Hans Lassen Martensen

Hans Lassen Martensen (August 19, 1808 – February 3, 1884) was a Danish bishop and academic.

The Right Reverend

Hans Lassen Martensen
Bishop of Copenhagen
ChurchChurch of Denmark
DioceseDiocese of Copenhagen
In office18541884
PredecessorJacob Peter Mynster
SuccessorBruun Juul Fog
Personal details
Born(1808-08-19)August 19, 1808
Flensburg, Duchy of Schleswig (present day Germany)
DiedFebruary 3, 1884(1884-02-03) (aged 75)
Copenhagen, Denmark

Early life

Martensen was born in a middle-class Lutheran family in Flensburg, in the Duchy of Schleswig (now Germany), as their only son. At that time Schleswig was a duchy between Holstein and Denmark. He grew up in a German-speaking society, while his father who was a schoolmaster, writer and sea-captain preferred to use Danish. Consequently the young Martensen upbrought in a multicultural situation and reconciliation of different cultures became his one of central interests through his life.[1]

He studied theology in Copenhagen, and later was ordained in the Danish Church. From 1834 till 1836 he travelled foreign countries. He visited several cities including Berlin, Munich, Vienna and Paris. He met influential intellects including Hegel, David Strauss, Franz von Baader and Schelling. During his travel, he began to read mystics, Eckhart, Tauler and Boehme. Also he studied Dante's The Divine Comedy with a great interest.[2]

As theologian and clergyman

At Copenhagen he was lektor in theology in 1838, professor extra-ordinarius in 1840, court preacher also in 1845, and professor ordinarius in 1850. Once he was offered to a bishopric from Swedish Church but declined. In 1854 however he gave up his educational career and was made bishop of Zealand, the Danish Primate. In his studies he had come under the influence of Schleiermacher, Hegel and Franz von Baader; but he was a man of independent mind, and developed a peculiar speculative theology which showed a disposition towards mysticism and theosophy.

His contributions to theological literature included treatises on Christian ethics and dogmatics, on moral philosophy, on baptism, and a sketch of the life of Jakob Boehme, who exercised so marked an influence on the mind of the great English theologian of the 18th century, William Law. Martensen was a distinguished preacher, and his works were translated into various languages. The "official" eulogy he pronounced upon Bishop Jacob Peter Mynster (1775–1854) in 1854, in which he affirmed that the deceased man was one of the authentic truth-witnesses of Christianity to have appeared in the world since apostolic times, brought down upon his head the invectives of the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Martensen died on February 3, 1884 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Icelandic theologian Magnús Eiríksson (1806–1881), who lived from 1831 until his death in Copenhagen, was very critical of Martensen’s speculative theology, which he violently attacked in various publications from 1844 to 1850.


  • Grundriss des Systems der Moralphilosophie (1841; 3rd ed., 1879; German, 1845)
  • "Dr. S. Kierkegaard mod Dr. H. Martensen: et indlaeg (1856)". Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  • Die christliche Taufe und die baptistische Frage (2nd ed., 1847; German, 2nd ed., 1860)
  • "Christian Dogmatics: A Compendium of the Doctrines of Christianity English translation (1874)". Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  • "Christian Ethics (1871; Eng. trans., Part I. 1873,". Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  • "Christian Ethics Part II. 1881". Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  • Hirtenspiegel (1870-1872)
  • Katholizismus und Protestantismus (1874)
  • Jacob Boehme; Studies in his Life and Teaching (1882; Eng. trans., 1885, reprint 1949)]

An autobiography, Aus meinem Leben, appeared in 1883, and after his death the Briefwechsel zwischen Martensen und Dorner.


  1. Stephan Hobhouse, "Editor's introduction to Jacob Boehme", Rockliff, 1949, xvi.
  2. Stephan Hobhouse, "Editor's introduction to Jacob Boehme", Rockliff, 1949, xviif.


Further reading

  • Jon Stewart (ed.), Hans Lassen Martensen - Theologian, Philosopher and Social Critic, Museum Tusculanum Press, 2012. ISBN 978-87-635-3169-6.
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