THE SYSTEMATIC REPRESSION and persecution of Protestants, especially of the Unitarians, as a policy of government reached its culmination under Maria Theresia; but in the latter part of her long reign she began somewhat to relax, and to rely more on persuasion than on force, and under her son and successor, Joseph II, a brighter day began to dawn. She appointed him co-regent with her in 1765 after the death of the Emperor Francis I; but she still kept all the power in her own hands, though he had some influence on her policy, as was shown in the expulsion of the Jesuits. He was trained for his future duties by government officials; but at court he saw so much of the crafty methods of the Jesuits in politics that he became decidedly set against not only them but all the religious orders. Meanwhile he journeyed much among the people, learned their needs and listened to their complaints, and promised to do what he could toward satisfying their wishes.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century Europe was beginning to be stirred by the ferment of liberal ideas that were soon to find open expression in the French Revolution, and in the field of religion a spirit of generous toleration, the result of the German Enlightenment, was widespread among all the confessions in Austria. Having this background Joseph decidedly opposed the principles and practices hitherto current, and became a pronounced liberal, being much influenced by the writings of Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists, of whom he saw much in 1777 when on a visit to Paris where his sister was the Queen Marie Antoinette. He cherished the ideal of ruling over a great unified monarchy with a single official language, aiming only to promote the happiness of all the people without distinction of nation, rank or faith. Joseph gave promise of being perhaps the most enlightened ruler of his time, and on his accession in 1780 he proceeded at once to introduce the reforms he had long had in mind; and in order to achieve his end the more immediately he undertook to rule as an absolute autocrat rather than through the Diet, taking it for granted that his people would willingly accept reforms in their interest, without delaying them by discussion and debate. Thus he greatly lightened the burdens of the peasantry, made sweeping changes in the system of education, made Church subordinate to State, sequestered church properties, disbanded the monastic orders, and above all sought to restore full freedom of conscience to the Protestants. Despite his sympathy with them he had hitherto been able to accomplish nothing in their interest. Thus in 1773 when the Unitarians sent a deputation to him at a Diet at Hermannstadt to complain of their grievances, though he promised to submit their complaints to the Queen she was obdurate and would not even let them be presented. As soon, however, as he had ascended the throne he began to introduce measures of religious toleration.

Outstanding among these was his famous Edict of Toleration, which though it had the support of a few leading statesmen and ecclesiastics, was stoutly opposed by nearly all the clergy, both regular and secular. This Edict, issued October 25, 1781,1 provided in eighteen articles that Protestants might hold private worship anywhere, and public worship in places where a hundred or more families could provide an inconspicuous place of worship, parsonage and school. They might continue the use of their old churches, and restore those that had fallen into decay. They might own estates, engage in trade anywhere, enjoy full rights of citizenship, and hold public office. Their ministers were to be free from the authority of the Catholic Bishops, and various old oppressions were abolished. Abusive or insulting language on either side was forbidden. In short, most of the ancient rights and privileges of Protestants were restored and guaranteed.

In 1785 Stephen Agh, the Unitarian Superintendent2 was authorized to publish the Summa of Szentábrahámi, whom he had succeeded in 1758, and ere long the censorship of religious books was abolished. The further seizure of churches was forbidden; an indemnity of 5,000 florins was ordered paid for the loss of the great church at Kolozsvár, and sundry repressive measures were abolished.

But excellent as his various reforms were in themselves, Joseph, impatient of the delay involved in having them duly enacted by the Diet after free discussion, proclaimed them outright as arbitrary edicts, thus forcing them upon his people without having first won their approval. Wide discontent therefore arose, and after ten years he was forced to admit that his efforts as a reforming ruler had failed. He withdrew nearly all his decrees, and died in 1790 a disillusioned and disappointed man. The Edict of Toleration, however, despite strong clerical opposition, must have been better received, for it was left in force, His other projects of reform, too, though they had been too advanced for his time, or too rashly put forth, were nevertheless most of them enacted as laws by the Diet under his successor.

The reign of Joseph II marks a turning-point in the history of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania, In 1789 it had touched its lowest point, with a reported membership of only 32,000; but from now on it began to take courage and recover strength. At the depth of this dark period the spirit of the members was revived by a new Superintendent, Stephen Lázár (1786–1811), who greatly aided their recovery by his personal benevolence and his influence with the nobles: and at a time when their discouragement and need were greatest the Church was fur­ther inspired by a splendid bequest from one of its members. Ladislas Suki (Zsuki) who died in 1792, was the last surviving scion of a very old and noble family possessing vast estates. He had never married, and having studied at the Unitarian College at Kolozsvár under Szent­ábrahámi and Agh, he was in his lifetime a generous supporter of church causes, and at his death he bequeathed to the Church almost his entire property, amounting in all to nearly 80,000 florins.3 As a result of this gift it was possible to increase the salaries of the Superintendent and the professors, to relieve poor ministers, their widows and students, and to establish a permanent church endowment. Other endowment funds were added, and in 1796 the Unitarians of Kolozsvár, who had long been obliged to worship in a common dwelling-house, erected a handsome new church which is still in use; and in 1806 a new school building which served for nearly a century, besides a residence for the Superintendent, and dwellings for the professors in the school.

Leopold II, who succeeded his brother Joseph in 1790, was a wise and enlightened ruler, who sympathetically continued his brother’s liberal policy, though he abandoned Joseph’s autocratic method, and in his government sought the cooperation of the Diet. Thus despite clerical opposition he secured the passage of laws embodying the main points in the reforming edicts of Joseph, and by constitutional methods he strengthened the Protestant position and confirmed the Protestants in their freedom and rights, declaring his determination that the tolera­tion previously established by decree should remain unimpaired.4 He was held in high esteem by his subjects, but his rule lasted only two years, when he died and was succeeded by his son, Francis I.

Francis I (1792–1835) was disposed to continue the liberal policy of his uncle and his father, but he was young and inexperienced, and his rule fell at a time when Europe was seething with political revolution, and the bloody excesses of the Reign of Terror in France, and the rise of radical conspiracies at home, bred a violent reaction against all measures of reform, so that he ended by being politically a reactionary conservative. In his policy of religious reform, however, he did not waver. Responding to an urgent appeal made to Leopold in 1791 by the Unitarians of Transylvania,5 he restored to them a fair share of the public offices, including some of the highest rank; whence he became gratefully known as ‘Restorer of the rights of Unitarians.’ From now on for half a century the country was so deeply absorbed in the spreading struggle for wider political freedom that religious questions were largely left as they were. In this reign the Unitarian Church experienced the longest period of peace and quiet in its entire history, in which weakened churches slowly regained strength, and many new places of worship were built. But while their external history during this period offers little of particular interest to record, there was an occurrence that had a stimulating effect upon their inner life. It was the thrilling discovery that there was elsewhere in Europe a healthy and growing body of churches, hitherto practically unheard of, but holding a faith essentially the same as their own, and even bearing the same name.

There may indeed have been in England a vague recollection that there had long ago been a church of Unitarians in Transylvania. The English traveler Paul Best had in 1624 brought home a report of such churches in both Poland and Transylvania. It is true that as early as 1660–1668 Daniel Márkos Szentiváni (later Superintendent of the Transylvanian churches) was in England, where he met kindred spirits, and also came across a copy of Servetus’s Christianismi Restitutio, and recognizing its great interest secured it and took it home (first leaving it on the way to be copied by several Socinian friends in Germany), whence it eventually passed into the possession of the Imperial Library in Vienna.6 Milton’s Areopagitica also refers to students at Cambridge in his time (and it is likely enough that some of them were Unitarians), coming from far Transylvania. But after the Socinians were banished from Poland, and the scattered groups of them had become dispersed and had melted away over Europe, communication with them had ceased, and the Unitarians in Transylvania had come to feel in their isolation that they alone among Christian men remained to cherish faith in the pure unity of God. For there was in any case as yet no organized Unitarian movement in England for them to hear of, and the great distance separating the two countries in an age before railroads, and the barriers of language, effectually kept them strangers to each other. Thus it remained for a full century of silence until, with the rise of fresh vigor among the liberal Dissenters of England, interest in the case of Transylvania was awakened. Meantime Joshua Toulmin in his Memoirs of Socinus (1777), and Theophilus Lindsey, organizer of the first Unitarian church in England, in his Historical View of the Unitarian Doctrine (1783), had given some account of the Unitarians in the time of Dávid, though this was only as a leaf of history from a now remote past, with no allusion to a living present. It did, however, furnish a background for the revival to come in the next generation.7

Toward the end of the century a timid attempt to form contact with the English Unitarians was made from the Transylvanian side. The Hungarian Unitarian, János Körmöczy (later Superintendent at Kolozsvár), who was a student at Göttingen from 1794 on, learned from an English student there about the Unitarian chapel opened in Essex Street, London, by Lindsey, and sought to open correspondence with him. The letter apparently miscarried, for no answer was received.8  But the most important contemporary item bringing direct knowledge was published in 1820 in a letter from John Kenrick, an English Unitarian studying at Göttingen. This letter9 (doubtless derived from a Transylvanian fellow-student well acquainted with the subject) gave a lucid and comprehensive view of the history, teachings and organization of the Transylvanian churches. Its publication was timely, for it fell at just the time when the liberal dissenting churches in England, largely Presbyterian in origin, having long suffered galling denial of certain civil rights for refusing to subscribe the Articles of the established Church, were drawing together in defence of their rights, and for missionary propaganda of their views. These were therefore now much impressed at getting authentic and clear information about a movement like their own already long since organized and long and bitterly persecuted in Transylvania. It is altogether likely that from this letter of Kenrick’s arose the impulse toward the circular letter now to be mentioned. The Unitarian Fund for Promoting Unitarianism had been founded in London in 1806, and was infusing fresh life and vigor into the scattered Unitarians in Great Britain; and with the purpose of discovering sympathizers in other lands, its Secretary, the Rev. W. J. Fox, prepared a letter describing the Unitarian churches in England, and inviting correspondence with any persons or societies interested.10 The latter gave an account of the Unitarians, their vindication of the use of reason in religion, their belief about God, Christ, and other distinctive doctrines, their form of worship, the development of their faith in the Anglican Church and among the Dissenters, their eventual organization as a separate sect, and their present state and extent This letter was sent far and wide, not only in Europe, but as far as America and India. In about four months a copy reached the Unitarians in Transylvania, and Lázár Nagy, a member of the Unitarian Consistory, was appointed to send an interim reply until a fuller and more formal one could be prepared.11

It was between two and three years before the brethren at Kolozsvár finally got around to send their formal reply. It was written by Professor George Sylvester of Kolozsvár, and gave a corresponding account of the history, persecutions and present state of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania.12 This exchange of letters aroused much interest in England, and called forth corresponding encouragement among the mem­bers of the hard-pressed church in Transylvania, whom it assured of having strong allies in a great nation of the West. The British and Foreign Unitarian Association, consolidating several societies previously existing in support of the same interest, was organized in 1825, and in its second report expressed the hope for a regular interchange of letters and exchange of students. Communication between the two churches has been maintained ever since, and has grown more frequent with the opening of new channels. An occasional traveler also spanned the intervening space in person; and in 1831 Alexander Farkas, one of the most prominent Hungarian laymen, even crossed the Atlantic, visited the Unitarian churches in Boston, and returning home published the first book of travels in America by any Hungarian traveler, with an account of the churches there.13 He made the acquaintance of the Secretary of the American Unitarian Association, the Rev. Henry Ware, Jr., who opened correspondence with the brethren at Kolozsvár; and the widely-traveled American Unitarian, Mr. George Sumner, visited Kolozsvár some years later.14 Firm and close connections with the English-speaking churches, however, were not finally achieved until after the middle of the century, when routes of travel were much better established.

In the untroubled period of the first half of the nineteenth century, the churches made a steady growth in membership, and a rapid increase in the number of congregations, passing the mark of 100 churches, and approaching a membership of 50,000. They were much stimulated in 1827 by the receipt of a splendid bequest. The benefactor was Paul Augusztinovics of the royal law court in Vienna. He was a descendant of Polish exiles who came to Transylvania in 1660, and was son of a Unitarian minister. He was born in 1763, and graduated with distinction from the college at Kolozsvár. The Consistory aided his widowed mother from the Suki fund, and assisted him in getting started in his profession of the law in Vienna, where he was soon promoted. He held office there for thirty years, was honored and trusted by two Emperors, and became judge in the Royal Hungarian Supreme Court. He also received highest honors in the church, of which he became Chief Curator. Upon his death in 1837 he made the Unitarian Church his residuary legatee, bequeathed his landed estate to the Consistory for educational uses, and left his library to the college at Kolozsvár. His total bequest was larger than all the rest of the church funds put together.15

The long and happy period of inner quiet and healthy growth among the churches was quite overshadowed toward the middle of the century by the political disturbances of the Hungarian Revolution. The Hungarian people had long been dissatisfied with the union between their country and Austria, under which Hungary had been treated more and more as practically only a subordinate province. In 1848, therefore, when the flame of revolution had burst out in Paris, and fire was smoldering all over Europe, Hungary determined to cast off the yoke of German  domination with all its oppressive features, revolted, and declared its independence. In a Hungarian Diet at Pozsony (Pressburg) in that year the Estates, under the leadership of Kossuth, adopted a new and liberal national Constitution, asserting equal and perfect religious liberty to all religions, and recognizing the Unitarian religion as legal throughout the whole kingdom instead of merely in Transylvania as hitherto.16 After a year of heroic but uncertain conflict the revolution was crushed. The Emperor realizing that the success of the revolution might be but the preface to the downfall of absolutist government throughout Europe, appealed to the Czar for aid, and Russian troops intervened. The rising was put down with great cruelty: while the Wallack (Romanian) peasantry took advantage of the situation to avenge themselves by rising against Hungarian masters who had heartlessly oppressed them for many generations, and created a bloody reign of terror, slaughtering Hungarian men, women and children of every sort and age wherever found, and exterminating whole villages. It was upon the remote villages of the Szeklerland, whence all the men had gone to fight for national freedom, that these barbarous outrages fell most heavily, to the great cost of the Unitarians who had been most numerous there.17

When the revolution had been smothered, Austria determined to prevent any recurrence of it by putting an end once for all to the national aspirations of the Hungarian people; and realizing that the heart and soul of these lay in the Protestant churches, she determined to use every means to extirpate Protestanism. The administration of the affairs of the country was therefore turned over to General von Haynau (known as ‘the Hyena of Brescia’) as military dictator. He had already won a reputation in Italy for savage cruelty, and at once entered upon a policy of ruthless terrorism. The leaders of the revolution were executed, a hundred others were sentenced to death, prisons were crowded, and many estates were confiscated. In the religious field he made himself the willing tool of the Jesuits, abolished the rights of Protestants, forbade their meetings, dismissed their officials and placed all their church affairs under Catholic overseers with strict military control.18 But his rule was so extreme that general protests were made, and in the next year he was recalled. Short as his administration was, it bore heavily on all the Protestant bodies, Unitarians included, yet at the same time ‘strengthened their heroic spirit and drove them closer together in support of their common cause. The political struggle continued long, though its methods were made more humane; but in 1861 the Hungarian Constitution of 1848 was restored, and in 1867 under the Compromise (Ausgleich), by which points in dispute between Austria and Hungary were solved, a Dual Monarchy was constituted, in which the two, as absolutely independent sovereign states, having a single monarch, had each, a parliament and ministry of its own.

In the meantime, while the struggle between Austria and Hungary was still unsettled, the Austrian government’s efforts to weaken the Protestants continued, and were especially directed upon the Unitarians, who were recognized as outstanding among those holding out for Hungarian independence. Having made little progress by the use of violence, the more subtle means of persuasion were attempted. It was thought that Alexander Székely, Unitarian Superintendent during the turbulent period of the revolution (1845–52), might perhaps be won over, as some of the higher nobility had been, by the lure of high honors and material rewards. In place of his pitiful salary of $260 a year, he was tempted by wealth, honors and high office if he would embrace the Catholic faith. He proved deaf to all such considerations, and remained faithful as long as he lived. The government refused, however, to sanction the election of a successor, and it was nine years before the Unitarians, after repeated protests, were allowed to elect one in 1861, now with the honorable title of Bishop.19

One more crafty scheme was now tried, by which it was proposed to dry up the Protestant confessions at their source, while apparently conferring a benefit upon them. After the Reformation the Protestants had continued the Catholic tradition of conducting the education of the young under the auspices of the Church. The larger or stronger parishes therefore would have not only a church and its minister, but also a parish school and its teacher, who was usually a young minister or a candidate for the ministry; while in the small or weak parishes the minister must serve as teacher of the children as well. Above these were higher schools in large towns, and gymnasiums or colleges for advanced students. Doubtless, due to lack of resources, not a few of these schools were of indifferent grade, and hence furnished some excuse for the demand now to be made. At all events, the Austrian government in 1856, as a part of its policy to germanize Hungary, determined to remodel the schools and colleges of Transylvania on the pattern of those of Austria, and with the same standard of teaching and support. To bring the Transylvanian schools up to the Austrian level, it was now demanded that there be a large increase in the number of teachers employed, and a considerable augmentation of the salaries paid. If this demand were not complied with within a certain limited time, the schools concerned must either be closed, or else forfeit their right under the State of granting degrees or certificates, without which one might not practice one of the learned professions or hold public office. It was realized by the Unitarians, and was believed to be intended by the government, that the requirements were set so high that the little Unitarian Church, sadly impoverished by recent economic conditions, could not possibly meet them. In this case the government then graciously offered to furnish the necessary support, on condition, however, of taking over the entire control of the schools.20

The Unitarians were struck dumb by the alternative offered them, for they realized that if they yielded, control of their schools would fall to the Catholics, the religious instruction under which their youth were brought up would be Catholic, and within a generation or two their own religion would be virtually extinct. The total Unitarian population of Transylvania was less than 50,000,21 and the great majority of these were poor mountaineer farmers of the Szekler land; while the additional sum now demanded amounted to over $70,000. Staggering as the sum was, the churches heroically undertook to do what seemed humanly impossible. With incredible sacrifice in subscriptions and assessments, supplemented by mortgaging their very homes, they were still unable to meet the sum required. As a last resort they then appealed for help from their brethren in England and America. Fortunately for them, there was resident among them an English Unitarian of prominent family 22 whose intercession with the English Unitarians was sought. Two of the professors at Kolozsvár, therefore, in the name of the Consistory, requested him to forward to the brethren in England and America a full statement of their crisis and the urgency of their needs.23 This was done through the agency of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association in London, which in turn forwarded the appeal to America. The Executive Committee of the American Unitarian Association prepared an appeal to be presented to all the churches, and a day was set for taking up a concerted collection, which would undoubtedly have been generous. But a little more than a week before the day appointed, the country was suddenly smitten (October 13, 1857) by the worst financial panic the country has ever known, the fruit of a mad orgy of wild speculation, which swept over the whole land like a hurricane and heft would-be givers prostrate, so that nothing could be done. The English churches, however, were able to raise in the end some Ł1,230, which was sent by the Secretary of the Association, the Rev. Edward Tagart, who in company with his daughter went to Kolozsvár in August, 1858, to take the money in person, being the first English Unitarians to visit their distant brethren.24

This visit brought great encouragement to the Transylvanian churches,25 and although the full demands were not met, yet payment was accepted and the schools were saved. This period of the revolution and of the subsequent persecution of all Protestants was in some respects a benefit to the Unitarians, for it not only roused and deepened their devotion to their own cause, but forced all the confessions to ignore their mutual differences and jealousies as they worked together for their nation, thus attaching greater importance to their common heritage as Hungarians than to their diverging religious views. The happy result was that from this time on the four received religions largely gave up their ancient animosities and began to live together in amity. From 1861, when the Hungarian Constitution was again put in force, and 1867 when Transylvania was united to Hungary, until the outbreak of the first World War the churches enjoyed another half-century of healthy growth, in which their numbers grew from 50,000 to 75,000, and the churches with their dependent congregations increased from 106 to 163, and their total funds rose to some five million crowns.26 Another unlooked for benefit came from the attack upon their school system. As a result of interest in the Transylvania churches thus aroused in England, arrangements were made to bring promising students, who had hitherto been going to German Universities for advanced study, to study under Unitarian auspices in England. Hence since 1860 Hungarian students have come to the Unitarian colleges at London or Oxford, and more recently at Manchester, for a period of two or three years each. These returning home have become professors in the college at Kolozsvár, or ministers in the larger churches, and thus have exerted great influence in raising the standard of scholarship, and in keeping religious thought abreast of the advancing standard of the time.27 In 1892 a similar arrangement was made in the interest of selected young women to have a year or more at school in London.

As years went on, relations with the English and the American Unitarians grew closer, and fraternal interests were deepened by many visitors, singly or in considerable companies, who came to assist at various ceremonial occasions. Thus in 1868, to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of the proclamation of religious freedom at Torda; in 1879, to honor the memory of Francis Dávid on the three hundredth anniversary of his death; in 1891, on the occasion of opening a new church at Budapest; in 1901, for the opening of the new college building at Kolozsvár; and in 1910 to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Dávid’s birth.28 In this period of peace the churches increased, as has been said, in numbers, membership and strength, and also began to take root again in Hungary, where the first modern church was planted in 1879, to be followed by one at the capital with a fine church building erected in 1891, and others at later dates. A good many of the elementary parish schools were given over to the government to conduct, now that its spirit had grown more liberal; but the higher schools were kept and strengthened. Two professorships in the college at Kolozsvár were endowed by American friends, and Channing’s principal works were translated and published in Hungarian (6 vols., 1870–81.29

With the beginning of the twentieth century the Hungarian Unitarian Church as it is now officially called,30 now confirmed in the enjoyment of all its ancient rights and privileges, possessing entire freedom in religion and full equality with the other confessions, with its members eligible to public honors and offices, with a steadily growing constituency of over 75,000, and a roll of over 160 congregations,31 with 42 excellent intermediate parish schools, three well-staffed academies, and one prosperous college with a theological school attached, with increasing endowment funds, and state subsidies to churches and schools, and with firm bonds of sympathy formed with England and America, and friendly relations with the other confessions, apparently had every ground for looking forward to long generations of happy existence. All such hopes were doomed to be frustrated by the overwhelming catastrophe of World War I. It was for some time uncertain which side of the struggle Romania would espouse, but she at length chose to take that of the Allies, with the private understanding, as it was believed, that in case of victory she should be rewarded with the rule of Transylvania. The treaty of Trianon in 1920 therefore sealed Transylvania’s fate, and even before the treaty had been signed Romanian troops invaded their new territory and swarmed over all parts of it, wasting, burning, robbing, ravaging and killing without restraint, after the manner of half-savage and wholly undisciplined troops, still lusting for vengeance for the wrongs and oppressions that they felt they had suffered from the Hungarians for generations without redress. They repeated the bloody scenes of the time of the revolution at the middle of the past century.

It is not to our purpose to recount this period here, except in so far as concerned the Unitarians. Suffice it to say that fury was vented upon all Hungarians without distinction, upon Unitarians neither more nor less than on the others; though none actually suffered so severely from this first invasion as did the Unitarians of the Szeklerland, who lay nearest Romania, whose isolated farms were easily overrun, and who were quickly left ruined, penniless and starving. The first year or so of the occupation were a time of utmost chaos, with freebooting soldiers out of control and little heeding either law or humanity, with the new government inexperienced and unfitted for its responsibilities, and with new officials the embodiment of the greed and venality to which they had been accustomed during centuries of Turkish misrule. Until the new government was reduced to some sort of order, there were countless cases in which Hungarians were arrested, imprisoned, beaten and variously maltreated for no other reason than that they were Hungarians, who must now be made to realize their new estate as a conquered people.

As reports of these atrocities, inflicted upon minority races in defiance of the treaty, reached other countries, a storm of foreign protest was aroused to which some attention had to be paid. The Bishops of the minority churches appealed to their brethren throughout the world. Several commissions of Unitarians and others in America and England went to Transylvania and made investigations in 1919, 1920, 1922 and 1927,32 and reported what they found, with the result that some im­provement of conditions was slowly made. Eventually the more flagrant abuses were done away, and an endurable modus vivendi was reached; though an unappeased bitterness of feeling continued on both sides, and many annoyances or more serious acts of violence kept occurring that were both too frequent and too petty to arouse serious protest. Thus the situation continued until the outbreak of World War II.

By far the most serious and permanent blow, however, that fell upon the churches was connected with the administration of a new scheme of agrarian reform, under which the larger landed estates were to be expropriated by the government, divided up, and sold to the landless peasantry. This scheme, admirable in itself, was supposed to be applied impartially, with no respect to nation or religion, and to both private estates and church lands. But in practice, when dealing with Unitarians, the officials, doubtless thinking it fair to despoil their late enemies, damnable heretics that they were, often expropriated so large a portion of their estate as not to leave the owners enough even for bare subsistence, and then paid for what was taken, not only in greatly depreciated currency, but in sums so ridiculously small as to amount to little better than outright confiscation. Also in dealing with the churches, whose endowments were almost entirely in the shape of landed property, they would strip the church of practically its sole means of support. The new government was as yet too poorly organized to oversee these proceedings, even had it been so disposed, or to punish these wrongs when complained of and proved. Again the churches, in the extremity of their distress, appealed for help to their brethren abroad. Sympathy was at once aroused, and response was prompt and generous. Collections were taken for immediate relief, missions were sent to distribute food and clothing to the destitute; practically all the churches were visited; most of the Transylvanian churches were adopted as ‘sister churches’ by congregations abroad, which assumed especial interest in them and responsibility for them, and for several years sent them an annual donation of $100 or more each, until the worst of their crisis was past, and they had become in a measure adjusted to their new situation. Thus once more deprived of a large share of their property and reduced almost to beggary, but yet heroically struggling and loyally adhering to their faith, the churches were slowly recovering tone and looking forward to a brighter future, when a new and greater war engulfed the world. It has not been a part of the plan of this work to bring it down to the very date of publication by recording events of history still in the making; but now that so much has been told it would seem needlessly abrupt to break the thread so closely connecting the events of World War II with those of World War I since both involved our group of churches so deeply. Indeed it seemed for a time as though the new war were going to redress some of the in­juries of the Unitarian churches and bring them relief and renewal of strength. In 1940 the attempt was made by the conquering powers to reduce causes of friction between the two adjoining nations by revising the boundaries between Hungary and Romania. In this way consider­able territory formerly belonging to Hungary was restored to her by Romania, and not a few Unitarian churches that had for over twenty years been oppressed under Romanian rule to their great joy again be­came Hungarian; though 53 still remained subject to Romania. Church life revived among the Hungarian churches, several new churches were built, and old schools were enlarged. The Agricultural School at Székely-Keresztur was much extended, a new domestic training college was founded at Kolozsvár, and much new publishing was done. But on the other hand the churches still remaining under the Romanian do­minion were greatly weakened, and some congregations quite ceased to exist. Their fraternal relations with England and America brought the Unitarian churches under suspicion with the German administration, and led to persecution, under which one village (Vadad) in central Transylvania was completely wiped out, and other buildings were sadly damaged. Several of the ministers were imprisoned or placed in concentration camps, church incomes in landed property were reduced to almost nothing, and the three churches in Budapest were practically destroyed. Much heroism was shown under the German occupation; and especial record deserves to be made of the memorable work of the Rev. Alexander Szent-Iványi in Hungary. He had been minister of the church at Kolozsvár, where he had been active in defence of the re­ligious minorities, and was therefore forced by the Romanian au­thorities to leave the country. Going to Budapest he there became active in educational and religious work among the distracted residents, in securing aid for the Polish refugees, in furthering the interests of American and English residents in Budapest, in securing humane treatment for prisoners of war, and in establishing hospital care. For more than two years he was in constant danger of arrest while he continued to work through the underground.33 When peace came he was appointed Deputy-Bishop of the Unitarian churches in Hungary, and was highly honored by government. The memory of what this leader did in times of utmost stress, and at constant risk of his life, will long be cher­ished as an inspiration to his countrymen and the members of his church. What the future lot of these brave churches shall be history must determine in its own way; but it can not be doubted that the devoted spirit that has survived through so many generations of persecution will continue to sustain the faithful, even though they be destined still for a time to ‘live under the harrow.’

The history of Unitarianism in Transylvania would hardly be com­plete without at least a summary account of its constitution, characteristics and customs. The Unitarian Church in Transylvania is predominantly a church of the plain people. The magnates or wealthy landholders, though still influential in the other confessions, were before the end of the eighteenth century largely lost, either by persistent oppression or else by their yielding to the temptation offered by civil offices and public honors open only to conformists. In the social scale they are commoners, and the great majority of them are farmers, owning and working their own fields; although a select proportion who have attained university education enter the professions, and take up residence in the larger towns. Most of the churches therefore are rural churches, and their members are with few exceptions poor people. Nevertheless, they have been said to be the most liberal of all the confessions in the support of their own institutions, and they have paid especial attention to their schools. Formerly each congregation main­tained its own elementary school, and the larger ones also had intermediate schools; but more recently these have been absorbed into the state educational system. The religious instruction of the young, however, has throughout been attended to by the church, and given either by the minister or by a separate teacher. Out of a number once much larger, two high schools or academies still survive, at Székely-Keresztúr and Kolozsvár, with excellent buildings and equipment, and with several hundred students each; while above these is a college at Kolozsvár, with a theological department giving a four-year course of study, and a further year of field service. These schools have always maintained a high reputation, and have therefore often been resorted to by scholars from other confessions. A limited amount of state support is received.

The Unitarian people have for generations, even by the admission of rival confessions, been highly esteemed for their excellent characters. In the period when the government was on the alert for every charge that might be made ground for action against them, the candid Catholic Bishop, Demetrius Náprágy, reporting to the Emperor Rudolf at the beginning of the seventeenth century in a letter now celebrated, after taking great pains to say that the Unitarians were thrifty, industrious, moral, well-behaved, added that these very qualities, and the increasing prosperity that they brought, made their detestable doctrines a scandal and a danger for the surrounding population. He thought, therefore, that he ought to report these Unitarians to the government as a permanent hot-bed, not of rude disorders, but of terrible liberalism.34 In like spirit a Lutheran historian of Hungary, writing early in the nineteenth century, bore witness that ‘their simple worship, the strict morality of their communities, the dignity, piety and learning of their Superintendents, have gained them great consideration in the country.35

The organization of the Unitarian Church 36 is a modification of that of the Reformed Church, of which it was originally an offshoot. The unit is the congregation, composed of all adult males or contributors to the church expenses; and to one or other of the congregations each Unitarian is bound to belong. The congregation is administered through its Annual Meeting. It chooses its own minister, and also the school teacher and other necessary officers. The congregations are grouped in eight districts, each of which is governed by an Esperes (District Superintendent) and two Curators, who are chosen by a General Council representing the several congregations. District assemblies are held each year or oftener, and decide questions concerning the welfare of the congregations, and they are visited each year by the Esperes and his Secretary.

The supreme authority in the Church is the Chief or Supreme Consistory. It is composed of the Bishop, two lay Chief Curators, and certain other members serving by virtue of their offices in the districts, or on committees, or as Professors; and besides these, 129 elected members both lay and clergy, and a number of representatives chosen by the districts or the larger congregations. The Supreme Consistory makes the laws and rules concerning the churches and schools, and in general manages all the important affairs of the Church. It meets annually at Kolozsvár, except that every fourth year it meets elsewhere in the character of a Synod, at which ministers are ordained and Bishops and Chief Curators are elected. There is also a Representative Consistory of about forty members, which is in effect a sort of executive committee, sitting at Kolozsvár and meeting monthly, which administers the cur­rent affairs as they arise, supervises the work of churches and schools, and deals with the civil government. The Bishop, general officers and ministers all receive what in other lands would be considered very small salaries, and have to live with the utmost frugality; but the ministers also receive some payments partly in kind, and with their own hands they cultivate a small tract of land assigned to them, thus winning much of their staple provisions.

The beliefs of the churches are comprised in the Catechism by Joseph Ferencz, first issued 1864, and frequently revised (ed. 14, 1928) 37 The most conspicuous central doctrine is that of the unqualified oneness of whose will is made known to us in the Scriptures, and whose character is perfectly illustrated in Christ as a perfect human being, but not a divinity. The Holy Spirit is only another expression for the power of God working in all men. The Scriptures are held in great reverence as a source of truth and a guide to men, though they are accepted not blindly but under the guidance of reason and conscience.

The doctrinal tendency of the Church as a whole may be said to incline to conservatism; but the younger ministers, especially those that have studied abroad, are well abreast of modern views. The preaching is predominantly practical rather than doctrinal, and the Constitution of the Church requires that ministers must refrain from giving offence in their sermons or making attacks on others’ religion, but must teach their own peaceably, and avoid proselyting. Their places of worship are dignified, but plain and unadorned; and the order of service is simple, consisting of prayer, Scripture, hymns and sermon. On Sunday, which is reverently observed, there are both morning and afternoon services; and on weekdays, especially in rural districts, there are brief morning prayers in church before the members go to their work, and prayers again at eventide when they return from their fields. It is said that there are churches where this practice has been continued for three hundred and eighty years without interruption. The young upon reaching the age of fourteen years are carefully instructed in the Catechism, and are then publicly confirmed. Baptism is observed as a formal recognition of acceptance of the Christian religion, and as a sign of entrance into the Christian Church. The Lord’s Supper is sacredly held on four Sundays in the year as a holy commemoration of the death of Jesus, from which members absent themselves only for the gravest reasons, and with great regret.

At this point, the question again suggests itself, how far the movement that we are tracing succeeded in Transylvania in realizing the principles that we consider characteristic of the movement as a whole, the principles of complete freedom, reason and tolerance in religion. Toward attaining full religious freedom, great and rapid progress was made at the very start. The authority of the orthodox creeds was early rejected decisively and without regret. In place of these, Scripture was without question taken for granted as final authority in questions of faith and morals; and that this was in any way to be doubted no one even imagined. Such a thought in fact could hardly occur to any one until two centuries later, after modern biblical criticism began to regard the Scriptures in a new light. Nor was the principle of the supremacy reason in religion yet emphasized, for of course Scripture, being assumed as of divine authority, must by its very nature be entirely reason­able, even though its statements had for the present to be devoutly accepted on faith. But it was in its advocacy and its practice of the principle of perfect toleration in religion that Unitarianism in Transylvania first and most strikingly distinguished itself. Dávid eloquently pleaded for this principle before the Diet, and his followers embodied it in legislation; and at a time when the power of the government might in the interest of what was then the ruling confession have oppressed its rivals, it practiced equal toleration of all, Of no contribution to religious history have Transylvanians been more proud than of this. If despite all this we are reminded that Dávid was brought to his tragic end for his religious beliefs, and that his church was required to purchase its further existence by submitting to a definite confession, limiting its freedom of faith, it must also be recalled that Dávid was prosecuted not by his church but by the secular government, and that while the ministers after Dávid’s fall were forced to accept a creed it was by an act of spiritual violence, but that as has often happened with enforced creed subscription, the act was performed reluctantly and pro forma, and the confession was regarded as merely symbolical, and little further attention was paid to it, and that the further history of the church in Transylvania records no instance when, in a time of ever changing  thought, there was a prosecution for departure from its articles. Thus the judgment of history on the history of Unitarianism in Transylvania may be pronounced that despite the long record of its suffering under persecution, and without regard to the points of doctrine in which it has departed from other churches, it furnishes a noteworthy example of a religion that, while unwaveringly true to its own conception of truth, has yet kept free of spiritual bondage, and has been generously tolerant of those whose doctrines it felt bound to reject.

Click here to open the frame set built to read this document. 

This page was last modified Sunday 12 November 2006.
Website ©1998–2006 Rev. Dr. Alicia McNary Forsey. Text ©1998–2004 t
he heirs of Earl Morse Wilbur.  All rights reserved.
For comments or requests write to { webweaver at pacificuu dot org }.