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date: 04 December 2021

Martin Luther in Finland and the Balticslocked

Martin Luther in Finland and the Balticslocked

  • Antti RaunioAntti RaunioUniversity of Eastern Finland


Martin Luther’s thought has had strong influence on the religious and churchly life in the Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as in Finland. Its impact has not been restricted just to the Church but also has had deep social and political aspects. However, the role of Luther’s theology has been quite different in the Baltics and in Finland, mostly because the Reformation occurred in a totally different ways in each area. In the Baltics, the biggest towns had already turned to the Reformation by the 1520s, but in Finland the change was part of King Gustav Vasa’s work for strengthening the state. In the Baltics, the Reformation took place in direct contact with Luther and his colleagues, whereas in Finland the first influences came through some of his writings and the theologians who had studied in Wittenberg. During the 17th century, almost the whole area, except Lithuania, belonged to the Swedish kingdom. Theologically, this was the time of the Lutheran Orthodoxy, which was based on the Confessional Books of the Lutheran Church. From Luther’s works, the catechisms were known and used. In the Baltics, the time of Confessional Lutheran theology lasted until the 1910s. In the 19th century, certain Baltic German theologians, especially Theodosius Harnack, practiced remarkable Luther research. Harnack opposed the Neo-Protestant Luther interpretation and strongly influenced the understanding of Luther’s theology of the cross. Only in the 1910s did the Neo-Protestant Luther interpretation of Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf von Harnack get some support. In the 20th century, the Baltic theology was not very much concentrated on Luther, though some presentations of his person and thought were published and a clear consciousness of his thought was present. The Soviet time from 1940 to the beginning of 1990s was difficult for all types of theology. Nevertheless, for example, Elmar Salumae managed to translate international Luther research into Estonian and maintain the knowledge of Lutheran theology. In Finland, the 19th century did not produce academic Luther research, but Luther’s theology was important for the pietistic revival movement, and it played a central role in the disagreement of the revival leaders, which led to a division of the movement. Academic research on the Reformation began in Finland at the end of the 19th century, first as a historical study of the Finnish reformer Mikael Agricola and the Reformation in Finland. Research on Luther’s theology followed the German Luther Renaissance and began in the 1920s. The fruits of this research were published in the 1930s by Eino Sormunen and Yrjö J. E. Alanen and some years later by Lennart Pinomaa. After Pinomaa, Finnish Luther research played some role at the international level. It was first attached especially to the Swedish Lundensian approach and later, from the beginning of the 1980s, became more distant from it. Today Finnish Luther research refers above all to the work of Tuomo Mannermaa and his pupils. This theology, which stresses the real presence of Christ in faith and the participation in the Divine love, is not only academic research but also it has been applied to many churchly and ecumenical questions.


  • Christianity

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