II. THE CULTURAL CONTEXT OF THE FIRST LITHUANIAN BOOK


The eastern coast of the Baltic Sea
inhabited by the Baltic nations

3. East Prussia


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Duke Albrecht
of Bradenburg

In 1525, the last Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Albrecht of Brandenburg proclaimed Prussia a secular state and, in two years, introduced Protestantism as the official state religion. It was ordered that sermons in Prussian churches should be preached in the vernacular. As the country was inhabited by the descendants of Prussians, colonised by the Germans, and a considerable number of Lithuanians (the territory was referred to as Eastern Prussia, or Lithuania Minor), efforts were made to develop the Lithuanian and Prussian languages. At that time, Prussia was politically dependant on Poland, whereas its relations with Lithuania were rather good. In order to get rid of this dependence and to expand his own political influence, Duke Albrecht supported the Reformation movement in Lithuania and Poland, taking care of the enlightened, and making efforts to ensure the training of Lithuanian pastors who could work not only in Prussia but also in Lithuania. In 1544, he founded Königsberg University, which he advertised widely in Lithuanial. To spread the Word of God in a language that people could understand, it was also necessary to have literature for the believers. Albrecht’s initiative gave the surviving Prussians a catechism in Prussian (1545), and efforts were made to write a Lithuanian catechisml, although Lithuanian was not considered to be a language much different from Prussian.


The first Prussian
Catechism (1545)

Little by little, Duke Albrecht rallied a group of active, enlightened Lithuanians and created suitable conditions for their work. The idea and possibilities of writing and publishing the first Lithuanian book must have been born in this environment. Soon Mosvidius was invited to Königsberg.

One of the Lithuanians supported in this way by Duke Albrecht was Abrahamus Culvensis, born circa 1510, who was a former student of Melanchthon, Luther’s like-minded colleague in Wittenberg. Culvensis returned to Lithuania at a very propitious time - when young Grand Duke Sigismund August of Lithuania and his mother Bona lived in Vilnius. Culvensis impressed Queen Bona and she helped him found a college-type school in 1539. Culvensis’ ambition was to play in Lithuania a role similar to that played by Luther in German lands. Culvensis proclaimed Protestant ideas publicly from the pulpit and attacked Catholic priests. When the Queen left Vilnius, the confrontation between the Protestants and the Catholics became more intense for several years. Then Culvensis left for Königsberg, where he became Count Albrecht’s adviser and, soon, vice-rector of the preparatory school that was to be reorganised into a university. This was done in 1544 by establishing Königsberg University. Culvensis was appointed to head the Chair of the Greek Language. When the persecution of Protestants in Lithuania subsided, Culvensis returned to Vilnius for a short time in 1545 and ardently joined religious disputes there, but he died suddenly in that year.


The Cathedral
of Königsberg

Königsberg

Together with Culvensis at Königsberg University, there was another prominent Lithuanian educator of the 16th century, Stanislaus Rapagelanus. He also studied at Wittenberg. It is noteworthy that Luther made the opening speech at the public dispute during the presentation of Rapagelanus’ doctorate theses in 1544. After he returned to Königsberg University, Rapagelanus was appointed head of the most important chair at the University, the Chair of Theology. Rapagelanus was one of the most educated and enlightened professors of Königsberg University. He apparently started translating the Bible into Lithuanian; later, Mosvidius included one of the hymns translated by Rapagelanus into his hymn book.



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Copyright: BALTOS LANKOS, Vilnius, 1995.