Thursday, January 2, 2020

From Sweden to Siberia

King Charles XII's "Victory at Narva"--Gustaf Cederstrom (1835-1933)

From Sweden to Siberia--Theo Berigsen

Editor’s Foreword

By 1700 A.D the example of Jacbob Boehme (1575-1624 A.D.) that lay-people were capable of great spiritual insight had traveled from his home in Goerlitz across the German states and the Low Countries. Boehme’s legacy also had a profound effect on Sweden as a forerunner to the Radical Pietism movement that flowed from the Lutheran philosopher Phillip Spener (1635-1705 A.D.) who created a revolution by stressing the individual mystic connection between people and God. Spener called for an organization of believers through small groups lead by ordinary citizens called “conventicles” which met outside the customary church structure; a very controversial idea in those days.

Spener was acquainted with Wilhelm Kriegsmann (1633-1679) who was a student of spiritual alchemy and other mystical practices widespread in the Germanic states, Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, and other European countries. Kriegsmann had studied the great mystics like Valentin Weigel (1533-1588), Johann Arndt ((1555-162) and especially Jacob Boehme. Spener would meet Kriegsmann at a Frankfurt conventicle during the formative period of the conventicle movement.1 This was a period of great intellectual and theological fervor and debate with speculative theologians influenced by Boehme and other “enthusiasts” [mystics] coming into contact with establishment Lutherans who were interested in reform.

The Pietist movement Spener began in the 17th century continues today as Christian mysticism which is part of the Western Esoteric tradition. Spener also has a central place in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). Click Here for information about ECC

As Pietism came to Sweden, “... the principal leaders and transmitters of Pietism during the first quarter of the eighteenth century were civil servants and other government officials in Stockholm. The most prominent leader and organizer of the Stockholm circle of Pietists in this period was Elias Wolker. Wolker was an accountant, and it was he who worked both to organize many of the conventicles in Stockholm and to establish a connection with Spener-Halle Pietism through active correspondence with Francke. Other notable leaders of this Pietist circle in Stockholm were Lorens Carelberg, a mint-master, and Georg Lybecker, a deputy judge. The remaining lay-people who participated in the Stockholm circle of Pietists, at least in the first decade of the eighteenth century, were primarily lower government officials and merchants.”2

At the same time these cultural events rocked Sweden the country and their young leader King Charles XII (b.1682) became involved in the “Great Northern War” 1700-1721, something few people in the USA are familiar with but changed the map of northern Europe for over 300 years.

A half century earlier by the end of the “30 Years War” (1618-1648) Sweden had saved Protestantism in Europe from the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation. In doing so they amassed an empire on the shores of the Baltic Sea that was not challenged until 1700. At the end of the Great Northern War Sweden’s empire is supplanted by the Russian Czar Peter the Great and King Charles XII is dead.
 [D S Reif-Ed.]

1“Between Alchemy and Pietism, Mike Zuber, 2014
2 “Swedish Pietism (1700-1727) as Resistance and Popular Religion”, Todd Green, Lutheran Quarterly, December, 2007

Mr. Berigsen begins...

Pietism in the Army of Sweden’s King Charles XII


Pietism in the Army of Sweden’s King Charles XII in Siberia from 1709 to 1722 is an important part of the history of Pietism in Scandinavia. After the battle of Poltava in 1709 in Ukraine the king and his ally, Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Mazepa managed with a few of their armies to escape to Ottoman territory (present day Moldavia). King Charles left it to his leading generals to decide if the main Swedish army was to retreat to the Crimean Khanate, an ally of Sweden, to continue the fight, or surrender. The over 20,000 strong army including almost 2,000 women and children did surrender and the captives were marched by foot to Moscow to be humiliated in a march through the Russian capital guarded by Russian officers and soldiers. After the march from the village of Perevolochna to Moscow the prisoners were divided up. A great part was sent to the capital of Siberia, Tobolsk, while others were forced to work in the newly established Russian shipyards at St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea and Voronets on the Black Sea.

Many of the prisoners, their wives and children died during the years in captivity and it is estimated that only 25 percent of them could return to Sweden in 1722 after the Peace Treaty at Nystad, Finland, was signed in 1721.

The First Contacts

In his thesis ”Yttre kyla och inre glöd – Pietismen bland Karl XII:s Karoliner i Sibirien 1709-1722” (Freezing Outside and Fire inside – Pietism among the Army of Charles XII in Siberia 1709-1722) in the history of theology Marcus Johansson has in 2012 (University of Stockholm) brought to life the harrowing experience of the soldier families in Tobolsk and how they reached out for spiritual guidance to the leading pietist in Germany, August Hermann Francke of Halle [Halle was a stronghold of Radical Pietism in Saxony, now Germany-ed].

Johansson in his work has studied both published and unpublished material. He concludes that the evangelical movement had its origin in the piety of the Swedish soldiers of the time combined with their situation of deprivation in captivity. The spiritual origins came from Halle and German pietism. The focus was on conversion, struggle against sin and participation in conventicles combined with social activities in education in a school that in practice was a children’s home. Bible reading was important, the views concerning divine retribution and the belief that grace only could save man. The representatives of the state Church of Sweden allowed the Pietists in Tobolsk to express their religious belief as long as it did not compete with Lutheran orthodoxy.

Pietism, Francke and the Swedish Prisoners in Siberia

Pietism began with Philipp Jakob Spener (1635 – 1705), who was born in Alsace and had a devout Christian upbringing. in Rappoltsweiler, a village in upper Alsace, northwest of what is present day Colmar, France. He was raised by his devout Christian and pious parents, and entered the University of Strasbourg in 1651 and completed his studies in 1659. After that he did some travelling, first to Basel in Switzerland, and then to Geneva, Switzerland. Here, he listened to the preachings of French reformed preacher Jean de Labadie (1610 – 1674) who was calling for a true belief and holy living.

In 1675 he published his Pia Desideria proposing reform. Firstly he suggested a greater emphasis and use of the Bible, including institute small group Bible studies. The second proposal was reform in the priesthood. Thirdly he wrote that knowledge of Christian doctrine was not enough, for Christianity consisted also of practice. The unbelievers and heretics should be prayed for, corrected with loving admonition and led back to Christianity by living a godly example of the Christian life was the fourth proposal. This approach should be used instead of disputation, polemics and virulent personal attacks. Fifthly, universities and schools should encourage godly, instead of worldly, living among their students. The sixth proposal was that sermons should be written with the goal of instilling faith and its fruits in the listener to the greatest possible degree. There was generally a very positive public response to the book, but also opposition.

In 1686 Spener was called to become court preacher in Saxony. Shortly after the arrival in Dresden Spener was informed about a conventicle which was administered by August Hermann Francke (1663 – 1727) and Paul Anton (1661 – 1730). Francke had studied at Leipzig University and later lectured there but his employment was terminated and conventicles were forbidden by the Saxon government.

Later Francke was ordained as pastor in Erfurt but had to leave the city in 1691. Soon thereafter he was called to Halle and appointed professor of Greek and Oriental languages. Halle would later be known around the world as a center of Pietism. It was in Halle that Francke started to develop his famous foundations. He started a school for poor children and later in 1696 an orphanage, a hospital, a bookstore, a home for widows, a library, a bakery, a brewery and an art museum. A print shop for bibles was opened in 1697. In 1710 a Bible Institute was created and the world’s first Bible Society. Pietism in Scandinavia first took hold in Denmark and Francke helped the Danes to send missionaries to the trading post of Tranquebar, India.

In 1713 nine Swedish officers imprisoned in Tobolsk (Siberia) had written to Francke in Halle requesting aid in education, medical facilities, and libraries. He was positive and provided money, medicine, books and equipment. This resulted in the creation of Pietist institutions for the prisoners in Tobolsk. Swedish soldiers started to carry devotional booklets written by Francke and printed in Halle. When he passed away in 1727, the pietist movement had been born and continued to thrive.

(The short overview above is based on ”The Rise of German Pietism in the 17th Century” by James Paulgaard. It is available on Internet but was first published as a thesis in History, University of Saskatchewan, Canada, December 1,1998.)

Halle was in East Germany and during the Soviet occupation until 1989 – 1991 the foundations of Francke suffered great damage from neglect. They were restored in the 1990s and Halle now houses a study center, libraries and archives devoted to Pietism and the Early Enlightenment. The large orphanage is once more in perfect condition.

Boehme’s Legacy Continues

Boehme’s mystical tradition continues in Sweden with the influential Swedish Christian mystic Hjalmar Ekstrom (1885 – 1962). He was also a shoemaker born in Helsingborg in Scania region, Sweden. In 1907 he had a strong revelation and later in 1916 he experienced what he called ”the mystic death”.

Among his works are two significant contributions in Swedish: ”The Hidden Woekshop” (1962) and ”The Still Chamber” (1968). In 1980 Ekstrom was the subject of an academic dissertation at Lund University, Sweden: Anton Geels, ”Mystikern Hjalmar Ekstrom 1885 – 1962”.

In the so called Flodberg Circle in Sweden, which included Ekstrom, there was a strong belief in ”The Silent Song of Praise.” It focused on song as a means in the kenotic spirituality. By singing songs, giving music life in one’s inner space one lets the own self, body and mind – become an instrument for music that stems from a divine source. The basis for understanding a life of belonging to Christ is in the understanding of singing. It was the Christian practice known as self-emptying -. Kenesis.

Ekstrom once said that “Boehme belonged to the most pure mysticism”. Further information on Swedish Christian mysticism can be found in ”Western Esotericism in Scandinavia” (ed. Henrik Bogdan and Olav Hammer, Brill Publisher, Netherlands, 2016).

--Theo Berigsen

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