Finland, The Catholic Church in
FINLAND, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in northern Europe, the Republic of Finland is bordered by Sweden and the Gulf of Bothnia on the west, Norway on the north, Russia on the east, and the Gulf of Finland, which separates southern Finland from Estonia. With its heavily forested landscape of rolling plains dotted by hills and numerous lakes and streams, Finland possesses natural resources that include lumber, silver, copper, iron ore, and other minerals. Finland's economic strength depends on the export of timber products as well as electronics, chemicals, machinery, and other manufactured products.
Finland was part of Sweden from the early Middle Ages until 1809, when it became an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire. On Dec. 6, 1917, Finland proclaimed its independence. During World War II, Finland ceded 17,778 square miles (Finnish Karelia and Viborg) to the USSR, and many people living in this area relocated westward to escape communist control and retain their Finnish culture. The Finns are of mixed East Baltic and Scandinavian origin. Ecclesiastically, Finland has formed the Catholic Diocese of Helsinki (Swedish Helsingfors) since 1955, which diocese is immediately subject to the Holy See. The bishop of Helsinki is a member of the Nordic Bishops' Conference.
Catholic Origins and Growth to 1500. Finland was settled by the 8th century, and the inhabitants lived in relative peace for 400 years until the region gave way to Swedish explorers in the 12th century. Archeological finds in ancient settlements bear witness to Christian practices—both of the Eastern and Western churches—among these conquerers. As a result of a crusade in 1155 under the Swedish king St. eric ix jedvardsson, and of other expeditions in 1239 and 1293, the counties of Finland proper, Häme and West Carelia were united with Sweden. St. Henrik, the patron saint of Finland, was an English-born bishop of Uppsala who accompanied St. Eric on his first crusade to Finland. While the king returned to Sweden, Henrik stayed in Finland to continue the work of the Church; he died a martyr's death in January 1156 at the hands of a peasant who had been excommunicated for manslaughter.
Finland's first bishop, Thomas (d.1248), was also English. His diocese at Turku (Swedish Åbo) was suffragan to the archbishop of Uppsala. The Dominicans founded a convent near the Diocese of Turku in 1249 and greatly influenced the region's spiritual life. Their liturgy was adopted by the Diocese of Turku.
The 14th century saw the arrival of Franciscans, while Bridgettines founded the monastery of Naantali in 1445. Close relations were maintained with both Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, and many Finnish students studied at the University of Paris. Among the most prominent bishops of the 14th and 15th centuries were hemming (d. 1366), friend of St. bridget of sweden, who rebuilt the cathedral, destroyed by the Russians in 1318, and who was beatified in 1514; Magnus Tavast (d. 1450), powerful organizer of ecclesiastical life; Olaus Magnus (d. 1460), sometime professor in Paris, procurator of the English nation there, and twice rector of its faculty of arts; and Magnus Säerkilax (d. 1500), who energetically promoted the religious education of the people. Evidence of the flowering of Catholic ecclesiastical culture during this period still appears in the cathedral of Turku and in some 100 medieval churches yet standing. The development of ecclesiastical culture in Finland was interrupted during the late Middle Ages by Sweden's wars with Denmark and Russia. The last Catholic bishop, Arvid Kurck (1464–1521), was drowned in the Gulf of Bothnia while fleeing the Danish invasion in 1522.
Success of Protestantism. Unlike other parts of Scandinavia, Sweden and Finland exhibited no degeneration within the Church at the close of the Middle Ages, although its position, as elsewhere in Europe, was increasingly vulnerable. Its political power and economic resources made possible magnificent cultural achievements and active social work, but also gave rise to envy and ill-will from the monarchy, nobility, and burghers alike. Except among the mendicant orders, interest in theology declined, and the philosophical training of the clergy was often rooted in nominalism. Moreover, a deep cleft developed between the theologians and humanists. To the laity, whose general education stressed the usual Christian truths, the hierarchy was more impressive as an organization than as a priestly body entrusted with the administration of the Sacraments; there was little understanding for the position of Rome within the Church.
When Lutheran reformers appeared in Scandinavia, they quickly gained the support of the monarchy and a following among the nobles and burghers. In Sweden King Gustav Vasa (1523–60) succeeded in breaking down the political and economic position of the Church by giving evangelical preachers a free hand, while outwardly keeping the customary forms and services of the Church, and denying any intention of establishing lutheranism or any other Protestant form. Meanwhile the Catholic clergy were gradually replaced by Lutherans. In the Swedish grand duchy of Finland the process was similar but proceeded at a slower pace. Canon Peter Särkilax, who had studied at Wittenberg, was the first Lutheran preacher. In 1528 Gustav Vasa appointed the aged Dominican Martin Skytte a bishop; while Skytte's consecration had been without doubt valid it was not confirmed by the pope. In 1538 Masses in Swedish were celebrated in the cathedral together with ceremonial alterations. In 1538 Michael Olavi Agricola (c. 1508–57), Lutheran bishop of Turku and disciple of melanchthon, published the first Finnish Church handbook, which was followed by a Finnish version of the New Testament (1548) and a vernacular Massbook (1549). Agricola was a moderate who accepted among other beliefs the traditional teaching on the Sacrament of Penance. Feasts such as Corpus Christi and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin continued to be celebrated far into Lutheran times; the elevation at Mass was retained until the end of the 16th century; pictures were tolerated in churches in both Finland and Sweden, and those with Old Testament emphasis added. Due to this moderated change, disturbances such as those that occurred among the Swedish peasantry were avoided. The augsburg confession was not introduced into Finland until 1593. Two years later Catholicism was forbidden within the country.
During the reigns of John III, King of Sweden (1568–92), and his son Sigismund III (1592–1604), there were attempts at a Catholic revival. Many Finnish students attended Jesuit colleges in western Europe. But after Sigismund's uncle, the Protestant Duke of Södermanland, seized power as Charles IX (1604–11), the reformation was victorious, and a reorganization of church life on Lutheran principles was implemented. Credit is due to the Lutheran church for furthering general education. The first Finnish translation of the entire Bible was printed in 1640. The rigorous rules of the Church led to pietism, a 17th-century movement of German and English inspiration. While the influence of the enlightenment on the Swedish-speaking educated classes created a chasm between ecclesiastical and cultural life, burgeoning Finnish nationalism in the 19th century caused the formation of a new Finnish-speaking educated class, recruited partly among the Swedish-speaking people and partly among the Finnish-speaking clergy and their families.
Catholicism after 1781. In 1781 Catholics in Swedish-controlled Finland were granted religious liberty, although missionary work and conversions continued to be prohibited. In Vyborg in 1799 a parish, subject to the archdiocese of Mogilev, was founded by the Polish Dominicans to care for military personnel serving in the Russian Army, and a church dedicated to Saint Hyacinth was consecrated. A similar parish was founded in Helsinki in 1860, and Holy Mass was celebrated there in a small wooden church on the island fortress of Suomenlinna. Prohibition against leaving the Lutheran Church was abolished in 1869.
In 1809 Finland became a grand duchy under the Russian crown, bequeathed by Sweden following that country's defeat in the War of the Third Coalition. As part of Russia, the Finnish Church fell under the Archdiocese of Mohilev, which had its episcopal see in St. Petersburg. Under a policy of Russification enacted during the 1890s, Finnish culture, as well as Church autonomy, survived only with great difficulty. The first Finnish priest following the Reformation, W. v. Christierson (d. 1945), was finally ordained in Paris in 1903. A year after the proclamation of Finnish independence in 1919, the vicariate apostolic of Finland was created and entrusted to the Dutch Sacred Heart Fathers. With the help of German forces Finland waged a victorious civil war against residual Russian authority, and full religious liberty was granted in 1923. During World War II Finland eventually fought with Germany, not in support of Hitler's policies but rather because siding with Germany allowed them to
fight Russia. Axis defeats led to the progressive loss of Karelia to the USSR in 1940 and 1944, and two of Finland's four Catholic parishes were lost.
World War II was not the first time the Karelians had been the subject of dispute. As early as the 14th century East Karelia was united with Novgorod, thus providing Russian Orthodoxy inroads into Finland. Part of Russian Karelia was controlled by Sweden-Finland from 1580–1617; it included an Orthodox Karelian population that was subjected to harsh persecution. In 1721 East Karelia was given by Sweden to Russia. After the incorporation of all Finland into the Russian Empire in 1809 the position of Finnish Orthodox improved. An Orthodox
archdiocese was founded in Viborg (moved to Kuopio in 1944), with a bishop in Helsinki. In 1921 the Orthodox Church was freed from its dependence on Russia; it was recognized as autonomous by the patriarch of Constantinople in 1923. At the time of the Soviet invasion of Finland during World War II, Orthodox Karelians living in the lands ceded to the USSR left their homes and moved westward. The Orthodox Church in Finland eventually became independent of Moscow, and many parishes converted from Old Church Slavonic to Finnish-language sermons by the late 20th century.
The Church in Cold-War Europe. As the national church of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church maintained a solid economic position throughout the second half of the 20th century, and retained active contacts with other Lutheran churches in Scandinavia. It had an archbishop in Turku and seven bishops. Theological faculties were established at the state-run University of Helsinki and at the Swedish Academy of Åbo. Teaching of religion remained compulsory in all Finland's schools, although by 2000 children of minority faiths were given non-Lutheran options. Despite the lack of equivalent state funding, the Catholic Church also dedicated itself to education in Finland during this period. Studium Catholicum, an institute for mutual cultural interchange founded in 1951, was directed by the Dominicans. Dutch Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Moerdijk directed two orphanages, while Sisters of the Most precious blood came from the United States to run an English-language commercial school and a well-regarded secondary school in Helsinki. At Myllyjärvi, near Helsinki, two foreign secular priests of the Greek rite directed a center for ecumenical contacts. A Catholic union of students and graduates, Academicum Catholicum, a youth organization called Juventus Catholica, and two Catholic women's societies also flourished in the second half of the 20th century.
The Modern Church. Through the 20th century the Catholic Church of Finland continued to be respected as a religious community officially recognized by the state, although by rule of the law of religious liberty enacted in 1923 the foundation of monasteries remained prohibited. However, evangelical and other efforts to strengthen the Church continued. The Bridgettines arrived in 1986 from Sweden and four Carmelites came from the United States in 1989. The Missionaries of Charity established their first house in Finland in 1999. A priests' council was established in 1967 and the diocesan pastoral council followed in 1974. In 1983 the Diocesan Center North Helsinki, Stella Maris, was established. By 2000 Finland contained seven parishes administered by 5 secular and 15 religious priests, and 36 sisters. With a small and diminishing population, conversions remained few, usually coming from the country's intellectual circles. Catholic authors, such as Göran Stenius, and scholars contributed to Finland's cultural life.
While social issues would continue to spark controversy between Lutheran and Catholic interests, significant ecumenical advances included the Roman Catholic Church's membership in the Finnish Ecumenical Council after 1968. In 1985, as part of the ceremonies for the dedication of the St. Henrik altar at Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, the Finnish Lutheran bishop, the Orthodox bishop, and the Roman Catholic bishop were received together by the pope. Four years later, in June of 1989, Pope John Paul II was received in Finland by both Catholics and non-Catholics, a reflection of the success of the Church's ecumenical efforts. In 1991 Lutheran Archbishop John Vikstrom participated in the celebration of the Feast of St. Bridget in St. Peter's Basilica, and in 1999 Vikstrom's successor traveled to the Vatican for a private audience with the pope. Additionally, in 1988, Uusi, Finland was the site of the fifth meeting of the international commission of Catholic and Orthodox theologians, a group working toward a greater understanding between these faiths.
Bibliography: g. schwaiger, Die Reformation in den nordischen Ländern (Munich 1962). l. s. hunter, ed., Scandinavian Churches (London 1965). k. s. latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age: A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New York 1958–62) v.2, 4. The Church of Finland (Pieksämäki 1963). g. sentzke, Finland: Its Church and Its People (Helsinki 1963). u. toivola, ed., Introduction to Finland, 1960 (2d ed. Porvoo 1963). e. k. jutikkala, ed., Suomen historian kortasto: Atlas of Finnish History (Porvoo 1959). e. k. jutikkala and k. pirinen, A History of Finland, tr. p. sjÖblom (New York 1962). i. racz, Suomen keskiajan taideaarteita (Helsinki 1960), art treasures of medieval Finland. a. sinisalo et al., Kauneimmat Kirkkomme (Jyväskylä 1962), Finland's most beautiful churches. l. pinomaa, ed., Finnish Theology Past and Present (Helsinki 1963). Bilan du Monde 2:368–373.