corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 20 — Protestantism in Hungary and Transylvania

Chapter 2 — Protestantism flourishes in hungary and Transylvania

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5

Characteristic of the Reformation in Hungary, its Silence and Steadiness — Edition of the New Testament in Hungarian — Rivalship between Zapolya and Ferdinand favorable to Protestantism — Death of Zapolya — His Son proclaimed King — The Turk Returns — He Protects Protestantism — Progress of Reformation — Conflicts between the Lutherans and the Calvinists — Synod of Erdoed — Its Statement of Doctrines — The Confession of the Five Cities — Formation of the Helvetian and Lutheran Churches — The Diet, by a Majority of Votes, declares for the Reformation — The Preacher Szegedin — Count Petrovich — Reforms — Stephen Losonczy — The Mussulman again Rescues Protestantism — Grants Toleration — Flourishing State of Protestantism in Transylvania and Hungary.

ONE very remarkable characteristic of the progress of Protestantism in Hungary, was its silence and its steadiness. No one heard the fall of the Roman hierarchy: there was no crash as in other countries, and yet it was overthrown. The process of its removal was a dissolution rather than a destruction. The uprising of the new fabric was attended with as little noise as the falling of the old: the Bible, the pulpit, and the school did their work; the light waxed clearer every hour, the waters flowed wider around every day, and ere men were aware, the new verdure covered all the land.

Young evangelists, full. of knowledge and faith, returned from the Protestant schools in Germany and Switzerland, and began to publish the Gospel. Some labored among the mountains of Transylvania, others evangelized on the plains and amid the towns of Hungary; and from the foot of the Carpathians to the borders of Turkey and the confines of Germany, the seeds of truth and life were being scattered. As Luther, and Zwingle, and Calvin had been the teachers of these men, they in their turn became the instructors of the curates and priests, who lacked the opportunity or the will to visit foreign lands and learn Divine knowledge from those who had drawn it from its original fountains. In proportion as they discovered the way of life, did they begin to make it known to their flocks, and thus whole parishes and districts gradually and quietly passed over to Protestantism, carrying with them church, and parsonage, and school. In some instances where the people had become Protestant, but the pastor continued to be Popish, the congregation patiently waited till his death, and then called a preacher of the Word of God.

Three things at this time contributed to the progress of Protestant truth in Hungary. The first was the conference at Schasburg. The news spread through the country that the priests had been unable to maintain their cause before the evangelist Szantai, and that the king had stood by the preacher. After this many began to search into the truth of the new doctrines, who had hitherto deemed inquiry a crime. The second favorable circumstance was the publication, in 1541, of an edition of the New Testament in the Hungarian language. This was the work of John Sylvester, assisted by Count Nadasdy, to whom Melancthon had given Sylvester a letter of recommendation. The Epistles of Paul had been published in the Hungarian vernacular, at Cracow, in 1533, [1] but now the whole New Testament was placed within reach of the people. The third thing that favored the Reformation was the division of the country under two rival sovereigns. This was a calamity to the kingdom, but a shield to its Protestantism. Neither Ferdinand I. nor John Zapolya dared offend their great Protestant nobles, and so their persecuting edicts remained a dead letter.

It seemed at this moment as if the breach were about to be closed, and the land placed under one sovereign, whose arm, now greatly more powerful, would perchance be stretched out to crush the Gospel. In the same year in which the conference was held at Schasburg, it was arranged by treaty between the two kings that each should continue to sway his scepter over the States at that moment subject to him; but on the death of John Zapolya, without male issue, Hungary and Transylvania should revert to Ferdinand I. When the treaty was framed Zapolya had no child. Soon thereafter he married the daughter of the King of Poland, and next year, as he lay on his death-bed, word was brought him that his queen had borne him a son. Appointing the Bishop of Grosswardein and Count Petrovich the guardians of his new-born child, Zapolya solemnly charged them not to deliver up the land to Ferdinand. This legacy, which was in flagrant violation of the treaty, was equally terrible to his son and to Hungary.

The widow, not less ambitious than her deceased husband, caused her son to be proclaimed King of Hungary. Feeling herself unable to contend in arms with Ferdinand I, she placed the young prince under the protection of Soliman, whose aid she craved. This led to the reappearance of the Turkish army in Hungary. The country endured, in consequence, manifold calamities; many of the Protestant pastors fled, and the evangelization was stopped. But these disorders lasted only for a little while. The Turks were wholly indifferent to the doctrinal controversies between the Protestants and the Papists. In truth, had they been disposed to draw the sword of persecution, it would have been against the Romanists, whose temples, filled with idols, were specially abhorrent to them. The consequence was that the evangelizing agencies were speedily resumed. The pastors returned, the Hungarian New Testament of Sylvester was being circulated through the land, the progress of Protestantism in Hungary became greater, at least more obvious, than ever, and under the reign of Islam the Gospel had greater quietness in Hungary, and flourished more than perhaps would have been the case had the kingdom been governed solely by the House of Austria.

A more disturbing conflict arose in the Protestant Church of Hungary itself. A visit which Devay, its

chief Reformer, made at this time to Switzerland, led him to change his views on the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. On his return he let his change of opinion, which was in the direction of Zwingle, or rather of Calvin, be known, to the scandal of some of his brethren, who having drawn their theology from Wittemberg, were naturally of Luther's opinions. A flame was being kindled. [2] No greater calamity befell the Reformation than this division of its disciples into Reformed and Lutheran. There was enough of unity in essential truth on the question of the Eucharist to keep them separate from Rome, and enough, we submit, to prevent them remaining separate from one another.

Both repudiated the idea that the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was a sacrifice, or that the elements were transubstantiated, or that they were to be adored; and both held that the benefit came through the working of the Spirit, and the faith of the recipient. The great essentials of the Sacrament were here, and it was not in the least necessary to salvation that one should either believe or deny Luther's superadded idea, which he never could clearly explain, of consubstantiation. The division, therefore, was without any sufficient ground, and was productive of manifold evils in Hungary, as in all the countries of the Reformation.

From this time dates the formation of two Protestant Churches in Hungary — the Reformed and the Lutheran. In 1545 a synod was held in the town of Erdoed, Comitat of Szmathmar, in the north of Transylvania. It consisted of twenty-nine ministers who were attached to the Helvetian Confession, and who met under the protection of the powerful magnate Caspar Dragfy. They confessed their faith in twelve articles, of which the headings only are known to us. The titles were — Of God; The Redeemer; Justification of the Sinner before God; Faith; Good Works; The Sacraments; Confession of Sin; Christian Liberty; The Head of the Church; Church Government; The Necessity of Separating from Rome. [3] To this statement of their views they added, in conclusion, that in other matters they agreed with the Augsburg Confession.

In the following year (1546)five towns of Upper Hungary convened at Eperies for the purpose of drawing up a Confession of their faith. They drafted sixteen articles, the doctrine of which was substantially that of the Augsburg Confession. This document became famous in Hungary as the Pentapolitan, or Confession of the Five Cities. The synod added to their Confession several regulations with the view of guarding the soundness of the ministers, and the morals of the members of the Church. A pastor who should teach doctrine contrary to that set forth in the Pentapolitan was to be deposed from office; no one was to be admitted to the Communion-table without examination; and in order to render the exercise of church discipline, especially excommunication, the less necessary, the magistrate was exhorted to be vigilant in the repression of vice, and the punishment of crime.

We now see two Protestant communions on the soil of Hungary, but the separation between them was, as yet, more in name than in reality. They felt and acted toward one another as if still members of the same Church, though differing in their views on the one question of the Eucharist, and not till an after-period did the breach widen and heats arise. This epoch is, too, that of the formal separation of the Protestants of Hungary from the Church of Rome. Up to this time their clergy had been ordained by the Popish bishop of the diocese, or appointed by the professors at the German universities; but now the Hungarian Protestants themselves chose superintendents, by whom their ministers were ordained, and they convoked assemblies from time to time for the regulation of all matters appertaining to their Church. [4]

The progress of Protestantism in Transylvania was henceforward rapid indeed. The Diet of 1553 declared by a majority of votes in favor of the Reformation. One consequence of this was that the neighboring free city of Huns, at that time an important fortress, became entirely Protestant, and in the following year (1554) the last Popish priest left; the town, as a shepherd who had no flock. The Palatine, [5] Thomas Nadasdy, and others of nearly as exalted a rank, were among the accessions to Protestantism at this time. Nor must we omit to mention the impulse given to the movement by the conversion of the powerful and learned bishop, Francis Thurzo, from the Church of Rome; nor the yet greater aid contributed by Francis Cis, or Szegedin, who was equally great as a theologian and as all orator. His activity and success drew upon him the wrath of the Romanists, and after being set upon and nearly beaten to death by an officer of the Bishop of Grosswardein's body-guard, he was driven out of the country. This great preacher was recalled, however, by Count Peter Petrovich, a zealous friend of the Reformation, who now governed Transylvania in the name of the young son of King Zapolya. Petrovich, wielding for the time the supreme power in Transylvania, took steps for completing its Reformation, and in the prosecution of this great object he found Szegedin a most efficient ally. The preacher proclaimed the faith, and the governor removed all hindrances to the reception and profession of it. Petrovich took away all the images from the churches, converted the monasteries into schools, removed the Popish priests from their parishes, coined the gold and silver vessels into money, appropriated the Church property in the name of the State, and secured three-fourths of it for the salaries of the Protestant clergy. Thus was the whole of Transylvania, with the consent and co-operation of the people, freed from the jurisdiction of the Romish hierarchy, [6] and the vast majority of its inhabitants passed over to the Protestant Confessions.

There came a momentary turning of the tide. In 1557 the

reforming Count Petrovich was obliged to give way to Stephen Losonczy. The latter, a mere man of war, and knowing only enough of the Gospel to fear it as a cause of disturbance, drove away all its preachers. Not only was the eloquent and energetic Szegedin sent into exile, but all his colleagues were banished from the country along with him. The sequel was not a little remarkable. Scarcely had the ministers quitted the soil of Transylvania, when the Turks burst across its frontier. They marched on Temeswar, besieged and took the fortress, and slaughtered all the occupants, including the unhappy Losonczy himself. The ministers would probably have perished with the rest, had not the governor, with the intent of ruining them, forced them beforehand into a place of safety. [7]

Again the Protestants found the scepter of the Turks lighter than the rod of the Papists. The pashas were besieged by solicitations and bribes to put the preachers to death, or at least to banish them; but their Turkish rulers, more just than their Christian opponents, refused to condemn till first they had made inquiry; and a short interrogation commonly sufficed to make patent the fact that, while the Romanists worshipped by images, the Protestants bowed to God alone. This was enough for the Mussulman governor. Without seeking to go deeper into the points of difference, he straightway gave orders that no hindrance should be offered to the preaching of that Gospel which the great Mufti of Wittemberg had discovered; and thus, in all the Transylvanian towns and plains under the Moslem, the Protestant faith continued to spread.

Scarcely less gratifying was the progress of the truth in those portions of Hungary which were under the sway of Ferdinand I. In Komorn, on the angle formed by the junction of the Wang with the Danube, we find Michael Szataray and Anthony Plattner preaching the Gospel with diligence, and laying the foundation of what was afterwards the great and flourishing Church of the Helvetian Confession. In the free city of Tyrnau, to the north of Komorn, where Simon Grynaeus and the Reformer Devay had scattered the seed, the writings of the Reformers were employed to water it, and the majority of the citizens embraced the Protestant faith in its Lutheran form. In the mining towns of the mountainous districts the Gospel flourished greatly. These towns were held as the private property of the Protestant Queen Mary, the widow of Louis II, who had perished at the battle of Mohacz, and while under her rule the Gospel and its preachers enjoyed perfect security. But the queen transferred the cities to her brother Ferdinand, and the priests thought that they now saw how they could reach their heretical inhabitants. Repairing to Ferdinand, they represented these towns as hotbeds of sectarianism and sedition, which he would do well to suppress. The accusation kindled the zeal of the Protestants; they sent as their defense, to the monarch, a copy of their Confession (Pentapolitana), of which we have spoken above. Ferdinand found it the echo of that to which he had listened with so much interest at Augsburg twenty years before, and he commanded that those whose faith this Confession expressed should not be molested. [8]

Everywhere we find the greatest ferment and activity prevailing. We see town councils inviting preachers to come and labor in the cities under their jurisdiction, and opening the churches for their use. School-houses are rising, and wealthy burgomasters are giving their gardens in free grant for sites. We see monks throwing off the cloak and betaking themselves, some to the pulpit, others to the school, and others to handicrafts. We find archbishops launching fulminatory letters, which meet with no response save in their own idle reverberations. The images are vanishing from the churches; the tapers are being extinguished at the altar; the priest departs, for there is no flock; processions cease from the streets and highways; the begging friar forgets to make his round; the pilgrim comes no more to his favorite shrine; relies have lost their power; and the evening air is no longer vexed by the clang of convent bells, thickly planted all over the land.

"Alas! alas!" cry monk and nun, their occupation being gone, "the glory is departed."

"Only three families of the magnates adhered still to the Pope. The nobility were nearly all Reformed, and the people were, nearly thirty to one, attached to the new doctrine."[9]

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology