Andreas Sunonis

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by Sten Ebbesen

Anders Sunesen (ca. 1160–1228) was a member of an extremely wealthy and well-connected family, and as such received a full academic training abroad. He became Master of Theology in Paris before becoming chancellor to the king of Denmark and finally archbishop of Lund. He headed the Danish church for over two decades and played an active role in the Danish crusades in the eastern Baltic region. His main work is a versified summa theologiae, the Hexaemeron. Apart from that, he is usually credited with the authorship of a Latin paraphrase of the Scanian Law. A couple of sequences have also been attributed to him.


By birth Anders belonged to the top echelons of Danish society. His father, Sune Ebbesen, was one of the biggest land-owners of the country. One of his father’s cousins, Absalon, was bishop of Roskilde 1158–1191 and archbishop of Lund 1177–1201. He had at least six siblings, one of whom, Peter, succeeded Absalon as bishop of Roskilde. In his youth Absalon had been to Paris for purposes of study and so had Peter round about the early 1180s. Though unambiguous evidence is lacking, there can be no doubt that Anders also studied in Paris, but the first firm date in his life is 1195 when he is attested as Danish chancellor. The only source that speaks of his career before the chancellorship is Saxo’s Gesta Danorum. In a preface addressed to Anders, Saxo says:

Tu Galliam Italiamque cum Britannia percipiendæ litterarum disciplinæ colligendæque earum copiæ gratia perscrutatus post diutinam peregrinationem splendidissimum externæ scholæ regimen apprehendisti tantumque eius columen evasisti, ut potius magisterio ornamentum dare quam ab ipso recipere videreris (OLRIK & RÆDER 1931, 1, 3).

(Having pursued and gathered a store of learning in France, Italy, and Britain, after long travels you obtained the notable direction of a foreign school and supported it so firmly that you appear rather to have shed glory on your office than received it. Translation by Fisher, in DAVIDSON 1979)

On this basis, and because Anders’s Hexaemeron is closely dependent on works by the Parisian theologian Stephen Langton (later archbishop of Canterbury), the following sequence of events seems probable: Born ca. 1160, Anders went to Paris no later than ca. 1180, and became a Master of Arts no later than ca. 1185, after which he studied theology under Stephen Langton. About 1190 he himself became a Master of Theology and for some time taught in Paris. His stay in Paris was punctuated by travels to Italy and England. He is likely to have stayed some time in Bologna to study canon law, whereas it is entirely unclear what may have been the purpose of his visit to Britain. No later than 1195 he became royal Danish chancellor.

Anders’s first known job as chancellor was to participate in an embassy that in 1195 tried to reconcile Philippe Auguste of France with his Danish queen, Ingeborg. In 1201/02 Anders succeeded Absalon as archbishop of Lund and left the chancellery to his brother, Peter, bishop of Roskilde. In 1204 Anders was named papal legate to Denmark and Sweden. During the years 1206–1222 he co-operated with king Valdemar II in the subjugation and Christianization of pagan populations in the Baltic area, in particular in Estonia. Though initially reluctant, he seems in the end to have obeyed a papal summons to attend the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome in 1215. In 1222 he petitioned the Pope to be relieved of his duties as archbishop due to “an incurable bodily infirmity”. His successor was consecrated in 1224. Anders is said to have withdrawn to a manor on the island of Ifö in Scania. He died in 1228, leaving various possessions, including a collection of books, to Lund chapter.

As archbishop Anders was an able administrator and politician on good terms with both Pope and king. A later legend, modelled on the story told about Moses in Exod. 17, credits him with doing the praying that secured Danish victory in the decisive battle against the Estonians at Lyndanis on 15 June 1219. This legend is often combined with another, according to which the Danish flag, Dannebrog, was sent from heaven during the battle.


His works are as follows: (1) Hexaemeron, a theological poem in 8040 hexameters. (2) Leges Scaniae, a Latin version of the Law of Scania; the attribution rests on slender evidence, but is generally accepted. (3) De vii ecclesiae sacramentis, a hexameter poem, now lost. (4) Two sequences, (a) Missus Gabriel de celis and (b) Stella solem preter morem; (a) however seems to be earlier than Andreas and his authorship of (b) is also doubtful.

(1) Hexaemeron

The Hexaemeron is preserved in one medieval manuscript (Copenhagen, Royal Library, E don. var. 155, 4) from the second half of the thirteenth century, originally belonging to the cathedral library in Roskilde. Extant post-medieval manuscripts are descendants of this. Anders probably composed the work in Paris round about the early 1190s. It consists of twelve books (libri or distinctiones) and combines a commentary on Gen. 1–3 (books 1–4) with an exposition of the main points of systematic theology – apart from the sacraments – (books 5–7, and a digression on divine names in books 2–3).


  • GERTZ, M.CL. 1892: Andreae Sunonis Filii Archiepiscopi Lundensis Hexaëmeron libri duodecim, Copenhagen (includes edition of the sequences).
  • • EBBESEN, S. & MORTENSEN, L.B. 1985–1988: Andreae Sunonis Filii Hexaemeron. Post M.Cl. Gertz, CPhD 11. 2 vols., Copenhagen (vol. 1 contains an English introduction about Sunesen and his work).


  • SPRECKELSEN, H. 1927: En Gengivelse paa dansk af de 950 første Vers af Anders Sunesøns latinske Læredigt Hexaëmeron, Ringkøbing.
  • • SCHEPELERN, H.D. 1985: Anders Sunesøns Hexaëmeron gengivet på danske vers, Copenhagen.

Summary of contents

As a whole the Hexaemeron takes the reader from the Creation (1) to the Day of Judgement (12). A second proœmium in book 10 indicates a division into two main parts: creation and fall (1–9), recreation in Christ (10–12). Andreas is an accomplished hexameter poet. In his handling of the Latin language and of verse technique he dissociates himself from the classicizing school represented by his contemporary compatriot Saxo (see FRIIS-JENSEN 1985).

For the commentary on Genesis Anders’s main sources were Peter Comestor’s Historia Scholastica and Richard of St. Victor’s Allegorie; for the remaining part of the work Stephen Langton’s Summa and Quaestiones (MORTENSEN 1985a and 1985b).

Medieval reception and transmission

The poem seems to have had a very limited diffusion, probably because of the extraordinary demands it makes on its reader. It is not an introduction to Christian theology, rather it is a summary of what was taught and discussed in theology classes in Paris when Anders studied and taught there. Its purpose was rather to refresh the memory of things already learned than to teach something new. It moves on a high theoretical level that only a few highly educated men mastered among Andreas’s contemporaries. Moreover, as theology was a fast developing discipline, many of the problems, views, and conceptual tools that Anders presupposed his reader was acquainted with had become obsolete and largely forgotten a few decades after the composition of the poem.

The Hexaemeron’s strictly limited accessibility did not invite spontaneous copying. A few copies, possibly all paid for by the author or his family, were deposited in important cathedral and monastery libraries in Denmark (Lund, Roskilde, Sorø); one was donated to the cathedral of Hamburg. These library copies had no attested offspring in the Middle Ages, and the only evidence that anyone read them is the existence of some non-authorial scholia in the one surviving medieval manuscript (the Roskilde copy) and a quotation in the Old Chronicle of Zealand. The fate of the Hamburg manuscript is unknown; the Lund and the Sorø copies both seem to have disappeared in the sixteenth century. From the late sixteenth till the end of the nineteenth century several Danish scholars thought of editing this national heirloom, but they all lacked the knowledge needed to understand the difficult text, and so they all gave up at some point (usually quite early).

Only with GERTZ´s 1892 edition did the text become accessible to the public, but in spite of the excellent quality of the edition and the accompanying extensive commentary in Latin, GERTZ’s work was not much noticed by scholars outside Denmark – and Danish scholars generally had neither the requisite background nor even a real interest in medieval theology. So, by and large, the work continued to be unknown. Among Danes a renewed interest in the work as a national monument was kindled when SCHEPELERN’s translation was published in 1985. Internationally the new edition (1985–1988) by EBBESEN & MORTENSEN made historians of theology and philosophy start to notice the existence of the work.

(2) Leges Scaniae

Leges Scaniae is an adapted Latin version of the Danish-language Laws of Scania, perhaps composed between 1200 and 1216. GELTING 2003 argues for 1221 (in connection with the visit of the papal legate Gregorius de Crescentio in 1222).


De ventre in possessionem mittendo [...] Marito defuncto sine liberis, si se uxor ipsius asserat impregnatam.


... super larem eius vel limen coram ipsius oculis eandem deponat, et sic ab omni se liberet obligacione.


  • HVITFELDIUS, A. 1590: Leges Provinciales Terrae Scaniae ante annos 400 Latinæ redditae per Andream Sunonis, Copenhagen.
  • AAKJÆR, S. & KROMAN, E. 1933: Skånske Lov. Anders Sunesens Parafrase ..., in Danmarks gamle Landskabslove med Kirkelovene 1:2, ed. J. Brøndum-Nielsen & P.J. Jørgensen, Copenhagen (includes translation into Danish).

Medieval reception and transmission

The attribution to Anders first occurs in the colophon of Copenhagen, AM 37, 4°, f. 58vA, dating from ca. 1300 and – at least towards the end of the Middle Ages – the property of the see of Lund (Explicit liber legis Scanie quem dominus Andreas Lundensis ecclesie archiepiscopus Suethie primas, apostolice sedis legatus composuit ad utilitatem totius terre). This manuscript may well have been the source used by the sixteenth-century historian of the bishops of Lund, Magnus Matthiae, according to whom Anders “is said” (dicitur) to have translated the laws of Scania into Latin (see text in EBBESEN & MORTENSEN 1985–1988, 1, 24). It seems plausible that the paraphrase was composed during Anders’s tenure of the archbishopric so that there is some truth in the tradition that attaches his name to it, whether because he personally did the work or because it was done under his auspices.

Purpose and audience

The exact purpose of the Latin “paraphrase” (the traditional designation in Danish scholarship) is unknown (but see Gelting 2003).

(3) De septem ecclesiae sacramentis (now lost)

This poem, probably in hexameters, was complementing the Hexaemeron. Together they covered all the subjects dealt with in theological summae of the time. A copy existed in the cathedral library of Lund in the second half of the sixteenth century, as appears from Magnus Matthiae (quoted in EBBESEN & MORTENSEN 1985–1988, 1, 24): “Hexaëmeron scripsit Andreas carmine, opus [...] quod adhuc extat apud Ecclesiam Lundensem, unâ cum alio quodam scripto eiusdem metrico, de VII. Ecclesiæ Sacramentis.” There is no earlier mention of the work, and later references to it depend on Matthiae.

(4) Sequences (spurious)

The Old Chronicle of Zealand (probably late thirteenth century) attributes two sequences to Anders, Missus Gabriel de celis and Stella solem preter morem (see text in EBBESEN & MORTENSEN 1985, 22).


  • GERTZ 1892, see above.
  • BLUME, CL. & BANNISTER, H.M. 1915: Analecta hymnica medii aevi 54, Reisland, Leipzig, nos. 192 and 276.
  • EBBESEN, S. & MORTENSEN, L.B. 1985, see Bibliography.

In 1958 KABELL showed that Missus Gabriel was already known outside Scandinavia about the middle of the twelfth century, and so cannot have been composed by Sunesen. He also showed that both sequences had been used in the Swedish church, and suggested that they might have been introduced by Anders who could have come to know Missus Gabriel in France, while Stella solem might just be his own product.


  • CHRISTENSEN, A.E. 1983: “Sunesen, Anders,” in DBL 14 (3rd ed.), 208–11.
  • DAVIDSON, H.E. (ed.) 1979–1980: The history of the Danes. Saxo Grammaticus; translated by Peter Fisher, Cambridge.
  • EBBESEN, S. (ed.) 1985: Anders Sunesen, stormand – teolog – administrator – digter, Copenhagen (contains 15 studies on Sunesen, with English summaries and extensive bibliography).
  • EBBESEN, S. 1986: “Corpus philosophorum Danicorum medii aevi, Archbishop Andrew († 1228), and Twelfth-Century Techniques of Argumentation,” in The Editing of Theological and Philosophical Texts from the Middle Ages, ed. M. Asztalos (Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 30), Stockholm, 267–280.
  • EBBESEN, S. 1987: “The Semantics of the Trinity according to Stephen Langton and Andrew Sunesen,” in Gilbert de Poitiers et ses contemporains. Actes du septième symposium européen d'histoire de la logique et de la sémantique médiévales (History of Logic 5), ed. J.Jolivet & A. de Libera, Naples, 401–435.
  • EBBESEN, S. 2002: Dansk Middelalderfilosofi, Copenhagen.
  • EBBESEN, S. & MORTENSEN, L.B. 1985–1988: Andreae Sunonis Filii Hexaemeron. Post M.Cl. Gertz (CPhD 11), 2 vols., Copenhagen (contains extensive bibliography in vol. 2).
  • FRIIS-JENSEN, K. 1985: “Hvordan omstøbes bibelhistorie i heksametre?,” in EBBESEN (ed.) 1985, 221–31.
  • GELTING, M.H. 2003: Skånske Lov og Jyske Lov: Danmarks første kommissionsbetænkning og Danmarks første retsplejelov, in Jura & Historie: Festskrift til Inger Dübeck som forsker, red. Henrik Dam, Lise Dybdahl og Finn Taksøe-Jensen, København, Jurist- og Økonomforbundets forlag, 43-80.
  • FROSELL, B. 1985: “En gejstlig stormand ser på retten i Skåne,” in EBBESEN (ed.) 1985, 243–53.
  • HØRBY, K. 1985: “Anders Sunesens liv,” in EBBESEN (ed.) 1985, 11–25.
  • KABELL, AA. 1958: “Ueber die dem dänischen Erzbischof Anders Sunesen zugeschriebenen Sequenzen,” ALMA 28, 19–30, Bruxelles.
  • MORTENSEN, L.B. 1985a: “Hvem var Anders Sunesens muse? En undersøgelse af fortalen til Hexaemeron,” in EBBESEN (ed.) 1985, 205–19.
  • MORTENSEN, L.B. 1985b: “The Sources of Andrew Sunesen’s Hexaemeron,” Université de Copenhague, Cahiers de l’Institut du moyen-âge grec et latin 50, Copenhagen, 113–216.
  • NIELSEN, T.K. (ed.) 1998: Anders Sunesen: Danmark og verden i 1200-tallet, Odense.