H.C.Andersen Information




Andersen : What was he like ?  by Elias Bredsdorff      Nr.7


Primitive and undogmatic religion

Unlike his father, who was an atheist, Andersen was a deeply religious person, whose religious beliefs may be summed up by saying that he believed in the existence of a god, in the importance of behaving decently, and in the immortality of the soul.


" t wasn't fair of the Lord to let me be so unlucky in Latin"'

Andersen in 1865, photographed by C. Weller.


 This famous triad of God, Virtue and Immortality, which is the basis of theological rationalism, was also the basis of Andersen's religious belief.

He firmly believed in some kind of divine providence and was so convinced that God had definite plans for him that at times he would even argue with God; in his schooldays he once wrote in his diary: "It wasn't fair of the Lord to let me be so unlucky in Latin " , and in moments of joy he felt a desire to "press God to my heart".
Andersen's religion was a primitive and undogmatic one, in which he saw Christ as the great teacher and model to mankind, and Nature as God's universal church. He very rarely went to church, and the contrasting religious philosophies of Grundtvig and Kierkegaard, his two great contemporaries, left him cold. One of his favourite quotations from the Bible was, "Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven"; this, of course, is the ultimate message of "The Snow Queen".

Once, when staying at Holsteinborg Castle, Andersen read two of his tales to a dying invalid, and in taking leave of her he said: "We'll meet again." "Yes," she replied, "up there." "Perhaps," Andersen said, "and if you get there before me, then please remember me to my friends; I have several of them up there." "You have indeed," she said.
Occasionally Andersen was taken to task by people with strong feelings about religious dogma. With Edvard Collin's sister, Ingeborg Drewsen, for instance, he quarrelled about the resurrection of the body -"she believes in it, I don't". After Andersen had read Søren Kierkegaard's The Concept of Fear he became involved in a theological discussion with young Jonas Collin, Edvard's son, who told him categorically that "God and Christianity are two different things". Andersen's diary continues: "I said that God was the almighty one, he was the sole power. -'That isn't Christianity: the Jews also believe in a god, but not in Christ!' -So here I was told unambiguously of the expulsion of God from Christianity by the new god Christ."

Andersen in 1860, photographed by Franz v. Hanfstaengel, Munich.

 "I'm drifting like a bird in the gale"

At the manor of Basnæs Andersen had several arguments with Lady Scavenius and others about religious matters; thus on July 14, 1870, he recorded in his diary: "1 told them that the teaching came from God and that it was a blessed thing, but that conditions of birth and family, however interesting they might be, were not essential to me.

Then the storm broke out and they said that the teaching had no significance if one did not take into account his birth and his death. The last addition was necessary to confirm his firm conviction of truth, etc. -If I did not believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, then I wasn't a Christian. I replied that I believed in them as concepts, not as persons, not as bodily creations -they almost gave me up."

One evening in October 1871 when Andersen happened to express his views on God and Christ, on the Virgin Mary, and so forth, a lady, who was a firm supporter of Grundtvigian ideas, exclaimed: "Dear me! Then you must be a Jew! " When Andersen told her of his love of, gratitude towards, and admiration for Christ as a human being who was entitled to ask others to follow his example, the poor lady burst into tears and rushed out of the room. "There was quite a scene," Andersen writes. "1 was unhappy if I had 'offended' someone who had never so far thought about matters of faith, and later in the evening I tried to clear everything up and pacify her, in which I seemed to succeed. I said, ' A father gives each of his two daughters a costly ring; one of them is firmly convinced that it is genuine and it would never occur to her to doubt it, she is happy in her blind faith; the other wants to know and so goes to an expert with the ring and by having it examined learns that it is in fact genuine. In this latter way I have become convinced that what Christ teaches does in fact come from God."'




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