Westen, Thomas of
Westen, Thomas of a missionary among the Lapps or Finns down to the year 1727. This man wasone of the most noteworthy characters in the history of Protestant missions. The people among whom he labored dwelt from latitude 64° northward, chiefly in the marshes of Finland and in the North country, but to some extent also among the Norwegians. Their number is now reduced to from 4000 to 7000 souls. They speak a language resembling that of the inhabitants of Finland, proving that they belong to the same stock. As they have not made any considerable advancement in civilization, they are greatly despised by Norwegians and Swedes. In the period of the Christianizing of those regions, they heard the Gospel and were forced to receive baptism. The preachers were not able to traverse all the country and reach all the people, and hireling adventurers, intent only upon the securing of gain, came to occupy many of the parishes. In many instances persons were denied the privileges of religion because too poor to pay the amounts demanded by their ministers as a yearly contribution. The Norwegians, too, were guilty of overbearing and unjust; conduct in their intercourse with these people. The result was what might have been expected; the Finns returned to their former heathenism, though outwardly observant of the forms of Christian worship. Baptized children were washed on their return from Church in order that their baptism might not take effect on them, and a sort of counter-baptism was administered, etc. A Finnish name was given the child, which was carefully concealed from the preachers, etc. The forgiveness of the heathen gods was invoked whenever participation in the sacrament of the Lord's supper became necessary.
In morals, the use of alcoholic liquors had done great harm. Drinking- shops stood in church-yards and at church-doors, and even ministers of the Church carried on a profitable traffic in the business of providing for the general thirst for fiery potions, and used persuasion to induce unwilling persons to drink. In time, no ceremony could be conducted without the use of alcoholic drink. Marriages were sealed with it, and it was sprinkled over the graves of the dead as a sort of holy water. After a time, the Norwegians came into the possession of the Finnish lands and property, and even children.
The Danish- Norwegian Church was not, however, altogether unconcerned about the needs of this people. Bishop Eric Bredahl visited it repeatedly and won a few individuals over to Christianity. Isaac Olsen, a schoolmaster, spent fourteen years at Varanger, on the Russian frontier, and under the 70th degree of latitude engaged in apostolic toils, enduring apostolic sufferings for the cause of Christ, and succeeding so far as to see some of his pupils excel their Norwegian competitors in a knowledge of Christian doctrines in the annual visitation of churches and schools. In 1707, king Frederick IV of Denmark ordered an investigation of the condition of schools and churches in Nordland and Finmark, and in 1714 he ordered the newly founded Collegium de Promovendo Cursu Evangelii to make preparation for a mission among the Finns. The result of the measures taken in consequence of these orders was the selection of Thomas of Westen to be the superintendent of the proposed mission.
Westen was born at Trondhjem, in 1682, and was obliged in early life to contend with want and difficulties of every sort. His father refused to permit him to study, and, when benevolent effort made a university career possible, induced him to study medicine instead of theology. Just as he was about to take the degree of M.D., his father died and left him penniless; but poverty did not deter him from entering on the study of Theology, and particularly of Oriental languages. He was able to get food of very inferior quality, and only on alternate days; and he shared with his roommate in the ownership of an old and poor black coat, which compelled him to remain indoors when the garment was away. A call to Moscow as professor of languages Land rhetoric, which was extended to him at this time by Peter the Great, was withdrawn without result, and he accepted instead the post of librarian at Trondhjem without salary, but with a prospect of ecclesiastical preferment. In 1710 he became pastor of the parish of Wedoen, and after six years of successful labor was made lector and notary of the Trondhjem chapter, and soon afterwards vicar and manager of missions among the Finns. In the capacity of lector he was called on to preach several sermons in each week, to deliver daily lectures on moral and positive theology, and also to guide the school, which was designed to become a nursery for the Finnish mission.
Westen's first missionary tour among the Finns was undertaken May 29, 1716, and was protracted through West Finmark, East Finmark, and Nordland until autumn, when he returned in open boats, often at the risk of being drowned in the stormy inland waters, to Trondhjem. He brought the worn-out Olsen with him, and afterwards recommended him for the post of Finnish teacher and interpreter in the missionary college. He had left a chaplain as missionary in East Finmark, and had appointed a number of itinerant teachers, besides encouraging the building of churches by all the natives whom he could persuade to that work. He also brought to Trondhjem a number of Finnish children to be trained for missionary work, and in time sustained a seminary for such children in his own house. The bishop, Krog, endeavored to prevent the success of Westen's plans, but was defeated through the favor of the king. In 1717 the seminary was securely established, and royal edicts were issued providing for the erection of churches and chapels within the field of the mission, and settling the relations and duties of catechists and teachers and similar matters. A second missionary tour was begun by Westen, in company with several assistants whom he had gained, in June, 1718. He was already permitted to note progress in the work he had so recently begun. Several churches were in course of erection, and a number of children were secured for instruction in the principles of Christianity. The volunteers who accompanied him were left as pastors in different places, and not only became useful laborers in the preaching of the Word, but also valuable contributors to the literature of the country. Erasmus Raehlew translated Luther's Catechism, and wrote a Grammatica Lapponica, and a Specimen Vocabularii Lapponici. Martin Lund rendered similar service with his pen. Westen was unable to return to Trondhjem in the autumn of this year, and contented himself with rendering a written report, which led to his being summoned to Copenhagen in the following spring that he might give fuller information. He was presented to the king, and was permitted to submit for examination a list of whatever things he might consider necessary to the promotion of success in his work. Corresponding arrangements were then made and new missionaries enlisted.
On Westen's return for a third missionary tour, begun June 29, 1722, he found a great awakening among the young people of his charge. They clamored for education and read the Bible. The population of certain places which he had not previously visited were, however, bitterly hostile. At Siumen the people had threatened to take his life; but when he preached to them, they were subdued and won. On the rock Overhalden lived a population of 283 souls who never came into the valleys, and who had never been visited by a preacher of the Gospel. When they heard that Westen intended to visit them, they were seized with mortal terror, and held a magical mass to deter him; but he came and gained their good-will and submission to the Gospel. Similar experiences awaited him in Snaasen, where lie remained two months, and, after his return to Trondhjem, in May, 1723, in Stordalen and Merager, in the immediate vicinity of that center. He purposed visiting the Finns, also, who dwelt within the bounds of the diocese of Christiania, but was hindered by its bishop. In 1725 the district of Salten contained 1020 newly converted Christians, and that of Finmark 1725.
During these years Westen wrote many works in the interest of his mission, chiefly of a practical nature. A history of the Finnish-Lapp mission was completed, but has never been published, and is now probably lost. His last days were troubled with poverty. He died April 9,1727, leaving behind him a widow who had been a helpmeet for him indeed, and continuing to live in the recollection of the people whom he had served as "the lector who loved the Finnish man." See Acta Hist. Eccles. 3, 1111; 5, 922; 10:867; Hogstrom, Description of Lapland (German ed. 1748); also Rudelbach, in Knapp's Christoterpe (1833), p. 299-380; and Hammond, Nord. Missionsgesch. (Copenh. 1787). — Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.