferences with apostolic and catholic teaching in the center. Two years ago we published a missal for the Church of Sweden — mostly received as a very good one, but forbidden by one bishop. But it won’t work just to forbid. The old uniform system does not exist any more, not even if the bishops would rather have it back to promote their power. Within the Church Union we are planning to produce more good books and to hold new conferences, perhaps in another way than up till now. We do not know whether we as catholic Christians will be able to stay in the C of S. That is why many priests have been very eager to keep in touch with Forward in Faith in England and its plans for a third province. As time goes by more and more priests and others give up and leave for other churches and sometimes leave for no church at all. A few married priests have been ordained Roman Catholic priests in Sweden to the irritation of the Catholic priests who have been sent to Sweden from countries like Poland.
We still think that the right thing is to stay and try to live a rich spiritual life.
High church/catholic priests do wish to be priests. And we still go on thinking that the right thing is to stay and try to live a rich spiritual life. In this situation we do need friends of similar character abroad, and England has for over a century been the inspiration for many priests. The “Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus” from Pope Benedict XVI has been discussed in Sweden too.
Knowledge of theological thinking around the world is necessary for catholic-thinking parish priests and congregation members. Our greatest problem, the same problem for the whole church, is that we produce all too little salvation and all too much organization.
The Church Union has tried to draw some conclusions from the present situation and a few years ago the Committee of the Swedish Church Union (aKF) formulated the governing principles for the work as follows:
“aKF is a renewal movement within the Church of Sweden and can only, and will only, exist within this church, where it will work for the restoration and the renewal of the entire Church of Sweden through:
- Standing firm in joyful obedience under Christ, to trust His Word in the Scriptures, and by word and life to confess that He is the Saviour and the Lord, at a time when the relationship to Jesus Christ is being made relative,
- The prayer of perseverance and a life of penitence and humility to offer the Holy Spirit the opportunity to perform the work of healing and renewal in our Church,
- Not breaking the outward unity with that in our church which is defective and weakened, but through her to strive for that unity for which our Lord prayed,
- For its own part, primarily to seek a spiritual awakening and renewal and not structural reforms or political influence in the church,
- Faithfully to discharge the ordained ministry ourselves according to the Universal Church and, wherever that view is abandoned or opposed, not to contribute to actions that will split the church further,
- In love and mutual care to strengthen the members and their families to bear the difficulties that arise from being a “loyal opposition” within the Church of Sweden, and to let the hope in the victorious return of Christ determine our way of believing, praying and living within the Church of Sweden.”