Frederik – A Biography of N.F.S. Grundtvig

February 14, 2015

Frederik – A Biography of N.F.S. Grundtvig

I am currently reading a biography of Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig, written by Ebbe Kløvedal Reich.

In this highly unorthodox book, Ebbe Kløvedal Reich deals with many themes  other than simply Grundtvig, and the society he lived in. Reich questions and investigates the fabric of western society, but always in the contecst of attempting to understand a man (Grundtvig) and his time. Even though it is not a thorough analysis or criticism of Christianity, or modernity, it is very thought provoking, and I intend to share some passages from the book and my thoughts on the matter on these pages…

First however, it seems only right to introduce to you the two men that I am dedicating these pages…

Ebbe Kløvedal Reich (1940-2005)

Ebbe Køvedal Reich was a Danish author and public debater.

His time as a history student at The University of Copenhagen had profound influence on his later writings, as well as the rest of his public life. He always maintained the necessity of interpreting the present as a product of history and to use the historical as a parallel to the topical.

His historical novels and plays mostly centered on a narrative of Danish history, of a Dano-Nordic identity, characterized by public self-government, threatened by economical and political powers seeking increased centralism.

In his own way he was a national romantic, although an atypical one (In 1990 he was a parliamentary candidate for a communist/left-socialist party).

He acquired the name “Kløvedal” together with other members of the commune “Maos Lyst”, the name is taken from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and is the Danish name for Rivendell.

Nicolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872)

Was a Danish poet, priest, historian, politician and philologist. He is often said to be the most important figure in 19th century Danish intellectual and spiritual life after Søren Kierkegaard.

It is difficult to sum up his authorship, or his areas of influence, since he made his mark on a wide range of diverse topics. I guess one could say that he attempted renew the Danish popular character and Christianity.

He was instrumental in the rediscovery of Denmarks mythological past and with the ancient Norse poetry as inspiration, he competed with Adam Oehlenschläger to be Denmark’s most prominent historical poet.

Besides his own historical writings he translated Gesta Danorum (Deed of the Danes) by Saxo Grammaticus, he made a free Danish translation of Beowulf (Bjowulfs Drape). At the same time he continued his authorship as a hymn-writer and theological thinker.

In 1832 he published a book in which he argued for a broad cooperation between all “countrymen in spirit”, to create a new scientific education, based on Nordic tradition, rather than the classical education. He believed the Nordic tradition to be better suited to develop the divine powers that he deemed all humans posseses.

This marked a drastic new turn within Danish clerical thinking, best summarized in the verse “First a human, then a Christian”. This was to be the foundation for Grundtvigs educational program “School for life”. A free and constantly developing popular education, which focused on learning through interaction between student and teacher, rather than learning through books and teacher authority. This resulted in the establishment of the Grundtvigian Folk Highschool movement.


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