Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

July 29, 1579

Today is an important day in the history of the Church.

Ok, I suppose that’s not entirely accurate; but it’s important to me, so I’m going to post about it anyway.

July 29 is the anniversary of the day on which the Lutheran Niels Hemmingsen, at the time Denmark’s most famous intellectual and academic and held in high esteem by King Frederick II, was stripped of his position at the University of Copenhagen for espousing increasingly “Calvinist” views of the Lord’s Supper in a couple of theological works. Hemmingsen probably would not have had a problem if it had not been for the complaints of German agitators in Saxony, which happened to be governed by Frederick’s brother-in-law Augustus, Elector of Saxony.

Trygve Skarsten explains what happened:

It is clear…that in 1571 Hemmingsen attacked the Gnesio-Lutherans and the doctrine of ubiquity in his Demonstratio indubitatae veritatis de Domino Jesu. The following year an extended visit from some Saxon crypto-Calvinist teachers laid the groundwork for the impending crisis. In 1574, in a large dogmatic work entitled Syntagma institutionum Christianarum, Hemmingsen openly hailed the Calvinist doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

So strong was his support and following in Denmark that nothing would have come of all this had it not been for complaints from abroad. About this time the ardent Lutheran Elector Augustus of Saxony (brother-in-law of King Frederick of Denmark) was seeking to rid his territory of crypto-Calvinism only to have the Wittenberg Philippist theologians invoke the writings of Hemmingsen. A plot to import Calvinism into Saxony was also uncovered by the elector. When the defendants were questioned, they cited the views of Hemmingsen, whom they had recently visited in Copenhagen. A complaint was immediately lodged with Frederick II who called upon Hemmingsen to renounce his position on the Lord’s Supper. Although it was very difficult for Hemmingsen, he finally conceded in 1576 so that the Danish Church could be free of any suspicion of false teaching. It was clear that he still held to the Variata Augustana, the altered Augsburg Confession as modified by Melanchthon in 1540 and 1542. Continued accusations came from Germany regarding Hemmingsen’s ongoing teaching career. Finally on July 29, 1579, the king dismissed him from his position as professor, and recommended that he leave Copenhagen and take up residence in Roskilde.

But that wasn’t quite the end of the story; Hemmingsen neither burned out nor faded away:

Far from fading away, Hemmingsen’s works continued to come off the printing presses, and his fame only increased, especially in Calvinist sections of Europe where he was looked upon as a kind of martyr. The king continued to seek him out for counsel and guidance on difficult questions. (Trygve R. Skarsten, “The Reaction in Scandinavia,” in Discord, Dialogue, and Concord, ed. Lewis W. Spitz and Wenzel Lohff [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977], 139-40).


By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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