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Sverre Håkon Bagge

Sverre Håkon Bagge is Professor Emeritus of Medieval history at Bergen University. His recent publications include: «Warrior,King and Saint: The Medieval Histories about St. Olafr Haraldsson», Journal of English and Germanic Philology 109.3 (2010), pp. 281-321; From Viking Stronghold to Christian Kingdom. State Formation in Norway, c.900-1350(København: Museum Tusculanum Forlag, 2010); «Ethics, Politics, and Providence in William of Malmesbury’s Historia Novella», Viator 41 (2010), pp.113-32; «The Model Emperor – Eginhard’s Charlemagne in Widukind and Rahewin», Viator 43 (2012) Cross and Scepter: The Rise of the Scandinavian Kingdoms from the Vikings to the Reformation, 2014).

Iconoclasm and confessions in the early modern period

My point of departure is a conflict over images in the churches in Bergen in Norway in the 1560s, around thirty years after the Reformation. This introduced a brief period of iconoclasm in Denmark-Norway, inspired by Reformed theology. Soon, however, mainstream Lutheranism took over and statues and pictures were reintroduced.
The different views on images in the two Protestant confessions are of course well known, as are also the various theological arguments in the debate between them. More interesting is the practical question of how it was possible to manage without images when addressing a largely illiterate audience. Here Lutherans seemed to have basically the same attitude as Catholics, although they differed in the exact way the images were used. Both were “mass religions”, aiming at including the whole population and using the means necessary for this purpose. By contrast, Calvinism was an intellectual and elite religion, creating tight communities of true believers in accordance with the belief in Predestination. It has therefore been regarded as an important factor in modernisation theories, from Weber’s explanation of capitalism to later theories of the link between Reformed Protestantism and modern science.
Although there is little to indicate that pictures are an obstacle to science, the intellectual and elitist character of Reformed Protestantism may have contributed to the scientific revolution in the early modern period. Generally, the history of iconoclasm illustrates the fact
that images are a powerful medium, particularly when most people are illiterate, and that a religion that abstains from this medium is faced with the challenge of finding a replacement for it.

Key words: Lutheranism, modernisation theories, Bergen churches