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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 20 — Protestantism in Hungary and Transylvania

Chapter 5 — Banishment of pastors and desolation of the church of Hungary

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Popish Nobles demand Withdrawal of the Foreign Troops — Refusal of the King-Projected Insurrection — Their Message to the Vizier — Their Plot Discovered — Mysterious Deaths of Vesselenyi and Zriny — Attempt to Poison the King — The Alchemist Borri — Introduced to the King — Effects his Cure — Insurrection Suppressed — New Storm on Protestants — Raid of Szeleptsenyi — Destruction of Churches, etc. — Martyrdom of Drabicius -Abolition of the Ancient Charters — Banishment of the Pastors — Thirty-three Ministers Tried, and Resign their Charges — Four Hundred Ministers Condemned — Resolved to Kill, not their Bodies, but their Characters — Their Treatment in Prison — Banishment to the Galleys — Sufferings on their Journey — Efforts for their Release — Delivered from the Galleys by Admiral de Ruyter — Desolation of Hungarian Church.

THE troops billeted on Hungary were intended to oppress the Protestants, but that did not hinder their being almost as great an oppression to the Romanists. The soldiers, in their daily pillagings and acts of violence, were at little pains to distinguish between the professors of a heretical and the adherents of an immaculate creed, and were as ready, on many occasions, to appropriate the property and spill the blood of the Papist as of the Protestant.

The magnates who belonged to the Romish faith, seeing the country consuming in the slow fire of a military occupation, petitioned the Government for the withdrawal of the troops. But the court of Vienna was in no humor to listen to the request.

The Jesuits, who inspired the royal policy, were not displeased to see those haughty Magyars compelled to hold their heads a little less high, and that province weakened in the soil of which the seeds of heresy had been so plentifully scattered. The courtiers openly said, "How gaily do these Hungarian nobles strut about with their heron's plumes waving in their caps, and their silken pelisses clasped with gold and silver! We shall teach them less lofty looks. We shall replace their heron's plume with a feather from the wing of a humbler bird; and instead of a pelisse, we shall make them content with a plain Bohemian coat with leaden buttons." Not only were the German troops not withdrawn, but a disgraceful peace was made with the Turks, and new subsidies were demanded for building new forts and paying more soldiers. When this was seen, the wrath of the Hungarian magnates knew no bounds. They held a secret assembly at Neusohl, and deliberated on their course of action. They resolved on the bold step of raising new levies, throwing off the yoke of the Emperor Leopold, and placing themselves under the suzerainty of the sultan, Mohammed IV. The leaders in this projected insurrection were the Palatine Vesselenyi, Count Francis Nadasdy, and others, all bitter per-securers of the Protestants. In the circumstances in which these magnates had placed themselves with their countrymen, their scheme of conspiracy was rash to infatuation. Had they unfurled their standard a few years earlier, Protestant Hungary would have rallied round it: city and village would have poured out soldiers in thousands to combat for their religion and liberty. But it was otherwise now. The flower of the Hungarian nation were pining in prisons, or wandering in exile. The very men who would have fought their battles, these nobles had driven away; and now they were doomed to learn, by the disasters that awaited them, what an egregious error they had committed in the persecution of their Protestant countrymen. From the first day their enterprise had to contend with adverse fortune.

They sent a messenger to the grand vizier to solicit assistance. They knew not that a spy in the vizier's suite was listening to all they said, and would hasten to report what he had heard to the court at Vienna. This was enough. "Like a night-bird, hidden in the darkness," Prince Lobkowitz, having penetrated their secret, henceforth kept an eye on the conspirators. [1] If he did not nip the rebellion in the bud, it was because he wished to give it a little time to ripen, in order that it might conduct its authors to the scaffold. Its chiefs now began to be taken off mysteriously. The Palatine Vesselenyi was suddenly attacked with fever, and died in his castle in the heart of the Carpathians.

He was soon followed to the grave by another powerful ]leader of the projected rebellion, Nicholas Zriny, Ban of the Croats. The Ban was found covered with wounds, in a forest near his own residence, and[the report was given forth that he had been torn by a wild boar, but the discovery of a bullet in his head upset the story. The suspicions awakened by these mysterious deaths were deepened by a tragic occurrence now in progress in the palace of Vienna. Leopold fell ill: his disease baffled his physicians; novenas, paternesters, and relics were powerless to arrest his malady, and it began to be suspected that a secret poison was undermining the emperor's strength. While the king was rapidly approaching the grave, the celebrated alchemist, tilt Chevalier Francis Borri, of Milan, who had been proscribed by Rome, was seized by the Papal nuncio in Moravia, and brought to Vienna. The king, who was himself addicted to the study of alchemy, hearing Borri was in his capital, commanded his attendance. The chevalier was introduced after night-fall. Indescribably gloomy was the chamber of the royal patient: the candles looked as if they burned in a tomb; the atmosphere was mephitic; the king's face wore the ghastliness of the grave; his sallow skin and sunken cheeks, with the thirst which nothing could assuage, gave indubitable signs that some unknown poison was at work upon him. The chemist paused and looked round the room.

He marked the red flame of the tapers the white vapor which, they emitted, and the deposit they

had formed on the ceiling. "You are breathing a poisoned air," said he to the king. The patient's apartment was changed, other candles were brought, and from that hour the king began to recover. When the lights were analyzed it was found that the wick had been steeped in a strong solution of arsenic. It is hard to imagine what motive the Jesuits could have for seeking to take off a monarch so obsequious to them, and the affair still remains one of the mysteries of history.

The man who had saved the king's life had earned, one would think, his own liberty. But nothing in those days could atone for heresy, or even the suspicion of it. Borri, having completed the monarch's cure, was given back to the Papal nuncio, who claimed hint as his prisoner, carried him to Rome, and threw him into the dungeons of St. Angelo, where, after languishing fifteen years, he died. The procurator of the Jesuits was also made to disappear so as never to be heard of more. The king would not have dared, even in thought, to have suspected the Fathers, much less to have openly accused them. But whoever were the authors of this attempt, it was upon the Hungarians that its punishment was made to fall, for Leopold being led to believe that his Protestant subjects had been seeking to compass his death, fear and dread of them were now added to his former hatred. From this hour, the work of crushing the conspirators was pushed forward with vigore: Troops were marched on Hungary from all sides: the insurgents were overwhelmed by numbers, and the chiefs were arrested before they had time to take the field. The papers seized were of a nature to comprise half Hungary. Lobkowitz reveled in the thought of the many heads that would have to be taken off, and not less delighted was he at the prospect of the rich estates that would have to be confiscated.

About 300 nobles were apprehended and thrown into dungeons. The leaders were brought to trial, and finally executed. The magnates who thus perished on the scaffold were nearly all Romanists, and had been the most furious persecutors of the Protestant Church of their native land; but their deaths only opened wider the door for the Austrian Government to come in and crush Hungarian Protestantism.

Hardly had the scaffolds of the magnates been taken down when the storm burst afresh (1671) upon the Protestants of Hungary. The Archbishop of Gran — the ecclesiastic with the barbarous name Szeleptsenyi — accompanied by other bishops, and attended by a large following of Jesuits and dragoons, passed, like a desolating tempest, over the land, seizing churches and schools, breaking open their doors, re-consecrating them, painting red crosses upon their pillars, installing the priests in the manses and livings, banishing pastors and teachers, and if the least opposition was offered to these tyrannical proceedings, those from whom it came were east into prison, and sometimes hanged or impaled alive.

Cities and counties which the activity of Archbishop Szeleptsenyi, vast as it was, failed to overtake, were visited by other bishops, attended by a body of wild Croats. Colleges were dismantled, and the students dispersed: in the royal cities all Protestant councilors were deposed, and Papists appointed in their room; the citizens were disarmed, the walls of towns leveled, the pastors prohibited, under pain of death, performing any official act; and whenever this violence was met by the least resistance, it was made a pretext for hanging, or breaking on the wheel, or otherwise maltreating and murdering the Protestant citizens. [2]

One of the most painful of these many tragic scenes, was the execution of an old disciple of eighty-four. Nicholas Drabik, or Drabicius, was a native of Moravia, and one of the United Brethren. Altogether unlettered, he knew only the Bohemian tongue. He had fled from the persecution in Moravia in 1629, and had since earned a scanty living by dealing in woolen goods. He had cheered his age and poverty with the hope of returning one day to his native land. He published a book, entitled Light out of Darkness, which seems to have been another "Prophet's Roll," every page of it being laden with lamentations and woes, and with prophecies of evil against "the cruel and perjured" House of Austria, which he designated the House of Ahab. Against Papists in general he foretold a speedy and utter desolation. [3]

The old man was put into a cart and brought to Presburg, where Szeleptsenyi had opened his court. Unable, through infirmity of body, to stand, Drabicius was permitted to sit on the floor. If the judge was lacking in dignity, the prisoner was nearly as much so in respect; but it was hard to feel reverence for such a tribunal. The interrogatives and replies give us a glimpse into the age and the court.

"Are you the false prophet?" asked the archbishop. — "I am not," replied Drabicius.

"Are you the author of the book Light out of Darkness?" — "I am," said the prisoner.

"By whose orders and for what purpose did you write that book?" asked Szeleptsenyi. — "At the command of the Holy Spirit," answered Drabicius.

"You lie," said the archbishop; "the book is from the devil." — " In this you lie," rejoined the prisoner, with the air of one who had no care of consequences.

"What is your belief?" asked the judge. — The prisoner in reply repeated the whole Athanasian Creed; then, addressing Szeleptsenyi, he asked him, "What do you believe?"

"I believe all that," replied the archbishop, "and a great deal more which is also necessary." — "You don't believe any such thing," said Drabicius; "you believe in your cows, and horses, and estates."

Sentence was now pronounced. His right hand was to be cut off. His tongue was to be taken out and nailed to a post. He was to be beheaded;

and his book, together with his body, was to be burned in the market-place. All this was to be done upon him on the 16th of July, 1671.

The Jesuits now came round him. One of them wormed himself into his confidence, mainly by the promise that if he would abjure his Protestantism he would be set at liberty, and carried back to his native Moravia, there to die in peace. He who had been invincible before the terrible Szeleptsenyi was vanquished by the soft arts of the Jesuits. Left of God for a moment, he gave his adherence to the Roman creed. When he saw he had been deceived, he was filled with horror at his vile and cowardly act, and exclaimed that he would die in the faith in which he had lived. When the day came Drabicius endured with firmness his horrible sentence.

The extirpation of Protestantism in Hungary was proceeding at a rapid rate, but not sufficiently rapid to satisfy the vast desires of Szeleptsenyi and his coadjutors. The king, at a single stroke, had abolished all the ancient charters of the kingdom, declaring that henceforth but one law, his own good pleasure, should rule in Hungary. Over the now extinct charters, and the slaughtered bodies of the magnates, the Jesuits had marched in, and were appropriating churches by the score, banishing pastors by the dozen, dismantling towns, plundering, hanging, and impaling. But one great comprehensive measure was yet needed to consummate the work. That measure was the banishment of all the pastors and teachers from the kingdom. This was now resolved on; but it was judged wise to begin with a small number, and if the government were successful with these, it would next proceed to its ulterior and final measure.

The Archbishop of Gran summoned (25th September, 1673), before his vice-regal court in Presburg, thirty-three of the Protestant pastors from Lower Hungary. They obeyed the citation, although they viewed themselves as in no way bound, by the laws of the land, to submit to a spiritual court, and especially one composed of judges all of whom were their deadly enemies. Besides a number of paltry and ridiculous charges, the indictment laid at their door the whole guilt of the late rebellion, which notoriously had been contrived and carried out by the Popish magnates.

To be placed at such a bar was but the inevitable prelude to being found guilty and condemned. The awards of torture, beheading, and banishment were distributed among the thirty-three pastors. But their persecutors, instead of carrying out the sentences, judged that their perversion would serve their ends better than their execution, and that it was subtler policy to present Protestantism as a cowardly rather than as an heroic thing.

After manifold annoyances and cajolerys, one minister apostatized to Rome, the rest signed a partial confession of guilt and had their lives spared. But their act covered them with disgrace in the eyes of their flocks, and their cowardice tended greatly to weaken and demoralize their brethren throughout Hungary, to whom the attentions of the Jesuits were next directed.

A second summons was issued by the Archbishop of Gran on the 16th of January, 1674. Szeleptsenyi was getting old, and was in haste to finish his work, "as if," say the chroniclers, "the words of our Lord at the Last Supper had been addressed to him — 'What thou doest, do quickly.'" The archbishop had spread his net wide indeed this time. All the Protestant clergy of Hungary, even those in the provinces subject to the Sultan, had he cited to his bar. The old charge was foisted up — file rebellion, namely, for which the Popish nobles had already been condemned and executed. If these pastors and schoolmasters were indeed the authors of the insurrection, the proof would have been easy, for the thing had not been done in a corner; but nothing was adduced in support of the charge that deserved the name of proof. But if the evidence was light, not so was the judgment. The tribunal pronounced for doom beheading, confiscation, infamy, and outlawry.

The number on whom this condemnation fell was about 400. Again the counsel of the Jesuits was to kill their character and spare their lives, and in this way to inflict the deadliest wound on the cause which these men represented. To shed their blood was but to sow the seed of new confessors, whereas as dishonored men, or even as silent men, they might be left with perfect safety to live in their native land. This advice was again approved, and every art was set to work to seduce them. Three courses were open to the Protestant ministers. They might voluntarily exile themselves: this would so far answer the ends of their persecutors, inasmuch as it would remove them from the country. Or, they might resign their office, and remain in Hungary: this would make them equally dead to the Protestant Church, and would disgrace them in the eyes of their people. Or, retaining their office, they might remain and seize every opportunity of preaching to their former flocks, in spite of the sentence of death suspended above their heads. Of these 400, or thereabouts, 236 ministers signed their resignation, and although they acquired thereby a right to remain in Hungary, the majority went into exile. [4] The rest, thinking it not the part of faithful shepherds to flee, neither resigned their office nor withdrew into banishment, but remained in spite of many threatenings and much ill-usage. To the tyranny of the Government the pastors opposed an attitude of passive resistance.

The next attempt of their persecutors was to terrify them. [5] They were divided into small parties, put into carts, and distributed amongst the various fortresses and goals of the country, the darkest and filthiest cells being selected for their imprisonment. Every method that could be devised was taken to annoy and torment them. They were treated worse than

the greatest criminals in the gaols into which they were cast. They were fed on coarse bread and water. They were loaded with chains; nor was any respect had, in this particular, to difference of strength or of age — the irons of the old being just as heavy as those of the young and the able-bodied.

The most disgusting offices of the prison they were obliged to perform. In winter, during the intense frosts, [6] they were required to clear away with their naked hands the ice and snow. To see their friends, or to receive the smallest assistance from any one in alleviation of their sufferings, was a solace strictly denied them. To unite together in singing a psalm, or in offering a prayer, was absolutely forbidden. Some of them were shut up with thieves and murderers, and not only had they to endure their mockeries when they bent the knee to pray, but they were compelled to listen to their foul and often blasphemous talk. Their sufferings grew at last to such a pitch that they most earnestly wished that their persecutors would lead them forth to a scaffold or to a stake. But the Jesuits had doomed them to a more cruel because a more lingering martyrdom. Seeing their emaciation and despondency, their enemies redoubled their efforts to induce them to abjure. Not a few of them, unable longer to endure their torments, yielded, and renounced their faith, but others continued to bear up under their frightful sufferings.

On the 18th of March, 1675, a little troop of emaciated beings was seen to issue from a secret gateway of the fortress of Komorn. An escort of 400 horsemen and as many foot closed round them and led them away. This sorrowful band was composed of the confessors who had remained faithful, and were now beginning their journey to the galleys of Naples. They were conducted by a circuitous route through Moravia to Leopoldstadt, where their brethren, who had been shut up in that fortress, were brought out to join. them in the same doleful pilgrimage. They embraced each other and wept.

This remnant of the once numerous clergy of the Protestant Church of Hungary now began their march from the dungeons of their own land to the galleys of a foreign shore. They walked two and two, the right foot of the one chained to the left ankle of the other. Their daily provision was a quarter of a pound of biscuit, a glass of water, and at times a small piece of cheese. They slept in stables at night. At last they arrived at Trieste. Here the buttons were cut off their coats, their beards shaved off, their heads dipped close, and altogether they were so metamorphosed that they could not recognize one another save by the voice. [7]

So exhausted were they from insufficiency of food, and heavy irons, that four of the number died in prison at Trieste, two others died afterwards on the road, and many fell sick. On the journey to Naples, one of the survivors, Gregory Hely, became unfit to walk, and was mounted on an ass. Unable through weakness to keep his seat, he fell to the ground and died on the spot. The escort did not halt, they dug no Gave: leaving him lying unburied on the road, they held on their way. Three succeeded in making their escape, and be one of these, George Lanyi, who afterwards wrote a narrative of his own and his companions' sufferings, we are indebted for our knowledge of the particulars of their journey.

Of the forty-one who had set out from Leopoldstadt, dragging their chains, and superfluously guarded by 800 men-at-arms, only thirty entered the gates of Naples. This was the end of their journey, but not of their misery. Sold to the galley-masters for fifty Spanish piastres a-piece, they were taken on board their several boats, chained to the bench, and, in company with the malefactors and convicts with which the Neapolitan capital abounds, they were compelled to work at the our, exposed to the burning sun by day, and the bitter winds which, descending from the frozen summits of the Apennines, often sweep over the bay when the sun is below the horizon.

Another little band of eighteen, gleaned from the gaols of Sarvar, Kupuvar, and Eberhard, began their journey to the galleys of Naples on the 1st of July of the same year. To recount their sufferings by the way would be to rehearse the same unspeakably doleful tale we have already told. The sun, the air, the mountains, what were they to men who only longed for death? Their eyes grew dark, their teeth fell out, and though still alive, their bodies were decaying. On the road, ten of these miserable men, succumbing to their load of woe, and not well knowing what they did, yielded to the entreaties of their guard, and professed to embrace the faith of Rome. Three died on the way, and their fellow-sufferers being permitted to scoop out a grave, they were laid in it, and the 88th Psalm was sung over their lonely resting-place.

Meanwhile, the story of their sufferings was spreading over Europe. Princes and statesmen, touched by their melancholy fate, had begun to take an interest in them, and were exerting themselves to obtain their release. [8] Representations were made in their behalf to the Imperial Court at Vienna, and also to the Government of Naples. These appeals were met with explanations, excuses, and delays. The Hungarian pastern still continued fix their chains. The hopes of their deliverance were becoming faint when, on the 12th of December, the Dutch fleet sailed into the Bay of Naples. The vice-admiral, John de Staen, stepped on shore, and waiting on the crown-regent with the proof of the innocence of the prisoners in his hand, he begged their release. He was told that they would be set at liberty in

three days. Overjoyed, the vice-admiral sent to the galleys to announce to the captives their approaching discharge, and then set sail for Sicily, whither he was called by the war with France. The Dutch fleet being gone, the promise of the crown-regent was forgotten. The third day came and went, and the prisoners were still sighing in their fetters; but there was One who heard their groans, and had numbered and finished the days of their captivity.

Again the Dutch ships were seen in the offing. Ploughing the bay, and sweeping past Capri, the fleet held on its course till it cast anchor before the city, and lay with its guns looking at the castle and palace of St. Elmo. It was Admiral de Ruyter himself. He had been commanded by the States-General of Holland to take up the case of the prisoners. De Ruyter sent the Dutch ambassador to tell the king why he was now in Neapolitan waters. The king quickly comprehended the admiral's message, and made haste to renew the promise that the Hungarian prisoners should be given up; and again the good news was published in the galleys. But liberty's cup was to be dashed from the lips of the poor prisoners yet again. The urgency of affairs called the admiral instantly to weigh anchor and set sail, and with the retreating forms of his ships the fetters clasped themselves once more round the limbs of the captives. But De Ruyter had not gone far when he was met by orders to delay his departure from Naples. Putting about helm he sailed up the bay, and finding how matters stood with the prisoners, and not troubling himself to wait a second time on the Neapolitan authorities, he sent his officers aboard the galleys, with instructions to set free the prisoners; and the pastors, like men who walk in their sleep, arose and followed their liberators. On the 11th of February, 1676, they quitted the galleys, singing the 46th, the 114th, and the 125th Psalms.

"Putting their lives in their hands, there were a few pastors who either had not been summoned to Presburg, or who had not gone; and in lonely glens, in woods and mountains wild, in ruined castles and morasses inaccessible except to the initiated, these men resided and preached the Gospel to the faithful who were scattered over the land. From the dark cavern, scantily lighted, arose the, psalm of praise sung to those wild melodies which to this day thrill the heart of the worshipper. From lips pale and trembling with disease, arising from a life spent in constant fear and danger, the consolations of the Gospel were proclaimed to the dying. The Lord's Supper was administered; fathers held up their infants to be devoted in baptism to Him for whom they themselves were willing to lay down their lives; and amid the tears which oppression wrung from them, they joined their hands and looked up to Him who bottles up the tears, and looked forward to a better land beyond the grave." [9]

During the subsequent reigns of Joseph I, Charles VI, Maria Theresa, and Joseph II, down to 1800, the Protestant Church of Hungary continued to drag out a struggling existence. Brief intervals of toleration came to vary her long and dark night of persecution. The ceaseless object of attack on the part of the Jesuits, her privileges continued to be curtailed, her numbers to decrease, and her spiritual life and power to decay, till at last the name of Protestant almost perished from the land.

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