Estonia, The Catholic Church in
ESTONIA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
A Baltic state, the Republic of Estonia is bound on the north by the Gulf of Finland, on the east by Russia, on the south by latvia and the Gulf of Riga, and on the west by the Baltic Sea. With an inland terrain characterized by marshy lowlands, Estonia also includes the two large islands of Hiiumaa (Dägo) and Saaremaa (Ösel) at the mouth of the Gulf of Riga, as well as numerous other
islands in the Baltic. Natural resources include shale oil, peat, amber and limestone, while agriculturally Estonia's main crops include potatoes, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products.
Estonia was settled by tribal Finno-Ugrian people who formed the bulk of the population by the 11th century. In the Middle Ages it comprised part of Livonia, an area long the center of a power struggle among its more aggressive neighbors. Independent from 1917 to 1941, Estonia was incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1944 and gained its independence in 1991. The region, which has gone on to develop economic and political ties with Western Europe, possesses a large Russian minority estimated at 30 percent of the population.
Establishment of Christianity. Russian missionaries and traders from Kiev were the first to penetrate Estonia, establishing a post at Tartu about 1030. Sporadic attempts at evangelization were also made by missionaries from Lund, Bremen-Hamburg, Novgorod and Plotsk in the 11th century, but they met with little success. Meinhard of Holstein (d. 1196) was consecrated the first bishop of Livonia in 1186, even before the Germans established a stable political organization in the region. His successor, Berthold of Hanover, died in battle in 1198. Bishop albert i (d. 1229) arrived in 1199 at the head of a German crusade; he began the actual work of settlement and forced conversion of the native population of the area, which he renamed Marienland. The knights of the sword were organized in 1199 at Albert's urging, and the city of Riga was founded as his see in 1201. Theoderich of Treyden, abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Dünamünde, was consecrated missionary bishop of Estonia in early 1211. The Fourth lateran council (November 1215) made the Livonian church directly subject to Rome, but the bishops, who were also imperial princes, and the Knights divided the newly converted areas between them, largely ignoring the claims of the Holy See. The Danes were also active in the northern part of Estonia and in the islands; in 1219 Waldamar II of Denmark founded the fortified city of Tallinn and, since Bishop Theoderich had been martyred, established his chaplain, Guicelinus, as bishop there. Meanwhile Albert had established his brother, Hermann, in the Estonian bishopric; this see, established at Leal, was moved to Dorpat in 1224. A reaction against the Church came in 1223, but the Knights of the Sword, by cooperating with the bishops, managed to regain their territories and occupy the island of Saarenaa in 1227. Saarenaa was entrusted to the ecclesiastical supervision of Gottfried, another of Albert's kinsmen, and, together with the mainland area of Lääne, became the Diocese of Ösel-Wiek (Latin, Osiliensis ), the third Estonian diocese, with its seat at Haapsalu. Dorpat and Ösel-Wiek were suffragan to Riga after it became a metropolitan see in 1255, while Revel remained subject to the archbishops of Lund.
The Knights of the Sword, badly decimated by crusading warfare, merged in 1237 with the teutonic knights, although the Livonian Knights remained a distinct branch of the order until 1513. Pushing eastward against Novgorod, the order suffered a defeat at the hands of alexander nevski on the ice of Lake Peipus in 1242. The order remained the dominant political and cultural force in Estonia, although during the 13th century the towns, largely German in population, became increasingly important. Revel, Dorpat, Narva and Fellin (modern Vilyandi) were all members of the Hanseatic League. The vast majority of churchmen, both priests and hierarchy, were Germans, many of them Saxons. In the countryside population, which was becoming rapidly enserfed to the German nobility, indigenous superstitions mixed with Christianity, and the connection between religious faith and serfdom ultimately led a large portion of the population to shun religion altogether. In 1346 Denmark sold its lands in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knights, prompting the Knights to attempt to annex Livonia to Prussia through the conquest of lithuania. The Knights were defeated in 1410 at the Battle of Tannenberg.
In 1232 the Cistercians founded a monastery at Valkena (German Falkenau), near Dorpat. The Dominicans made foundations at Dorpat, Revel and Narva, while the Franciscans established themselves at Fellin, Dorpat and Wesenberg. By the end of the 16th century there were some 22 monasteries and convents in Estonia.
The Reformation. The bitter conflict between the Teutonic Knights and the Estonian bishops opened the way for the penetration of Lutheran ideas into the country. Lutheran communities were established at Revel, Dorpat and Pernau, where the heresy appealed to the German burgers. Not until the late 1530s did it begin to penetrate the countryside, and even then Protestantism meant little more than the cessation of Catholicism. Preachers and schools, especially for the native population, were lacking. The people followed the lead of their lords, and with the secularization of the order and the bishoprics, they were lost to the faith. The death of Johann von Blankenfield, archbishop of Riga and bishop of Revel and Dorpat, in 1529, marked the end of effective Catholic control in these dioceses.
Worried by the political instability of the area, Ivan (IV) the Terrible of Moscow invaded Estonia in 1558, capturing Narva and Dorpat and carrying the last Catholic bishop of Dorpat, Hermann II Wessal, into captivity. denmark and sweden, now Protestant powers, also hoped to achieve territorial gains in Estonia. In 1559 Johann von Münchhausen, bishop of Ösel-Wiek, sold his see to Frederick II of Denmark, who installed his brother, Prince Magnus of Holstein (d. 1583), as the first Protestant prelate. In 1561 the city of Revel, doubting the ability of the order to protect it from Russian advances, submitted to King Eric XIV of Sweden. Their fears were well founded, for in this same year Livonian grand master Gotthard Kettler secularized the order and became duke of Courland, under the protection of King Sigismud Augustus of Poland. In areas under Polish administration, the Jesuit-led counter reformation made remarkable headway, appealing especially to the native population. All this came to an end when, in 1629, Sweden acquired all of mainland Estonia (the islands were added in 1645). Active in the development of the country and the welfare of the native population, Gustavus II of Sweden founded the University of Dorpat in 1634 with a Lutheran theological faculty. In 1721 the Treaty of Nystad confirmed peter (i) the Great's conquest of the area, and during almost two centuries of Russian rule the Baltic barons, descendants of medieval German conquerors, were once again the dominant economic and political force in Estonia. In the moravian church the Estonians first found an opportunity to become pastors to their people. During the period of Russian rule large numbers also entered the Russian orthodox church. In the last half of the 19th century, the attempts at Russification were met by a rising spirit of nationalism.
The Rise of Communism. The Russian Revolution of 1917 gave Estonia its independence, and in 1918 a truly representative government under Konstantine Päts (d. 1956) came to power. The republic recognized complete freedom of religion, and a Catholic apostolic administration for Estonia was dispatched to Tellinn in 1924. Up until that time there had only been a small number of Polish Catholics in the area, dependent on the Archdiocese of Mogilev. The second administrator, E. Profittlich, SJ, inaugurated a Catholic press with two publications. In 1934 the small Catholic population was organized into six parishes—Tellinn, Tartu, Narva, Valga, Pärnu and Kingisepp—with 12 priests, four of the byzantine rite.
The Russo-German nonaggression pact of 1939 put Estonia, together with Lithuania and Latvia, into the Soviet
sphere of influence. In 1940 a people's republic was established to force incorporation into the USSR, although most Western powers refused to recognize this seizure of territory by force.
The communist government closed schools and theological institutions throughout Estonia, while at Tartu University religious studies were abolished and thousands of volumes of theological writings were destroyed. The ongoing translation of the New Testament into Estonian was suspended after the appearance of the Gospel of St. Mark. Archbishop Profittich was deported in June 1941, part of Soviet efforts to root out allegedly "unreliable elements," including Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox clergy. In the Estonian Orthodox Church ties were dissolved with the patriarch of Constantinople and established with the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. The Baltic republics, thus plunged into turmoil, welcomed the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941. However, Nazi genocidal policy quickly raised a moral challenge to the Church; by the end of 1941 the Nazis and local collaborators had slaughtered most of Estonia's Jewish population. Throughout World War II, Estonia also suffered heavily in other ways.
Following the Soviet reconquest, the communist hold on the country intensified. The Church, viewed as a fascist agent of Western intelligence services, received much of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's attention. Mass deportations
between 1945 and 1953 sent thousands to Siberia and other remote regions of the USSR. Prohibitive taxes were levied against the Church, and in 1948 religious instruction in churches was banned. At the same time all Church properties were nationalized, and the buildings "leased" to the Church. A new system of supposedly self-governing religious communities responsible to the government was introduced in an attempt to subvert the traditional Catholic parish system and undermine the clergy's leadership of the faithful. The Lutheran, and to a lesser extent, Orthodox Churches also suffered from repression and flight to the West. By the end of World War II only one-third of Estonia's Lutheran pastors and two-thirds of its Orthodox clergy remained in the country.
Coming to power in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev abandoned the terrorism of Stalin. Many deported clergy were allowed to return, and limited official contact with the Holy See was permitted. Unfortunately, this "thaw" was short lived, and repressive policies were again in place by the late 1950s, although without the mass terror of the Stalin years. Repression continued, even as the Soviet government sought to normalize relations with the Vatican, and the Holy See sought an "opening to the east." With antireligious propaganda intensifying, in 1957 only one-fourth of ethnic Estonians declared themselves church members; a decade later it was estimated that the country held about 2,500 Catholics in two parishes served by two priests.
Glastnost and the Fall of Communism. During the Gorbachev era (1985–91) the most egregious restrictions on religion were lifted and ultimately eliminated. In February 1990 uprisings against Soviet domination signaled the reinstatement of the 1920 constitution. In September 1991 the USSR recognized Estonia as an independent republic. The resultant fall-off of trade with Russia caused an economic collapse and required rationing. A new constitution was drafted in 1992 that granted religious freedom, although due to the proliferation of evangelical Protestant and fundamentalist groups in the country all churches were required to register with the government. Efforts were also undertaken by the government to return property confiscated under Soviet rule.
In the wake of communism, the Church in Estonia saw its membership drop, a reflection of the decrease in church attendance throughout the country in the late 1990s. Church leaders focused their efforts on reestablishing primary and secondary schools to supplement the government-provided ecumenical religious instruction available in Estonian public schools. In March 1999 an agreement between the Vatican and the Estonian government agreed to give the Church control over appointment of bishops, recognized the legal validity of Catholic marriages, established the right to teach the faith in public schools and allowed foreign priests to enter the country to tend Estonian parishes.
Into the 21st Century. By 2000 Estonia had eight parishes tended by eight secular and five religious priests. In addition, there were approximately 16 brothers and sisters at work in the country. The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, with its patriarchate in Constantinople, and the Russian Orthodox Church, with its patriarchate in Moscow, both claimed followers in Estonia, although the Moscow patriarchate was unable to obtain government registration by 2000. In 1996 tensions between the two churches provoked the Russian Orthodox Church to break ties with Constantinople, and by 2000 the struggle showed signs of dividing along ethnic lines. Pope John Paul II visited Estonia in 1993, during a trip through the newly independent Baltic states.
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[b. j. comaskey/eds.]