Project Canterbury



A Tract for Swedes



By the
Bishop of Marquette




Sanctioned for use in the Dioceses of the
Province of New England by the
Bishops of the Province





Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

Swedish and American

Swedish Christians, in coming to America, often settle in communities of their own friends, and find religious life already organized on a basis which they can recognize, at least in part. But a final and permanent settlement may be found among newer friends, where the prevailing form of Christianity does not so easily explain itself. In Sweden there are few Roman Catholics, and not nearly so many Protestant sects as divide the field in America. There are Methodists in Sweden, and Baptists, the Methodists standing in temper and feeling not a long distance from many in the National Church. There are also the Mission Friends. Swedish Methodism differs considerably from English speaking Methodism, and retains some of the conservative practices of the National Church.

[4] There are many Lutherans in America, but they are a good deal divided among themselves. The Swedish National Church, though reformed under Lutheran influence, has, under that influence, sought to return to the model of the Primitive Church. The result has been that the Swedish reformation was the most conservative of any in Europe, the most national, and in some respects the most remarkable. It offered remarkable parallels to the course of events in England.

The culmination of the Reformation in Sweden may be placed at the date of Upsala Mote, 1593. That great council of the nation decided that the Swedish Church should be national, free from Papal domination, scriptural, liturgical and episcopal. It was, as we admit, reformed under Lutheran influences, but it did not adopt any man's name. It was the Church of Sweden. It had a
prayer book, a catechism, a parochial system, so planned that practically every one in Sweden was under a pastor, and every [4/5] pastor under a bishop. It preserved the ancient creeds, the two great sacraments, and administered confirmation to her children, striving also to consecrate every step in life through the benediction and guiding of the gospel in the Church. The episcopate preserved was the ancient episcopate of Sweden, instituted long before the Reformation, and looking back to England as one of its chief sources.

American Protestantism is not generally episcopal, or if it has bishops they do not represent the ancient line of the first days of the Church, as does that in Sweden. It is not liturgical, though it is striving to become so, not catechetical, does not practice confirmation, and systematically neglects the sacraments. It offers very little resemblance to the Church of Sweden.

The Church of Sweden is a state Church. The Church of England is a state Church. This does not mean the same thing exactly in the two countries. More than anything else it means that [5/6] you normally expect the Englishman to belong to the Church of England, and you normally expect the same thing of a Swedish Christian. There can be no state Church in America. And yet there can be real practical identity of some Church here with the Church of the Motherland.

When America was settled the Church of England came to Virginia in 1607. The Church of Sweden came to the Delaware in 1630. It was then hoped that there would be a real Swedish dominion in America. But Sweden's hold on her territory was lost to the Dutch, and the Dutch in turn lost their territory to the English. The Swedish churches, however, kept up active life and work for many years. But the Swedish bishops of the early period were very familiar with England and under their advice, when there was no Swedish priest, the congregation turned to the ministers of the Church of England for the gospel and the sacraments, and in their turn the English congregations frequently called [6/7] upon a Swedish priest. Neither felt in the least strange, because the English Church was like the Swedish, scriptural, free from Papal dominion, liturgical, catechetical, episcopal, and ministered the two sacraments and confirmation in a way the Swedes could recognize as essentially what they believed in. So, as there was for many years no great fresh Swedish immigration, in course of time the Swedish Churches accepted clergymen for their pastors who had been ordained in the Episcopal Church.

When the American Revolution occurred the members of the Church of England who sympathized with the Revolution were in much perplexity, as there was no bishop to shepherd them in America. But after the peace four clergymen went abroad and were consecrated bishops, one in Scotland, and three in England, and the Church in America settled down to work as a free Church in a free land, but with the same doctrine, purpose, and primitive traditions as in England.

[8] The English Church has had at home the same battles which the Swedish Church has had. It has had to contend at times with aggressions by the crown or government, against intrusive Calvinism, against papal reaction, against all sorts of influences tending to deaden spiritual life, to neglect important truth, or overlook important duty. It has been victorious in great measure, as the Swedish Church has been. And three hundred years after the Reformation the similarity of Reformation principles and practices in both countries shows also in the continued likeness of the sister churches.

Were, however, the letters of the bishops who were prominent in Sweden just after Upsala Mote, to be accessible to Swedish immigrants, they would find that these great bishops were then in substantial agreement with the Church of England in every great point of doctrine and practice. There is nothing which is now done or taught in the American Episcopal Church under due [8/9] authority that may not be as properly called Swedish as English doctrine. And this agreement is because both sets of theologians were making the same appeal,--to Holy Scripture and the Primitive Church.

If the Swedish American, or the Swede who is thinking of being an American, will but take up and read through carefully the Swedish translation of the American Prayer Book he will probably repeat again and again while he is doing it, as others have done before him, "Why, it is just like ours!" He will find a catechism which has the same basis with that which he has been taught, and a form of sacramental administration which great Swedish theologians have said satisfies them better than their own. And he will not be asked to criticize his past, unlearn anything, renounce anything, or believe anything not in the ancient deposit of the faith which the Swedish Church has received. He may find trouble at first with the word "Catholic" as printed in the creed. But he will soon [9/10] discover that the two meanings in which that word is taken are both dear to him; he would, as we, belong to the Universal Church professing the Orthodox faith. There is no thought of papalism involved in the word as used by us. The word used in the Swedish version of the same old creed now carries these same implications.

Therefore, American Churchmen feel sure that as soon as Swedish Christians get to know the Episcopal Church they will begin to recognize it as being what their own old Church could come to be were it to be entirely free to govern itself, and entirely discharged from State control. Of course, certain tendencies toward union with other related bodies might tempt them to surrender their national heritage, the Episcopate, and other things which rendered the Swedish reformation almost unique. But that, we think, would be a mistake. The Episcopal Church is deeply indebted to many reformers, English and German, but it has not taken any man's name. The [10/11] Swedish Church was more indebted under God to old Laurentius Petri than to any other man, but it did not take his name. The Church is too big for any man's name. And it is remarkable that no Continental Church is called after the man who had most to do with the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melancthon, known and honored as much by us as by any Christians anywhere.

Thus, to conclude, a Swedish Christian may easily find himself entirely at home in the American Episcopal Church, free to profess the old faith, and to use the gospel sacraments, and not only at home, but entirely welcome by those of us who are only more remotely of the seed of the Northmen.

[Copies of this leaflet may be obtained in English or Swedish from the Secretary for Foreign-born Americans Church Missions House, 281 Fourth Avenue, New York, N. Y., by asking for No. 1517. Price, two cents each.]


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