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Orthodox Lutheran and pietist

Chydenius’s ancestors had been clergymen, and one of his nephews, whom he helped and supportedwhen he was young, Jakob Tengström,1 later became professor of theology and bishop of the Turku diocese. Chydenius himself never reached such a high position in the Church hierarchy; he became doctor honoris causa in theology (1779) and ended his career as rural dean (kontraktsprost) at Kokkola in 1781. Hence, for most of his life he served as an ordinary rector. We have already seen that his interest in theological issues developed even further after his participation in the Diet of 1778–9. To what extent his extensive publishing activities concerning theological issues had to do with the critique he received from colleagues when helping to push through the Ordinance on Religious Freedom shortly thereafter we can only guess.

We do not know whether Chydenius ever had the chance to read John Locke’s text arguing for religious toleration; it had been translated into Swedish in 1721 but was not published until the 1790s because of resistance from the Church.2 Nevertheless, Chydenius probably was familiar with its main arguments, especially the argument (put forward by many others apart from Locke at the time) that religious toleration was necessary in order to stimulate immigration of foreign workers in order to establish more industry and make the nation wealthier. However, as a general trait Chydenius was quite orthodox in his theology. Modern interpreters have often in vain searched for more radical viewpoints in his religious texts in an attempt to link his religious views with his radical politics. Instead, he was by and large faithful to the orthodox Lutheranism that was taught and preached during this time. Hence, according to his nephew Jakob Tengström, he was a “warm defender of the religious faith”. In Church matters, according to one of his biographers, he was almost “dogmatic”.3 His religious texts, for example the extensive printed sermons, are filled with references to the sinful character of fallen man. He speaks against heresy and disbelief; men can find peace only in salvation and must seek salvation through repentance. This was also a time when the so-called Hustavlan (the Table of Duties in Luther’s Small Catechism) was the ruling paternalistic ideology taught by the Lutheran Church in Sweden. Apart from insisting that servants should be subordinate to their masters, sons to fathers and women to men, etc., this ideology emphasized that a true Christian must work in the sweat of his brow. It is clear that Chydenius in general terms agreed with what was spelled out in Luther’s catechism: “those who do not work shall not eat”. As we have seen, such puritan views inspired him when he emphasized that hard work in order to pursue personal wealth and happiness was a natural right among the poor as well as others. Moreover, he was not, as were many of the reform-mercantilists, especially those inspired by Mirabeau and other pre-Physiocrats (for example, Fischerström and Leuhusen but also Scheffer), in favour of “luxury” as a means to increase the wealth of a nation – what Anders Johan von Höpken in 1740, clearly inspired by Mandeville, called “the utility of exuberance” (yppighetens nytta).4 Instead, Chydenius favoured hard work as a means of increasing prosperity and regarded luxury consumption as vainglory or even as a sinister activity.

Chydenius was not only sceptical towards irreligious trends within the Enlightenment movement but also a clear enemy of some of the new religious ideas that spread during this period and gave rise to a number of sects, including a form of Pietism (radical Pietism) and the so-called Moravian Brethren (herrnhutarna), founded by the Danish count Nikolaus Ludvig von Zinzendorf in the 1720s. At his location in Ostrobothnia, Chydenius had most probably come into contact with people who knew the so-called Eriksson brothers and their followers (in all, sixty people, also known as skevikarna), who in the early 1730s had to leave the country. All these sects belonged to a Pietist trend of theological thinking and practice that had been developing since the late seventeenth century. Such sects shared a number of dogmas that differed from those of the established Church. They paid more attention to the sermon and the role of the priest to enliven the Christian gospel. They were sentimental devotees of Christ; Count Zinzendorf and his followers have been described as having an almost erotic relationship with Christ, worshipping his wounds and blood. What perhaps most irritated the orthodox state Church was their positive attitude towards more religious toleration. They were particularly critical of the Royal Proclamation against Conventicles (konventikelplakatet), which had been introduced in 1726 and forbade believers to congregate and have ceremonies led by anyone other than a consecrated clergyman. As we have seen, Chydenius was clearly in favour of more tolerance, including with regard to this issue. In his youth, living with his family in the forests of Lapland, he must have seen how difficult it was in practice to travel hundreds of miles to the closest parish church in order to attend services. As an established rector at Kokkola he was recognized for inviting members of his congregation to his home and giving special services there (perhaps with some music added). Moreover, he seems also to have been tolerant with regard to non-believers and heretics living in the parish, including, it seems, having a discussion on religious matters with a Pietist woman called Anna Kristina Silahka.5 Most probably his tolerance stemmed from the fact that Ostrobothnia housed both Pietists and orthodox Lutherans, and that harmony in such a situation was better than division and bitter struggle.

Given his tolerant views towards the Pietist movement, it has been discussed to what extent he should be described as an “orthodox” Lutheran or in fact as a Pietist in disguise. As Carola Nordbäck has argued, such concepts have been created much later and there is a danger that in trying to decide which of them we should use, we fall into the trap of anachronism. Instead, she argues that Chydenius mixed new (Pietist) views with old (orthodox) ones, in the same manner as he mixes theology with a moral philosophy of natural rights.6 His orthodoxy is shown, for example, in his stern puritanical ethos of work. On the other hand, his inklings for new theological ideas are illuminated when he proposes that not the forms of worship but religious feeling should be the most important for a true Christian. Instead of preaching the dead letter, he emphasized the living religion. Moreover, he argued that living in faith must also include a willingness to perform good deeds; no one can reach salvation through faith alone if at the same time he lives sinfully. However, to the extent that he was influenced by Pietism, this was surely to an older form of Pietism closer to the views of the established Church. He was never a sectarian and was, as we have seen, openly critical of Zinzendorf in particular, whose teachings he regarded, according to Virrankoski, as dangerous and false doctrines.7

After the death of Chydenius in 1803, tumultuous changes occurred, taking the history of Sweden and Finland in new directions. The disastrous war with Russia which Gustavus III’s son Gustavus IV waged during the so-called Fourth Coalition after the Tilsit peace between Napoleon and Tsar Alexander in 1807 led not only to his abdication in 1809, but also to the loss of Finland the same year. Finland was invaded by Russia, threatening the very existence of Sweden as a nation. In 1809, Alexander made Finland a grand duchy within his expanding empire and promised to maintain its laws and regulations and its Lutheran faith.

In the case of Sweden, the year 1809 ended for ever whatever dreams it still had of playing an important role in European politics. Even more so than after 1721, it turned its energies inwards to foster neutrality in its foreign policies and industrial as well as social progress at home. Both in Sweden and Finland after 1809 the intellectual climate experienced a process of domestication. Only slowly was Sweden after 1830 able to see a return to a livelier debate on political and economic issues – and this came even later to Finland, where radical ideas had to be cautiously avoided in order not to upset its Russian rulers. Hence, most of Finland’s energies became focused on developing the economy and on what later on during the nineteenth century was to be connected with the Fennoman movement: the quest for national language and culture and, in the long run, national independence. In Finland, Anders Chydenius became an icon for the search of national identity – an ideal modern type of man around which it would be possible to build a new liberal and democratic future. In Sweden, Chydenius to a large extent was forgotten. His struggle for freedom of the press and religious tolerance was sometimes recalled by nineteenth-century liberals, but his bowing to the absolutist ambitions of Gustavus III has been regarded by many as a blot on his memory. At the same time, reform-mercantilism of the late-eighteenthcentury kind was transformed into national economy – more influenced by German cameralism than by French liberalism or English political economy. When liberal economic ideas returned to the Swedish discussion in the middle of the century, it was neither Adam Smith – whose ideas are subsumed in the form of an “industrial system”, which emphasizes state help to establish industry in order to create economic prosperity – nor the classical political economy that was the big influence. Rather, as we have seen, a peculiar mixture appears, with harmony economics (formulated by Bastiat in France and Cobden in England), together with a belief in state intervention, being established as the leading economic doctrine. Hence, as we have noted, there is no straight line to be drawn from Chydenius to economic and political modernity, either in Sweden or in Finland. He was certainly an extraordinary man: someone we must always return to in order to grasp the richness of his own time, but also to make intelligible the variety and open character of the historical and intellectual process over time.

  1. Jakob Tengström (1755–1832) was the oldest son of Chydenius’s sister Maria from her marriage with Johan Tengström the elder.
  2. P. Virrankoski, Anders Chydenius: Demokratisk politiker i upplysningens tid, Stockholm: Timbro, 1995, p. 314.
  3. Schauman, op. cit., p. 3.
  4. Schück and Warburg, op. cit., p. 198.
  5. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 368.
  6. Nordbäck, op. cit., p. 309f.
  7. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 368.