THE EARLIEST BEGINNINGS of Christianity in Hungary (it will be borne in mind that Transylvania did not definitely separate from Hungary until 1556) are lost in the mists of obscurity; but there may be truth in the legend that early missionaries penetrated the country even before Trajan.1 At all events, the Arian Emperor Valens sent missionaries to Transylvania, and after the Council of Nicaea the country was partly Athanasian and partly Arian.2 Under the sway of the Goths, who were Arians in doctrine, their faith spread widely in the third and fourth centuries; and in 351 their Bishop Photinus3 of Sirmium (Mitrovitz) on the Save, at the southern border of the country, was condemned at the synod of Sirmium as a heretic for holding humanitarian views of Christ; and in the same century we read of an Arian Bishop Callicrates at Napoca (Kolozsvár). Yet more famous was the Arian Bishop Ulfilas, who became Arian at Nicaea, translated the New Testament into Gothic, thus becoming the founder of Gothic literature, and did much to spread his faith in Dacia Mediterranea.4 Bogumil sects and Photinians also crept in from the lower Danube and found followers in Transylvania. Under the Gothic rule Arianism remained dominant, and after that it was favored by Attila; in fact, despite the strenuous labors of Roman missionaries and rulers during the ninth and tenth centuries to exterminate Arianism,5 it continued widespread and had numerous followers until the formal adoption of Catholic Christianity under King Stephen early in the eleventh century. It would, however, be rash to assume and futile to try to prove the existence of any clear historical connection between these remnants of early heresy and the Antitrinitarianism that rapidly arose in Transylvania in the second half of the sixteenth century; though it is credible enough that a certain sediment of the old heresy may still have clouded the popular theology, and have made the new heresy when it appeared seem less strange and more easily acceptable than had the popular doctrine always been purely orthodox.
When the Protestant Reformation arose in Europe, the three free 'nations’ (as they later called themselves), the Magyars, Szeklers and Saxons, in Transylvania had been Roman Catholic for more than five hundred years, though the Roman Church and its Inquisition never exercised complete control in free Hungary, even with its bitter persecutions of Waldenses and Hussites. The Hungarians had never paid tithes to either Bishop or Pope, and some of the nobles had become Protestant before 1520 when a royal decree of excommunication and confiscation was issued against heretics; but the King was too much occupied with the approaching invasion of the Turks to enforce it.6 The Saxons had always kept up cultural relations with the homeland of their fathers, and in 1520Luther’s books were brought to Transylvania by merchants of Hermannstadt (Szeben) who traded in Germany and found them at the Leipzig fair. They were widely and eagerly read. At the same time two Silesian monks who had heard Luther at Wittenberg came and spread his doctrine, making some important converts.7 King Louis expressed his displeasure by forbidding the sale, purchase, reading or discussion of Lutheran books, on pain of confiscation of property; and the Diets in the years immediately following decreed the expulsion of Lutherans from Szeben and the burning of Lutheran books there, and that Lutherans wherever found should be seized and burned. Many books were thus destroyed, but apart from this, edicts and decrees had little effect; and with his defeat at Mohács in 1526 the King’s efforts to suppress the heresy fell to the ground.8
After King Louis’s death the two rival Kings, Ferdinand and John Zápolya, were both Catholics and of course unfriendly to the Reformation. At first both issued severe ordinances against it, and John even had one or two Lutherans put to death,9 but the movement had gone too fast and far to be stopped. The clergy at Hermannstadt openly left the Church, and many of the laity followed. The whole city was swept clean in 1529, the other German towns speedily followed, and the Augsburg Confession was adopted by the Saxon Synod in 1544. The Hungarian nobles and the Szeklers also accepted the new teaching, and so many of the Catholic gentry and officials went into voluntary exile in Hungary that the Church had hardly any important followers left. Only eight noble families and three magnates in John’s kingdom remained Catholic.10 During the years 1552–60 some 1,500 students were matriculated at Wittenberg under Lutheran influences; and even before John’s death Transylvania had become so generally Protestant that he let it go without opposition.11 The Lutheran churches now organized with a German and a Hungarian section under a single Bishop or General Superintendent. Until 1557 the three ‘nations’ were united in religion; while the Catholic Bishop fled to Hungary and his property and incomes were confiscated, and for a century and a half Transylvania had no Catholic Bishop.12
While religion in Transylvania was undergoing these radical changes, political conditions remained greatly disturbed. After Isabella and her son were sent into exile, Martinuzzi was left in supreme control. He promptly received his promised appointment as Cardinal, but his course was soon run. Ferdinand became convinced that he was standing in the way of the desired peace, and was playing a double rôle, being engaged in some sort of conspiracy with the Sultan. He therefore determined to be rid of him, and before the end of the year Martinuzzi was ruthlessly assassinated by Ferdinand’s soldiers.13 This act did nothing to increase the Transylvanians’ loyalty to their new King, to whose sovereignty they had unwillingly yielded. To administer his government he appointed a new Vaivode who however resigned his office next year, and two others were appointed in his stead. The King sought peace with the Sultan, hoping to have the status quo confirmed by him; but the latter insisted that Isabella be first restored to her kingdom, and as the price of peace he ordered the Vaivodes to expel the Germans from Transylvania and reinstate the Queen, threatening to cause an invasion of Tatars and Wallacks if they did not comply. The military commander, General Castaldo, authorized the Vaivodes to make terms with the Sultan; and as Ferdinand was in no position to resist the Sultan’s forces, the Diet was convened at the end of 1555, and took measures looking to the return of Isabella and the young Prince.
Meantime, in the four years since her exile, Isabella had been cumbered with a succession of troubles. After leaving Transylvania she had waited many months at Kassa, complaining that the money promised her under the treaty had not been paid by Ferdinand, nor had she been put in possession of the Duchy of Oppeln or the patrimony of her husband as agreed, while Ferdinand put her off with vain promises.14 She therefore went on to Poland and sought the intervention of her brother the King. After repeated missions sent to Ferdinand in her behalf, the promised duchy was at length delivered to her, and she went thither to reside, only to find that the palace was so badly out of repair to be unfit for occupancy, and that the income did not permit her and the Prince to live in decent dignity. Returning therefore to Poland, she was obliged to look to Queen Bona and the King for support.15 However, she continued with the latter to agitate plans for recovering her kingdom; and promoted them with the Sultan with such success that he was led to take the action referred to above.16
At the Diet above mentioned, Petrovics17 was appointed Regent until the Queen and the Prince should return. He came with alacrity, renounced the protection of Ferdinand, captured Gyuiafehérvár, and then convened a Diet at Kolozsvár where arrangements were made for bringing Isabella back from Poland. Delegates were appointed to go to the Queen at Lwów in Galicia where she was then staying, present their request for her return, and offer her their loyal submission. She and the Prince were escorted to the border by a thousand Polish troops, and there were met by two splendid companies of Turkish troops and picked Wallachian soldiers who escorted them the rest of the way. The whole journey was a triumphal procession, and she entered Kolozsvár on October 22, 1556, five years after her exile, amid demonstrations of the greatest joy. Full royal powers were voted her and the Prince, though she was to exercize the supreme power during the five years until he should become of age.18
At the end of the year Isabella resumed her residence in the old Bishop’s palace at Gyulafehérvár. During her exile the Reformation had continued its rapid growth in Transylvania until at the time of her return Protestants far outnumbered Catholics. King John cannot have been a very devoted Catholic, for he had been under papal discipline for contesting the throne with Ferdinand, and Rome had strongly supported the cause of the House of Hapsburg against him; while Isabella will have been even less attached to the Church after having been plotted against and betrayed by the Bishop Martinuzzi, though so long as she remained in Catholic Poland she must have remained outwardly Catholic. But Petrovics had early in the Reformation been converted by a Protestant preacher, and had been a great patron of the reformed faith in his province of Temesvár;19 and as soon as he was placed in authority, even before the Queen had returned, he vigorously carried out church reform, lest the Queen returning should take occasion to interfere with the Protestant movement. Thus he cleared the churches of images and the parishes of their priests, melted the sacred vessels and coined them into money, and pressed the priests to adopt the new faith.20 The Diet also took formal measures to the same end. The Papal religion with all its orders and professors was with general approval done away the same year, the church properties and revenues were confiscated and applied to the support of the Crown, and all church colleges and cloisters but two were converted into state schools.21 Within the year Petrovics died at Kolozsvár full of years and honors, and Isabella was thus deprived of the one who ever since King John’s death had been her most faithful friend and counselor, as well as the appointed guardian of the young Prince. Being childless he made Isabella his sole heir. Her reign after her restoration was neither long nor happy; for she had been recalled not so much by the spontaneous desire of her people as under pressure from the Sultan; and it soon became evident that others coveted the power that had been recovered by her. Repeated complaints were therefore made about her partiality to the Poles at her court, though the Diet had at the outset obligingly granted her request that she might bestow offices, honors and public gifts on them equally with the Hungarians. A dangerous conspiracy of ambitious nobles had to be put down. Leading men in the country, feeling that the Prince was being kept too long in leading-strings by his mother, and surrounded by companions not calculated to fit him for kingship, urged a change in his education; but remembering the wiles of Martinuzzi, and suspecting some plot for controlling her son,22 she resisted all suggestions that he be sent away from her watchful care. All this however was Soon cut short by the Queen’s unexpected death on September 15, 1559, shortly after that of her royal mother.23 At the time of her death she had all but completed private negotiations for a treaty with Ferdinand, under which the difficulties between them were to be composed, while Transylvania was at once to be given over to her son, though without the royal title, and she herself was to retire from her troubled reign to territories on the border of her native Poland.24 The Diet, however, on hearing the terms of the contemplated treaty, totally disapproved of them, recalled the emissary in charge of it, and appointed a Council of twelve to administer the government for the Prince during the rest of his minority.25 John Sigismund therefore continued to struggle with Ferdinand for Transylvania and the throne; though in 1562 an eight years’ truce was concluded between the Emperor and the Sultan, in which the Prince was included, and more peaceful times seemed at hand. Ferdinand, however, died two years later, and hostilities were then renewed by his son and successor Maximilian.
While these rapid changes were taking place in the political field changes no less radical were occurring in the religious life of Transylvania. The Reformation here was complete when Queen Isabella returned to her throne, and one of her first acts at the Diet of Torda in June 1557 was to issue a decree calculated to promote harmony and quiet doctrinal controversy among her people. It provided that ‘every one might hold the faith of his choice, together with the new rites or the former ones, without offence to any . . . and that the adherents to the new religion should do nothing to injure those of the old.’26 It will be noted that this decree was simply a practical measure designed to promote peace between Catholics and Lutherans, and did not declare policy of general toleration, nor a principle of generous tolerance, in matters of religion; for when it was reaffirmed by the Diet of the following year, it in the same breath forbade the rising sect of Sacramertarians.27 As the proportions then stood between them, it was evidently intended to secure the Catholic minority from further attacks by the Lutherans.
The Reformation in Transylvania was solidly Lutheran until the middle of the century, and Saxons and Hungarians alike held unwaveringly to the Augsburg Confession adopted in 1544; but the unhappy controversy over the Lord’s Supper, which had for two decade divided the churches in Germany and Switzerland—whether the sacrament was to be taken corporeally as containing the real presence of the body and blood of Christ, as Luther held, or spiritually as a symbol, as Zwingli and Calvin taught — gradually spread eastward, so that by 1550 many in Hungary proper were embracing Calvinism, and it was threatening Transylvania. Its progress was for a time much disturbed by the persistent activity of Dr. Francesco Stancaro, whose previous and also subsequent career in Poland has been related above.28 After having to leave Königsberg and Germany, he came to Hungary, and was for a time physician at the court of Petrovics,29 while improving the opportunity at the same time to spread his favorite doctrine about the mediation of Christ. In 1553 he disturbed the peace of the ministers at Kolozsvár by insisting on his doctrine, which they vigorously opposed, publishing a confession to the contrary at Wittenberg in 1555. In the next year his doctrine was formally condemned by a synod at Óvár, and he then sought a teaching position, which was refused him. He next sought residence at Hermannstadt, which was finally granted on condition that he refrain from controversy. Expelled from here he returned to Kolozsvár where at the end of 1557 the ministers challenged him to debate, in which the leading part was taken by Francis David, a Lutheran minister who had lately become Rector of the school and one of the pastors of the Hungarian church, who won universal admiration for his learning, eloquence and skill in debate. He was ere long to become the head of the Unitarian movement in Transylvania. Defeated at Kolozsvár, Stancaro sought a footing elsewhere and finally, enraged at the opposition he everywhere met, he even had the audacity to address the Queen, demanding that she and her ministers should put to death as heretics the Kolozsvár pastors who had opposed him. The pastors replied with a dignified Apology,30 after which Stancaro, unable to find further refuge in Transylvania, went back to Poland as we have previously seen, leaving no trace of his influence behind, since with its author gone, as the chronicler relates, his error faded away more quickly than even a shadow.31 This episode of Stancaro would hardly have deserved mention here except that it has often been held that it was he that introduced Unitarianism into Transylvania. The contrary is the case. He came as an orthodox Calvinist, opposing the dominant doctrine of the Lutherans, and one of his charges against them was that they were Arians and that they opposed the worship of Christ. However the case may have been in Poland, Stancaro’s activity had no relation to Antitrinitarianism in Transylvania.32 Nor can any influence upon this movement be ascribed, as in Poland, to the Anabaptists; for although they did somewhat creep into Hungary proper before the middle of the century, they were soon expelled from there, and none of them settled in Transylvania until well in the seventeenth century.
Down to 1557 the Lutheran churches in Transylvania, though they had a Saxon and a Hungarian section under a single Superintendent or Bishop, generally accepted Luther’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. But in 1556 Martin Kálmáncsehi, pastor at Debreczen, having accepted Calvin’s view, began to reform the doctrine of his church. In the following year a largely attended synod at Kolozsvár took notice of the innovation, nicknamed the innovators Sacramentarians, condemned Kálmáncsehi as heretical, adopted a confession on the subject, and voted that all pastors should maintain the Lutheran doctrine. Similar action was taken again at a synod in 1558, and warning was given by the Diet, both at Torda.33 Controversy on this subject disturbed the peace of the Lutheran churches for seven or eight years, and as a prominent part in it was borne by Francis David, some account of him must now be given.34 Details of his early life are scanty; but he was born at Kolozsvár in 1510, where his father, by trade a shoemaker, was perhaps of Saxon stock,35 and his mother a Hungarian of noble family. He used both languages with equal facility, though after the division of the church all his affiliations were with the Hungarian element. After preliminary studies in the local Franciscan school and at Gyulafehévár, wealthy patrons sent him abroad in mature life where he spent some four years (1545–48) at Wittenberg. Returning to Transylvania he was at first Rector of a Catholic school at Bestercze (Bistritz), where ere long he accepted the Reformation and became pastor at the neighboring village of Péterfalva. By 1555 he had become Rector of the Lutheran school at Kolozsvár, and having declined urgent calls to become minister of important churches at Hermannstadt and Kassa, he accepted one to remain here as pastor, where he had won acknowledged leadership in controversy with Stancaro, and was in the following year made Superintendent of the Hungarian Lutheran churches, and became champion of the Lutheran view against the encroaching Calvinism. In 1558, in debate at a synod at Torda, he won a decisive Victory over Kálmáncsehi, who soon afterward died. At this time he was of course Lutheran.36 Yet despite the action of synods and Diets, the Calvinists continued to press their views upon Lutheran assemblies. Peter Mélius (Hung., Juhász), who had succeeded Kálmáncsehi at Debreczen, now became the champion of Calvinism, attended numerous synods in Transylvania, won great numbers of the Hungarians and Szeklers to his view of the sacrament, and presently David from being his chief opponent became his convert.
Discussion was continued in 1560 in an assembly at Megyes (Mediasch), with the Saxon ministers on one side and David and Kaspar Helt (Hung., Heltai), minister at Kolozsvár, on the other. After prolonged discussion, as the latter persisted in their view, they were by vote excluded from the Saxons and no longer recognized as brethren. The young King had now come to his throne and was taking keen interest in religious questions, but was averse to doctrinal wrangles as being a source of disorders among his people. Hoping to put an end to the matter, he therefore ordered a formal disputation to be held, and by decree of the Diet a synod accordingly met early in 1561, again at Megyes. A heated debate continued for several days, but David and his party did not yield, and the Saxons too remained unshaken. As no agreement could be reached, the King ordered a report of the debate, with the writings of both parties, submitted to the leading German universities for their judgment.37 To prevent further controversy therefore the Diet at Torda in 1563 renewed and confirmed the decree of 1557, ‘that every one may freely embrace the religion and faith that he has preferred, and may support preachers of his own religion,’ and that neither party shall disturb the other’s worship, or do harm or inflict injury upon the other.38
Meanwhile the schism kept spreading, and won many converts among Hungarians and Szeklers, and not a few even among the Saxons.39 Despite all, contentions still persisted; so that the leading men of the Kingdom persuaded the King to settle these matters permanently if possible at a general synod called in the interest of religious peace. It was the last attempt. In a recent serious illness the King had summoned to come from Poland his mother’s old physician, Dr. Giorgio Biandrata, who seems at once by his medical skill, his courtly manners, his experience at court, his wide religious knowledge and his winning personality to have won the King’s full confidence. He therefore committed the management of the difficult matter to him. At a Diet at Segesvár (Schässburg) early in 1564 it was decided that a special synod be held at Enyed, a city not far distant from Gyulafehérvar, and to this he sent Biandrata as his personal representative with full authority, commending him as an eminent and learned man, uncommonly conversant with the Scriptures, who would attend their conferences and try his utmost to restrain their quarrels and reconcile their differences, for the sake of peace and harmony; but if that proved not possible, it should be arranged for the Saxons to have one Superintendent, and for the other party have their own. 40 The King requested that each side should present its case in writing, as less likely to be exasperating; but Dávid’s hopes that the parties might thus be harmonized and the church be held together as one, were disappointed. Neither side would yield or compromise its view. The Calvinists and the Lutherans divided, and henceforth there were two separate churches.41 The Saxons continued under their old Superintendent, Matthias Hebler; and the Hungarians, or the Reformed Church as they presently came to be known, went on under a separate administration of which their old Superintendent Francis Dávid was now duly recognized as Superintendent.42 From now on the Lutherans disappear from our history, which will develop its next brief stage in the Reformed camp. There had thus far been no contention over the doctrine of the Trinity.
Click here to open the frame set built to read this document.
This page was last modified
Sunday 12 November 2006.