Religion: The Bishop and the Quisling

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The free peoples of the world gather this week to proclaim again the gospel of peace on earth. In a log hut deep in a forest north of Oslo, Norway, a man who has done as much as any other to keep Christian hope alight in the darkness of occupied Europe will celebrate Christmas, as he has for two years past, a solitary prisoner. Eivind Josef Berggrav resigned his title and position as Bishop of Oslo and Primate of Norway's State Lutheran Church, on Feb. 24, 1942. Arrested two months later by Puppet Dictator Vidkun Quisling, he has ever since been confined by barbed wire to an area 500 meters long by 200 wide. For company he has only the pines, a far-off view of the icy blue waters of Oslo Fjord, and the dozen Hirdmen (quisling Storm Troopers) who guard him.

Bishop Berggrav's warders are constantly changed, lest his persuasive Christianity corrupt them. Once a month they bring him a few heavily censored books and once a week a letter from his wife. Once a week they take away an answering letter, which his wife must read in Gestapo headquarters. Beyond that, Bishop Berggrav sees no one, talks to no one. Energetic, broad-shouldered and tireless, he spends his days translating the New Testament into modern Norwegian, chopping wood, cleaning his cabin, cooking his meals.

Yet Eivind Berggrav, alone with his keepers on Christmas Day, may have much to comfort him. The Christian faith renewed by his fervent words and unyielding courage is on the march in Norway, and his occupied but unconquered country echoes the ringing words of Sweden's Bishop Aulen: "Berggrav's spirit has gone free through closed doors and has witnessed that God's words bear no chains."

Bishop of the Arctic. Born Oct. 25, 1884 in the town of Stavanger, tall, blue-eyed, straw-blond young Eivind Berggrav, the son of a bishop, graduated from the University of Oslo in 1908. In 1909 he married Kathrine Seip (they have five sons) and launched himself on a dual career as editor and high-school teacher. After ten years of teaching he finally entered the service of the Church as pastor of the little parish of Hurdalen, 40 miles from Oslo. Six years later he became chaplain of Botsfengslet Prison in Oslo.

In 1929 he was ordained Bishop of Haalogaland. High in the Arctic, at the northern tip of Norway, Bishop Berggrav's first diocese was a vast tract of scattered parishes, his parishioners rugged trappers, seamen and fishermen whose lives were an unceasing struggle for subsistence. Traveling among them, the Bishop learned to endure with the best their hardships and long loneliness in the Arctic night. Gay and friendly, an expert hunter and fisherman, he won and returned the love of his people. As his work in the state prison had given him compassion and insight, so his life in the north added toughness to his body and fiber to a character already intelligent and alert.

In 1937 Eivind Berggrav was elevated to the diocese of Oslo, the primacy of Norway. Already widely known at home as editor of the magazine Kirke og Kultur (Church and Culture) and writer of a number of religious books in addition to the best-selling Spenningèns Land (an account of his life in the Arctic), he soon achieved world fame in the Universal Church movement. In 1938 he was elected president of the World Alliance for International Friendship through the Churches.

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