Nordisk katolicism : katolsk mission och konversion i Danmark i ett nordiskt perspektiv

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This book, which is the result of my work within the project Conversion and Change of Confession, deals with Catholic mission and conversion in Scandinavia in the 19th and 20th cetries. I focus on Denmark, but the Danish situation is studied in a comparative Nordic pespective and against the background of the general religious, ideological and church-political development at the time. Up to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Catholic Church strongly emphasised its claim to be the only true Church, and as a consequence, all non-Catholic regions were regarded as missionary areas. The Nordic countries, which until 1953 had the status of apostolic vicariates under the supervision of the Roman Congregation of Mission, were thus subjected to Catholic missionary activity, aimed at bringing the Nordic peoples to convert to the Catholic Church. Following Vatican II this claim was modified, which paved the way for co-operation in the ecumenical movement and a new view of conversion.

As a theoretical frame for my study, I make use of theories and models of confessionalism, identity, modernisation, and religious conversion. An important source of inspiration is theories of Catholicism as a counter-culture in modern society. In its defence of traditional values the Catholic Church used the means and methods of the modern age. Through this strategy separate Catholic societies were built up, and the growing prestige of papal authority and the centralisation of the Church contributed to make Catholicism into a powerful force in modern society. Another point of departure is the theories of conversion as a change in the system of interpretation. In the pre-conciliar period, a Catholic conversion was not only an expression of personal conviction of faith but also a manifestation of a pronounced disassociation from the former religious community of the convert, and from many norms and values of the non-Catholic environment. This gave the Catholic conversion movement a provocative character. Finally, I engage with theories of the connection between confessional culture and national identity in modern society. In Lutheran Scandinavia, many people regarded Catholicism as a threat to Nordic national and cultural unity and integrity.

My study is centred on two poles: mission and conversion. The two first chapters deal with Catholic missionary activities and with Catholic converts, their journey to the Catholic Church, and their importance for the development of Scandinavian Catholicism up to the 1930s. I thus look at missionary strategies, the relations between the apostolic vicars and Rome, the missionary work of the priests and sisters, and the efforts made to create a Catholic “milieu” with schools, hospitals, periodicals etc. Catholic schools and hospitals were used as missionary tools, and most pupils and patients were Protestants. I study conversions both as an individual and as a social phenomenon. Of special interest is the question of national and religious identity, and the efforts made to create a genuine Nordic Catholic culture. This was certainly no easy task, as most of the priests and sisters were foreigners. The reports from priests and sisters show that there were great many conflicts on this subject. Also evident is the nationalistic atmosphere of the time, and the latent antagonism between the different nationalities, not least between Danes and Germans.

It was the liberal reforms that opened the way for the return of the Catholic Church in the Nordic countries. Denmark was the first country to introduce total religious freedom, and it was also in Denmark that "re-Catholization" first emerged. The numbers of Catholics consequently increased from about 800 at the beginning of the period to about 25 000 in the early 1930s. The strongest expansion occurred between 1895 and 1920, when the Danish Catholic minority increased by about 15.000 members. This expansion was partly caused by immigration, but was primarily a consequence of conversion. At the turn of the 20th century, the number of Danish converts averaged 230 per year. This number was considerably greater than the average reported in other Scandinavian countries. A common trait is, however, that the converts played a dominant role within Scandinavian Catholicism. The native converts gave the parishes, with their foreign, mostly German and French, priests and nuns, a Scandinavian character. Among those converts, we find academics, artists, politicians and former Protestant priests. Even some members of the aristocracy found their way to the Catholic Church. The majority of the converts, however, came from the lower strata of the population.

Some of the leading authors published conversion narratives and thus contributed to create models for Nordic Catholic conversion. In these literary narratives as well as in the inquiries about conversion motives made among ordinary converts, conversion is described as a process leading to change of confession. If one looks at the reasons for entering the Catholic Church it is obvious that for many converts, the hierarchic and authoritative principles of pre-conciliar Catholicism as well as the anti-modernistic character of Catholic social doctrine played an important role. Certainly, the conversion process also contained a form of moral conversion, culminating in the obligatory general confession that preceded the ceremony of reception in the church. But on the discursive level, this moral conversion played a secondary role, and the central point is instead the development of a conviction of the Catholic Church as the only true church. A confessional model can be recognised, where repudiation of Protestantism is clearly marked and where Catholicism is experienced as representing values such as truth, tradition, authority and security. The Catholic conversions took place in a cultural context where, on the one hand, re-Catholization (mission) and, on the other, delimitation (aversion) from non-Catholic value systems both played a crucial role.

At the beginning of the 20th century, groups of converts tried to integrate parts of the Nordic Protestant heritage, especially the hymn tradition, into Catholic religious life. This was especially apparent in Denmark, where many converts had their roots in the Grundtvigian movement. Through these converts, the Grundtvigian tradition, with its hymn singing, its educational ideals, and its specific popular and national character entered the life of the Catholic parishes. The aim was to create a genuinely Danish and Scandinavian Catholicism instead of the previously dominating German Catholic spirituality and the pious ideals of Ultramontanism. This development, which was part of a new spiritual movement within European Catholicism, was the first step towards the break-down of the pre-Conciliar Catholic system, later on completed by the theological reorientation introduced by Vatican II.

In the last chapter, my analysis is put into a contemporary perspective. Here I make comparisons, on the one hand, with the contemporary Catholic Church and with Moslem minority groups in Scandinavian society and, on the other, with Catholic traditionalist in Western society of today, still keeping the norms and values of pre-Vatican II Catholicism. There are many interesting similarities between contemporary Catholic traditionalists and the former Catholic missionaries working in the Nordic countries, and it can be seen that Moslems are looked upon in almost the same way as were Catholics at the beginning of the 20th century. The reforms initiated by Vatican II, which paved the way for ecumenical dialogue and for a more open form of Catholicism, changed the discourse of conversion. In post-Conciliar Scandinavian conversion narratives it is not longer the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church that is emphasised but spiritual values, such as the feeling of the presence of God, mysticism, and personal sanctification.


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Bidragets titel på inmatningsspråkNordic Catholicism : Catholic Mission and Conversion in Denmark in a Scandinavian Perspective
FörlagMakadam förlag
Antal sidor454
ISBN (tryckt)91-7061-012-6
StatusPublished - 2005
Peer review utfördNej


NamnCentrum för Danmarksstudier
ISSN (tryckt)1651-775X


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