N.F.S. Grundtvig
Theologian, Historian, Educator, Madman - Why a 19th Century Scholar
isn't completely irrelevant to 21st Century Adult Education
Jes Fabricius Møller
Lektor, phd,
SAXO-instituttet, Københavns
N.F.S. Grundtvig – a short
• Born 1783 in rural Sealand
• Became a pastor in 1811
• Developed his educational ideas in the 1830’s
after trips to England
• Was a driving force in the nationalist and
Scandinavist movement from 1840
• First Grundtvigian Folk High School founded
• Was a member of the Constitutional Assembly
1848-49 that ende absolutism
• Died 1872
”The Old Testament Prophet”
”For a man of ninety,
[Grundtvig] could not be
called infirm; his gestures
were rapid and his step
ready. But the attention
was rivetted on his
appearance of excessive
age. He looked like a troll
from som cave in
Norway; he might have
been centuries old.”
Grundtvig and Finland
• He never went to Finland or even wrote about Finland
• 1835 he became ”Utrikes Corresponderande Ledamot”
of Finska Litteratursällskapet
• 1868 K.G. Leinberg and W. Grefberg presented
Grundtvig’s educational ideas to a Finnish audience.
• Folk high school pioneers Sofia Hagman, Johannes
Klockar, Robert Rostedt had close contacts with the
Grundtvigian movement in Denmark.
• 1906 all 24 Finnish folk high schools were considered
• 1968 38 of 68 Finnish folk high schools were considered
Grundtvig’s concept of man
• Man is a unique part of the Creation, since
God gave man the ability to speak
• The spirit is in the breath of God and word
of man.
• Man is the only animal who can transfer
and accumulate knowledge and
experience over generations.
• Man is thus a historic creature who can
only be understood in an historic context.
Grundtvig’s concept of the Church
• The fundament of faith is neither the
church nor the Scripture
• Jesus Christ did not build a church, nor did
he write a book
• He formed a congregation
• His spoken word (”The living word”) has
been handed down uncorrupted through
history from generation to generation.
The problem of ”Bildung” (Education) in the
19th Century generally
• Neither family nor tradition provides identity
• The proces of achieving identity is called
”Bildung” (bildning, dannelse, education)
• An element of this proces is learning, knowledge
and skills (utbildning/Ausbildung)
• The most important task is for man to acquire
guardianship of his own life, Mündigkeit, to be
able to be a good citizen.
• ”Aufklärung ist der Ausgang des Menschen aus
seiner selbst verschuldeten Unmündigkeit.”
What is enlightement?
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his selfimposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to
use one's understanding without guidance from
another. … Sapere Aude! [dare to know] "Have
courage to use your own understanding!"--that is
the motto of enlightenment.
(Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?
Immanuel Kant 1784)
Grundtvig’s concept of
Is light just for the learned to debate and to control?
No! Light is heaven’s gift, and
heav’n shines its light on all.
Not with the scholar but the
farmer does the sun rise up,
Enlightens best those most
immersed in life from toe to top.
Enlightenment is our treasure,
although it slowly seeps in.
But over time the living word
brings life-enlightenment.
Light springs from people’s deeds
and grows through constant tender care,
It shines in the people’s counsel till
stars turn to sun’s glare.
Grundtvig as educator
”Grundtvig was not a theoretical
educationalist in the sense that he was
interested in developing an educational
system or programme. On the contrary,
his educational thinking was not very
systematic at all. The ideas are not put
together in any particular order or
developed logically.” K.E. Bugge
Grundtvig’s concept of learning
”Just as man is outwardly dead when his heart stops
beating, so is he inwardly dead when his heart does not
beat for anything, when nothing is dear to him; and it is
impossible for a man who loves nothing to be able to
take the trouble to understand anything.”
• There are two kinds of light: the lightning that kills and
the sun that provides warmth and life.
• Freedom is the best enviroment for learning
• No man has ever achieved true knowledge of thing he
didn’t care for to begin with.
Grundtvig’s concept of school
• The living word is spoken in the mother tongue
and not in ”dead languages”
• Literature and history are the most important
• Education is not just for privileged classes
• The purpose of education is to enable the
student to achieve dignity and take responsibility
in society
• School and church are not to be confused. Faith
cannot be learned or taught.
”A Letter for my Children” 1839
Alternative translation:
A simple, joyful, active life on earth
Is one which I would not with royalty exchange.
We walk in our ancestors’ wise footsteps,
With equal worth in castle and in cottage.
With eyes turned heavenward as God creates,
Awake to beauty and greatness still here on earth,
Yet knowing deep longings that stay unfilled
Until eternity in glory gives them birth.
Alternative translation:
A plain and active, joyful life on earth,
A treasure never for power or gold to barter,
A guided life, the nobleness of birth,
And equal dignity each human’s charter,
A life created, tuned to that above,
Alert to mans God granted gift for living,
Profoundly mindful of the need for love,
Which God, the Father’s, grace alone is giving.
”A Letter for my Children” 1839
The many faces of Grundtvigianism
• Grundtvig is giving
the dying school a
wakeup call.
• ”The establishment”
buries him next to the
• 100 years later he
resurfaces in China
where his ideas on
education have come
to life in 1972
New publication
Schriften in Auswahl
Knud Eyvin Bugge,
Flemming Lundgreen Nielsen,
& Theodor Jørgensen (Hrsg.)
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
Thank you for your attention
”You cannot be both illuminated and
transparent at the same time.”
attributed to N.F.S. Grundtvig

N.F.S. Grundtvig Theologian, Historian, Educator, Madman