St Ansgar Takes on the Vikings

This is the day that … St Ansgar was born, in AD 801, according to the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia!

He became known to church historians as “the Apostle of Scandinavia” – the last of the “rough, fierce, barbaric” peoples to accept Christianity.

Ansgar was a Frenchman, born to a noble family near Amiens, Picardy. It was the time of the Vikings. “With the coming of the barbarian after the death of Charlemagne, darkness fell upon Europe. From the forests and the fjords of the north, defying storm and danger, came a horde of pirate invaders, prowling round the undefended coasts, sweeping up the broad estuaries, and spreading havoc and fear. No town, however fair, no church, however sacred, and no community, however strong, was immune from their fury. Like a river of death the Vikings poured across Europe.

Ansgar studied to be a priest and then as a young monk found a missionary call in his heart. When the call for a missionary to the Vikings was given Ansgar responded. Despite warnings from well-meaning friends he set out at the age of 26 to win the savage and cruel Vikings of Denmark to Christ. These people had resisted the gospel at a time when the rest of Europe had come under the influence of Christianity.

Ansgar began to preach in Denmark … and for two years all went well. But success was short-lived. The king, who was favourable to Ansgar’s ministry, was dethroned, and both he and Ansgar were forced to flee.

So to Sweden, where a new field of service opened up to him. A church was established. But here, too, there were problems to overcome. Ansgar was appointed Bishop of Hamburg … but “the heathen Danes and Vikings invaded Hamburg and destroyed all his belongings” (Famous Missionaries, by J. Gilchrist Lawson, page 23).

They were tumultuous days. Nations invaded and destroyed other nations. Some of Ansgar’s missionaries were murdered. But Ansgar did not give up. Eventually, in AD 847, he led King Horic of Denmark to Christ … just before the king was murdered. Then King Horic II was won to Christ.

He had planted the seed of the gospel in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

In 854 he returned to Denmark and Sweden only to find his previous work burned and destroyed. This was heartbreaking, but he found courage to press on. Though King Olaf resisted the new religion, one of the old chiefs advised that Ansgar be welcomed, saying “We see our own deities failing us. Why reject a religion thus brought to our very doors?”

Shortly after Ansgar’s death, however, the region returned to its old religious ways.

T.J. Bach, in Vision and Valour (page 24) writes: “For more than 35 years Ansgar manifested the spirit of a courageous, patient, self-denying missionary. The political changes taking place in the Scandanavian countries caused a delay in establishing the Christian Church.”

Eventually, however, some two hundred years after Ansgar had lit the torch, Christianity became firmly established in those lands.

Among his writings that have come down to us is his prayer:

“One miracle I would ask the Lord to grant me, and that is, by His grace, to make me a holy man …”

He died in Germany on 3 February, AD 865. His last words were: “Lord, remember me according to Thy great mercy. God, be merciful to me a sinner …”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Hans Egede Apostle of Greenland

This is the day that … Hans Egede arrived in Greenland in 1721. He was 35 years of age.

Accompanying him was his wife Gertrude (13 years his senior) and their little son, Paul, who was later destined to play a major role in reaching the pagan Eskimos with the gospel.

At the age of 21 Hans Egede had pastored a Lutheran church in Vaagen, Norway, and to him had come – like a Macedonian call – the spiritual need of Greenland.

Now, after untold obstacles, including the initial opposition of his wife, Hans Egede set foot on this “barren and dead” land.

The Eskimos “were slaves of repulsive habits, their priests and wizards tried to kill the missionary. Sometimes there was no food to be had …” (Torchbearers of the Faith, by A. Smellie, page 221).

Some years later a smallpox epidemic slew 3000 people, including his beloved wife (in 1736).

Moravian missionaries arrived and saw conversions. “Bitter with envy and resentment,” writes Ruth Tucker, “Egede accused them of ‘reaping what I have ploughed’” (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, page 79).

Was there ever a sadder text chosen by a missionary as he left the field: “I have laboured in vain…” (Isaiah 49:4).

Hans Egede returned to Norway with his two sons, Paul and Niels. And here it was Paul translated the New Testament into the Eskimo language (1766) and, with his father’s help, drew up a doctrinal guide for the converts in Greenland.

Hans Egede’s labour was not in vain in the Lord, even though he may have felt that way when he preached his farewell sermon.

He died on 5 November, 1758, at the age of 72, and is remembered as the “Apostle of Greenland”.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.