Home > Worship Resources > Festivals & Commemorations > Eivind Josef Berggrav, Bishop of Oslo, 1959 (January 14)

About the Commemoration

Eivind Berggrav was born October 25, 1884 in the port city of Stavanger, in the southwestern part of Norway. He was the son of the bishop of Hamar, Otto Jensen. The name Berggrav, taken by the son, is thought to mean “mountain diggers,” for his ancestors, like Luther’s, were miners in Thuringia. They were invited to Norway in 1624 to work the Konigsberg silver mines. Eivind Berggrav first planned a career in engineering, but he was drawn to the ministry and received his master’s degree in theology in 1908. Nonetheless, for ten years following his graduation he served as editor of Kirke og Kultur, studying the psychology of religion and wrestling with his own vocation. He also served as a teacher in a folk school in Eidsvoll, 1909-1914, and as headmaster of Holmestrand Teachers’ College, 1914-1915. He studied at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in 1914 and in Berlin in 1916. Finally, in 1919 he was ordained by the Church of Norway and became the pastor of a rural parish, Hurdal, near Oslo. In 1925 he became a prison chaplain in Oslo, and while there he earned his doctorate from the University of Oslo for his work The Threshold of Religion.

In 1928 he was elected bishop of Tromsø in the extreme north of Norway, a diocese of fishermen, fur trappers, and seamen, which reached to the land of the Lapps. In 1937 he was made Bishop of Oslo and Primate of Norway.

He was elected president of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches in 1938 and in the following year on the outbreak of war called a conference of Scandinavian Church leaders. In May 1940, a month after the Nazis invaded the country, Berggrav was named one of the negotiators to determine the intentions of the Nazi occupation. He withdrew from the commission after two days, refusing to offer a compromise to the Germans. With the six other bishops of Norway he led the opposition to the Nazi edicts and insisted on the right of clerical confidence, noninterference in the spiritual province of the Church, and the rights of the Jews. With the other bishops he resigned February 24, 1941, “what the state has committed to my charge,” at the same time declaring, “the spiritual calling which has been ordained to me at the altar of God remains mine by God and by right.” Berggrav consolidated a united front against the Nazis and wrote declarations and confessional documents in the Kirchenkampf (church struggle).

On February 1, 1942, Vidkun Quisling was appointed head of the Nazi-controlled government. Bishop Berggrav, deprived by Quisling of the title of bishop and designated “an ordinary private person,” was put under house arrest on Maundy Thursday, April 2. In protest, all the bishops and 797 of the 861 priests of the Church of Norway resigned their offices at Easter. Berggrav was then imprisoned on the charge of instigating rebellion and then placed again under house arrest as a solitary prisoner in a log cabin on the outskirts of Oslo, reportedly at the direction of Adolf Hitler because of reports of widespread public unrest. An underground church was formed to continue religious life independent of the Quisling regime. Berggrav in disguise was able to meet with the church. In April 1945 he escaped and remained in hiding in Oslo until the liberation of Norway shortly afterward.

After the war, in the reorganization of the Church, he recommended a more active participation by lay people in the affairs of the Church. He was a leader in the World Council of Churches from its founding in 1948 and in the Lutheran World Federation. Ill health forced him to resign his bishopric in 1950. He died on this date in 1959.

Berggrav published many books in the area of the psychology of religion: Soldier Life and Religion (1915), The Threshold of Religion (1925), Religious Feelings (1928), The Prisoner’s Soul (1928), Body and Soul (1933). His Biblical History and his edition of Luther’s Small Catechism have been widely used in schools in Norway. He also published With God in the Darkness (1943) and When the Fight Came (1945) about his war experiences, Church Order in Norway about the reorganization of the Church, and Man and State, a study of basic ethical questions. He translated into English a hymn by Peter Dass, “Mighty God, to thy dear Name be given,” which was included as hymn number 357 in the Service Book and Hymnal (1958).

Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.

See also: Eivind Berggrav


From Eivind Berggrav, Man and State, written secretly while under house arrest by the Nazis

It cannot be denied that revolt is Christian. Nor is it enough to say that one must only turn in cases of necessity to revolt with arms or without. When men are mutiny-minded they can insist that a case of necessity exists every time something opposes their own wishes. That is why it is a good thing that revolt or mutiny always involves great outward risk. For one who is subject to an authoritative conscience, however, there is an even greater risk of the judgment of God.

Christianity has always maintained that a willingness to suffer is a practical test of whether we are rightly related to God. Christianity has therefore designated as absolutely sinful any mutiny based solely on personal desire. At this point the Christian Church must preach uncompromising obedience. Here Paul and the Epistle to the Romans are in complete agreement with the popular Lutheran interpretation. The Christian must even be willing to suffer considerable injustice against himself. If opposition to those in power is necessary it should be on the ground that others have suffered unduly and on the presupposition that such action would bring still more suffering to oneself. Thomas Aquinas says, “To bear with patience the evil which is committed against one is a sign of perfection. To be patient, however, with the evil which is done to others, is a sign of imperfection yea, it is a sin.”

It must be remembered, however, that suffering can be a dangerous test if one takes as one’s starting point the natural desire to want to get off cheap. In that case the possibility of suffering would restrain one from undertaking anything. That is why it is equally important to make the Christian’s burning challenge to withstand all unrighteousness the criterion. Where God’s orders are trodden underfoot and the right of one’s fellow man to live is threatened at the very outset, there the Christian must be willing to go the way of sacrifice, even if it involves revolt against illegal authority. Keeping in touch with the conscience of one’s fellows, i.e., with the corporate conscience, will constitute the greatest controlling factor. At a time of decision Cromwell said to his followers, “I charge you, Christians, to search your hearts and to consider whether you may not have erred.”

But if conscience is rooted in God then a social matter is also God’s concern. It is inappropriate for a Christian to say that the freedom of the Church or of God’s Word is not yet directly threatened and we ought to take suffering and strife upon ourselves just for the sake of “secular matters.” There are no such things as “secular matters” for a Christian conscience. The moment that God calls on him to assume them they are God’s concern as far as he is concerned. This is the explanation of that fact that the two expressions “to suffer for Jesus sake and to suffer for righteousness’ sake” stand side by side in the Sermon on the Mount. The moment conscience has received its orders and is willing to accept suffering and sacrifice, the thing becomes more than social. It then signifies covenant relationship with God.

The words on John Knox’s tombstone are a challenging note about the strongest radical guaranty in this life: “Here lies the man who never feared the face of any man.”

Eivind Josef Berggrav, Man and State, trans. George Aus (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1951), 282-84.


Mighty God, you gave your servant Eivind Berggrav, together with the bishops and faithful priests of Norway, strength and courage to resist tyranny, to defend your ancient people the Jews, and to uphold the rights of your church: So strengthen our faith by their witness, we pray, that we in our generation may serve you faithfully and confess your Name before the world; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16; Psalm 84; 1 Peter 5:1-4; John 21:15-17

Hymn of the Day:Bow down your ear, almighty Lord” (LBW 286) or “Mighty God, to thy dear Name be given” (SBH 357; see LBW 244, ELW 730)

Prayers: For those under persecution; For those who resist tyranny; For those in prison; For those who explore relationships between religion and culture; For colleges and schools.

Preface: Epiphany

Color: White