Edict of Torda

This article is about the edict issued by King John II Sigismund of Hungary in 1568. For the edict issued by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria in 1781, see Patent of Toleration.
Ferenc Dávid at the Diet of Torda. Detail of the painting by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch, 1896

The Edict of Torda (Hungarian: tordai ediktum; Romanian: Edictul de la Turda) in 1568, also known as the Patent of Toleration,[1] was an early attempt to guarantee religious freedom in Christian Europe, that was born due the special political, social and religious situation in the Kingdom of Hungary in the 16th century.

The original edict

King János Zsigmond Zápolya of Hungary, encouraged by his Unitarian Minister Ferenc Dávid, during the Diet of 1568[2] issued the following proclamation (roughly translated into English):

His majesty, our Lord, in what manner he – together with his realm – legislated in the matter of religion at the previous Diets, in the same matter now, in this Diet, reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching. For faith is the gift of God and this comes from hearing, which hearing is by the word of God.[3]

This edict was given at the Transylvanian city of Torda. Torda (now Turda, a city in Cluj County, Romania) was in 1568 at the center of a maelstrom of power struggles between cultures, religions, and thrones. The edict, appearing during the counter-Reformation and during a time when national churches were being established,[4] represented a move toward religious toleration and a direct renunciation of national establishment of a single religion.

This edict was not the first attempt to legislate religious freedoms in Hungary. Owing to the near collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary in this era (accelerated by the Battle of Mohács in 1526, in which most of the Roman Catholic leadership of Hungary perished), the Reformation made great inroads in Hungary. The edict was only one of a series in which various religious groups seized the opportunity to secure legal tolerance for their own adherents. The edict of 1568 legally applied to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Unitarians. Other groups, such as Eastern Orthodox Romanians (significant part the population), Jews, and Muslims, were "tolerated" but not granted legal guarantees. Moreover, the edict speaks of preachers and congregations, not of individuals. It does not guarantee the free exercise of personal religious conscience.[5]

Nevertheless, what is striking about this edict is the universality of its language, which owes much to the influence of Ferenc Dávid, and goes beyond any previous edict. It helped foster toleration as a notion beyond mere political expedience, and helped pave the way for the remarkably tolerant regime of the Calvinist Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania, when (for example) Jews were relieved of the requirement of wearing the Star of David.[6]

In the near term, however, the Edict of Torda sparked a backlash from opposing political forces: Zápolya was replaced, and subsequent edicts revoked the Edict of Torda. Dávid, who went on to teach that praying to Christ is an error (nonadorantism), split the Unitarians and jeopardized their legal protection.[7] He was convicted of heresy and died in prison under the ascendancy of the Roman Catholic Church and the rule of Prince Kristóf Báthory.

Modern influence

Despite the change and turmoil in Central Europe since 1568, the notion of religious tolerance remains a key influence in the Unitarian tradition. Many churches calling themselves Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist point to the Unitarians of Transylvania and the Edict of Torda as an important point in their history.[8]

Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch painted a Romantic recreation of the debate at the Diet of 1568, with Francis David standing at the center dramatically promoting the declaration of tolerance. The painting, completed in 1896, currently hangs in The City Museum of Budapest. Reprints hang in many Unitarian households throughout Transylvania today, though prints in the United States are rare. One such print was donated to The Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance at Rice University.[9][10]

In 1993 Unitarians in Transylvania met at Turda (Romanian name of Torda) to celebrate the anniversary of the original 1568 edict. They issued a new statement of religious tolerance, which said in part: "In this solemn moment of remembrance we reaffirm that faith is the gift of God; we promote religious freedom and strive for the respect and implementation of basic human rights ...." [11]

See also


  1. Louis Elteto (Éltető Lajos) (March 2000). "Unitarianism in Transylvania". Page 7.
  2. de Marcos, Jaume "Servetus at the European Congress of Religious Studies 2004". Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  3. Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council. "Edict of Torda" (DOC). Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  4. Williams, George M. "History as Treason". Retrieved 2008-01-23.
  5. Miklós Molnár, A Concise History of Hungary, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 110.
  6. Paul Lendvai, The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat, Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 110.
  7. Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th. edition, vol. 3, p. 909.
  8. Szekely, Janos. "Janos Szekely’s sermon for Sunday, January 30, 2005" (PDF). Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  9. The presentation of the print is shown at http://cohesion.rice.edu/centersandinst/boniuk/boniuk.cfm?doc_id=9174 (retrieved on 2008-01-23), though the print itself does not show up well in this (very large) image.
  10. A clearer but low-resolution image of the print can be seen at "UU Prints and Watercolor Paintings", retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  11. Erdo, Janos (Translated by Gellerd, Judit). "Major dates from the History of the Transylvanian Unitarian Church". Retrieved 2008-01-23.
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