THE LAST DECADE of the sixteenth century was a period of utmost confusion in both the political and the religious life of Transylvania, and the accounts of its history which most writers offer us are themselves confused and inconsistent as to both events and sequences. It is necessary however to attempt to give at least an abridged review of the period in order that the reader may clearly realize the kind of world in which the Unitarian Church, not yet a generation old, had to struggle for its existence. After Sigismund had put out of the way those that had led in opposing his political designs, he thought the time ripe for entering upon his plan for laying aside the burdens of uncongenial office, as a step toward realizing his fond dream of winning a Cardinal’s hat. After preliminary negotiations, therefore, he agreed with the Emperor Rudolf in 1595 to transfer to him the sovereignty over Transylvania, in return for which he was to receive an honorable title, the Duchy of Oppeln in Silesia, and a handsome annual income. The rights of the churches were to be left intact, and the Diet swore loyalty to the Emperor. But before the Archduke Maximilian could come to take over the reins of government the fickle Sigismund repented of his bargain, returned to the country, and was again recognized as Prince. Yet after but a few weeks, again tired of ruling, he persuaded his cousin Andrew Báthory, then a Jesuit Cardinal in Poland, to undertake the rule of Transylvania, abdicated, and withdrew from the country.
The Emperor, Rudolf II, did not propose so easily to surrender the prize ward which the eyes of the Empire had eagerly looked for half a century. He had, before his accession in 1576, been brought up at court in Spain, and was an eccentric, absolutist Catholic, whose reason eventually became so unhinged that he had at last to be removed from office. He had no idea of freedom of conscience, and it was a cardinal principle of his rule to destroy religious toleration and exterminate Protestantism. Claiming Transylvania as now rightfully his own under the treaty with Sigismund, he sent General George Básta to administer it as military Governor. Básta was an Italian soldier, and perhaps the most relentless and cruel general in modern history. ‘Saevissimus mortalium,’ Bod calls him. Seeking at one stroke to reduce Transylvania to submission, and to destroy Protestantism root and branch, he made the next five or six years one long intermittent reign of terror. He threatened to kill every grown person in the country who refused to join the Catholic Church. He seized Protestant churches and gave them to the Catholics. He drove away their preachers, tortured them, flayed them, and burned them alive, suspended them to smother in the smoke over piles of their burning books, spared neither women nor children, and gave their wives and daughters over to his mercenaries to be ravished. For generations afterwards parents used Básta’s name to frighten their children. All these outrages fell with double severity on the Unitarians, who as the ruling element at Kolozsvár had been most hostile to the Jesuits who had their headquarters there.
Andrew Báthory had but a short rule as Prince. Taking the field against Básta he was killed or assassinated in battle at the end of 1599. Rudolf then made the Wallachian Michael temporary Vaivode of Transylvania, a turbulent adventurer, bold, ambitious, greedy, more cruel than even Básta, and he now ravaged the country again. Sigismund then, realizing the desperate state of his country, returned to it once more in 1600 and attempted to rally his people. Having gloriously routed Michael at Miriszló he was reinstated by the nobles as Prince, and convened a Diet late that year in a remote part of the land, at the little Szekler village of Léczfalva, about twenty-five miles northeast of Brassó (Kronstadt), and sought to unite all factions on the old basis of religious liberty and mutual toleration.1 But Michael and Básta now joined forces and defeated him, whereupon he joined in a truce, accepted a castle in Bohemia and a handsome pension, and left Transylvania for the last time.
Básta’s long-continued inhuman treatment of the province so exasperated all classes of the inhabitants that they at length united in the summer of 1602 and rose in rebellion against him under a heroic native Unitarian leader named Mózes Székely.2 He was one of the ordinary Szekler nobility, who early in his career had supported the cause of Békés, and had later served with great bravery under Stephen in Poland, commanding troops that Christopher had sent to aid him in his war with Moscow. In the present war he had for a time sided with Michael, as had most of the Szeklers, whose patriotism had been but lukewarm since the loss of their ancient liberties in the time of King John. But Mózes detested the brutal rule of Michael in Transylvania, whom the Szeklers therefore deserted, joining with the rest in resisting the intolerable cruelties of both the Wallachians and the Imperial forces of Básta. At first Mózes was defeated, but securing Turkish aid and ignoring Sigismund’s recent settlement with Rudolf, he invaded Transylvania in the spring of 1603, drove Básta’s troops out of Kolozsvár, expelled the Jesuits there as disturbers of the public peace, pillaged their churches and destroyed their school buildings. His followers now unanimously elected Mózes Prince at a Diet at Gyulafehérvár, and the Sultan confirmed the election. Not only had he great influence among the Szeklers, but even the Saxons took his part. As he was a Unitarian, it looked for a time as though the Unitarians were again to have for ruler one of their own faith instead of a fanatical persecutor. But Básta rallied, and again enlisted the support of the Wallachians, who under their new Vaivode Raduli suddenly invaded Transylvania through a mountain pass near Brassó, surprised Mózes’s troops in camp by night, slaughtered half his forces, and killed Mózes himself heroically fighting. It was a crushing defeat, and the Transylvanians regarded it as a second Mohács. The flower of the Transylvanian nobility perished, including the magnates from the leading families, and out of 6,000 barely half escaped.3
After this disaster Básta returned again, for the fifth time — the government had changed twelve times in six years! He completed the desolation of the now prostrate land, frightfully ravaging it, and falling especially upon the Protestants. All Transylvania was worse than ever laid waste by fire and sword. Terrible famine followed to exact the last toll. No draft animals were left in a country that had abounded in them, and plows had to be drawn by man-power, ten men to a plow. Grain cost fabulous prices, and men were driven to eat raw roots and herbs, the toasted bones or raw skins of animals, the flesh of dogs, cats or horses; some driven to madness resorted even to cannibalism, and thousands died of starvation.4
Two months after the fatal battle, Básta, having apparently reduced the country to submission, summoned the tattered remnants of the nobility to a Diet at Déva, to determine the conditions of peace. The members realized that if Básta so chose they were all in imminent danger of death as rebels; but after some conciliatory speaking Básta, who had at first planned to put to death all the nobles present, was somewhat mollified, and decided to give them both their lives and the most of their property. The cities that had been disloyal, however, were to be allowed to hold only Catholic worship, and Kolozsvár was to resign to the Jesuits the great church, the Pastors’ houses and the schools as a restitution for what had been destroyed under Mózes; further, the disloyal cities were to be heavily fined and be deprived of local self-government.5 After the Diet Básta concentrated all his savagery upon the Unitarian Church, came to Kolozsvár with his soldiers, and determined to scatter its members. He planned to have the Superintendent, Matthew Toroczkai, and the chief Pastor and Rector of the school, put to death; but the latter made his escape to Poland, while the former went into hiding in the iron mines at Toroczkó until the trouble had passed. The persecution lasted until well toward spring. As decreed at the Diet at Déva, the Unitarians at Kolozsvár were forced to pay a fine of 70,000 florins and to give over to the Jesuits, in restitution for the damage they had suffered under Mózes, the large church and one other, the Pastor’s house, a school, and several private residences. They were forbidden to hold public worship, and only one minister, Johannes Bróser, the Pastor of the Saxon Unitarian church, was bold enough to stay at his post, secretly and at great risk. For nearly three years the Unitarians met for worship in secret at the house of the noble Samuel Biró. Only the Jesuits held public worship, and they looked for the time soon to come when Protestantism should be wholly exterminated.
The triumph was of short duration, for the fires of revolt were smoldering. Gabriel Bethlen, a Calvinistic magnate who had married the widow of M6zes Székely, and had tried to continue his rebellion, was defeated and fled to Temesvár where he bided his time under the protection of the Turk. He now appealed to Stephen Bocskai to head a new revolt. Bocskai was a Hungarian magnate and an uncle of Sigismund Báthory, and had been one of his advisers who urged the beheading of the five Unitarian magnates at Kolozsvár; and he was now captain of the garrison at Várad in Hungary. He had long been displeased with Básta’s policy of cruelty, and was the more easily persuaded to head the rising. Appeallng to all lovers of religion and liberty he won the adherence of important factions in Hungary, and had the powerful aid of Turkish forces. In Transylvania all classes and cities rallied to him. He won speedy success, was unanimously elected Prince by the Transylvania Diet, and a little later Prince of Hungary by the Hungarian Diet at Szerencs early in 1605. In that year he occupied all of Transylvania and Hungary, drove Básta from the country, and restored the province prostrated by ten years of war. He proclaimed religious liberty for both Protestants and Catholics, and gave back to the Unitarians the churches and other property at Kolozsvár that had been taken from them by the Jesuits. The Emperor Rudolf sought and obtained peace, which was confirmed by the Treaty of Vienna in June, 1606,6 and guaranteed the religious freedom of Protestants, restored the properties seized in the time of unrest, and gave Bocskai all the dominions in Hungary that Sigismund had held, and the title of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Thus Bocskai had won the independence of Transylvania, reestablished religious liberty, and enshrined himself in the memory of his followers as an incomparable hero; and then a half-year later he suddenly died in December, 1606, of poison as it was believed.
Toroczkai’s superintendency (1601–1606) began in tragedy and tumult, but ended in comparative quiet and slow recovery among his churches.7 During his first four years Sigismund made his futile effort to regain his power, the land was devastated by the plague and ravaged by Michael and Básta, Mózes’s brief rule ended in his defeat and death, Básta burned Unitarian churches throughout the Province, the heads of the church had to flee from Kolozsvár and its properties were given to the Jesuits; ministers, teachers and students scattered in Transylvania and Hungary, and Unitarians were hunted like sheep by the Imperial soldiers and were taxed to the point of ruin; while Toroczkai hidden for months in his mine solaced himself by composing hymns to be sung in brighter days. As already related, with Bocskai’s rise in 1605 freedom of worship returned; churches and schools were restored to the Unitarians, the Jesuits were expelled and the scattered Unitarians came together again; while Toroczkai began again to hold synods alternately at Kolozsvár and Székely-Keresztúr, Torda having been burned by Básta. Discipline was restored in the demoralized churches and schools and they struggled back to normal existence; though as early as 1606 the synod found it necessary to exclude from fellowship in the church the Judaizers who in another generation were to involve it in so much trouble. Toroczkai did not leave behind him any notable literary remains, but he translated Enyedi’s book into Hungarian, and a brief Catechism and a Hungarian translation of the Racovian Catechism were published after his death.8
The Unitarians at Kolozsvár enjoyed but a brief respite under Bocskai. In 1606 they cheerfully acceded to their benefactor’s request that they grant the Reformed equal rights with themselves,9 and harmony seemed at hand; but two years later the rule fell into the hands of Gabriel Báthory, the last Prince of that name, who having changed his religion from Catholic to Calvinist now vented the spite of his cruelty upon both Catholics and Unitarians at Kolozsvár, driving them from their homes, and assigning to the Calvinists for their worship an abandoned Dominican cloister.10 It is true that all the Princes of this period upon their accession to power took solemn oath to preserve unimpaired the liberties of the four received religions, but so far as concerned the Unitarians the laws recognizing their rights were largely a dead letter. Their right to hold religious worship was not indeed denied, but it was often restricted. They were oppressed and repressed in various ways, and the Calvinists often surpassed the Catholics in injustice to them.
Gabriel Bethlen, who ruled 1613–29 was the most renowned of the Transylvanian Princes. He was a great general and a determined and honest statesman. He made Transylvania independent of the Habsburg influence, and his fame filled Europe. He was a generous patron of education and the church, and gave complete toleration to Lutherans and Catholics, though as little as possible to Unitarians. On one ground or another he deprived over 100 Unitarian ministers of their pulpits,11 and replaced them by Calvinists. Nevertheless, the Unitarians, though unable now to take the aggressive in face of the active unfriendliness of the rest of the religious world, went on their way peaceably and faithfully as good citizens, loyal patriots and earnest Christians, and bore their trials with patience and heroic fortitude. Unfortunately, however, their progress was seriously checked by troubles within their own body, which must now claim our attention.
Even before Dávid’s trial there were divergent doctrinal tendencies among his followers, some of whom were inclined to hold the traditional views, objecting to hardly more of the old doctrines than those of the Trinity and the deity of Christ; whereas others were disposed to carry the reform further, as they might easily do while they were not as yet restrained by any formal and definite confession.
The attempt to discourage further changes in doctrine, which culminated in the case of Dávid, was only superficially successful. The ministers under duress might subscribe the confession dictated by Biandrata, but their personal opinions will not have changed, even though open expression of them were now made a crime. It was generally known that among both ministers and lay members there was wide dissent from the confession that Biandrata had forced upon them, and that various doctrines were privately held and practices quietly followed that might be regarded as innovations As early as 1583 the Jesuit writer Possevino reports that a great many of the people of Kolozsvár are forsaking the Gospel for the Prophecies of the Old Testament, and that the Unitarian ministers in Szeklerland universally. . . abstain from blood and pork 12 In their literal devotion to the teachings of Scripture many of them discovered more and more points in which its plain commands were being neglected by Christians: such points as observance of the Sabbath and of feast or fast days, unleavened bread, abstinence from blood or unclean meats, and circumcision; and conscience made them feel bound to keep these commands, which had never been abrogated, as well as to abandon certain Christian usages which had never been ordained in Scripture. It was therefore but natural that these literal biblical Christians should presently be given the reproachful name of Judaizers or Sabbatarians, and be looked at askance as corrupters of true Christianity; and the measures against innovators passed at frequent intervals in the Diets during half a century from 1578 on were undoubtedly more often aimed at them than at simply the non-adorants who followed Dávid.
The Sabbatarian movement,13 although it infected Reformed and Catholic circles to some extent,14 spread most widely among the Unitarians in the Szeklerland. While the tendency to Sabbatarian views and practices antedated him, and had already been noted by Possevino as said above, its reputed founder and first enthusiastic prophet was one Andrew Eössi of Szent Erzsébet, a Szekler village some twenty-five miles southeast of Maros-Vásárhely.15 He was a wealthy Szekler of the upper nobility, and one of the earliest adherents of Dávid to accept the Unitarian faith. Prematurely bereft of his wife and three sons, and broken in health, he sought comfort in reading his Bible, and as a result of doing so he came to a fanatical conviction of the truth of the doctrine that soon came to be known as Sabbatarianism from the fact that the most conspicuous mark of its adherents was their observance of the Jewish Sabbath, and it was this that first invited persecution of them. With all the burning zeal of a new convert he now first won his neighbors and kinsfolk, and then gradually enlarged the circle. With much ability he made a compendium of central doctrines, and then treated them at length in various little books or essays, or in hymns and didactic poems for popular use. As the press was not open to him, he had many manuscript copies of these made and secretly circulated. Though not an educated man, he had singular success in commending his doctrines to the popular mind, and until his death in 1599 he devoted all his time and strength and his considerable fortune to winning converts to his faith. Years before this he had already taken an important step toward ensuring its future by selecting and training up an apostle to succeed him. For after the death of his children he took under his wing their teacher, a brilliant young man named Simon Pécsi who fully shared his views and aims, and in order to prepare him for his apostleship he sent him abroad for long years of travel and study, which were a generation later to make him their powerful champion, as will be related hereafter.
Sabbatarianism as a religious movement was at first simply a variety of Christianity, which for various reasons commended itself to the more active-minded Unitarians, and to a considerable extent also to the Reformed, especially among the inhabitants of the Szekler counties. Though it had its roots in Christianity it was much influenced by Old Testament elements which Christianity had neglected but Judaism had retained, as noted above. It held that the whole law of Moses was to be kept as still valid, and that the Gospel had abolished none of its requirements. It held strongly to the absolute unity of God, and taught that Jesus, though not to be worshiped, was greater than all the Prophets, and was the promised Messiah.16 It was doubtless its outward observance of Jewish rites and customs more than its private doctrines that most tended to make it appear hostile to Christianity and to arouse most bitter antagonism among the authorized religions. By 1595 it had spread so much as to attract the attention of the Diet, which passed an order for suppressing it, which was enforced for a short time and then in 1600 was revived by the Wallack Vaivode Michael, who confiscated the property of the offenders.17 Further measures proving ineffective, the Diet at Besztercze in 1610 decreed that those confessing this religion be cited before the Diet and unless repenting be punished according to the law, and that their ministers be held in custody.18 Again in 1618 at the Diet at Kolozsvár Gabriel Bethlen felt compelled to bring forward a law calling for a new search for members of this sect and punishment of them without regard, unless before the next Christmas they should have embraced one of the received religions.19 Little is known about the details of these continued persecutions, but the repeated acts of legislation indicate that spasmodic attempts were made to enforce the law in all its severity. Thus at Maros-Vásárhely in 1600 Sabbatarian books and manuscripts were burned by the executioner, property was confiscated, and men were imprisoned and brutally flogged, so that many fled from their homes and sought refuge in the mountains or in other lands; yet these cases were of brief duration, and the laws remained without permanent effect. The Princes were occupied with dissensions at home and wars abroad, officers were loath to enforce the laws, especially when Sabbatarians outwardly conformed to the local churches, and even high officials and influential citizens in large numbers were secret adherents to a sect that was steadily growing in numbers and influence.20
Already by 1600 the Sabbatarians, though not ‘received’ nor even tolerated, were regarded as practically a separate religion.21 The greater number of them were of Unitarian origin, and even if secretly they had meetings of their own and conformed to Jewish usages, they were registered as Unitarians and attended Unitarian worship; but in some villages there were also numerous ones belonging to the Reformed Church, and at Maros-Vásárhely almost all the Reformed had gone over to Sabbatarianism.22 The new religion flourished most in villages and small settlements in the open country, at first among the peasants in Maros and Udvárhely Counties, especially on the extensive estates of Eössi and Pécsi in more than thirty places; though it also found numerous adherents among the Hungarian artisans of the larger towns. As time went on many persons of education also were attracted, including a large part of the lesser Szekler nobility, and not a few of the higher nobility, who were its most zealous and generous supporters. Clandestine Sabbatarians, related by marriage to the families of Eössi and Pécsi were therefore found even among the highest state officials. Thus the new religion, though having no independent congregations or ministers, steadily spread for over thirty years, while its adherents became in practice more and more like Jews and less and less like Christians.
It was in the face of such a situation that Prince Gabriel Bethlen in 1618, having composed his political affairs, and feeling it of urgent importance to keep the religion of the country pure, determined to set religious affairs also in order. To this end he summoned from his pulpit at Várad János Keserüi Dajka, a very able, learned and energetic man, made him court preacher and Superintendent of the Reformed churches, entrusted to him the enforcement of the law lately passed against the Sabbatarians, and armed him with plenary authority. His first step was to weed out the Sabbatarians from among the Unitarians, in whose churches they were mostly concealed, and who had thus far made no effort to discipline them, though in the eye of the law they were clearly innovators.
The case of the Unitarian churches in these troubled days was rendered the worse by the fact that their Superintendent, Valentin Radecki,23 instead of being a native was a Pole, who was not acquainted with their language, and was hence unable to give them efficient supervision, and even when needed did not leave Kolozsvár. Dajka, however, taking advantage of the law of 1577 that the Unitarian Superintendent might hold synods only at Kolozsvár and Torda,24 more than once forbade the calling of a synod in the district where Sabbatarianism was supposed to be prevalent, or had it postponed when called, or forbade it altogether, and thus thwarted the church life of the Unitarians at pleasure. When at length he did sanction the calling of synod of churches in the Szekler territory at Erdö Szent-György in November 1618, citing the Sabbatarians to appear, he insisted on presiding over it himself, and converted it to his own purposes. Here, under pressure from the investigating committee, the official boards of the churches were constrained to declare that the Sabbatarians did not belong to them, and were forever excluded from the fellowship of their church. Had they not done this they would have been regarded as guilty of sheltering the accused under the mantle of their religion.25 Dajka next determined to use his power to the advantage of his own church, and instructed his clergy to bring the Sabbatarians back to Christianity. This attempt at forcible conversion led to endless persecutions of the Sabbatarians, some of whom conformed while others either suffered various penalties or else fled the country. At the same time it sorely wounded the Unitarian Church, for many of its members when accused or even merely suspected of holding Sabbatarian views chose rather to profess Calvinism than to face legal prosecution. Thus many in the Unitarian congregations were forcibly driven into the arms of the Reformed Church.26
Not content with his success in thus uprooting Sabbatarianism in its main seat, Dajka undertook four years later in another district to increase the number of the Reformed churches at the expense of the Unitarians.27 He cast hungry eyes on a large group of churches in the remote rural districts of the Szeklerland. Ever since the time of the Reformation the religious situation here had been unusual. Especially in the three districts known as the Háromszék all that had left the Catholic Church had continued to worship in a single church with but one minister, although the congregation had a mixed membership of both Unitarians (usually considerably in the majority) and Reformed.28 Thus it came to pass that the larger number of the ministers in the district were Unitarian, although by tacit agreement it was common practice if the minister were Unitarian to have a Reformed teacher for the young, and vice versa.29 This practice worked smoothly in these rural congregations, although for more than a century after 1577 the Unitarians in this district might not be visited or supervised by a Superintendent of their own faith, and even the ministers of their own choice must be ordained by a Reformed Superintendent.
Having learned that in many of these Szekler churches the ministers were Unitarian, Dajka determined to oust them and replace them by those that professed the Reformed faith. Taking advantage of the Prince’s absence on a military campaign in Hungary, though doubtless by a tacit understanding with him, and also of the fact that most of those capable of bearing arms would also be out of the country, Dajka in 1622 proceeded to the Háromszék with a band of 300 soldiers, bearing an order in the Prince’s name that the inhabitants in each village should appear before the Superintendent. While the minister was arrested and kept at his home under guard, the unlettered people were examined by Dajka and asked whether they believed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not comprehending what was afoot they answered in the affirmative; whereupon they were dismissed to their homes in peace, while the Secretary was directed to record that they had confessed to being Calvinists. The minister was then brought in and ordered to accept the Reformed religion without hesitation. If he did not he was forthwith ejected, while some Trinitarian was pressed into service on the spot, ordained and forced upon the congregation as their minister. Thus by a pious fraud practiced upon simple and unsuspecting people, while all the gentry and leaders were absent and under arms in Hungary, the churches and incomes in two whole districts were at a single stroke taken from the Unitarians and delivered to the Reformed. Although these high-handed proceedings were much disapproved at the next meeting of the Diet, no steps were ever taken to repair the wrong done. No fewer than 62 churches were involved in this transaction.
When the report of these doings reached the other parts of the district, two of the ministers went to the town where the inquisition was in process, and having confirmed the rumor quickly traversed the other villages and towns in the valley and instructed ministers and people how to answer the question put to them. Thus the plan would have been frustrated had not a traitor arisen within the fold. For one Stephen Sikó, minister of the church at Sepsi-Szent Gyórgy, chief town in the district, a man whose ambition had procured for him an honorable office among the Unitarians at the cost of their esteem, realizing that even if he remained among them he could not hope to become District Superintendent, proposed to Dajka that if he were appointed Superintendent of the district he would then profess the Reformed faith and accompany him on his visitation, so that when the people were asked if they professed the same religion as Pastor Sikó they would innocently answer, Yes. The plan was at once accepted and entered upon; but they had not gone far before they came to a parish whose patron, having been forewarned, armed himself and accompanied by all the women and men of two churches met Dajka and forbade him to enter their church. The like was done in several neighboring churches, so that Dajka, seeing that his plot was discovered, had to content himself with seizing the minister of the place and taking him in chains to Gyulafehérvár, leaving the Calvinist minister in the castle, protected by an escort.
After the Sabbatarians had been formally excluded from the Unitarian congregations in 1618 it seemed for some time as though their movement had been effectually put to sleep; for exclusion from membership in an authorized church debarred one from holding any public office, and this was regarded as a very serious matter, being almost equivalent to loss of citizenship. Yet after a few years of keeping successfully out of sight, Sabbatarianism suddenly came again to the surface in full activity, and that in a singular way. Simon Pécsi,30 who was mentioned in connection with the rise of Sabbatarianism, was born in Hungary about 1560, and having early come to Transylvania he studied languages at Kolozsvár and became tutor to the three sons of Eössi, who seeing his promise determined to give him every advantage, procured him a place at court, and sent him on a course of travels to foreign courts which lasted for eighteen years, and led him through Wallachia, Constantinople, North Africa, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, everywhere associating with statesmen, and also assiduously studying. At length he returned, accomplished in the ways of diplomacy, fluent in twelve languages, and with a profound knowledge of Jewish learning. Eössi welcomed him back, adopted him as his own son, and soon died leaving him sole heir and thus one of the largest landowners in Transylvania. His rise in public life was now rapid. He became secretary to four successive Princes and their intimate counselor, and eventually Chancellor to Gabriel Bethlen; and he contracted a marriage that related him to the first families of the country. He was for some years the most powerful man in Transylvania at its most brilliant period, and was employed by the Prince in the conduct of the most important negotiations with other powers. Then came his sudden fall. In 1621 he was seized and imprisoned in severe and close confinement. No trial was had, and no charges were ever made; but it seems most probable that the Prince, seeing in him a possible dangerous rival, suspected him of disloyalty and sought to forestall any treasonable act. Many powerful friends interceded for him, but the Prince remained inexorable, and it was three years and a half before he was released upon petition from the Diet supported by almost the whole nobility. His extensive lands were confiscated and he was perpetually interned on the one small estate left to him.
During all his public life Pécsi had been outwardly and nominally a Unitarian,31 and doubtless did all possible to keep the law from falling heavily upon his brethren. Soon after his imprisonment the Diet in 1622 passed a new and severe law against Judaism,32 and ordered prosecution of its adherents; but a war just then broke out, and was so absorbing that no attempt was made to enforce it so long as Bethlen lived; while his successor, George Rákóczy I, also had his hands too full of larger troubles to pay any attention to Sabbatarians until 1635, when the Diet again passed severe laws against them, for the sixth time reaffirming all the older laws.33 Thus for more than ten peaceful years after his release from prison Pécsi, who during his confinement had much occupied himself with thoughts of religion and the reading of the Bible, was able in his retirement to give himself almost entirely to the service of his religion, and to become practically the founder, as Eössi had been the pioneer, of Sabbatarianism. He worked privately and quietly, collected a fine library, and made a translation of the Psalms with commentary which was widely circulated in manuscript, and shows wide and accurate scholarship. After Bethlen’s death he regained his full freedom, much of his property was restored, and he enjoyed wide influence. By his example and his numerous writings he promoted his faith amazingly, and within two years the two counties around him were full of reviving Sabbatarian churches, until the land was said to be fairly inundated with Judaism, which was said also to be rife at Kolozsvár.34 It found followers among all classes, not only servants, peasants and artisans, but also public officials and both the lower and the higher nobility.
By the time when severe persecution was renewed in 1638, the Sabbatarians had grown so numerous and so confirmed in spirit that like true martyrs for conscience’ sake they let the law take its course. At the term of the judicial court at Deés in that year nearly 1000 men were sentenced, not counting many that were tried later and hundreds that were imprisoned, and the yet larger number of women that forfeited their property.35 When the blow at length fell upon Pécsi, he received it without shrinking. He was sentenced to death and loss of all his property.36 But before the sentence could be executed, Pécsi with his whole family, like other leading Sabbatarians, took the only way of escape left to them, and joined the Reformed Church — ‘whether seriously or not,’ says the chronicler, ‘only God knows.’37 His remaining years were spent in poverty, and he died in 1643.38 In the final effort to exterminate Sabbatarianism, those under prosecution were required to conform to one of the four received religions. Those that had been Unitarians generally revived their membership; but the Reformed also secured many new members from this source by the process of accusing them to Judaism. Thus in many towns where Unitarians had been in the majority the Reformed suddenly surpassed them and appropriated the churches and schools that had hitherto belonged to the Unitarians. The history of the Sabbatarians runs from now on quite separate from that of the Unitarians.39 But it may be of interest to record here that for nearly two and a half centuries more, despite all defections and persecutions, they still maintained a more or less secret existence, even when outwardly belonging to the Reformed Church. Their further history is an unbroken succession of Oppressions and persecutions, brightened by an occasional period of revival. In the eighteenth century Calvinistic persecution was succeeded by Catholic, which some flow escaped by going over to the Catholic Church instead of to the Reformed. Even the Toleration Edict of Joseph II in 1781 gave them no recognition, but only fresh persecution Their numbers gradually grew less, and by the middle of the eighteenth century there remained only one~ Sabbatarian congregation in the remote little village of Bözöd Ujfalu, lying in a narrowmountain valley between MarosVásárhely and Székely-Keresztur.40 Finally in 1867, when the Hungarian Diet decreed the emancipation of the Jews, the Sabbatarians here at long last, after 280 years of more or less secretive life, at once took measures openly to adopt the Jewish faith, and in due time were constituted a proselyte Jewish congregatjon with a membership of 136 souls, who had flow formally withdrawn from their previous membership in the Catholic or the Reformed Church. They were extremely poor, but received some assistance from sympathizers in the larger Jewish congregations in Hungary or elsewhere. Their subsequent history has been that of gradual decline, and their historian’s closing word about them a half-century ago (1893) was that at no distant time this little remnant of Sabbatarianism would have completely disappeared. 41
In the five years or so after the death of Gabriel Bethlen in 1629 the Unitarians enjoyed a brief period of comparative peace. But when George Rákóczy I had settled the more urgent problems of his administration he gave serious attention as defender of the faith to the religious interests of the country, and with all the zeal of a bigot he began in 1638 that drastic persecution of the Sabbatarians spoken of above. Of all those convicted the sentence of death was executed on only one,42 a goldsmith of Kolozsvár named János Toroczkai, son of the late Unitarian Superintendent. He had become a fanatical Sabbatarian, and in his excited state he spoke of Jesus in terms that were judged to be blasphemy. He was therefore condemned to suffer the punishment decreed by the Mosaic law (Lev. xxiv. 15), and was stoned to death at Deés by five Gypsies, whom it was customary to employ to execute capital punishment. His wife also was pilloried at Kolozsvár and driven out of the city. The Reformed court preacher expressed great satisfaction with this ‘righteous judgment.’ 43 The Unitarians were inevitably judged to be more or less involved in the taint of Sabbatarianism, and Rákóczi was all too ready to investigate their compliance with the laws about religion, especially since the Reformed were repeatedly complaining of them. It was, however, a quarrel among the Unitarians themselves that gave him occasion to inquire into their affairs.
One Matthias Ráv, a Saxon by nation, son of a Kolozsvár Councilman, whose overbearing manner had made him unpopular when he sought high office, had been minister of the Saxon Unitarian church at Kolozsvár before 1629, but his church had opposed his wish to introduce various changes in church affairs. Disappointed in this, he began to stir up quarrels in the church, and also without the knowledge of his colleagues he made a secret visit to Poland to attend the synod at Raków in 1629. There he reported that in the Transylvania church the administration was feeble and its discipline lax. This charge was accepted as true, since it agreed with what they had recently learned front other sources (perhaps from Radecki), and the synod therefore sent the brethren at Kolozsvár an earnest letter, showing fraternal concern and expressing a wish for an annual exchange of letters and visits for mutual benefit. The letter was signed by the six most eminent ministers in the church.”44 The history of the period shows that there was much ground for Ráv’s complaint, and he may not deserve the abuse that was heaped upon him; but it is also true that he had inherited his father’ haughty nature, and was a man of restless ambition for influential station in the church. He had however been twice disappointed in his hope of being chosen Superintendent, as also of being appointed chief Pastor; and at last he was relieved of his pastorate of the Saxon church in 1633. When a Superintendent was again to be elected in 1636 Ray tried again and was once more disappointed when Daniel Beke, who had been Superintendent of the Udvárhely district, was chosen in preference to him. Ráv now sought to relieve his feeling of frustration by entering upon a course of mean revenge. He questioned the legality of the election, and for nearly a year delayed Beke’s confirmation, as well as blocked his appointment as chief Pastor at Kolozsvár. He also formed a faction in the Kolozsvár church and beset the Prince with charges that the Unitarians were innovators, and Beke an apostate and a heretic. The Prince pressed the church for some statement of what the Unitarians believed about Jesus Christ, and instituted an investigation on his own account. At length, after a year of various meetings of the church authorities as well as of the Diet, the officers and ministers of the churches and their leading men were ordered to be present at a special meeting of the Diet at Deés, some thirty miles north of Kolozsvár.
Here Ray and his party presented their charges of innovation, while Beke in defence of the churches presented a confession of their faith which had been adopted a few weeks before at a general meeting of the churches at Gyulafehérvár. To satisfy the opposition at Kolozsvár, who urged a more detailed and full definition of their faith, the consensus ministrorum which had been subscribed at Kolozsvár under Hunyadi in 1579 was also presented as representing the official belief of the churches.45 The members of the Diet then deliberated the matter for seven days. It was realized that it was a critical hour in the history of the Unitarian Church. Many were apprehensive of being as drastically persecuted as the Sabbatarians had been, and of losing their standing as one of the received religions. Some at once forsook their church and went over to the Reformed rather than take any chances. But a Unitarian noble of the highest standing appealed to the company for fair treatment of his religion, assuring them that it was not a quarrel involving the church as a whole but an affair of a few quarrelsome individuals. The main discussion was finally narrowed down to the one point as to the adoration of Christ, and a formal agreement was then drawn up in detail as a settlement agreeable to both parties — the famous Corn plan atio Deesiana, or Deés agreement.46 The document was voted by the Diet (the Unitarians excepted), and was given the force of law, and signed by the Prince and 57 others, including Beke, Ray, and the chief Pastor of Kolozsvár.
This document gave the Unitarian belief a fuller and clearer definition than hitherto, and was calculated to obviate any further controversy as to the divinity, invocation or adoration of Christ, and to close the door to any spread of Sabbatarianism or semi-Judaism. Apart from a single incidental use of the word 38 years before,47 the Complanatio is notable for the fact that it employs the term Unitarius not less than twenty times, thus effectually confirming this as the accepted name of the confession. Apart from the main doctrinal question, it provided that infant baptism should be practiced, and the Lord’s Supper duly observed; that Beke should be installed in his office; that all recent quarrels should be forgotten and complaints dropped; that the revised confession and consensus and the rules of church discipline should be adopted and observed;48 and that a catechism for children should be compiled and taught. If any Unitarian violated any of these regulations he should be punished not by his church but by the supreme civil government of the land, and if any were proved guilty of starting any innovation against the religion as now amended, he should be branded with perpetual infidelity; and no one should print a Unitarian book save by permission of the Prince.
Thus the Deés agreement, while allowing the Unitarians free exercise of their religion, purposely narrowed its freedom of belief and teaching by requiring them to abide within the limits originally authorized and now newly defined. All four of the received religions were thus limited. How willingly the Unitarians consented to the terms of the settlement may be questioned, but at all events they had no alternative if they were to continue to exist at all. The Complanatio remains to this day theoretically the official standard of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania; but time has brought its relief, not through changes in the body of belief and practice, but through more elastic interpretation — a process well known to all religious bodies theoretically bound to fixed formulas. As a spokesman of the church long ago declared, ‘in recent times, more favorable to free investigation, many of our doctrines and articles of faith receive a freer and more complete expression, which formerly on account of circumstances of oppression might not be so clearly expressed.’49 As for Ráv, it will have been noted that in the final settlement he practically won his contention, which had been for more conservatism in belief and stricter discipline in practice. He signed with the rest, faithfully kept his promise of subordination to the discipline of the church, was restored to his office, and lived the rest of his life in the full odor of sanctity.
Besides setting the affairs of the Unitarian Church in order, the Diet undertook to adjust civil affairs at Kolozsvár. Ever since the time of King John, Kolozsvár had been so overwhelmingly Unitarian that the civil government had been administered solely by Unitarians. But in the past half-century the Unitarian cause there, due to a combination of civil wars, pestilence and religious persecution, had suffered heavy losses, while the number of the Reformed had correspondingly increased, since the Calvinistic Princes offered free homes to some thousands as an inducement to repopulate the wasted city. They had already been granted three of the city’s churches for public worship, and a recent plan of theirs for getting control of the lately completed great church and of the city Council had but narrowly failed of accomplishment.50 But the Diet now ordered that the Reformed should henceforth enjoy 25 of the 100 seats in the Council, and should have access also to certain higher offices. With their affairs thus settled, and causes of discord removed, the Unitarians now saw somewhat happier days under the government of the Reformed Princes. During more than sixty years of almost constant persecution since the days of King John, they had been winnowed of elements of weakness and had developed qualities of heroic faithfulness that were henceforth to characterize their future. They were indeed still to bear the burdens that fall to an unpopular religious minority, but, though suffering minor oppressions they now took energetic steps toward recovery, and worked unweariedly to repair their losses and build up their church. In his long service of twenty-five years as Superintendent, Beke held frequent synods and confirmed the churches in good order. No longer spending themselves in acrimonious controversy, they gave the more attention to practical Christianity among their own members. Their ministers were well educated at Kolozsvár or abroad, and their churches again began to grow and multiply.
After Deés, the rest of the rule of George Rákóczy I until his death in 1648, and the most of that of his successor, George Rák6czy II (1648–1660), gave the churches a welcome period of convalescence and increasing strength, broken only by such misfortunes as affected the whole population. The latter was an intense Calvinist, and would have been glad to make the whole Province Calvinist, though he did nothing worse than to annoy the other three confessions. But in 1655 the Unitarians received another blow, being required to yield to the Reformed equal membership with them in the Kolozsvár Council. In the same year there was a great conflagration which destroyed both the Saxon and the Hungarian Unitarian church in the square, and many other adjacent buildings belonging to the church besides 1800 dwellings; so that but twenty years after they had been repaired all the church buildings but one school were again in ashes. The fire was found to have been incendiary, and to have been set by two from the Jesuit school in the suburbs, who later suffered torture and death for their crime. But for two months Unitarian students stood guard at night lest the rest of the city also be set on fire.51
All other troubles, however, were as nothing when compared with those that resulted from Rákóczy’s ill-fated invasion of Poland in 1657. As already related in the previous section of this history,52 in the course of the war between Poland and Sweden, Rákdczy was persuaded to enter it as Sweden’s ally. Lured by the hope of winning as his reward the crown of Poland (which his father, mindful of Stephen Báthory in the century before, had already been coveting), urged also by ‘Arian’ nobles from Poland, who had much to hope from Sweden’s success,53 and deaf to the opposition of both Sultan and Emperor, Rákóczy rushed headlong into the war, won some early successes, and was placed in command of Kraków. But when the fortunes of war forced Sweden to withdraw to the north, Rákóczy was left without support, and as enemies were pressing him he had to abandon Kraków. His forces left to fight alone were now overwhelmed by hosts of Cossacks and Tatars swarming in from the East. His army of 50,000 was soon cut to pieces. The flower of Transylvania’s nobility perished, the commandant at Kraków was able to bring home 3,000 of his command, and Rákóczy himself with a handful of attendants barely escaped with his life.54 The Sultan, angry that his counsel had been disregarded, demanded that Rákóczy be removed from power, and ordered the election of another Prince. He refused to resign, and the land was invaded by Austria on one side and by Wallacks Turks and Tatars on the other, who taking advantage of the country’s prostrate condition wasted it with fire and sword, seized and burned towns, killed large numbers, and carried many away captive into slavery. In three years more than 100,000 in Transylvania perished.55 Kolozsvár, the Unitarian capital, as the richest city, suffered most severely of all. The inhabitants were forced to pay the enemy 80,000 imperials and the treasures of the Unitarian church and the wealth of private persons were also seized. Then the plague ravaged the whole land; and the Unitarians at Kolozsvár died by scores daily. For two years they had no Superintendent, no synods were held, and the number of students at the college was reduced to nine.56
It was at just this period of their utmost affliction that the Unitarians of Kolozsvár were called on to receive their exiled brethren from Poland. Relations between the two churches had grown increasingly intimate since the time when feeling over the case of Dávid began to subside. The church at Kolozsvár had again and again drawn preachers and teachers from the church in Poland; 57 and students from Transylvania since the downfall of Raków had more and more frequently crossed the border to Lucławice for their higher education. Moreover, since Dávid’s death no important theological work by a Unitarian, save Enyedi’s Explicutiones, had been published in Transylvania, whose ministers had to depend on the Polish Brethren for works in defence of their faith. Their catechisms show distinct evidence of the influence of the Racovian Catechism, and their accepted theology was therefore Socinian. Despite the necessitous times, the Transylvanian churches thus had every reason for giving all possible help to the exiles, and they gave it without stint.
The exiles,58 with their train of 300 wagons, after crossing the frontier applied to Achacius Barcsai, who for a brief period after the deposition of Rákóczy was Prince of Transylvania, for permission to enter his territory, but this was refused. Uncertain as to their next step they sojourned for a time under the protection of the mild-spirited Francis Rhédei near his castle at Huszt in Máramoros County in eastern Hungary, where they were unexpectedly attacked by freebooting Austrian soldiers, and were robbed of nearly all their possessions, and of the very clothes they wore, almost to downright nakedness. Some now turned about in discouragement and sought a home in East Prussia, but the rest remained steadfast in their purpose. A new Prince had now been elected, János Kemény, and to him they addressed a fresh appeal for safe conduct.59 The brethren at Kolozsvár used all pains to win his indulgence for them, emphasizing their pitiable condition, and assuring him that the exiles belonged to the fellowship of the Unitarians, and that there was hence no reason for denying them the lawful privileges of the country. So they at last found shelter and legal protection when hardly any other ruler in Europe would have allowed them to remain The ill-will of the Trinitarians still pursued them, denying that they should be tolerated in the country; and two years later they were still so apprehensive that they felt moved to address to Prince Michael Apafi an anxious petition begging as exiles for conscience’ sake that they be not forbidden the country, but be kindly received.60 They were not further molested.
When it was learned late in the winter that the exiles were at last approaching, the brethren at Kolozsvár went out to meet them, taking wagons to transport the ill or feeble, and food and clothing for all. About 300 in all (the number is variously given) survived to reach Kolozsvár; but although their hosts themselves had been greatly impoverished by the great conflagration and by two plundering invasions of Turks and Tatars, they devoted themselves to the poor sufferers with fraternal care, bringing them within the safe protection of their city’s walls, lodging them in their own homes, and making them guests at their tables. As the burden threatened to be heavier than they could bear alone, the local Consistory sent a circular letter to all the churches in the Province urgently soliciting aid for the exiles. But exhausted as they were by their terrible privations and hardships, they fell an easy prey to the plague when it began again to rage in the summer; and after it had done its work only a third of their number remained.61 The greater part of them made their new home at Kolozsvár, and a modest house was secured for them which served at once as a place of worship and a place of residence for their Pastors.62 Worship was held here in the Polish language, conducted by a minister in Polish costume. Other Polish colonies were soon established, doubtless in villages on the estates of Unitarian noblemen in the Province.63 The most important of these was at Betlen, about fifteen miles east of Deés. It had a minister of its own for some time, but ceased its separate existence in 1745, when the members remaining were absorbed in the Unitarian church. One of the ministers toward the end of the seventeenth century removed to the exile colony in East Prussia, and a correspondence was kept up for some time between the two colonies; while students for the ministry came from there to Kolozsvár for their education.
The exiles received some aid from the brethren they had left behind in Poland. Achacy Taszycki, owner of the estate of Luclawice, who had nominally accepted Catholic baptism rather than exile himself from his converted children, left a generous bequest for the exiled brethren in Transylvania, of which a part was designated for the assistance of the poor brethren at Betlen, and a part for Andrew Wiszowaty, great-great-grandson of Socinus. The more fortunate exiles in Holland were also appealed to and, doubtless with the cooperation of Remonstrant sympathizers there, sent the generous sum of over 5,000 Dutch forms.64 In 1707 some of the Poles sought to better their condition by migrating to northeastern Hungary; and in 1710 the exiles, perhaps with the encouragement of the gifts mentioned, got together a fund to help them to go back to their old homes in Poland; but when some of them made the venture they were so sorely disappointed with what they found that they soon returned to Transylvania.65
There were in all ten Polish ministers settled over the exile congregations, of whom one was the Andrew Wiszowaty above mentioned. The congregation at Kolozsvár inevitably declined in time as its members died or became assimilated to the surrounding population; and some quarrels broke out among the survivors. Their last minister was Izsák Szaknovics, and the last Polish sermon at Kolozsvár was preached in 1792. By this time the survivors had become well magyarized, and they sold their meeting-house and in the following year united with the Hungarian church. Their descendants became loyal citizens of their adopted country, and contributed to it some fine scholars and devoted ministers. Of all these none is remembered with more honor and gratitude that Pál Augusztinovics, the church’s greatest benefactor. He was born in 1763 at Szent Ábrahám, a descendant of the Polish Unitarians who had settled at Kolozsvár. His father was a minister, and he himself graduated with distinction from the college at Kolozsvár. He devoted himself to the law, and showed such promise that the Consistory aided him in starting in his profession. He held high public office in the courts at Vienna for a generation, and enjoyed the full trust of the Emperor Francis I. He was also Chief Curator of the Unitarian Church, and was devoted to its interests; and when he died in 1837, over 175 years after the date of the exile, he showed his gratitude to it in a residuary bequest of 100,000 florins, almost more than all the rest of the church’s endowment funds taken together.66
The affairs of Transylvania for a generation after the fall of Rákóczy went from bad to worse; for the rest of the Transylvanian Princes were little better than puppets of the Sultan. He relentlessly exacted his annual tribute, and politically and socially the land was chaotic and poverty-stricken. Prince János Kemény in his short rule sought the protection of the Emperor Leopold, and introduced into Kolozsvár a German garrison which for three years outraged the richest city in the Province, and impoverished its citizens by its ceaseless exactions. When the Unitarian Pastor and some of the leading citizens laid moving complaints before the Emperor, no attention was paid to them.67 Under Prince Michael Apafi I (1663–90), a devoted Calvinist, oppression of the Unitarians continued. Taking advantage of the depleted condition to which they had been reduced, he shamelessly allowed himself to be led by his ministers to exclude Unitarians from membership in the Diet in 1670.
During all these years of unremitting persecution which, aiming constantly to strengthen the Calvinist cause at the expense of the Unitarians, went to all lengths that bigotry and intolerance could invent short of denying them the freedom of worship that the Constitution guaranteed, they were incalculably steadied and strengthened by the enlightened wisdom of their new Superintendent, who had come to a seat that had during three years been vacant. Boldizsár Koncz was of an ancient and distinguished Szekler family, had been educated at Kolozsvár, and after being chief Pastor there was chosen Superintendent in 1663. In his term of twenty-one years he worked indefatigably at fundamentals of church life. He at once began to foster schools, one by each village church, and to raise the standard of teaching by having regular examinations of the teachers. He also labored to improve the financial administration of the churches, and to encourage stricter discipline of the members and the clergy. The churches responded finely, and their schools were brought up to a high standard of excellence. They began again to flourish. In the past century their numbers had fallen off from 500 or 600 to only some 200. Now recovery began, and old churches were repaired or new ones built. Regular annual synods were revived, and many important questions were discussed in them; and the new catechism ordered at Deés was at last prepared, though it was not until some time later that publication was allowed.
Shortly before the death of Koncz an unanticipated event occurred which changed the whole face of affairs both political and religious. The Turkish power, to which Transylvania had for a century and a half stood in more or less unwilling vassalage, after a period of slow decline made a determined effort to push its conquests into western Europe, and even reached the walls of Vienna. Here the Christian nations rallied, and in 1683, under the brilliant leadership of King Jan Sobieski of Poland, the Turks were defeated, and henceforth their decline was rapid. Relieved of danger from that quarter Transylvania now sought peace and protection from the West. In 1686 Prince Michael Apafi II submitted himself and Transylvania to the protection of the Emperor Leopold I as King of Hungary, under the explicit condition that ‘the four received confessions shall never in any way, at any time, or under any pretext be disturbed in the free practice of their religion, and the old laws shall be held sacred.’68 Henceforth Transylvania was to be an integral part of Hungary. Oppression of the Unitarians by Calvinist rulers was at an end, to be succeeded by an ever more deliberate persecution of all Protestantism by the Catholic government of their new masters.
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