About the Commemoration
Olavus and Laurentius Petri were two brothers who led the Reformation in Sweden in the sixteenth century. Olavus, the elder brother, was born in 1493, Laurentius in 1499, both in Örebro, the chief town of Nerike (modern Närke), from which Laurentius is sometimes called Nericius. The boys were educated in the local monastery, Uppsala, Leipzig, and then at Wittenberg, where they were deeply influenced by Martin Luther. Olavus seems to have been in Wittenberg at the time of the posting of the Ninety-five Theses, for he received his bachelor’s degree in 1516 and the master’s degree in 1518.
When Olavus returned to Sweden, he became chancellor to Bishop Matthias of Strengnäs and a close friend of Laurentius Andreae, who was the archdeacon. Olavus was ordained deacon and spread the teachings of the reformers among clergy and laity’ of the Church. After his coronation at Strengnäs, King Gustavus Vasa, who liberated Sweden from Danish rule, took Laurentius Petri to Stockholm as his chancellor and Olavus as pastor of the city church there and secretary of the city council. Half the townspeople were German, and Olavus’s study in Germany stood him in good stead.
The character of the Reformation in Sweden was determined to a great extent by the writings of Olavus. He understood that the reformation of the Church depended upon the education of the clergy and people, and his writing gave the intellectual and liturgical basis for such education. He prepared a Swedish translation of the New Testament based on the Latin Vulgate, but with some reference to Luther’s translation from the Greek. In the same year, 1526, he published a book of catechetical instruction, A Useful Teaching. In 1531 he issued a Swedish version of the Latin mass, simplified along the lines of Luther’s Deutsche Messe, and in 1530 he published a collection of hymns and canticles in Swedish. In 1540 he was condemned to death for violating royal dignity because of his opposition to the king’s desire for complete ecclesiastical control. Later he was pardoned and wrote his Swedish Chronicles. He died April 19, 1552.
Laurentius returned from Wittenberg in 1527 and, in spite of his youth (he was 28), he was appointed to a professorship at the University of Uppsala. He was ordained to the priesthood and four years later was the king’s choice to fill the vacant see of Uppsala. An assembly of the clergy from the whole realm was called, and they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the young priest-professor. He was consecrated on September 22, 1531, in Stockholm, the first evangelical archbishop of Sweden. Uppsala had first become the seat of an archbishop in 1164 with Stephen as its first incumbent; the eight hundredth anniversary of this event was celebrated in 1964. Laurentius succeeded (against Gustavus Vasa who thought of abolishing the episcopal office) in preserving the historic episcopate for Lutheranism. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship is in error in calling Laurentius Petri “Bishop of Uppsala.” There is in fact another person who is the diocesan bishop and not the primate.)
In 1541 the complete Bible in Swedish, the joint work of the Petri brothers, appeared with full royal approval. In the same year a revised liturgy prepared by Laurentius was issued in which the reformer began the transformation of the solemn mass in Latin without congregational communion into a service of Holy Communion sung in Swedish by the people, with a sermon required after the Gospel.
In 1561, at the coronation of King Eric XIV, Archbishop Laurentius preached a sermon setting forth the principles of the Reformation and making clear the relation between the two autonomous instruments of God’s rule, the secular and the religious.
Laurentius died in 1573, and twenty years later, when the Augsburg Confession was officially endorsed the Reformation in Sweden was complete. During the lifetime of the two Petri brothers, Sweden had passed from Danish rule, subject to Rome, to an independent nation with a firmly established evangelical church.
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.
From The Church Manual of Olavus Petri
Our death has now through Christ’s death become a medicine unto life, so that when we begin to die, then for the first time we really begin to live, because the sin with which we were born is so deeply rooted in us that we can not be free from it as long as we live. And we are not fit for eternal life as long as we live. And we are not fit for eternal life as long as we are laden with sin, which is active in our mortal members; therefore it is necessary that death comes and strikes down man in whom sin reigns, so that the body is brought to naught. For this reason death is now become a remarkable medicine. And although this medicine is bitter to experience, it is nevertheless beneficial for us, and we can observe from this severe remedy how grievous is the sickness of sin with which we are afflicted. And we are poor and wretched folk as long as we remain in this miserable life. In this poor world there is no security, but from all sides we are troubled by sin. Therefore, let us earnestly fall down before our heavenly Father, and pray him for grace not to fear or dread death, since it is quite beneficial that we for a short time taste this physical death with Christ, in order that we may also be raised again with him to blessedness. And we should not mourn and grieve too much that our friends have departed, because they are now separated from this misery and danger in which we still remain, and they are now come into the peace of Christ, where they shall rest until the last judgment. Then we shall be reunited with them and thus remain with Christ forever. With this we should now comfort one another. May God Almighty grant us his holy grace, that we may so walk here in this life, among those things which are temporal, as not to lose that which is spiritual and eternal. Amen.
Excerpted in For All the Saints, ed. Frederick J. Schumacher and Dorothy Zelenko, vol. 3 (Delhi: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1995), 77-78.
Almighty God, through the labors of your learned servants Olavus and Laurentius Petri you gave the people of Sweden the Scriptures and the services of the church in their own tongue: Mercifully grant that people everywhere may hear and understand the good news of salvation, and be drawn to the kingdom of your blessed Son 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: “Oh, sing jubilee to the Lord” (LBW 256)
Prayers: For the Church in Sweden: its archbishop, bishops, priests, and people; For the gift of wisdom and learning for the clergy; For a deepened appreciation of the long tradition of the church.
Preface: A Saint (1) (BCP)