History of Christianity in Hungary

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The history of Christianity in Hungary began in the Roman province of Pannonia where the presence of Christian communities is first attested in the 3rd century. Although the territory was under the successive control of the Huns, Germanic peoples, and Avars from the 5th century, Christian communities may have survived in the region of Lake Balaton up until the 9th century. Accordingly, Christianity had existed in the present-day territory of Hungary before the Hungarians settled there around 900 AD, but the question of continuity is unresolved.

Initially the Byzantine Christianity had a significant influence on the Hungarians, but the decisive steps towards the adoption of the new faith were taken by Géza, the head of the Hungarian tribal federation (c. 972997) who supported Western missionaries. The reception of Christianity was enforced by legislation in the reign of Géza's son, Stephen I (9971038). Although some tenets of pagan belief were incorporated into the Christian vocabulary of the Hungarian language, nearly all the basic words of its religious terminology are of Slavic origin.[1] The earliest religious texts written in vernacular survived from the end of the 12th century, while the first Hungarian translation of the Bible was prepared in the 1430s by Hussite preachers.

The multiethnic Kingdom of Hungary emerged on the frontier of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and pagan worlds. Thus Hungarian monarchs frequently assisted the Papacy in its efforts to expand the borders of Catholicism by waging wars against their country's pagan, "schismatic", or "heretical" neighbors. The importance of the Catholic Church in the medieval state was comparable to its position in other parts of contemporary Europe: the Church administered schools and hospitals, its prelates participated in both legislation and public administration and fulfilled judicial functions, and financed these activities via its own sources of income, such as tithes.

Protestant ideas, namely Lutheranism, started to spread in the German-speaking towns in the 1520s. Despite Lutheranism's initial success, the majority of the kingdom's population adhered to the more radical theology of Calvinism by the second half of the century. The idea of freedom of religion was also first enacted in this period by the "Decree of Torda" of 1568. Although the Catholic Church regained its preeminent position, mainly due to the support it received from the Habsburg monarchs, in the 17th18th centuries, significant Protestant groups survived the Counter-Reformation. The equal status of the "received" denominations – the Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Reformed ("Calvinist"), Evangelical ("Lutheran"), Orthodox, and Unitarian Churches – was first declared in 1848. Although in 1947 all discrimination against other denominations was abolished, Church activities soon became subject to state supervision due to the introduction of the Communist regime. Following the regime's fall, state interference in Church affairs ceased by the passage of a new law concerning religion in 1990.

Before the Hungarians

Transdanubia, the territory of modern Hungary west of the river Danube, became part of the Roman province of Pannonia in 8 AD.[2][3] Similarly to other parts of the Roman Empire, most altars in the province were dedicated to Jupiter, who in this respect was followed by Silvanus.[4] Aquincum (Budapest) became an important center of the cult of Mithras in the region.[5]

Local Christian communities were first attested in 303 when Bishop Quirinus of Sescia (Sisak, Croatia) was executed in Savaria (Szombathely, Hungary) under the Diocletianic Persecution.[6] The new faith struck firm roots after its position had been consolidated throughout the Roman Empire in 313.[7] The large Christian necropolises in Sopianae (Pécs, Hungary) and Savaria are dated to this period.[7][8] However, due to barbarian invasions, refugees from Pannonia started to arrive in other parts of the Roman Empire from the early 5th century.[9] Among these displaced peoples were the inhabitants of Scarbantia (Sopron, Hungary) who fled to Italy taking Saint Quirinus's relics with them.[10] Martin of Tours, the patron saint of France, was also born in Pannonia.[7][11]

The towns of the province were ruined around 430 by the Huns, but the Hun Empire itself was destroyed in the 450s by the revolt of Germanic peoples.[12][13] Thereafter parts of the former province were controlled by the Ostrogoths, while the Gepids established themselves east of the river Tisza.[12][14] A tablet of lead from this period discovered at Hács bore the Gothic text of parts of the Gospel of John.[14] Similarly to the Goths, the Gepidic nobility also adopted Arianism, an heretical strain of Christianity.[14][15] The "Reihengräber cemeteries" found in the territory under Gepidic control, for instance at Szentes, are characterized by inhumation graves laid out in rows with an eastwest orientation.[16][17] Transdanubia was occupied in the early 6th century by the Lombards whose original cremation rite was replaced with a new habit of burying unburnt bodies in this period.[15][17][18]

In 567 the Avars subdued the Gepids, and in the next year forced the Lombards to flee to Italy.[19][20][21][22] According to Paul the Deacon, the last remnants of the local Christian population also left Pannonia around that time.[23] However a number of assemblages from the "Early Avar period" (568650s) point to such a considerable Roman or early Bzyantine influence that they are grouped into the specific "Keszthely culture".[20][24] They have been found in the southwestern regions of Transdanubia.[24] For example, a disc brooch decorated with an archangel's portrait was found at Nagyharsány, and three other specimens with the image of Christ were unearthed at Keszthely and Pécs.[25] In a fort at Fenékpuszta near the Lake Balaton, even a three-aisled basilica was erected in the second half of the 6th century.[26] Although it was destroyed around 630, "Keszthely cemeteries" continued well into the early 9th century at the lake's westernmost end.[26][27]

Church at Zalavár
Ruins of the 9th-century church at Zalavár

One of the Avar leaders, the tudun received baptism in Aachen in 796.[28] In the same summer a synod of the Frankish clergy ordered that Christians living in territories occupied from the Avars should be re-baptized.[29] Finally, the last remnants of the Avars were subjugated to the Carolingian Empire around 800.[30][31][32]

In 839 Pribina, a Slavic prince received estates near Lake Balaton from Louis the German, king of East Francia.[33] Upon his request, Archbishop Liudepram of Salzburg consecrated a number of churches, for example at Quinque Basilicas (Pécs, Hungary).[34][35] Pribina's son, Koceľ, even persuaded Pope Hadrian II to appoint Methodius, one of the two "Apostles to the Slavs" to the ancient metropolitan see of Pannonia, Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) in 870.[36][37][38] However, Methodius was arrested by Frankish soldiers, thus the archbishopric of Salzburg could retain its ecclesiastic authority over Transdanubia.[39] Around 900 the territory was occupied by the Hungarians who destroyed many churches during their invasion.[40][41][42]

Hungarians before St. Stephen

A raid made in the Lower Danube region in the 830s is the earliest event which can unequivocally be connected to the Hungarians.[43][44][45] Muslim sources described the Hungarians as star- and fire-worshipers.[46] Vessels holding food and drink found in thousands of pre-Christian burials evidence the Hungarians' traditional belief in afterlife.[47] Prohibitions incorporated in Christian regulation also suggest that pagan Hungarians made sacrifices at groves and springs.[46][48]

The earliest object which may suggest Christian influences among the Hungarians is a sabretache plate found in a grave at Tiszabezdéd.[40] Although among the motifs decorating the plate a Greek cross can be identified, the male interred in the grave was buried along with his horse in accordance with pagan ritual.[40] Contacts between Hungarians and Christians before the 950s seems to have consisted of brief and often inimical encounters.[49] First the Life of Constantine mentions an encounter between Constantine and pagan Hungarians in the steppe region north of the Crimea (Ukraine) in 860.[45][49]

And while he (Constantine) was reciting the prayer of the first hour, Hungarians fell upon him howling like wolves and wishing to kill him. But he was not frightened and did not forsake his prayers, crying out only, "Lord, have mercy!", for he had already completed the office. Seeing him, they were calmed by God's design and began to bow to him. And upon hearing edifying words from his lips, they released him and his entire retinue in peace.
The Life of Constantine[50]

The Hungarians seem to have conquered the greater part of the Carpathian Basin between 894 and 902.[41] Both the local Slavic population and slaves taken from Christian lands may have had a role in familiarizing them with Christianity.[51] Regardless, the earliest religious missions to the Hungarians arrived from the Byzantine Empire.[52] First Bulcsú, the third most senior leader of the Hungarian tribal federation received baptism in Constantinople in 948, but soon thereafter "violated his contract with God".[53][54][55] Around 952 the second most senior leader, the gyula was baptized in the Byzantine capital.[52]

Not long afterward, Gylas [II] (Gyula) who was also a chieftain of the Turks (Hungarians) came to the capital (Constantinople) where he too was baptised and where he too was accorded the same honours and benefits. He took back with him a monk with a reputation for piety named Hierotheos who had been ordained bishop of Turkey (Hungary) by [Patriarch] Theophylact [of Constantinople]. When he got there, he converted many from the barbaric fallacy to Christianity.
John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 8111057[55]

Religious missions from the West to the Hungarians began in the second half of the 10th century.[56] First Liudprand of Cremona cites one Zacheus, a bishop the Pope sent to the Hungarians before 972.[57] The Annales Heremi writes of a monk from Einsiedeln Abbey, named Wolfgang who left for Hungary in 972, but never arrived because Bishop Piligrim of Passau demanded his presence.[57] The latter also sent missionaries to the Hungarians in 973974, but according to an entry of the necrology of the Abbey of Saint Gall it was one "Bishop Prunkwart" who converted the Hungarian "king".[57]

At that time Géza was the head of the Árpád dynasty whose members had led the federation of the Hungarian tribes for more than a century.[54][58][59] According to the Greater Legend of St. Stephen, Géza "engaged himself to convert all of his subjects to Christianity".[60] He also established a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St. Martin at Pannonhalma.[61] However, the Christian credentials of Géza were fairly doubtful: according to Thietmar of Merseburg, he sacrificed to various gods even after his baptism.[62][63]

King St. Stephen

The King Stephen I's mummified right hand
The "Holy Dexter": the mummified right hand of Stephen I who was canonized in 1083
Map of 11th-century Hungary
The Kingdom of Hungary in the 11th century

Géza was succeeded by his son, Vajk, who had assumed the name Stephen after his baptism.[64] He was crowned the first King of Hungary in 1000 or 1001 after he had defeated his pagan opponent, Koppány, the oldest member of the Árpád dynasty.[64][65][66] Around this time, missionaries came from several different areas to Hungary, thus the earliest priests known by name in Hungary were all foreigners.[48][67] Among them, the German Bruno of Querfurt described Christian armies forcing the "Black Magyars", many of whom were first blinded, to accept baptism.[68] The Venetian Gerard employed seven monks as interpreters while he preached to those whom royal officials had brought to him to be baptized.[69] The first prelate who seems to have been born in the kingdom, Bishop Maurus of Pécs was appointed by Stephen I not long before his death.[48]

Although written evidence of Slav missionaries is confined to Adalbert of Prague's disciples, the substantial number of Slavic cognates suggest an important role.[67][70] For example, Hungarian words like keresztény ("Christian"), pogány ("pagan"), pap ("priest"), oltár ("altar"), and angyal ("angel") were borrowed from Slavic.[70] Only some items of the Christian vocabulary of the Hungarian language, among them words like Isten ("God") and ördög ("Devil"), can be traced back to pre-Christian terminology.[48] The old adjective igy ("sacred") can also be detected in modern words like egyház ("sacred house", now "church"), and üdvösség ("being sacred", today "salvation").[48]

The outward adaptation to the Christian way of life was enforced by legislation.[71][72] For instance, Stephen I's first laws ordained that everyone should go to church "with the exception of those who guard the fire".[73] His second law-code prescribed that every ten villages together should build a church.[74][75] In addition to pagans, the presence of anti-Trinitarian heretics in the kingdom is evidenced by written sources, among them Stephen I's Admonitions.[76]

If some persons, upon coming to hear the divine service, mutter among themselves and disturb others by relating idle tales during the celebration of mass and by being inattentive to Holy Scripture with its ecclesiastical nourishment, they shall be expelled from the church in disgrace if they are older, and if they are younger and common folk they shall be bound in the narthex of the church in view of everyone and punished by whipping and by the shearing off of their hair.
Article 19 of Book One of the Laws of King Stephen I[77]

Traditionally the foundation of the first ten Roman Catholic dioceses has been attributed to Stephen I.[78] It is certain that the sees of Esztergom, Kalocsa, Veszprém, Győr, Eger, Pécs and Csanád (Cenad, Romania) had been set up by the end of his rule.[78] The Archbishop of Esztergom became the highest ranking prelate of the local Catholic Church.[79] A second archdiocese, the archbishopric of Kalocsa was first mentioned in the middle of the 11th century.[78] Stephen I also built Benedictine monasteries in Pécsvárad, Zalavár, Bakonybél and Zobor (Nitra, Slovakia), as well as a convent for Greek nuns in a valley at Veszprém.[80][81] To maintain and support the Church, Stephen I seems to have established the collection of tithes, although the provision on tithes in his laws may have been a later addition.[78][82]

When Stephen I's son, Emeric died in 1031, Stephen I's cousin, Vazul would have been the heir-presumptive to the throne.[83][84] However, Vazul was an irresponsible man with pagan inclinations.[84][85] He therefore was blinded, his three sons exiled, and the King designated his nephew, the Venetian Peter his successor.[83]

Early Middle Ages

Pagan revolts and consolidation

St Gerard
St Gerard's martyrdom

Under Peter I (10381041, 10441046) ancient pagan sentiment erupted in a rebellion of elemental force and a country-wide slaughter of clergymen began in 1046.[85][86] Among the victims were Bishop Gerard of Csanád and his two fellow bishops.[87] However, the rebels were not without opposition as the majority of the kingdom's leading men did not wish to return to paganism.[84] Accordingly, they recalled Vazul's exiled sons, and offered the crown not to the pagan Levente, but to his younger brother, Andrew who had converted and become a devout Christian.[83][85]

King Andrew I (10461060) soon suppressed the rebellion, forcing the pagans into obedience, and restored Christianity's position.[88] The last outburst of pagan sentiment occurred in the reign of his brother, Béla I (10601063) when a great crowd of commoners gathered at Székesfehérvár, demanding the King's authorization for the slaughter of all the Christian priests.[89][90] However, in contrast with the first pagan uprising, this rebellion only lasted for three days and was easily subdued by royal forces.[89][91]

The transition from pagan graveyards to Christian cemeteries is one of the issues mostly debated by archaeologists studying the 11th century.[92] Large cemeteries from this period are characterized by a declining number of grave goods.[93] Archaeological evidence drawn from the frequency of coins found in graveyards suggest that pagan burials ended around the reigns of Ladislaus I (10771095) and Coloman (10951116) coinciding with the period when graveyards near churches also first appeared.[93]

Kings Saint Ladislaus and Coloman the Learned

Legislation under Ladislaus I was characterized by an increasing regulation of the Catholic Church itself.[94] For instance, in 1092 the Synod of Szabolcs demanded that no cleric be accepted into the kingdom without verifying their background.[95] The Synod also decreed that commoners who left their village where a church had been built were to be compelled to return.[96][97] The Gregorian reforms also affected legislation, although clerical celibacy and the prohibition of simony were less strictly enforced.[98] Consequently, bishops and priests were allowed to live with their wives and monasteries established by great landowners could be bought and sold.[98] The Synod's other canons prescribed that Muslims who had been baptized but returned to their old religion be exiled from their village and that Jews who worked on Christian holy days be punished by the confiscation of their tools.[99][100][101]

St Ladislaus
Reliquiary of Ladislaus I who was canonized in 1192

In Ladislaus I's reign five local saints were canonized including Stephen I, Emeric, Bishop Gerard of Csanád and two hermits named Svorad and Benedict.[102][103] The elevation of the first king's body from his tomb at Székesfehérvár took place on August 20, 1083.[102] The new saints' cults soon started to grow steadily within the kingdom.[104] For instance, the Sacramentary of St Margaret, a liturgical book used already in the 1090s in the cathedral of the see of the newly established diocese of Zagreb (Croatia) included a liturgy for Saint Stephen.[95][105] His "holy right arm" (Szentjobb in Hungarian) to which an abbey was consecrated in Szentjobb (Sâniob, Romania) became the object of a special cult.[102]

Besides the local saints, the Virgin Mary, and eastern and western saints such as Saints George, Martin, Nicholas, Michael, Peter, Adalbert, Adrian, and Benedict were also popular, as it is demonstrated by the dedication of churches during the time.[104] Otherwise little information exists on churches serving the population.[75] In many places wooden or wattle-and-daub buildings predated stone constructions, many of which had by the time of the Synod of Szabolcs been "ruined by age".[75][106]

Ladislaus I's nephew and successor, Coloman toned down the severity of Ladislaus I's laws, indicating the triumph of Christianity over Hungary's lingering pagan roots.[107][108] For instance, around 1100 the Synod of Esztergom merely imposed fasting upon those who "celebrate anything taken from heathen rituals", whereas the Synod of Szabolcs had fined those who made pagan sacrifices for the price of an ox.[48][109] Some canons of the Synod of Esztergom seem to have been intended to eradicate the Muslim presence from the kingdom.[99] An example of this policy can be seen in laws requiring each Muslim village to build a Christian church.[110] The Synod also started to prohibit monastic involvement in preaching, baptism, and the giving of absolution.[111] Celibacy still could not be unconditionally imposed, thus the Synod accepted the fact that bishops and priests lived with their wives.[70] Although Coloman formally renounced his right to grant church positions outright in 1106, he continued to exert great influence in the designation of candidates.[112]

In consideration of human frailty, we allow priests to live with restraint with the wives who they have taken in accordance with legitimate practices. Those who have entered the diaconate or the priesthood unmarried are not allowed to take wives. The wives of bishops shall not inhabit the episcopal estates.
Canons 29–31 of the Synod of Esztergom of 1100[113]

New developments

Manuscript of the Funeral Sermon and Prayer
Late 12th-century manuscript of the Hungarian "Funeral Sermon and Prayer"
St Elisabeth of Hungary
Andrew II's daughter, Elisabeth who was canonized in 1235

Monastic orders founded in the Latin West in the 12th century became firmly established within the Kingdom of Hungary.[114] For the Premonstratensian canons, Stephen II (11161131) set up a monastery near Nagyvárad (Oradea, Romania), and the first Cistercian abbey was founded at Cikádor (near Szekszárd) under Géza II (11411162).[115][116] Among the military orders, the Knights Templars were the first to arrive.[115] Géza II also established a hospital in Esztergom which soon became the center of a newly established monastic community, the Order of Hospitaller Canons Regular of St Stephen.[115]

Within the kingdom, secondary education was available in schools maintained by collegiate churches and monasteries.[117] Although no local centers of higher education existed, the presence of students from the kingdom in the universities of Bologna, Oxford, Padua, and Paris was recorded during this period.[118] For instance, Lukács who would become Archbishop of Esztergom, attended the studium generale in Paris around 1150.[117] As archbishop, he refused to crown Béla III (11721196), fearing that the new king, educated in Constantinople, would allow the Orthodox Church to grow in influence.[119]

Tradition attributes the establishment of the Royal Chancery to Béla III.[117] Its personnel up until the 14th century would only consist of clerics.[120] Monarchs also authorized cathedral chapters and some monasteries to offer notarial services, thus these institutions became involved in royal administration as "places of authentication".[121]

A vernacular literature came into existence around 1200.[122] This is the period when the oldest surviving text in Hungarian, a short funeral was written.[122] Since women rarely were given a formal Latin education, their cloisters affiliated with the mendicant orders became the centers of devotional writing in Hungarian.[123] The 13th-century Hungarian poem known as the Lamentation of Mary was probably written for nuns.[123]

The early appearance of the mendicant orders stemmed from the kingdom's suitability towards proselytizing and missions.[124] First the Dominicans arrived in 1221, carrying out intensive missionary activities among the Cumans, east of the Carpathian Mountains.[125][126] The Kingdom of Hungary by that time had played an important role in the expansive policy of the Holy See.[127] For instance, Pope Innocent III (11981216) called on Hungary to take action against heresy in Bosnia;[127][128] Around 1200, many Romanians, Ruthenians, Serbs and other followers of the Orthodox rite lived in the Kingdom of Hungary, especially in its southern and eastern territories.[129] Some historians (for instance Gyula Moravcsik) speak even of a majority of Orthodox believers in these areas.[129] Even so, only two of the seven known Orthodox monasteries from this period was located to the east of the river Tisza.[116] The growing influence of the papacy and the zeal of the mendicant orders put an end to the religious tolerance that had theretofore been a notable characteristic of the royal court.[130] For instance, the Greek monastery of Visegrád, founded in the 11th century by Andrew I, was handed over to the Benedictines in 1221.[130]

The Church also emerged in the political arena as an independent force.[125] For instance, an article of the Golden Bull of 1222 prohibited Jews and Muslims from holding public offices; this was likely at the prelates' initiative.[131][132] The Church even forced Andrew II (12051235) to issue another decree in 1231 that authorized the archbishop of Esztergom to enforce the monarch's observance of the charter by means of excommunication.[125] Subsequently, as the Golden Bull's provisions concerning non-Christians were ignored, Archbishop Róbert of Esztergom placed the kingdom under interdict in 1232.[133] The next year the papal legate forced Andrew II to accept a treaty that established the fundamental privileges of the Church, including the clergy's exemption from taxation and the ecclesiastical courts' exclusive jurisdiction over clerics and in marriage cases.[125][134]

Ecclesiastical estates continued to grow steadily in the 12–13th centuries.[115] At the same time, a specific class of landholders known as church nobles developed on most prelates' domains.[135] These noblemen possessed their lands on hereditary terms, but were expected to perform certain services, primarily of military nature, to their lords.[135]

In 1235 four Dominican friars, among them Friar Julian, left the kingdom to find a Hungarian group whose ancestors had remained somewhere in the East in the 9th century.[136] Julian met them in modern Bashkortostan (Russia) where he also learnt of the danger exposed by the expanding Mongol Empire.[136] The Mongol armies set out for Hungary in the spring of 1241, and incited a disastrous defeat to the royal army at Muhi.[137][138] In the battle both Hungarian archbishops perished, along with other prelates and barons.[137][138] Contemporary sources, among them Roger of Torre Maggiore, depict the utter desolation and destruction inflicted by the Mongols.[139] All of the forty monasteries that are known to have disappeared at this time lay in the area affected by the invaders.[140]

Middle Ages

Map of 13th-century Hungary
Local autonomies in the Kingdom of Hungary in the late 13th century
Golden cloak clasp
Golden cloak clasp at the Hungarian Chapel of the Aachen Cathedral (Germany)

Following the withdrawal of the Mongols, Béla IV (12351270) settled a large group of pagan Cumans in the Great Hungarian Plain.[141] At the time expectations centered on their speedy conversion, but the relocated Cumans revolted following the enactment of a statute in 1279, prescribing the Cumans were to "conform to all Christian customs".[142][143][144] They continued practicing traditional burials, including the custom of placing goods in the grave, well into the 14th century.[145]

Parish organization was completed in the kingdom in the 15th century.[95] Private churches erected by lay patrons played an important role in the process.[95] However, due to their popular preaching, Dominican and Franciscan friars were often preferred to parish priests.[146] They also attracted members of high society, among them Margaret, Béla IV's youngest daughter who became a Dominican nun.[130][147] Pious folk often visited the monasteries of the Paulines, a new order of hermits founded in the kingdom in 1262.[147]

Popes intervened in Hungary on several occasions to place one of their protégés on the throne.[148] For this purpose, Pope Benedict VIII even placed Buda (now Budapest) under interdict in 1302 because its citizens had refused to yield to the pope's candidate, Charles I (13081342).[149] However, some priests continued to administer the sacraments and excommunicated Pope Benedict VIII himself.[150] Charles I was finally accepted as king after years of civil war.[148]

His son, Louis I (13421382) showed a level of bigotry in religious matters well beyond the usual intolerance of the period.[151] His expansionist policy was not purely aimed at exerting claims of suzerainty over the neighboring countries, but also at proselytizing among their "schismatic" inhabitants and extinguishing "heresy" from them.[152] For instance, Louis I installed Franciscan monks in the newly conquered Vidin (Bulgaria) in 1365 who re-baptized nearly one-third of the Orthodox townsfolk in accordance to the Catholic rite of baptism.[151] In 1356 the pope also declared that a crusade was necessary "against all heretic Transylvanians, Bosnians and Slavonians" in the realms under Louis I's suzerainty.[153]

Hungarian monarchs, although usually observing the formalities of canonical election, retained considerable control over church appointments as canons and monks tended to elect royal candidates to higher church offices.[154] Sometimes, however, the monarchs entirely ignored the provisions of canon law, such as in the case of Charles I who appointed bishops without canonical election for a period of decades.[155][156] Popes attempted to bring some important church appointments under their personal control, but a royal statute of 1404 expressly forbade the Vatican from appointing clergy in the kingdom.[157]

It is to be known that even though the pope, that is the supreme pontiff, has two kinds of jurisdiction, namely temporal and spiritual, he does not exercise jurisdiction over the grant of ecclesiastical benefices when they fall vacant in this realm, apart from the authority of confirmation.
The "Tripartitum", First Part, Chapter Eleven[158]

Sigismund I (13871437) was the first monarch who organized a military enterprise against the Ottoman Empire.[159] It was declared a crusade, but the crusaders were destroyed in the battle of Nicopolis (Bulgaria) in 1396.[159] The southern system of the kingdom's defense was only secured in 1456 when an army, which included commoners inflamed by the Franciscan monk John of Capistrano, led by John Hunyadi inflicted a serious defeat to the Ottomans at the Siege of Belgrade.[160]

Hussite Bible
Page from the Munich Codex of the Hussite Bible

Mendicant orders still enjoyed popularity during this period: the Hungarian vicariate of the Observants (the Franciscans' more rigorous branch) became the order's main basis outside Italy.[161] In contrast with them, monastic orders were evidently in decline: for instance, a visitation of Benedictine monasteries found derelict buildings and drunken monks almost everywhere in 1508.[162] From the end of the 14th century a few Orthodox monasteries were also established, mainly in estates owned by Orthodox lords, such as Theodor Koriatovich, and the rulers of Serbia.[163]

Heretics called valdenses were detected in Sopron in the 1380s by an itinerant inquisitor, Peter Zwicker who was active in German-speaking areas.[164][165] In the 1430s Hussite ideology was spreading in Szerém County (in present-day Croatia and Serbia) where two local burghers named Tamás and Bálint prepared the first Hungarian version of the Bible.[164][166] However, a special papal inquisitor had many Hussites burnt alive or imprisoned in 1436 and 1437, and those who survived this purge went into exile to Moldavia.[164][166][167]

At the end of the 15th century ecclesiastic estates comprised 13.5% of the lands within the Kingdom of Hungary.[168] Despite the Church's vast land holdings, the nobility seems to have been unwilling to send their sons to the clergy, consequently ecclesiastic career was open practically everyone.[169] For instance, the three Primates of Hungary between 1497 and 1526, Tamás Bakócz, György Szatmári, and László Szalkai were all commoners.[170]

Tamás Bakócz was in 1514 appointed a special papal legate charged with organizing a crusade against the Ottomans.[171][172] Soon some 40,000 peasants gathered in the crusaders' camps, thus the landowners persuaded the primate to suspended recruitment in May.[173] However, the peasants, inflamed by Observant friars, refused to disperse.[174] They started to burn manor houses and pillage castles, but were defeated in six weeks.[175][176]

The Battle of Mohács, the decisive battle between the Kingdom of Hungary's army and the Ottomans, was fought in 1526.[177] The battle ended in disaster for the kingdom: thousands of soldiers, among them both archbishops and five bishops, lost their lives on the battlefield.[177][178] The king, Louis II (15161526) also drowned in a stream while in flight.[177] Soon two rival claims were raised to the throne, and both candidates were elected and crowned.[179][180] Those who demanded a national king supported John I Szapolyai (15261540), while those who preferred an alliance with the Habsburgs gathered round Ferdinand I (15261564).[179][180]

Early Modern Times


Measures taken against Martin Luther's followers prove the early appearance of his teachings in the kingdom.[181] The Diet, the kingdom's legislative assembly, decreed first in 1523 that Lutherans be punished with the loss of life and property.[181][182] The first followers of the new creed were German burghers, and German courtiers around Mary of Austria, Louis II's queen.[183][184] Although after 1526, the feud between the two rival kings made the enforcement of anti-Lutheran legislation difficult, barriers to communication still delayed the spread of Reformation.[183][185] János Sylvester who translated the New Testament into Hungarian in 1541 offered the pragmatic explanation for his work, citing that most Hungarians could not understand other languages.[186] Lutheranism radiated to the countryside from manor houses of magnates, such as those of Péter Perényi at Siklós and Sárospatak, or of Tamás Nádasdy at Sárvár, who could use their patronage rights to install Protestant pastors in their estates.[184][187] For example, Mátyás Dévai Bíró who seems to have first spread Lutheran ideas among ethnic Hungarians in the 1530s worked for a while on Tamás Nádasdy's estates.[184][188]

The medieval Kingdom of Hungary was divided into three parts when the Ottomans occupied Buda in 1541.[189] "Royal Hungary", comprising modern Slovakia together with a corridor in Transdanubia, stayed under the rule of the Habsburg kings.[190] Here a rather lukewarm persecution of Protestants, directed primarily against radical Protestants such as Anabaptists and Sacramentarians, remained the official policy, which was supported even by the Lutheran Estates.[191][192] The authorities in "Ottoman Hungary", in the central territories annexed by the Ottoman Empire, were indifferent to the spread of Reformation.[193] In the territories east of the Tisza, that started to develop into a separate state under Ottoman suzerainty, radical ideas could also be propagated from the 1560s due to the receptive attitude of the ruler, John II Sigismund (15401571).[193]

Early Protestant movements were characterized by theological eclecticism.[188] For instance, the first Lutheran synod of Hungarian pastors, held in Erdőd (Ardud, Romania) in 1545, adopted twelve articles based on the Augsburg Confession, but otherwise the participants disagreed on the precise formulation of their faith.[194][195] Contacts between the second generation of reformers in Hungary and their German and Swiss counterparts also increased theological differences.[192]

First Márton Kálmáncsehi Sánta who was elected town pastor of Debrecen in 1551 denied openly the real presence of Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.[196] Next at a synod of 1559, held in Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureş, Romania), Hungarian ministers agreed that communion services were to be held merely as memorials of Christ's death.[197] The right of each parish to freely align itself with either the Calvinist or the Lutheran views on Eucharist was decreed in John II Sigismund's realm in 1564.[198]

Four years later, the Diet of Torda (Turda, Romania) went even further with the Edict of Torda describing faith as a gift from God that could not be compelled.[199] Even after the Diet placed a restriction on doctrinal innovations in 1572, the constitutional validity of four "received religions" – Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Unitarianism – remained recognized in the Principality of Transylvania, the new state formed on the basis of John II Sigismund's realm in 1570.[200] In Royal Hungary, where anti-Calvinist decrees were still promulgated in the 1570s and 1580s, a separate Reformed church organization came into being in 15911592.[201]

Around the turn of the century, more than three-quarters of the over 5,000 parishes in the one-time kingdom were Protestant, and their majority was held by the Reformed Church.[202] The Protestant denominations also took great care to develop a well-functioning network of educational institutions.[203] They established colleges, for example, in Pápa, Sárospatak, and Debrecen.[204] The Hungarian translation of the whole Bible completed in 1590 by Gáspár Károli, the Reformed minister at Vizsoly, was to serve as the standard in the Hungarian literary language for decades.[205]

Counter-Reformation and resistance

István Bocskai
Statute of István Bocskai, prince of Transylvania (16051606) at Ópusztaszer

With its prelates retaining their seats in the Upper Chamber of the Diet, the Catholic Church remained a significant political force in Royal Hungary.[206] The start of Counter-Reformation was indicated by the arrival of twelve Jesuit missionaries in 1560, for whom Miklós Oláh, archbishop of Esztergom founded a monastery in Nagyszombat (Trnava, Slovakia).[207][208] The Jesuits were introduced in the Principality of Transylvania by the Catholic prince, Stephen Báthory (15711586), but already in 1588 they were forced to leave the country by the predominantly Protestant Estates.[209][210]

Hardly in a position to attend to its own defense, Royal Hungary relied on assistance from the Habsburgs' other realms.[211] When the Fifteen Years' War against the Ottomans caused a huge deficit, King Rudolf I (15761608) decided to compensate it at the expense of the nobility.[212] Rudolf simultaneously wanted to strengthen the position of the Catholic Church, both in the kingdom and in the newly occupied principality.[212][213] For these purposes, first the leading Lutheran magnate of Royal Hungary, István Illésházy was put on trial in 1603; next, the Lutheran ministers were evicted by force from Kassa (Košice, Slovakia) in early 1604.[214][215][216][217] In October 1604, royal forces were dispatched against István Bocskai, a leading Calvinist magnate in the Principality of Transylvania, but he decided to resist and rose up in open rebellion.[214][218] Backed by the Ottomans and the Estates, he managed to enforce the Habsburgs to negotiate a peace treaty.[219][220] The Treaty of Vienna of 1606 required the kings to observe their Lutheran and Calvinist subjects' right to free worship, and it also ensured that administrative offices in Royal Hungary were to be occupied irrespective of religion.[214][217]

Henceforth the survival of Protestantism in Royal Hungary lay in its continued ability to summon outside assistance against the Habsburg monarchs.[221] In the first half of the 17th century the Calvinist princes of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen (16131629) and George I Rákóczi (16301648) played this role by forcing the Habsburgs to affirm again and again the terms of the Treaty of Vienna.[222][223][224] All the same, unofficial Counter-Reformation, aimed at voluntary conversion, continued in Royal Hungary.[225][226] For this purpose, the Jesuits established congregations to honor the Virgin Mary in many of the towns.[226][227]

Péter Pázmány
Péter Pázmány, archbishop of Esztergom (16161637)

The most outstanding exponent of the Catholic renewal was Péter Pázmány, archbishop of Esztergom (16161637).[228] He wrote influential polemical tracts characterized by the robust freshness of his style that contributed to the standardization of the Hungarian language.[228] He founded a university at Nagyszombat in 1635 from which Jesuit missionaries could carry on their activities throughout Royal Hungary.[208] The archbishop and the Jesuits managed to persuade more and more members of the high nobility, among them members of the Zrinyi, Batthyány, and Wesselényi families to join Catholicism.[225] The example of the magnates was followed by numerous other noblemen, thus at the Diet of 1638 the majority of the deputies representing the counties was already Catholic.[229]

No other than some Catholic magnates were the first to react when the political status of the Principality of Transylvania diminished due to Ottoman invasions in 16571661.[230][231] Exploiting the willingness of the Holy See to organize an anti-Ottoman alliance, they started to urge the restoration of the kingdom's religious uniformity in order of national defense.[232] For this purpose, Protestant churches, schools and printing presses were appropriated in their domains.[227][232] However, the "Decade of Mourning" for Protestant believers began in 1671 when King Leopold I (16571705), in response of an anti-Habsburg conspiracy of the magnates, suspended the kingdom's constitutional liberties.[227][233][234][235]

Soon a campaign of religious persecution, characterized by the closing of Protestant schools and churches, was initiated by György Szelepcsényi, archbishop of Esztergom.[236] At its nadir, in 1674, over 700 Protestant preachers accused of high treason were summoned to a summary court, and the most "obstinate" 42 were sold to serve on galleys as slaves.[227][237] It was only the emerging Ottoman threat that persuaded the king to confirm the religious rights of the Protestants at the Diet of Sopron in 1681.[238] Their clergy and teachers, together with all churches that had not been re-consecrated for Catholic use, were now restored, and they were permitted to build up to two new churches in the counties lacking a place of Protestant worship.[238]

The war that expelled the Ottomans from Hungary started with the third Ottoman siege of Vienna.[239] During the siege, the forces of the Holy League inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Ottomans on September 12, 1683.[240] In the ensuing offensive military campaigns, most of the territories of the Kingdom of Hungary were reoccupied; for instance, Buda was delivered from the Ottomans in 1686.[241]

Although in 1687 Leopold I promised that he would uphold the constitution of the kingdom, in making policy for the re-conquested territories he relied almost exclusively on his Austrian and Bohemian counselors.[242] They linked German language and culture with Catholicism as an instrument for installing greater loyalty to the Habsburg dynasty.[243] Therefore, a large number of Catholic German colonists were settled in many parts of the one-time "Ottoman Hungary".[244][245] The one Hungarian influential member of the monarch's inner circle was Leopold Kollonitsch, archbishop of Esztergom (16951707) who had once predicted that he would "first render Hungary obedient, then destitute, and finally Catholic".[246] Although the monarch himself never acted on the archbishop's appeal for wholesale Catholicization, the document known as the Explanatio Leopoldina issued in 1691 by Leopold I suggested that religious freedom in the re-conquered lands was only temporary.[246] On the other hand, Leopold I granted extensive religious autonomy to the approximately 200,000 Serbs who fled under the Orthodox Patriarch of Peć, Arsenije III Čarnojević to the liberated territories of the kingdom.[244]

In 1703 Prince Francis II Rákóczi renewed the tradition of anti-Habsburg revolt.[247][248] His War for Independence lasted for eight years.[247][249] In the end, the two sides reached a settlement by signing a treaty in 1711.[247][250] In the Treaty of Szatmár (Satu Mare, Romania), the representatives of the new king, Charles III (17111740) promised that the Protestants' right to free worship would be observed.[251]

Modern Times

Absolutism, Enlightenment and Reforms

Although the Protestants' direct persecution ceased in the reign of Charles III, their right to free worship was in 1731 limited to the counties of the one-time Royal Hungary by the Hungarian monarch.[252][253] Elsewhere in Hungary Protestants were only permitted to hold private services for immediate family members.[253] The next Habsburg monarch, Maria Theresa (17401780) revived the title of Apostolic Ruler in 1758 as an assertion of her sovereign authority in Church matters.[254] Accordingly, she reorganized the Catholic dioceses without the approval of the Holy See, and carried out an educational reform that created a compulsory school system, separate from the Church.[255][256]

Pope Pius VI and Joseph II
Pope Pius VI's meeting with Joseph II in Vienna in 1782

Her son, Joseph II (17801790) thought that the Church itself was to be treated as a branch of civil service.[257] In accordance with his "Josephinist" views, all monastic orders not engaged in teaching, approximately 75% of the abbeys, were dissolved in 1782.[258][259] Their possessions were used to establish a number of new parishes, to open new elementary schools, and a general seminary at Pressburg (Bratislava, Slovakia).[258] The Counter-Reformation also came to an end when Joseph II issued his Patent of Toleration in 1781.[252] It removed most restrictions on non-Catholic worship and enabled both Protestant and Orthodox believers to be eligible for service in government offices.[258]

Joseph II's reforms, however, were introduced unconstitionally, by royal decrees, thus his toleration policy was again negotiated under Leopold II (17901792) at the Diet of 1790.[260] It was the first legislative assembly to which the Hungarian monarch invited the prelates of the local Serb Orthodox Church.[261][262] The Diet finally confirmed that Protestants could exercise their religion freely and were to be given equal consideration in appointments for public office.[263]

In the next decade, Catholic prelates sought to extricate themselves from what they regarded as "Josephinist" churchmanship, thus the ideas of ultramontanism took root among them.[264] Among Catholic laymen, however, a liberal version of Catholicism became popular.[264] For instance, Count István Széchenyi, although his diaries were full of explicitly religious yearning, emancipated himself from all clerical partiality in politics; and his friend Count Lajos Batthyány became a leading spokesman for the rights of the non-Catholic churches in the Upper Chamber of the Diet.[265]

Among the Protestants, Lutherans began to work more closely with the Calvinists in the first decades of the 19th century.[266] One of their leaders, Count Károly Zay even decided to unite the two denominations in the 1840s.[267] His attempt, connected with the introduction of the Hungarian as the official language of the Evangelical Church finally came to nothing, partially due to the opposition of Slovak intellectuals, such as Ľudovít Štúr.[267][268]

Revolution, Neo-Absolutism and Compromise

Religious map of Austria-Hungary
Denominations in Austria-Hungary in 1881 (Catholic: blue; Protestant: purple; Orthodox: yellow; Muslim: green)
Charles IV
The coronation oath of Charles IV who was beatified in 2004

The equality of six denominations (the Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Reformed, Evangelical, Orthodox and Unitarian Churches) was enacted in April 1848, during the first phase of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.[269] On the other hand, the first Nazarene Congregation, organized in 1848, met much difficulty from state authorities resulting from the Nazarene refusal of military service.[270] After the crushing of the revolution, Franz Joseph I (18481916) tried to enlist the high prelates as allies of the Crown.[257] Accordingly, the head of the local Serb Orthodox Church received the title of patriarch; and a concordat with the Holy See, granting the status of state religion to the Catholic Church, was signed in 1855.[271][272]

The Kingdom of Hungary regained its constitutional independence through the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867.[273] Although the Catholic Church lost its privileged position in the Hungarian half of the "Double Monarchy", the restoration of the religious laws of 1848 only resulted in the declaration of the equal status of the six "received denominations".[273][274] Despite a clerical and aristocratic counter-offensive, churchstate relations were reformed in 1894 and 1895.[275] In those years civil marriage and a civil register of births and deaths were introduced, divorce, and conversion from Christianity to Judaism were legalized, and even the freedom of having no religious affiliation was enacted.[274][276] In response, an essentially Catholic political organization pressing for the revision of these laws, the People's Party was organized by Count Nándor Zichy.[277]

Toward the end of the 19th century, a revivalist movement, brought about by foreign missionaries, spread among the Protestant denominations.[278] For instance, John Mott, the leader of the World Student Christian Federation, paid several visits to Hungary.[278] The first Baptist congregation was established in 1873, but it was only granted permission for religious activity in 1906 after its own standard of faith had been formulated.[278] The Seventh-day Adventists arrived in 1895, but minors were forbidden to attend their services, which were held under police surveillance.[270]

According to the last census held in AustriaHungary in 1910, out of the total number of about 7,6 million inhabitants of the territory of present-day Hungary, 62.8% declared themselves Roman Catholic, 22.4% Calvinist, 6.6% Lutheran, 6.2% Jewish, and 2.1% Greek Catholic.[276][279] Following the collapse of the "Double Monarchy" at the end of the First World War, King Charles IV (19161918) abdicated on November 16, 1918, and the prime minister, Count Mihály Károlyi proclaimed Hungary a republic.[280][281]

Interwar and postwar periods

Mihály Károlyi decided to hand over power "to the proletariat" when the Entente Powers issued an ultimatum, demanding the evacuation of a large zone east of the Tisza.[282] The new government led by the Communist Béla Kun declared Hungary a soviet republic on March 21, 1919.[282] The counter-revolutionary propaganda did not fail to emphasize that over half of the commissars were of Jewish origin.[283] Under the new regime Church property, along with schools so far run by the Churches, was nationalized.[284][285] After 133 days of rule, the Communist regime collapsed when its offensive against the advancing Romanian troops proved abortive.[286] After general elections, a new Parliament was convoked and Hungary was again proclaimed a kingdom.[287][288] A "numerus clausus law" was soon adopted to reduce the ratio of Jewish students in universities.[289] However, following the punitive Treaty of Trianon of June 4, 1920, that stripped Hungary of two-third of its territory, irredentism became the dominant political ideology.[290]

I believe in one God. I believe in one Fatherland. I believe in eternal, divine justice. I believe in the resurrection of Hungary.
"Hungarian Credo"[291]

During the predominant "Christian course" of the interwar period, the Churches received extensive support from the governments.[290][292] Religion became a compulsory subject in state schools, and Christian-influenced extra-curricular activities (such as the Boy Scout or the specifically Hungarian "levente" movements) were also favored.[292] When the Upper House of the Parliament was restored in 1926, 33 of its 244 members (19 Catholics, 6 Calvinists, 4 Lutherans, 1 Unitarian, 1 Greek-Orthodox, and 2 Jews) enjoyed seats by reason of ecclesiastical office.[290][293] During this period, the Churches still owned 5,300 square kilometres (2,000 sq mi) of land, of which 86% was held by Catholic prelates.[294]

In line with the views of Pope Pius XI, in the 1930s the Catholic hierarchy was critical of the growing influence of Nazism in Hungary.[295] Anti-Semitic sentiment, however, became dominant, and anti-Jewish laws were adopted beginning in 1938.[296][297] The Nazi "Final Solution" was brought about by the German occupation of Hungary in 1944.[296] Even now some prelates – among them, Bishop László Ravasz of the Reformed Church, Lutheran Bishop Sándor Raffay, and Vilmos Apor, the Catholic bishop of Győr – publicly protested Jewish persecution.[296][298]

He who denies the first command of Christianity and declares that there are men, groups and races, who may be hated and persecuted; who assumes that men, whether Negroes or Jews, may be tortured, must be regarded as a pagan – even if he boasts of being a Christian. Everyone who approves of, or takes part in, the torturing of human beings commits a grave sin.
Bishop Vimos Apor's speech in the Cathedral of Győr on Whit Sunday, 1944[298]

The Red Army entered Hungarian territory in September 1944.[299][300] In December the "Provisional National Assembly", a non-elected body acknowledged by the Allies appointed a provisional government.[301] One of its first acts was a radical land reform which affected 82% of the lands owned by the Churches.[294] The occupation forces inflicted wreaked havoc on the population: men and women were deported to the Soviet Union as forced laborer, and there was large-scale rape of women throughout Hungary by the Soviet occupation forces.[302] Bishop Vilmos Apor was himself mortally wounded when he attempted to save a young girl from rape at the hands of drunken Soviet soldiers.[298]

In spite of a monarchist campaign led by József Mindszenty, Archbishop of Esztergom, Hungary was declared a republic on February 1, 1946.[294][303] The Communist Party acquired power step by step, using its "salami tactics" in order to slice up its opposition.[304] For instance, after the murder of a Soviet officer, about 1,500 "reactionary associations", such as the Catholic Youth Association, were dissolved in July 1946.[305][306] Clergymen were excluded from the general elections held in November 1946.[294][303] Among the Church leaders, the Evangelical Bishop Lajos Ordass was sentenced for fabricated "foreign currency offenses" in 1948, and Cardinal Mindszenty, who had in 1948 spoke of one kind of dictatorship being replaced with another, was brought to court upon similarly fabricated charges of espionage and subversion in 1949.[307][308] Meanwhile, in 1947 a new law abolished all discriminations against those denominations that had not thereto received the "received" status.[309]

Communist Hungary

Hungary became a "People's Republic" in 1949 when a new constitution, modeled after the Stalinist constitution of the Soviet Union, was adopted.[310] Obligatory religious instruction at schools was soon abolished.[311] Monastic orders were also dissolved, except the remnants of one female and three male orders teaching in the few secondary schools exempted from the nationalization, and at the same time 3,820 monks and nuns were deported or imprisoned and tortured.[291][312]

In 1951 a "State Office of Church Affairs" was created and entrusted with the task of bringing the Churches under the regime's authority and supervision.[291] It paid particular attention to the selection of Church leaders.[313] They were looking among the clergy both for idealists who became convinced that only communism had a future, and for men involved in illegal activities, mainly moral ones.[313]

The third Hungarian republic

The communist political monopoly in Hungary disappeared in 1989.[314] The Parliament passed the Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religion on January 24, 1990 which established the freedom of religion as a basic human right and that church activities were useful to society.[315]

See also


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