Nordic Preacher

Northern Reflections on Preaching, Theology and the Christian Life.

Category: Church History


The First Finnish Book: A Reading Primer and Catechism


The first printed book published in the Finnish language is ‘Abckiria’ (ABC-Book), a basic reading primer together with a small Christian catechism, put together by the Finnish reformer Mikael Agrciola.[1] The primer was printed in the royal publishing house of Stockholm, operated by Amund Laurentsson who had been trained by a German book-printer. The first year of printing was likely 1543. Amund Laurentsson would prove to be a close associate to Agricola for many years, since all his nine books would be published by Amund, whom Agricola later referred to as a good friend.[2]

The catechism found in the primer is not a translation of a previously existing catechism, rather it is the result of Agricola combining many different existing works, similarly as he did in many of his other published works.[3] The main sources that Agricola used for this are Luther’s small catechism, Melanchthon’s catechism, and Andreas Osiander’s catechism.[4] The primer begins with a short poem, encouraging both the young and old to learn God’s commandments and to master the Finnish language.

English translation of the opening poem:

“Learn now, old and young, who have a fresh heart, God’s commandments and the mind, so that you shall know the Finnish language. Law, it makes the soul fearful, but Christ soothes it again. So read from here good child, the beginning of learning without obstacles. Remember them all your life, so Jesus lends you his mercy.”

The poem was adapted from the work of Melanchthon, with Agricola obviously editing it for a Finnish context.[5] The primer displays all the letters of the Finnish alphabet and other textual information, lists all the Ten Commandments translated directly from Hebrew,[6] followed by a Finnish translation of the Apostles’ Creed.

In his translation of the creed, it is noteworthy that Agricola purposefully uses specific words when translating the section speaking about the church. Instead of “holy catholic church” (“pyhä katolinen kirkko”), he translates it as “holy Christian congregation” (“pyhä kristillinen seurakunta”) for the purpose of making a distinction between the idea of the Roman Catholic church with its lofty church buildings, contrasted to the biblical teaching of both the local and worldwide fellowship of believers in the church. The word “seurakunta” (congregation or fellowship) continued to be used by the other Finnish reformers in order to avoid misunderstandings.[7] The Abckiria also includes the Lord’s prayer, morning an evening prayers, and explanations regarding the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s supper.[8]


The Apostles Creed in the Primer

Not even one complete copy of the primer has survived to the present day, but it has been recovered by combining different fragments to make up the whole.[9] Due to its nature being a primer that was meant to be used for everyday learning, it is not surprising that the early copies would have been more damaged than other longer books which would not have been in as much heavy usage by the common people. For a long time, it was taught that all copies of the primer had been completely lost, until 1851 when the first eight pages were found in three parts, having been recycled to make up the stuffing of another book cover. The remaining pages were found in subsequent years, also being used in the cover material for other books.[10]

abckirja_lettersThis primer was the first of Agricola’s works,[11] and understandably so, since it was needed that the Finnish people would be taught the basics of literary Finnish and the essentials of Christian teaching, before they would be able to read and appreciate the New Testament itself, which Agricola had already started working on during his time in Wittenberg.[12] In fact, when writing his primer, he had already completed the early manuscript for his New Testament translation, and was likely referring to this translation when putting together the primer.[13]


[1] Kenneth G. Appold, The Reformation: A Brief History (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 159.

[2] Kaisa Häkkinen. Spreading the Written Word: Mikael Agricola and the Birth of Literary Finnish (Helsinki: Finnish Literary Society, 2016), 53.

[3] Simo Heininen. Mikael Agricola: Elämä ja Teokset (Helsinki: Edita Prima, 2007), 170.

[4] Häkkinen, 54.

[5] Ibid., 54.

[6] Heininen, 177.

[7] Heininen, 178.

[8] Mikael Agricola. Abckiria. (Stockholm: Amund Laurentsson, 1549).

[9] Häkkinen, 55.

[10] Heininen, 164.

[11] Ibid., 165.

[12] Kauko Pirinen “Finland” in Illustrated History of the Reformation, edited by Oskar Thulin, 229 – 242. (Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), 230.

[13] Heininen, 188.


Forcing the Finnish Pagans?

As a Protestant Christian from Finland, I trace my spiritual heritage back to the Finnish reformation, when the country turned from Roman Catholicism to Protestant Lutheranism. Although not a Lutheran myself, I am still greatly thankful for how God used this period to bless my home country with the Word of God in the Finnish language (see my blog post on the Finnish Reformation), while at the same time recognizing that a large part of the reformation was also politically motivated. The questions that then remain are, how did Finland become introduced to Christianity in the first place? And, is that part of history, when the Roman Catholic Church ruled in Finland, to be fully rejected as a time of darkness, or is there any aspect that a Bible-believing Christian should still be thankful for and appreciate?

Christianity Arrives to Scandinavia

ansgariusThe first one to preach Christianity in Scandinavia was a German monk named Ansgar. He first arrived to Denmark in 826 and started preaching there. A few years later in 830 he travelled to Sweden for the purpose of evangelizing the people there also. Certain individuals did convert by his ministry both in Denmark and Sweden, but the monks were still persecuted by many of the native people in those lands. Ansgar died in 865, which resulted in the decline of the German missions in Scandinavia.

In the beginning of the 11th century, Christianity started to gain a stronger foothold in Scandinavia; as it was no longer just scattered individuals but also larger groups of people who turned to embrace the Christian faith and deserted their former paganism. These conversions resulted in a decline of the Viking raids that had been common with the Scandinavian people, as many of them now realized the error of their former ways.

When considering the big picture, it is helpful to note that it was mainly these journeys of raid and exploration by the pagan Vikings that connected Scandinavia in the first place with the more civilized and Christian parts of Europe.

The first Christian king of Sweden was Olof Skötkonung who was baptized in 1008. This is when the western part of Sweden also converted to Christianity together with their king, while other parts of the country still remained in paganism. Only in 1150 did Christianity take over the remaining parts of Sweden.

Christianity Arrives to Finland

Even though most of Scandinavia was introduced to Christianity in the 11th century, the tribes in Finland were still living in full paganism and having their own pirate conquests across the Baltic sea and raiding their neighboring countries, especially the coastlands of Sweden. Before the arrival of Christianity, Finland was not really one unified nation, but rather a land of different tribal groups. The process from a scattered pagan land to a more unified people of Finland would last around 400 years, beginning with the arrival of Christianity.

Finland was first introduced to Christianity in the 9th and 10th century by the influence of sailors, merchants and immigrants from other countries who brought with them the teaching of the Catholic Church in the West. It is very likely that some individuals in Finland did convert to the Christian faith, even when the society around them was still pagan. However, at this point it was only scattered individuals who were introduced to the new faith, the land would later gain a stronger witness through certain Swedish immigrants who influenced part of the coastal lands to convert and become a more organized form of Christianity. It could be said that Christianity arrived to Finland in three different stages, the first one being the influence of visiting merchants and seamen, secondly by the Swedish settlers, and then thirdly the three different crusades in the 12th century onwards.

bishophenrikThe main person chosen to propagate Catholic Christianity in Finland was the Bishop of Uppsala, Henrik, who was said to be originally from England. It seems one of the reasons that the King of Sweden wanted to convert the pagan Finnish people, was the pirate journeys, which the Finns had committed against Swedish people. According to tradition, during the first crusade, Erik the King of Sweden first offered the Finnish people Christianity and peace, but when this offer was refused, he had to turn to violent force. The conquered areas were then forced to receive the Christian baptism, while Bishop Henrik is reported to have preached to the people about Christianity. The focus was not much on personal religion, but simply receiving baptism and changing certain aspects concerning outward behavior. King Erik then returned to Sweden, but bishop Henrik stayed in Finland to spread Christianity further into the land. During one of his missionary journeys in Finland, Bishop Henrik was faced with a Finnish man named Lalli, who according to tradition was guilty of murder and was therefore judged for his actions by the Bishop, enraged by this Lalli killed Bishop Henrik. Bishop Henry later become know as ‘the apostle to Finland.’

At the end of the middle ages, there were about 130 churches in Finland. A big part of Finland was still uninhabited at this point, especially the middle and northern part of the country. The Catholic Church meetings were almost completely conducted in Latin, which was foreign to the Finnish speakers. The wealth and pomp of the Roman Catholic Church did still make an impression on the people. The flickering candles, the mystical smoke, the echo of songs in a foreign tongue, the impressive nature of the priest’s clothing and the church buildings, it seems this all made the religious experience somewhat appealing to the superstitious pagan people of Finland.

Rejection or Thankfulness?

It is important for Bible believing Christians to recognize the evil of the crusades and explain that true Christianity is not spread though violent and forceful crusades, but at the same time we can still be thankful for some of the results of the crusades, recognizing that God uses even the evil deeds of men to achieve His purposes. The crusades helped to introduce the Finnish people to Christianity, and even though there was undoubtedly much false teaching propagated in the name of Christianity, there were still aspects of the truth of the gospel given to the people. The teaching that was given to the common man was likely comprised of simply learning the Lord’s Prayer, the “Ave Maria” (the angels greeting to Mary), and the Apostles Creed. Since the people would have memorized these, they could gain from this a basic understanding of Christian doctrine. Even though the teaching of the Catholic Church was in many ways convoluted by false teaching and even political motives, there still was a remnant of truth given to the people, especially when at times there would be portions of the gospels read to the people in their own language.

Because of the Christian influence and the strict rule of the Roman Catholic Church, Finland also saw many materials gains. For example, the raw pagan practices of the past were slowly disappearing from the land as law and order in society were introduced and upheld better. The Finnish people also began to unite more, instead of simply living as scattered enemy tribes, and then Finland also became better connected with other countries in Europe.

Apart from some of these outward benefits for the Finnish people, we need to remember that just like the apostle Paul rejoiced even when men preached Christ for the wrong reasons (Philippians 1:15-18), so too can we be thankful for this period of time in Finnish history (while at the same time rightly condemning all the evil acts and false teaching, which often accompanied it), since it is very possible that God still used this to bring the truth of the gospel to his people who would believe and trust in Christ alone, even when the true gospel message was often accompanied with much false teaching and wrongdoing.


Bergroth, Elis. Suomen Kirkon Historia Pääpiirteissään. Porvoo: W. Söderström, 1892.

Christiansen, Eric. The Northern Crusades: The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.

Fahlbusch, Erwin. “Finland.” In The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Forsström, O. A. Suomen Keskiajan Historia. Jyväskylä: Gummerus, 1898.

“Finland.” The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. Vol. 19. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005.

Grell, Ole Peter. The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalisation of Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Lander, Patricia Slade, and Claudette Charbonneau. The Land and People of Finland. New York: Lippincott, 1990.

Needham, N. R. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part Two: The Middle Ages. London: Grace Publications Trust, 2000.

Pulsiano, Phillip, ed. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993.

Schmidt, Iben. The Popes and the Baltic Crusades, 1147-1254. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

Waaranen, K. A. Kristillisen Kirkon Waiheet. Sortawala: Karjalan Kirjakauppaja Kustannusliike, 1901.


Finishing the Finnish Reformation?

Being an international seminary student in America, and recently studying the Protestant Reformation in Germany and the more recent history of Christianity in England and America, made me realize how little I know about the details of the reformation in my own country of Finland and how it came about. This led me on a quest to study my own reformation heritage in more detail and learn how it applies to the current spiritual situation of Finland.

The Protestant Reformation in Finland and Sweden

When studying the history of the reformation in Finland, it needs to be noted that in many history books it will be included under the heading of the reformation in Sweden, this is because of Finland being ruled by Sweden (from the 13th century until 1809). It would be correct to conclude that the Finnish reformation followed in many ways the pattern directed by the Swedish crown. But it also needs to be noted that Finland did have a reformation of its own that was in many aspects separate from that of Sweden. Since the details of the Swedish reformation are too many to cover in the scope of this article, I will focus on the distinctively Finnish part of the reformation.

Finnish Men Trained in Wittenberg

The first Finnish reformer has been identified as Petrus Särkilahti, a young Finnish man who studied in Wittenberg, Germany under Luther himself. While in Wittenberg, Särkilahti learned and embraced the newly rediscovered truths of the Bible, which had lain hidden under the rule of the Roman Catholic Church. After finishing his studies in Germany, Särkilahti returned back home to Finland in 1524 and began preaching in the native Finnish language. Many people came to hear him as he publicly proclaimed reformation truth in the Finnish language of the people instead of Latin (which the common people did not understand), but he was soon silenced and his name disappears from the historical records, it is likely that he died sometime around 1528. His time of ministry proved to be very short, but in God’s providence it would later show itself to be a very important beginning of a movement.

Mikael Agricola

Mikael Agricola

One of the young men who were profoundly impacted by the witness of Särkilahti and his preaching of Protestant truth was a man called Mikael Agricola. Agricola was a young clergyman who, following in the footsteps of Särkilahti, also went to study in Wittenberg to learn under Luther and Melanchthon. In God’s providence, the main reason that Agricola was able to go and study in Wittenberg was that the recently appointed Bishop of Turku, Martin Skytte, was financing Agricola’s studies and was very supportive of sending young Finnish men to study in Wittenberg. This is especially noteworthy, when taking into account that even though Bishop Skytte was appointed to his position by the King of Sweden and without Papal approval, he still remained a Roman Catholic himself and never fully embraced the Lutheran teaching of the reformation. It seems that Skytte was a very patient man who had endured a lot of hardship in his life and did not want to cause more controversy, but rather saw the value in supporting the Protestant Reformation even though he did not agree with it all. This decision by Skytte to send young Finnish men to be trained in Wittenberg would prove to be a great advancement for the cause of the reformation in Finland, not just in the case of Agricola, but also for many of the other men (around ten in total) who were sent there to study and would later return to help with the reformation in Finland.

Agricola’s Impact in Finland


Agricola’s ABC-Book

After finishing his training in Wittenberg, Agricola returned to Finland with a letter of recommendation from Luther and Melanchthon. Soon after his arrival, he was given the position as the rector of the Latin school in Turku, where he worked for the next nine years. During that time he also worked on many of his literary projects, the first one of them being his ABC-Book (published in 1543), which was the first book ever published in the Finnish language. The book was a simple primer to the Finnish language and also included a translation of Luther’s Small Catechism. It is mainly because of this groundbreaking work that Agricola is often referred to as the father of the written Finnish language. The next year (1544) he published another monumental work, a biblical prayer book (900 pages), which included different material from the Bible, church fathers, and the reformers. Above all these, his most important achievement was his translation of the New Testament into the Finnish language, which was published in 1548. Agricola was convinced of the reformation principle that the word of God should be accessible to the common man in their native language. It was largely due to this literary work that Agricola sought to undertake in obedience to God and for the good of his fellow countrymen, that the reformation was able to get a hold on the Finnish people in a different way as opposed to if it had only come through the forced political rule of the Swedish crown.

After Bishop Skytte died in 1550, Agricola eventually became the officially recognized Bishop of Turku (1544), making him the first Protestant Lutheran Bishop of Finland. Not long after Agricola became Bishop, the war started between Russia and Finland. In order to make a peace treaty, Agricola departed to help in Moscow. After the settlement was made, they returned back to Finland, but on the way Agricola suddenly died in 1557 on the Karelian Isthmus at Kuolemanjärvi (“Death Lake”).

During Agricola’s life-time paganism and Roman Catholicism still competed with the Protestant faith, however by the time of Agricola’s death Lutheranism had already gained a strong hold on the Finnish people and in 1593 Lutheranism was made the official religion of Finland.

Thankfulness for a Legacy

Agricola's translation of John 17:17

Agricola’s translation of John 17:17

When thinking about my heritage as a Finnish Christian (although not a Lutheran myself, but certainly a Protestant) and how God brought about the Finnish reformation, which in turn gave the Finnish-speaking people the greatest gift on earth–the written Word of God–I am overcome by thankfulness for this legacy and blessing that God has bestowed on Finland. On the other hand, I am saddened by the current situation of Finland, which as a country has again completely rejected God and His Word (even though still on paper claiming to be a ‘Christian’ country). One major lesson that stands out from the work of Agricola, was the great importance that literature–in particular the Word of God, but also other Protestant writings–had in advancing the cause of Christ. The truth of the gospel needs to be made known in the language of the people, and there is still a great need for biblically sound material in the Finnish language.

Was the Finnish reformation finished?

Old church ruin in Finland

Old church ruin in Finland

Agricola and the others with him certainly completed a great task in helping Finland to turn from Catholicism to the Protestant Lutheran faith. However, the reformation will always have to continue, mainly in the reformation of individual sinners who are converted to Christ, but also in the realm of the Christian church’s understanding of Scripture in how it relates to Christian doctrine and practice. Even though we should rightly be thankful for the giants of the reformation and how God used them to give us a clearer understanding of the gospel, we also need to recognize that there were many areas (such as baptism, ecclesiology, eschatology, etc.) in which their understanding and practices were not fully in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore, the call to any Christian, whether Finnish or any other nationality, is to strive forward and continue the reformation, both in our personal lives as we strive for Christlikeness, and in seeking to bring the truth of the gospel of Christ to those around us. Semper reformanda!


Agrcicola 2007 – juhlavuosi “Mikael Agricola”, accessed June 19, 2015.

Appold, Kenneth G. The Reformation: A Brief History. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Bergroth, Elis. Suomen Kirkon Historia Pääpiirteissään. Porvoo: W. Söderström, 1892.

Cameron, Euan. The European Reformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Evans, Robert P. Let Europe Hear: The Spiritual Plight of Europe. Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Church of Finland”, accessed June 19, 2015.

“Finland.” The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. Vol. 19. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005.

Grell, Ole Peter. The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalisation of Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Lander, Patricia Slade, and Claudette Charbonneau. The Land and People of Finland. New York: Lippincott, 1990.

Maude, George. Historical Dictionary of Finland. 2nd ed. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2007.

Needham, N. R. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part Two: The Middle Ages. London: Grace Publications Trust, 2000.

Needham, N. R. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation. London: Grace Publications Trust, 2004.

Pulsiano, Phillip, ed. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993.

Rublack, Ulinka. Reformation Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

“Scandinavia: Lutheranism and National Identity.” The Cambridge History of Christianity: World Christianities, C.1815-c.1914. Ed. Sheridan Gilley. Vol. 8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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