Monday, December 7, 2015

Bo Giertz

I think all of us have books that he have seen quoted, or have heard about so often, that we think we have read them. One of those books for me was Bo Giertz's 'Hammer of God' which he describes as 'A Novel of Pastoral Ministry.' It consists of three related stories, the first set in 1810-11; the second about 1870-1880; and the third in the 1930s. All three deal with the relationship between Pietism (in the UK, Evangelicalism) and the Church, which was a particular concern of Giertz himself, and the pressing need to reconcile the two.

Giertz was born in 1905 on the Swedish island of Öland. His father was a doctor, and a professed atheist, and his mother an agnostic, but they had their son baptized, and for traditional/cultural reasons confirmed. Giertz's father was converted to Christianity whilst attending the compulsory church services associated with his son's confirmation, whilst Giertz himself, as medical student at Uppsala, increasingly saw the disconnection between his own moral sense, and the behaviour of his fellow atheists. As a result he began attending lectures by a lay Evangelist, Natanael Beskow, who convinced him of both the existence of God, and the historicity of Jesus. As a result, Bo Giertz switched majors, from medicine to theology, and actively pursued his vocation to the priesthood. His theological mentor was the Norwegian-born Professor of Theology at Uppsala, Anton Fridrichsen, who had reacted strongly against Bultmann's attempts to demythologize Christianity, and he emerged from University in 1932 as a member of the High Church wing of the Church of Sweden.

From 1932 to 1935 he was a travelling lecturer on Christianity for the Church of Sweden's High School Students Association, and was ordained in 1934. He then went to Östra Husby parish where he encountered the sort of Pietism that had been popularized by Carl Rosenius, a mid-nineteenth century lay evangelist who was loosely affiliated with Methodism, and with the work of 18th century Swedish Pietist Henric Schartau. Unlike the High Church methods of pastoral care which tended to be purely formal and liturgical, Schartau placed great emphasis on the centrality and reality of Justification by Faith alone, encouraging his follows to abandon formalism and legalism, and embrace the historic teachings of the Church about justification and sanctification whole-heartedly. His Church-based form of Pietism became deeply entrenched in Western Sweden in the late 18th century, and laid the foundations of Church life there for the next century. In this he was influenced by Gösta Nelson (1890-1958), who had put the study of Schartua and his revival movement onto a proper historical and theological footing during the late-20s and early 30s. Like most Swedish Revivalists, the 'method for revival' was not the histrionics favoured on the American frontier, but a reengagement with the Bible, and with Reformation era writings such as Luther's Postils.

After Östra Husby, Giertz moved to Ekeby (1937/8) for a vacancy pastorate, and then as Assistant Vicar of Torpa, just outside of Gothenberg from 1938 to 1949, when he was elected Bishop of the diocese. Giertz's election was unusual in two ways. Firstly, Giertz was unusually young (43) and secondly, unlike most bishops-elect, was neither a senior diocesan clergyman, or academic. However, he was well-know as a writer, not just of 'Hammer of God' (1941,) but of 'Christ's Church' (1939), 'Faith Alone' (1943), and 'The Battle for Man' (1947). It would also seem that his long time interest in Schartauism also played well in the diocese, connecting with the dominant revival movement in the diocese.

Giertz served as Bishop of the Diocese from 1949-1970. During this time the Swedish Government pushed the Church of Sweden to start ordaining women, which occurred in 1958, and there was also a revision of the liturgy, which restored some traditional elements to the Mass, including an expanded Eucharistic Prayer. Giertz vehemently opposed the ordination of women, and founded the "Association for the Scriptures and Confession" to uphold the traditional view of the Church. On the other hand, he welcomed the conservative revision of the Swedish Church Order, and did much to promote "High Church" practices such as weekly Communion, and the Daily Office.

In retirement he continued to write, preach, and give leadership to the High Church Movement in Church of Sweden, passing away in 1998.

From my point of view, the importance of Giertz lies in his ability to reconcile the Confessional Orthodoxy with Pietism; the two major movements within the Lutheran tradition, which, since the late 17th century had so often had been at war with one another. To my mind, Anglicanism shares with Lutheranism this tendency toward Evangelical Catholicism, which means that we too face the problem of reconciling the Evangelical with the Confessional. However, if Anglican (or Lutheranism for that matter) is to be fully itself we have to be both Evangelical in our concern for souls, and Catholic is our regard for Scripture and Sacrament. The renewal of Anglicanism lies not so much in the muddy three streams theory which tries to reconcile Anglo-Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and the Charismatic Movement, but in a whole hearted return to the Bible, the Sacraments, and Confessional Documents, along with a proper Evangelical concern for souls.

As to whether or not I had read 'Hammer of God' or merely thought I had, the answer to that was that I had read the first of the three stories...