Introduction and Progress of Christianity (§ 1).

The Reformation (§ 2).

Bishops Juusten and Erici (§ 3).

The Seventeenth Century (§ 4).

The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (§ 5).

Present Conditions (§ 6).

1. Introduction and Progress of Christianity.

Finland is at present a grand duchy of Russia, bounded on the north by Norway, on the east by the Russian governments of Archangel and Olonetz, on the southeast and south by Lake Ladoga, the government of St. Petersburg, and the Gulf of Finland, on the west by the Gulf of Bothnia and by Sweden; area 144,000 square miles; population (1903) 2,850,000; capital Helsingfors. With the conversion to Christianity (see below) the country came under Swedish government, and so remained till 1809, when it was definitely ceded to Russia. The great majority of the people are Lutherans (98 per cent in 1900, when the number of Greek Orthodox was 46,466 and of Roman Catholics 755).


It is agreed that the Finns, a branch of the Ural-Altaic race, originated on the banks of the Yenisei River or Lake Baikal in Asia, and moved westward in the course of centuries. The isolated position of Finland in the north, between the Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland, explains the fact that it is not mentioned in history till comparatively late. It came into contact with the rest of Europe through Sweden as well as by connections with the apostolic see in Rome. About 1157, King Eric IX. of Sweden, whose coasts were harassed by Finnish pirates, undertook a war of conversion against Finland. An Englishman, Henry by name, accompanied him as missionary. The Finns were forced to accept baptism and Christianity, and at the same time had to submit to foreign rule. Henry remained in the country, but soon died as martyr. A new crusade from Sweden was undertaken in 1249 by Jarl Birger, and a third followed in 1290, under the leadership of Torkel Knutson. The Christian Church began to take root in Finland. The bishop's seat was finally fixed in Abo, where it is still, and the entire spiritual and secular administration centered there. It was the bishop's task to organize the newly founded Church, to baptize, build churches, and accustom the barbarous people to Christian manners. The bishopric of Abo was filled by a number of efficient and powerful men, who, in the beginning, were Swedes; the first Finnish bishop was Magnus I. (1291-1308). Other prominent bishops were Hemming (1338-66), Magnus Olai Tavast (1412-50), Conrad Bitze (1460- 1489), and Magnus Stjernkors (1489-1500). They possessed the best scientific culture of their time, having studied in Paris, Leipsic, and Bologna. The bishops of Finland had an influential position, not only in the Church, but also in politics. Swedish rulers took pains to win them for their cause. A supreme court, instituted by King Eric of Pomerania, counted the bishop and several priests among its members. The bishop was elected by the cathedral chapter, but the election had to be confirmed by the pope. He had to swear allegiance to the pope, to the Church, and to the king of Sweden. The chapter consisted originally of four and later of ten canons. In 1340 there was instituted the office of cathedral provost, and in 1389 an archdeaconry, Apart from the cathedral chapter, so-called country-provosts were appointed who were entrusted with the ecclesiastical supervision of certain districts, called provostships. Before the Reformation, the Church of Finland attained its highest development under Bishop Magnus Tavast (1412-50). The standard of morality among the priests was generally on a level with conditions in other countries. The law of celibacy, introduced in Sweden in 1248, was valid also for Finland, at least nominally. From the oldest times the people paid tithes. Now and then disputes occurred between the secular clergy and the orders, and a bull, issued in 1395 by Boniface IX., accurately defined the activity of the monks. Mendicant friars appeared in Finland as early as 1250. There were six monasteries--two of the Dominicans in Abo and Viborg, three of the Franciscans in Abo, Raumo and Köker, and one of the Brigittines in Nadindal. The brotherhoods of the Middle Ages also found admission into Finland; fifteen guilds are known to have existed. There was no higher institution of learning. The land suffered much, as it was always a bone of contention between Sweden and Russia. For centuries there were continual battles between the different tribes in the interior. The spiritual culture of the people was neglected in these turbulent times, especially since the Roman Church was never interested in the real education of the people. At the Synod of Söderköping in Sweden (1441) it was decided that the Lord's Prayer, the Ave Maria, and the Creed should be translated into the mother tongue. Bishop Tavast participated, and it may be assumed that these decisions applied also to Finland. Before 1500 there were 120 churches in Finland. In 1504 the Swedish government ordered the building of new churches since the congregations were so large that some people lived ninety miles from a church. No books for the use of the people have been preserved from the Middle Ages, but a Missale Aboense, published in 1483 at the instance of Bishop Bitze, for the use of the cathedral of Abo, is known, and also a Manuale Aboense (1522) for the use of the Finnish Church.


2. The Reformation.

In consequence of the connection of Finland with Sweden, the Reformation took the same course in both countries. The first herald of the Reformation in Finland was Peter Särkilahti, who had studied under Luther and Melanchthon. In 1524 he returned to his native country and began to preach the new doctrine. Owing to the isolated position of Finland, the people were not prepared for it and the Roman Church had a larger field of usefulness than in Germany. The first Evangelical bishop of Finland was Martin Skytte, a quiet and humble man. His activity was not revolutionary. The real Reformer of Finland was Michael Agricola, son of a poor fisher of Perna, who received his rudimentary education in the school of Abo and studied in Wittenberg. There he adopted the cause of the Reformation. Like the other Reformers, he immediately undertook a translation of the Bible in order to gain a firm basis for his work. In 1543 he published a primer and soon afterward a catechism, in 1544 a book of prayer. The translation of the New Testament, which he had begun in Wittenberg, appeared in 1548. In the following year he published a manual on baptism and in 1551 the continuation of his translation of the Bible, the Psalms and part of the Prophets. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi followed in 1552. Agricola died in 1554. He is gratefully remembered and highly esteemed by the Finnish people as the Reformer of Finland and the father of Finnish literature. The Reformation was completed by Jacob Finno. Agricola gave the Finns the New Testament, Finno taught them to sing the Psalms. His psalm-book was published in 1583 at Stockholm. The only copy in existence is defective and is in the library of Upsala. On the whole the Reformatory movement took a quiet course, without great frictions. But a sect originated, tracing its origin to a certain Zechariah, a Jew of Novgorod, which advocated the celebration of the seventh day as Sabbath and obedience to the law of Moses. It was condemned at a council in 1504.


3. Bishops Juusten and Erici.

Under King Gustavus Vasa, Finland was divided into two bishoprics. The eastern part of the country was constituted a separate diocese with Viborg as cathedral town. The first bishop there was Paul Juusten who also had studied at Wittenberg. The church forms in Finland were modeled in general after the mother country Sweden. A church order was issued in 1571. Until that time there were no general church regulations. Some of the ecclesiastical positions were filled immediately by the king, others by the bishop and chapter. The men who influenced most deeply the culture of Finland after the introduction of the Reformation were Bishop Paul Juusten and Bishop Ericus Erici. Juusten became bishop in Viborg in 1554, and in Abo in 1563. He wrote the Capita rerum synodicarum which formed the basis of discussions at a convention of priests in Abo in 1573 and which gives an insight into the ecclesiastical conditions of the time. He emphasized especially that the priests in their conduct should be models for the members of the congregation. For the guidance of priests he compiled a collection of sermons which, however, was never printed. The manuscript was burned in the great conflagration in Abo in 1827 when many other treasures perished. In 1574 he published a Finnish catechism in Stockholm and in the following year a manual. He also collected everything that was known of church conditions in Finland in the Middle Ages, under the title Chronicon episcoporum Finlandensium (ed. H. G. Porthan, Abo, 1784-1800; also, ed. C. Annerstedt, in Faut, Scriptores rerum Svecicarum, iii., section 2, Upsala, 1871, pp. 132-135), and has been justly called the father of the church history of Finland. Not less important and influential was his younger contemporary, Ericus Erici. He was born in the middle of the sixteenth century, studied abroad, and after his return became rector of Gefle in Sweden (1578). In 1583 he was appointed bishop of both Finnish dioceses. He wrote an extensive catechism for the clergy and the first book of homilies in the Finnish language which was still read and loved in the beginning of the nineteenth century.


4. The Seventeenth Century.

An important event in the intellectual and spiritual life of Finland was the foundation of the academy in Abo (1640). A gymnasium, founded ten years before, had shown itself insufficient for the increased demands of education; the population at that time had increased to about 400,000 persons. The number of professors in the academy was eleven, of whom three were in the theological faculty. While this concerned chiefly the higher circles of society, another event occurred a few years later, the effect of which was felt in the most distant parts of the land--in 1642 the people received the whole Bible in a Finnish translation (see BIBLE VERSIONS, B, V.). School affairs were regulated by an order, issued by Queen Christina in 1649, according to which there were to be three kinds of educational institutions--academies, gymnasia, and schools.


After the vigorous period of the Reformation theology degenerated into dead orthodoxy. One of the most zealous defenders of the Lutheran doctrine was Professor Enevald Svenonius in Abo who in his zeal for pure doctrine caused the deposition of Bishop Terserus, a deserving man, for alleged syncretistic views. The extreme desire for pure doctrine manifested itself also in the notorious trials for witchcraft at that time. Numerous persons were burned at the stake or beheaded after disgraceful trials, in Sweden as well as in Finland. Even the most intelligent men of the time labored under that delusion. The Pietistic movement has an honorable place in the annals of Finnish church history. The most noteworthy representatives of Pietism were Johannes Wegelius the Elder and Johannes Wegelius the Younger. The older Wegelius corresponded with Spener; the younger Wegelius published a book of homilies Se evangeliumillinen Volgeus ("The Evangelical Light") which went through three editions. The latter decades of the seventeenth century may justly be called the period of the two bishops, father and son, each named Johannes Gezelius. They were conservative in theology and made it their principal task to educate the common people (see GEZELIUS, Johannes).


5. The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.

The end of the seventeenth century was a time of great distress and suffering for Finland. A hundred thousand persons died of hunger. King Charles XII. of Sweden led his people from war to war, and extreme poverty was the natural consequence. The new century also began with tumult of war and shedding of blood. The great Northern War sacrificed thousands of Finns. For a quarter of a century suffering increased from year to year in an incredible degree. The period from 1713 to 1721 is called the time of great discord in the history of Finland. It seemed as if all life ceased to pulsate. The peace of Nystod in 1721 put an end to the bloody days of war, but a long time passed before order was restored. Russia took possession of a considerable portion of eastern Finland, and the rest of the country underwent a new development. The cathedral chapter of the East was transferred from Viborg to Borgo where it is still. As the war had exhausted almost all material resources, the interests of the Church naturally suffered. The new spirit of the nineteenth century which governed all Europe even entered Finland. The free thought of France pervaded the court of King Gustavus III. in Stockholm, and thence spread among the lower classes of society. The Church of Finland presented the same picture of stupor and indifference as the rest of Protestant Christianity. A barren moralism took the place of a vivid faith; but in this time of need God sent a powerful awakening,--a new Pietism originated in Finland. Its author was Paavo Ruotsalainen, a peasant. A great number of younger clergymen joined the movement, while the older clergy showed more conservative sentiments. F. G. Hedberg separated from the movement, taking a more Evangelical course, and found many adherents (see BORNHOLMERS). There are today two main tendencies in the Finnish Church--one keeping more strictly to the Law, whose adherents gathered later around the doctrinal system of J. T. Beck, the well-known theologian of Tübingen (see BECK, JOHANN TOBIAS), and a more Evangelical one whose acknowledged leader was Hedberg. Many Christian sects have also made propaganda--Baptists, Methodists, Adventists, and others. Freechurchism has its workers here and there. For some decades the sect of the Læstadians, called after Provost Lars Levi Læstadius, has been active in northern and southern Finland.


6. Present Conditions.

In 1850, Finland was divided into three dioceses--Abo, Borgo, and Kuopio; in 1897 Nyslott was added as a fourth. Since 1817 the bishop of Abo has been archbishop and thus primate of the Finnish Church. From 1839 to 1843 a theological periodical was published at Abo, the Ecklesiastikt Litteraturblad. Bishop Schauman edited for some years (1869-72) Sanningsvittnet ("Witness of truth"). Professor Raboergh, who later became bishop, edited a valuable periodical for theology and Church. At present there are two periodicals: Theologisk tidskrift and Wartija ("Watchman"). The new church law, enacted on July 1, 1870, was of great importance. According to it, representatives of the laity have the right of decision in ecclesiastical questions. A general convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland meets every tenth year, or oftener, if necessary. It discusses vital questions of the Church, such as changes in church law, introduction of new church books, catechisms, Bible translations, etc. Another event of the most vital importance was the separation of Church and school, in 1870. At present, there are 1,273 elementary schools. As Finland does not yet possess any civil lists, the church registers of the congregations are the only official documents upon which the census is based. Consequently is it the duty of pastors to keep registers of crimes, vaccination, and lists of men subject to military duty. Since the church convention of 1886 Finland has had a new hymn-book, catechism, and collection of pericopes. A Bible committee is preparing a new translation of the Bible which is necessitated by the national awakening of the last decades and the development of the language. After the great conflagration at Abo in 1827, the university was removed from that city to Helsingfors. The teaching force of the university has been doubled since 1640, but the theological faculty consists of only four ordinary professors. A candidate of theology must have been two years in service before the respective cathedral chapter admits him to the official examination which gives him the privilege of applying for a pastorate. There are consistorial and imperial pastorates. In the former case the preacher is elected by the congregation and confirmed by the cathedral chapter, in the latter case the confirmation comes from the government. Since 1842 the Finnish Church has had a widows’ or pension fund from which widows and orphans of preachers and teachers receive annual pensions. On the whole, the Finnish people are attached to the Church. The increase of merely external education among the common people has to a certain degree loosened their attachment, and some school teachers are hostile to the Church. Moreover, the antiecclesiastical press has tried to sow discord and estrange people from the Church, but so far without success. See SWEDEN.