Eivind Berggrav

Eivind Berggrav in 1940

Eivind Josef Berggrav (25 October 1884 January 14, 1959) was a Norwegian Lutheran bishop. As Primate of the Church of Norway (Norwegian:Preses i Bispemøtet i Den norske kirke), Berggrav became known for his unyielding resistance against the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II.[1]


Berggrav was born Eivind Jensen in Stavanger and raised in Asak in Østfold. His father, Otto Jensen (like his father before him) was an educator and parish priest, who when Eivind was 22 became for a short time Norway's National Minister of Education and Church Affairs in a coalition government before returning to his Skjeberg parish. Rev. Jensen later became dean in the Diocese of Kristiania, and, in the year before his death, bishop of the Diocese of Hamar. His wife, and Eivind's mother, was Marena Christine Pedersen (1846–1924).


Eivind studied theology in Oslo at what was then the University of Kristiania beginning in 1903, and continued family tradition by becoming a priest in the Church of Norway. He changed his surname to that of his paternal grandmother's family: to Jensen Berggrav in 1907 and a decade later to simply Berggrav.

Upon graduating from the university in 1908, Jensen Berggrav taught school for a decade (at the Eidsvoll folkehøgskole, Holmestrand lærerskole and Akershus fylkesskole). He also started writing for the journal, Kirke i Kultur (Church and Culture), which Berggrav continued to do intermittently for decades, until his death. During World War I Berggrav filed some stories as a war correspondent for the Morgenbladet, Norway's largest newspaper. Berggrav also became involved with the Østlandsk reisning political party and the Østlandsk ungdomsfylking youth movement with Alf Frydenberg—both social movements sought to incorporate the language spoken in eastern Norway into the national written language. See Norwegian language conflict.

Berggrav eventually was called as a parish priest in Hurdal, and he continued to study for his doctorate in theology at the University.[2] In the three years after he received it in 1924, Rev. Berggrav also served as chaplain of Botsfengselet, the prison in Oslo. In 1928 Berggrav was selected as bishop for the Diocese of Hålogaland in the far north of his country, based at Tromsø. He dedicated a number of new chapels as he served the largely rural diocese until 1937. In that year, although younger than many other candidates, Berggrav was selected bishop for the Diocese of Oslo, which although the first among equals, remains the highest position in Norway's national church. The funeral of Queen Maud the following year first brought Berggrav international attention. Except technically during his house arrest during 1942-1945 as discussed below, Berggrav continued to lead the Norwegian faithful until 1951.

Berggrav also became an important figure in 20th-century ecumenical movements, including the Universal Church movement and the World Alliance for International Friendship through the Churches.

Resistance Leader

Berggrav achieved international renown for leading the Church of Norway's resistance to the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II, even though he was under isolated house arrest during most of the war.

In the years immediately before the war, Bergrrav worked with then Crown Prince Olav and others to try to mediate between Germany and England. Shocked by the German invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940, with its attempted capture of King Haakon VII, Berggrav initially appealed to Norwegian Christians to "refrain from any interference" and to refuse to "mix themselves up in the war by sabotage or in any other way." After King Haakon was forced to leave for England after 62 days of fighting, with his king's approval, Berggrav became the leader of the Administrative Council which tried to govern his occupied homeland. However, it became increasingly clear that the occupying Nazi powers would not honor their promises to allow Norwegians freedom of religion nor preserve their structures of government. On September 25, the Nazis dissolved the Administrative Council, in favor of another established by Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian priest's son who had a military career before becoming a Nazi sympathizer (and whom King Haakon refused to appoint as prime minister after the 1940 Nazi invasion).

A month later Berggrav led his six fellow bishops of the Norwegian Lutheran Church, with ten leaders of other denominations, to form the Christian Council for Joint Deliberation.[3] When the Nazis ordered the Church of Norway to alter its liturgical practices, Bishop Berggrav refused to comply. Matters grew even more serious in January 1942 when the Nazis wound down their occupation government and allowed Quisling (head of a party with only 1% popular support) to try again. On February 1, 1942, a group of Quisling sympathizers invaded Nidaros Cathedral and by the end of the day refused the Cathedral's Dean Kjellbu entry to conduct services. Thousands of Norwegians gathered outside to sing "A mighty fortress is our God," and the following day all seven Norwegian bishops resigned.[3]

Shortly after Easter, 1942, Berggrav was arrested, and Quisling tried to get him indicted, which provoked further public uproar. Along with four other members of the Christian Council, Berggrav was initially imprisoned in the Bredtvet concentration camp.[4] Berggrav was saved from execution by Theodor Steltzer and Helmuth von Moltke, members of the Kreisau Circle and Schwarze Kapelle.[5] Instead, the bishop was placed in solitary confinement at an isolated location in the forests north of Oslo, allowed to see no one but his guards. Almost all of the priests of the Church of Norway resigned in protest against the Nazi tyranny, as did teachers a few months later when faced with Quisling's proposal to force Norwegian children to join an organization modeled on the Hitler Youth. Since all the clergy of the Church of Norway were also civil servants at the time, this shunning of the orders of the Quisling regime sent a powerful message to Norwegians that tyrants would not be obeyed - no matter what the price.[6]

With his guards' implicit cooperation, Berggrav often secretly left his hut in Asker to meet with the Norwegian underground. Because his face was well known, the bishop often wore disguises, such as a policeman's uniform or thick glasses and a fake mustache.[5] In its Christmas 1944 edition, TIME magazine put Berggrav on its cover; he thus became one of the relatively few protestant religious figures to have received this honor.[7]

Author and Publisher

Berggrav wrote many books, all in the Norwegian language, but some translated into English: The Norwegian Church in Its International Setting, Man and State, and With God in the Darkness, and Other Papers Illustrating the Norwegian Church Conflict. Berggrav founded an association focused on Norway's local history, Romerike Historielag, in 1920, and continued to contribute pieces long after he relinguished the helm upon becoming bishop. Berggrav also led the Norwegian Bible Society (Det Norske Bibelselskap) from 1938-1955, even after his retirement as Norway's primate.

Family life

Berggrav married Kathrine Seip (1883–1949), the daughter of pastor Jens Laurits Arup Seip, and they remained married until her death. Their son Dag Berggrav became an important civil servant and sports administrator.[8]

Honors, Death and Legacy

After World War II ended, Berggrav received Norway's highest medal, the Order of St. Olav. President Harry S Truman awarded Bishop Berggrav the Medal of Freedom. In a 2005 poll for Norwegian of the Century, celebrating a century of Norwegian independence, Bishop Berggrav polled 19th (the winner being King Olav V, Berggrav's friend and Norwegian Chief of Defense as Crown Prince).

Berggrav died in Oslo and was buried in the cathedral's graveyard, with a simple slab gravemarker.[9] Oddly, one of his last acts before retiring as bishop of Norway's capital eight years earlier had been to raise that city's Church of Our Savior (Vor Frelser) to cathedral status. Norwegians consider St. Olav's Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim their highest national church and recently reinstituting the 640 km pilgrimage route between the cities as St. Olav's Way.[10]

The Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America remembers Berggrav on 14 January.[11]

Selected works


  1. Eivind Berggrav (Norsk biografisk leksikon (NBL)- archives)
  2. His thesis title can be translated as "The Threshold of Religion." See Björn Ryman (ed.), Nordic Folk Churches: A Contemporary Church History (Eerdmans) p. 158
  3. 1 2 http://virksommeord.uib.no/taler?id=2562
  4. Heiene, Gunnar (1995). "Berggrav, Eivind". In Dahl, Hans Fredrik; et al. Norsk krigsleksikon 1940-45 (in Norwegian). Oslo: Cappelen. pp. 38–39. ISBN 82-02-14138-9. Retrieved 5 June 2009.
  5. 1 2 Breuer, William B. (2000). Top Secret Tales of World War II. Wiley. pp. 138–139. ISBN 0-471-35382-5.
  6. Article in TIME magazine, December 25, 1944
  7. Frontpage in TIME magazine, December 25, 1944
  8. Frisak, Nina; Grydeland, Bjørn T. (7 May 2003). "Dag Berggrav - embetsmannen" (in Norwegian). Government.no. Retrieved 30 January 2009.
  9. https://lokalhistoriewiki.no/index.php/Eivind_Berggrav
  10. http://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Domkirken_%28Vor_Frelser%29,_Norway
  11. God, Church, and Country: Berggrav's Leadership in the Norwegian Resistance (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

Other sources

External links

Religious titles
Preceded by
Johan Støren
Bishop of Diocese of Hålogaland
Succeeded by
Sigurd Johan Normann
Preceded by
Johan P. Lunde
Bishop of Oslo
Succeeded by
Johannes Smemo
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