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Commentary on Memorial Regarding Freedom of Religion

If Chydenius made little headway in reforming the conditions for servants and workers, his contribution to the Diet of 1778–9 was still considerable. We showed in the Introduction that Chydenius became a leading figure at the Diet – he is also quite detailed on this matter in his Autobiography – in respect of the case for religious tolerance and freedom.

Ever since the sixteenth century, religious unity within the realm had been regarded as a basic condition for the continued existence of the state and of the Church in Sweden. This unity was emphasized in every constitution, accession charter and statute on religion. In matters of religious doctrine, Sweden clearly moved towards a more orthodox standpoint during the seventeenth century, and the new conservative Church law that was inaugurated in 1686 led to a stricter enforcement of Lutheranism. After the great wars at the beginning of the eighteenth century the Royal Proclamation against Conventicles was issued in 1726, which forbade religious congregations outside the official places of worship. The purpose of this prohibition was to keep the spread of Pietism within bounds and to restrain its manifestations among Swedish subjects.

The question of religious tolerance had arisen in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment, and in the Swedish realm the demands on increased religious tolerance were in particular connected to economic arguments. The country needed experts, especially in the growing mining industry, and skilled workers at the ironworks, and therefore professionals were recruited in Holland and England. The immigrant workers were often adherents of Calvinism or the Anglican Church. In principle, it was forbidden for non-Lutherans to hold religious services in their homes or at other premises, but during the seventeenth century Calvinism had in practice been tolerated as numerous Walloon workers immigrated to work at the Swedish ironworks. Generally they were able to hold their own religious services in the remote areas where the ironworks were situated. Small Calvinist congregations had also become established in Gothenburg and Vadstena by the end of the seventeenth century.1 In Stockholm the emergence of rich Calvinist merchants at the end of the seventeenth century made the issue even more acute. As Fredric Bedoire has shown, in the case of Stockholm they were officially forbidden to organize services of their own, but in practice control seems to have been lenient.2 Immigrating Huguenots were indeed a source of income for the Swedish Crown; so why not be more ready to admit them?

By a royal decree in 1741, Anglicans and French Calvinists were granted the right to form congregations of their own and practise their religion. The Hat government had been under strong pressure on this matter from rich merchants, particularly in Stockholm, the so-called Skeppsbroadeln. As a consequence, French, Spanish and Austrian Catholics were also allowed to hold private congregations. In 1775 even a small group of Jews were allowed into the country by special permission from the finance minister, Johan Liljencrants. Jews were not, however, given permanent right of residence until a new edict was inaugurated, in 1782. The strong insistence on religious unity was gradually loosened as more immigrants moved to the country. The Estate of Clergy, however, maintained its strong resistance and tried on several occasions to have the royal decree of 1741 revoked.

Religious tolerance was of course one of the most important issues for those inspired by the Enlightenment movement. This was also the case with King Gustavus III, who aspired to become an enlightened monarch, and his inner circle of politicians. Among others, the historian Sven Göransson has guessed that the monarch was the initiator of the new ordinance, but it is an overstatement to say that Chydenius acted as an agent for the king.3 However, as we have noted, there might also have been other reasons for Chydenius’s collaboration with the king (see Anders Chydenius’s life and work/A kingdom in concordance). The question of whether Chydenius acted on the basis of personal conviction in this matter or on the orders of the king is much debated. If we look at the personal experiences Chydenius had had with religious separatism within his own congregation and in the vicinity of Kokkola, there is every reason to believe Chydenius had strong personal motives to work for increased religious tolerance. Among the religious separatists in Ostrobothnia the deplorable fate of the Eriksson brothers and their followers, who had been banished and forced to leave the country in the 1730s, must have had the strongest influence on Chydenius in his youth. The Eriksson brothers roved from place to place along the coasts of the European continent for almost 15 years before they were allowed to settle in Skevik, on Värmdö outside Stockholm. In the administration of his office, Chydenius met with strong opposition from Moravian Brethren within the congregation. In the case of Anna-Kristina Silahka, a member of his congregation who had started to preach the gospel on her own, Chydenius showed how leniency, patience and gentle teaching were the only practicable approaches with which to meet the separatists. Persecution or moral and religious constraint only made matters worse.4

In his autobiography, Chydenius depicts how in December 1778 he wrote a first draft of the memorial on religious freedom. After showing it to a few friends and conferring with them, he decided to show it to the king and seek his approval. If the king did approve, Chydenius could be sure of royal protection from the persecution the memorial without doubt would inflict on him personally. In fact, the king approved of the idea, unsurprisingly as he had granted both Catholics and Jews in Swedish Pomerania certain privileges a few years earlier, and Chydenius and a group of like-minded friends went ahead and drafted the

final version of the memorial.

As Georg Schauman has shown, there are some differences between the original and the final version. The conclusions are basically the same: devotees of other religions (including Jews) should be able to live and work in Sweden, enjoy the same legal protection as other inhabitants and have the right to practise their religion. These privileges would be granted to everyone wishing to move to Sweden without regard to social class, age, gender or confession as long as he or she took an oath of allegiance to the Swedish king and refrained from trying to convert others. Withdrawn from the final version was the suggestion that immigration of foreign worshippers could be a means to populate wasteland areas and that the immigrants thus through “diligence and hard work” would contribute to the enrichment of the realm – a pet idea of Chydenius, as we have seen.5 Instead, another economic argument for making immigration easier was added: in a more general sense it could contribute to economic development and growth. The view that countries like the Netherlands and England had become more prosperous because of their generous attitude towards the immigration of foreign worshippers, while for example France had declined, was in fact common in the political discussion on economy during most of the eighteenth century (Anders Nordencrantz had already spoken in favour of it in his Arcana, published in 1730). Here, of course, the Edict of Nantes and the establishment of Huguenots in countries with which France competed in trade and industry were often used as a main illustration. In order to mitigate the severe criticism the memorial would without doubt meet in the Estate of Clergy, concessions were made regarding the upbringing of children resulting from mixed marriages. Such children were to be baptized according to Lutheran ceremonies and brought up as Lutherans. Foreign worshippers were also denied access to both higher and lower official posts within the administration.

The final memorial was without doubt a collective product even though it was Chydenius who signed it and delivered it to Archbishop Mennander on 11 January 1779. During the same time at least three other memorials on religious freedom were either submitted to the Estates or printed. Archbishop Mennander was reluctant at first, but eventually he had to bring up the proposal for discussion in the Estate of Clergy. In the discussions on 18 and 19 January, both the memorial and its author were condemned in quite strong language. For example, the bishop of Visby, Gabriel Lütkemann – as Chydenius tells us in his autobiography (p. 343) – was astonished that such a proposal had been put forward by a clergyman. In the other estates, however, a majority seem to have been in favour of the proposal. In the Estate of Nobility a landlord and colonel from Skåne, Hans Ramel, had prepared a similar memorial on religious freedom (how familiar he was with Chydenius’s text we do not know). In the end it was only the Estate of Clergy which under strong protest voted against the proposal.

Chydenius’s memorial, which during the discussions in the Estates only existed in handwritten copies, was printed on 23 January 1779 – in fact only three days before the king very suddenly, and to everybody’s surprise, dissolved the Diet. The actual new Ordinance on Religious Freedom was not inaugurated until 24 January 1781 (on King Gustavus III’s birthday, to mark its importance), but Chydenius’s contribution in December 1778 and January 1779 in bringing about the ordinance was without doubt considerable, even though modern research has played down his role somewhat.6

King Gustavus III made sure Chydenius’s memorial and the decision taken by the Diet were made known throughout Europe. The Swedish ambassador in Paris was instructed to have the memorial translated into French, and it was in fact published in at least seven French newspapers and periodicals during the spring of 1779. Translations of the Ordinance into Latin and German were also made and distributed all over Europe as political propaganda for the king. During his travels in Europe during 1783 and 1784, Gustavus III was able to stand out as the enlightened monarch he wished to be, elevated above the shackles of faith.

It is of course accurate that the new ordinance did not bring total freedom of religion in the Swedish realm. To begin with, freedom of religion was only granted to foreign immigrants. Swedish citizens were still forbidden to become proselytes of foreign religions, and the Proclamation against Conventicles from 1726 was still in force with respect to radical Pietism. Moreover, although the so-called Jew edict of 1782 gave Jews the right to live in Sweden, they were only allowed to settle in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Norrköping. Neither were they allowed to become members of town guilds or to employ Swedes in their service.7 It has also been argued that the position of Catholics in fact worsened after 1781, as they were now forced to become Swedish citizens.8 However, the pope in Rome, Pius VI, thought otherwise, as in 1780 he sent a letter of thanks to the Swedish monarch. The ordinance was undoubtedly a step towards increased religious tolerance in the spirit of the Enlightenment, and Chydenius had contributed to it in a very active way.

For Chydenius personally the matter without doubt had a darker side. By at least some of his clergymen colleagues he was looked upon as something of a traitor. Moreover, his cooperation with the king on this matter cemented the view of Chydenius as a more loyal Gustavian than perhaps he was. In the end we are left with the question of why he thought that pursuing religious freedom was worth its undoubtedly high price. Was it only for opportunistic political reasons that he collaborated with the king on this issue? We will never know for sure, but on the basis of his personal experience and general attitude towards freedom in other areas of life, we can say that Chydenius most probably regarded religious tolerance as the most effective method to preserve the unity of his own Church, not least in his own Ostrobothnia, where the number of Pietist devotees was on the increase. In the long run it might endanger peaceful communion if religious separatists were met by excessively harsh methods. The case of the Eriksson brothers gave lamentable evidence of this possibility. The Ordinance on Religious Freedom was a conscious breach with the conception that religious unity was a precondition of the continued existence of the state and of the Church. For Chydenius, constraints with regard to religion or faith were just as unacceptable as constraints in other areas of life, and therefore had to be fought against regardless of the price.

Lars Magnusson

  1. H.R. Boudin, “Valloninvandringen som religiös migration”, in A. Florén and G. Ternhag (eds), Valloner – järnets människor, Hedemora: Gidlunds förlag, 2002, p. 76.
  2. F. Bedoire, Hugenotternas värld – från religionskrigens Frankrike till skeppsbroadelns Stockholm, Stockholm: Albert Bonniers förlag, 2009, p. 185f.
  3. S. Göransson’s review of Arne Palmqvist’s Die römisch-katholische Kirche in Schweden nach 1781, vol. 1, in Kyrkohistorisk Årsskrift, Uppsala, 1955, cit. from Virrankoski, p. 321.
  4. I am much indebted to Gustav Björkstrand and thank him for providing me with valuable information on Chydenius’s views on religious separatists in Ostrobothnia.
  5. See Koncept till ”Memorial, angående religions-frihet”.
  6. P. Virrankoski, Anders Chydenius: Demokratisk politiker i upplysningens tid, Stockholm: Timbro, 1995, p. 315f.
  7. H. Valentin, Judarnas historia i Sverige, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1924, pp. 190–2.
  8. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 318.