|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|
That the ideas of Luther spread rapidly in Hungary before the Battle of Mohács (1526) is well-known. Less widely known is that they did so almost exclusively among Hungary's ethnic Germans. Two factors have caused this misunderstanding. First of all, most standard works on Hungarian history have been histories of Hungary, not of the Hungarians alone; secondly, the histories of the various denominations, such as the Lutherans, the Reformed, and the Unitarians, tended to pay little heed to the question of ethnicity during these preformative years. Yet both the geographic distribution and the list of names of the earliest reformers indicate clearly that the movement was, in the beginning, restricted to the Saxons in eastern Hungary (Transylvania) and to German settlements in the northern mining districts of the country. In addition, there was some early interest in the new teachings elsewhere in the towns of Hungary, as in Sopron (Ödenburg), Kassa (Kaschau, Kosice), and Buda (Ofen), which were not strictly German but nonetheless possessed strong German congregations.
The Hungarian Catholic church feared the spread of this "dangerous heresy." Along with the nobility, the church had been a unifying force in the Kingdom, perhaps the most important unifying force. Both hierarchies were, before Mohács, largely Hungarian, even though traditionally ethnic origin had not been a barrier to upward mobility within its ranks. Szalkai, Perényi, Szathmáry, Szegedi, and Bornemissza were the names one found among the Catholic eminent of the era. As for the nobility, they had sworn, as early as 1505 at the Congress of Rákos, to elect only a Hungarian for a king the next time they had a choice.
Before Mohács, the battle lines in the coming fight for the Reformation were clearly drawn between two ethnic groupings: the Hungarian
establishment on the one hand, and the German on the other. One must not forget that the Germans also had a powerful establishment in Hungary, particularly the Saxons on their own territory. Provided from the time of their settlement with constitutional guarantees, they enjoyed broad political autonomy. In the ecclesiastic sphere, they were ultimately subjected to the Hungarian hierarchy, but even in this they had a high degree of local and regional freedom.
The battle was to be fought with laws and decrees on the one hand and propaganda on the other. The Parliamentary Acts of 1523, 1524, and 1525 were surprisingly harsh and made adherence to the new heresy a capital offense. In fact, the laws were never enforced. The government contented itself with staging book-burnings in the Saxon towns, with issuing warnings and appointing investigating committees.4 The priesthood was ordered to preach against the new doctrines, and both sides resorted to pamphleteering.
In the latter, the Germans initially proved superior. Printing was a German craft, which was protected by the guilds, and there was at first not a single press operating in Hungary. (King Mátyás had had one established in Buda by a German named Andreas Hess, but the enterprise had proved short-lived.) The German reformers had Wittenberg to draw on for inspiration and for ammunition. But when Werbõczy, Hungary's leading politician, wanted to publish a pamphlet against the Lutherans, he had to go to Vienna to have it produced and could have it done only in Latin, at that. The first work printed in Hungarian came out after the Battle of Mohács, in Krakow, which was a nest of the Reformation. Only in 1536 was Hungarian typesetting established in Vienna. The first Catholic press in Hungary had to wait until 1577 for its founding, after the first phase of the spiritual war had been lost.
It is difficult to understand why the Catholic side failed to grasp the importance of the printed word until the time of the Counter-Reformation. It is sufficient to say that the reason was complex and centered on the organization of the establishment, which was used to dealing with the people through a long and strict chain of command whose final link was the parish priest. Letters and hand copying were what the apparatus was set up to do, and to do well. The Roman church resisted innovation not only in the doctrinal sphere, but also in the technical.
Not that the Protestant side was engaging in mass propaganda. It is impossible even to estimate how many, or how few, of the public could read in sixteenth-century Hungary. There were church schools here and there, but it would be a mistake to think of a public accessible
to print on either side around 1525. Yet the Lutheran propaganda was readily available to those who were important, which was primarily the clergy, and it was cheap, uniform, and rapidly distributable. Every parish priest who so desired could obtain his own booklets to read time and again in his native tongue, while the manuscripts, which his superiors may or may not have sent, were still in Latin. The psychological advantage was important for the Protestants, and the new teachings, often clothed in poetry, were more readily communicable by word of mouth than the old Latin texts. The vitality and the simple, classic elegance of many of the contemporary Lutheran works were outstanding, and half of Luther's battle was won by the warmth and the beauty of his language.
Had the political collapse of the Hungarian kingdom not come about in 1526, there would have been two likely outcomes to the ecclesiastic struggle: either the reestablishment of a unified Roman church in Hungary, which could have only been accomplished through force, perhaps with additional concessions to the German groupings, or the coexistence of a majority Hungarian Catholic church and a German Protestant church, with some geographic overlapping between them in certain areas. Evidence does not exist to suggest the viability of a third alternative: that of a purely Protestant Hungary split into two ethnic churches, much less unified into one organization.
But Mohács did come, and so did the Turks. The central authority of both the church and the state were weakened and almost destroyed. Within six months of the devastating fight, Hungary had been "blessed" with two kings and split into two factions: those of King János, the former viceroy of Transylvania, and of Ferdinand Habsburg. János ruled the East and Ferdinand the West, while the Sultan maintained a decisive presence in the central South. As to which side was right and which wrong, which loyal and which traitor, Hungarian historiography will perhaps never decide. The Ferdinand faction looked for a strong German alliance based on religious connections; János chose a modus vivendi with the Turk and counted on French support. The Hungarian division of the sixteenth century was a forerunner of the European split 100 years later, during the Thirty Years' War.
A frequently overlooked fact has been that while at first both Hungarian factions remained loyal to the Catholic faith, the church establishment itself stood overwhelmingly on the side of Ferdinand. Thus Eastern Hungary, out of which the Transylvanian Principality was to evolve, suddenly emerged as a Catholic country with a large German minority of Protestant sympathizers, and it was cut off from the central church organization. King János, although excommunicated, never became
a Protestant; nevertheless, it was in his realm, and in the ranks of his followers, that Protestantism started to grow among Hungarians. It did not, however, develop along German lines.
The major appeal of the Protestant movement was its stress on the individual route to salvation and its emphasis on the use of the vernacular in teaching, preaching, and ceremonies. This was the first element that the Hungarians of the East learned from the German Protestants. And in doing so they also learned how to use the press for spreading their message.
At first they relied on the press abroad. The first religious work to be printed there in Hungarian was Benedek Komjáti's translation of the Epistles of Saint Paul (1533), followed rapidly by a Hungarian edition of the Lexicon of Murmellius. Imre Ozorai's De Christo et eius Ecclesia, a Hungarian work in spite of the title, was the first militantly Protestant argument (1535). István Gálszécsy published a hymnal and a catechism in Krakow in 1536. In that year, the aristocrat Tamás Nádasdy bought a press for János Sylvester, a very learned man and himself a printer, who translated and published the New Testament. Among other things, Sylvester also wrote and printed a famous grammar, his Grammatica Hungaro-Latina, the first contrastive work on Latin and Hungarian. Krakow and Wittenberg kept pouring forth new Hungarian works well into the middle of the century, when Hungarian presses finally became operational at Kolozsvár (Klausenburg, Cluj), between 1550 and 1600, and Debrecen, from 1561 in particular, with temporary establishments working elsewhere.
Aside from the works mentioned, there were also published other partial Bible translations, including Gábor Pesti's and Gáspár Heltai's; the first complete version to see print was Gáspár Károli's, in 1590. There were also produced psalters and hymnals (Gálszécsy, Bornemissza, Benczédi); religious lyrics and texts as parts of collections (Szkhárosi-Horváth, Batizi, Sztárai); epics and chronicles (Tinódi, Farkas, Benczédi); catechisms and apologetic works (Dévai, Batizi, Gálszécsy, Kálmáncsehi, Méliusz, Dávid); linguistic works (Dévai, Sylvester, Benczédi); and the first beginnings of the theological school drama (Sztárai). Bálint Balassi, one of Hungary's greatest poets ever, worked during this era. It was as if the floodgates had been opened suddenly. János Horváth, the great scholar of sixteenth-century Hungarian letters, has associated well over 100 writers of greater or lesser achievement with the Hungarian Reformation. Works by writers of various religious conviction, from Erasmian Catholics and Lutherans to the strictest Calvinists and the most radical Anti-Trinitarians and Judaizers, appeared. In the early period, most writers were not Transylvanians,
though loyal to King János and his cause. Later, the focus of literary activity shifted to Transylvania, where Protestantism, divided on both ethnic and denominational lines, evolved into powerful, new, established churches.
The Hungarian Reformation was not a progressive theological evolution from Catholicism through Lutheranism to Unitarianism and Calvinism, with the latter becoming dominant, but the result of a dynamic political dialectic process, to which ethnic divisions perhaps provide the ultimate key. Accordingly, the Lutheranism of Hungary's German minority became the antithesis of Hungarian Catholicism, while Hungarian Calvinism and Unitarianism formed the antithesis to both German Lutheranism and to the politically pro-German and German-dominated Catholicism of the West. Whatever the merits of this view, the literary evidence lends overwhelming support to the contention that it was the process of the Reformation that transformed the Hungarian-speaking population of the Hungarian kingdom, including that part that became the state of Transylvania, into a self-conscious nation. The very wealth of the literature printed in Hungarian in that era demonstrates, on the other hand, that this feverish activity in Hungarian letters was both a cause and an effect in the process.
The literature must have had an enormous effect. Almost all of it was meant to be ab ovo utilitarian, in the service of religion, to be sure, but of a religion that was now Hungarian in practice. There are strong indications, too, that the practical theology of the Hungarian churches of the time placed greater emphasis on Old Testamental parallels than on abstract debates regarding the meaning of the sacraments. The Psalms, for instance, sung in beautiful Hungarian renditions, became the main element of the Hungarian order of worship for obvious reasons, and the wrath of God, in the form of the Turk, was seen as divine punishment of the collective for which only the collective could atone. These symbols are very much present in the literature of the age, and they have remained important components of Hungarian religious and secular literature, indeed of the national psyche, to the present day.
Transylvania became politically separate from the Hungarian kingdom in the midst of the Reformation, around the middle of the sixteenth century. It became a state unto itself, with a particular political structure, its own legal system, its own history. But this separateness of history does not mean that Hungarian Transylvanians ever became Transylvanians in their national identity. The Hungarians and the Székelys, who were a Hungarian caste regardless of their origins, remained just as much Hungarians as if the kingdom had never collapsed,
but were now more aware than ever of Hungarian nationhood. A similar statement, however, cannot be made about Transylvania's two other major ethnic groups, the Saxons and the Rumanians.
Until the Reformation, the Saxons were an autonomous body politic with their own language, which was a German dialect very different from any of the various standard German languages of the era, and were defined as a nation by the Hungarian Constitution. They possessed special privileges as a separate caste and class. In spite of occasional disagreement and strife, they were loyal subjects and supporters of the Hungarian crown, but not of the Hungarians per se. The distinction is important. As long as the Hungarian kingdom stood unified, they were members of it in their very Saxonhood. But the simultaneous collapse of Hungary and the coming of the Reformation awakened in them an awareness of also being Germans. In fact, this dual identity and loyalty has characterized Transylvania's Saxons until our own age, in which the backbone of their flourishing society became broken. Rightfully proud of their own achievements, history, and culture, they have remained nevertheless dependent upon the main German body politic since the Reformation, and their fortunes have risen and fallen along with those of Austria and Germany. Their importation of German culture from the West, in finished form, produced in them a paradox through the centuries: it elevated the Saxons in many ways above the Hungarians and the Rumanians, but on the other hand it stifled their own creativity. Saxon men of learning had abounded before the Reformation, but then they were also part of a universal European culture. Their numbers continued to be legion afterward, particularly in their clergy, but they became isolated. The tragedy of the Saxons was that they were collectively not strong enough to go it alone nor to become integrated into the broader German world, in which they remained but objects of curiosity. In literature, for example, they were never able to approach the Swiss, who could be considered a parallel in many ways. The Swiss were never really out of the German mainstream; the Saxons were.
During the Reformation, the Saxons took the initiative. Their crowning achievement became, however, not the establishment of an independent religion, nor even of a new literature. Instead, the Saxons built a magnificent church establishment, which was an organization of their own and served them well in protecting their separateness and preserving their identity until the coming of the current state religion, Rumanian Marxism-Leninism.
The names of many Saxon preachers from those early years could be listed, but to look for parallels among the 100 or so Hungarian
writers would be fruitless for the Sachsenland. They are to be sought in Germany, not here. Yet there were exceptions: first and foremost that of the Saxon prophet, the "Luther of Transylvania," Johannes Honter or simply Honterus.
Honterus appeared in Kronstadt (Brasso, Brasov) in 1533, a man, in the words of G.D. Teutsch, the eminent historian of the Saxons, "who became the foundation and the rock of the new federation, the champion of God, through whom the Lord founded His Church here, a fountain from which flowed new moral and religious life for many generations." His youth has been hidden in legend. Allegedly born in 1498, the son of a Saxon tanner named Georg Grass, it is believed that he studied extensively in Krakow, in Wittenberg, and in Basel. We know that he had indeed studied in Vienna, that he spent at least some time in Krakow, and that he was a very learned man by the time of his return. It is also a fact that he had learned a craft along the way that would now stand him in good stead: the craft of printing. Almost overnight he transformed Kronstadt into a religious and cultural center by establishing a press and a school there. A steady stream of Lutheran publications flowed from Kronstadt from then on, and soon Honterus also began to preach. The result of his efforts was the establishment of the Saxon Evangelical church, a church for which he provided both the theological and the organizational foundation in his most famous work, the Kirchenordnung, issued in 1542 for the Burzenland (Barcaság --- a region around Kronstadt), then again for all Saxon churches in 1547, under the title Kirchenordnung aller Deutschen in Siebenbuergen (Order of Worship for all Germans in Transylvania). We duly note the words "aller Deutschen" --- of all Germans. "But now the time is come," he states, "in which the Lord will awaken a new people unto himself; therefore let him who has ears to hear, hear." And with this message the Saxons did become a new Volk, reborn as Germans in their native Transylvania and an example to others in thrift, diligence, learning, and virtue. A long succession of scholarly ecclesiastics in Kronstadt and Hermannstadt followed Honterus. They were outstanding citizens, judges, teachers, and preachers who formed a line uninterrupted until the chauvinism of our era, including the German chauvinism of the Saxons themselves, destroyed this gifted and honest people. In the sixteenth century, names of such brilliant men as Thomas Bomel, Matthias Fronius, Paul Kerzius, Simon Massa, and Michael Siegler can also be mentioned. All were intellectual leaders of their Volk; yet they do not belong, strictly speaking, in the field of letters. There were only three poets in this era: Hieronymus Ostermeyer of Grosscheuern (Nagycsûr, sura Mare), and Andreas and Paul Scherer
of Hermannstadt. Of them, even G.D. Teutsch, who writes only in superlatives of his Saxons, has simply said that Ostermeyer was known for his truth, simplicity, and sincerity, and that he wrote in German; and that the Scherers were not unworthy to stand at his side. Germany had already stilled the muses in the Sachsenland.
The story of the Saxons cannot be, in this connection, complete without a footnote: Ferenc Dávid, the founder of the Unitarian church among the Hungarians of Transylvania, and Gáspár Heltai, Kolozsvár's outstanding printer, translator, and writer, who very nearly provided a complete Bible for the Hungarians, were both Saxons in origin. The former was that only on his paternal side, while the latter's mother and father were both Saxons. Heltai did not even start to learn Hungarian until his middle years but learned it so well that he set a standard for all to emulate. To his dying day, he called himself a Saxon, claiming that he had learned Hungarian and started to print Hungarian books only to prove he was not prejudiced against Hungarians. Nevertheless, his Saxon brethren considered him a traitor. Dávid, for his part, had been a Saxon priest and bishop before being expelled from Honter's church for his radical views and, no doubt, for his Hungarian and international sympathies. Let them be cases in point: not only did nationality usually define religion in Protestant Transylvania, but religion also came to define nationality.
But the best example of religion determining nationality is the case of the Rumanians of Transylvania.
Whether Rumanians were present in Transylvania in the year 500 or the year 1000 does not matter except in the context of political myth. They were certainly present by the year 1500. Though no one has accurate statistics, they seem to have accounted for between one-third and one-half of Transylvania's population, depending on how Transylvania is defined. Yet, politically as well as socially, they remained or were considered to be a foreign element by Hungarians and Saxons alike. The reason has far less to do with national or linguistic prejudices or even with the class struggle than Rumanian scholars of yesteryear or of the present attempt to portray. To refute these views, let it suffice for now to say that if it is true, as the Rumanians claim, that the Hunyadis were Rumanian, then even the highest office in the Kingdom of Hungary was open to them, provided they became Roman Catholics. For ethnicity meant very little or nothing before the Reformation. What did matter was religious affiliation.
The Rumanians were staunch adherents of the Byzantine or East Roman faith. The very name, Rumanian, is originally a religious appellation, not a national one. The Turks still call the Greeks and other
members of the Byzantine church in the Balkans rumlar, or Romans. But so distant, so strange was this faith to the Western tradition that by the time of the Reformation its followers were often not even considered Christians by either the Catholics or the Protestants. It is striking that when Transylvanian references were made during this period to Rumanians as members of a religious group, they were likely to be called non-Christians, and efforts to missionize them were formulated in terms of making Christians of them.
The attempt was made and overall it was a failure. Its story belongs chiefly to the seventeenth century, and to the annals of church history and religious legislation. The intent may have been in part to swell the ranks of the new denominations, but the aim was not to cause the Rumanians to give up their language and ethnicity. On the contrary, it was meant to bring the Word of God to these "heathen" in their own tongue and to create a printed medium for them, where none had been before.
The first step in this direction was undertaken in Hermannstadt, when a Rumanian catechism was printed, in 1544, at the expense of the city. The next reference is also from a Saxon source. Simon Massa wrote of the year 1559: "In this year, on March 12, Johannes Benkner, Judge of Kronstadt, together with the other senators, reformed the church of the Rumanians, and obligated them to teach the doctrines of the catechism." The most famous work was done by a Rumanian convert named Coresi. In 1560 and 1561, he translated and printed the four Gospels, in Kronstadt, and the work was commissioned by the same Johannes Benkner. By about 1563, the rest of the New Testament had seen print, again through Coresi's effort, and probably with Saxon financing. Only second in importance to the Bible translations was a volume containing an exegesis and an order of worship. Nothing specific about its origins has been found, except that it was set in the same type used by Coresi around 1561. The work reveals some parallels with Heltai's first Agenda; it also displays some influence of Hungarian in its vocabulary, e.g., taroasa for terhes, oca for oka, otalmazui for oltalmazni, nebuntetuit for nem-büntetett (büntetlen). The conclusion of István Juhász, a historian of the Reformed church, was that the anonymous author of this in many ways original creation must have been a Rumanian priest well versed in the Gospels, with Protestant convictions and with enough knowledge of Hungarian to use Hungarian texts as a reference.
That is the extent of the printed Protestant literature in Rumanian of which we know from the period in question. Did it have an effect, however? Did it have an impact on the development of Rumanian national consciousness? This question is difficult to answer. Judging from
the very lukewarm reception and temporary spread of the Reformation among the Rumanian congregations, even in later years, when the Transylvanian state made the Rumanian mission its official objective and a complete Rumanian Bible was commissioned by Gábor Bethlen and finally issued under György Rákóczi I, in 1648, the answer seems to be no. In general, the Rumanian priesthood and their flock remained loyal to their Byzantine faith and rites, the language of which continued to be Old Slavic and Greek. Yet the rejection of the Reformation by Transylvania's Rumanians was just as decisive in shaping the destiny of their nation as its acceptance was fateful in molding the future of the Hungarians and of the Saxons.
|Transylvania - The Roots of Ethnic Conflict|