Born August 31, 1905 in an atheistic family, Bo Harald Giertz embraced the faith while studying medicine at the University of Uppsala and switched to theology. Ordained a priest in 1934, Giertz first served in youth work, then as an Associate Pastor (komminister) at Torpa (1938-1949). Largely due to his popular writings, such as The Hammer of God (in Swedish, Stengrunden), Giertz became the Bishop of the Göteborg (Gothenburg) Diocese in the Church of Sweden (1949-1970). This was a shock, due both to his young age (44) and position in the rural Torpa parish, as Swedish Bishops were routinely selected from among Cathedral Deans and University Chairmen of Theology. He was leader of the Confessional movement in Sweden (Kyrklig Samling Kring Bibeln och Bekännelsen [The Church Coalition for Bible and Confession]) and served as vice president of the Lutheran World Federation (1957-1963).
In retirement Giertz translated the entire New Testament and provided commentaries on all its books. He was named the most influential Swedish churchman of the 20th century in a nationwide survey at the close of 1999. In influence and style, and as a Christian apologist, he has been compared favorably to Walter Wangerin, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis. During 2005 symposia were held in the United States, Canada, and Sweden to mark the centennial of his birth. This year marks the 11th anniversary of his death. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Clifford Ansgar Nelson's English translation of The Hammer of God.
"The Church is and exists, first and foremost, in that moment when the bishop as a heavenly instrument stands in his congregation's midst and celebrates the liturgical mysteries, full of joy and light and life. In this way the Church is for these people the shining city on a hill, whose walls are always brilliant with light... Here I understood better than ever the very nature of the Church: she is not an institution for grievances, not a protest organization, nor a device for social improvements or any other "goal"; she is the heavenly joy's sanctuary, in which we enter, filled with overwhelming joy [P. Hendrix]. ...Tip of the biretta to Pastor Eric R. Andrae, who will gladly tell you about the International Giertz Society. The most detailed English-language source on Bishop Bo Giertz is here. See especially the up-to-date Giertz English-language bibliography.
"[A] truly active church life [consists of] prayer and participation in the Lord's Supper. ...
"To be a Christian [is to be] a person who lives in the Church of Christ with all her overwhelming riches." (Bo Giertz, Kyrkofromhet [Church Piety], 128, 100, 151, translation by Eric R. Andrae; Giertz' quote of Hendrix is from Bilder aus der orhodoxen Kirche im heutigen Russland, Eine Heilige Kirche, 1-3, 1937).
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Bishop of our souls and bodies, shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Bo, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by your grace grow into your full stature and your name in which we pray. Amen.
Among Giertz' books currently available in English translation are The Hammer of God (published by Augsburg Fortress) and To Live with Christ (Att leva med Kristus), Giertz' classic devotions for each day of the Church Year published last year by Concordia Publishing House. Fortunately for us, translators are working on several of his other writings.
Works available on the web include his classic Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening, which was originally part of a longer pastoral letter at the beginning of his episcopacy, and the recently published (by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England and the Lutheran Heritage Foundation) pamphlet Life by Drowning: Enlightenment through Law and Gospel.