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Nordic-Catholicism is a movement which began in 20th-century Scandinavia that emphasizes worship practices and doctrines that are similar to those found within both Roman Catholicism and the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism. In the more general usage of the term it describes the general High Church characteristics of Lutheranism in the Nordic countries. The mentioned countries have more markedly preserved Catholic traditions and introduced far less Reformed (that is, Calvinistic or Zwinglian) theology.


The terms High Church and Low Church do not originally belong to the Lutheran tradition; historically, these have been applied to particular liturgical and theological groups within Anglicanism. The theological differences within Lutheranism have not been nearly so marked as those within the Anglican Communion; Lutherans have historically been unified in the doctrine expressed in the Book of Concord. However, quite early in Lutheranism, polarities began to develop owing to the influence of the Reformed tradition, leading to so-called "Crypto-Calvinism". The Pietist movement in the 17th century also moved the Lutheran church further in a direction that would be considered "low church" by Anglican standards. Pietism and rationalism led not only to the simplification or even elimination of certain ceremonial elements, such as the use of vestments, but also to less frequent celebration of the Eucharist, by the end of the era of Lutheran Orthodoxy. There has been very little iconoclasm in Lutheran churches and church buildings have often remained richly furnished. Also some monasteries continued as Lutheran after Reformation. Loccum Abbey and Amelungsborn Abbey in Germany have the longest traditions as Lutheran monasteries.

In old church orders, however there was much variation which could now be described as "high church" or "low church". One example of the more Catholic ones is the Swedish Church Ordinance 1571. Agenda of the church order of Margraviate of Brandenburg (1540) contained unusually rich provision for ceremonial usages. This legacy of Brandenburgian Lutheranism has later been visible in Old Lutherans' resistance to compromise in the doctrine of Real Presence. Other church orders following closely to pre-Reformation rites and ceremonies were Palatinate-Neuburg (1543, retaining a eucharistic prayer[4]) and Austria (1571, prepared by David Chytraeus).

An interesting fact is that William Augustus Mühlenberg, father of the Ritualist movement in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, was originally Lutheran and came from a Lutheran family.

In Europe, after long influence of Pietism, theological rationalism and finally 19th century German Neo-Protestantism, there was developed a ground for 20th-century High Church or Evangelical Catholic Movement. the terms "High Church" (Evangelical Catholic) and "Low Church" (Confessing Evangelical) began to be used to describe differences within the Lutheran tradition. However, this terminology is not characteristic of a Lutheran's identity as it often the case for an Anglican.


The moderrn Nordic-Catholicism was originally inspired by the british Oxford Movement. Historically Sweden has had a more elaborate form of liturgy, which preserved more than other Nordic countries links to the medieval catholic tradition. Hence the most remarkable Lutheran high-church movement by its influence on the whole church body has been in the Church of Sweden, influenced at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries by the Anglo-Catholic part of the Church of England. The first religious order within the high church movement was the Societas Sanctae Birgittae, founded by by archbishop Nathan Söderblom, and it still exists. The movement spread intensively through the activity of Gunnar Rosendal, the hymn writer Olov Hartman, and the retreat director Jan Redin. The more subtle high church influence of Bishop Bo Giertz has been remarkable especially among Pietists. The early high church movement caused the emergence of retreat centres, more frequent celebration of the Mass, and lively historical-critical study of the Bible. Societas Sanctae Birgittae can be considered the origin of Nordic-Catholicism.

After the foundation of Den Skandinaviske Kirke with the union of the previous national churches, there were years of deep convulsion regarding the doctrinal path that the new Church should follow. During these years, the supporters of Nordic-Catholicism made their thesis prevail thus converting the movement into the doctrinal axis of the new Church.

Practices and beliefs


Nordic-Catholicism ideas, which valued highly the tradition of the early, undivided Church, they saw its authority as co-extensive with Scripture. They re-emphasized the Church's institutional history and form. Nordic-Catholicism is emotionally intense, and yet drawn to aspects of the pre-Reformation Church, including the revival of religious orders, the reintroduction of the language and symbolism of the eucharistic sacrifice, and the revival of private confession. Its spirituality is Evangelical in spirit, but High Church in content and form.

Current theology is based in an express renunciation of Pietism as the fundamental idea of the Church. Lay people have to participate in the daily life of the Church, in its organization and even in its management, but the theological, doctrinal or faith issues are exclusive to bishops. Only bishops and priests possess the authority to explain and teach the doctrinal position of the Church in matters of faith, morals and discipline. Nordic-Catholic spirituality is characteristically more theocentric and christocentric than that of Pietist, rationalistic, and Liberal Protestant Lutheranism. In addition to the Theology of the Cross there is usually emphasis on Christus Victor, which makes it clear that Easter is more important than Good Friday. Theocentricism makes salvation history and the cycle of the church year important, from point of view of the incarnation.

The sacrifice of the Mass has been reinterpretated in order to provide a more theocentric view to Real presence. So in Nordic-Catholic spirituality the Mass is thus considered the heart of Christianity as it encapsulates the one, but eternally efficacious, sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Nordic-Catholic doctrine believes and accept the doctrine of transubstantiation, that the two species used (bread and wine) become the literal Body and Blood of Christ at the consecration, and also the doctrine of real presence that Christ's body and blood are truly and fully present in the Eucharist.

Nordic-Catholic theology uses a wider use of the word "sacrament" than other lutheran churches by considering Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Confession, Holy Matrimony, Unction, and Holy Orders to be Sacraments. Confession as a sacrament is part of Lutheran tradition. It regards a confession of faults to God, followed by the assignment of penance and absolution given by the priest, to be the way the congregation normally obtains forgiveness of sins. The sacrament may be administered in one of two ways: public or private.

Nordic-Catholicism believes that "Marriage is the sacrament which makes a Christian man and woman husband and wife, gives them grace to be faithful to each other and to bring up their children in love and devotion to God." The Church does not recognise civil divorce and requires an annulment before parishioners can remarry. Every diocese has a matrimonial commission that studies each request for marriage by persons who have been divorced. The commission presents its findings and recommendation to the bishop, who makes the final decision. The Church permits divorced people to participate fully in the Mass and to receive the Eucharist.

Liturgical practices

Formal liturgy based on the western Catholic Mass with varying degrees of chanting, the use of organ music, crucifixes, silver chalices, hosts and the use of vestments for Holy Communion has always been characteristic of Lutheran worship.

  • Eucharistic vestments.
  • Eastward-facing orientation of the priest at the altar, but some priests prefer "facing the people".
  • Unleavened bread for the Eucharist.
  • Mixing of water with the eucharistic wine.
  • Incense and candles.
  • Eucharistic adoration with a complete eucharistic prayer (i.e. including the epiclesis rather than merely Christ's Words of Institution).
  • Genuflection, together with the elevation of the host and chalice.
  • Use of altar bells during the elevation (to draw the attention of the congregation during the Words of Institution).
  • Use the older "Tridentine" Catholic rite of Mass, in Danish-Norwegian or Latin.
  • Use of the Rite of Nidaros in special ceremonies such as Easter, Christmas and high celebrations of the state and the monarchy.

Notable persons