The Grand Old Man of Swedish Theology, Bengt Hägglund

Professor Bengt Hägglund passed away at the age of 94 (March 8th, 2015). He is survived by his two sons Tore and Gunnar.

Bengt Hägglund grew up in a rich spiritual tradition that had its roots in Henric Schartau’s awakening in Lund at the beginning of the 19th century. He was even ordained in the Cathedral Church of Lund, Schartau’s Cathedral. His doctoral thesis concerning Johann Gerhard’s view of the Bible (1951) resulted in an important rediscovery of 16th century realist philosophy. With his essay Regula fidei (1958) he formulated a comprehensive program for theological research, a powerful new approach after the Lundesian school of theology’s discussion with Ingemar Hedenius collapsed. [Ingemar Hedenius was a philosopher in Uppsala that opposed organized religion and especially the role of the Church of Sweden. Tr. note] This collapse was a result of one using a double meaning. Bengt Hägglund dealt with this problem in his work Theologie und Philosophie (1955). He was a trained philosophical thinker himself.

Regula Fidei maintains that the Christian faith has a foundational structure in God’s revelation as Father Son and Holy Spirit. This offers a key to Bengt Hägglund’s most widely dispersed work Teologins historia (History of Theology) which was translated into numerous languages. His discovery and publication of Johannes Rudbeckius’ Loci Theologici was like a Vasa ship of the soul that brought us closer to the spiritual life of our predecessors like a ship wreck raised from the depths after centuries of oblivion.

Bengt Hägglund maintained a sharp intellect to the very end.  His collection of essays from these last years witness to learning, acumen, and incorruptible integrity.

One of Bengt Hägglund’s later works bore the title Tro och Verklighet [Faith and Reality] (2007). There he overwhelmingly shows the weakness of theological modernism, normally called liberal theology. It contends that the living person, Jesus Christ, is supplanted by abstract concepts like justification or love. Concepts cannot transform the way a relationship with a living person can. Concepts can only demand. For this reason, this modernism has become an obstacle to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

At Bengt Hägglund’s retirement in 1985 friends and students presented him with the Festschrift Tro och Tradition (Faith and Tradition). This contains, among many other things, a complete bibliography of Bengt Hägglund’s work up until 1985, an abundantly rich history of authorship. But it is now far from complete. He continued researching, thinking and writing about the Christian faith to the very last. His latest work is not yet published.

Bengt Hägglund was the discrete friend of his phd students. Among them are Bishop Carl-Axel Aurelius, Professor Asger Højlund (Århus), and Associate Professor Rune Söderlund. He led us with modest courtesy without ever approving anything partly finished or incompletely thought out. He too felt the pressures of academic life, but was never broken by them.

He was a noble man. He had his spiritual home in St. Laurentii Kyrka, and he was a faithful listener to the Danish Radio’s Morning Prayer from the Cathedral Church in Copenhagen. From the Danish Hymnal he meditated upon hymn 208.  

“Write upon my heart, Jesus/ You are my king and God.”

Christian Braw, Adjunct Professor at Åbo Akadamie

First Published in “Kyrka och Folk” Nr.12 19 Mars 2015, 92 Årg. Reprinted with permission.

Translated by Bror Erickson.