Christian, first Bishop of Prussia, d. 1245. Before becoming a missionary he was a Cistercian monk at the monastery of Oliva near Danzig or, as appears more probable, at Lekno or some other Polish monastery. In 1209 he was commissioned by Innocent III to direct the Prussian missions between the Rivers Vistula and Memel, which had been begun by Abbot Godfrey of Lekno and the monk Philip in 1207. He was appointed bishop in 1212, and, when, in 1215, he went to Rome in order to report to the pope on the condition and prospects of his mission, he was consecrated first Bishop of Prussia. On his journey to Rome he was accompanied by two converted Prussian noblemen, Warpoda and Suavabona, who were then solemnly baptized by Innocent III. Soon after Christian’s return to Prussia the pagans rose against the foreign Christians who had settled there, destroyed their fortifications, and compelled many of the newly converted to return to paganism. With the permission of Pope Honorius III, Christian gathered an army of crusaders who, however, were too few to gain a decisive victory. The bishop was even forced to leave Prussia. In a contract made with Duke Conrad of Masovia and Bishop Gedeon of Plock, in 1222, Christian received rich possessions and incomes as well as episcopal jurisdiction in Culmerland. He, therefore, decided to erect his episcopal see at Culm, and from there direct the affairs of the Prussian missions. But soon the Prussians invaded Culmerland also. In his extremity Christian founded the Order of the Knights of Dobrin, which was approved by Pope Gregory IX about 1228. When these knights were unsuccessful Christian and Duke Conrad of Masovia applied for assistance to Herman of Salza, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order in Palestine. In 1228 Conrad entered into a contract with the Teutonic Order, by virtue of which his possessions in Culmerland became the property of the order. In 1230 Bishop Christian added to this grant all his own possessions in Culmerland and, a year later, one-third of his possessions in Prussia, retaining, however, for himself ecclesiastical jurisdiction both in Culmerland and in Prussia.
Under the leadership of Herman Balk the Teutonic Order began the great conflict which after more than half a century of bloodshed dealt the death-blow to paganism in Prussia and made the Teutonic Order one of the greatest powers in Europe. When Christian asked for the assistance of the German Knights he was determined to keep the ecclesiastical administration of Prussia under his control. Soon, however, he became aware that the order laid claim to the spiritual as well as the temporal management of the conquered territory. Up to the year 1227 none but Cistercians assisted Christian in his apostolic labors; but with the arrival of the German Knights, the Dominicans, who were favored by the order and by Pope Gregory IX, took a strong foothold in Prussia, while Christian and his Cistercian colaborers were thrown into the background. William of Modena, who had been appointed papal legate for Prussia, disregarded the rights of Christian and proceeded as if there were no Bishop of Prussia. In addition to these misfortunes, Christian was captured and his attendants slain by some pagan Prussians who pretended to have been converted and to desire the Sacrament of Baptism from the bishop. During the six years of his captivity (1233-39) the Teutonic Order and the papal legate did nothing for his release. In 1236 Gregory IX, who, it appears, considered the liberation of Christian impossible, empowered William of Modena to divide Prussia into three dioceses. The bishops for these new sees were, in accordance with the wish of the Teutonic Order, to be selected from the Dominican Order, while no provision whatever was made for the imprisoned Bishop Christian.
Finally, in the winter of 1239-40, Christian obtained his liberty. He was obliged to give hostages, whom he afterwards ransomed for a sum stated as of eight hundred marks (at that time a large amount), which was granted him by Pope Gregory. Immediately upon his liberation Christian complained to the pope that the Teutonic Order refused baptism to the catechumens who desired it, oppressed the newly converted, claimed episcopal rights, and refused to restore property which belonged to the bishop. The first two accusations may have been wrong or exaggerated, but the last two were founded on truth. In 1240 the pope instructed Bishop Henry and two provosts of Meissen to induce the Teutonic Order to satisfy the demands of Christian. The legate’s intended division of Prussia into three dioceses did not take effect, and after Gregory’s death (August 22, 1241) Christian and the Teutonic Order agreed that two-thirds of the conquered territory in Prussia should belong to the Order, and one-third to the bishop; that, moreover, the bishop should have the right to exercise in the territory belonging to the order those ecclesiastical functions which only a bishop can perform.
William of Modena, the papal legate, did not give up his plans of dividing Prussia into various dioceses. He finally obtained from Pope Innocent IV permission to make a division, and on July 29, 1243, Prussia was divided into the four dioceses: Culm, Pomerania, Ermland, and Samland. The only recognition which Christian received for his apostolic labors of more than twenty years consisted in the privilege to select for himself any one of the four new episcopal sees. When Christian refused to make a selection he was severely reprimanded by the pope. Despite numerous petitions sent by Cistercian abbots in favor of Bishop Christian, the pope in a Brief of February 6, 1245, threatened to deprive him of all episcopal jurisdiction unless he selected one of the new Prussian dioceses within two months. In the spring of the same year, probably before the two months had passed, Christian died.