About the Commemoration
Hans Nielsen Hauge was born April 3, 1771, on a farm in Rolfsøen in southeastern Norway, about fifty miles from Oslo. His father, Niels Mikkelsen, was a farmer, and the farm was known as “Hauge Gaard” from which Hans Nielsen took his surname. The family was deeply concerned with their Christian faith, having regular family prayers and daily Bible reading, and from time to time attending lay religious meetings in the village. As a young boy Hauge thought deeply about religious matters and was troubled with a fear that he would not go to heaven when he died. This fear intensified through several experiences that brought him face to face with death.
Hauge never had much formal education, but he became very skilled in practical tasks such as carpentry and the repair of mechanical devices. Acting as village handyman and helping on the family farm, Hauge also became experienced in business affairs, and all of his life he not only was able to support himself while engaging in religious work but also was able to assist others in their everyday affairs.
He worked for a time in Fredrikstad where the temptations he encountered made him aware of the conflict between God and the world. As a young man his first interest was religion. He read deeply in Lutheran catechetical and devotional literature and participated in the worship of the parish church and in private prayer meetings. He spoke to others so frequently about their faith that his companions nicknamed him “Holy.”
His parents called him home to work on their farm, and it was while working there on April 5, 1796, that he had a mystical experience that set the course of his life. He felt suddenly at peace about his own salvation and felt sure of his call to preach. He launched a one-man preaching crusade, beginning in his own community and then traveling throughout Norway and visiting Denmark in 1800. He also wrote about his faith, eventually producing some thirty books, of which the best known is his Reiser og Vigtigste Haendsler (“Journeys and Important Events”). The central concept of his preaching and writing was what he called “the living faith,” the personal commitment to the Lord that transforms the believer’s life.
Hauge encountered stern opposition, for it was thought unprecedented that a farm boy should teach religion, an area traditionally reserved for the clergy. He was in violation of the Ordinance of 13th January 1741, which required that the local pastor be informed of the time and place of any religious meetings to be held within his parish. The pastor was obliged to attend and had authority to forbid such meetings. Only a few people were permitted to gather, the meetings had to be held during the day, men and women were to meet in separate places, and it was forbidden that laypeople travel about and preach. The church authorities were opposed to Hauge because some thought that he laid too much stress on good works; the civil authorities were opposed to him because some feared he would stir up a peasants’ revolt. After repeated arrests, he was taken into custody in 1804 to be held for full investigation, and his imprisonment lasted ten years. In prison, in the absence of Christian fellowship, Hauge’s faith weakened. In 1809 he was released from prison to work on a project to extract salt from seawater (war with England had cut off supplies of salt by ship). He was arrested again, although he was permitted more freedom than before. In 1811 he was permitted to move to a small farm just outside Christiana called Bakkehaugen. In December 1813 he was sentenced to two years at hard labor and the costs of the trial for breaking the Ordinance of 13th January 1741 and for “invectives” against the clergy.
On January 27, 1815, Hauge married Andrea Nyhus, the housekeeper at his farm. She died not long afterward, leaving an infant son, Andreas. In 1817 Hauge married Ingeborg Oldsdatter, who bore him three sons, all of whom died young. Hauge moved to another farm, Bredveldt, where he was visited by friends, among whom by now were some bishops. His health broken after his long ordeal, Hauge died at 4 A.M. on March 29, 1824. He is buried in the cemetery at Aker Church in Oslo, where his grave is marked:
He lived in the Lord,
He died in the Lord
And by the grace of Christ he partakes of salvation.
Since Hauge’s influence in Norway was at its peak during the period of greatest Norwegian immigration to America, the Haugean spirit was one of the main streams of Norwegian-American Lutheranism. It was an important force in the growth of the church and in deepening its spiritual life, particularly that of the laity, and for this reason Hauge appears on the calendar in the Lutheran Book of Worship and Evangelical Lutheran Worship. The Haugean Lutheran Synod, established in 1846, merged in 1917 with other Norwegian Lutheran bodies. A few churches in North America are named for Hauge.
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: Hans Nielsen Hauge
From Hauge’s Autobiography, April 5, 1796
The desire to please God grew more and more. In prayer to Him, I would kneel in heartfelt unworthiness of the great goodness He had shown me, ashamed because I had not served the Lord as I ought. Sometimes I fell on my knees and prayed almighty God for the sake of His Son to establish me on the spiritual rock, Christ Jesus. For I believed that then even the gates of hell would be powerless against me. I called upon the God of my salvation to reveal his Son’s love in me and grant me His Holy Spirit to expose my wretchedness and impotence and teach me the way I should walk in order to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
One day while I was working outside under the open sky, I sang from memory the hymn, “Jesus, I Long for Thy Blessed Communion.” I had just sung the second verse:
Mightily strengthen my spirit within me,
That I may learn what Thy Spirit can do;
Oh, take Thou captive each passion and win me,
Lead Thou and guide me my whole journey through!
All that I am and possess I surrender,
If thou alone in my spirit mayest dwell,
Everything yield Thee, O Savior most tender,
Thou, only Thou, canst my sadness dispel.
At this point my mind became so exalted that I was not myself aware of, nor can I express, what took place in my soul. For I was beside myself. As soon as I came to my senses, I was filled with regret that I had not served this loving transcendentally good God. Now it seemed to me that nothing in this world was worthy of any regard. That my soul experienced something supernatural, divine, and blessed; that there was a glory that no tongue can utter—that I remember as clearly as it had happened only a few days ago. And it is now nearly twenty years since the love of God visited me so abundantly.
Nor can anyone argue this away from me. For I know all the good that followed in my spirit from that hour, especially a deep, burning love to God and my neighbor. I know that I received an entirely changed mind, a sorrow for sin and a desire that other people should become partakers with me of the same grace. I know that I was given a special desire to read the holy Scriptures, especially Jesus’ own teachings. At the same time I received new light to understand the Word and to bring together the teachings of all men of God to one focal point; that Christ has come for our salvation, that we should by His Spirit be born again, repent, and be sanctified more and more in accord with God’s attributes to serve the triune God alone, in order that our souls may be refined and prepared for eternal blessedness.
It was as if I saw the whole world submerged in evil. I grieved much over this and prayed God that He would withhold punishment so that some might repent Now I wanted very much to serve God. I asked him to reveal to me what I should do. The answer echoed in my heart, “You shall confess My name before the people; exhort them to repent and seek Me while I may be found and call upon Me while I am near; and touch their hearts that they may turn from darkness to light.”
Hans Nielsen Hauge, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Joel M. Njus (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1954), 41-43.
Gracious and loving Father, when the zeal and love of your church grow cold, you stir the hearts of your people by sending them men and women to preach repentance and renewal: In your mercy, grant that your church, inspired by the example of your servant Hans Nielsen Hauge, may never be destitute of such proclamation of the reality of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 46; 1 Corinthians 3:11-23; Mark 10:35-45
Hymn of the Day: “In heaven above, in heaven above” (LBW 330, ELW 630) (The tune I himmelen, I himmelen is called Hauge in the Service Book and Hymnal.)
Prayers: For lay readers and preachers; For those persecuted for the exercise of their faith; For confidence and courage; For deepened spiritual life; For growth in grace.
Preface: A Saint (2) (BCP) or of the Season