Bishop Erik Varden of the Roman Catholic Territorial Prelature of Trondheim presides at vespers at Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome, Nov. 28, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
CNA Newsroom, Nov 30, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).
Marking 500 years of his country’s history, a convert to Catholicism, Trappist monk, and Scandinavian bishop spoke about persecution in Rome this week.
Bishop Erik Varden, OCSO, said a “life in Christ will lead to persecution to some degree in this fallen world at all times. That’s just the way it is.”
The prelate of Trondheim — Norway’s former Viking capital — spoke during a special requiem that marked half a millennium of Catholic history in his country, as CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported.
Bishop Erik Varden of the Roman Catholic Territorial Prelature of Trondheim presides at vespers at Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
The occasion — streamed by EWTN Norge — was a special commemoration of Archbishop Erik Valkendorf, who died in Rome 500 years ago on Nov. 28, 1522.
Valkendorf was the penultimate archbishop of Nidaros — now Trondheim — in Norway before the Protestant Reformation all but wiped out Catholic life in the country.
Bishop Varden, who had also celebrated vespers at Rome’s Santa Maria dell’Anima Church the previous evening, described the conflict between King Christian II and Valkendorf. The two, he said, had been “good comrades at first.” But then Christian prevailed upon Valkendorf to become archbishop of Nidaros in 1510 — and thus “metropolitan of all Norway, plus Greenland, Iceland, the Orkney Islands, and the Isle of Man.”
“Valkendorf took a promise from the king that the latter would not touch the rights of the Church, but Christian probably counted on some room for interpretation between old friends,” Varden explained.
“He was mistaken. Valkendorf became a sincere bishop who loved his diocese. He governed wisely and in turn was a popular shepherd.”
Varden noted that Norway owed Valkendorf “the first printed books in the country,” namely “a breviary and missal of the rite of Nidaros, published in 1519.”
“It aroused the archbishop’s displeasure that Christian constantly harassed him with financial problems and lacked respect for the rights of the Church,” Varden said, noting the tensions between the king and the archbishop.
“The king, in turn, wanted the former friend out of the way: He was no longer of any use to him.”
Vespers at Santa Maria dell’Anima, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Valkendorf finally decided to “take the matter to the pope. At Candlemas 1522, he reached Rome. [The Bavarian theologian] Jakob Ziegler described him as a ‘venerable old man whose honest soul found expression in a pure countenance.’ Valkendorf was just 57 years old, but hardship and strife left their mark. Norway he never saw again. He died in the city on Nov. 28 of that year.”
Pope Hadrian VI praised him “for his commitment, reminiscent of Thomas Becket, ‘to the preservation of the freedom of the Church.’” Unlike Becket, however, Valkendorf was “not a martyr in the strict sense.”
“But his fidelity cost him everything: health, fortune, and reputation.”
Varden said: “The courage he displayed is more than mere natural fortitude. In freedom, he allowed the cross of the Christ to seal his life. A distinctive feature of the Rite of Nidaros is that after the consecration, the priest holds his arms ‘in the shape of a cross, pointing upward.’ One cannot stand in this posture day after day, year after year, without it leaving traces in the soul: We sense in Valkendorf a conformity to Christ.”
Bishop Erik Varden, OCSO, blesses Bishop Valkendorf’s tombstone, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
The 48-year-old Varden is the first Norwegian-born bishop of Trondheim in modern times. His five predecessors were German.