1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Helgesen, Povl

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HELGESEN, POVL,[1] Danish humanist, was born at Varberg in Halland about 1480, of a Danish father and a Swedish mother. Helgesen was educated first at the Carmelite monastery of his native place and afterwards at another monastery at Elsinore, where he devoted himself to humanistic studies and adopted Erasmus as his model. None had a keener eye for the abuses of the Church; long before the appearance of Luther, he denounced the ignorance and immorality of the clergy, and, as lector at the university of Copenhagen, gathered round him a band of young enthusiasts, the future leaders of the Danish Reformation. But Helgesen desired an orderly, methodical, rational reformation, and denounced Luther, whose ablest opponent in Denmark he subsequently became, as a hot-headed revolutionist. Christian II. was also an object of Helgesen’s detestation, and so boldly did he oppose that monarch’s measures that, to save his life, he had to flee to Jutland. Under Frederick I. (1523–1533) he returned to Copenhagen and resumed his chair at the university, becoming soon afterwards provincial of the Carmelite Order for Scandinavia. But like all moderate men in a time of crisis, Helgesen could gain the confidence of neither party, and was frequently attacked as bitterly by the Catholics as by the Protestants. From 1530 to 1533 he and the Protestant champion Hans Tausen exhausted the whole vocabulary of vituperation in their fruitless polemics. In October 1534, however, Helgesen issued an eirenicon in which he attempted to reconcile the two contending confessions. After that every trace of him is lost. For a long time he was unjustly regarded as a turn-coat, but he was too superior to the prejudices of his age to be understood by his contemporaries. His ideal was a moral internal reformation of the Church on a rational basis, conducted not by ill-informed fanatics, but by an enlightened and well-educated clergy; and from this standpoint he never diverged. Helgesen was indisputably the greatest master of style of his age in Denmark, and as a historian he also occupies a prominent position. He always endeavours to probe down to the very soul of things, though his passionate nature made it very difficult for him to be impartial. His chief works are Danmark’s Kongers Historie and Skibby Kröniken.

See Ludwig Schmitt, Der Karmeliter Paulus Heliä (Freiburg, 1893); Danmarks Riges Historie (Copenhagen, 1897–1905), vol. iii.

  1. He wrote his name Heliae or Eliae.