The Priest in the Multilingual Church. Language as an Aspect of the Functioning of the Lower Clergy in Late Medieval Prussia
Volume 41 (2020): Aspects of Southeast Baltic Social History: The 14th to the 18th Centuries = Baltijos pietrytinės pakrantės socialinės istorijos aspektai XIV–XVIII amžiais, pp. 53–71
Pub. online: 18 December 2020 Type: Article Open Access
18 December 2020
18 December 2020
Late Medieval Prussia, an area ruled by the Teutonic Order, was a multilingual entity, with the Baltic and Slavic languages used by the local population alongside the German language. This linguistic diversity was a challenge to priests, and to their pastoral work. A command of the languages of their parishioners was crucial for them, as they not only had to teach and hear confession, but also to announce the instructions of the local bishop. So far, historians have discussed the linguistic skills of the clergy mainly in the context of the Christianisation of the native Prussian population. This article deals with the issue by focusing on Late Medieval Prussia and the lower clergy. It discusses the provisions of synodal statutes and papal documents regulating the clergy’s command of the languages of their parishioners. The author explores problems of linguistic skill relating to the origin and education of the local clergy, in addition to the impact of the right of patronage and the practical activities of Prussian and Polish chaplains. He also pays attention to the tradition of employing interpreters to support priests who did not know the local Baltic and Slavic languages; this was especially problematic during confession.