Somewhere in the archives of the Danish Royal Library exist fourteen books, all that is left of a five-volume print run of Enevold Ewald’s sermons. There are no digital copies of the material, nor is there any detailed research on his words. Yet for twenty-seven years, Ewald was the priest and daily leader of Det Kongelige Vajsenhus- an organization that ran the orphanage in Copenhagen and which eventually became the printer of both the authorized Danish Bible and the official hymnal of the Church of Denmark. Purely in terms of printing output, the organization’s work touched all the far reaches of the Danish Empire during the 18th century. Still, despite this legacy of leadership, Ewald’s philosophy of education and his theological thought have remained relatively undisturbed. He exists as a poisonous figure for the historical theology research world in Denmark, tainted forever by his association with Moravians and Separatists. While his fellow Pietists, Hans Adolph Brorson and Erik Pontoppidan, have literary legacies that stretch well past their deaths, Ewald’s name no longer is connected to his vast and varied literary output. His work exists on the brink of burial in the vaults of books too old to be touched or read.
My research is a project of historical theology that sees to resurrect the writings of Ewald through the lens of theological anthropology and spiritual development. The specter of polemic historiography has shunned this figure, but I will treat him as a pathway into a deeper cultural understanding of eighteenth-century religious practice and belief.
This research project is primarily a thematic project looking at how Ewald described the role of Scripture, recommended spiritual practices or disciplines, and generally conceived of the human being’s relationship with the divine. At the same time, the material considerations of the project have required a slightly more complex approach to the texts. The role of theologian must wait upon the work of a historian and philologist used to dealing with older paper manuscripts and prints. In comes the deciphering skills for the gothic script and the creative trawling of the library catalogs for hidden editions of Ewald’s works given under the multitude of spelling options for the author’s name. Also at hand are the contemporary 18th century dictionaries to assist with outdated definitions and idiosyncratic spelling choices. The game is afoot and Ewald’s voice will resound again!