Sanankuulijasta sananselittäjäksi: Suomen evankelis-luterilaisen kirkon saarnalupatutkinto rakentuvassa kansalaisyhteiskunnassa 1870–1923

Matleena Sopanen

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisMonograph


In this thesis, I examine civil society’s changing religious field through the licence to preach system of the Lutheran Church of Finland. According to the Church Law of 1869, the bishop and the chapter could allow a Christian-minded and reputable layman to take part in preaching and teaching Christianity in congregation. Only men could apply for permission to preach. The skills of applicants were tested with exams. Those who passed them became licenced lay preachers, enjoying slightly more jurisdiction than other lay people. Licenced lay preachers could hold services (without Holy communion), preach in the church building and assist the pastor in, for example, confirmation school. A licence to preach was not necessary for preaching in public, and only some aspiring or already practising lay preachers pursued it. However, as the licence signified recognition from the chapter and the Lutheran church, it could help with finding work in local congregations as well as in Christian associations. Religious motives for applying the licence were mixed with, for example, economic motives.

The licence to preach system was introduced at a time of growing religious pluralism. With the help of the system, the Lutheran church tried to set boundaries for lay preachers. The chapters sought applicants who, in terms of their skills and doctrinal understanding, were suitable for working in parishes or for ecclesiastical associations. Licenced lay preachers worked under the chapters’ supervision. The licence could be revoked if the church thought its holder preached against the Lutheran doctrine or behaved inappropriately for a preacher.

When studying the changing religious field, I use the concept of lived religion. Researchers of lived religion are interested in the everyday manifestations of religion. The work of licensed lay preachers was guided by the Church Law and the instructions of the chapters. Furthermore, in practice the possibilities for work of lay preachers was affected by the needs and approval of the local community. My thesis connects to the post-secular research field, where secularization is examined as a phenomenon that takes different forms in different environments, times and areas of society. Secularization can affect structures, practices or institutions. During the studied period, the status of the Lutheran Church changed. Responsibilities belonging to congregations were given to municipalities. Religious pluralism, demands for freedom of religion and the separation of church and state also indicate the gradual secularization of society. However, religion did not lose its importance or disappear from public debate – this is also seen in the late 19th and early 20th century debates about lay preachers.

In my research, I apply Michel Foucault’s ideas concerning power. According to Foucault, power is not static. Human interaction always establishes power relations, and these relations are prone to changes. Power relations become visible in different ways. They are linked to personal relations, to historical context and to the immediate circumstances. In my thesis, I examine the power relations between licence to preach applicants, pastors and parishioners as a series of actions and reactions or actions upon actions, as Foucault puts it. Power also manifests itself as attempts to steer people and their skills as desired (in Foucault’s terms, government), and as established, historical power structures. In my research, the attempt to direct others is represented, for example, by the church’s efforts to control lay preachers. Historical power structures meanwhile can be seen in Luther’s doctrine of the three states, according to which every Christian had their predetermined, God-given place in society.

In Foucault’s thinking, power relations and language are intertwined. Ways of speaking and thinking shape ways of perceiving the world. I examine discussions about lay preachers and the permission to preach system with the aid of discourse analysis. Based on my source material, I have determined four discourses that were used to both oppose and legitimize lay preachers’ work. The Calling discourse concerned who had the right to preach in public. The Equality discourse emphasized that as Christians, laity and clergy were equal. The Suitability discourse discussed whether laymen were apt for preaching and teaching. In the Need discourse, lay preachers’ work and impact were weighed against the changing needs of congregations, the Lutheran church and civil society. Both pastors and laymen took part in these discourses.

I have used the methods of collective biography and prosopography in my thesis: I examine licence to preach applicants both as a group and as individuals. The database of licence to preach applicants, published as an attachment, contains the basic information of all the applicants between 1870 and 1923. The database has enabled qualitative and quantitative analyses. Retracing the size and composition of the applicant pool and the functions of the licence to preach system is an important research result itself, as the system has not previously been researched in depth.

In the changing religious field of civil society, the reception of aspiring lay preachers was mixed. Lay preachers were needed, especially in congregations that suffered from a recurring lack of pastors and in remote areas located far from the church building. In challenging circumstances, licenced lay preachers helped the Lutheran church to maintain its traditional forms of worship. The men seeking to become lay preachers felt capable of stepping from the pew to the pulpit. Many people, however, thought that preaching was specifically the pastor’s responsibility. Only in exceptional circumstances could a layman step in. The division of labour between the priest and the laity did not break, but, when necessary, it did bend.
Original languageFinnish
Place of PublicationTampere
ISBN (Electronic) 978-952-03-3002-6
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Publication series

NameTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (Print)2489-9860
ISSN (Electronic)2490-0028

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