The Danish Church and its annual day of national prayer
From the Reformation (1536/7) all inhabitants of Denmark – with only some exceptions – were obliged to confess to Lutheranism. The king headed the church and the pastors functioned as local representatives of the authorities. The complete incorporation of the church into the state which took place during the Reformation, made it possible to involve this institution in disciplining the people. Church-attendance was obligatory and the ministers were ordered to teach the fear of God and obedience to the king. As a reminiscence of these close bonds between church and state, it is still customary during a service to pray for king and country. This prayer did initially not denote a sense of Danishness, nor aimed at stimulating it. Obedience to the king was a religious duty for all subjects, whether they lived in Denmark, Norway or Schleswig-Holstein (the two latter under the rule of the Danish king until respectively 1814 and 1864).
The first constitution of 1849 named the Evangelical Lutheran Church (the state church) the ‘people’s church’ [folkekirken] (§3). Freedom of religion (§§ 81, 84) was introduced, but the church was still governed by the state and the vast majority of the Danes remained Lutheran. From the reforms of local government, beginning round 1840, however, it became clear, that the church had lost its obvious and prominent position within state administration. But pastors still occupied central positions in cultural and political circles. Their position within the social network of the higher social strata mainly derived from a clear and well-cultivated sense of class as well as from their academic education.
Preaching was considered to be the clergy’s most important religious duty. During the two Schleswig Wars, virtually all published sermons and probably many of the delivered ones as well, touched upon the battles, the bravery of the soldiers, and the losses and the victories in the wars over Schleswig and Holstein. Ecstatic joy could be replaced on short notice with great concern for the future of Denmark. This was also the case in the sermons from the day this article focuses on: the annual day of national prayer, on May 19, 1848 and April 22, 1864. The purpose of the day required this attention for the country. From its installation in 1686, every fourth Friday after Easter, the king’s subjects were to gather in the church to repent their sins and pray to avert the threats to church and realm.