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Baltic Crusades: The Reformation

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The Protestant Reformation which Martin Luther initiated in Germany of 1517, spread like wild-fire across Europe.  German merchants, students and missionaries introduced Lutheran doctrines to Scandinavia, where German influence had been strong, and where there was some receptivity to these new doctrines.

By the time of Martin Luther’s death in 1546, Lutheranism had been fully implanted in Scandinavian countries.  Sweden – Finland converted to Lutheranism through the efforts of Gustav I Vasa, who for political reasons, used the order to strengthen the monarchy.  The decisive break with Rome took place in 1527.  Acceptance of Lutheranism enabled Gustav I Vasa, with the help of the aristocracy to break the domineering political power of the Roman Catholic Church, which had stood in the way of a centralised state.  Confiscation of church properties, accompanied the Reformation, thus providing an economic windfall for aristocracy and monarchy. Prior to the Reformation, the church owned twenty per cent of Sweden’s lands.

Finland showed little interest in the Reformation, for they were happy with their way of life.  Some ninety percent of homesteads were owned by farmers and the remaining ten percent by the church, who used their income to support schools and charities.  Lutheranism was introduced with little opposition, and gradually replaced Roman Catholic doctrines, whilst retaining some Catholic customs and practices.  The Lutheran Church was firmly established in 1598, when Sigismund, Catholic King of Sweden-Finland was forced to abdicate his throne.

Mikael Agricola (1506-1537), exerted great influence in the Reformation of Finland, and development of the country.  He who had studied under Martin Luther at Wittenberg, translated the Bible into Finnish, and the New Testament was published in 1548.  Agricola’s name is remembered as the father of Finnish literary language.  Later he would serve as the Bishop of Turku, considered the highest order of office in the Finnish Church.

The Reformation of Finland brought two benefits; emphasis on religious instruction, following the Ecclesiastical Law of 1686. The other benefit being the founding of the Abo Academy in 1640, providing theological training for the clergy.

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