The Jesuit Salomon Slawoczynski, the author of the first Lithuanian Catholic Hymnal (1646)

In 1646, the first Lithuanian Catholic Hymnal, entitled “The Canticles Suited for the Catholic Faith” (Giesmes tikieimvy katholickam pridiarancias, o per metu sżwiętes giedamas []) was published. The hymnal exerted a significant influence on Christianization of the peasantry and a further development of Lithuanian hymnody. The author and compiler of the hymnal was the Jesuit Salomon Slawoczynski.

A rebellious parish priest

The Slawoczynski family moved to Samogitia from Mazovia, Kingdom of Poland, at the beginning of the 17th century. Salomon was born about 1624 in a small estate of Lipkiškiai, currently region of Raseiniai, to the family of John Alexander and Sofia Slawoczynski. Apart from Salomon, there were three more children in the family. In 1646, he studied at the Vilnius Pontifical Theological Seminary (alumnate) and, as indicated by Slawoczynski himself, spoke Latin, Polish and Samogitian (latina, polonica, samogitica). Slawoczynski also pursued studies in the Vilnius Academy and on 7 July 1648 was awarded a Master’s degree in Liberal Arts and Philosophy. Ordained to priesthood, Slawoczynski served as a parish priest in Šiaulėnai (from 1648). Upon the death of the Kražiai parish priest Mikolay Swiechowski in 1651, the Aleksander Ludwik Radziwiłł invited Slawoczynski to take his place. However, the then Bishop of Samogitia Piotr Parczewski held a different opinion. Slawoczynski went on with his parish priest’s duties in Šiaulėnai and Kražiai, and later became Canon of Piltene (Latvia). After a series of complaints and a long dispute with the church hierarchy regarding arbitrarily occupied rectories, he was excommunicated by the Church community on 31 July 1655. Salomon Slawoczynski died about 1660.

While still a student, Slawoczynski compiled the Lithuanian hymnal (even though his extremely young age raises doubts regarding the authorship). In terms of its volume, the hymnal of 1646 significantly surpasses all former hymnals published in Lithuania Minor, the authors of which were Martynas Mažvydas, Jonas Bretkūnas and Lazarus Sengstock. It included 147 canticles and 48 psalms, mostly translated from the Polish language (taken from S. S. Jagodzinski’s hymnal of 1638 and J. Kochanovski’s psalmbook of 1578), part of the canticles were translated from Latin. It should be stated, however, that the hymnal in question includes original canticles as well. This is confirmed by Slawoczynski himself: “Some of them are translated from Polish and Latin, others are composed anew” (“iż tu kitos isz lankiszka ir isz lotiniszka iszgulditos, kitos isz nauia sudetos ira.”).

The truths of faith put into verse

The Slawoczynski’s hymnal consists of three parts. The first part is dedicated to the hymns praising Christ (chanted during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter period). The second part is made of psalms, whereas the third part is a collection of hymns praising the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints and other religious figures. Responding to the realities of those times, Slawoczynski included a hymn dedicated to St. Casimir (who was declared a saint in 1602), the Jesuit Stanislaus Kostka, whose cult was strongly flourishing at that time (he died in 1568 and was declared a saint in 1726).

All those hymns, written in the Lithuanian language, helped the common man to more easily understand the truths of faith.

For example, the concept of afterlife prevailing at that time is vividly conveyed in the following stanza:

O duś mana iraudinta

Kayp ten eſi paſodinta?

Smirdinćioſe tamſibeſa,

Kur welnay draska vgnieſa

Tęnay minksztay ne guleſi,

Seras, vgnis, nęs kienteſi,

Liepſnoy but anoy żut ant amźiu.

The influence of the hymnal on the folk piety is testified by the fact that some of the hymns from Slawoczynski’s hymnal are sung until now (the so-called kantičkos, i.e. canticles).

Samogitian canticles

The text of the hymnal abounds in particularities of pronunciation characteristic of the Samogitian dialect, for example medey (medžiai), kintanti (kenčianti), ſniga (sniegą), dekiam (dėkim), bengti (baigti)… Features of Central and Eastern Highlanders’ dialect can also be come across in the text of the hymnal. Therefore, it is believed that Slawoczynski originally translated the Canticles (Giesmes) into the Samogitian dialect. Later in time, under the pressure of the hymnal publishers (Jesuits), he must have adapted the text to the language of other writings published in Lithuania.

The texts of the canticles prepared by Slawoczynski stand out from the other similar texts by the manner of loose translation. Furthermore, they are characterised by Slawoczynski’s creative touch and artistic judgement as well as avoidance of foreign words.

He borrowed a lot of expressions and comparisons from the living spoken language, enriching the literary language of those days, for example: Tuokiaus kayp ſżunis apnika, Akis io krauiays vżgruwa; Wiſi riekawa.

Slawoczynski’s hymnal of 1646 became a model to follow suit by later compilers of both Catholic and Reformed hymnals. He gave a strong impulse for further development of the Lithuanian literary language, its style and versification. Representing the third generation of the Polish family which settled down in Lithuania, Slawoczynski succeeded not only in integrating himself into the local community by mastering the Samogitian dialect but also contributed to the formation of the standard Lithuanian language.

Literature: S. M. Slavočinskis, Giesmės tikėjimui katalickam priderančios, 1646, paruošė J. Lebedys, Vilnius, 1958.

Jonas Drungilas