Palladius Sided with the Reformation
PEDER PALLADIUS was in his teens when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses. Luther’s subsequent challenges to the established church would prove life-changing for young Palladius and his native Denmark. There religious knowledge was low, and immorality widespread. Soon Lutheran books and preachers were spilling into Denmark from Germany, shining fresh light and threatening to topple the old order.
The son of a shoemaker, Palladius was on his way up in society even before the Reformation arrived. While he was in his late twenties, he became a schoolmaster in Odense. Soon afterward, sponsored by the mayor of that city, he proceeded to the University of Wittenberg, center of Lutheran ideas. There he began to compare Roman Catholic teaching with Christ’s words, and wrote that they were so “little consistent with each other as the heavens above us and hell below us.” After taking his doctorate at the university in 1537, he returned to Denmark to become one of its most notable reformers.
King Christian III, after defeating a coalition of Catholic bishops and nobility, pushed hard to spread the Reformation, even preaching from pulpits himself. He appointed Palladius as Bishop of Zealand, Denmark’s most significant diocese. The hard-working Palladius not only managed the diocese well, immediately visiting and assessing all 390 parishes under his supervision, but taught at the University of Copenhagen, wrote hymns and books explaining theology in terms ordinary farmers could understand—even borrowing barnyard details to make his points—and taught seminars for other clergy. Altogether, he penned close to one hundred works on education, morality, and faith. A liturgy he prepared in 1556 (after suffering a stroke) was employed in Denmark’s churches for over a century.
Palladius encouraged patience and humility and preferred persuasion to force. His Visitation Book, intended to turn the people from old superstitions, was full of humor and anecdotes. It had everything from earthy descriptions of the ungodly and suggestions for quieting babies in church to practical instructions on church windows and tithes.
When the shoemaker’s son died on this day, 3 January 1560, his successors eagerly mined his works for their riches and imitated them in their own writings.