Natan Soderblom

Natan Soderblom

Nobel Peace Prize, 1930
Date of Birth: 15.01.1866
Country: Sweden

  1. Biography of Nathan Soderblom
  2. Work in Paris and International Recognition
  3. Continued Efforts for Peace and Ecumenism

Biography of Nathan Soderblom

Nathan Soderblom was a Swedish priest, ecumenist, and Archbishop of Uppsala. He was born as Lars Olof Jonathan Soderblom in Trena, Helsingland province, to the family of priest Jonas Soderblom and Sofia Blum. Coming from a devout family that valued knowledge, Soderblom began studying Latin with his father at the age of five. Even in his childhood, he decided to become a priest. He received his secondary education in a small town and then enrolled at Uppsala University, where his father also studied, in 1883. Here, Soderblom studied Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin languages and obtained a bachelor's degree. This education allowed him to pursue theology and religious history at the university's theological school. Soderblom's dedication to ecumenism, which characterized his entire life, was already evident during his student years. At a Christian student conference in 1890, in which he participated, Soderblom heard a call for unity among the churches of the world. Excited, he wrote in his diary, "Oh God, grant me humility and wisdom to serve the great cause of unity in Your church." Strengthening ecumenism, which involved overcoming sectarian differences for the sake of church unity, became his life's mission. After obtaining a degree in theology in 1892, Soderblom was ordained as a pastor in the Lutheran Church. In the same year, he published his first book on the theology of the German reformer Martin Luther. After serving as a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital in Uppsala for some time, Soderblom was appointed pastor of the Swedish Church in Paris. Once his financial situation improved, Soderblom was able to marry Anna Forsell, a student at Uppsala University, in 1897. They had 10 children together.

Work in Paris and International Recognition

Soderblom spent seven years in Paris. His parish was visited by prominent Scandinavian artists, diplomats, businessmen, including Alfred Nobel, who generously donated to the church. When Nobel passed away on December 10, 1896, at his villa in San Remo, Italy, Soderblom conducted the funeral service. Remembering Nobel, he spoke of his "mighty intellect, remarkable achievements, and ability to harness the forces of nature for the service of humanity." After completing his graduate studies in theology and the history of religion at the University of Paris, Soderblom earned a doctorate in theology. His dissertation focused on the idea of the afterlife in Zoroastrianism, a Persian religion that spread in the 6th century BCE. Soon, Soderblom was offered a theology chair at Uppsala University, and in 1901, he returned to Sweden. Inspired by his experiences abroad and liberal French theology, Soderblom energetically embarked on his mission. He remained at the university until 1914, during which he also lectured on the history of religion at Leipzig University from 1912 to 1914.

Soderblom's exceptional scholarship and teaching skills contributed to a theological renaissance in his homeland. He stimulated students' interest in comparative religion, as well as in the life and teachings of Martin Luther. His personal charm and powerful intellect made Soderblom popular not only at the university, where his lectures attracted crowds of students, but also within the church community. Swedish universities became captivated by the study of religion, and students even founded a journal called "Our Slogan" ("Var Losen") and organized the Center for Christian Meetings. As one of the founders of the Universal Christian Council for International Understanding, Soderblom prepared for its 1914 session in Konstanz, Germany. However, the outbreak of World War I forced the delegates to return home. Together with other church leaders, Soderblom attempted to organize an ecumenical conference in 1917, but his efforts were unsuccessful as the warring countries refused to issue passports. Only five delegates from neutral countries attended. The manifesto they published called for brotherhood and peace, becoming the subject of one of Soderblom's subsequent works. Appealing to the "profound inner unity that unites all Christians regardless of national and sectarian differences," the document urged all churches to contribute to the resolution of international disputes through negotiation and arbitration.

Continued Efforts for Peace and Ecumenism

After the war, Soderblom did not cease his efforts for ecumenism and peace. Thanks to his energy and growing prestige, the Universal Christian Conference was organized in Stockholm in 1925, with 600 delegates from 37 countries in attendance. The Catholic Church declined to participate, but representatives from the Russian Orthodox and major Protestant churches were present. Under Soderblom's chairmanship, the delegates discussed the unity of faith, the reconciliation of various theological perspectives, and the achievement of world peace. The delegates elected a permanent committee to organize future sessions. The result of this work was the establishment of the World Council of Churches in 1948. In recognition of his contributions to peace through religious unity, Soderblom was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930. In his Nobel lecture, he formulated three tasks that, in his opinion, the church should address for the sake of peace: to make Christians aware that religion requires adherence to norms, laws, and justice from both individuals and states; to preach the importance of a "supranational legal system" as a means of resolving disputes between nations; to transform armed forces into defenders of peace. In conclusion, Soderblom announced an ecumenical congress planned for 1935 in London. "We must fight for peace, against division, against the madness of fear, against hatred and injustice," Soderblom said. "Peaceful politics will achieve its goal to the extent that the Kingdom of God conquers the hearts of people." A year after receiving the Nobel Prize, Soderblom was invited to deliver lectures in Edinburgh. After his first ten lectures in May and June, he returned to Sweden. Soderblom passed away from a heart attack in Uppsala on July 12, 1931.