September 8: Nikolai Grundtvig; Bishop and Hymnwriter, 1872

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

Nikolai Grundtvig and Søren Kierkegaard were the most influential Danes of the nineteenth century both in theological and philosophical circles and in civic life.

Born in 1783, the son of a Lutheran pastor, Grundtvig inherited from his father a lifelong appreciation for classical Lutheran orthodoxy rooted in sacramental practice, a stark contrast from the dry rationalism common to Danish Lutheranism at the time. From his mother, Grundtvig received a fascination with the literature, legends, and poetry of the Norse.

Grundtvig was a student all his life. His academic passions were largely in history and theology, but education, he believed, opened one’s heart and mind to a vigorous love of life. Grundtvig also believed in the power of poetry. He thought that poetry had the capacity to speak to the souls of human beings more deeply than prose, particularly in matters of the heart and the life of faith. During his lifetime he composed more than a thousand hymns, a number of which are still sung today: “Built on a rock the Church doth stand,” “O day full of grace,” and “God’s word is our great heritage.”

Grundtvig’s father was pastor of a large congregation and as he aged he needed assistance. Grundtvig preached a trial sermon at his father’s church during which he launched a scathing attack on Danish rationalism. The sermon met with a severe response and he was widely denounced. Nonetheless the survived the resulting spiritual crisis and was ordained in 1811. He served as his father’s curate until his father’s death in 1813. After a long season with no work, Grundtvig served several short-term pastorates that usually came to an end because of his commitment to a Lutheran orthodoxy rooted in sacraments and liturgy. He believed that the dry, rational, almost gloomy approach favored at the time did not penetrate the depths of the human soul.

Toward the end of his life, Grundtvig’s vision was taking hold and his influence upon both church and nation continued to increase. He was made a bishop in 1861. He died in 1872.

COLLECTS

Almighty God, who didst build thy Church upon a rock: Help us remember, with thy hymn writer Nikolai Grundtvig, that though steeples may fall and buildings made by hands may crumble, Jesus makes our bodies his temple through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Help us to recognize Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, that we may join our voices to the eternal alleluia; through the same Jesus Christ, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Almighty God, you built your Church upon a rock: Help us remember, with your hymn writer Nikolai Grundtvig, that though steeples may fall and buildings made by hands may crumble, Jesus makes our bodies his temple through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Help us to recognize Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, that we may join our voices to the eternal alleluia; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Lessons

Proverbs 3:1–2, 5–8

Romans 5:1–5

Matthew 8:5–10

Psalm 86:1–12

Preface of God the Holy Spirit

Text From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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4 Responses to September 8: Nikolai Grundtvig; Bishop and Hymnwriter, 1872

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Collect: The clause ‘that though steeples may fall and buildings made by hands may crumble’ reminds me of the Sinatra song lyric: “In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble …” Is it just me?

    Bio: paragraph 3: The first sentence would be strengthened by identifying where Grundrvig’s father’s ‘large congregation’ was. In Denmark?
    Paragraph 4, line 5: “Nevertheless he survived …

    Help me out Lutheran historians and theologians. Is this a commemoration that we should include in HWHM?

    • Philip Wainwright says:

      I missed the Sinatra link, but you’re not the only one to have trouble with that line. Is it from one of his hymns? I hope not, because it seems pretty poor stuff with which to commemorate someone who thought that ‘poetry had the capacity to speak to the souls of human beings more deeply than prose’. In any case it seems to refer to nothing in his life or ministry.

      Perhaps the time to add him to the calendar would be when one of his hymns becomes an Episcopal favorite.

  2. Grace Burson says:

    Yeah, I’m a bit confused by this one – are we adding Lutherans we’ve never heard of to the calendar in order to forge closer links with our Lutheran brothers and sisters since achieving full communion? If so, hooray – if not, it seems a bit random.

    I’m also confused by why Kierkegaard and Grundtvig have separate commemorations on the same day rather than being observed together. Is it because suitable scriptures for both of them together were hard to find?

    In any case, I’m planning to preach on Grundtvig at our weekday evening Eucharist tonight, and I’ll be focusing on the last verse of the Proverbs lesson and talking about how a sacramental way of life (as advocated by him) brings God into our physical as well as our spiritual beings.

  3. Todd Theiste says:

    In the Carl Doving translation of Grundtvig’s “Built on the Rock” the first line goes “Built on the Rock the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling; crumbled have spires in every land, bells still are chiming and calling.” Lutheran Worship # 291

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