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Historisk tidskrift 131:3 • 2011

Innehåll (Contents) 2011:3

”Ett stort bevis av Evangelii kraft och sanning”. Suicidalmord, avrättningar och herrnhutisk teologi

Andreas Hellerstedt

Fulltext (pdf)


”A great proof of the truth and power of the Gospel”: A beautiful execution as moravian propaganda

The article is a short case study of a suicidal murderer, Brita Wadström, executed in 1746. The source for her story is the memoirs of minister Thore Odhelius, the leader of the herrnhuter (moravians) in Stockholm at the time. The article explores the relations of moravian theology to the ideology of the public execution and the then common phenomenon of suicidal murders. In early 18th century Stockholm a large proportion of convicted murderers had committed their crime in the hope that they would be executed. Execution was considered preferable to suicide, as the latter was heavily stigmatized at the time.

Odhelius, like several other pietist and moravian ministers, clearly used the scaffold to illustrate important theological points. It was central to moravian theology that all men and women could be saved, irrespective of their particular sins, and they taught that even the most hardened criminals would achieve salvation through the unmerited gift of divine grace. But for this to work salvation had to be achieved in a certain way, that is, in accordance with the order of salvation (ordo salutis). Influenced by german rationalist philosopher Christian Wolff, Odhelius greatly stressed the necessity of this order. The minister used this to great effect as a method for dramatically converting criminals facing execution. The frequent references to the blood and wounds of the saviour in moravian literature of the period also seems to have made public executions particularly useful for the publicizing of their radically egalitarian theology.


18th century public executions, suicidal-murders, Stockholm, moravian theology, Christian Wolff