Primož Trubar – The Protestant Reformer Who Fashioned a Language

In a country where most of the population is Roman Catholic (57.8%) and only a small minority is Lutheran (0.8%), why is a largely unknown Protestant Reformer receiving such a massive recognition?

Besides his New Testament translation, Trubar authored 24 books, 22 in Slovene and two in German, paving the way for other translations and publications both in Slovene and in Croatian. Today, he is considered the founder of the Slovene language. What’s more, since a unified language brings unity, his contribution is deemed essential in the development of a unified Slovene identity and culture.

 

On June 28, 1586, the Slovenian Reformer Primož Trubar died in Derendingen, in the Holy Roman Empire. Almost unknown in the US, he is a national hero in Slovenia. His portrait has appeared on banknotes, coins, and postage stamps, and his life has been told and retold in books, articles, and even a TV series.

The year 2008, marking the 500th anniversary of his birth, was celebrated in Slovenia with a busy schedule of exciting events and proclaimed “The Year of Primož Trubar.” Two years later, June 8 (the supposed date of his birth) was declared “Primož Trubar’s Day.” In 2013, Google celebrated Trubar’s birthday with a Google Doodle.

In a country where most of the population is Roman Catholic (57.8%) and only a small minority is Lutheran (0.8%), why is a largely unknown Protestant Reformer receiving such a massive recognition?

The answer lies in his literary contribution as founder of the Slovene language. Let’s see how he got there.

From Priest to Pastor

Born in June 1508 in the village of Rašica (just north of Ljubljana in modern Slovenia), he studied in two cities of the Holy Roman Empire with the goal of becoming a priest (his father’s ambition). In 1524, he moved to Trieste (now in Italy) to study under the tutorship of the 66-year old Roman Catholic bishop Pietro Bonomo, who ordained him priest in 1529. In 1535, he moved to Ljubljana, Slovenia, where he performed his ecclesiastical duties.

As he gradually came in contact with Protestant writings, his preaching began to indicate their influence, gaining the disapproval of both political and religious authorities. In 1547, he was banned from Ljubljana and excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

His first appointment as Protestant pastor was in Rothenburg, Germany, thanks to the support of a nearby pastor, Veit Dietrich (a close friend of Martin Luther). It was there that the abundance of Protestant writings in German made Trubar painfully aware of the disadvantage of the majority of Slovenians who were largely unable to read, let alone other languages.

First Works

Faithful to the Protestant vision of educating the masses in their local language, he decided to write two small booklets in Slovene: a 250-page catechism with songs, prayers and a sermon on faith, and a 28-page booklet including an abecedary, a shorter catechism, and a few prayers for those who were learning to read. Both booklets were fashioned after German works (the shorter catechism was a translation of one published by the German Johannes Brenz). Trubar’s preface included a Bible verse: “Every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11), which became the motto for early Slovene publications.

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