Religion: Bishop Berggrav's Anniversary

  • Share
  • Read Later

In a cottage on the outskirts of Oslo, Bishop Eivind Berggrav, Primate of Norway's Lutheran Church, last week passed the first anniversary of his arrest. The four-room house, fenced by barbed wire, is constantly patrolled by eleven Quisling storm troopers. The guard is frequently changed lest the men get on friendly terms with their prisoner, for Bishop Berggrav in confinement is as strong a moral force as all the churchmen at liberty in the land.

He lives in complete isolation, spends most of his time translating the New Testament into modern Norwegian. He cooks his own meals, tidies his own rooms. Recently he wrote his wife: "When I am free again you won't need any servant. Now I can cook and clean very well."

Tall Bishop Berggrav has grown even taller in the estimation of his enslaved countrymen since his arrest last year. To them he has become one of Norway's brightest symbols of freedom. Norwegians feel there is no comparison with Niemöller. The German, pastor, they insist, was sent to a concentration camp only because he did not like the Nazis barging into church affairs. Berggrav, on the other hand, took his stand not merely on spiritual grounds, but also because he detested their political theories and said so.

Before the invasion, Norway's Church had largely lost touch with the common people, and congregations were composed mainly of old folk. Young people were increasingly critical of the Church's value. They questioned whether the clergy, to whom the State often assigned the choicest farms in rural areas, were worth their salt. Now all Norway, indeed all Scandinavian Lutheranism, knows the stuff of which Norway's clergy is made. The Church, standing firmly for the dignity of human freedom, has regained its lost prestige. Of the Church's clergymen, only 64 still function under Nazi domination, preach to benches largely deserted. The rest, six bishops and 797 pastors, gave up State salaries and public church functions about a year ago, still carry on their pastoral duties, but less openly.

Berggrav's militant Christianity has brought about a resurgence of religious fervor not only in Norway but throughout Scandinavia. Last week Dr. Gustav Aulen, Sweden's Bishop of Strängnäs (near Stockholm) paid a public tribute to his brother imprisoned in the Oslo cottage: "Berggrav's spirit has gone free through closed doors and has witnessed that God's words bear no chains. He and Norway's martyr Church are living testimonies . . . that no violent power can annihilate the life borne by God's spirit."