Magnús Eiríksson (22 June 1806 in Skinnalón
Iceland – 3 July 1881 in Copenhagen,
Denmark) was an Icelandic theologian and a contemporary critic of
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813–1855) and Hans Lassen Martensen
(1808–1884) in Copenhagen.
Due to his very critical attitude towards the church dogma, especially
the dogmas of the
Trinity of God and the Divinity of Christ, in
contrast to which he stressed (at least in his late work) the
essential unity of God and the leadership of Jesus (merely) as prophet
and teacher, Eiríksson often was labeled as a “pioneer” or
“precursor”  to the Unitarian movement in Denmark.
Magnús Eiríksson (approx. 1876)
Signature of Magnús Eiríksson
Skinnalón, Parish of Ásmundarstaðir, Norður-Þingeyjarsýsla (D.
1 Childhood and study of theology
2 Eiríksson’s relations to Martensen and Kierkegaard (1844-1850)
2.1 Eiríksson as an opponent of Martensen
2.2 Eiríksson as an unwelcome ally of Kierkegaard
3 The periods of silence (1850–1863) and harsh criticism of
Christian dogmatic theology (1863-74)
4 Selected bibliography
4.1 Main Works
4.2 Secondary Literature on Eiríksson
6 External links
Childhood and study of theology
Magnús Eiríksson was born the eldest of the five children of
Eiríkur Grímsson († 1812), a farmer, and Þorbjörg
Stephánsdóttir († 1841), a pastor’s daughter, in Skinnalón,
Norður-Þingeyjarsýsla, on the northeastern tip of Iceland. In 1831,
he left for
Copenhagen to take the university entrance examination. He
then remained in
Copenhagen until his death in 1881. Eiríksson
studied theology at the University of Copenhagen, where he was deeply
influenced by Professor
Henrik Nicolai Clausen
Henrik Nicolai Clausen (1793–1877), who
represented a form of theological rationalism which appealed to
him. After obtaining his degree in 1837, Eiríksson became a tutor
to theology students (manuduktør), among whom he enjoyed considerable
Eiríksson’s relations to Martensen and Kierkegaard
Eiríksson as an opponent of Martensen
Unlike to Clausen’s rationalism, Eiríksson was very critical to H.
L. Martensen’s speculative theology, which he violently attacked in
various publications from 1844 to 1850. His basic point was that faith
was based on reason, and “only that which can be accepted by reason
can and should be accepted by faith”. Martensen refused to become
involved in polemic with Eiríksson, and remained completely silent.
This silence so irritated Eiríksson that in 1847 he wrote a letter to
King Christian VII denouncing Martensen’s silence as “inexcusable,
dishonest and dishonorable”  and demanding that Martensen be
relieved of his professorship at
Copenhagen University. His
accusations against Martensen were violent and uncontrolled, but at
the same time he also attacked the Government’s alleged absolutism.
As a result, the public prosecutor was ordered to institute
proceedings against him. With the king’s death in 1848, however, and
the general amnesty which accompanied his successor, Frederik VII’s,
accession to the throne, these were dropped. Eiríksson’s attack on
Martensen harmed himself most, particularly financially, as the
students, in sympathy with their famous professor, stopped using
Eiríksson as a tutor. His financial situation became particularly
bad, and he (at least) twice wrote to Søren Kierkegaard asking for
help, but Kierkegaard refused.
Eiríksson as an unwelcome ally of Kierkegaard
In his attack on speculative theology, and especially on
Martensen’s, Eiríksson thought he had an ally in Søren Kierkegaard
Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846)
supported him in this claim. Kierkegaard, however, vigorously
protested against this “unauthorized acknowledgment” of his
writings by “that raging Roland” and accused Eiríksson of
attributing to him motives of which there is not a trace in the
book. Regarding Eiríksson’s efforts to get Martensen dismissed,
Kierkegaard comments: “And with the violence and force of the Devil
he has involved my ‘Concluding Unscientific Postscript’ in his …
campaign. … I do not know either whether M.E. has read the book. But
if he has read it, I do know that he has absolutely, mendaciously and
presumptuously misunderstood it”  In 1850 Eiríksson published
pseudonymously [Theophilus Nicolaus] his book Er Troen et Paradox og
‘i Kraft af det Absurde’? [Is Faith a Paradox and ‘by Virtue of
the Absurd’?] where he criticized Kierkegaard’s account of faith.
Eiríksson declared that faith must not be made into a paradox, for
“when faith is genuine and strong, it has its firm base and deep
root in the immediate intellectual faculty in man, which we call
reason.”  Faith understood as a paradox “annuls and destroys
all independent thought.”  In his (albeit unpublished) answer to
Theophilus Nicolaus, alias Eiríksson, Kierkegaard claims that
Eiríksson has completely misunderstood his works and quite overlooked
their main concern. In his zeal to prove that faith was not in any way
a paradox, Eiríksson – according to Kierkegaard – had lost
Christianity: “Both the paradox and Christianity, jointly and
separately, vanished completely”. Therefore instead of inviting
Kierkegaard to “take up that matter of the paradox” again,
Eiríksson should himself first take up Christianity which, in his
zeal, he had lost.
The periods of silence (1850–1863) and harsh criticism of Christian
dogmatic theology (1863-74)
With the exception of a few articles Eiríksson remained silent in
the period 1850–1863. In these years he went through a spiritual
crisis. He came to see clearly that the Church’s doctrine that God
became man in and through Jesus Christ had to be rejected, for it
would have the result of leading to the deification of man. German
biblical criticism and, in particular, the influence of the Tübingen
School caused him to break radically with Johannine and Pauline
theology. In Jøder og Christne [Jews and Christians] (1871)
Eiríksson drew the ultimate conclusion and explained that Judaism,
which in his terminology meant an immediate childlike trust in God,
was the only true religion. Jesus had only wanted to purify Judaism,
and it is to purified Judaism that we must return.
In the face of the continuing silence of "the professionals", a number
of laypeople with religious interests, such as the religious author
Andreas Daniel Pedrin (1823–1891) and the postal supervisor and
author Jørgen Christian Theodor Faber (1824–1886), felt called to
take a public stand against Eiríksson’s views. In Denmark, on
the whole, Eiríksson’s late writings provoked a wide spectrum of
reactions. These ranged in tone from radical rejection at one extreme,
to open professions of sympathy for Eiríksson and his message at the
other end. In his native Iceland, however, Eiríksson’s reception
was almost uniformly harsh. There his much-discussed book The Gospel
of John (1863) sparked fierce controversy: not only theologians like
Sigurður Melsteð (1819–1895), but also the Catholic priests
Jean-Baptiste Baudoin (1831–1875) and Bernard Bernard
(1821–1895) felt compelled to take a stand against him. In
Sweden, by contrast, Eiríksson’s thought found more fertile
soil—thanks above all to the "freethinking pastor" Nils Johan Ekdahl
(1799–1870), who translated two of Eiríksson’s books into
Swedish. It is not by chance that, in 1877, Eiríksson’s final
publications appeared in Swedish newspapers and periodicals–most
prominently in the journal Sanningssökaren ["The Truth-Seeker"].
Had Eiríksson's supporters and friends not arranged a modest annuity
to supplement his state pension, Eiríksson would surely have suffered
acute financial distress during his final years. In mid-1878,
Eiríksson was even provided with funds to make a brief return to
Iceland, but his failing health made such a visit impossible. After
his death on July 3, 1881, at
Frederiks Hospital in Copenhagen,
Eiríksson’s friends set up a mounted bust on his grave in Garnisons
Om Baptister og Barnedaab [On Baptists and Infant Baptism], Copenhagen
Tro, Overtro og Vantro [Faith, Superstition and Heresy], Copenhagen
Dr. Martensens trykte moralske Paragrapher [Dr. Martensen’s Printed
Speculativ Rettroenhed [Speculative Orthodoxy],
[Theophilus Nicolaus], Er Troen et Paradox og “i Kraft af det
Absurde”? [Is Faith a Paradox and ‘by Virtue of the Absurd’?],
Den nydanske Theologies Cardinaldyder [Modern Danish Theology’s
Om Johannes-Evangeliet [About the Gospel of John],
Gud og Reformatoren [God and the Reformator],
Paulus og Christus [Paul and Christ],
Jøder og Christne [Jews and Christians],
Secondary Literature on Eiríksson
Magnús Eiríksson. A Forgotten Contemporary of Kierkegaard, ed. by
Gerhard Schreiber and Jon Stewart, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press
2017 (478 pp.) (Danish Golden Age Studies, vol. 10)
Eiríkur Albertsson, Magnús Eiríksson, guðfræði hans og
trúarlíf (doctoral dissertation), Reykjavík 1938.
Stephen Hole Fritchman, Men of Liberty. Ten Unitarian Pioneers. With
illustr. by Hendrik Willem van Loon, Boston 1944, pp. 163–180.
Emanuel Skjoldager, "An Unwanted Ally: Magnus Eiriksson," in:
Bibliotheca Kierkegaardiana, vol. 12 (1983), pp. 102–108
Jóhanna Þráinsdóttir, "Er trúin þverstæða? Gagnrýni Magnúsar
Eiríkssonar á trúarskoðunum Kierkegaards í 'Ugg og ótta'," in:
Tímarit Máls og menningar, vol. 61 (2000), pp. 35–45.
Gerhard Schreiber, "Eiríksson, Magnús," in:
Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, vol. 28 (2007),
Gerhard Schreiber, "Ist der Glaube ein Paradox und “kraft des
Absurden”? – Kierkegaards Auseinandersetzung mit Magnús
Eiríksson," in: Kierkegaard and Faith, ed. by Roman Králik (et al.),
Barcelona, Nitra, Málaga, Mexico City 2008, pp. 34-47.
David D. Possen, "On Kierkegaard’s
Copenhagen Pagans," in:
‘Christian Discourses‘ and ‘The Crisis and a Crisis in the Life
of an Actress‘, ed. by Robert L. Perkins, Macon, GA 2008
(International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 17), pp. 35–59,
especially pp. 43–47.
Gerhard Schreiber: "Eiríksson: An Opponent of Martensen and an
Unwelcome Ally of Kierkegaard," in: Kierkegaard and His Danish
Contemporaries, Tome II: Theology, ed. by Jon Stewart, Aldershot 2009
(KRSSR, vol. 7), pp. 49–94.
Vilhjálmur Árnason: "'Neglect and Misunderstanding'”: The
Reception of Kierkegaard in Iceland," in: Kierkegaard's International
Reception, Tome I: Northern and Western Europe, ed. by Jon Stewart,
Aldershot 2009 (KRSRR, vol. 8), pp. 219–236.
Gerhard Schreiber: "'Like a Voice in the Wilderness': Magnús
Eiríksson's Tenacious Critique of Martensen—and Martensen's 'Lofty
Silence'," in: Hans Lassen Martensen. Theologian, Philosopher and
Social Critic, ed. by Jon Stewart, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press
2012 (Danish Golden Age Studies, vol. 6), pp. 155–191.
^ See e.g. Ágúst H. Bjarnason, "Magnus Eiriksson, the first
Icelandic Unitarian" (Lecture at Harvard Divinity School, May 21,
1923; handwritten manuscript); Stephen H. Fritchman, Men of Liberty.
Ten Unitarian Pioneers, Boston 1944 [reprint: Whitefish, MT: Kessinger
Publishing 2007)], pp. 163-180; Thorvald Kierkegaard, Magnus Eiriksson
og Mary B. Westenholz. To Forkæmpere for Unitarismen i Danmark,
Copenhagen 1958, pp. 3-9. See also Eiríkssons articles in the Swedish
periodical Sanningssökaren, which was published by the Unitarian
association Sanningenssökarna, e.g."Förnuftstro och kyrkolära. Bref
från an gammal sanningsökare," in Sanningssökaren (1877), pp.
^ Cf. Eiríksson’s own portrayal of this time in his work Om
Baptister og Barnedaab,
Copenhagen 1844, pp. III – XIII.
^ Tro, Overtro og Vantro,
Copenhagen 1846, p. 93ff
^ Speculativ Rettroenhed,
Copenhagen 1849, p. II.
^ Cf. Breve og Aktstykker vedr. Søren Kierkegaard, vol. 1, pp.
181-183 (no. 163 and 164) as well as Kierkegaard’s draft “A Little
Explanation” in Pap. VIII-2 B 175-176.
^ See Kierkegaard’s journal entry "Self-defense against unauthorized
acknowledgment" in Pap. VII-1 B 88.
^ Pap. VII-1 B 88, p. 289, transl. by H. Hong in Concluding
Unscientific Postscript, Princeton 1992, vol. 2 (suppl.), p. 128.
^ Er Troen et Paradox og ‘i Kraft af det Absurde’?, Copenhagen
1850, p. 23.
^ Er Troen et Paradox og ‘i Kraft af det Absurde’?', op. cit., p.
^ Pap. X-6 B 68, p. 75 / H. and E. Hong, Kierkegaard’s Journals and
Papers, vol. 6, no. 6598, cf. p. 302: „you did superbly well: both
the paradox and Christianity, jointly and separately, vanished
^ Pap. X-2 A 594 ("An Observation about Something in 'Fear and
Trembling'") / H. and E. Hong, Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and
Papers, vol. 3, no. 3130.
^ Cf. Art. "Wartburg," in: Illustreret Magazin 2 (1854), pp. 283-284
(no. 36) and p. 301 (no. 38); Art. "Brigham Joung" [= Brigham Young],
in: Illustreret Magazin 2 (1854), pp. 281-283 (no. 36) and pp. 290-292
(no. 37); "Endnu et Indlæg i Sagen: Dr. S. Kierkegaard contra Biskop
Martensen m. Fl.," in: Avertissements-Tidende (1855), no.
82-86,89,91-93; "Til Íslendínga," in: Þjóðólfr 9 (1856/57), p.
140 (no. 34/35); "Brudstykker af den islandske Elucidarius," in:
Annaler for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie,
Copenhagen 1857, pp.
^ See A.D. Pedrin, Vor Herres og Frelsers Jesu Christi nye Testament
og Magnus Eirikssons reformeerte Jødedom,
Copenhagen 1874 and J.C.T.
Faber, Aabent Brev til Danmarks Theologer om Nyrationalismens Forhold
til den kristne Tro,
^ See e.g. Melsteð’s critical review of Eiríksson’s Jóhannesar
guðspjall og Lærdómur kirkjunnar um guð, nokkrar athugasemdir til
yfirvegunar Þeim Íslendíngum, sem ekki vilja svívirða og lasta
guð með trú sinni,
Copenhagen 1865 [Eiríksson’s Icelandic
extract from his book Er Johannes-Evangeliet et apostolisk og ægte
Evangelium (1863)], in Þjóðólfur 17 (1864/65), nos.
29.31-32.35-36.42-43.45-46 and 47-48)
^ See the section "Catholic revival" in the article "Religion in
^ See Johannis Evangelium. Är det en äkta apostolisk bok och är
dess lära: att Gud är vorden menniska, en sann och kristlig lära?
En Religiös-Dogmatisk Historisk-Kritisk Undersökning, Stockholm 1864
and Läran om dopet, Stockholm 1865 [the Swedish translation of
Eiríksson's Hvem har Ret: Grundtvigianerne eller deres Modstandere?
Art. "Magnús Eiríksson," in: Dansk Biographisk Lexikon by H.
Gerhard Schreiber (2007). "Eiríksson, Magnús". In Bautz, Traugott.
Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 28.
Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 517–538. ISBN 978-3-88309-413-7.
Ágúst H. Bjarnason, “Magnus Eiriksson, the first Icelandic
Unitarian” (Lecture at Harvard Divinity School, 21.5.1923;
transcribed from the original manuscript and edited by S. M. Jonasson)