CHAPTER VIII
THE UNITARIAN CHURCH UNDER AUSTRIAN OPPRESSION, 1691–1780

THE INCORPORATION OF TRANSYLVANIA in one government with Hungary, after striving to maintain an independent national existence for a hundred and fifty years, during which it was buffeted between Austria and Turkey, introduced a new era in both its political and its religious life. It did not, however, realize the hopes of the people that their position would be substantially improved, and that now both civil and religious peace would at length be enjoyed. Leopold I had been intended and educated for the Church, but the death of his brother unexpectedly thrust crowns upon him, and he was chosen King of Hungary at fifteen and elected Emperor at eighteen. He had no marked talents for government, but he cherished two predominant interests, to wield absolute power, and at all costs to convert Hungary to the Catholic faith. He therefore early determined to destroy the Protestant religion in his dominions and to make Hungary a regnum Marianum, a Kingdom of the Holy Virgin. In pursuit of these ends he was a mere puppet in the hands of unscrupulous advisers, and his long reign (1657–1705) has been well called the golden age of the Jesuits. His rule in Hungary had already been marked by merciless persecution of his Calvinist subjects. His Jesuit advisers encouraged him not to keep faith with Protestants, but to consider that his duties to God and the Church took precedence over any promises however solemn made to heretics, who were poisonous and dangerous enemies to the true religion. In pursuance of this principle he sent 41 Protestant ministers to the galleys of the Viceroy of Naples in 1674, and when a year later they were released as a result of the intervention of the Dutch government, only 26 survived.1

It was as King of Hungary and not as Emperor of Austria (Transylvanians have always insisted on observing this distinction) that he was in 1690 elected Prince of Transylvania; and in the preliminary negotiations looking toward the submission of Transylvania to the protection of his Majesty, Prince Michael Apafi, who was a Protestant, remembering the persecutions of his brethren in Hungary, tried in articles of the treaty to take all possible precautions for the security and freedom of the four received religions in his country. It was therefore provided in the original treaty in 1685, reaffirmed in that of 1687, and restipulated in that of 1688, that the four received religions and their ministers should forever be left undisturbed in their rights, usages and privileges hitherto enjoyed.2 The Protestants in Transylvania under the ensuing Catholic Austrian rule did indeed fare much better on the whole than their brethren in Hungary. But when the stipulations of the treaties were finally embodied in a Diploma to be signed by Leopold

himself (the celebrated Diploma Leopoldinum, dated December 4,1691),3 it was found that additions had been made in the interest of the Catholics, which were to prove the source of many religious troubles. The stipulations of the Diploma were indeed never seriously observed, and they began to be ignored as early as 1695. Under the added measures introduced into it, the Catholics at Kolozsvár and elsewhere were to be allowed to recover or rebuild the churches and schools that they had held before the Reformation. Even before the Diploma was published the Jesuits had already set their hearts on recovering at Kolozsvár a church from the Reformed and a school from the Unitarians, and at Gyulafehérvár the long vacated Catholic church. Their first efforts to recover these by force were futile; whereupon rumors were set afloat that the three Protestant religions had rebelled against the Empire, and that their churches were to be seized by military force and given to the Catholics. A conference was therefore sought with them in order to learn their demands. It lasted almost three months, during a Diet at Hermannstadt in the spring and summer of 1692.4 The result of the protracted negotiations was that the Catholics were given one of the Reformed churches and a Unitarian school at Kolozsvár, and the vacant Catholic church at Gyulafehérvár, together with several other privileges. Payment, however, was to be made to the Unitarians for the school that they had ceded.

It was at just this time of wide reconstruction in both State and church that an efficient new Superintendent, following the brief terms of several predecessors, came to lead the troubled Unitarian Church. The long term of Michael Almási (1692–1724) was marked by vicissi­tudes.5 After being educated abroad he had been professor and pastor at Kolozsvár. In his term as Superintendent, though one new church was built there, the Unitarians lost to the Catholics at Kolozsvár three churches and three schools with adjacent buildings; a church and parsonage at Torda, and churches in various other places. There was, however, one encouraging gain. It had long been a grievance of the Unitarians that their Superintendents were not permitted to supervise their churches among the Szeklers of the Háromszék; and in 1630, after the death of Gabriel Bethlen, they addressed a complaint to his widow, the Princess Catharine of Brandenburg, in answer to which she issued a diploma permitting their District Superintendent to accompany the Reformed Superintendent in his visitations and subordinate to him, in order to ordain ministers and settle quarrels. The Reformed Superintendent Dajka, however, evaded this provision, so that after he had ordained Unitarian ministers himself, their own Superintendent formally ordained them again in their own synod.6 After over sixty years, however, with the change of government, a fresh complaint and appeal was made to George Bánfi, asking that as a matter of justice the Unitarians might be under the supervision of their own Superintendent, and the request was granted in 1692.7 The right of the Unitarians to have a press was also approved by the Diet in the same year, and one was therefore at great expense brought from Danzig, for which many of the members made sacrificial contributions. It was serviceable to the churches for over twenty years, largely in printing textbooks for their schools, but it was at length seized by a government own bitterly oppressive.8

Encouraged by these signs of greater toleration, Almási gave diligent attention to the inner life of the churches and held regular synods, at which many questions were earnestly discussed concerning the doctrine and discipline of the churches. But any considerable progress of the Church at large was seriously interfered with by the crushing blow that fell upon Kolozsvár in 1697 in the last and greatest of the conflagrations that marked the second half of the century. The city was still largely built of wood, and a fire once started, when fanned by a high wind, was soon beyond control. On this occasion two thirds of the whole city was laid in ashes, including three Unitarian churches and one Reformed, two schools (one of which had but lately been rebuilt to replace the one previously ceded to the Catholics), and various other buildings belonging to the Church. The rich were reduced to poverty and the poor to utter destitution.9 Their resources had recently been heavily drawn upon to purchase the new press, and they were therefore forced to make urgent appeals for aid from the outside, The Superintendent wrote letters to all the churches in Transylvania; and the Kolozsvár Consistory sent the Rector of their school to Holland to lay their pitiful state before sympathetic brethren among the Remonstrants and Collegiants, to whom the Transylvanian Unitarians were already known through the young ministers who were in the habit of going thither to finish their studies.10

Leopold at first observed in good faith the provisions of the Diploma he had granted, relating to the rights of the received religions in Transylvania. But as he grew aged and became more and more the pliant tool of the Jesuits, they determined to move more rapidly toward the ends they had in mind, and took the initiative themselves. In 1699 therefore the Cardinal Archbishop of Gran, as Primate of Austria, addressed letters to the Unitarians of Kolozsvár, as in the Emperor’s name, demanding that within fifteen days they should give over to the Catholics the great church in the market-place which the Unitarians had but lately rebuilt after the great conflagration, the school that they had built a few years before, the minister’s house and other buildings once belonging to the Catholics, and take in exchange a smaller Catholic church and school in the city. It was intimated that this would be an appropriate acknowledgment of favors already shown by Leopold, and that yet others might be expected if this wish were granted, but that if it were refused the consequences would be serious. The Unitarians stood aghast at being asked to surrender a church that they had held in undisputed possession since the time of King John, and that they had lately largely rebuilt, and they did not yield. Instead, they wrote such moving letters of supplication to influential persons about Leopold that their prayers availed, though as will soon be seen they were destined to lose their case a few years later by military violence.11

Leopold’s reign came to an end in 1705,when he was succeeded by his son, Joseph I, an enlightened ruler who in 1709 issued an edict forbidding persecution of Protestants, and who kept faith with them. But he died untimely after but six years, to be succeeded by his brother, Charles III (as Emperor, Charles VI). Charles’s intentions were ap­parently good, and his policy was at first mild. He took the usual oath to maintain the rights and privileges of the four received religions, and issued proclamations assuring them of his good intentions; and as he was reforming the government and the courts his rule began with raising high hopes of enduring peace for the churches. Thus for the first four years of his reign the Unitarians enjoyed a measure of peace with the other religions. But the Catholic clergy were persistent in pressing their claims, and did this so incessantly and so strongly, magnifying the wickedness and danger of the Unitarian heretics, that Charles finally gave in and yielded to their demands. Thenceforth for two full generations there ensued for the Unitarians an unbroken reign of terror. Encroachments upon them were made wherever and whenever opportunity offered, and advantage was taken of local disturbances in divided communities, especially in remote districts where civil order was poorly maintained and violent means might be dared by the aggressors. This whole period was one of a general system of spoliation of the Unitarians. Their churches were taken and given to the Catholics, and their church endowments (ordinarily in landed property) were seized. No new churches might be built save by special permission, and this was rarely to be had. More than once it appeared doubtful whether their Church would be able to survive at all.12

The first step toward a deliberate policy of repression and persecution was taken in 1716, when in spite of the fact that the Catholic Bishop had been proscribed in the time of Sigismund Báthory, and that Leopold had solemnly promised not to introduce another, Charles yielded to the urgency of General Stephen Steinville, military Governor of Transylvania, and installed a Bishop in the former see at Gyulafehérvár.13

As an example of occurrences that were now to become frequent throughout Transylvania, several instances may be cited, separated in time and space, of lawless aggressions against the Unitarians, encroachments that were steady and increasing after the Catholic Church in 1722 became the official State Church. Thus at Bágyon near Torda, and also at Szent Gerlicze southeast of Maros-Vásarhely, a Catholic mob attempted to seize the church by a surprise attack during a temporary absence of the men of the congregation; whereupon the Szekler women turned out and vigorously defended their village sanctuaries, the younger fighting desperately in the churchyard, while the old within the church prayed for their success.14 Again, in the remote village of Kálnok in the Háromszék strife broke out between Calvinists and Unitarians (1666), who were nearly equal in number. The Unitarians held the church and the Reformed wished to have it. With the tacit approval of the Calvinist Prince Michael Apafi, the Captain of the local militia unexpectedly invaded the church at dead of night with an armed band. But the vigilant minister of a nearby church having learned what was afoot hastily collected all the adults of two congrega­tions, both men and women, suddenly appeared at daybreak and raised the siege. The affair was reported to the Diet, and an enumeration was ordered of all the members of each of the churches concerned. Adroit means were taken to introduce additional members before the count was taken, and in the end it was found that the Reformed had a slight majority. The church was therefore decreed to them, and they were ordered to pay the Unitarians a certain sum judged due. Payment was never made, and the Unitarians had to build themselves a new stone church at their own expense.15

At the village of Körispatak in the same neighborhood, on the other hand, when the Reformed were unable to gain possession of the Unitarian church (1726) the Catholics prepared to seize it by force. While the Unitarian men, having got a rumor of the plan proposed, were thrown into consternation and were deliberating what to do, the women of the congregation armed themselves with sharpened stakes and surrounded the door; and when a messenger came from the Provost to demand surrender of the property, they drove him off with stones and threats. The method of force was now abandoned, and instead a legal claim was filed, on the ground that the church had been founded by a Roman Catholic community and hence belonged to the Catholic Church in general. The Unitarians replied that it was now in the possession of a legally recognized body, and belonged to the Unitarian Church of Transylvania, and they had no right to transfer it to any one. After a month the Catholics withdrew their claim, waiting for a better occasion in future, against which the Unitarians kept a vigilant watch.16

In other cases ejection of the Unitarians was accomplished under at least a pretence of legal procedure, or by soldiers in the exercise of military authority. Thus in 1721 the church of the strong congregation at Torda was lost. But the most devastating attack of all was committed in 1716 at Kolozsvár, as the strongest center of the Unitarian cause. It had long vexed the Catholics that though Transylvania was now subject to a Catholic government, yet its largest and wealthiest city was still largely Unitarian and its largest church was the seat of Unitarian worship. As other means of gaining control had not been successful, it was now determined to use military force.17 Soon after the arrival of the new Bishop, General Steinville, by authority of the King, came to Kolozsvár with a large force of soldiers, quartered them in the homes of the leading Unitarian citizens, on whom he levied supplies and perpetrated various outrages, and plundered the houses of the ministers and teachers. One hundred and fifty houses were thus violated and ravaged for three days. The keys of the great church in the marketplace were then demanded, and the building with all its contents was seized, as were two smaller churches.

For none of these was compensation ever made. The great church was then reconsecrated and refitted for Catholic use, and Catholic worship was formally instituted three days later. Unitarian worship there of course ceased at once, nor was even a funeral allowed for a Unitarian who had died at just this time. When on the Easter Sunday soon following the Unitarians met for worship in four other places, the Catholics were angered, and for fourteen days no public worship at all was permitted them, nor even any service in private homes, where if as many as three were found together they were liable to arrest. They protested, however, appealing to their constitutional rights as a received religion, and after two months the ban was lifted. During the days following the seizure of the church, drunken soldiers caroused in the houses they had taken, and treated Superintendent Almási with every conceivable indignity, insomuch that many of the Catholics were scandalized and some, seeing the heroic firmness with which the persecutions were borne, became Unitarians themselves, while none of the persecuted apostasized.

Besides the church building Steinville demanded all the documents guaranteeing and defining the rights of the Unitarians, as if to revise them; but once taken they were never returned. The crypt of the church was by long-standing custom used as a repository for articles of value belonging to the church or its members,18 and all the property there stored, although privately owned, was also taken. This included first of all the press which had been procured a few years before through private gifts, at a cost of 6,000 florins; also the books of a library and sundry tools and materials intended for the restoration of the adjoining smaller church. All this property, even if it were granted that upon the church itself the Catholics had some just claim, was now stolen outright. Repeated efforts were made to have the property restored, or at least reimbursement made. Complaints were lodged before the proper authorities, and a commission was appointed to consider the claims presented; but of its six members four were Catholics, some were not even Transylvanians, and not one was a Unitarian. The commission was in session two weeks, but all claims were disallowed, except that 2,000 florins was admitted as reimbursement for the press. Although appeal was thrice made to the Imperial court, no further relief was ever obtained. The total loss to the Unitarian community, including what they had expended in the past twenty years in rebuilding the church and otherwise, amounted to over 50,000 florins. From this crushing material blow the Unitarians never wholly recovered; but even under such pressure none as yet abandoned their faith, and gathering their congregations again in new places of worship they still clung loyally together.

As one item supporting the appeal that the Unitarians now made to the Emperor, a Confession of their faith was submitted to the court by a Unitarian Counsellor.19 This represented the Unitarian belief in its mildest and least offensive form, emphasizing its agreement with Scripture and the Apostles’ Creed and passing over controverted points, in order to soften the animosity of the orthodox. It teaches the adoration and invocation of Christ, as one supernaturally born, acknowledges the divine authority of civil governments and teaches loyalty to them as a Christian duty. It takes baptism as an outward and visible sign of admission to the Church, and the Lord’s Supper as a sacred memorial. Through faith in Christ our sins are forgiven by the free grace of God, and thus we attain eternal life. The sum of human duty is comprised in love of God and one’s neighbor. Christ died to redeem us from sin. There will be a resurrection from the dead, and Christ will come again to judge all men, after which the wicked will be cast into eternal fire, and the righteous will be taken to enjoy eternal happiness in the presence of God. Every statement or even important word is supported by a scripture citation. There is no evidence that the publication of this Confession had the result of softening persecution of the Unitarians, as had doubtless been hoped, for the aim of the government was in every way possible to weaken and ultimately to exterminate the Unitarian Church. But it gives clear witness of the modest progress which in the first quarter of the eighteenth century the Unitarian Church had made in the reconstruction of Christian doctrine.

Not contented with the churches and other plunder they had already taken, the Catholics two years later asserted a new claim, and demanded the Unitarian school, the dormitory, and two professor’s houses near by. There was nothing to do but yield as graciously as possible, and after a few weeks granted them to make arrangements, teachers and scholars held their final worship and bade the building a tearful farewell,20 In another month quarters were found for the school in a side street, and while most of the students had scattered a new term was opened with an enrollment of ten; though they were advised to avoid any publicity which might stir up their enemies, and therefore not to wear the customary student gowns when they attended public worship, but to go in the dress of ordinary citizens. In other towns similar persecutions and repressions went on steadily. Under Charles in 1735 Unitarians were excluded from holding public office, and thus were denied political equality with other citizens. Upon this not a few who hitherto had heroically withstood oppression began now to weaken and fall away, seeing that otherwise they must be shut out of all public honors and all opportunity of civil service to their native land. Their chronicler, after relating their manifold persecutions, went on to account for their greatly diminished numbers by enumerating 38 distinct reasons tending in one way or another to hasten the ruin of the Unitarian Church. Yet in spite of all, their Superintendent was able to reply to an inquiry from the Emperor toward the end of the eighteenth century that there were still 30,000 that confessed the Unitarian faith,21 and he fills nine large closely-written pages with an account of the various means of annoying or oppressing Unitarians that blind bigotry was able to invent.

Midway of the reign of King Charles, persecution and repression of Unitarians began to be more systematic and intense. When a post at court or an honorable administrative office fell vacant, if it had been held by a Unitarian another Unitarian was not appointed to fill the vacancy; nor could one obtain any fresh appointment, even though nominated and urged by persons of the highest character. The Unitarians, standing on their rights as citizens having complete equality with others, filed protests and petitions with the King, but they were ignored. From this time on no Unitarian received office in the chancellery of Transylvania.22 The Catholics then tried to strike a more mortal blow, and at the Diet in 1728 endeavored to deprive Unitarians of their lawful freedom of worship, and their ministers of the right to administer baptism, matrimony, or the burial of the dead. But the other two received religions, seeing that such a measure might soon be undertaken also against them, remembered their traditional bond of union, and offered effective resistance to the plan. The Catholics then attempted to secure repeal of the Union of the three nations, and of the Leopoldine Diploma and related decrees; to have the gifts and contributions of King John annulled, and to declare the three non-Catholic religions declared to be no longer ‘received,’ but merely tolerated, and to have the freedom of their worship depend on the arbitrary authority of the Prince.23 The other two religions then realized that the Unitarians were the outworks of their common defence, which they must not allow to be weakened, and that all must stand together. The Unitarians then prepared an elaborate petition, deploring that they were overlooked by the throne, and appealing to the long series of acts and traditions on which they founded their claims, and in three later petitions detailed their grievances illegally inflicted, but all was to no purpose. They were not permitted even to present their petitions at court.

At the very height of this steady storm of persecution, their Superintendent Almási died in 1724, his death doubtless hastened by the sufferings of his church. Its active life was well-nigh paralyzed. Its leading members were cut off from the participation in public life which the so much valued, and the whole body could only withdraw to their own circles and homes, live as inconspicuously as possible, and of course abstain from all efforts to promote their cause. But after ten years of coma the 50,000 that had remained stubbornly loyal to their faith were roused into new life by the energy and wisdom of a remarkable new Superintendent. Michael Lombard Szentábrahámi was born in a Szekler village in 1683. His father and grandfather had been ministers. After winning honors in school he entered the ministry, but after a year he was sent abroad to finish his education. Returning to Transylvania he became professor in the Unitarian college at Kolozsvár at an exciting time, for within a month Steinville had seized the church, and later the Unitarians were also deprived of their school. Szentábrahámi secured a new location for it, and in 1720 became its Rector, a little later Pastor, and then chief Notary of the Church, and in 1737 Superintendent. He greatly extended and improved the Unitarian schools, and laid the foundation of the Church’s permanent endowment funds; and in all his duties as teacher, preacher, pastor and administrator he was diligent and everywhere liked to such an extent that his contemporaries deservedly named him ‘the eye, heart and tongue of the Unitarians.’ In each field of his activity he secured permanent improvement; and he may fairly be called the second founder of the Unitarian Church, since while he found it nearly ready to succumb to fate, he left it at his death in 1758, though reduced in number to less than 50,000, yet effectively organized and provided with a system of excellent schools, as a foundation for its future growth.24

Szentábrahámi left behind him the manuscripts of several important works which embodied the substance of his teaching, though none was allowed publication while he lived; but his college lectures on Unitarian theology, after having been long used by classes in manuscript as a text-book, were approved by the censor nearly thirty years after his death, and were at length published and widely circulated.25 They form a handsome volume of over 6oo pages, consisting of four parts: Of God, Of Christ, Of Christian Ethics, of the Church of Christ. The work draws its teachings solely from Scripture as a book of divine authority, and cites it extensively as witness to them. It is quite conservative in character, and retains various incidental teachings that were later outgrown; and it avoids controversial topics and speculative doctrines as not necessary to salvation. Thus it does not even mention the doctrine of the Trinity. It teaches the simple humanity of Jesus, but sanctions adoration and invocation of him as one subordinate to God. Its main stress, however, is laid on the practical conduct of the Christian’s life. It is far more cautious in statement than the Racovian Catechism, totally differs from it in form of approach and method of treatment, and shows little dependence upon it. It thus marks no advance in Unitarian theology since Enyedi’s work, and makes little original contribution to doctrinal development, being content to give a faithful reflection of scripture teaching, with an occasional answer to objections offered to its interpretations. On this level it served several generations as a simple guide to their religious faith, and must have had appreciable effect in molding the Christian character of the Transylvanian Unitarians. It was well calculated to lessen the enmity of the other churches, and it attracted fresh attention throughout western Europe to the Unitarians, and won from broad-minded scholars the admission that their religion was by no means so diabolical as it had long been painted.

King Charles died in 1740, and was succeeded by his daughter, Maria Theresia, in accordance with the famous Pragmatic Sanction which provided that if he left no male heir the right of succession should pass to the female line. Her long reign of forty years distinguished her in, history as one of the greatest monarchs in the history of the Empire, able, wise, and conscientiously devoted to the welfare of her people. But though her rule was propitious for Hungary politically, it was filled with persecution for the Protestants, especially in Transylvania, and above all for the Unitarians.26 Upon her accession she took the usual oath, and specifically assured the Transylvanians that she would respect and maintain all their ancient rights, privileges and immunities.27 Nevertheless, when the delegates from the four received religions in Transylvania went to offer the customary obeisance and pledge their loyalty to the new Queen, she refused to admit the Unitarian delegate to audience.28

The key to the policy which the Queen consistently pursued with regard to her Unitarian subjects throughout her long reign is found in a carefully drawn plan for the systematic suppression of Unitarianism, which was submitted in 1744 by her religious advisers,29 and after discussion was adopted, and with her approval was left to the government of Transylvania to carry out.30 The measures applied increased in severity as time went on, and the Unitarian Church grew weaker under the attacks made upon it, and throughout her long reign there is little Unitarian history to relate except a continuous story of the oppressions that she laid upon the Unitarians, so that their lot under her was even harder than it had been under her father. The beginning was made with individuals. Early in her reign, when two Unitarian Deputies to the Diet were chosen, she ordered their constituents to substitute Catholics. She allowed Unitarian magistrates to remain in office only at Torda and one other place, and excluded them from the Torda Council. At Kolozsvár when any office held by a Unitarian fell vacant it was ordered filled by a Catholic or a Calvinist, while on various specious pretexts Unitarians were kept out of public office. Such acts did not, it is true, infringe their constitutional right to enjoy freedom of public worship, which she had promised to maintain unimpaired; but they were arbitrary acts of oppression or repression designed to weaken and discourage the Unitarian Church. It was in the activities of individual churches that her oppressions were most keenly felt. Thus Unitarian ministers might not go beyond the boundaries of their own parishes to visit their sick or to perform pastoral offices. They were bound to proclaim and observe the Catholic festivals.  They might not hold the public debates on religious questions which they had so often used to make their faith known. They might not make converts from other churches, nor might a member of another church marry a Unitarian. They might not build a new church nor repair an old one without royal permission. In the whole forty years of her reign only two Unitarian books were allowed to be printed, and the religious instruction of their children was forbidden.

The Queen interested herself especially in the conversion of the Unitarian boys and girls to the Catholic faith. To this end children were sometimes taken from their homes by force and placed in Catholic schools. A large fund was raised for converting Unitarian children at Kolozsvár, and in 1754 the Unitarian schools there were closed, and the Unitarians were forbidden to attend any but Catholic schools. For their university studies Transylvanian students had for several generations been accustomed to go to Switzerland, Germany or Holland, where generous funds had been established for their maintenance. The Queen now wished to encourage them instead to go to the Catholic University in Vienna, and she therefore refused to allow them passports for going further, so that in her time only three students were able to go to Protestant universities.31 When a promising Unitarian youth went up to Vienna, the Queen made him her godson, and gave him rich gifts for becoming a Catholic. For a time she tried the peaceable method of appealing to self-interest in winning converts, and by the subtle bribery of promises of favors or offices she was able to induce wealthy nobles to change their religion. This policy continued until few of the middle or higher nobility remained loyal to their faith, so that the Unitarian Church became predominantly one of the middle and humble classes; and in the last five years of her reign in the seven Szekler counties where Unitarians had been most numerous there were over 1,400 Catholic converts.32

When milder measures failed, force was resorted to. In three parishes where church buildings had fallen into disrepair, and the members ventured to repair them without having first obtained permission, lawsuits were brought against them and a penalty of 1,000 florins had to be paid before worship in them might be resumed. In communities where relations were especially strained between Unitarians and Catholics, popular commotions would break out spontaneously, or be purposely stirred up, and these would be made an excuse for proceedings against the Unitarians for breach of the peace, and for seizing their churches in punishment. In villages where the proportion of the inhabitants was anywhere near equal between the two confessions, Catholics would colonize the village until they could show a majority, which under an old law enacted under Gabriel Bethlen might then claim the church building. Thus the Unitarians lost many posts. Seizures became more frequent and violence more severe as the oppressors grew bolder and the oppressed grew weaker. At Szökefalva in 1744 the Governor had the church seized by armed Wallacks, and its endowment confiscated. At Szent Rontás, where ten years before the Unitarians had shown a good spirit by assisting in building a fine Catholic church in a neighboring parish, the Catholics in 1752 made an attack on the Unitarians while they were attending their morning worship, seized the church, cemetery and schoolhouse, and drove the minister and teacher from town. A month later the Unitarians in their turn resorted to force, and recovered their property. The government then intervened and suspended use of the church until the case should be investigated. It lay in court for twelve years, and judgment then was given in favor of the Catholics. In celebration of the victory the name of the village was now changed to Szent Háromság (Holy Trinity) 33 At Láborfalva and Sepsi-Szent Ivány churches were finally lost in 1762 after a struggle that had continued for nearly thirty years. The case of the church at Bágyon and that at Körispatak have already been spoken of. At Homoród Karácsonfalva in 1777, the Jesuits excited the mob to attack the Unitarian church. The Unitarians resisted and broke up the procession, whereupon the government prosecuted them, arrested and flogged the Unitarian minister, teacher and others, and ordered them to build a handsome Catholic church. At Brassó the Jesuits attacked the church while the members were celebrating the Lord’s Supper, drove out the minister and spilt the elements; and later on the church was taken from the Unitarians, At Nyárad-Szent Márton the Catholics were deterred from making an attack only because the other churches had formed a league for mutual defence.34 These are only a few conspicuous examples out of a large number of instances of persistent and systematic oppression through which a confession that in the sixteenth century had counted 425 churches and thirteen higher schools and colleges was at the end of two centuries of steady persecution reduced to fewer than 125 churches and a single school and college.

It must not be supposed that the Unitarians endured all these things in a spirit of meekness. On the contrary they often offered physical resistance with the greatest courage, and sometimes with success. They also repeatedly appealed to decrees of toleration, to the Diploma of Leopold, and to the repeated promises of monarchs to preserve for them equal rights and privileges with the other confessions, though their complaints and appeals brought no relief. The result of these continued oppressions upon the churches was, however, not all evil. If they gradually sifted out and detached from the membership the greater number of persons of rank and wealth, and all who from either fear or self-interest set other things above fidelity to faith and conscience, they left the remainder the stronger and more devoted to their cause. The persecutions that lessened their numbers only developed their inner strength. Their remaining noble families were generous, and their humbler members showed a constancy that became a proverb. With a spirit not crushed they held together and sacrificed the more determinedly, like a tried and united band of heroes. Only in the later years of Maria Theresia’s rule did she begin a little to relax, encouraged thereto by her son, Joseph II, who was co-regent with her from 1765. Eventually she was brought to see how much damage was done to her rule by her subservience to Jesuit schemes, and in 1773 she reluctantly expelled them from her dominions. From this point on the persecution of Unitarians lessened, and with the accession of Joseph II in 1780, whose sympathies were all with religious toleration, a brighter day began to dawn for them, and they began slowly to regain strength and confidence, and to rebuild their church on the foundations so soundly plaid by Szentábrahámi.

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