Conversion and rebirth to a new and better life
Conversion in mid-nineteenth century Denmark was used in terms of a turn towards, as well as a return to, God. In the former case, one can also speak of baptism. Since virtually all in Denmark were baptized, the call for conversion made by the ministers from the Lutheran church must be understood as the call for a return to God. In accordance with the purpose of the national day of repentance, this return to God was not only explained as an individual conversion but also as a collective conversion. The war, according to the pastors, indicated the need for national repentance, followed by a return to God.
In a small hamlet in Jutland, pastor H.W. Tetens (1802-1888) interpreted the revolt in the duchies and the German assistance as God’s call for conversion. The war was a punishment of the local congregation as well as of the inhabitants of the country for their sins. The pastor clearly presupposed a link between the church-goers and the Danish nation. As Tetens held them partly responsible for the invasion of the state, the small religious community in Jutland became part of a national moral community. The pastor, however, did not proceed beyond proclaiming this weak sense of nationhood and responsibility for the territory.
Quite explicit were the ideas presented by Viborg. In 1864, he distinguished between the need for individual and collective conversion. Focusing on the latter, he stated clearly that a sinner is punished with his own sins. This made the war an indication of the national sins. Viborg summarizes them as follows: “our sins, our disrespect for what is Danish was a disrespect for the most valuable and precious of all of Gods temporary gifts: our nationality, our mother tongue, our country”.
Consequently the object of the national conversion was not solely located in Lutheran Christianity. God’s purpose with the war was to let the Danes recall their Danish nature. The Danish nation was to blame for having been influenced by German culture at the expense of its nationality. The Danish government was criticized especially, as they were said to have paved the way for the German influences in Denmark, prohibiting the clergy, among others, to educate the people in an awareness of their national identity and culture.
The criticism of too weak a sense of national identity was shared by L.A. Warburg (1821-1886) in 1864. The chaplain of Holmens Kirke, Copenhagen, is remembered as a quiet and friendly minister who did not participate in the ecclesiastical discussions of his time. This did however not keep him from expressing his concern for the future of Denmark and relating it to the lack of faith, of a sense of Danishness and of clerical involvement in the national cause. Besides calling upon the nation to convert to God and to Denmark, which was to become manifest by, among other things, church-attendance and clerical involvement in the national cause, Warburg – referring to John 16: 21 – also spoke of a rebirth: “Denmark, our mother, is in labour pain, because a new generation will be reborn, a new age will begin”. This new generation would be a faithful and strong national collective.
In Denmark, Grundtvig especially had contributed to depicting the kingdom as ‘Mother Denmark’, which, from the 1840s, had gained popularity, especially through the painting ‘Danmark’ from 1850-1851 by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann (1819-1881).
Jerichau-Baumann was born of German parents in the Russian part of Poland, educated in Germany and Italy and married to a Dane. It was quite an international woman whose personification of the country became a strong Danish symbol.