Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig 

Portrait of Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig

Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig was a Danish pastor, poet, philosopher, teacher and politician. He was born on 8th September 1783 in Udby, Denmark and died on 2nd September 1872 in Copenhagen, Denmark aged 88.

Major Works

Kort Begreb af Verdens Krønike i Sammenhæng” (The First World Chronicle) (1812)
Bibelske Prædikener” (Biblical Sermons) (1816)
Kirkens Gienmæle” (The Church’s Reply) (1825)
Christelige Prædikener” (Christian Sermons). (1830)
Nordens Mythologi” (Northern Mythology) (1832)

Biography Timeline

Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig was born on 8th September 1783 in Udby, Denmark. (He has become known as N.F.S. Grundtvig). His father was Johan Ottosen Grundtvig a Lutheran pastor in Udby. He was educated in the ideals of the European enlightenment.

1791: He is sent to Thyregod in Central Jutland to study with pastor Laurids Svindt Feld.

1798: He moves on to study at the Katedralskole (cathedral school) in Aarhus. 

1800: He leaves for Copenhagen. 

1801: He studies theology at the University of Copenhagen. 

1802: His cousin, the philosopher Henrich Steffens, introduces him to the work of Friedrich Schelling and he discovers the poetry of Adam Oehlenschlager. He writes “On the Songs in the Edda” but it makes no mark.

1803: After completing his degree in theology he begins to study the Icelandic Edda and Sagas.

1805: He becomes a private tutor on the island of Langeland and begins to study the works of Shakespeare, Friedrich von Schiller and the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

1808: He returns to Copenhagen and publishes his “Nordens Mythologi” (Northern Mythology) which gains a moderate success.

1809: He publishes the drama, “The Fall of the Heroic Life in the North”.

1810: He undergoes a religious crisis and converts to Lutheranism. During his first sermon he denounces the clergy from the pulpit and when it is published three weeks later the authorities are shocked and demand punishment. He then moves back home to Udby to appease them and becomes his father’s curate.

1812: He publishes “Kort Begreb af Verdens Krønike i Sammenhæng” (The First World Chronicle) an attempt to write European history of the world from a Christian point of view. The work becomes very popular in some quarters but loses him many friends including the historian Christian Molbech, as it criticises the views of many prominent Danes.

1813: His father dies and he applies to take over his parish but is turned down due to his views. He attempts to form a movement to support the Norwegians against the government of Sweden. 

1814: He publishes the long historical poem “Roskilde-Riim” (Rhyme of Roskilde). He writes his second history of the world. He preaches in Copenhagen about how the weakness of Danish faith is the cause of the loss of Norway to the Swedes which is met with much enthusiasm.

1816: He publishes “Bibelske Prædikener” (Biblical Sermons) in which he calls for the spirit of Martin Luther to be rekindled. He becomes editor and nearly the only contributor to the philosophical journal “Danne-Virke”. 

1817: He publishes his final history of the world.

1818: He marries his first wife Elisabeth Blicher, a clergyman’s daughter and they go onto have three children.

1820: After studying Anglo-Saxon literature and arguing with other scholars he publishes his own translation of “Beowulf” as “Bjovulfs Drape”.

1821: He is finally granted his own parish in Praesto and preaches there for a year.

1822: He returns to Copenhagen.

1825: He publishes “Kirkens Gienmæle” (The Church’s Reply) where he accuses Henrik Nicolai Clausen of treating Christianity merely as a philosophical theory and being anti-Christian. He maintains it is a revelation handed down and continued by the sacraments of baptism and communion and questions the right of theologians to interpret the Bible. The church of Denmark is outraged and he is prosecuted for libel, fined and banned from preaching for the next seven years.

1826: He formally resigns his pastorate but continues exploring his theological views.

1829: He travels to England for the first of several visits, chiefly to study ancient texts.

1830: He publishes “Christelige Prædikener” (Christian Sermons).

1832: He publishes “Nordens Mythologi” (Northern Mythology) and is finally allowed to work as a minister again.

1837: Between 1837 and 1841 he publishes the collection of sacred poetry “Sang-Værk til den Danske Kirke” (Song Work for the Danish Church). 

1838: In “Skolen for Livet” (Schools for Life) he stresses the need for the thorough knowledge of the Danish Language and history and knowledge of the Bible.

1839: He is given the position of preacher at the workhouse church of Vartov Hospital in Copenhagen which continues until his death.

1840: He edits the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Phoneix” and provides a Danish translation.

1843: He visits England for a fourth time and publishes “Haandbog i Verdenshistorien” (Handbook of World History).

1844: He criticises schools which teach only the classics as elitist and this becomes the inspiration for the setting up of voluntary residential folk high schools where young people of every class are encouraged to be educated. He begins to take part in politics.

1848: As part of the Danish Constituent Assembly he helps write the first Constitution of Denmark.

1849: He becomes part of the parliamentary government of Denmark.

1851: He marries his second wife, Marie Toft, the daughter of a landowner, but she dies a few months after giving birth to a son.

1858: He marries Asta Reedtz from an old aristocratic Danish family.

1861: He receives the title of Bishop in the Church of Denmark but is not given a See. He gives sermons from the pulpit at Vartov Church every Sunday.

1881: He finishes his “Song Collection for the Danish Church” and in all he wrote nearly 1,500 hymns, including “Det Kimer nu til Julefest”.

Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig died on 2nd September 1872 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  He was buried in Claras Kierkegaard, Koge, Sjaelland in Denmark.