Classics in Northern European Church History over 500 Years

Essays in Honour of Anders Jarlert

by David Gudmundsson (Volume editor) Alexander Maurits (Volume editor) Martin Nykvist (Volume editor)
©2017 Others 280 Pages


This book provides analyses of writings which have been of major importance to Protestant, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Christianity in Western Europe. Containing nine essays by renowned European historians and theologians, the anthology investigates authors ranging from Philipp Jakob Spener to John Robinson. By focusing on ecclesiastical classics, the contributors shed light on general church historical developments from the Reformation until the twentieth century. It is often claimed that a classic is a book that everybody knows about, but no one has read. The studies presented in this book show, on the contrary, that groundbreaking theological works were read by many.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • About the Authors
  • Introduction: Classics and a Church Historical Use of History (David Gudmundsson, Alexander Maurits & Martin Nykvist)
  • "Vitas Patrum" as Material for Revival and Reform in Medieval Monasticism, the Reformation, and Pietism (Samuel Rubenson)
  • Philipp Jakob Spener’s "Pia Desideria": A Small Book with a Far-Reaching Effect (Hartmut Lehmann)
  • John Bunyan’s "The Pilgrim’s Progress" in Nineteenth-Century Ulster (Janice Holmes)
  • John Henry Newman’s "Apologia Pro Vita Sua": The Making of a Historiographical Classic (Erik Sidenvall)
  • Fredrik Gabriel Hedberg’s "The Doctrine of Faith unto Salvation": A Watershed in the Finnish Nineteenth-Century Revival (Ingvar Dahlbacka)
  • Renewal of the Church from within the Church Itself: Gunnar Rosendal’s "Kyrklig förnyelse" – an Ecclesiastical Classic in the Church of Sweden (Oloph Bexell)
  • The Churches and National Socialism Between Hitler’s Religious Equivocation and Rosenberg’s "Myth": Ambiguities, Fascination, and Self-Assertion (Gerhard Besier)
  • Perspectives on the Effect of Anders Nygren’s "Agape and Eros" on the Theological Discussion in Finland (Aila Lauha)
  • ‘The Number One Religious Best-Seller’: John Robinson’s "Honest to God" (Hugh McLeod)
  • Bibliography of Anders Jarlert
  • Index of Persons

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The aim of this anthology is to shed light on general church historical developments from the Reformation until the twentieth century by focusing on ‘classics’ in a Northern European context. With this theme we want to address topics which have been investigated in Professor Anders Jarlert’s (b. 1952) research, while also providing an applicable and elaborate compilation on early modern and modern church history.

We are grateful that a number of Professor Jarlert’s esteemed colleagues and friends have accepted to contribute in this Festschrift. This has enabled us to compose an anthology characterised by thorough knowledge based on exceptional research. We are convinced that the wide international scope of the book clearly reflects Professor Jarlert’s academic career and research activities.

In addition to the contributing authors, we are indebted to the editorial team at Peter Lang for all their efforts, especially Ute Winkelkötter and Elisabeth Hanuschkin. Finally, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to the Birgit and Sven Håkan Ohlsson Foundation, the Pleijel Fund, and the Royal Society of the Humanities at Lund for financially supporting the publication of this book.

David Gudmundsson, Alexander Maurits & Martin Nykvist
Lund, Sweden
March 2017 ← 7 | 8 →

← 8 | 9 →

About the Authors

GERHARD BESIER is a historian (PhD), theologian (DD/Habilitation), and psychologist (Diploma). In 2009, he received an honorary doctorate from Lund University, Sweden. He has held chairs in Contemporary (Church) History and European Studies at the universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, and Dresden, is currently the director of the Sigmund Neumann Institute in Berlin/Dresden, and teaches at Stanford University. Professor Besier has published extensively in the field of modern church history, focusing among other things on the role of the church during World War II. Among his publications are The Holy See and Hitler’s Germany (Palgrave Macmillan 2007) and European Dictatorships: A Comparative History of the Twentieth Century (Cambridge Scholars Press 2014).

OLOPH BEXELL is a professor em. of church history at Uppsala University, Sweden, and former president of the Swedish Society of Church History. In his research, Bexell has studied homiletic and liturgical aspects of modern church history. He has also published widely in the field of ecclesiastical biography. Recently, he edited The Meaning of Christian Liturgy: Recent Developments in the Church of Sweden (Eerdmans 2012).

INGVAR DAHLBACKA is a professor of church history at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His main research topic is revival movements in Finland and Sweden during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His publications include a number of biographies on figures within the Christian revivals, such as Fredrik Gabriel Hedberg and Adi Sjöblom. He has also published Svensk-finska evangelisk-lutherska församlingen af New York City 1919–1935: En finlandssvensk emigrantförsamling amerikaniseras [The Swedish-Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Parish of New York City, 1919–1935: The Americanization of a Finno-Swedish Emigrant Parish] (Åbo Akademi 1994).

DAVID GUDMUNDSSON is a research fellow in church history at Lund University and a senior lecturer in religious studies at Jönköping University, Sweden. Gudmundsson has written extensively on early modern church history in Scandinavia, mainly on topics relating to war history. His doctoral dissertation is Konfessionell krigsmakt: Predikan och bön i den svenska armén 1611–1721 [Confessional Military Power: Sermon and Prayer in the Swedish Army, 1611–1721] (Universus Academic Press 2014). ← 9 | 10 →

JANICE HOLMES is a senior lecturer in history at the Open University in Ireland. Her main research interests are in the social history of religion, particularly evangelic Protestantism in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain and Ireland. Holmes has published Religious Revivals in Britain and Ireland, 1859–1905 (Irish Academic Press 2001), and her most recent research includes the deaconess movement in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, vernacular religious buildings in Ulster, and a biography of the Rev. Hugh Hanna.

AILA LAUHA is a professor of church history at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and is the chairperson of the Finnish National Commission of the Commission Internationale d’Histoire et d’Etudes du Christianisme (CIHEC). Lauha holds an honorary doctorate at Lund University. In her research, Lauha deals mainly with the role of the churches in modern Western Europe. She is one of the editors of North European Churches from the Cold War to Globalisation (Church Research Institute 2006) and Nordic Folk Churches: A Contemporary Church History (Eerdmans 2005).

HARTMUT LEHMANN is a professor em. of history at the University of Kiel, Germany. Since the 1960s, he has held a number of visiting professorships in the United States, for example at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and Harvard University, and in 2017 he received an honorary doctorate at Lund University. In his wide array of research on Protestant theology, he has dealt with the Reformation, secularization, and pietism. He has published Luthergedächtnis 1817 bis 2017 (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2012), Säkularisierung: Der europäische Sonderweg in Sachen Religion (Wallstein 2004), and Pietism in Germany and North America 1680–1820 (Ashgate 2009).

ALEXANDER MAURITS is a senior lecturer in church history at Lund University. In his research, Maurits has primarily dealt with the Church of Sweden and modernity, anticlericalism, and the relation between church and sport. Among his publications are Kyrkan och idrotten under 2000 år: Antika, medeltida och moderna attityder till idrott [Church and Sports over 2000 Years: Antique, Medieval, and Modern Approaches to Sport] (Universus Academic Press 2015), and Den vackra och erkända patriarchalismen: Prästmannaideal och manlighet i den tidiga lundensiska högkyrkligheten, ca 1850–1900 [Splendid Establishment Patriarchalism: Lund High Church Ideals of Clerical Manliness] (Universus Academic Press 2013). ← 10 | 11 →

HUGH MCLEOD is a professor em. of church history at the University of Birmingham, Great Britain, and the former president of the CIHEC. In 2003, he received an honorary doctorate at Lund University. His research mainly investigates the social history of religion in Western Europe, not least the topic of secularization. Among his publications are The Religious Crisis of the 1960s (Oxford University Press 2007), and World Christianities c. 1914c. 2000 (Cambridge University Press 2006).

MARTIN NYKVIST received his MA in church history from Uppsala University, Sweden, in 2012. He is currently writing his doctoral dissertation at Lund University, investigating gender constructions in the Church of Sweden during the twentieth century. He has published Kyrkan och idrotten under 2000 år: Antika, medeltida och moderna attityder till idrott [Church and Sports over 2000 Years: Antique, Medieval, and Modern Approaches to Sport] (Universus Academic Press 2015).

SAMUEL RUBENSON is a professor of church history at Lund University. Rubenson’s main area of study is Patristics, and he has published extensively on the rise of Christianity and early Christian literature. From 2009–2015, he led the research programme Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia, which investigated the relation between monasticism and classical education and culture. Rubenson is one of the editors of Monastery and School in Late Antiquity: The Transformation of Classical Paideia (Cambridge University Press 2017).

ERIK SIDENVALL is a reader in church history at Lund University, where he also received his doctorate in 2002 with his dissertation Change and Identity: Protestant English Interpretations of John Henry Newman’s Secession, 1845–1864. In his research, Sidenvall analyzes gender in religion and confessional identities. Among his publications are After Anti-Catholicism? John Henry Newman and Protestant Britain, 1845–c. 1890 (T&T Clark 2005) and The Making of Manhood among Swedish Missionaries in China and Mongolia, c. 1890–c. 1914 (Brill 2009). ← 11 | 12 →

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David Gudmundsson, Alexander Maurits & Martin Nykvist

Introduction: Classics and a Church Historical Use of History

The objects of study in this anthology are different texts that have had a vast influence on the Christian milieu in the early modern and modern eras, notably so in Northern Europe. The texts discussed in the following chapters could rightly be considered as ‘classics’ in the history of the Church; texts that have continuously generated interest among Christian believers of Europe, and in some cases also of North America. Thus, this anthology aims to present and analyze books that, in different ways, have shaped the spirituality of their readers in different contexts, have formed Christian self-understanding and theology, and at times have also caused immense debate both in their historical contexts as well as in our contemporary society. With this book, we want to address topics that have been investigated in Professor Anders Jarlert’s research.

Classics in Church History

How is one to understand the idea of ‘classics’ and particularly the concept of ‘ecclesiastical classics’? Of course, the connotations of the word classic have changed over time. Up until the Reformation era, the concept was used exclusively for important texts written during Antiquity, the works of the roman poet Virgil (70−19 BCE) being the most notable example of an authorship providing a pattern for other writers.1 It should also be noted that the word classic, with the development of a structured educational system during the Middle Ages, was connected to the curriculum of the schools and the establishment of a literary canon.2

Thus, for a long period of time, the term classic equaled an exemplary text – written in Greek or Latin – from Antiquity. Starting from the Renaissance, works written in the vernacular could also be conceived as classics, the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265−1321) and Giovanni Boccaccio (1313−1375) being the most notable examples. ← 13 | 14 →3

In a more modern understanding, a classic may be considered to be a text or book whose urgency ensures its survival over time. Such a text can have at least two different functions. The first being a sort of ethnographical function, for example laying the foundation of a national or religious discourse. As examples of books that helped to shape a language and were of importance in the process of nation-building, Luther’s translation of the Bible into German as well as the Swedish national hymn books and catechisms can be mentioned.4

But shared classics are also, secondly, essential in shaping a more far-reaching discourse, not only determining the language of the people, but also the mentalities of entire societies. There are many examples of ecclesiastical classics which have had this function in early modern and modern nation-states. Furthermore, an ecclesiastical classic may also foster a Christian mentality and discourse in a similar way. Examples of such formative texts are manifold throughout the history of the Christian Church, Martyr acts and hagiographical accounts being the most prominent examples. The latter functioned as important exemplary stories for generations of Christians to come.5 These texts, as well as other ecclesiastical classics, have helped in creating a Christian context with a specific notion of belonging, and also in defining the Christian group, with its particular theology and spirituality, in contrast to both non-Christian and other Christian denominations and Churches.6

Evidently, new media and new technologies of communication have changed and will continue to change the role of classics, and will perhaps also make them less widely-read. Even so, the themes of the classics will be reused in new forms by present and future media cultures, since human experiences, different circumstances, and the existential questions that humans meet are often universal and ← 14 | 15 → non-contextual.7 Thus, classics, and likewise ecclesiastical classics, will maintain their topicality.

A Church Historical Use of History

A basic premise for a book to be regarded as an ‘ecclesiastical classic’ is that it has been read and referred to for a long time, in other words, that it has been frequently used within the history of Christianity. This brings some important historiographical terms afore, namely culture of history, uses of history, and historical consciousness. These concepts are incorporated in a vast field of research and they are all vigorously debated.8

A culture of history (or historical culture) is formed by books, artefacts, rituals, customs, and assertions with references to the past that allow us to link the relationship between the past, the present, and the future. The uses of history consist of the processes where parts of the culture of history are activated. These uses of history are affected by a historical consciousness, which is an important part of human identity and connects the past, present, and future. The historical consciousness is dependent on the culture of history, steers the use of history, and is itself established and reproduced when history is used.9

Thus, when a book such as Honest to God is commented upon today by a scholar or a preacher, a culture of history is activated – a link between the past and the present is created. How these comments are written or spoken – and are received – is dependent on the current historical consciousness, of which the ← 15 | 16 → writer and the recipient are not necessarily aware. Either way, the use of Honest to God explicitly or implicitly affects this historical consciousness.

History, then, can be used in different ways, as pointed out already by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900).10 A typology of different uses of history has been created by historian Klas-Göran Karlsson. These are the scientific, existential, moral, ideological, political-pedagogical, commercial, and non-uses of history. They respond to different needs. The scientific use is the professional historian’s struggle to reconstruct the past. The existential use is that of collective or individual reminiscence. The moral use seeks to rediscover wrong-doings and rehabilitate hidden groups, people, etc. The ideological and political-pedagogical uses make historical comparisons for present purposes. The commercial use recognizes the economic potentials of history, e.g. its value to popular culture. Finally, the non-use of history is a deliberate forgetting of history.11 These uses are ideal types, and sometimes they overlap each other. Thus, Karlsson has modified his typology several times. Furthermore, other historians have made their own additions and adjustments.12

Church historian Carola Nordbäck has made the important observation that Karlsson’s typology lacks a category for the religious or church historical use of history. Nordbäck stresses the importance of church historians being aware of the ways in which Christian writers and church historians themselves use the history of Christianity. She suggests that church historians, when studying a religious use of history, should take into consideration a fourth chronological dimension to the historical consciousness of their object; besides the past, present, and future, they should add eternity. When these four dimensions meet, a religious historical consciousness is generated, which could and should be studied by church historians.13 This eternal dimension is present in all the texts analyzed in this book. ← 16 | 17 →

Some of the classics also illustrate another important feature highlighted by Nordbäck, namely the relationship between a religious use of history and political change.14 The former can be an agent for the latter, for example through explicit political claims, such as those found in The Myth of the Twentieth Century. In a completely different way, a religious use of history could also have political and societal consequences caused by theologically motivated views on church and society, such as they appear in Pia Desideria. This is one reason why the reception of the classics, inside and outside the churches, is explored in several contributions in this book.

Other classics analyzed are biographical or autobiographical, either of a fictional or allegorical kind, such as The Pilgrim’s Progress, or of a realistic kind, such as Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Here, the classics connect to genres like hagiography and Christian stories of conversion. As these contributions show, the writing and the reception of these books lead directly to essential themes in church history.15

Thus, to study the making and the reception of the classics presented in this anthology is to study a church historical use of history. This helps us understand why and how Christianity is regularly re-written, re-read, re-interpreted, and re-lived. In this volume, we present some case studies on the history of Northern European church historical writing and the use of history from the Reformation to Modernity.


In the first chapter, SAMUEL RUBENSON shows how monastic writings authored and composed during Late Antiquity were decisive in the shaping of medieval Roman Catholic reform movements and also within Protestantism during the Reformation and early modern eras. Rubenson investigates the translation process of the Vitas Patrum from Latin to the medieval European vernacular languages ← 17 | 18 → between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries, showing, among other things, that the translations were not only part of a mystical renewal within the Church, but that they also worked as edifying ethical reading for the laity. Furthermore, by analyzing Georg Major’s (1502–1574) and Gottfried Arnold’s (1666–1714) editions of the Vitas Patrum – the former including a scarcely noted foreword by Martin Luther – Rubenson asserts that the collections were used to serve the interests of both Protestant and Pietistic reformers.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (June)
Christian literature Protestantism Roman Catholicism Spirituality Anglo-Catholicism Pietism
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 280 pp.

Biographical notes

David Gudmundsson (Volume editor) Alexander Maurits (Volume editor) Martin Nykvist (Volume editor)

David Gudmundsson, Alexander Maurits, and Martin Nykvist are church historians at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University.


Title: Classics in Northern European Church History over 500 Years
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