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Hymns And Hymnwriters Of Denmark by Jens Christian Aaberg

Chapter Seven Kingo's Later Years

Kingo's work with the hymnal had brought him much disappointment and some loss of popularity. He felt not without justification that he had been ill treated. He did not sulk in his tent, however, but pursued his work with unabated zeal. His diocese was large, comprising not only Fyn but a large number of smaller islands besides. The work of making periodical visits to all parishes within such a far-flung charge was, considering the then available means of transportation, not only strenuous but hazardous. Roads were bad and vessels weak and slow. Hardships and danger beset his almost continuous voyages and journeys. A number of poems relating the adventures of the traveler are reminiscenses of his own experiences.

But his work of visiting the churches constituted, of course, only a part of his duties. He had to preach in the cathedral at Odense at least every Wednesday in Lent and on all festival Sundays; examine the work and conduct of all pastors within the diocese; act as an arbiter in disputes between them and their parishioners; make sure that the financial affairs of the church and its institutions were honestly conducted; attend to the collection of church taxes; and superintend all schools, hospitals and institutions of charity. The efficient accomplishment of all these tasks might well test the strength and ability of any man.

His manifold duties also engendered numerous occasions for friction, especially with the civil authorities, whose rights and duties often overlapped his own. And he did not escape the danger of such bickerings with their resultant ill-feeling. There is nothing to indicate that he was contentious by nature. But he was no doubt zealous in defending the prerogatives of his office. His temper was quick and somewhat martial. |One could very well,| one of his biographers declares, |envision him as a knight in full armor leading a troop in the charge.| With the exception of his active enemies, most of his contemporaries agree, however, that he was commonly more than patient in his dealings with others.

Kingo was an able administrator, and the institutions and finances of the diocese prospered under his care. But it was as an earnest Christian and a tireless worker for the spiritual improvement of his people that he won their respect. He was known as an |eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures.| One of his contemporaries said of him: |Were we not forced after hearing him preach to say with the disciples, Did not our hearts burn within us when he opened the Scriptures to us and, like a son of thunder, published the sins of the house of Jacob, or, like Barnabas, the son of comfort, bound up our wounds and comforted us with the comfort with which he had himself been so richly comforted by God.'| The few extracts of his sermons that have come down to us verify the truth of this statement. They show us a man firmly grounded in his own faith and zealous in impressing its truth upon others. His preaching was strictly orthodox and yet fiery and practical. The poetical language and forceful eloquence of his sermons remind one of the best of his spiritual songs.

Kingo's writings and frequent travels brought him into contact with most of the outstanding personages of his country in his day. His charming personality, lively conversation and fine sense of humor made him a welcome guest wherever he appeared. On the island of Taasinge, he was a frequent and beloved guest in the stately castle of the famous, pious and revered admiral, Niels Juul, and his equally beloved wife, Birgitte Ulfeldt. His friendship with this worthy couple was intimate and lasting. When admiral Juul died, Kingo wrote the beautiful epitaph that still adorns his tomb in the Holmen church at Copenhagen. On the island of Falster he often visited the proud and domineering ex-queen, Carolina Amalia. He was likewise a frequent visitor at the neighboring estate of the once beautiful and adored daughter of king Christian IV, Leonora Ulfeldt, whom the pride and hatred of the ex-queen had consigned for twenty-two years to a dark and lonely prison cell. Years of suffering, as we learn from her still famous book Memories of Misery, had made the princess a deeply religious woman. Imprisonment had aged her body, but had neither dulled her brilliant mind nor hardened her heart. She spent her remaining years in doing good, and she was a great admirer of Kingo.

Thus duty and inclination alike brought him in contact with people of very different stations and conditions in life. His position and high personal endowments made him a notable figure wherever he went. But he had his enemies and detractors as well as his friends. It was not everyone who could see why a poor weaver's son should be raised to such a high position. Kingo was accused of being greedy, vain, over-ambitious and self-seeking, all of which probably contained at least a grain of truth. We should have missed some of his greatest hymns, if he had been a saint, and not a man of flesh and blood, of passionate feelings and desires, a man who knew from his own experiences that without Christ he could do nothing.

Despite certain peculiar complications, Kingo's private life was quite happy. Four years after the death of his first wife, he entered into marriage with Johanne Lund, a widow many years older than he. She brought with her a daughter from her former marriage. And Kingo thus had the exceptional experience of being stepfather to three sets of children, the daughter of his second wife and the children and stepchildren of his first. To be the head of such a family must inevitably have presented confusing problems to a man who had no children of his own. But with the exception of his stepson, all the children appear to have loved him and maintained their relation to him as long as he lived.

His second wife died in 1694, when she was seventy-six and he sixty years old. During the later years of her life she had been a helpless invalid, demanding a great deal of patience and care of her busy husband. Contemporaries comment on the frequent sight of the famous bishop good-humoredly carrying his wife about like a helpless child. Less than a year after her death, Kingo entered into a new marriage, this time with an attractive young lady of the nobility, Birgitte Balslev, his junior by more than thirty years. This new marriage provoked a great deal of gossip and many predictions of disaster on account of the great disparity in years of the contracting parties. But the predictions proved wholly unfounded, and the marriage singularly happy. Kingo and Birgitte, a contemporary tells us, were |inseparable as heart and soul.| She was an accomplished and highly intelligent woman, and Kingo found in her, perhaps for the first time in his life, a woman with whom he could share fully the rich treasure of his own heart and mind. He is credited with the remark that he had done what all ought to do: married an elderly woman in his young days, whom he could care for when she grew old, and a young woman in his later years, who could comfort him in his old age.

But Kingo did not show the effect of his years. He was still as energetic and vigorous as ever in the prosecution of his manifold duties. For a number of years after his marriage, he even continued his strenuous visits to all parts of his see, now always accompanied by his wife. His leisure hours were usually spent on a beautiful estate a few miles from Odense, which belonged to his wife. At this favored retreat and in the company of friends, he still could relax and become the liveliest of them all.

The years, however, would not be denied. At the turn of the century, he suffered a first attack of the illness, a bladder complaint, that later laid him in his grave. He made light of it and refused to ease his strenuous activity. But the attack returned with increasing frequency and, on a visit to Copenhagen in the fall of 1702, he was compelled to take to his bed. He recovered somewhat and was able to return home. But it was now clear to all that the days of the great bishop were numbered. Early in the new year he became bedfast and suffered excruciatingly at times. |But he submitted himself wholly to God's will and bore his terrible suffering with true Christian patience,| one of his biographers tells us. To those who asked about his condition, his invariable answer was, that all was well with him. If anyone expressed sympathy with him, he usually smiled and said that |it could not be expected that the two old friends, soul and body, should part from each other without pain.| When someone prayed or sang for him he followed him eagerly, expressing his interest with his eyes, hands and whole being.

A week before his death he called the members of his family to his bed, shared the Holy Communion with them and thanked them and especially his wife, for their great kindness to him during his illness. On October 13, a Saturday, he slept throughout the day, but awoke in the evening and exclaimed: |Lord God, tomorrow we shall hear wonderful music!| And on the morning of October 14, 1703, just as the great bells of the cathedral of St. Knud called people to the service, his soul departed peacefully to join the Church above. God had heard at last the earnest prayer of his own great hymns:

But, O Jesus, I am crying:

Help that faith, on Thee relying,

Over sin and sorrow may

Ever rise and win the day.

His body was laid to rest in a small village church a few miles outside of Odense. There one still may see the stone of his tomb, bearing an inscription that likens him to a sun which, although it has set, still lights the way for all true lovers of virtue. Other monuments to his memory have been raised at Slangerup, Odense and other places. But his finest and most lasting memorials are his own great hymns. In these his warm, passionate spirit still speaks to a larger audience than he ever reached in his own day. The years have served only to emphasize the truth of Grundtvig's beautiful epitaph to him on his monument at Odense:

Thomas Kingo is the psalmist

Of the Danish temple choir.

This his people will remember

Long as song their hearts inspire.

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