Jonas Bretkūnas

Jonas Bretkūnas (1536 in Bambliai, near Friedland  - 1 October 1602 in Königsberg) was one of the originators of written Lithuanian, compiler of religious texts, Bible translator, and historian. 

Bretkūnas’ father was a German (or Germanized Prussian), and his mother Prussian. In 1555, he began studying theology in the University of Königsberg, and in 1557 continued his studies in the University of Wittenberg, where he attended the lectures of Philip Melanchthon. 

In 1562, he became a Lutheran pastor in Labguva (Polessk) and was the first to begin giving sermons in Lithuanian. From 1587, he served as a pastor in the church of St Nicholas in a Lithuanian Polish parish of Königsberg. He died from the plague. 

Jonas Bretkūnas was part of the second generation of Lithuanian humanists that followed Martynas Mažvydas, Baltramiejus Vilentas, and others. He laid the foundations for the development of national Lithuanian literature in Lithuania Minor.

Bretkūnas collected several works -  the hymnal “Giesmės duchaunos”, the first Lithuanian prayer book “Kolektos, arba Paspalitos maldos”, and a small hymnal with sheet music “Kancionalas nekurių giesmių” -  and put them together in one book, which he published in 1589. To complete this work, Bretkūnas drew on the writings of Martynas Mažvydas and included new hymn translations from German. 

Jonas Bretkūnas translated the entire Bible - a project that he had been working on intermittently for over 10 years (1579–1590). He used Martin Luther’s translation, which he compared to the originals. In 1590, the translation was assessed by a Lutheran pastor convention in Gusev. However, the preparations for publication were delayed, and the translation remained in manuscript, which is preserved in the Secret State Archives Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin. In 2002, the manuscript was brought to an exhibition in Vilnius for the 400th anniversary of Bretkūnas’ death. 

Jonas Bretkūnas’ translation of the Bible was later used by many scholars: Jonas Rėza, who published the Psalms of David (1625); the compilers of the 1735 Bible; Liudvikas Rėza; and philologists such as Adalbertas Becenbergeris, Ernstas Frenkelis, Kazimieras Būga, and others. The translation of the Bible had disappeared during World War II, but all eight of its volumes were later discovered in Göttingen. German specialists of Baltic philology, Friedrich Scholz and Jochen Range, have published the facsimiles of the translation (1991 - 1996). 

Jonas Bretkūnas was also unsuccessful in the attempt to publish his translation of the Augsburg Confession and other writings by German theologians (Wigand, Korwin). There are surviving fragments of Bretkūnas’ work in German, “Chronicon des Landes Preussen” (“The Chronicle of Prussia”, 1578–1579), where he argues that the Baltic nations are autochthonous in Prussia. In 1925, parts of these fragments were published by Gerulis. 

From Bretkūnas’ written legacy, there remains the 1569 address to the Duke of Prussia, requesting financial support for his family; the 1589 letter to Duke Friedrich; the 1600 letter to the Duke’s secretariat with the offer to acquire his translation of the Bible; and the consent of the pastors from Lithuanian parishes to assess his Bible translation. Bretkūnas’ writings are notable for their clarity of expression, economy, and coherence as well as their lexical neologisms, part of which entered common usage. Their richness of language can only be rivalled by the writings of Kristijonas Donelaitis. The importance of Bretkūnas’ works for Lithuanian culture is equal to that of Martynas Mažvydas and Mikalojus Daukša. 

Reference: Jonas Bretkūnas. - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.