Tag Archives: Hans Nielsen Hauge

The power of paper

Photo credit: Annie Spratt @ anniesprat

Okay, I’ve got another thing to write about Hans Nielsen Hauge (look a few inches down for my first post on him. It’s the one with the Sissel song), the Norwegian lay revivalist of the early 19th Century. (I’m doing my article for the Spectator too, but this is extra.) As was noted by the lecturer I talked to last week, Hauge is a hero both to the right and to the left in Norway – to the right for his religious influence, and to the left for being one of the founders of their movement.

Because in those days of yore, liberalism had little or nothing to do with socialism. It had nothing to do with sexual practices or the size of government.

Liberalism was about whether the common people should be allowed to participate fully in society. To move out of the social classes they were born into, and aspire to higher ambitions. Even to politics.

One thing our speaker mentioned that I hadn’t appreciated before was Hauge’s sideline in manufacturing paper.

I’d known that he established a paper mill, called the Eker Paper Mill. In it he employed unemployables – the blind, the crippled, amputees – allowing them to live productive lives and contribute to the community. I thought that a very nice thing.

What I didn’t realize was the significance of the paper mill itself.

Cheap paper was a new thing in those days. Paper use had formerly been limited to the elite, and the paper they had was often of poor quality. But new manufacturing techniques involving paper pulp permitted a larger public to get hold of the stuff.

Hauge immediately recognized the wider significance of cheap paper.

It was usual in those days for the common people to be able to read. They had to be able to read to finish “Confirmation,” the Lutheran process that gave young men and women access to the Bible and the Catechism, in order to be full church members.

But those people generally could not write. (I’d never thought about this, but writing is a very different skill. Only the upper classes [and not all of them] could write in those days.)

Hauge had a vision of “awakened” (his term) Christians corresponding with each other all over the country. They could share inspiration, news, and practical information, forming what we’d call today a Haugean “network.”

In order to make that happen, he did two things. One, he built a paper mill (perhaps more than one; I’m not sure), and he organized classes to teach people to write.

This, by the way, was alarming to the authorities. They saw no reason why people should have any regular contacts outside their home parishes. Revolution was abroad in Europe, after all; you never knew what those peasants might get up to. This accounts for some of the hostility Hauge encountered, leading to his ten year incarceration.

But his followers kept writing on Hauge’s paper. Eventually they started newspapers and publishing houses. And today he is a hero of literacy and liberal politics in Norway.

‘Jesus, I Long For Thy Blessed Communion’

I was surprised to find this hymn on YouTube. It’s a classic hymn for the Haugeans (the Lutheran “sect” I grew up in. Though we never actually sang this one much in my church), and it’s sung my none other than the divine Sissel Kyrkjebo. I didn’t even know she’d done it.

The two verses she sings are translated thus:

1 Jesus, I long for Thy blessed communion,
Yearning for Thee fills my heart and my mind;
Draw me from all that would hinder our union,
May I to Thee, my beginning, be joined;
Show me more clearly my hopeless condition;
Show me the depth of corruption in me,
So that my nature may die in contrition,
And that my spirit may live unto Thee!

7 Merciful Jesus, now hear how I bind Thee
To the sure pledge of Thy covenant word:
“Ask, and receive: when ye seek, ye shall find me;”
Thus have Thy lips, ever faithful, averred.
I with the woman of Canaan unresting,
Cry after Thee till my longing is stilled,
Till Thou shalt add, my petitions attesting,
“Amen, yea, amen: it be as thou wilt!”

Hans Nielsen Hauge, the Norwegian lay revivalist I’ve written about here before, was singing this song as he plowed his father’s field on a day in 1796. Suddenly, he said, he was overwhelmed with the glory of God, and felt himself filled with love for God and all his neighbors, and called to serve them with his whole life. After that he started preaching to small groups — which was illegal. Eventually he would spend ten years in prison for this activity. But by the time he died, he was a national hero, respected by nearly everyone, high and low.

I attended a meeting yesterday where we heard a lecture from a Norwegian scholar, a woman, who’s been studying Hauge’s life and work for years. Her subject was the effect of Hauge’s ministry on public literacy in Norway — because that was one of his many achievements — getting the common people reading (and even writing).

In the midst of this, I came to a new realization about the “liberal” origins of evangelicalism — a subject that fascinates me. As people are no doubt weary of me telling them, early liberalism (late 18th and early 19th Century liberalism) had nothing to do with socialism, or sexual identity, or the size of government. It was simply about whether the common people would be allowed to participate in governing themselves.

I’ll be writing more about this — but probably for the American Spectator Online. Because they pay me, after all.