Today the church remembers a contemporary Norwegian saint who deserves to be remembered more than he is: St. Eivind Josef Berggrav, Bishop of Oslo and Gadfly of the Nazis.
St. Berggrav was born at the end of the 19th Century, the son of the Bishop of Hamar. He planned to be an engineer, but fell in love with Theology and decided that would be his life’s pursuit.
He didn’t enter the ministry immediately upon graduation, spending some time studying the psychology of religion as the editor of a prominent publication dedicated to the topic. It was clear he was wrestling with his own vocation. At the same time, he took up teaching.
Finally in 1919, he was ordained by the Church of Norway and appointed to the rural parish of Hurdal. In 1925 his ministry took a jaunt directly northward, as he was elected the Bishop of Tromso on the arctic plains of Norway, close to the land of the Lapps. These fur trappers, fishermen, and sea people taught him how to be a Bishop of the church
In 1937 he was appointed Bishop of Oslo, and soon after the President of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the churches. The world was on the brink of war at the time.
In 1940, after the Nazi invasion of Norway, St. Berggrav was named one of the negotiators assigned to assess the intentions of the Nazi occupation.
He lasted two days in the post before resigning in protest, saying that he would never compromise with them. From this stance, he led a formal opposition to Nazi interference, focusing on the independence of the clergy and the sacred rights of the Jewish people.
This, obviously, upset the powers that be. They stripped him of his bishopric and his clerical credentials, and they put him on house arrest. In protest, 797 of the 861 priests of the Church of Norway resigned on Easter Sunday, showing what resurrection-in-action truly looks like.
Feeling Berggrav was the primary instigator of this rebellion, he was imprisoned in a solitary log cabin on the outskirts of Oslo under the edict of Hitler himself.
An underground church quickly formed in Norway, continuing the life of the faithful in exile. In something out of a spy novel, Berggrav donned a disguise and escaped from his log cabin, hiding out in Oslo until the liberation of Norway in 1945.
After the war, Berggrav lobbied for greater participation by the laity of the church in ecclesial affairs. He became a leader in the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, and served until he fell ill in 1950. He died on this day in 1959.
A prolific writer, Berggrav published half a dozen books in his distinguished career, the last entitled When the Fight Came about his disobedience to the Nazi regime.
St. Berggrav is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that there are some things you can’t compromise on.
-historical pieces inspired by Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations