Taming the Prophets : Astrology, Orthodoxy and the Word of God in Early Modern Sweden

Martin Kjellgren

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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The purpose of this thesis is to analyse a displacement of the limits between allowable and illicit knowledge in the orthodox, Lutheran discourse of early modern Sweden. Focusing on the debate over astrology, exemplified in the works of Laurentius Paulinus Gothus (1565-1646) and Sigfridus Aronus Forsius (d. 1624), the thesis aims to challenge the view of how the Reformation, regarded as a preliminary stage to the Enlightenment and modern rationalism, contributed to the so-called ‘disenchantment of the world’, thus driving astrology and other ‘occult sciences’ out of the fields of established science.
Throughout the sixteenth century, astrology had been fairly accepted. The principles of astral influence were included in physical theory, and astrology was still indispensable in medical practice. In the Reformation debate, astrology had even been used as a prophetic method in apocalyptical tracts and in preaching, and from the 1580s onwards, Swedish clergymen and intellectuals had issued astrological almanacs and prognostications. However, in the first decades of the seventeenth century, the clerical approach to astrology seemed to harden. Swedish bishops condemned astrology as a gentile, forbidden practice, and in 1619 the diocese chapter of Uppsala issued a verdict against astrological predictions.
To explain this trend, a few central factors are emphasized. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the relationship between worldly and clerical authorities changed. The division of responsibilities became clearer and the cooperation between Crown and Church was intensified. This meant that the clergy reached a new position where apocalypticism lost much of its political applicability. In the meantime, astrological literature had become accessible to the common man through the agency of the book printers. Hereby old arguments against astrology were accentuated among the orthodox in order to thwart the potentially prophetic claims of the astrologers. The main issue was not to reject astrology as such, but to maintain the clerical authority in confessional as well as in epistemological issues.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • History
  • Harrison, Dick, Supervisor
  • Greiff, Mats, Supervisor, External person
  • Håkansson, Håkan, Supervisor
Award date2011 Oct 7
ISBN (Print)978-91-85767-87-8
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2011-10-07
Time: 10:15
Place: D138, Orkanen, Malmö högskola, Nordenskiöldsgatan 10, Malmö

External reviewer(s)

Name: Grell, Ole Peter
Title: PhD
Affiliation: Department of History, The Open University, Storbritannien


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History


  • Apocalypticism
  • Astrology
  • Confessionalization
  • Heterodoxy
  • Knowledge
  • Lutheranism
  • Magic
  • Orthodoxy
  • Politics
  • Power
  • Prophecy
  • Reformation
  • Religion
  • Science
  • Social Discipline


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