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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 20 — Protestantism in Hungary and Transylvania

Chapter 1 — Planting of Protestantism

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Early History of Hungary — Entrance of Protestantism — Its Rapid Diffusion — Causes — First Preachers — Henkel and Queen Mary of Hungary — Persecuting Edicts — The Turk Appears — John Zapolya — Louis II — Count Pemflinger — Battle of Mohacz — Slaughter of King and Nobility — Protestantism Progresses — Zapolya and Ferdinand Contest the Sovereignty — Matthias Devay — His Zeal and Success as a Reformer — Imprisoned — The Blacksmith — Count Nadasdy — His Efforts for the Reform of Hungary — Discussion before Ferdinand I — Defeat and Wrath of the Bishops — The King Protects Devay — Character of Ferdinand I.

CROSSING the frontier of Bohemia, we enter those far-extending plains which, covered with corn and the vine, watered by the Danube, the Theiss, and other great rivers, and enclosed by the majestic chain of the Carpathians, constitute the Upper and Lower Hungary. Invaded by the Romans before the Christian era, this rich and magnificent territory passed under a succession of conquerors, and was occupied by various peoples, till finally, in the ninth century, the Magyars from Asia took possession of it. The well-known missionaries, Cyrillus and Methodius, arriving soon after this, found the inhabitants worshipping Mars, and summoning their tribes to the battle-field by sending round a sword. In the tenth century, the beams of a purer faith began to shine through the pagan darkness that covered them. The altars of the god of war were forsaken for those, of the "Prince of Peace," and this warlike people, which had been wont to carry back captives and blood-stained booty from their plundering excursions into Germany and France, now began to practice the husbandry and cultivate the arts of Western Europe. The Christianity of those days did not go deep into either the individual or the national heart; it was a rite rather than a life; there were 150 "holy places" in Hungary, but very few holy lives; miracles were as common as virtues were rare; and soon the moral condition of the nation under the Roman was as deplorable as it had been under the pagan worship. Hungary was in this state, when. it was suddenly and deeply startled by the echoes from Luther's hammer on the church door at Wittemberg. To a people sunk in physical oppression and spiritual misery, the sounds appeared like those of the silver trumpet on the day of Jubilee.

Perhaps in no country of Europe were the doctrines of the Reformation so instantaneously and so widely diffused as in Hungary. Many causes contributed to this. The spread of the doctrines of Huss in that country a century previous, the number of German settlers in Hungarian towns, the introduction of Luther's tracts and hymns by the German soldiers, who came to fight in the Hungarian armies against the Turk, the free civil constitution of the kingdom — all helped to prepare the soil for the reception of the Reformation. Priests in different parts of the land, who had groaned under the yoke of the hierarchy, appeared all at once as preachers of the Reformed faith. "The Living Word, coming from hearts warmed by conviction, produced a wondrous effect, and in a short time whole parishes, villages, and towns — yes, perhaps the half of Hungary, declared for the Reformation." [1]

In 1523 we find Grynaeus and Viezheim both in the Academy of Ofen (Buda-Pesth), in Hungary, teaching the doctrines of Luther. Two years afterwards we find them in exile — the former in Basle, teaching philosophy; and the latter at Wittemberg, as professor of Greek. John Henkel, the friend of Erasmus, and the chaplain of Queen Mary — the sister of Charles V, and wife of Louis II — was a friend of the Gospel, and he won over the queen to the same side. We have already met her at the Diet at Augsburg, and seen her using her influence with her brother, the emperor, in behalf of the Protestants. She always carried about with her a Latin New Testament, which was afterwards found to be full of annotations in her own handwriting. In several of the free cities, and among the Saxons of Transylvania, the reception given to the Reformed doctrines was instant and cordial. Merchants and hawkers brought the writings of Luther to Hermanstadt. The effect which their perusal produced was greatly deepened by the arrival of two monks from Silesia, converts of Luther, who, joined by a third, John Surdaster, preached, sometimes in the open air, at other times in the Elizabethan church, to great crowds of citizens, including the members of the town council. After dismissing their congregations they held catechizings in the public squares and market-places.

Thus was the fire kindled in the heart of the mountains of Transylvania. Many of the citizens began to scoff at the Popish ceremonies. "Do our priests suppose God to be blind," said they, when they saw the magnificent procession of Corpus Christi sweeping past, "seeing they light candles to him at midday?" Others declared that the singing of the "hours" to Our Lady in the cathedral was folly, for the Lord had taught them to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven." The priests were occasionally ridiculed while occupied in the performance of their worship; some of them were turned out of office, and Protestant preachers put in their room; and others, when they came to gather in their tithes, were sent away without their "ducks and geese." This cannot be justified; but surely it in becomes Rome, in presence of her countless crimes, to be the first to cast a stone at these offenders.

Rome saw the thunder-cloud gathering above her, and she made haste to dispel it before it should burst. At the instigation of the Papal legate, Cajetan, Louis II. issued the terrible edict of 1523, which ran as follows: — "All Lutherans, and those who favor them, as well as all adherents to their sect, shall ]have their

property confiscated, and themselves be punished with death, as heretics, and foes of the most holy Virgin Mary."

A commission was next appointed to search for Lutheran books in the Transylvanian mountains and the Hungarian towns, and to burn hem. Many an auto-da-fe of heretical volumes blazed in the public squares; but these spectacles did not stop the progress of heresy. "Hermanstadt became a second Wittemberg. The Catholic ministers themselves confessed that the new doctrine was not more powerful in the town where Luther resided." [2] It was next resolved to burn, not Lutheran books merely, but Lutherans themselves. So did the Diet of 1525 command: — "All Lutherans shall be rooted out of the land; and wherever they are found, either by clergymen or laymen, they may be seized and burned." [3] These two decrees appeared only to inflame the courage of those whom they so terribly menaced. The heresy, over which the naked sword was now suspended, spread all the faster. Young men began to resort to Wittemberg, and returned thence in a few years to preach the Gospel in their native land. Meanwhile the king and the priests, who had bent the bow and were about to let fly the arrow, found other matters to occupy them than the execution of Lutherans.

It was the Turk who suddenly stepped forward to save Protestantism in Hungary, though he was all unaware of the service which he performed. Soliman the Magnificent, setting out from Constantinople on the 23rd of April, 1526, at the head of a mighty army, which, receiving accessions as it marched onward, was swollen at last to 300,000 Turks, was coming nearer and nearer Hungary, like the "wasting levin." The land now shook with terror. King Louis was without money and without soldiers. The nobility were divided into factions; the priests thought only of pursuing the Protestants; and the common people, deprived of their laws and their liberty, were without spirit and without patriotism. Zapolya, the lord of seventy-two castles, and by far the most powerful grandee in the country, sat still, expecting if the king were overthrown to be called to mount the vacant throne. Meanwhile the terrible Turk was approaching, and demanding of Louis that he should pay him tribute, under the threat of planting the Crescent on all the churches of Hungary, and slaughtering him and his grandees like "fat oxen."

The edict of death passed against the Protestants still remained in force, and the monks, in the face of the black tempest that was rising in the east, were stirring up the people to have the Lutherans put to death. The powerful and patriotic Count Pemflinger had received a message from the king, commanding him to put in execution his cruel edicts against the heretics, threatening him with his severest displeasure if he should refuse, and promising him great rewards if he obeyed. The count shuddered to execute these horrible commands, nor could he stand silently by and see others execute them. He set out to tell the king that if, instead of permitting his Protestant subjects to defend their country on the battle- field, he should drag them to the stake and burn them, he would bring down the wrath of Heaven upon himself and his kingdom. On the road to Buda, where the king resided, Pemflinger was met by terrible news.

While the count was exerting himself to shield the Protestants, King Louis had set out to stop the advance of the powerful Soliman. On the 29th of August his little army of 27,000 met the multitudinous hordes of Turkey at Mohacz, on the Danube. Soliman's force was fifteen times greater than that of the king. Louis gave the command of his army to the Archbishop of Cologne — an ex-Franciscan monk, more familiar with the sword than the chaplet, and who had won some glory in the art of war. When the king put on his armor: on the morning of the battle he was observed to be deadly pale. All foresaw the issue. "Here go twenty-seven thousand Hungarians," exclaimed Bishop Perenyi, as the host defiled past him, "into the kingdom of heaven, as martyrs for the faith." He consoled himself with the hope that the chancellor would survive to see to their canonization by the Pope. [4]

The issue was even more terrible than the worst anticipations of it. By evening the plain of Mohacz was covered with the Hungarian dead, piled up in gory heaps. Twenty-eight princes, five hundred nobles, seven bishops, and twenty thousand warriors lay cold in death. Escaping from the scene of carnage, the king and the Papal legate sought safety in flight. Louis had to cross a black pool which lay in his course; his horse bore him through it, but in climbing the opposite bank the steed fell backward, crushing the monarch, and giving him burial in the marsh. The Papal nuncio, like the ancient seer from the mountains of Aram, was taken and slam. Having trampled down the king and his army, the victorious Soliman held on his way into Hungary, and slaughtered 200,000 of its inhabitants.

This calamity, which thrilled all Europe, brought rest to the Protestants. Two candidates now contested the scepter of Hungary — John Zapolya, the unpatriotic grandee who saw his king march to death, but sat still in his castle, and the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. Both caused themselves to be crowned, and hence arose a civil war, which, complicated with occasional appearances of Soliman upon the scene, occupied the two rivals for years, and left them no leisure to carry out the persecuting edicts. In the midst of these troubles Protestantism made rapid progress. Peter Perenyi, a powerful noble, embraced the Gospel, with his two sons. Many other magnates followed his example, and-settled Protestant ministers upon their domains, built churches, planted schools, and sent their sons to study at Wittemberg. The greater number of the towns of Hungary embraced the Reformation.

At

this time (1531) a remarkable man returned from Wittemberg, where he had enjoyed the intimacy, as well as the public instructions, of Luther and Melancthon. Matthias Devay was the descendant of an ancient Hungarian family, and having attained at Wittemberg to a remarkably clear and comprehensive knowledge of the Gospel, he began to preach it to his countrymen. He commenced his ministry at Buda, which, connected by a bridge with Pesth, gave him access to the population of both cities. Only the year before (1530) the Augsburg Confession had been read by the Lutheran princes in presence of Ferdinand of Austria, and many Hungarian nobles; [5] and Devay began his ministry at a favorable moment. Other preachers, trained like Devay at Wittemberg, were laboring in the surrounding districts, and nobles and whole villages were embracing the Gospel. Many of the priests were separating themselves from Rome. The Bishops of Neutra and Wesprim laid aside rochet and mitre to preach the Gospel. [6] Those who had bowed before the idol, rose up to cast it down.

Devay, anxious to diffuse the light in other parts, removed to Upper Hungary; but soon his eloquence and success drew upon him the wrath of the priests. He was thrown into prison at Vienna, and ultimately was brought before Dr. Faber, then bishop of that city, but he pleaded his cause in a manner so admirable that the court dared not condemn him. On his release he returned to Buda, and again commenced preaching. The commotion in the capital of Hungary was renewed, and the wrath of the priests grew hotter than ever. They accused him to John Zapolya, whose sway was owned in this part of the kingdom, and the Reformer was thrown into prison. It happened that in the same prison was a blacksmith, who in the shoeing had lamed the king's favorite horse, and the passionate Zapolya had sworn that if the horse died the blacksmith should pay the forfeit of his life. Trembling from fear of death, the evangelist had pity upon him, and explained to him the way of salvation. As the Philippian gaoler at the hearing of Paul, so the blacksmith in the prison of Buda believed, and joy took the place of terror. The horse recovered, and the king, appeased, sent an order to release the blacksmith. But the man would not leave his prison. "My fellow-sufferer," said he, "has made me a partaker with him in his faith, and I will be a partaker with him in his death." The magnanimity of the blacksmith so touched the king that he commanded both to be set at liberty. [7]

The powerful Count Nadasdy, whose love of learning made him the friend of scholars, and his devotion to the Gospel the protector of evangelists, invited Devay to come and rest awhile in his Castle of Satvar. In the library of the count the evangelist set to work and composed several polemical pieces, lie had no printing-press at his command. This placed him at disadvantage, for his enemies replied in print while his own writings slumbered in manuscript. He went to Wittemberg in search of a printer.

Truly refreshed was he by seeing once more in the flesh his old instructors, Luther and Melancthon, and they were not less so by hearing the joyful news from Hungary. He passed on to Basle, and among its learned and munificent printers, he found the means of issuing some of his works. He returned again to Buda, in the end of 1537, and found his former patron, Nadasdy, occupied in the reformation of the old schools, and the erection of new ones. The Reformer asked Nadasdy for a printing-press. The request was at once conceded, and the press was set up by the side of one of the schools. It was the first printing-press in Hungary, and the work which Devay now issued from it — a book for children, in which he taught at once the rudiments of the language and the rudiments of the Gospel — was the first ever printed in the language of the country.

From these more private, but fundamental and necessary labors, Devay turned to put his hand once more to the work of public evangelization. He preached indefatigably in the district between the right bank of the Danube and Lake Balaton. Meanwhile his former field of labor the Upper Hungary, was not neglected. This post was energetically filled by Stephen Szantai, a zealous and learned preacher. His success was great, and the bishops denounced Szantai, as they had formerly done Devay, to the king, demanding that he should be arrested and put to death. Ferdinand, ever since his return from Augsburg, where he had listened to the famous Confession, had been less hostile to the new doctrines; and he replied, to the dismay of the bishops, that he would condemn no man without a hearing, and that he wished to hold a public discussion on the disputed points. The prelates looked around for one competent to maintain their cause against Szantai, and fixed on a certain monk:, Gregory of Grosswardein, who had some reputation as a controversialist. The king having appointed two umpires, who he thought would act an enlightened and impartial part, the conference took place (1538) at Schasburg.

It lasted several days, and when it was over the two umpires presented themselves before the king, to give in their report. "Sire," they said, "we are in a great strait. All that Szantai has said, he has proved from Holy Scripture, but the monks have produced nothing but fables. Nevertheless, if we decide in favor of Szantai, we shall be held to be the enemies of religion; and if we decide in favor of the monks, we shall be condemned by our own consciences. We crave your Majesty's protection in this difficulty!" The king promised to do his utmost for them, and dismissed them. [8]

The king was quite as embarrassed

as the umpires. In truth, the only parties who saw their way were the priests, and they saw it very clearly. On the afternoon of that same day, the prelates and monks demanded an audience of Ferdinand. On being admitted to the presence, the Bishop of Grosswardein, acting as spokesman, said: "Sire, we are the shepherds of the flock, and it behooves us to guard from wolves the sheep committed to our care. For this reason we demanded that this heretic should be brought here and burned, as a warning to those who speak and write against the Church. Instead of this, your Majesty has granted to this wretched man a public conference, and afforded opportunity to others to suck in his poison. What need of such discussions? has not the Church long since pronounced on all matters of faith, and has she not condemned all such miserable heretics? Assuredly our Holy Father, the Pope, will not be pleased by what you have done."

The king replied, with dignity, "I will put no man to death till he has been proved guilty of a capital crime."

"Is it not enough," cried Startitus, Bishop of Stuhlweissenburg, "that he declares the mass to be an invention of the devil, and would give the cup to the laity, which Christ meant only for priests? Do not these opinions deserve death?"

"Tell me, my lord bishop," said the king, "is the Greek Church a true Church?" The bishop replied in the affirmative. "Very well," continued Ferdinand, "the Greeks have not the mass: cannot we also do without it? The Greeks take the Communion in both kinds, as Chrysostom and Cyril taught them to do: may not we do the same?" The bishops were silent. "I do not defend Szantai," added Ferdinand, "his cause shall be examined; I cannot punish an innocent man."

"If your Majesty do not grant our request," said the Bishop of Grosswardein, "we shall find other remedies to free us from this vulture." The bishops left the royal presence in great wrath.

The king passed some anxious hours. At nine o'clock at night he gave an audience, in presence of two councilors, to Szantai, who was introduced by the Burgomaster of Kaschau. "What really is, then, the doctrine that you teach?" inquired the king. The evangelist gave a plain and clear exposition of his doctrine, which he said was not his own, but that of Christ and his apostles, as recorded in the Scriptures of truth. The king had heard a similar doctrine at Augsburg. Had not his confessor too, when dying, acknowledged that he had not led him in the right path, and that it was the truth which Luther taught? Ferdinand was visibly disturbed for some moments. At last he burst out, "O my dear Stephen! if we follow this doctrine, I greatly fear that some calamity will befall both of us. Let us commit the matter to God. But, my friend, do not tarry in my dominions. If you remain here the princes will deliver you up to death; and should I attempt to save you, I would but expose myself to danger. Sell what thou hast, and go; depart into Transylvania, where you will have liberty to profess the truth." [9]

Having given the evangelist some presents towards the expenses of his journey, the king turned to the Burgomaster of Kaschau, and desired him to take Szantai away secretly by night, and to conduct him in safety to his own people.

In this transaction all the parties paint their own characters. We can read the fidelity and courage of the humble evangelist, we see the overgrown insolence of the bishops, and not less conspicuous is the weakness of Ferdinand. Of kindly disposition, and aiming at being upright as a king, Ferdinand I. nevertheless, on the great question that was moving the world, was unable to pursue any but an inconsistent and wavering course.

Ever since the day of Augsburg he had halted between Wittemberg and Rome. He was not, however, without some direction in the matter, for something within him told him that truth was at Wittemberg; but on the side of Rome he saw two lofty personages — the Pope, and his brother the Emperor Charles — and he never could make up his mind to break with that august companionship, and join himself to the humble society of Reformers and evangelists. Of double mind, he was unstable in all his ways.


Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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