Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The 18th-Century Swedish Lutheran Hymnal Controversy

A good friend of mine, whom I've known since first grade (he's a Lutheran, unfortunately; pray for his conversion!), sent me a fascinating article about a controversy in the Swedish Lutheran state church over a new hymnal that became popular in the 1700's. I was struck how similar some of things were to the situation with the Novus Ordo liturgy. I'll just quote some. I trust my readers will notice the similarities.

First, just to summarize the situation, which in itself perhaps has some similarities to the crisis in the Church in the late 20th-century:

In 1743 a collection of 90 hymns, entitled Songs of Zion, was published in Sweden. This publication soon became the storm center of a religious controversy which is of particular interest to the social scientist because in the course of it there were foreshadowed many of the methods of content analysis which have found systematic expression only during the past decades. In fact, if not in name, participants in this debate were concerned with many of the problems which concern today's content analyst: the identification of key symbols, the division of content into favorable, unfavorable and neutral categories, the coding of values, and other related problems. Indeed, the controversy revolved around the formula which has become so familiar to students of communication-who said what to whom, how and with what effect?

The Songs of Zion appeared at a time when the powerful State Church (Lutheran) was struggling against German pietistic influences. Pietism, stressing faith rather than ritual, was making substantial inroads among the orthodox in Sweden, when the influences of still another German religious movement began to be felt. This movement was that of the Moravian Brethren, led by the Count von Zinzendorf. At first the orthodox Lutheran clergy welcomed the Moravian ideas, believing that they might provide a spiritual means of bringing the pietistic dissenters back into the fold. It was not long, however, before the State Church recognized the Moravians as enemies rather than allies.

Publication of the first edition of the Songs of Zion seems to have occurred without appreciable controversy. The Swedish State Censor found the hymns to be somewhat odd, and neither beautiful nor superior to those in the Hymnal of the Established Church, but since they were already being used in manuscript form he allowed them to be printed. Nobody seemed disturbed that the authors of these hymns were unknown.

In 1774 application was made to the Swedish authorities for permission to publish a second edition. By this time, however, the State Church had become alarmed by the effects which they believed the Songs were having on the public. Three important developments indicated that something was wrong. First, the public filled the churches where the clergy were influenced by the Moravian Brethren, leaving the orthodox pastors with fewer listeners, in spite of the fact that according to the law every citizen had to attend church in the district where he resided. Second, frequent reports had been received that the Songs were being used at private religious meetings, although meetings of this character were illegal. Finally, themes reminiscent of the Count von Zinzendorf, German leader of the Moravian Brethren, could be heard from many pulpits, and by this time the orthodox clergy had become convinced that this movement was unlikely to bring pietistic dissenters back to the established church.

Despite the hostility of the ecclesiastical authorities, a new edition of the Songs was permitted to appear in 1745, and both the old and the new editions were reprinted in 1747 and 1748. The last two printings were wholly unlicensed, and the authorities discovered many changes of wording in them.

During this later period public debate of the religious issues involved became acrimonious. The orthodox clergy called the Moravian movement "the contagion" and identified the Songs as "the nest of the contagion." The Archbishop of Sweden demanded that the contagion be rooted out, while the Minister of Justice commented darkly that "recent developments may have disastrous consequences for the whole Swedish state". Before the controversy was concluded some of the Moravian supporters were forced to deny their convictions. Others, refusing to recant, were exiled from their native land.
As I've said before, I think the "linguistic shift" in style on the part of the hierarchy after Vatican II is one of the most disturbing differences before versus after the Council. I'm very wary of how thought can be changed or manipulated (ala the Newspeak of "1984") through attempting to legislate change in the use of language (just look at the current fight over legally defining the word "marriage").

The following in the Lutheran Hymnal controversy I think may provide a very interesting analogy in terms of the Novus Ordo not saying anything "explicitly" heretical, but being perceived as potentially changing the meaning or connotations associated with old phraseology through the very implications of, and motivations behind, the baffling alterations from tradition. When it comes to lex orandi, lex credendi...emphasis can be everything:

Some of the advocates of the Songs pointed out that the subject matter contained in them was substantially the same as in the official hymnal. This argument was considered by the orthodox clergy, but they observed that the response of the public to the two collections of hymns was different. Perhaps, some of them concluded, it was a question of to whom the Songs of Zion were directed. Were these publications used only in those circles which were already infected with the ideas of the Moravians? Other investigators observed that this was not the case. Many people had been influenced who previously had known nothing about the "dangerous ideas" being disseminated. The behavioral and attitudinal effects attributed to the songs-the enthusiasm for preachers with Moravian ideas and the incidence of private religious meetings-have already been referred to.

Some of the most interesting contributions to the debate were made not by the clergy, but by intellectuals. In 1746 a perceptive article in the Swedish Learned News-a journal discussing the current progress of science-had, in a tolerant manner, examined the doctrine of the Moravian Brethren. This article concluded that the Moravian movement embodied the essential principles of Lutheranism but that the movement might become dangerous because it seemed to preach only A PART of the orthodox doctrine. It stressed the words and ideas which referred to the redemption of man by Christ at the expense of those words and ideas which referred to the efforts of men to live as Christians. It gave a new meaning to familiar expressions, thus influencing public opinion in a new direction. The article gave specific examples of the way in which a new meaning was produced by emphasizing one value at the expense of another, and concluded that it was not enough only to possess the truth. The truth must also be presented in a manner which will elicit the desired effect.

Many dissenters agreed with this analysis to the extent that they argued that the whole dispute was essentially not about doctrine, but simply about the manner of presentation. Clergymen influenced by the Moravian Brethren held that since people were not educated enough to understand the whole doctrine, preachers should present the correct doctrine in a manner which the public could understand. To this, the orthodox clergy replied that there were dangers in simplification. The content of what was said would not really be distinguished from the manner of presentation. Clear and simple presentation would not necessarily lead the public to proper understanding; instead it might give rise to over-simplified ideas. This, the orthodox clergy suspected, was true in the case of the Songs of Zion.

Another contribution, which combined both an interest in semantics with a rough content analysis procedure, was made by the learned and well-read orthodox clergyman Kumblaeus. From the German literature which had been written in opposition to the Moravian movement Kumblaeus learned that Count Zinzendorf and his adherents used a special language in the dissemination of their unorthodox ideas. Their ideas were dressed in the ordinary vocabulary of each country's language, but new meanings were given to well-known words, themes and symbols. Furthermore, the public was not aware that they were being exposed to a new way of thinking because of the familiarity of the words and phrases which the Moravians used. Kumblaeus felt that this use of language made it possible for the Moravians to conceal dangerous, false doctrines, and create "a state within a state."
(Or a church within a church?)

The state authorities, too, were bewildered by the fact that the same words which were condemned when they appeared in the Songs of Zion were praised when they appeared in other hymnals. They had, moreover, just received an anonymous study showing that the frequency of expressions which Kumblaeus had condemned in the Songs was identical with the frequency of the same expressions in other nonofficial hymnals. Many orthodox clergymen were confused by these developments and asked the advice of their superiors. They said that nobody now dared to sing about the blood and wounds of Jesus for fear of being accused of Moravian tendencies. These superiors had nothing to say except that an expression standing in the Official Hymnal was right, but that the same expression in the Songs of Zion was dangerous.


Adherents of the orthodox point of view listened intently to sermons in the churches and noted all "ways of expression" that seemed revolutionary. These expressions were compared with the symbols and themes from the Songs and from German writings by the Moravian Brethren, and often a connection was clear. The authorities investigated everyone suspected of Moravian propaganda, using tests well-known to every expert of modern propaganda analysis.

1 comment:

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Interesting indeed.

While we're on the topic of Lutherans, here's some curious stuff that my favorite Dane wrote about Luther:

I wish I had the article referenced in this piece; I'd like to read it.