'NORWAY ABLAZE - DENMARK SHAKEN'
When Buchman returned from Canada in June 1934, with Hitler in power and his own work in Germany growing too slowly to affect events, he was looking for a way to bring spiritual leverage on Germany - as well as upon Britain - from outside. He knew that the Scandinavian countries possessed a special Nordic prestige in Germany and were respected in Britain. News of a Christian revolution there might carry more weight in both countries than similar tidings from elsewhere. 'The policy of striking in Scandinavia last year,' he wrote to Sir Lynden Macassey in May 1935, 'was with the hope that the whole continent of Europe would be influenced and find a true answer through the dictatorship of the living Spirit of God.'1*
(* The Gestapo themselves thought this a sound strategy. 'Everything Scandinavian has a good name in Germany,' their report of 1936 stated. 'If Oxford (i.e. the Oxford Group) comes with tall blond Scandinavians of the saint Lutheran upbringing, the movement will more easily find entry to the neighbouring countries to the south.' (Leitheft Die Oxfordoder Gruppenbewegung herausgegeben vom Sicherheitshauptamt, November 1936, Geheim, Numeriertes Exemplar No. 1, Documents Centre, Berlin, p. 10, quoting from Nordschleswig’sche Korrespondenz, 19 November 1935.)
Whether this was, in fact, a wholly deliberate plan, as implied in the letter to Macassey, or one which evolved through taking advantage of unexpected developments in certain people and was then perceived in hindsight - or a combination of both - is an open question.
One evening back in the spring of 1931 Buchman had dined beside Mrs Alexander Whyte, the elderly widow of a once-famous Edinburgh preacher. He asked her what was her greatest concern.
'I'm preparing to die,' she replied.
'Why not prepare to live?' he suggested.
They talked of the chaos in the world. She told him how she had first heard of his work in Shanghai and later in South Africa. Then she spoke of her hopes for the League of Nations where her son, Sir Frederick Whyte, was an economic expert.
Some months later, at the Oxford house-party, Mrs Whyte rose to her feet and said that someone should take a team to Geneva. When she insisted a second time, Buchman said, in a characteristic phrase, ‘fine, you do it!’ She booked a hundred rooms in Geneva, and Buchman set about getting together a suitable team. In January 1932 they stayed ten days in Geneva and met a number of delegates and officials; and this led to an invitation to address a luncheon of League personalities in September 1933.
A senior delegate to the league was C. J. Hambro, the President of the Norwegian Parliament and leader of the Conservative party there. It was his custom to use the long journey from Oslo to Geneva to translate books, and he had picked up a copy of For Sinners Only on a station bookstall. The book interested him, and when on arrival he heard that Buchman was speaking in Geneva that September, he made sure of attending.* At the end of the luncheon, he rose and declared, extemporaneously, that what he had just heard seemed to him more important than most of the subjects on the League agenda.
(* According to the biography by his son Johan, Hambro's initial interest in the Oxford Group was aroused by enthusiastic letters from another son, Cato, who had met them in London, (Johan Hambro: C.J. Hambro, Aschehoug, 1984, p. 174.)
In December Buchman invited Hambro to England to speak to British Members of Parliament at Sir Francis Fremantle's meeting, when he concluded his speech with the invitation to Buchman to bring the Oxford Group to Norway. Buchman accepted, carrying Hambro off through a pea-soup fog to a weekend house-party in Eastbourne so that he would understand what he was letting himself in for. So it came about that, through following a series of unforeseen opportunities, Buchman and his team arrived in Norway in October 1934.
Norway was an unexpected country in which to launch a Christian revolution. Most authorities agree that at that time the intellectual climate was more nihilist there than in most European countries. This was in large measure due to the leadership of students and intellectuals influenced by Erling Falk, who had been converted to Communism in America and returned to Oslo to found the Communist-line paper Mot Dag. Moral relativism was a recognised part of FaIk's ideological outlook.2
Carl Hambro was opposed to these trends. He was, perhaps, the most significant Norwegian statesman in the years between the wars, a kind of Churchillian figure. As the Conservatives were a minority party he never had the chance to form a government; but repeatedly he was re-elected President of the Parliament, and he was twice President of the League of Nations Assembly. His successor as President of the Parliament, Oscar Torp, a former Labour Prime Minister, described Hambro on his retirement as 'perhaps the greatest parliamentarian we have had in the recent history of Norway' whose 'name and contribution will live in the pages of history'.3
Hambro's invitation to Buchman in the early thirties arose from his realisation that political and economic measures were not sufficient to counter nihilism and a totalitarian faith. Yet he knew that any attempt to redirect the national thinking would meet with resistance, from which he naturally shrank. He also feared the financial cost of such an operation.
In August 1934 Buchman wrote to him, 'In all our planning we must think through all of Norway and the Nordic countries and the part they must play in world reconstruction. I do not think we need fear the publicity. You are accustomed to an Opposition and after all it is an opposition that may be won, because unless they see the need of a world-wide spiritual front, they themselves may have an anti-God movement at their doors which will be far more subtle and devastating; while this carries the constructive answer, as you well know, to the problems of the modern world. I beg of you to have no concern about finances and we need not now decide on numbers. We shall see eye-to-eye as things develop, but "Have no thought what we shall eat or what we shall drink." Our Heavenly Father will look after these things for us.'4
Hambro invited 120 of his friends to meet Buchman and thirty companions at the Tourist Hotel at Høsbjør in early October.
'What is going to happen up there?' Frederik Ramm, a renowned editor who had been the only journalist with Amundsen in his flight over the North Pole, asked Reginald Holme as they travelled together.
'Miracles - and you will be one them,' replied Holme.
Norwegians like plain talking, and Holme's prediction turned out to be true.
'At Høsbjør God extinguished all hatred and all fear in my relations to other people, classes and nations,' Ramm wrote later.5
Ronald Fangen, the novelist, brought two bottles of whisky and a crate of books, expecting boredom. He did not find time to open either. His change was immediately visible and long remembered. The lyric poet Alt Larsen, even twenty years later, spoke of the 'hopeless naivety' of the Group's philosophy as compared with his own anthroposophy. It had however completely transformed Fangen, who before that, in his opinion, had been the most unpleasant man in Norway.6
Eighty journalists turned up, and as they spread the news of what was happening at Høsbjør, more and more people came until every bed was filled for miles around and some even slept in their cars. By the second weekend, the number of guests had grown to 1,200.
'I don't know when Frank, or any of us, have laughed so much,' Loudon Hamilton wrote to his wife. 'Hambro is a continuous fund of really first-class yarns.' Four days later he added, 'A remarkable feature has been the way individuals and groups have been reconciled. Church divisions are very deep in Norway. But here they have become united. Two leading theologians detested each other. They were put in the same room and are now fast friends! Two party leaders (they were Hambro himself and Johann Mellbye, President of the Farmers' Party) who were well-known enemies were reconciled. Ronald Fangen, 6 ft 2 ins and former Authors' Association Chairman, has lost many enemies and made many friends. Frank says it is like roasting chestnuts before Christmas. You never know who will pop next.'7
At the end of the house-party Fredrik Ramm was offered a lift back to Oslo by Halvor Mustad, the son of a business man who had made a fortune by selling horse-shoe nails to both sides during World War I. Young Mustad was near-sighted and cheerfully reckless. Slithering down the snow-covered mountain road at high speed, he piled up in a snow-drift. Ramm emerged with the remark, 'What an excellent chance to have an "Oxford meeting" while we wait for another car,' and duly called the local villagers together to hear 'the miracles of Høsbjør'.8
'The Oxford Group Conquers Oslo: President Hambro, Ronald Fangen, editor Ramm and several other well-known men witness to their conversion' was a typical headline 9 about the first of three meetings that took place in one of Oslo's largest halls immediately after Høsbjør. Fourteen thousand people crowded in to them, and thousands more were turned away. Three thousand students attended a meeting at the University, and informal gatherings took place with railwaymen, nurses and doctors, teachers, civil servants and business and professional groups. The Military and Naval Club invited ten ex-officers travelling with Buchman to address them, with the Crown Prince present. Behind the scenes there was a ceaseless stream of personal interviews, informally estimated at 500 a day.
Early in December the visiting team, reinforced by Norwegians, moved on to Bergen. Again there were the same throngs. 'Oxford Conquers Bergen' ran one headline, as sub-editors began to drop the word 'group' in the interests of space.10 The idea got around that an 'Oxford' man was one who had undergone a transforming spiritual experience - to the embarrassment of a visiting Oxford don.
Helge Wellejus, a Danish journalist whose articles appeared regularly in some twenty Scandinavian papers, described Buchman in action at one of these Bergen meetings: '. . . With Buchman on the rostrum the questions pour over the audience. He describes a situation. Short and crisp. Then a question. It is repeated. Uncomfortably aggressive. But always something which concerns everyone.
'He encourages a reply. But he catches it in the air. Turns it with lightning speed. And the bullet lodges itself in the bark of your brain. He never appeals to emotions. Often people who come from outside are moved. Then the Oxford people are on their guard. They seize the first opportunity for a humorous remark. The hall is filled with laughter... You sense the connection. Freud is a mere schoolboy compared to this. But there is nothing the least mystical or psychoanalytical about the whole thing. Everything is brilliantly a matter of course. Because the audience is forced all the time to creative participation. ...'11 In Bergen one of the visitors was put to stay with the City Librarian, a much respected atheist called Smith, whose wife had recently reached the end of a long search for faith through meeting the Oxford Group. The visitor was an ex-atheist lecturer in moral philosophy, and Mrs Smith thought that he would be just the man to convert her husband. No such conversion took place. However, the indomitable Mrs Smith - one son describes her as one who would willingly have been torn to pieces by lions in the Coliseum but found household chores insufferable - herself came to be so different that all four Smith children found the same faith. The eldest son, who although sharing a room with his brother had not spoken to him for two years, apologised to him. All four later travelled with Buchman in various lands, Victor - the younger brother and an artist - once laying down his brush for two years to do so. 'It was in a small hall, with room for barely 100 people that, as a lad of seventeen, I uttered the words, I give my life to God,' he says. 'The meeting was led by a young engineer named Viggo Ullman, the father of the actress Liv Ullman, who can hardly have been born at the time. But the young engineer was typical of that troop of modern, forward-striving people, with no church back-ground, who had now suddenly become leaders of a dynamic religious development.'12*
(* At the age of 50, Victor Smith adopted his mother's name of Sparre. He became in later life one of the principal Western contacts of the Russian dissidents, and Solzhenitsyn travelled to Norway to meet him soon after his deportation from the Soviet Union. See his autobiography The Flame in the Darkness (Grosvenor, 1979), first published as Stenene skal rope. (Tiden Norsk Forlag, 1974.)
By Christmas it was clear that something out of the ordinary was taking place. While the London Times 13 'Review of the Year' noted the 'astonishing popular success of the Group in Norway', the Oslo daily Tidens Tegn commented in its Christmas number,14 'A handful of foreigners who neither knew our language, nor understood our ways and customs, came to the country. A few days later the whole country was talking about God, and two months after the thirty foreigners arrived, the mental outlook of the whole country has definitely changed.'
Ronald Fangen's two-page press summary of the past twenty-five years in Norway, published the following May, was headed 'Into Nihilism and Out Again'. He wrote, 'The Oxford Group's decisive significance is that it has given us back Christianity as simple and clear, as rich in victory and fresh fellowship as it was in the first Christian era. Its mighty mission and power is to my mind the only hope in an age of nihilism. One cannot drive out demons with devils. Only a great experience of Christian power can convince men that there is a meaning in life, a wholeness and unity in circumstances, and that there are eternal laws and values which cannot be broken with impunity. It is this which is now happening.'15
After Christmas this issue was tested at the Technical and Engineering College at Trondheim, where most of Norway's engineers and architects were educated. As in Oslo University the most vocal and strategic element there was nihilist. 'At a meeting in the Students' Hall virtually all the 900 students were present,' recalls Svend Major, then studying there. 'We heard some Oxford students, Elizabeth Morris, a vivacious girl from America, and Randulf Haslund who, although officially a fundamentalist theological student, had led the largest drinking party of the year a few weeks before. Then Hamilton said that anyone who wished could stay and meet the speakers. Virtually no one left. Next day and for many days the Oxford Group was the main subject of conversation.' One of those who regained his faith at Trondheim was a son of Bishop Berggrav of Tromsø.
The author Carl Fredrik Engelstad, then a student and later head of the National Theatre in Oslo, says of this period: 'I experienced the climate in the student world changing radically. It did not mean that the Oxford Group was accepted all round - on the contrary. But it became possible to discuss religious issues seriously and on a broad basis.' He described the irruption of the Oxford Group into the cultural life of Norway in the thirties, 'with a wind of revival, a strong and direct challenge, absolute standards and, at the same time, vision, hope and a Christian confidence of faith - a Christian world revolution'.16*
(* This did not all take place without controversy. The newspaper Dagbladet took a consistently opposing view, as did writers like Helge Krogh and Heiberg, and later ten Norwegian and Swedish writers published jointly a book disagreeing with the Oxford Group, called Oxford and Ourselves.)
Larger social effects of the Oxford Group visit became the subject of observation and discussion. The London Spectator's Special Correspondent stated that' "converts" claim that religion has now become so much a part of the people's workaday lives that taxes are coming in more promptly, and debtors are more honest about paying tradesmen's bills. The political situation, they say, is less tense; the class war less ominous; a new idealism is breaking through.' The correspondent regarded such claims as 'exaggerated' but concluded, 'If the Groups succeed in imparting new values or new ideals to the political and social life of the country - and it is on this that the "converts" seem to be concentrating - much will have been gained.'17 Two weeks later a feature article by 'A Bergen Correspondent’ added, “A national awakening has sprung to life in eight weeks in a country where, according to one of the bishops 90 per cent of the people do not attend the churches. It has come through a challenge to the mind to think and to the will to take action. It has abundantly revealed that social regeneration comes as the fruit of changed lives.’18
The Norwegian Income Tax and Customs Departments began receiving an unprecedented number of overdue and unexpected payments. Supreme Court Advocate Erling Wikborg* stated in December 1936, 'It is unofficially learnt from high quarters that amounts paid to the Government between 1934 and 1936 run into seven figures in kroner and the process continues.'19*
(* Wikborg was a founder of the Norwegian Christian Democrat Party and served briefly as Foreign Minister in 1963.)
(* In January 1939 the Norwegian press announced the repayment of half a million kroner by one individual, and in 1939 Wikborg wrote to a friend, 'Since you introduced me to a new life through the Oxford Group in1935 no single week has passed without my having at least one case on my hands to make the legal arrangements necessary to help someone pay up arrears of evaded taxes.) (Erling Wikborg to Basil Yates, undated, 1939.)
Hambro seems to have become increasingly a bridge-builder in politics. As early as December 1933 Drammens Tidende stated that his London trip had 'lifted Hambro from the ranks of the politicians to the position of a true statesman'. The occasion was a meeting of the leaders of the Conservative Party which Hambro had led 'with his usual outstanding ability. And yet. . . there was a new atmosphere in the whole gathering. Instead of a bitter and stormy post-mortem on the election results, it was a calm consideration of the situation and of what would be most helpful to the nation. It was as though "party tricks" had all been swept away - no outbursts against other parties, no tactical schemings, no upbraidings. It was politics on a higher plane. Some "change" had taken place. And this seemed to reconnect with another "change" of which news had recently come in. The leader of the meeting had just spoken in the House of Commons building in London at a great religious meeting of something known as the "Oxford Group".' 20
In January 1935, in a major speech, Hambro emphasised absolute values - 'something that transcends parties', 'lays aside wasteful strife' and 'lets us come quietly and modestly together' so that 'the country is led towards better conditions of work and a more spacious understanding between people on the opposite of old party divides which are now crumbling'.21 He met a genuine response from a leading Labour Member, who was later elected to serve under him as Vice-President of the Parliament. Hambro, moreover, refused to hit back when a little later the leader of the Labour Party, Johan Nygaardsvold, made fun of the Oxford Group; and when, in March, Nygaardsvold became Prime Minister he remarked that 'a great deal of what Mr Hambro said today was a bouquet to the new Labour Government, even if there were a few thorns, by which I will try not to be pricked, among the flowers'.22
King Haakon received Buchman and thanked him for what he had done for the students, as well as, according to Buchman, expressing surprise at the reconciliation between Mellbye and Hambro. The King also told Dean Fjellbu of Trondheim Cathedral - the Westminster Abbey of Norway - that he was delighted at the new note of authority in the preaching in the churches and on the radio.23* Four professors of Oslo University wrote to the Oxford Group, 'Your visit will be a deciding factor for the history of Norway. You have come at the strategic moment with the right answer.'24
(* King Haakon told the Dean that he had thanked Buchman but suggested that he urge his followers to he 'careful in any confessions made in public'. The King twice visited the Oxford Group headquarters in London during the Second World War.)
By March 1935 widespread interest among farmers and industrial workers led to further large meetings in the biggest halls in Oslo. In the City Hall, Buchman addressed one of them: 'Five months ago we started in this hall. Think of the wonder-working power of God in those five months . .. Before I landed in Norway it came to me constantly in my quiet times, "Norway ablaze for Christ".' Then he spoke of the two stages that still lay ahead of them - spiritual revolution and renaissance. 'I believe that Norway will take this message to other countries. I believe the revolution will be a renaissance,' he concluded.25
Certainly, something very like a renaissance was to take place in the Norwegian Church in the following years. For a quarter of a century it had been deeply divided between Liberals and Conservatives, who tended towards a fundamentalist theology. 'The conflict became personal and bitter,' writes Einar Molland, the Norwegian church historian, 'and the cleft widened . . . The tension between the conservative and liberal wings rose to its greatest heights in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and the general tone of theological argument, became, if possible, even more bitter.'26 On one occasion when Bishop Berggrav, as Bishop of Tromsø, called a meeting of all his clergy, such a rumpus broke out that he tried to restore order by crying, 'Stop! We are all Christian brothers!' 'No! No! No!' shouted half his clergy.27 The leader of the Conservatives, Professor Hallesby, sometimes practically forbade his followers to have any contact with the opposing faction, and, when Berggrav was appointed Bishop of Oslo, Hallesby 'wrote in the press that he could not welcome him until he abandoned his liberal past'.28
Meanwhile, where argument had failed to bring unity, change in individuals was having some effect. The beginnings noted by Hamilton at Høsbjør continued at all levels. Professor Mowinckel, the leading Norwegian Old Testament scholar of the day, was seen by conservatives as the very incarnation of the Devil, and his books always aggravated dissension within the Church. Primarily a man of science, a sincere seeker after truth wherever it should lead him, he had little vital personal faith. He saw that faith at work in the people at Høsbjør, and decided that he wanted the 'pearl of great price'. With characteristic honesty, he realised that he would not find it unless he was ready to give up everything for it; and he had two great loves, his new country house and the book which, after years of work, he had just finished. In the end he told God that he was willing to give them up if God asked it. Immediately, the thought came: 'Keep the house; burn the book.' He did so. No one knows exactly what the book contained because, having had orders to destroy it, he felt he should not talk of it: but there can be no doubt that it would have increased the disunity of the Church.29 From this time, the fundamentalists changed their attitude towards Mowinckel.
Speaking at an Oxford Group meeting in Copenhagen on 31 March 1935, Bishop Berggrav explained: 'I must admit that I did not entirely approve of the methods of the Oxford Group to begin with, but when I saw how God had used it in Norway, especially in the life of my own family, I had to change my whole attitude. What is now happening in Norway is the biggest spiritual movement since the Reformation.'*
(* Kristeligt Dagblad, 2 April 1935. The last sentence is omitted from the paper's account of the Bishop's speech in the morning session, but is in contemporary typescripts of his speech and was referred to during a meeting later in the day by the chairman, Kenaston Twitchell, reported in the same article.)
In the following year Berggrav, in a long article in Kirke og Kultur, noted some 'obvious facts' about changes in Norwegian life during the preceding year: '1. A new atmosphere has been born, a change in the whole situation of the spiritual life of the country. Not only is there more room for the eternal, there is also a greater longing for it... 2. God's name is mentioned not in a new way, but by new people… Now unexpected people have begun to proclaim God's power in their lives. God has become alive. 3. The whole question has changed from being secret and impersonal to becoming open and personal. There has been a "Nicodemus period" with regard to the deepest inner questions. Now they are discussed on the streets...*
(* Writing in Kirke og Kultur (7 August 1984) on The Oxford Group in Retrospect after 50 Years, Stephan Tschudi, former Rector of The Practical Theological Seminary of Oslo University, recalled: 'Many of those gripped had very little knowledge of Christianity. But they recognised themselves in the gospel accounts of men and women who followed the Master - without any dogma. And they looked with astonishment at people who seemed to know all about Christianity without it having any visible effect on their lives.')
'Our Christian and Church life,' Berggrav added, 'has been a life of mistrust in all directions. But now I think we have learnt something new about trust between us. It never can be founded on people, but on God... I think the Oxford Group has helped me to see this. Speaking openly should be a vehicle for and an expression of trust.'30
More progress was needed, and it was on the day that war in Europe broke out, 1 September 1939, that Berggrav received a compelling thought: 'There is war in Europe. There is also war between you and Hallesby. Go and see him.' He did not know how to start, but his wife suggested he might telephone. 'I have been expecting you,' answered Hallesby, and they met.31 What exactly passed between them is not known, but it was as a result of this meeting that the two men co-operated in the manifesto, 'God's Call to Us Now', which was printed in all the newspapers. Describing these events, Professor Karl Wisløff, in his history of the Norwegian Church, wrote, 'Many were amazed to see those two names together. Hallesby had always refused to take part in any public statement with a man known as a liberal theologian.' Wislaff also describes a larger meeting in Berggrav's house on 25 October 1940, at which Hallesby and some of his colleagues joined with leaders of the liberal wing to create the Kristent Samråd (Christian Council of Collaboration).32 This was to become 'the general staff of the church's struggle, which worked together excellently for the duration of the war'.33
Before Buchman left Norway in March 1935 Hambro wrote to him calling the impact on the country 'a miracle' and 'a return to mental health'.34 He received a characteristic reply. 'If the present pace continues, and there seems no abatement, you cannot much longer delay the decision which, under God, may not only change the history of Norway, but of Europe,' wrote Buchman. 'I know no secondary issue can claim you, God demands the maximum.'35 Through the entire campaign Buchman had been challenging Hambro to a more thorough surrender of his life and plans to God, a surrender which Hambro seems to have side-stepped on various occasions.
Norway's neighbours, meanwhile, had been following events there closely. The interest of the Danes had been heightened, in January 1935, by a visit from Fredrik Ramm, well known to them for his passionate antagonism to their country. Ramm had fought bitterly through his newspaper to protect Norwegian fishing rights around Greenland, and when, after a prolonged dispute, the International Court at The Hague pronounced in Denmark's favour, that had only increased his animosity. But at Høsbjør, as he wrote, 'the ice melted in my heart and a new, unknown feeling began to grow, a love of people unfettered by what they could give me'.36 Now he said on Danish radio, 'The main thing I am here to tell you is that my greatest fault has been my hatred of the Danes. My mind was poisoned with that hatred ... Now I am here to put things straight.'37 The Copenhagen daily, Dagens Nyheder, headlined its story, 'The Oxford Group effaces Norwegian-Danish hatred'.38
Where Norway's intellectual atmosphere had been coloured by Marxism, Denmark's comfortable way of life - 'well-buttered', Buchman called it - was flavoured by the sceptical and free-thinking liberalism of Georg Brandes, the Professor of Aesthetics at Hamburg and Copenhagen Universities successively. He had died only eight years earlier, having published his final book, The Jesus Myth, in 1925 at the age of eighty-three. Denmark's deep Christian foundations had been strengthened by a revival in the mid-nineteenth century, but the Church now freely admitted that it had lost the confidence of the intellectuals and the workers. What was happening in Norway was a fruitful topic of discussion and witticism, but it was widely assumed that it could not happen in Denmark.
Buchman visited Denmark in January 1935, at the same time as Ramm. He found the interest intense, and there were strong demands that he bring a team there. But he was aware that the Norwegian pattern could not be repeated. For one thing, there was no Danish figure comparable to Hambro willing to initiate a move from within. 'The local forces are not clever enough to handle the situation,' Buchman wrote to Kenaston Twitchell. 'So I have asked them for the moment to refrain from anything that would catch public attention. Everything had been wonderfully prepared, the Bishop favourable, when some old-fashioned Christians started a house-party on old lines and did not know how to handle the press. They had a prayer meeting for reporters and so gave them a splendid chance to get a scoop. We will not be able to start with a house-party, because of the wrong sort they have been having.'
He went on, 'Do not broadcast the fact that Denmark may begin in mid-March because the same kind of people we met in Princeton are certainly in Copenhagen. That crowd moved north from Berlin and we are already feeling their opposition.' It is not clear whether Buchman was referring here to targeted opposition from specific individuals or groups, or to the general confrontation with those who were committed to moral relativism. Berlin at that period was certainly the centre of a decadence which was spreading through Europe, and Buchman's work was bound to come into collision with this force in situations where both were active. In any case, the awareness of possible confrontation with organised evil was never far from Buchman's mind, due in part to his own militant spirit and in part to his experiences. His letter continued, 'What you have got here is the result of spiritual deformity over a long period. Think of gnomes crawling around in darkness in a cave. All of a sudden there comes illumination and things become clear. But unless we do something quickly, this nation will be overripe and the Christian forces will, sensationalize the Groups and people will not have the opportunity to know the real message.'39 The thought he had had was, 'Denmark will be shaken.'
Buchman decided 'to go to the court of public opinion', as he expressed it, in big public meetings. But there were difficulties. 'I am confidentially told some of the students are trying to stage a discussion in the University to make the work of the Group look ridiculous,' he wrote. 'One of the best ways to kill anything in Denmark is to have people laugh at it.'40 Meanwhile opponents from other countries were circulating books like that of the Bishop of Durham.
In March 1935, however, all was ready. Buchman gathered an international force of 300 in Copenhagen for three days of training, during which he instructed them on everything from the policies of the five national dailies to the necessity to keep their bowels open in spite of the ample Danish breakfast liable, according to him, to be climaxed by a rich pastry cake.
Everything, he felt, depended on the first meeting, which was to be broadcast on the national radio and at which many workers and intellectuals were expected, including some of the Socialist cabinet. Consequently, he planned that speakers from Labour backgrounds, like George Light and Jimmie Watt, should predominate. Every ticket was taken, and few clerics were visible except for one black-clad row, all of whom appeared to be taking notes. Buchman hit his target. Many of the workers and atheist intellectuals stayed on to talk with the speakers, some deciding to experiment then and there with the ideas they had heard. One of these was a well-known High Court Advocate, Valdemar Hvidt, who got into discussion with a recent Oxford graduate. The lawyer explained that he had no belief in God but then, spying a young business man, who had that week come to him to institute divorce proceedings, in the room with his wife, added, 'If something happened to that pair, I might even think again.' Next day the couple called at his office and said that they wanted to call off the divorce. All three, the couple and the lawyer, ended up working with Buchman for life.
Next day the Bishop of Copenhagen, Dr F. Fuglsang-Damgaard, who had already publicly announced that the Oxford Group had taught him to listen to God, called on Buchman. He said that the row of clerics reported that the name of Christ had only been mentioned ten times in the meeting. Why was that?
'I was at your house for tea last week, Bishop,' replied Buchman, 'and you did not mention that you loved your wife.'
Silence fell. The Bishop saw Buchman's point. Later, the Bishop declared, 'The Oxford Group is teaching us to talk differently to pagans and atheists, sceptics, critics and agnostics. A new road to the old Gospel - that is my conception of the Oxford Group. It moves from the circumference to the centre. It stands inside the Church and not beside it.'41 *
(* Nearly twenty years later the Bishop said at the World Council of Churches in Evanston, USA, in August 1954: 'The visit of Frank Buchman to Denmark in 1935 was an historic experience in the story of the Danish Church. It will be written in letters of gold in the history of the Church and the nation. Whenever I visit Dr Buchman, our talk is all of the Cross of Christ, which is the centre of his heart, soul and faith.')
Over thirty thousand people attended meetings in the first six days in Copenhagen. The national broadcast had brought a swift response from the countryside and islands as well as from the Danish population across the Schleswig border. When an anti-Oxford Group meeting was held in the University, it was reported to be a 'colossal fiasco'. Planned by a theological student turned Marxist, who was supported by a brilliant array of Brandesque academics, it was invaded by militant factory workers. 'Something happened which had never happened before in Copenhagen,' reported Dagens Nyheder. 'Workers stood up one after another and witnessed to Christianity in a hall that consisted primarily of fanatical opponents of all religion.'42
Reports of the campaign in the press were at first unenthusiastic. A highly positive report of the first meeting then appeared in Social-Demokraten 43 and Kristeligt Dagblad, the Christian daily, remarked indulgently, 'You can't expect Americans to get it right on the first night.'44 Emil Blytgen-Petersen, the Dagens Nyheder reporter assigned to the Group, returned to his paper saying he had been unable to interview Buchman. The paper's star feature writer and associate editor, Carl Henrik Clemmensen, went down to try personally. A three-hour talk resulted, at which both men asked questions, and each was equally frank.
Clemmensen wrote a little later, 'I cannot understand how any church- man could think it did not matter what millions of men and women are making out of life. I cannot understand any form of Christianity that has any other goal than a revolution of the unchristian world we live in. And that, of course, implies a revolution, a thorough-going and drastic change of the life of the individual.
'I can understand the Oxford Group. I can understand that group of men and women who, in one remarkable way or another, have found themselves brought together in a common work, with the object of producing the kind of Christian revolution I have described. I can understand the Four Absolutes. None of us, perhaps, will completely succeed in living up to them, but they will always be a standard measuring the quality of our lives and marking how far each one of us does reach. I can understand people who refuse to sit with folded hands, watching the world go to ruin, but who are convinced that in their work to save the world they will receive daily inspiration from the one source from which we can hope for inspiration, if only we will become what a Danish author has called “open" people instead of "closed" people...
They spoke to me on an entirely new wavelength. They spoke in a language I could understand. They did not scare me with any theological terminology. They did not make me apprehensive or suspicious by unfolding a vast mystical apparatus.'
And of Buchman he wrote: 'Calm and smiling is the man who started the whole Oxford Group ... He has strength. He is a quite outstanding psychologist. He deals with people as individuals. He never deals with two people in the same way. He knows all about you when you have talked with him for a few minutes. He is an ambitious man, but I have a living conviction that he is ambitious only that what is good may triumph. I could easily name straight away at least five eminent church leaders who would do well with a considerably larger equipment of that kind of ambition. He is positive. I have never heard him say a single negative sentence. He never replies to attacks. I have never seen him put on an artificial smile. I call him "the laughing apostle". All round the world I have met very few people so completely harmonious and natural in their ordinary pleasures and happiness.’45
Meanwhile, two of the papers founded by Brandes, Politiken and Extrabladet, had begun to treat the visitors seriously, sometimes with a sly humour but sometimes respectfully and at considerable length.
In addition to the public meetings, Buchman was holding meetings of his team each morning to which more and more Danes came. Besides the Bishop and Dean Brodersen of Copenhagen, an amazing cross-section of the population would turn up. Often these meetings were thick with smoke from short Danish cigars. At one of them Buchman called for a time of listening to God. Then he laughed and said, There have never been any rules in the Oxford Group up to now, but I think we will have to make our first one here in Denmark. That will be that all ladies must put down their cigars when we decide to have a quiet time together!'
From Copenhagen Buchman went to spend Easter, with all who wanted to come, at Haslev, an educational centre some thirty miles away. Every school was filled to the brim - adults often sleeping in children's beds* - and as farmers, the unemployed, whole villages flocked in, people slept in cars and even in the local prison. 'Last Friday,' Buchman wrote, 'they had to take to the fields in one village because there was no longer room in the church. '46
(* Mrs Fog-Petersen, wife of the Dean of Odense, had such a cot. Asked by Buchman if she had slept well, she replied politely, 'Thank you, I slept many times.')
Berlingske Tidende sent a young woman called Gudrun Egebjerg to cover the event. She now recalls her first impressions of Buchman: 'Certainly not a "spiritual leader", whatever that was. A quietly well-dressed man with a long pointed nose in a round face, an incongruity. (Years later, when somebody mentioned it I noticed that he did not like that! I was surprised. At the time I thought he was way above human vanity; but somehow I liked him for it....) But what you felt, first of all, right away, was that he was interested in the person he met, in this case me, in a friendly, open way. A journalist is so used to being met with caution, "Now be careful what you say" - not Dr Buchman. He knew what he wanted to say and how, and then he had that wonderful sense of humour and that wise, kind, untroubled way of looking at you. I also felt, without I think registering it consciously, a natural authority in him.'
After Haslev, Buchman's team spread out through Själland and Fyn. The most notable occasion was a meeting in Odense, the capital of Fyn and Hans Andersen's birth-place. It took place on Norway's national day, and the last speaker was Fredrik Ramm. He described how his hatred of Denmark had been cured, and then he asked the audience to sing the Danish national anthem. There was a hush, and then, without a word of prompting, 3,000 Danes broke into the Norwegian anthem, so that the walls and room vibrated with the sound. Ramm stood in tears, seeing unity born where he had caused division.
Now that evidence of change on a national scale had emerged in Norway and Denmark, Buchman wished to bring it to bear on the Continent, and especially upon Germany. He conceived a great Scandinavian demonstration, which took place on Whit Sunday at Kronborg (popularly known as 'Hamlet's Castle') at Elsinore. The castle courtyard was tilled with ten thousand people, and other thousands listened through loudspeakers on the grassy ramparts outside. Late that night Clemmensen wrote of the endless streams of people, the rise and fall of the music, the people from politics and the Church on the platform and the youth, the farmers, and the workers who spoke of listening to the voice of the Living God and obeying. He sketched Buchman's life, and went on, 'I have never heard of anything like it in our age. This man had the determined vision of the conquest of the world. He came as an unknown soldier from one of Christendom's front-line trenches, and stood today in this Danish Castle as the leader of a modern crusade that spans the world.'47
Soon after this demonstration Buchman returned to Britain for an Oxford house-party, which was attended by hundreds from Scandinavia. In September he returned to the Danish province of Jutland with a team of nearly 1,000, which, according to Emil Blytgen-Petersen, 'swept over the peninsula like a sandstorm’48 and visited practically every town and village.
Alfred Nielsen, manager of a sawmill in North Schleswig, just short of the German border, was living in constant fear of what the slump might do to his business and industry. 'I followed Buchman round Jutland like a dog, because I wanted the answer I saw in him,' he says. 'What he gave me saved me from a mental breakdown. He opened my eyes to my selfish pride towards my wife, my workers and my colleagues - and towards the Germans living with us in North Schleswig.'49 One result, according to Scandinavian Review, was that Nielsen, 'proprietor of the largest sawmill combine in Jutland', who had earlier ‘refused to grant his employees a wage increase ... on the plea that his firm’s finances would not stand it, honestly told his men in 1937 that the true reason was that his private pocket would have suffered. He went into the entire finances of the firm with his men and they agreed unitedly upon adequate provision for everyone.'50
By late 1935 the Oxford Group in Denmark was working under Danish leaders. On 18 October 1935, less than seven months after Buchman's arrival in Copenhagen, 25,000 assembled in the Forum there and in two overflow halls. Paul Brodersen, Dean of Copenhagen, led the demonstration and the speakers included a carpenter, a nurse, a horse-dealer from an outlying island, the head of an oil refinery and two of his employees, Copenhagen's top band leader, the Director of the National Technological Institute and fifteen students led by the President of the Copenhagen University Student Council. The audience, wrote Berlingske Tidende, 'was not of any one class or type or age, but the whole electoral roll from A to Z'.51
On the first anniversary of Buchman's arrival in Denmark he spoke at a weekend rally which brought some 20,000 to Ollerup in the Fyn country-side. 'The Oxford Group goes on its victorious way,' commented Extrabladet in an editorial. 'We cannot but be grateful for the contribution they have made to the moral betterment of many people's lives. If there is one thing we need it is to become better people, more honest, more upright than we are and with purer thought-life and warmer hearts than we have.'52
The effect of this new life was to prepare many Scandinavians, in Denmark as in Norway, for the perils of occupation. In Denmark Clemmensen was assassinated by Danish Nazis - individuals, incidentally, who had opposed Buchman during his visit - while others like Colonel H.A.V. Hansen performed acts of outstanding courage in the Resistance and lived to tell the tale.53 Bishop Fuglsang-Damgaard was sent to a concentration camp. Before imprisonment he smuggled a message to Buchman that through the Oxford Group he had found a spirit which the Nazis could not break and that he went without fear.54
In Norway Fangen was the first of Buchman's colleagues to be arrested,55 the Oxford Group being banned at the same time. In the years before the war Fangen and Ramm had travelled up and down Scandinavia from the Lofoten Islands to Helsinki weaving a network of people who were morally and spiritually secure. When Norway was occupied Ramm kept links with them by letter and by articles in his newspaper which, under the innocent title of 'What to do in the Blackout', drew historical parallels full of hidden meaning to Norwegian patriots.
When the Nazis discovered what Ramm meant, they arrested him. A month later he was released with a warning, because his influence 'threatened to demoralise the whole prison'. He returned to the fight, was rearrested and deported to Hamburg where, even in solitary confinement, the radiance of his faith permeated the prison. To the only friend he saw in his two years' confinement, he said, 'Tell Eva [his wife] that my letters express the full truth of my experience. Even though I am alone, I do not feel lonely. Everything we have learnt in the Oxford Group is true. I say "rather in prison with God, than outside without Him".'
Ramm developed tuberculosis. Even now he refused the offer of better food and conditions in exchange for making goods for the Germans. He became weaker and weaker, and was released through a compassionate act by the prison Governor, who had come to respect him. The Danish ambulance which was sent for him crossed the frontier just ahead of a Nazi order forbidding his release, and he reached Odense. There he died, a Norwegian flag in his hand placed there by a Danish friend. When Ramm's body arrived in Oslo, crowds thronged the Cathedral Square, ignoring every attempt to coerce them into dispersing, and when the news reached the Norwegian government in exile in London, Foreign Minister Koht said, 'When the history of these times comes to be written, Fredrik Ramm's name will go down as one of Norway's greatest heroes.'56
The active Church resistance in Norway was triggered off by Fjellbu, by now a bishop. On 1 February 1942, the day that Quisling took office as Prime Minister, he found Trondheim Cathedral locked against him when he went to celebrate Holy Communion. Nazi soldiers were telling the congregation to go home, but they would not. Fjellbu slipped in by a small side door, robed and started the service from the High Altar. The soldiers did not dare arrest him there, and the choir, having taken their position, began singing 'A Mighty Fortress is Our God'. Soon the congregation, standing in the snow outside, took it up. For that morning's work, Fjellbu was removed from office. At once all the Norwegian bishops, led by Berggrav and followed by the clergy, laid down the secular duties normally prescribed to them as part of the state Church. On Easter Day all Norwegian pastors followed suit, and at the same time Bishop Berggrav was arrested. It was expected that he would be tried and convicted, because he had visited England in 1940; but suddenly he was moved from prison to the mountain hut where he spent three years in lonely house arrest. Berlin had intervened.
The intervention was initiated by the Abwehr, and the two emissaries sent by Admiral Canaris, who secretly worked against Hitler and ultimately was executed by him, were Bonhoeffer and Bonhoeffer's friend, von Moltke. So Bonhoeffer saw in action in Norway the very type of resistance he had advocated to the Church in Germany ten years earlier.57 Comparison between the two situations is impossible, since it was one thing to achieve a united resistance in an occupied country, and another to create it in Germany once Hitler had become established. However, such unity in Norway was achieved in the face of great risks, and would have been impossible without the healing of bitter divisions which had taken place there from1934 onwards.
On 22 April1945 Bishop Fjellbu preached in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. 'I wish to state publicly,' he said, 'that the foundations of the united resistance of Norwegian Churchmen to Nazism were laid by the Oxford Group's work.'58 In a press interview, the Bishop added, 'The first coming of the Oxford Group to Norway was an intervention of Providence in history, like Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. They helped to bridge the gap between religion and the people and make it real every day. We have been fighting more than an armed army. We have been fighting godless materialism. The Oxford Group gave us men who helped us to fight for a Christian ideology.'59
Hambro, in the previous year, wrote, 'My thoughts go back to that first house-party in Norway in 1934 ... to Frank Buchman, the catalyst who made possible the united church front in Norway in this war...
'The Germans decreed in Norway that the Oxford Group was a part of the British Intelligence Service and should be harshly suppressed - a most flattering and slightly ridiculous compliment to the British Intelligence service. The Gestapo feared and hated the Oxford Group as they could never fear and hate the British Intelligence Service. They hated them as men hate and fear the ideals they have lost and prostituted, the faith they have betrayed. They feared them because instinctively they knew the Oxford Group was part of God's Intelligence Service preparing the way for an ultimate defeat of the principles of evil.'60
1 Buchman to Sir Lynden Macassey, 7 May 1935.
2 Trygve Bull: Mot Dag av ErIing Falk (Cappelens Forlag, 1945).
3 Stortingsforhandlingere, 5 July 1957.
4 Buchman to Carl Hambro, 27 August 1934.
5 Unpublished account by Fredrik Ramm.
6 Victor Sparre: The Flame in the Darkness (Grosvenor, 1979), p. 116.
7 Loudon Hamilton to Beatrice Hamilton, 2 and 6 November 1934.
8 Basil Yates to author, 1981.
9 Tidens Tegn, 12 November 1934.
10 Bergens Aftenblad, 5 December 1934.
11 Drammens Tidende, 12 December 1934.
12 See Tore Stubberud: Victor Sparre (Aventura Forlag, 1984), p. 12.
13 The Times, 31 December 1934.
14 Tidens Tegn, 24 December 1934.
15 ibid., 1 May 1935.
16 At a meeting for 50th anniversary of Høsbjør house-party, 27 October 1984.
17 The Spectator, 1 February 1935.
18 ibid., 15 February 1935.
19 Quoted in Martin MSS.
20 Drammens Tidende, December 1933. Contemporary translation. Copies for 3 and 11 December missing from newspaper's own files. As Hambro spoke in London on 6 December, date of article is probably 11 December.
21 Stortingsforhandlingere, 23January 1935.
22 ibid., 26 March 1935.
23 Bishop Arne Fjellbu: En Biskop ser tilbake (Gyldendal, 1960), p. 186.
24 The Spectator, 15 February 1935.
25 Buchman, pp. 6-9.
26 Einar Molland: Church History from Hans Nielsen Hauge to Eivind Berggrav (Gyldendal, 1968), pp. 78-81.
27 Eye-witness account related to author.
28 Molland, p. 86.
29 Eye-witness account of the story told by Mowinckel at the home of Advocate Erling Wikborg and related to the author by Svend Major.
30 Kirke og Kultur, No. XLIII (Oslo, 1936).
31 Personal account to author.
32 Karl F. Wisløff: Norske Kirke Historic (Lutherstiftelsen, Oslo, 1966-71), Vol. III, p. 423.
33 C. A. R. Christensen: Vårt Folks Historic, Vol. VIII (Aschehoug, 1961), p.270.
34 Carl Hambro to Buchman, 7 February 1935.
35 Buchman to Carl Hambro, March 1935.
36 Ramm, unpublished MS.
37 Broadcast of 13 January 1935.
38 Dagens Nyheder, 14 January 1935.
39 Buchman to H. Kenaston Twitchell, 30 January 1935.
41 Berlingske Tidende, 20 August 1935.
42 Undated contemporary typescript translation.
43 Social-Demokraten, 28 March 1935.
44 Kristeligt Dagblad, 29 March 1935.
45 Dagens Nyheder, April 1935.
46 Buchman to Carl Henrik Clemmensen, 11 May 1935.
47 Dagens Nyheder, 10 June 1935.
48 For account of Danish campaign see Emil Blytgen-Petersen: Oxford i Danmark (Haase, 1935).
49 Conversation and letters from Alfred Nielsen to author, August 1981.
50 Scandinavian Review, February 1940.
51 Berlingske Tidende, 19 October 1935.
52 Extrabladet, April 1936.
53 See Henrik S. Nissen and Hening Poulsen: På Dansk Friheds Grund, for a description of his work in bringing understanding between Socialist politicians and the Danish army during the Occupation.
54 Irene Gates to Buchman, 23 October 1943, reporting conversation with Karen Petersen.
55 In September 1940 for his article on 'Loyalty' in Kirke og Kultur. See also: Bjarne Hoye and Trygve Ager: The Fight of the Norwegian Church against Nazism (Macmillan, 1943), pp. 15, 16, 51, 78.
56 Everybody's Weekly, 11 December 1944. For an account of Fredrik Ramm in prison and his journey to Odense, see Hiltgunt Zassenhaus: Walls (Coronet Books, 1977), pp. 71, 77-8, 123-31.
57 Bethge, pp. 656-8.
58 Confirmed in a two-page interview by Francis Goulding in New World News, June 1945. See also Christensen, p. 451:'The Oxford Group…has played a part in reducing tensions in the religious life of Norway during the last decades, and it prepared the way for co-operation between the religious movements during the [German] occupation.'
59 Reported in Everybody's Weekly by Ronald Chamberlain, MP, 5 September 1946.
60 Buchman, p. 324.