With the rise of the mendicant orders, Dominican and Franciscan at the same time as the expansion of the Teutonic Order's state along the southern Baltic coast, the question arises re the possibility of the region's conversion to Western Christianity by more peaceful means by the mendicant orders alone?
The first baptisms were usually of a local population en masse with little explanation of the Faith. This led to constant returns to paganism and subsequent resorts to violence by the military orders to reimpose Christianity. The earliest phases of the Northern Crusades are replete in recounts of bloodshed, massacre and retaliation by both the local population and the Orders and by outside involvement eg Denmark, especially in N Estonia.
The Cistercians were the first to establish a monastery in Daugavgriva, Livonia [Latvia] in 1205/07. Several key figures in Livonia’s Christianization, like the bishop of Livonia, Bertold, and Bishop Theoderich in Estonia, also belonged to the Cistercian order. Other older orders, e.g. the Benedictines, never reached there.
Throughout the Middle Ages, orders of mendicant friars, especially the Dominicans, played a significant part in Livonian religious life and reached Livonia only a dozen or so years after the founding of the order, largely due to the efforts of Guillelmus, bishop of Modena. He had met Saint Dominic, and was an especially ardent supporter of the Dominicans.
Both the Tallinn and Riga Dominican monasteries were founded in the late 1220s /early 1230s mainly on the bishop of Modena's initiative. Although these first monasteries did not survive, the order did not abandon its missionary activities in Livonia. Starting from the mid-13th century, the Dominican monasteries in both Tallinn and Riga were flourishing. Around 1300, Dominicans opened the first monastery in Tartu.
The aim of the Dominician Order was to convert pagans and heretics (thus the Order's official name — Ordo Fratur Praedicatorum — The Order of the Preaching Friars), The friars usually learned the local language and were busy preaching and administering the sacraments. The mendicant friars (both the Dominicans and later the Franciscans) were popular among the people also because of their principle of apostolic poverty. The Rule of St Augustine adpoted by the order in 1216 outlines the emphases on preaching, charity and care for the sick and education, which were for the most part absent in the military monasticism of the Teutonic Order.
Although centered in the towns now established or expanded by the military Order or the Baltic kingdoms [Denmark and Sweden in Finland], the friars went out into the countryside to preach and to minister.
Their commitment to preaching and poverty set them apart from the richer and more secularly vested interests and involvements of the Teutonic Order.
The work of the mendicant orders contined up to the eve of the Reformation with a planned Dominican house in Narva  and discussions for a Franciscan monastery in Tallinn.
The success of military moansticism was its establishment of a stable political and economic base upon with the medieval state could expand. This by the early 16thC also provided the base for its fall through dynastic involvement to events in Central Europe and trade routes as means of rapid communications of ideas into the towns, and in the 1520s, the ideas of church Reformation.
The pressure for reform was from the towns, while the religious orders and landed aristocracy favored the retention of the old.
Lutheran preachers started their regular activities in Tallinn and Tartu in 1523. Their agitation culminated in outbreaks of iconoclasm in the fall 1524 in Tallinn, and followed in Tartu in early 1525 where in addition to the parish churches and monasteries, the residences of the canons were also looted.
These cannot be regarded as a serious expression of religious dissatisfaction, rather they provided an emotional outlet for the masses and the younger, more zealous merchants who suported Church reform.
Overall the ideological basis for the Reformation in Livonia was weak and the main reasons for church changes, as in other states accepting the religious changes in the early 16thC were primarily of economic nature coupled with expansion of secular power in society which saw an independent Church as political rival and threat and source of wealth.
It is doubtful that a handful of mendicant friars landing a hostile environment that was the Baltic of the early 13thC could have made real progress in converting the indigenous population. This can be compared to the Swedish experience in medieval Finland where without the imposition of a vigorous military monasticism, the Christian monasteries and missions remained sparse, vulerable and remote.
Military monasticism has to be seen and understood in the context of its time, a time when the medieval Church was intertwined into the very expression of Western European civilization and culture. In our more pluralistic and secular age, we see militant religion as something less enlightened and cruelly fanatic bursting out of deserts and mountains in the MidEast or from sub-Saharan savannas. We forget that we have 'been there, seen that, and done it' ourselves. Perhaps by studying our own religious past, we may better understand other cultures' presents.
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