Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Schreuder, Hans P. S.

South Africa

Friend of Mpande the Zulu Chief

When in 1882 H. P. S. Schreuder died in Natal, South Africa, Josiah Tyler, the veteran American missionary, in an article in the leading paper of the colony, hailed him as “the most remarkable missionary we have had in South Africa.”[1] Tyler was not the only one among Schreuder’s colleagues and contemporaries to speak of him in such generous terms. Thus John W. Colenso, the Anglican bishop, called him “one of the most experienced, devoted and learned missionaries among the Kafirs.”[2] Similar descriptions, by representatives of different churches, could be quoted. In the light of appraisals such as these it is somewhat surprising that most works on the history of missions have little, if anything, to say about the man whose legacy is the subject of this article.[4]

Friend and Linguist of South Africa

Born in 1817 in Sogndal, Norway, Hans Paludan Smith Schreuder, the son of a solicitor, passed his theological examinations at the University of Christiania (now Oslo) with highest distinction. In a treatise bearing the significant title “A Few Words to the Church of Norway on Christian Obligation to be Concerned about the Salvation of Non-Christian Fellow Men,” he gave a closely reasoned exposition of the biblical basis of the missionary enterprise.[5] Because the churches in Europe had largely become static and introverted bodies, and also because of the individualistic and undenominational character of the evangelical awakening (to which the modern missionary movement is so deeply indebted), “the friends of missions” could express their concern only by forming independent organizations for the purpose. Schreuder saw clearly the danger of a separation between “church” and “mission.” In the course of events, however, the two came to mean different things - a fact described by a competent missiologist as “one of the great calamities of missionary history.”[6]

Schreuder’ s treatise aroused considerable interest, and as a result there was set up in Christiania a committee to enable him, in accordance with a call he had long felt, to go as a missionary to South Africa. When later in the same year (1842) the Norwegian Missionary Society was founded in Stavanger, Schreuder became its first missionary. On New Year’s Day 1844 he arrived at Port Natal (Durban). Acting on the advice of Robert Moffat, he made his way northward into the country and became the pioneer of the Christian mission north of the Tugela River much in the same manner as Moffat had become the pioneer of the Christian mission north of the Orange River. The two had much in common. To mention only one thing, both won to an amazing degree the esteem of the people among whom they served. Schreuder’s friendship with Mpande, the Zulu chief, was an event just as remarkable as Moffat’s friendship with Mzilikazi, the Matabele chief. Schreuder was, to all intents and purpose, the prime minister of King Mpande until the latter’s death.[7]

While not the first messenger of the Gospel to enter Kwa Zulu (Zululand), Schreuder was the first permanent resident missionary in that area. After two unsuccessful attempts to obtain from the king permission to settle in his country, and after an abortive attempt to establish a mission in Hong Kong, Schreuder founded in the British colony of Natal, as a base for future operations in Kwa Zulu, the first station, Umpumulo (1850). As a result of Schreuder’s skill in healing the king, who had asked his help in a case of illness, access to the land was at last secured. In the early 1850s stations were founded at Empangeni and Entumeni. In the following decades, thanks to the arrival of new missionaries, there were established, under Schreuder’s leadership, ten more stations. Due to a variety of causes – political unrest, the king’s refusal to allow his people to become Christians, and so forth – progress for many years was very slow. Not until 1858 did the first baptism take place. In Schreuder’s lifetime the number of converts never exceeded 300.

Schreuder also introduced two more Lutheran missions in Kwa Zulu, the (German) Hermannsburg Mission and the Church of Sweden Mission. After his consecration in 1866 as “Bishop of the Mission Field of the Church of Norway,” Schreuder became the founder of the Norwegian mission in Madagascar. In 1873, because of a controversy with the home board over new administrative measures, he severed his connection with the Norwegian Mission Society. Supported by a new agency named “The Church of Norway Mission established by Schreuder,” he carried on the work at Entumeni, the piece of land presented to him in the early 1850s by King Mpande in recognition of his services. He also began a new mission at Untunjambili in Natal.

Schreuder is the author of the first complete grammar of the Zulu language [8] According to C. M. Doke, “the treatment of the various phenomena in this work is masterful.” The work “bears the mark of real pioneer achievement.” [9] Like other students of Bantu languages in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Schreuder had learned from W. B. Boyce’s Grammar of the Kafir Language.[10] However, Schreuder’ s own Grammar is the fruit of original and independent research. His phonetic approach to the language was much more detailed. In the numbering of noun classes he created his own method by distinguishing between no less than thirteen classes (a method later followed by Bleek and Meinhof for their comparative work). In his orthography he was far in advance of his time, for instance, by inventing special symbols for special sounds. Bishop Colenso, too, himself a linguist of no mean order, had a high opinion of Schreuder’s Grammar, which he describes as “the work of an excellent missionary and an able philologist.” [11]

Schreuder translated parts of the New Testament and of the Psalms into Zulu, but, sadly enough, he never had the opportunity to concentrate on the task of Bible translation. “It has been a matter of regret,” writes J. Tyler, “that he did not devote his thorough scholarship and superior knowledge of the Isizulu to a translation of the Scriptures into that language.” [12] Mention should also be made of his translation of Luther’s Small Catechism and of the order of service as used in the Church of Norway.

Throughout his missionary career Schreuder was a keen student of the religion, history, institutions, and customs of the Zulu people as well as of the plant and animal life of their country. Due to the fact that he wrote in Norwegian, his research on these subjects, like that on the language, did not receive the attention it deserved.

Because of Schreuder’s friendship with King Mpande, and also because of the trust placed in him by the British, Schreuder was able on several occasions to remove misunderstandings and to prevent clashes between the two races.[13] Under Cetshwayo, Mpande’s son and successor, relations became more strained. It was his wish, Cetshwayo declared, that the missionaries should leave the country. On the other hand, he had the ambition of obtaining from the British recognition of himself as the rightful leader of his people. He therefore sought the advice of Schreuder, who agreed to approach the government of Natal in the matter. As a result Theophilus Shepstone, the secretary for native affairs, in 1873 formally installed Cetshwayo as king of the Zulus. An important part of the ceremony was the full assent given by the king to the introduction of new laws, the first of which was that the indiscriminate shedding of blood should cease.[14]

In the difficult years following the installation, Schreuder acted as an intermediary between the Zulu king and the British authorities in Natal. In the war that eventually broke out he offered his services, in the interest of peace, to Zulus and British alike. But when Sir Garnet Wolseley, the commander-in-chief of the British forces, wanted him to act as a spy, Schreuder flatly refused. What he wished, he said, was the destruction, not of Cetshwayo’s person, but of his reign of terror only. He offered to go himself to the king and, through a personal interview, to make him realize the futility of further resistance. Schreuder supported Zulu independence, but he also saw clearly that in the new situation this could not be maintained. [15]

Schreuder was by no means an “imperialist.” Unlike the English missionaries, who had entered Kwa Zulu at the recommendation of the Natal government, he consistently acted on the principle that missionary work should be carried out without the support of secular authorities. Not until the dramatic events just referred to did he make use of the letters of recommendation with which Lord Stanley, then secretary of state for the colonies, in 1843 had furnished him–letters to the governors of Her Majesty’s colonies in South Africa requesting them to “lend their aid toward an object, in which all Christian nations have a common interest.” Schreuder’s sole object in making use of these documents was to secure for the missions, in connection with the reorganization of the administration of the country in 1879, their freedom and integrity. In these efforts, however, he was bitterly disappointed.[16] It is evident that Sir Garnet was willing to accept help from Schreuder only if by such help he could achieve his own purposes: “Bishop Schreuder left this morning… I am glad to get rid of him: he was of no use and I distrusted his judgment.”[17]

In contrast to the traditional presentation of him as a self-centered and autocratic churchman, Schreuder can best be described as a simple, sincere believer and a humble servant of the Lord. He combined the strength of the giant with the tenderness of the child. He was essentially an evangelist, and as such he also took seriously the social and political realities of the milieu in which he worked. Genuine piety, moral integrity, independent judgment, rare intellectual gifts, a very high standard of consecration, and unswerving loyalty to the missionary cause–these were his chief characteristics.

In 1858 Schreuder married Emilie Löventhal, who for twenty years, under conditions both primitive and insecure, shared his toil and zeal. Mention should also be made of their faithful fellow laborer Johanne Vedeler, who, two years before Bishop Schreuder’s death, became his second wife. Of neither marriage were there any children.

Schreuder’s Principles of Mission

Schreuder’s missionary thinking is dominated by what for lack of a better term may be called “the concept of wholeness.” Of the total reality of the Christian faith, to which this concept refers, four aspects can be distinguished, though of necessity the distinction is for the purpose of analysis only.[18]

  1. The finality of the Gospel. To be a Christian is, in Schreuder’s words, “to love the Lord and the gospel of his grace, which is to be proclaimed throughout the whole world.” By faith in Christ we are called to be witnesses of his redemptive purpose for all people. The Christian mission is participation in the mission of Christ.

More specifically, the source and secret of mission is the stupendous fact that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself (2 Cor. 5:19). The obligation to make God as revealed in Christ known everywhere corresponds closely with the uniqueness of the event. Message and mission are indissolubly connected.

Fully identifying himself with the biblical and historic Christian faith, Schreuder necessarily became a fearless opponent of Bishop Colenso. Along with the vast majority of churchmen and missionaries of his day, he was unable to accept Colenso’s interpretation of Christianity as a tree exposition of the authentic Christian faith. [19] Colenso’s approach was essentially that of the scientist. In his theology, however, one misses the emphasis on the uniqueness and urgency of the apostolic message of God’s saving acts in Christ for sinful people. The cardinal doctrine of the Gospel, he maintained, is “the Fatherly Relation to us of the Faithful Creator.” [20]

  1. The centrality of the church. The church, Schreuder insisted, is no mere addendum to individual Christians. On the contrary, it is the element in which the Christian lives and moves and has his being. In his own words, “The individual exists only as part of the whole, and he is called to labor for and along with the whole.”

The Great Commission, as understood by Schreuder, is the unshakable and unalterable basis, not primarily of the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world, but of the ministry of preaching as such.[21] The church communicates, through the means of grace entrusted to it by the Lord of the church, Christ’s salvation both among its members and to those outside.

Schreuder was not able to endorse the commonly held view that mission is essentially a voluntary activity and that, accordingly, the mission society is its proper agent. Mission, he maintained, is a concern not of a group of interested individuals only but of the church. It is a task in which the total membership of the church shares. Mission is not a specialized activity but, in Schreuder’s own words, “a duty incumbent upon the Church and so upon its individual members.”

That the missionary enterprise can have no autonomous existence apart from the church does not necessarily mean that, institutionally speaking, the church must be its own missionary society. The Church of Norway of Schreuder’s day, a state church of the most rigorous kind, did not possess the organs needed for identifying itself with the task of world evangelization as one church through one missionary agency. What Schreuder advocated, and insisted on, was “the manifestation of the missionary enterprise in toto as belonging to the entire Norwegian Lutheran Church, i.e., both as regards doctrine and order.”

There is no objection to the church’s fulfilling its missionary obedience through an ad hoc organization, provided this organization conceives of its task as a task of the church. Schreuder’s view can best be described as churchly mission. While consistently regarding himself as a representative of the Church of Norway, he welcomed the establishment of missionary associations and spoke eloquently of the enthusiasm of “the friends of missions.” Not only that, but as a missionary he himself successively served with “independent” agencies–at first with a committee, then with a society, and again with a committee.

  1. The catholicity of the faith. Although a Lutheran churchman of strong convictions, Schreuder placed his own work as a missionary in its true context of the entire church’s obedience to mission. Far from absolutizing his own confession, he emphasized the need for cultivating in all churches, on the basis of the authority of the Scriptures, a sense of oneness. As a “good” Lutheran he looked upon the Lutheran church, not as a separate entity, but as a confessional movement within the total body of Christ. He prayed for the blessing of God upon his people and his work “in every area where the church is established.” He rejoiced in the fact of ecumenicity: “to have fellowship with God’s children near and far away.”

Schreuder strictly adhered to the apostolic principle “not to build on foundations laid by others” (Rom. 15:20), and he expected others to act likewise. The mission is, primarily and fundamentally, the mission of the church of Christ. Missionaries should seek not their own glory but the glory of God. They should gather not for themselves but for God. The task is “first to further the Kingdom of God; second, to extend our own church and mission.”

It is to be regretted that Schreuder’s comprehensive and well thought-out plan for the evangelization of Kwa Zulu, through the combined efforts of Lutheran and Anglican forces, was rejected. His plea for comity and cooperation, too, fell on deaf ears. In Kwa Zulu, as elsewhere, the absence of consultation among the missions led to proselytism and confusion. Even among missions belonging to the same church family, the sense of mutual responsibility was, to say the least, very weak. In particular, relations between the Norwegian mission and the English mission became strained. Not only did the latter establish itself at a place at which Schreuder already had obtained from the king permission to settle, but the English mission also maintained that it was not in a position to regard efforts on its part as superfluous, because the Church of Norway, in its judgment, had no genuine episcopate. [22]

It was Schreuder’s wish, as he put it in a letter to Bishop Colenso, to see Kwa Zulu “filled with the preaching of the pure Gospel,” but he did not believe that this could be accompanied “by promiscuously intermixing stations of different societies.” He hoped that new missions, before establishing themselves in the land, “first had tried to come to some friendly understanding with” the Norwegian Missionary Society, which has had “the arduous task of opening, under God’s good providence, this country for Christian missionaries.” [23]

  1. The totality of the task. The urgency and vastness of the task that the church faces in the unevangelized regions of the world was, of course, fully appreciated by Schreuder. “Expansiveness,” his own word, is of the essence of the mission. Yet he refused to restrict the missionary enterprise to Africa and Asia. “Foreign missions” comprise but a part of the church’s total missionary responsibility. By its very nature Christian witness is directed both to the immediate environment and to the world at large.

According to Schreuder, the point of departure for the Christian mission is not the geographical area in which the church exercises its ministry of reconciliation but that ministry itself, which is the proclamation of the Gospel. The strengthening of faith in the countries of the Christian West is in itself a task of primary importance, but it is also of immense relevance to the missionary cause among the peoples of non-Christian continents.

“As Christians,” Schreuder writes, “we should confidently praise, exalt and commend the wonderful works of this glorious Gospel among the children of men, among those who are far away and among those who are near at hand.” And again:

God’s true friends of mission do not neglect the home, i.e. the home of the heart, the home of the house, the home of the village, the home of the town–for the home of the heathen outer-world. Such neglect is in itself a negation of the life of faith. It is contrary to God’s ordinance and so excluded from his blessing.

Schreuder’s theology of mission is surprisingly modern. Its basic ideas, notably what we have called “the concept of wholeness,” are largely identical with the views held by leading missiologists and mission administrators in the second third of the twentieth century. The agreement is the more remarkable since, in this period, the biblical and theological basis of the mission has had more attention paid to it than ever before.[24]

Olav Guttorm Myklebust


The following abbreviations are used in the Notes and the Bibliography:

ABCFM American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions

CNMS Church of Norway Mission established by Schreuder

NMS Norwegian Missionary Society

  1. Natal Mercury (Durban), Feb. 17, 1882. Cf. ibid., Feb. 1, 1882: “In memoriam.” The Natal Witness (Pietermaritzburg), too, bore “high testimony to the heroic work which that devoted missionary accomplished during the years he sojourned here” (Feb. 4, 1882). See also letters to the secretary of the ABCFM: by J. Tyler, Sept. 12, 1866; by N. Adams, May 24, 1845; and by A. Grout, Feb. 20, 1850 (ABCFM archives.)

  2. W. H. I. Bleek, on behalf of Bishop Colenso, to Schreuder, Jan. 19, 1856 (NMS archives), J. W. Colenso, Ten Weeks in Natal (Cambridge: Macmillan and Co, 1855), p. 15.

  3. E.g., J. Stewart, Dawn in the Dark Continent, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, 1906), p. 260.

  4. In Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (Hammondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1964), the name of Schreuder is conspicuous by its absence. A notable exception is C. P. Groves, The Planting of Christianity in Africa, 4 vols. (London: Lutterworth Press, 1954), 2: 144ff., 265ff. The presentation of Schreuder, and of the Norwegian mission in South Africa as a whole, is based upon a summary in English, prepared at Groves’s request, by the present writer.

  5. Schreuder, Nogle ord til Norges kirke. As a vindication of the missionary cause, this treatise, published in Christiania in February 1842, holds a unique place within the Lutheran family of churches. In contrast to W. Carey’s Enquiry, the approach is not historical and practical, but biblical and theological.

  6. Lesslie Newbigin: One Body, One Gospel, One World (London and New York: International Missionary Council, 1958), p. 26. Cf. Neill, A History of Christian Missions, p. 512.

  7. J. Tyler in Natal Mercury, Feb. 17, 1882; N. Etherington, Preachers, Peasants, and Politics in Southeast Africa, 1835-1880 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1978), pp. 75-77, 86.

  8. Schreuder, Grammatik for Zulu-sproget, a publication of the University of Christiania.

  9. C. M. Doke, for many years professor of Bantu languages in Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa, in a Norsk Tidsskrift for Misjon (Oslo), article on Schreuder’s contribution to Zulu grammar (1950; pp. 222-26). The references are to the author’s English manuscript. The phrases used are largely those of the author.

  10. The first edition of this work appeared in 1834. The term “Kafir,” as used here, denotes “Xhosa.”

  11. Colenso, Ten Weeks in Natal, p. 15. Cf. Colenso’s An Elementary Grammar of the Zulu-Kafir Language (London, 1855), p. 39. Schreuder’s elementary reading book, too, was much appreciated by Colenso (W. H. I. Bleek, on behalf of Bishop Colenso, to Schreuder, Pietermaritzburg, Jan. 19, 1856; NMS archives).

  12. J. Tyler in Natal Mercury, Feb. 17, 1882. A. Grout, too, was greatly impressed by Schreuder’s linguistic abilities; see his letter to the secretary of the ABCFM, Feb. 20, 1850 (ABCFM archives). For a recent assessment by an expert on African languages and African Bible translations, see E. Dammann, “Zum Todestage des evangelischen Missionsbischofs H.P.S. Schreuder,” Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft, 1982, pp. 220-25, especially p. 224. See also E. Dammann, “Die Bedeutung yon H. P. S. Schreuder für die Zulu,” Afrika und Übersee, 1984, pp. 1-14.

  13. See note 7, above.

  14. Schreuder to Sir Evelyn Wood, Her Majesty’s High Commissioner for Southeast Africa, July 30, 1881 (CNMS archives), trans. Missionsblad (CNMS, Christiania), 1881, pp. 161-84. See Accounts and Papers (12), Colonies and British Possessions, 1875, vol. 53, C 1137 (British Museum, London).
  15. N. Etherington, Preachers, Peasants, and Politics, pp. 34f.; cf. N. Etherington, “Social Theory and the Study of Christian Missions in Africa: A South African Case Study,” Africa, 1977, p. 36.

  16. Schreuder to Sir Evelyn Wood, July 30, 1881 (CNMS archives); Accounts and Papers (12), Colonies and British Possessions, 1878-79, vol. 53, C 2308, 2316 (British Museum, London); J. W. Colenso, Digest upon Zulu Affairs, 1879-83 (Bishopstowe, Natal, 1879-83), 1: 361ff., 642ff. Important materials including correspondence between Schreuder and Sir Garnet Wolseley in CNMS archives. Sir Garnet Wolseley’s South African Diaries (Natal) 1875 and Sir Garnet Wolseley’s South African Journal 1879-80, both edited by A. Preston (Cape Town: A. A. Balkema 1971, 1973), refer to Schreuder in uncomplimentary terms. This is not surprising, however, as the general was a man rather difficult to deal with. According to the editor, his manner of business was autocratic and arbitrary, and his assessment of individuals uniformly uncharitable (Diaries, pp. 15ff.; Journal, p. 8).

  17. Wolseley’s Journal, p. 98.

  18. The précis of Schreuder’s theology of mission that follows is drawn from his published writings, but chiefly from his letters, reports, sermons, etc., in the NMS and CNMS archives.

  19. Schreuder to H. Knolleke (London), March 27, 1863 (NMS archives). Colenso’s gospel being deprived of its real content, his mission, consequently was only a “quasi-mission” (Schreuder’s own description).

  20. On Colenso as a “teacher of the modern school,” see his “On Missions to the Zulus in Natal and Zululand” (reprinted from the Social Science Review, London, 1865, for private circulation); G.W. Cox, The Life of Bishop Colenso, 2 vols. (London: W. Ridway, 1888), 1: 156, 280ff.; C. Gray, ed., Life of Robert Gray, 2 vols. (London: Rivingtons, 1876), 2: 93ff., 104, 395. For a fresh appraisal, from a liberal point of view, see B. P. Hinchliff, John Williams Colenso (London and Edinburgh: Th. Nelson & Sons, 1964).

  21. Nogle ord til Norges kirke, pp. 13f.

  22. Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal (London), 1868, pp. 74ff.

  23. Schreuder to John W. Colenso, Oct. 10, 1859 (NMS archives). The English is Schreuder’s own.

  24. For our purpose here it is sufficient to mention the names of Kraemer, W. Andersen, Newbigin, and Vicedom, and the reports of the conferences at Tambaram, Whitby, Willingen, Ghana, and New Delhi.

Selected Bibliography:

Works by H. P. S. Schreuder

1842 Nogle ord til Norges kirke (A few words to the Church of Norway). Christiania: Guldberg and Dzwonkowski.

1848 Laesebog i Zulu-sproget (A Zulu-language reader). Cape Town.

1850 Grammatik for Zulu-sproget (A Zulu-language grammar). Christiania: W. C. Fabritius.

1860 Psalmebog i Zulu-sproget (A Zulu-language Hymnbook). Umpumulo, Natal.

1871 *Udtog af Alter-Bogen *(Selections from the Service Book). Translated into Zulu. Umpumulo, Natal.

1872 Alter-Bogen: Collecter, Epistler og Evangelier (The Service Book: Collects, Epistles and Gospels). Translated into Zulu. Umpumulo, Natal.

1874 Dr. M. Luthers Lille Katekisme. (Dr. M. Luther’s Small Catechism). Translated into Zulu. Umpumulo, Natal.

Works about H. P. S. Schreuder

Aktstykker til belysning afforholdet mellem Biskop Schreuder og det Norske Missionsselskab (Documents concerning the relationship between Bishop Schreuder and the Norwegian Missionary Society). Stavanger: L.C. Kielland, 1876.

Beretning om Missionsproest Schreuders ordination til biskop over den Norske Missionsmark (On Rev. H. P. S. Schreuder’s consecration as bishop of the mission field of the Church of Norway). Stavanger: NMS, 1868.

Myklebust, O. G. H. P. S. Schreuder: Kirke og misjon (H. P. S. Schreuder: Church and Mission). Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1980. A reevaluation of Schreuder’s work and thought, based primarily on unpublished letters, reports, etc. in the NMS and CNMS archives.

——–. “Det norske misjonsselskaps historic i Sør-Afrika” (History of the Norwegian Missionary Society in South Africa), in Det norske misjonsselkaps historie i hundre år (Centenary history of the NMS). 3:5-187. Stavanger: NMS/Dreyer, 1949.

Nome, J. Demringstid: Fra misjonsinteresse til misjonsselskaps (From missionary interest to missionary society). Stavanger: NMS, 1942.

——–. “Det norske misjonsselskaps historic i norsk kirkeliv” (History of the Norwegian Missionary Society in Norwegian church life), in Det norske misjonsselkaps historie i hundre år (Centenary history of the NMS), vols. I and 2. Stavanger: Dreyer, 1943.

Statement of the Right of the Norwegian Church Mission Established by Schreuder to the Entumeni Station in the Zulu Reserve. Christiania: A. W. Brøgger, 1886.

This article, is reproduced from the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Apr. 84, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p. 70-74, copyright© 1984, edited by G. H. Anderson and J. M. Phillips. All rights reserved.