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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 20 — Protestantism in Hungary and Transylvania

Chapter 3 — Ferdinand II and the era of persecution

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The Reformation of Hungary not Perfected — Defects — Intestine War — "Formula of Concord" — The Jesuits — Their Show of Humility — Come to Tyrnau — Settle in Raab — Ferdinand II Educated by the Jesuits — His Devotion to Mary — His Vow — His Mission — A Century of Protestantism — Tragedies — Ferdinand II hopes to Extinguish Protestantism — Stephen Bethlen — Diet of Neusohl — Decrees Toleration — War between Bethlen and Ferdinand II — Bethlen Declines the Crown of Hungary — Renews the War — Peace — Bethlen's Sudden Death — Plan for Extirpating Protestantism — Its Execution Postponed — Ferdinand's Death.

As the morning spreads light, and the spring verdure over the earth, so Protestantism, with its soft breath, was diffusing light and warmth over the torpid fields of Hungary. Nevertheless the crown was not put upon the Reformation of that land. The vast majority of the population, it is true, had embraced Protestantism, but they failed to reach the goal of a united and thoroughly organized Protestant Church. Short of this, the Hungarian Protestants were hardly in a condition to resist the terrible shocks to which they were about to be exposed. The Latin nations have ever shown a superior genius in organizing — a talent which they have received from Old Rome — and this is one reason, doubtless, why the Protestant Churches of Latin Christendom were more perfect in their autonomy than those of Saxon Christendom. The moment we cross the Rhine and enter among Teutonic peoples, we find the Protestants less firmly marshaled, and their Churches less vigorously governed, than in Western Europe. The Protestant Church of Hungary had a government — she was ruled by superintendents, seniors, pastors, and deacons — but the vigor and efficiency of this government rested mainly with one man; there was no machinery for rallying promptly the whole force of the body on great emergencies; and so when Rome had had time to construct her opposition and bring it into play, first individual congregations and pastors, and ultimately the whole Church, succumbed to the fire of her artillery.

Another defect cleaving to the Hungarian Church was the want of a clear, definite, and formal line of separation from the Romish Church. The hierarchy of Rome was still in the land; the bishops claimed their dues from the Protestant pastors, and in most cases received them, and occasional efforts on the part of Romish dignitaries to exercise jurisdiction over the Protestants were tamely submitted to. This state of matters was owing partly to causes beyond the control of the Protestants, and partly to the quiet and easy manner in which the Reformation had diffused itself over the country. There had been no convulsion, no period of national agony to wrench the Hungarians, as a people, from the communion of Rome, and to teach them the wisdom, not only of standing apart, but of putting their Church into a posture of defense against the tempests which might arise in the future. The mariner who has never sailed save on calm seas, is apt to leave matters negligently arranged on board, and to pay the penalty of his carelessness when at last the horizon blackens, and his bark becomes the sport of the mountainous billows.

It was a yet greater calamity that a bitter intestine war was. weakening the strength and destroying the unity of the Hungarian Church. In its early days, the Lutherans and Calvinists had dwelt together in peace; but soon the concord was broken, not again to be restored. The tolerant Ferdinand I had gone to the grave: he had been followed first on the throne, and next to the tomb, by his son Maximilian II, the only real friend the Protestants ever had among the kings of the Hapsburg line: and now the throne was filled by the gloomy and melancholy Rudolph II. Engrossed, as we have seen, in the stark studies of astrology and alchemy, he left the government of his kingdom to the Jesuits. The sky was darkening all round with gathering storms. At Vienna, in Styria, and in other provinces, Cardinal Hosius and the Jesuits were initiating the persecution, in the banishment of pastors and the closing of churches. But, as though the violence which had begun to desolate neighboring churches were to be restrained from approaching them, the Hungarians continued to convoke synod after synod, and discuss questions that could only stir up strife. In 1577 the famous "Formula of Concord" was drafted and published, in the hope that a general concurrence in it would end the war, and bring in a lasting peace.

What was that Formula? It made the subscriber profess his belief in the ubiquity of Christ's human nature. So far from healing the breach, this "Formula of Concord" became the instrument of a wider division. [1] The war raged more furiously than ever, and the Protestants, alas! intent on their conflict with one another, hoard not the mustering of the battalions who were preparing to restore peace by treading both Lutheran and Calvinist into the dust.

These various evils opened the door for the entrance of a greater, by which the Protestantism of Hungary was ultimately crushed out. That greater evil was the Jesuits, "the troops of Hades," as they are styled by a writer who is not a Protestant. [2] With quiet foot, and down-east eyes, the Jesuits glided into Hungary. In a voice lowered to the softest tones, they announced their mission, in terms as beneficent as the means by which it was to be accomplished were gentle. As the nurse deals with her child — coaxing it, by promises which she has no intention to fulfil, to part with some deadly weapon which it has grasped — so the Jesuits were to coax, gently and tenderly, the Hungarians to abandon that heresy to which they clung so closely, but which was destroying their souls. We have already seen

that when these pious men first came to Vienna, so far were they, in outward show, from seeking riches or power, that they did not care to set up house for themselves, but were content to share the lodgings of the Dominicans. Their rare merit, however, could not be hid, and soon these unambitious men were seen at court. The emperor ere long was kneeling at the feet of their chief, Father Bobadilla. They first entered Hungary in 1561. Four priests and a lay brother settled in the town of Tyrnau, where they began to build a college, but before their edifice was finished a fire broke out in the city, and laid their not yet completed fabric in ashes, along with the neighboring dwellings. Their general, Father Borgia, not having money to rebuild what the flames had consumed, or not caring to expend his treasures in this restoration, interpreted the catastrophe into an intimation that it was not the will of Heaven that they should plant themselves in Tyrnau, and the confraternity, to the great joy of the citizens, left the place.

Thirteen years elapsed before a Jesuit was again seen on the soil of Hungary. In 1579 the Bishop of Raab imported a single brother from Vienna, whose eloquence as a preacher made so many conversions that the way was paved, though not till after seven years, for the establishment of a larger number of this sinister community. The rebellion of Stephen Botskay, the dethronement of Rudolph II, the accession of his brother Matthias — mainly by the arms of the Protestants — restrained the action of the Jesuits for some years, and delayed the bursting of the storm that was slowly gathering over the Protestant Church. But at last Ferdinand II, "the Tiberius of Christianity," as he has been styled, mounted the throne, and now it was that the evil days began to come to the Protestant Churches of the empire, and especially to the Protestant Church of Hungary.

Ferdinand II was the son of the Archduke Charles, and grandson of Ferdinand I. After the death of his father, he was sent in 1590 to Ingolstadt, to be educated by the Jesuits. These cunning artificers of human tools succeeded in making him one of the most pliant that even their hands ever wielded, as his whole after-life proved. From Ingolstadt, Ferdinand returned to his patrimonial estates in Styria and Carinthia, with the firm resolve, whatever it might cost himself or others, that foot of Protestant should not defile the territories that called him master. He would rather that his estates should become the abode of wolves and foxes than be the dwelling of heretics. Soon thereafter he set out on a pilgrimage to Loretto, to invoke the protection of the "Queen of Heaven," visiting Rome by the way to receive grace from the "Holy Father," to enable him to fulfill his vow of thoroughly purging his dominions. In his fortieth year (1517) he made a pilgrimage to a similar shrine; and as he lay prostrate before the image of Mary, a violent storm came on, the lightening flashed and the thunders rolled, but above the roar of the elements Ferdinand heard, distinct and clear, a voice saying to him, "Ferdinand, I will not leave thee." Whose voice could it be but Mary's? He rose from the earth with a double consecration upon him. This, however, did not hinder his subscribing, on the day of his coronation as King of Bohemia (16th March, 1618), the article which promised full protection to the Protestant Church, adding that "he would sooner lose his life than break his word" — a gratifying proof, as his former preceptors doubtless regarded it, that he had not forgotten the lessons they had taught him at Ingolstadt.

On his return from the Diet at Frankfort (1619), clothed with the mantle of the Caesars, he held himself as elected in the sight of Christendom to do battle for the Church. What did the imperial diadem, so suddenly placed on his brow, import, if not this, that Heaven called him to the sublime mission of restoring the empire to the pure orthodoxy of early days, and its twin-institute, the Pontifical chair, to its former peerless splendor?

Protestantism had fulfilled its century; for it was rather more than a hundred years since Luther's hammer had summoned from the abyss, as Ferdinand deemed, this terrible disturber of the world — this scourge of Rome, and terror of kings — which no sword seemed able to slay. Charles V had staked empire and fame against it; but the result was that he had to hide his defeat in a monastery. A life of toil had he undergone for Rome, and received as recompense — oh! dazzling reward — a monk's cowl. Philip II had long battled with it, but worn out he at last laid him down in the little closet that looks into the cathedral-church of the Escorial, and amid a heap of vermin, which issued from his own body, he gave up the ghost. Leaving these puissant monarchs to rot in their marble sepulchres, Protestantism starts afresh on its great career. It enters the dark cloud of the St. Bartholomew, but soon it emerges on the other side, its garments dripping, but its life intact. It is next seen holding its path amid the swimming scaffolds and the blazing stakes of the Netherlands. The cords with which its enemies would bind it are but as green withes upon its arm. But now its enemies fondly think that they see its latter end drawing nigh.

From the harbors of Spain rides forth galley after galley in proud array, the "invincible Armada," to chase from off the earth that terrible thing which has so long troubled the nations and their monarchs. But, lo! it is the Armada itself that has to flee. Careering specter-like, it passes between the Protestant shores of England on the one hand, and Holland on the

other, hastening before the furious winds to hide itself in the darkness of the Pole.

Such are the tragedies of the first century of Protestantism. No one has been able to weave a chain so strong as to hold it fast; but now Ferdinand believes that he has discovered the secret of its strength, and can speak the "hitherto, but no farther." The Jesuits have furnished him with weapons which none of his predecessors knew, to combat this terrible foe, and long before Protestantism shall have completed the second century of its existence, he will have set bounds to its ravages. The nations will return to their obedience, kings will sleep in peace, and Rome will sway her scepter over a subjugated Christendom.

We have already seen after what terrible fashion he inaugurated his attempt. The first act was the scaffold at Prague, on which twenty-seven magnates, the first men of the land, and some of them the most illustrious of the age, poured out their blood. This terrible day was followed by fifteen terrible years, during which judicial murders, secret torturings, banishments, and oppressions of all kinds were wearing out the Protestants of Bohemia, till at last, as we have seen, the nation and its Protestantism sank together. But in the other provinces of his dominions Ferdinand did not find the work so easy. In Austria proper, the States refused to submit. The Hungarians felt that the circle around their religious and civil rights was being drawn tighter every day. The Jesuits had returned. Something like the Spanish Inquisition had been set up at Tyrnau. The Romish magnates were carrying it with a high hand. Count Stephen Pallfy of Schutt-Somerain erected a gallows, declaring that he would hang on it all Protestant clergymen called to churches in Schutt without his leave. In this state of matters, the Prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen, a zealous Protestant, and a general of equal bravery and skill, took up m-ms. In the end of 1619 he took the towns of Kaschau and Presburg. In the castle of the latter place he found the crown of Hungary, with the state jewels; and had he worn them as king, as at an after-stage of his career he was urged to do, the destinies of Hungary might have been happier.

Passing on in his victorious career toward the southeast, Bethlen received the submission of the town and castle of Oldenburg. He finally arrived at Gratz, and here a truce was agreed on between him and Ferdinand. In the following year (1620) a Diet was held at Neusohl. On the motion of the Palatine Thurzo, the Diet unanimously resolved to proclaim Bethlen King of Hungary. He declined the crown; mad the earnest entreaties of the Diet, seconded by the exhortations of his own chaplain, were powerless to induce him to alter his resolution. At this Diet important measures were adopted for the peace of Hungary. Toleration was enacted for all creeds and confessions; tithes and first-fruits were to fall to the Roman and Protestant clergy alike; three Popish bishops were recognized as sufficient for the country: one at Erlau for Upper Hungary; a second at Neutra, for Hungary on this side the Danube; and a third at Raab, beyond the river.

The Jesuits were banished; and it was resolved to complete the organization of the Protestant Church in those districts where it had been left unfinished. The Protestants now breathed freely. They thought that they had, as the infallible guarantees of their rights, the victorious sword of the Prince Bethlen, and the upright administration of the Palatine Thurzo, and that they were justified in believing that an era of settled peace had opened upon them. [3]

Their prosperity was short-lived. First the Protestant Palatine, Count Thurzo, died suddenly; and the popular suspicion attributed his death to poison. Next; came the cry of the franc horrors which had opened in Bohemia. Prince Bethlen again grasped the sword, and his bravery and patriotism extorted a new peace from the persecutor, which was arranged at Nikolsburg in 1621. On this occasion Bethlen delivered up to Ferdinand the crown of Hungary, which had remained till now in his possession. The jewel which Bethlen had declined to wear passed to the head of the spouse of Ferdinand, who was now crowned Queen of Hungary.

Scarcely had the joy-bells ceased to ring for the peace of Nikolsburg, when crowds of wretched creatures, fleeing from the renewed horrors in Bohemia, crossed the frontier. Their cries of wrong, and their miserable appearance, excited at once compassion and indignation. Bethlen reproached the king for this flagrant infraction of the peace, before the ink in which it was signed was dry; but finding that while the king's ear was open to the Jesuits it was closed to himself, he again girded on the sword, and took the field at the head of a powerful army. He was marching on Vienna when the new Palatine was sent to stop him with renewed offers of peace. The terms were a third time accepted by the Prince of Transylvania. They seemed as satisfactory, and were destined to be as fruitless, as on the two former occasions. Had Bethlen cherished that "distrust of tyrants" which Demosthenes preached, and William the Silent practiced, he would have turned the achievements of his sword to better account for his countrymen. There was no amount of suspicion which would not have been justified by the character of the man he was transacting with, and the councilors who surrounded him. Nor were the signs on the social horizon such as foreboded a lengthened tranquillity.

The Jesuits were multiplying their hives, and beginning to swarm like wasps. Flourishing gymnasiums were being converted into cow-houses. Parsonages were unreeled, and if the incumbent did not take the hint, he and his family were carted out of the district. Protestant congregations would assemble on a Sunday morning to find the door and windows of their church smashed, or the

fabric itself razed to the ground. These were isolated eases, but they gave sure prognostication of greater oppressions whenever it would be in the power of the enemy to inflict them.

This latter peace was agreed on in 1628 at Presburg; and Prince Bethlen bound himself never again to take up arms against the House of Hapsburg, on condition of religious liberty being guaranteed. The Thirty Years' War, which will engage our attention a little further on, had by this time broken out. The progress of that great struggle had brought Ferdinand's throne itself into peril, and this made him all the readier to hold out the hand of peace to his victorious vassal. But Ferdinand's promise was forgotten as soon as made, and next year Prince Bethlen is said to have been secretly preparing for war when he was attacked with indisposition. Ferdinand, professing to show him kindness, sent him a physician chosen by the Jesuits. The noble-minded prince suspected no evil, though he daily grew worse. "The hero who had taken part in thirty-two battles without receiving a wound," says Michiels, "soon died from the attentions paid him." [4]

Three years before this (1626) the plan to be pursued in trampling out Protestantism in all the provinces of the empire had been discussed and determined upon at Vienna, but circumstances too strong for Ferdinand and his Jesuits compelled them to postpone from time to time the initiation of the project. Towards the close of 1626 a small council assembled in the palace of the Austrian prime minister Eggenberg, whom colic and gout confined to his cabinet. At the table, besides Ferdinand II, were the ambassador of Spain, the envoy of Florence, the privy councilor Harrack, the gloomy Wallenstein, and one or two others. Count Agnate, the Spanish ambassador, rose and announced that his master had authorized him to offer 40,000 chosen men for forty years in order to the suppression of heresy, root and branch, in Hungary. He further recommended that foreign governors should be set over the Hungarians, who should impose upon them new laws, vex and oppress them in a thousand different ways, and so goad them into revolt. The troops would then come in and put down the rising with the strong hand, mercilessly inflicting a general slaughter, and afterwards taking off at leisure the heads of the chief persons. In this way the spirit of the haughty and warlike Magyars would be broken, and all resistance would be at an end. The proposal seemed good in the eyes of the king and his councilors, and it was resolved to essay a beginning of the business on occasion of the approaching great fair at Sintau-on-the-Waag. [5] The saturnalia of slaughter were to open thus: disguised emissaries were to proceed to the fair, mingle with the crowd, pick quarrels with the peasants, and manage to create a tumult. Wallenstein and his troops, drawn up in. readiness, were then to rush upon the multitude, sword in hand, and cut down all above twelve years of age. It was calculated that the melee would extend from village to town, till the bulk of the able-bodied population, including all likely to lead in a rebellion, were exterminated. A terrible program truly! but second thoughts convinced its authors that the hour had not yet arrived for attempting its execution. Bethlen still lived, and the brave leader was not likely to sit still while his countrymen were being butchered like sheep.

Ferdinand, occupied in a mortal struggle with the north of Europe and France, had discernment enough, blinded though he was by the Jesuits, to see that it would be madness at this moment to add to the number of his enemies by throwing down the gage of battle to the Hungarians. The Jesuits must therefore wait. But no sooner was Prince Bethlen laid in the grave than persecution was renewed. But more lamentable by far than the vexations and sufferings to which the Protestant pastors and their flocks were now subjected, were the numerous defections that began to take place among the nobles from the cause of the Reformation. What from fear, what from the hope of preferment, or from dislike to the Protestant doctrine, a stream of conversions began to flow steadily in the direction of Rome, and the number of the supporters of Protestantism among the Hungarian magnates was daily diminishing. So did things continue until the year 1637. On the 17th of February of that year Ferdinand II died.

"In Magdeburg," say the authors of the History of the Protestant Church in Hungary, "were twenty-six thousand, corpses of men, women, and children, who had perished under the hand of his general, Tilly, with his hordes of Croatian military. Bohemia, Moravia, and a great part of Hungary were miserably oppressed, and morality itself almost banished, by the manner in which the war had been conducted. And what had he gained'. A few stone churches and schools stolen from the Lutherans and Calvinists; a hundred thousand converts brought over to the Church of Rome by the unapostolical means of sword, prison, fine, or bribery; and a depopulation of his monarchy amounting to more than a million of human beings." [6]


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Friday, June 22nd, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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