The Scandinavian Reformers: Hans Tausen and the Reformation in Denmark

Hans Tausen, Asmild Church, Viborg

Hans Tausen, Asmild Church, Viborg

Hans Tausen brought the Reformation to Denmark. He, like Luther, attacked the office of Pope, the Eucharist, the veneration of saints, and sought to translate the bible into a language that regular people could understand. The father of the Danish Reformation, this Lutheran and former Knights Hospitaller set the stage for sweeping reform in the Danish Church.

Born in 1494 in Birkende on the Island of Fyn in Denmark, Tausen grew up in a family of means. The monastic life inspired him and he joined the Order of St. John or the Knights Hospitaller as a young man. During this time Tausen set off to become a knowledgeable minister seeking to gain as much insight into the faith as he could studying at Rostock, the University of Copenhagen, the University of Louvain, and eventually the University of Wittenberg in 1523.

Hans Tausen - Skien Church - Norway

Hans Tausen – Skien Church – Norway

Here in Wittenberg, Tausen would gain the insights that would transform him and his thinking for the rest of his life from Martin Luther himself. Martin Luther had hammered the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31st 1517 and by 1523, he had published some of his most famous works including The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, The Freedom of a Christian, and his prefaces to the New Testament Epistles. Tausen, as he studied under Luther, started to take up these ideas in his writing and correspondence. This was intolerable to the Order of St. John (the Knights Hospitaller) who had been funding Tausen’s educational pursuits. As a result, “his superiors recalled him to Denmark in 1525 because of his growing sympathy with the Reformation, and at Viborg, in Jutland, he was briefly confined in his order’s priory.” (“Hans Tausen”) Yet, the problem of Tausen would persist. As he spent his time locked away in the priory he decided that he could not be silent, but had to take Luther’s ideas to the streets. Even from his cell in the priory, Hans drew crowds who listened intently to him.

Statue of Hans Tausen - Ribe Cathedral, Denmark - Courtesy: Kristjan H Kristjansson

Statue of Hans Tausen – Ribe Cathedral, Denmark – Courtesy: Kristjan H Kristjansson

Tausen, ever weary of his brothers in the prior and their ability to tolerate his increasingly popular sermons, “boldy discarded his religious habit and placed himself under the protection of the burgesses of Viborg.” (Surr) The local magistrates had come to a liking of Tausen and his preaching. One can imagine they would, as the Reformation would mean the freedom of the monarchy from the control of the papacy. Tausen had whole-hearted support and by 1526 “he was made a Lutheran chaplain by King Frederick I.” (“Hans Tausen”) As he continued his work, Tausen would get married at this time to Dorothea Viberg – the very first Danish clergyman to do so.

Under the protection of the King, Tausen had been given special privileges to preach, much to the chagrin of Bishop Friis. Church historian Larson relates, “Bishop Friis forbade Hans Tausen to have anything to do with his churches…The bishop was not obeyed. Jakob Skønning…allowed Tausen to preach at his church. More and more townsmen came to hear Tausen’s attacks on the old church…[The services became so large, they needed a space from the Franciscans. When they] “refused, the townsmen broke in the doors.” (203) Tausen’s influence continued to grow. All had been going well for the Reformation until the death of Frederick. Much like the ascendancy of Queen Mary I in England, the Catholic church aimed to reassert itself after the death of a king. the church’s counter-reformation did not render the same success as Mary’s, but would result in failure.

Hans Tausen defending Bishop Rønnow on his way home after banning Tausen's preaching - Carl Bloch - 19th Century

Hans Tausen defending Bishop Rønnow on his way home after banning Tausen’s preaching – Carl Bloch – 19th Century

Bishop Joakim Rønnow attempted to silence Tausen by banning his preaching and using the full force of the church to do so. The people revolted. The crowd may have even killed Rønnow had not Tausen stepped in to save his life as depicted above. The Reformation had come and it was in Denmark to stay.

Tausen’s work tended to center on his sermons and Danish hymns. Han’s Tausen’s “A child’s birth” can be listened to above. These hymns were revolutionary by making accessible the comprehensive worship of God to common people. In addition, he eventually set out to write and publish a Danish version of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) completed in 1535. He served as the Bishop of Ribe until his death in 1561. Denmark honors Tausen today with multiple landmarks, statues, and churches which bear his name. It is for his great work, that we honor him today.

Hans Tausen Memorial - Birkende

Hans Tausen Memorial – Birkende

“Hans Tausen | Biography – Danish Religious Reformer.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Larson, James L. Reforming the North: The Kingdoms and Churches of Scandinavia, 1520-1545. Cambridge University Press, 2010. Web. Google Books.

Mol, Johannes A., Klaus Militzer, and Helen J. Nicholson, eds. The Military Orders and the Reformation: Choices, State Building, and the Weight of Tradition. Uitgeverij Verloren, 2006. Web. Google Books. 20 Oct 2015.

Suhr. ”Tausens Levnet.” Danmrks Riges Historie. 3. (Copenhagen, Ribe,1897). Web. 20 Oct 2015.

[Edit 10/24/15 – Title changed to match theme of Scandinavian Reformers]


One thought on “The Scandinavian Reformers: Hans Tausen and the Reformation in Denmark

  1. Pingback: The Scandinavian Reformers: Mikael Agricola – The Father of Finnish and the Finnish Reformation | Continuing Reformation

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