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Arason Jon

Catholic bishop of Iceland (1484-1550)

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Arason Jon, the last Catholic bishop of Iceland before the introduction of Protestantism, b. 1484; d. November 7, 1550. He was consecrated Bishop of Holar by his archbishop in the Metropolitan See of Nidaros (Trondhjem), in Norway, 1524. He was a typical Icelander and a man of extraordinary talents, though poorly versed in Latin, and openly neglectful of the law of celibacy. He was thoroughly devoted to the cause of the Church, but was more of a war-chief than a bishop. Christian III, King of Denmark, having ordered a change of religion in Iceland, in 1538, he encountered there the opposition of Ogmundur Palsson, Bishop of Skalholt, as well as that of Arason. Ogmundur Palsson, who was old and blind, was made prisoner by Kristoffer Huitfeldt, a royal leader, and taken to Denmark, where he died in 1542. His successors were Lutheran bishops. The leadership of the Catholics consequently devolved on the Bishop of Holar, Arason Jon. He maintained the defensive until 1548, when the episcopal see of Skalholt was made vacant by the death of the apostate Gissur Einarsson. Then he assumed the offensive, in order to rule the Diocese of Skalholt in a Catholic spirit, and to have a Catholic appointed bishop there. Marteinn Einarsson had returned from Denmark, confirmed as bishop by the king, to oppose him; but Arason Jon took him prisoner. Although suspended and declared an outlaw by the king, Arason Jon felt himself encouraged by a letter from Pope Paul III to continue his efforts to extirpate heresy. His energy and his zeal knew no bounds. In an attempt to capture his greatest adversary, Dadi Gudmundsson, he was himself taken prisoner and handed over to the king’s bailiff, Christian Skriver. The Lutheran bishop, Marteinn Einarsson, was at once set free, and without awaiting any formal judgment the decapitation of Arason and two of his sons, Are and Bjorn, who had been stanch allies of their father, was agreed upon.

Some fishermen avenged the death of their bishop by killing Christian Skriver and his adherents in the following year. The body of Arason was then transferred, in triumph, from Skalholt to Holar. The people, as a sign of their veneration for him, elected his son Jon as his successor. But the election lacked confirmation. Protestantism, now that Catholicism had no leader, met with no open opposition. The people, however, continued to cherish the faith of their fathers for a long time and looked on Arason as a national hero and a martyr. Five Lutheran bishops of Skail, and three of Holar, were descendants of his, and in later times, among the converts at a Catholic mission given in Iceland was a woman descended from the hero bishop.

E. A. WANG


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