Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pietism According to Bo Giertz

The Rt. Rev. Bo H. Giertz (1905-1998) was the youngest man elected and consecrated to serve the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden as a diocesan bishop. He was a staunch defender of Christian orthodoxy, the Lutheran tradition, confessional doctrine, and the centrality of the Bible in a derelict Swedish Church eager to push the envelope away from the traditional faith into a brave new world of radical social experimentation and gender-bending.

Giertz was a hard churchman to box-in with a label.

He was a "high-church" smells-and-bells miter-and-crosier catholic bishop who refused to relinquish episcopal polity and apostolic succession; was unflinchingly devoted to the Lutheran confessions and evangelical doctrine that placed the focus of the faith on the cross and justification through Word and Sacrament and expressed in the Lutheran liturgy; and yet retained a soft spot in his heart for "low-church" evangelicalism and rustic Swedish Pietism that emphasized conversion, sanctification, and holy living.

In his preaching, teaching, popular writing, and scholarly work, Giertz synthesized these popular expressions of Swedish Lutheranism and drew from the best each had to offer, proclaiming a holistic Christian faith that denied neither doctrine nor Christian living, demonstrating a vibrant faith that did not sacrifice the new life for the sake of pure dogma - but kept all of these in balance with one another.

All this from a man who was not merely a great churchman, but who was a bona fide genius (also a grandson of the founder of the Ericsson telecommunications company) who was actually raised in an atheist home! After his "retirement" as bishop of Gothenburg, he continued to speak, write, and lead the cause of orthodoxy in Sweden. He gave Swedish speakers a new Bible translation and wrote commentaries for all of the books of the New Testament. In spite of his rigorous academic life, Bishop Giertz was always a "man of the people" who had great affection for those under his pastoral care. First and last, Bishop Giertz was always a kyrkoherde, a pastor.

I think his motto as a pastor in Christ's Church might be summed up in the words Bishop Giertz placed into the mouth of one of his characters in his book Stengrunden (page 188), Pastor Fridfeldt, who said:

"Finns det något större än att få vara präst? (Is there anything greater than to be a priest?)."

English speakers (especially Lutherans) will want to read (and re-read) the English translation of this novel (comprised of three novellas), known in English as The Hammer of God. The first novella was made into a feature film that includes a cameo of the nonagenarian bishop shortly before his death.

CPH has released an English translation of Bishop Giertz's daily devotional To Live With Christ, co-translated by my classmate, colleague, and one of my own Swedish teachers, the Rev. Bror Erickson, pastor of First Lutheran Church, Tooele, UT.

But here is what I actually want to share with you: an outstanding article about how Bishop Giertz understood the role of Pietism in the life of Lutheran Christianity, written by my friend and colleague, the Swedish born LCMS pastor who serves First Trinity Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, the Rev. Eric Andrae.

It seems appropriate to offer a shout-out to my dear friend the Rev. Hans Andrae (Eric's father, known affectionately in the parish by the double entendre "Father Andrae"), Swedish-born LCMS pastor (formerly of the ELCA) who was ordained in the Church of Sweden, and who knew Bishop Giertz. Hans is the translator of the last chapter of The Hammer of God, and is the epitome of the churchman and pastor.

Bishop Giertz still has much to offer us in our own context as American Christians and Lutherans.


Tapani Simojoki said...

My father and some of his friends knew Bishop Giertz and had the privilege of working with him. They tell me that when he realised he was losing his eyesight (in his eighties), he recorded the entire Greek New Testament onto tapes so that he could continue to immerse himself in the word, sighted or not.

Eric said...

Larry, I think you're take on Giertz and pietism was at least as good as mine! And thanks so much for the plug.
By the way, one could translate the quote from The Hammer of God even more "giftedly" as "Can anything be greater than to get to [to be allowed to] be a pastor in God's church?"
Oh, and congrats to you and the Mathernes on the Saints. Loved the video. We're pulling hard for them!

Past Elder said...

You'll certainly get no argument from me re Bo Giertz. A real hero.

Mike Keith said...

I read the Hammer of God in seminary. It was foundational. I ti samazing how a work of fiction can teach theology so well.

I re-read the Hammer of God again in the parish when the new edition came out - again truly foundational.

I have to see abotu this film version!

Father Hollywood said...

The original film was a 50 minute version of only the first chapter ("The Call") of three of the first novella . It was a short story in and of itself. It is beautifully filmed and subtitled in English.

It came out in 1995, and made its way to the US in 2001 or 2002 (I believe). Bishop Giertz was alive at the time of the filming, and he appears in the opening scene of the dinner party at the dean's house.

The film company wanted to expand the movie into a feature, and began raising funds. Remarkably, it became a reality in 2007. By this time, Bp. Giertz had died, as well as the actor who played the dean. The main character (Pastor Savonius) is played by the same actor in the same role of 12-years before! Somehow, they pull it off.

Lutheran Visuals sells the original 50 minute film, but the full-length DVD is available from Sweden. If you are interested, you can e-mail Anna Malmberg at anna at malmberg dot org for more info.

The DVD has some special features, but I don't think the special features are subtitled (though I might be wrong about that). It has been a little while since I watched it. There is an interview with Bp. Giertz on the DVD.

Of course, the book is still widely read - especially by students at both of our seminaries - and unless something has changed, it is required reading for all of our seminarians. The revised edition has annotations and helpful references written by our own Revs. Hans and Eric Andrae - including an index.

Unfortunately, the final edition has a number of typos. Pastor Eric Andrae has been compiling an errata, and I'm sure he would be more than willing to share that with you.

Eric also is the moderator (I believe) of the Giertz Society. If you are interested in Bo Giertz's life, work, and writings, contact the Rev. Eric Andrae as he is a walking Giertz treasury (who is, of course, fluent in Swedish).

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Tapani:

The more I read of and about the bishop, the more awestruck I become. Thanks for the comment!

Bror Erickson said...

are you still translating his biography? The other day I got to see the cover work for "The Knights of Rhodes," what a birthday present! I think it may be out as early as next month.

Bror Erickson said...

I don't know why I addressed that last comment to Eric. It was meant for you Larry.

Monet said...

I found your site on the internet, looking for my former priest in Norrköping, Sweden, Hans Andrae.

As a young girl, 15 years, I studied in his class for my first communion which took place in May 1960 in Norrköping. He was a very young man at the time (I have a picture to prove it) and I remember that he actually had quite a hard time to answer all my questions about God, Jesus and christianity.

I have often thought of him and especially now that, in my sixties, I have moved from Sweden to southern France - a catholic country. I love the churches and monasteries here and feel quite content with the catholic ceremonies although they are unfamiliar to me in a sense.

I would like to know a little bit about Hans Andrae, his life and why he moved to the US and how his life developed there. I understand that you are his son, a priest as well?

I would love to hear from you - my e-mail address is: monica.axen@orange.fr

Thank you in advance for any response.
Monica Axén

Ps. Oddly enough my wordverification is "dessi", the name of our little French poodle!

Herrens Hammare said...

Wonderful article about a great man. I named my blog after the first part of Stengrunden. Glad to see there are Swedish Christians who influence our American brethren in faith! God bless!

KeriW24 said...

Does anyone know how I can obtain a copy of "With my own eyes : a life of Jesus." (English translation)? I would really, really like to purchase a copy of this for my Pastor and I cannot find it anywhere! My Pastor has just encouraged our bible study class to read "The Hammer of God" as well.

Bror Erickson said...

This is a very late answer to your question, but you can order a copy of "With My Own Eyes" from 1517 the Legacy Project, or from Amazon.com There is a new translation of it now. And in my opinion, it is better than the older translation.