Georg Müller

Georg Müller (c. 1565/1570 – 10. VII / 30. VI 1608) was the assistant pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Tallinn. The manuscripts of his sermons given between 1600 and 1607 constitute the earliest preserved substantial texts in Estonian.

Little is known of Müller’s origins, and his nationality has given rise to plenty of debate in Estonia – he has been regarded as both Estonian and German, but insufficient clarity has been achieved on this question. He was born outside Tallinn but on present-day Estonian territory; some details point to an origin in Tartu. He was an orphan, and got his primary education at the Tallinn town council’s expense at town school. In 1587, on a stipend from Tallinn town council, he went to Lübeck to study for at least three years (it is not known exactly where or what). Having returned from Lübeck, he worked in Riga as an assistant schoolmaster, from 1595 to 1599 he was commissioned by Tallinn council as assistant schoolmaster at Tallinn town school, then worked as a teacher in Rakvere. From 1601 to 1608 he was deacon of the congregation of the Holy Spirit. His patron is believed to have been the long-term pastor of the Holy Spirit, Balthasar Russow, the author of the ‘Chronicle of Livonia’, who died in 1601.

After his death in Tallinn in 1608, Georg Müller’s name passed into oblivion until 1884, when 35 notebooks of his written sermons were found in the Tallinn town archives – altogether 39 sermons on 404 pages of manuscript. The manuscripts were published in 1891 under the editorship of the Estonian Learned Society on the initiative of Villem Reiman, one of the most important figures of the Estonian national reawakening. The style of Müller’s sermons is spontaneous, creative, demotic and at times personal – in contrast to later sermons in Estonian, such as those by Heinrich Stahl (c. 1600 – 1657), which adhered to a markedly drier, and from today’s point of view more tedious, canon. Evidently the manuscripts were an aide-memoire to him personally when giving sermons, and were not intended for publication. These sermons were given at a time when the Old Livonia was ravaged by war, crop failure, famine and above all plague, which reached its apogee in 1603 and even took Müller’s wife to the grave. At some periods, as their pastor, Müller buried over four hundred people in a month. The events happening around him found their reflection in Müller’s sermons, as did the wasteful and loose lifestyle of influential people in the town, and Müller’s tense relations with his superiors. Müller’s direct mode of expression cannot have made his position easier. He was a very erudite man, who must have been the first to say in Estonian the words of Homer, Sophocles, Aristotle, Pindar, Augustine, Cyprian, Bernard of Clairvaux and many other figures from antiquity and Christian authorities – at a time when not even the New Testament had appeared in Estonian yet, and Estonians knew the Bible only from sermons. Müller used plenty of similes and metaphors. His tone was orthodox Lutheran, declaring the vanity of all worldly things and repentance after a life of sin.

The discovery of Müller’s sermons at the end of the 19th century changed the understanding of the dawn of the Estonian literary language, a central place in which had thitherto been held by the works of Heinrich Stahl as founder of the written language. Since Müller’s manuscript was not printed, or apparently even read, it did not further influence the development of literary Estonian, unlike Stahl’s books. Müller’s rich and picturesque Estonian was close to German, as was Stahl’s, and yet different from the latter. This language was written down with German orthography and appears to be a mixture of many dialects which were current at the time in Tallinn – mainly North Estonian dialects, but there is considerable vocabulary from South Estonia and the islands as well. Müller’s legacy has been studied since the late 19th century specifically by linguists; it has been dealt with to a lesser extent from the theological, historical and cultural viewpoints. Outside of specialist circles Müller’s sermons are little known, obviously because of the linguistic complexities. This situation changed in 2008 with a reprinting of Müller’s sermons, with a translation into modern Estonian in parallel alongside the old text, allowing the literary value of these sermons to be more easily appreciated.

S. V. (Translated by C. M.)


Neununddreissig Estnische Predigten von Georg Müller aus den Jahren 1600-1606. Mit einem Vorwort von Wilhelm Reiman, Pastor zu Klein St. Johannis; herausgegeben von der Gelehrten Estnischen Gesellschaft bei der Universität Dorpat. Dorpat; Leipzig: K. F. Koehler, 1891, LIV+341 lk. [Available: 2nd print: London: Forgotten Books, 2018.]
Külli Habicht, Valve-Liivi Kingisepp, Urve Pirso, Külli Prillop, Georg Mülleri jutluste sõnastik. Tartu: Tartu Ülikool, 2000, 515 lk. [Available:]
Jutluseraamat. Koostanud: Külli Habicht, Valve-Liivi Kingisepp, Jaak Peebo ja Külli Prillop. Eessõnad: Huno Rätsep, Villem Reiman, Külli Prillop, Kai Tafenau. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2008, 805 lk.

Georg Müller’s sermons online, full texts