FRONTIER OF VISION AND MADNESS
some serious thought here, as best I could so hope some will share it
I have been reading a book by A.M.Allchin on the life and work of
N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872) was a Danish church leader and with his great
contemporaries Soren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Anderson(might one add
the later Carl Dreyer and Karen Blixen?) perhaps the greatest figures of
For me the most interesting moment of the biography is the description of
Grundtvig's extraordinary performance of a six hour service on Palm Sunday
1867 attended by among others the Queen, and also his state of mind in the days
just before and after. I have given a rather heavy title to this post to
indicate that I hope to go beyond Grundtvig to give a more general thought
1. At the time Grundtvig was 84 years old. He had earlier in life had at least
two periods of rather acute inner turmoil. In the days before Palm Sunday he had
shown a remarkable energy and vigor of health. At the service he had prayed over
many who came forward ,absolving sins, including the Queen whom he had summoned
forward and told that in nine months she would give birth to the returned
legendary hero Holger Dansk. In the sermon,which was a sort of mix of inspired
thought and madness as another pastor present described it, he spoke of the
restlessness of the human heart and the age old longing to square the circle.
He said the Lord could now return because the human soul located in the east was
joined to the human heart in Denmark. The Jordan had flowed into the Copenhagen
Sound. the living circle of the world of Time had arrived at Eternity.
The asses colt which the Lord would ride into Jerusalem had been growing in
Denmark and Grundtvig himself had loosed it that day... before communion he
remarked to an assisting pastor he didnt know at one moment what he would do
or say at the next.In those days he expected a German invasion and he told
ladies he kissed on the eyes that he was Gabriel and in 9 months they would bear
2.After a brief leave of absence he returned to his post in normal state and
continued to serve there for five years. The visiting British writer Edmund Gosse
described his face as incredibly ancient like not the man of ,then ,89 he was ,
but like some ancient troll or druid. people in congregation engaged ,Gosse said,
in very unDanish actions of falling on their knees as he passed and touching his
3. The events of Palm Sunday would seem a manic episode of a bipolar personality,
as he may likely have been. What happens seems to be the amplified expression of
themes of his thought in which a new power but also a new disorder are added.
an official report at the time raised the question "Is what is happening and
has happened straightforward mental illness or is it an act of the Lord which
in the end has been too strong for Grundtvig to bear without breaking on one
or another less
4.Compare the heightened violence of Kierkegaard's last days diatribes against
the state Church gathered in "Attack upon Christendom".(the first book by
Kierkegaard I read in fact) I wonder if there was a species of mania involved
there? His mind unbalanced in at least some points by the pressure of his
5.As I think of it in some way the themes exploding out of Grundtvig's vision
in those days seem more attractive to me than those of Kierkegaard who
nonetheless I of course regard as a genius and a great Christian and in
many ways attractive mind and soul.
6.If the tide of vision and its urgency were to seize you or I, what themes
would it find in our habitual thought to work with? I do not know but it is
something to consider maybe... as even in our day to day "out of the
abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." as it was said.
7.Lev Zander speaks of St Serphim of Sarov, always a figure ,as far as our
knowing goes, near the edge of the legendary, in his later days passing a
frontier of the natural and supernatural...
8.Religious revivals and charismatic events have some of these qualities
of aflatus.Arthur Machen, the great welsh man of letters wrote (and I am
thinking the Welsh revival lies behind this as well as the more congenial
to him Grail cycle) a story called The Great Return in which the Grail for
a time comes to a town in Wales...
"0ld men felt young again, eyes that had been
growing dim saw clearly,and saw a world that was
like Paradise, the same world it is true, but a
world rectified and glowing as if an inner flame
shone in all things. Joy and wonder were in all
An old Methodist deacon cries out, what surely hardly
another Methodist deacon has cried,
"Priesthood of Melchizadek! Priesthood of Melchizadek!
The altar that is of a colour no man can discern
is returned, the Cup that came from Syon is returned,
the ..Three Holy Fishermen are among us and their
net is full Gogoniant, Gogoniant!--glory, glory!"
And after the celebration of Mass at the parish church..
"There were a few who saw three come out of the door
of the sanctuary, and stand for a moment on the pace
before the door. These three were in dyed vesture,
red as blood. 0ne stood before two looking to the
west,and he rang a bell. And they say that all the
birds of the wood, and all the waters of the sea,
and all the leaves of the trees, and all the winds of
the high rocks uttered their voices with the ringing
of the bell. And the second and the third; they
turned their faces one to another. The second
held up the lost altar once called "Sapphirus"
which was like the changing of the sea and of the
sky, and like the admixture of gold and silver.
And the third heaved up high over the altar a
cup that was red with burning and with the blood
And the old rector cried aloud then before the
entrance: Bendigeid yr 0fferen yn oes oesoedd!
--Blessed be the 0ffering unto the ages of ages!
And then the Mass of the Sangraal was ended , and
then began the passing out of the land of the holy
persons and holy things that had returned to it
after long years.."
9. These thoughts on the ineluctable mystery of the heart and of the world
... and before that mystery of what is past and what is passing and what
is to come.