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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 74. Missions in Northeastern Germany.


At the beginning of this period the Wends,883883    See § 60. Tacitus calls the Wends Venedi, a name which seems to come from the Slavonic voda, or the Lithuanian wandu, meaning "water," and referring to the low and often marshy lands they occupied. covered by Pommerania, Brandenburg intermingled, and parts of Saxony, which were neither German nor Slavic but Lithuanian.884884    The two translations of Luther’s catechism, 1545, 1561, into the language of this people seem to point to their Lithuanian origin, Tschackert in Herzog, XVI. 26.mburg, bordering on the territories of these tribes, had done little or nothing for, their conversion. Under Otto I. Havelberg, Meissen, Merseburg, and other dioceses were established to prosecute this work. At the synod of Ravenna, 967, Otto made the premature boast that the Wends had been converted.

The only personality that looms out above the monotonous level of Wendish history is Gottschalk, who was converted in England and bound together a number of tribes in an extensive empire. He was interested in the conversion of his people, and churches and convents were built at Mecklenburg, Lübeck, Oldenburg, and other centres. But with Gottschalk’s murder, in 1066, the realm fell to pieces and the Wend tribes from that time on became the object of conquest to the dukes of Poland and Saxony. Attempts to Christianize them were met with violent resistance. Wends and Germans hated one another.885885    Hauck gives Illustrations of the cruelties of the two peoples in time of war, III. 90 sqq.886886    They thought nothing of strangling girls when there were a number born to the same mother. Si plures filias aliqua genuisset, ut cetera facilius providerent, aliquas ex eis jugulabant, pro nihilo ducentes parricidium. Herbord, II. 16aves, and idols.

Two centuries were required to bring the territories occupied by these peoples, and now for the most part inhabited by Germans, under the sway of the Church. The measures employed were the instructions of the missionary, the sword as wielded by the Teutonic Knights, and the colonization of the lands with German colonists. The sacraments and ritual of the Church were put in the forefront as conditions of union with the Church. The abolition of barbarous customs was also insisted upon. The bishopric and the convent were made the spiritual citadels of the newly evangelized districts.

The first to labor among the Wends, who was actuated by true missionary zeal, was the Spanish Cistercian, Bernard. He was without any knowledge of the language and his bare feet and rude monastic garb were little adapted to give him an entrance to the people whose priests were well clad.

Bernard was followed by Otto, bishop of Bamberg, 1102–1139, who made his first tour at Bernard’s instance. He won the title of Apostle of Pommerania. In 1124 he set his face towards the country, furnished with the blessing of Honorius II. and well supplied with clerical helpers. He won the goodwill of the Pommeranian duke, Wratislaw, who, in his youth, as a prisoner of war, had received baptism. The baptism of seven thousand at Pyritz has a special interest from its hearing on the practice of immersion followed at that time. Tanks were sunk into the earth, the rims rising knee high above the ground. Into these, as the chronicler reports,887887    Facilis erat in aquam descendere, Herbord, II. 16. The detailed description of the baptismal scenes leaves not a particle of doubt that immersion was practised.888888    This is the earliest notice of the seven sacraments, provided Herbord’s report is not interpolated.

At Stettin he destroyed the temple of the god Triglar, and sent the triple head of the idol to Rome as a sign of the triumph of the cross.

In 1128 Otto made a second tour to Pommerania. He spoke through an interpreter. His instructions were followed by the destruction of temples and the erection of churches. He showed his interest in the material as well as spiritual well-being of the people and introduced the vine into the country.889889    Herbord, II. 41.

Vicelinus, d. 1154, the next most important name in the history of missions among the Wends, preached in the territory now covered by Holstein and the adjoining districts. He had spent three years in study at Paris and was commissioned to his work by Adalbert, archbishop of Bremen-Hamburg. The fierce wars of Albert the Bear, of North Saxony, 1133–1170, and Henry the Lion, 1142–1163, against the Wagrians and Abotrites, the native tribes, were little adapted to prepare the way for Christianity. Vicelinus founded the important convent of Segeberg which became a centre of training for missionaries. Lübeck accepted Christianity, and in 1148 Vicelinus was ordained bishop of Oldenburg.

The German missionaries went as far as Riga. The sword played a prominent part in the reduction of the local tribes. Under papal sanction, crusade followed crusade. The Livonians received their first knowledge of Christianity through Meinhard, d. 1196,890890    Gregory IX., as late as 1237, calls this people pagans, pagani Livoniae. Potthast, 10383.ned bishop of the new diocese of Uexkull whose name was changed in 1202 to the diocese of Riga.

Meinhard’s successor, the Cistercian Berthold, sought at first to win his way by instruction and works of charity, but was driven away by violence. He returned in 1198, at the head of a crusade which Coelestin had ordered. After his death on the field of battle his successor, bishop Albert of Apeldern, entered the country in 1199 at the head of another army. The lands were then thrown open to colonists. With the sanction of Innocent III., Albert founded the order of the Brothers of the Sword. Their campaigns opened the way for the church in Esthaonia and Senegallen. In 1224 the see of Dorpat was erected, which has given its name to the university of Dorpat.

Eastern Prussia, lying along the Weichsel, was visited in 1207 by the German abbot, Gottfried. Two of the native princes were converted by Christian, a monk from Pommerania, donated their lands to the Church, and travelled to Rome, where they received baptism. Christian was made bishop of Prussia between 1212 and 1215. An invitation sent to the Teutonic Knights to aid in the conversion of the tribes was accepted by their grand-master, Hermann of Salza, in 1228. In 1217 Honorius III. had ordered a crusade, and in 1230 Gregory IX. renewed the order. The Teutonic Knights were ready enough to further religious encroachment by the sword, promised, as they were, a large share in the conquered lands. From 1230 to 1283 they carried on continual wars. They established themselves securely by building fortified towns such as Kulm and Thorn, 1231, and Königsberg, 1255. A stream of German colonists followed where they conquered. In 1243 Innocent IV. divided Prussia into four sees, Kulm, Pomesania, Sameland, and Ermeland. It was arranged that the bishops were to have one-third of the conquered territory. In 1308 the German Knights seized Danzig at the mouth of the Weichsel and a year later established their headquarters at Marienburg.891891    Ranke, VIII. 469, regards the fabric of the Teutonic Knights as having offered the only effective check against the invasion of Central Europe by the Mongols. Peace of Thorn, 1466, they lost Prussia west of the Weichsel, and thereafter their possessions were confined to Eastern Prussia. The history of the order closed when the grand-master, Albrecht of Brandenburg, accepted the Reformation and made the duchy hereditary in his family.



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