Nordic Preacher

Northern Reflections on Preaching, Theology and the Christian Life.


The First Finnish Book: A Reading Primer and Catechism


The first printed book published in the Finnish language is ‘Abckiria’ (ABC-Book), a basic reading primer together with a small Christian catechism, put together by the Finnish reformer Mikael Agrciola.[1] The primer was printed in the royal publishing house of Stockholm, operated by Amund Laurentsson who had been trained by a German book-printer. The first year of printing was likely 1543. Amund Laurentsson would prove to be a close associate to Agricola for many years, since all his nine books would be published by Amund, whom Agricola later referred to as a good friend.[2]

The catechism found in the primer is not a translation of a previously existing catechism, rather it is the result of Agricola combining many different existing works, similarly as he did in many of his other published works.[3] The main sources that Agricola used for this are Luther’s small catechism, Melanchthon’s catechism, and Andreas Osiander’s catechism.[4] The primer begins with a short poem, encouraging both the young and old to learn God’s commandments and to master the Finnish language.

English translation of the opening poem:

“Learn now, old and young, who have a fresh heart, God’s commandments and the mind, so that you shall know the Finnish language. Law, it makes the soul fearful, but Christ soothes it again. So read from here good child, the beginning of learning without obstacles. Remember them all your life, so Jesus lends you his mercy.”

The poem was adapted from the work of Melanchthon, with Agricola obviously editing it for a Finnish context.[5] The primer displays all the letters of the Finnish alphabet and other textual information, lists all the Ten Commandments translated directly from Hebrew,[6] followed by a Finnish translation of the Apostles’ Creed.

In his translation of the creed, it is noteworthy that Agricola purposefully uses specific words when translating the section speaking about the church. Instead of “holy catholic church” (“pyhä katolinen kirkko”), he translates it as “holy Christian congregation” (“pyhä kristillinen seurakunta”) for the purpose of making a distinction between the idea of the Roman Catholic church with its lofty church buildings, contrasted to the biblical teaching of both the local and worldwide fellowship of believers in the church. The word “seurakunta” (congregation or fellowship) continued to be used by the other Finnish reformers in order to avoid misunderstandings.[7] The Abckiria also includes the Lord’s prayer, morning an evening prayers, and explanations regarding the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s supper.[8]


The Apostles Creed in the Primer

Not even one complete copy of the primer has survived to the present day, but it has been recovered by combining different fragments to make up the whole.[9] Due to its nature being a primer that was meant to be used for everyday learning, it is not surprising that the early copies would have been more damaged than other longer books which would not have been in as much heavy usage by the common people. For a long time, it was taught that all copies of the primer had been completely lost, until 1851 when the first eight pages were found in three parts, having been recycled to make up the stuffing of another book cover. The remaining pages were found in subsequent years, also being used in the cover material for other books.[10]

abckirja_lettersThis primer was the first of Agricola’s works,[11] and understandably so, since it was needed that the Finnish people would be taught the basics of literary Finnish and the essentials of Christian teaching, before they would be able to read and appreciate the New Testament itself, which Agricola had already started working on during his time in Wittenberg.[12] In fact, when writing his primer, he had already completed the early manuscript for his New Testament translation, and was likely referring to this translation when putting together the primer.[13]


[1] Kenneth G. Appold, The Reformation: A Brief History (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 159.

[2] Kaisa Häkkinen. Spreading the Written Word: Mikael Agricola and the Birth of Literary Finnish (Helsinki: Finnish Literary Society, 2016), 53.

[3] Simo Heininen. Mikael Agricola: Elämä ja Teokset (Helsinki: Edita Prima, 2007), 170.

[4] Häkkinen, 54.

[5] Ibid., 54.

[6] Heininen, 177.

[7] Heininen, 178.

[8] Mikael Agricola. Abckiria. (Stockholm: Amund Laurentsson, 1549).

[9] Häkkinen, 55.

[10] Heininen, 164.

[11] Ibid., 165.

[12] Kauko Pirinen “Finland” in Illustrated History of the Reformation, edited by Oskar Thulin, 229 – 242. (Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), 230.

[13] Heininen, 188.


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  1. Marley Gates

    Very interesting,thank you.

    God bless you ,


  2. Jeanne Wells

    Has any modern publisher made a copy of this Finnish primer? I’d love to have one!

    • Miska wilhelmsson

      Yes, there are modern reprints available of the primer. When we are back in Finland I could try to send you a copy 🙂

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