Above: Map of Sweden and Its Environs, 1550
Image in the Public Domain
MIKAEL AGRICOLA (CIRCA 1507-APRIL 9, 1557)
Finnish Lutheran Liturgist, Bishop of Turku, and “Father of the Finnish Literary Language”
Also known as Mikael Olavinpoika
Mikael Agricola was a prominent figure in Finnish religion and culture.
Our saint entered the world at Torsby, Pernaja, Finland, Sweden, circa 1507, as Mikael Olavinpoika. His father, Olof Simonsson, was a farmer. Our saint studied at the Latin school at Vyborg, where he took the surname Agricola, meaning “farmer.” At Vyborg Agricola encountered ideas of Christian Humanism and the Protestant Reformation.
For a time Agricola was a Roman Catholic priest, although not the most orthodox one, by the standards of the time. He, ordained to the priesthood in 1528, became the secretary to Martinus Skyette, the Bishop of Turku. In 1536 Skyette sent Agricola to study in Wittenberg, the headquarters of Martin Luther. Like his contemporary Olavus Petri before him, Agricola lived in Luther’s home for a few years. Agricola also learned from Luther as well as Philipp Melancthon and Johannes Bugenhagen. In 1539 our saint returned to Turku, where he began to serve as the canon of the cathedral chapter and the head of the Latin school. Between 1537 and 1548 he translated the New Testament into Finnish. He also wrote the ABC-Kiria, based on the catechism by Luther and Melancthon, between 1537 and 1543. This signal volume was the first work published in the Finnish language.
In 1540 King Gustav I Vasa of Sweden (reigned 1523-1560), who had favored Lutheranism for years, made that version of Christianity mandatory. Even before then there seemed to have been some fluidity on the Lutheran-Roman Catholic spectrum in the Kingdom of Sweden, which included Finland. Furthermore, that fluidity seemed to continue after the royal decree of 1540, for my sources noted that Agricola became the first Lutheran Bishop of Turku in 1550 (a decade after the royal decree) without Papal consent.
Agricola worked in the Finnish language in Swedish-controlled Finland. He published a prayer book in 1540. Aside from that volume and the others I have mentioned already, Agricola’s catalogue of published works included the Psalter and other portions of the Old Testament, the order of the Mass (minus the Eucharistic canon), translations of other liturgies, and translations of foreign hymns.
Agricola was a family man. Prior to his elevation to the episcopate he had married Birgitta Olofsdotter. The couple had one child, a son, Kristian Agricola, born on December 11, 1550. He died in 1586.
Our saint died at Nkyrka, Finland, Sweden, on April 19, 1557, after returning from a diplomatic mission to Russia.
Agricola had a Christ-centered theology. He understood the Christian pilgrimage as a journey of humility, temptation, and trial. Sin, he said, meant that people have become turned in on themselves and fundamentally opposed to God. The main idea in Agricola’s theology was the union of human humility in sinfulness and a living hope for divine grace in Christ.
Agricola’s name came to my attention via Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), the service book-hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), part of whose heritage includes Finnish Lutheranism in the form of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Suomi Synod) (1890-1962). Their main counterparts, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and The Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), also have some Finnish Lutheran heritage in the form of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran National Church/National Evangelical Lutheran Church (1898-1963), but the Lutheran Service Book (2006), lacks any commemoration of Agricola’s life. I wonder why that is so, for Agricola seems like a person a denomination with Finnish Lutheran ancestry should commemorate.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 13, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME
THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW
Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,
thank you for those (especially Mikael Agricola)
who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.
May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Chronicles 25:1-8
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR
THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN