Nemunas - the river separates Lithuania
from Eastern Prussia on the other side

3. Mosvidius' Catechismus

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The first Lithuanian book is a publication of small format (18 x 11 cm) including 79 pages, printed in Gothic lettering (except for some titles and the text in Latin). The Latin text is printed very evenly, but the Gothic letters of the Lithuanian text are often uneven and not clearly printed; technically, the printing shop must have been of very poor quality. Insufficient attention was paid to typefaces: when running out of one typeface the printers simply replaced it by another. The number of copies printed was probably somewhere between 200 and 300. The book has been reprinted several times for scholarly purposes.

The first Lithuanian book is not only a catechism as the title indicates. It also includes the first original text in Lithuanian written in verse (such as the foreword), the first Lithuanian primer and the first collection of Lithuanian hymns (it is believed that Mosvidius was not the author of all the hymns). The author of the book is not indicated in the title page, but J.Safarewicz has deciphered the author’s name in acrostic in the foreword written in verse: MARTJNVS MASVJDJVS. Linguists Ch. Stang and E. Fraenkel have established that the text of Catechismus is largely a faithful literal translation from Polish catechisms by J. Seklucian’s (1545) and J. Malecki’s (1546) . Latin sources were also used.

The dedication to the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
in the first book

The book begins with a dedication in Latin to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This is an indication that the author had the reader in Lithuania Major more in mind than the reader in Eastern Prussia. The epigram speaks about the severity of the Last Judgement Day, and calls on people to convert to Protestantism.

The first Lithuanian alphabet

There are still some doubts concerning the identity of the author of the Latin foreword "To the guardians and servants of Lithuanian churches...". Researchers think that it may have been written by Fridericus Staphylus, a professor of theology at Königsberg University, who had lived in Lithuania and knew Lithuanian quite well. The Foreword criticises the Roman Catholic Church, which allows only the priests to read the Bible, emphasises the benefits of catechism as a primer of faith, and expresses regrets about the estrangement of Lithuanians from the true faith through their pagan beliefs and rites, which they practice quite frequently. We shall separately discuss in greater detail the Lithuanian Foreword written in verse.

The book also includes a Lithuanian primer with an alphabet adapted for the first time to the Lithuanian sounds, which clearly follows the Latin pattern.

Catechismus itself is composed of the Ten Commandments, prayers, a few excerpts from the Bible, which represent the first attempts at translating the Bible into Lithuanian, and some other texts.

The largest part of Catechismus is taken up by eleven hymns presented together with music in mensural notation. Investigators think that this collection of hymns was compiled by several people. Translations may have been made by Rapagelanus, Culvensis, and others, but certainly the largest number of the hymns must have been translated by Mosvidius himself.

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Copyright: BALTOS LANKOS, Vilnius, 1995.