Monthly Archives: January 2010

Reformation in Livonia

Since Emperor Constantine made Christianity as the main religion of Roman Empire this religion took its grip under Europe. Rome, previously a main enemy of Christian sect now was its main center. The Christian religion spread among the barbarian nations on the ruins of the old Roman Empire. However as every religion Christianity was vulnerable to inner quarrels and splits. The first great split was in 1054 when differences between churches in Rome and in Constantinople became so great that both sides made a split between the Catholic Church at Rome and Orthodox Church in Byzantium. This was western-eastern split.  In Medieval times Catholic Church made itself strong and significant. It was more or less independent from secular kingdoms and had its influence in every man’s life. The church had their own lands, their own treasury and supreme rights in European politics. Crusades were part of the Catholic Church quest for supremacy. However starting from the Medieval ages Catholic church started to become vulnerable itself from inner opposition. Protest movements were called heresies and eagerly attacked by the church. Most times heretics such as the Cathars, Free Spirit and Waldensians were crushed.

One of the first Reformation movements was Hussites in Bohemia (nowadays Czech Republic). Church killed their leader but that caused bloody wars against German Catholic rule.

In 15-16 century because of Renaissance and rise of need for more freedoms from the  Church a more bitter opposition started to take place. Its starting point was in Germany. Triggered by clergyman Martin Luther who objected the indulgences- Church practice which allowed repaying sins with money – a successful scam that made church filthy rich.  This caused a Europe wide stir and the Church tried to get rid of Luther, but this time he had support from German statesman Frederic III of Saxony and the church was unable to touch him. Inability to quell the rebellion made support for Luther and Reformation begun. The rise of Protestantism reached the shores of Livonia and affected it but not as bloody as in Germany, France or other places.

First Protestants came to Livonia from Germany. Andreass Knopken, Silvester Tegetmeier brought Protestant ideology to Riga. New movement got support from Riga Town Council and vassal curries. Catholic Church did not show enough resistance. At 1524 riots against Catholic Church took place as churches were demolished by protesters.  Monks and nuns were chased away from Riga. The church lost many real estates and riches. At the end Town council tried to stop the riots. The Livonian Order who should protect the Church was not interested in showing any serious action against the movement, the Order wanted to weaken its rival the Archbishop of Riga. Also the patron of the Order the Teutonic Order in Prussia was abolished and the Order was free from Germany. The order also desired to become a secular country rather than theocratic. However Wolther von Pletenberg the Master of the Order did not choose to do that, but he allowed freedom of belief in Riga Church lost its properties in Riga and Archbishop was exiled. Reformation then quickly came to other Livonian towns and finally in 1554 freedom of belief was imposed in all Livonia. Latvians who lived in towns also joined the movement. First Latvian congregations opened where ministration was taken in Latvian (Luther preached that ministrations can be taken in local language rather than Latin). This bought need for religious text translation in Latvian. First Lutheran Catechisms and sacral songs were translated into Latvian. This was a big step for Latvian writing and language as whole. Reformation also made first Latvian schools and need for Latvian priests. On the country side Reformation was not taken seriously by Latvian peasants. If the German landlord changed his beliefs then peasants also changed but they more practiced ancient pagan rituals than Christian beliefs. Paganism dominated the countryside to 18-19 century.

Reformation made victory in Livonia with ease because local German government wanted to be more independent from Germany and Rome and Germany itself had no real influence on Livonia. Therefore Latvia today is one of the strongest key points of Protestant movement.

After the  fall of Livonia new powers the Catholic Poles tried to make Contra-reformation. This was met by resistance and only region which was brought back to Catholicism was Latgalia. Now Lutheran Church is the main Church in Latvia. However Catholic Church holds influence in Latvia also. Surprisingly in today’s Latvia both Church shows unity and friendship. Latvia is also no stranger to other Christian movements like Baptism, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and other Christian sects. Latvia more or less has always been one of the freest places for multiple beliefs.

Selected Sources:

Feldmanis, Roberts. (2010) Latvijas baznīcas vēsture. Riga: Luterisma mantojuma fonds.

Spekke, Arnolds. (1995) Latvieši un Livonija 16. gs. Riga: Zinātne.

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte


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