THE triumph of the Reformation in Hungary was to be slow and difficult, or rather it was never to be complete. The two kings, who after the death of Louis II. shared the kingdom between them, fancied, as we have seen, that they should ensure victory to themselves by giving up the Reformation to the Roman clergy. But the only result of persecution was to advance reform. Many of the evangelical Christians at this time quitted Hungary to go to Wittenberg. ‘A great number of Hungarians,’ said Luther on May 7, 1528, ‘are arriving here from all quarters, expelled from Ferdinand’s dominions; and as Christ was poor, they imitate Him in His humble poverty.’ The reformer welcomed, consoled, instructed, and strengthened them. ‘If Satan employs cruelty,’ he said to one of them, ‘he acts his own part; Scripture everywhere teaches us that this is what we are to expect from him. But for thee, be a brave man, pray and fight in the spirit and the word, against him. He who reigns in us is mighty.’
Luther even called to him the Christians of Hungary. He wrote to Leonard Beier, who was in the states of Ferdinand, — ‘If thou art expelled come hither. We offer thee hospitality and all that Christ gives us.’ The reformer’s charity won hearts to the Reformation. These men, on their return to their own land, became so many missionaries.
Not long after this there appeared at Wittenberg a man who was to be one of the greatest Hungarian reformers. One day, in 1529, Luther was visited by a young man who so completely won his heart that he admitted him into his house and to his table; and, during his stay at Wittenberg, the young Magyar had the privilege of listening to the pious discourses and the witty talk of the great doctor. This student was born at Deva in Transylvania, near the banks of the river Maros, in the waters of which gold is found. The town stands on the road to Temeswar, which passes by the defiles of the mountains and the Iron Gates, at a short distance from the ruins of Sarmizegethusa, the capital of the ancient Dacians, on the site of which the Romans afterwards erected Ulpia Trajana. Here Mathias Biro Devay was born, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, of a noble family. It is supposed that he was one of the disciples of Grynaeus at Buda. In 1523 he went to the university of Cracow, where he matriculated at the same time as his friend Martin of Kalmance. He remained there about two years, and was known as a sincere Roman Catholic.
Devay returned from Cracow towards the close of 1525, and having become priest and monk he showed himself a zealous friend of the pope.
He who was to beat down the idol was at this time on his knees before it.
It appears to have been in the second half of the year 1527 and the first half of 1528 that his mind was enlightened by the Gospel. He embraced the faith in Christ the Savior with all the frankness and energy of his nature. The Catholics, who had known his devotion to the doctrine of Rome, were in consternation. ‘He has been a Roman priest!’ they said, ‘and a man most devoted to our Catholic faith!’ Devay felt the need of getting established in the evangelical doctrine and of qualifying himself to defend it. He therefore went to Wittenberg, and on December 3, 1529, matriculated there.
While Devay was in Saxony, the Reformation was making great progress in Hungary. The two kings had expected to destroy it, but all invisible power, greater than that of courts, was widely extending it; and that old saying in the Gospel was fulfilled, — My strength is made perfect in weakness . A powerful magnate, Peter Perenyi, who had embraced the Gospel a year before, had declared with his sons Francis, George, and Gabriel for the doctrine of Luther. The son of Emerick, the former palatine of Hungary, he had just been made vayvode of Transylvania, and he possessed numerous castles in the northern part of the kingdom. It was at the court of Queen Mary, in the time of King Louis, that he had been enlightened, by means of the frequent conversations which he had held with the minister’s Kopaczy and Szeray. Not content with allowing the evangelical doctrine to spread in his demesnes, he exerted himself personally to provide pious pastors for the people. Other magnates also, particularly Laelany, Massaly, and Caspar Dragfi, had been converted to Protestantism by the teachings of the ministers Osztorai and Derezki.
Dragfi’s father was in his day vayvode of Transylvania; and King Ladislaus had honored his nuptials with his presence. The son, now a young man of two-and- twenty, sent for evangelical divines to his estates; and Ovar, Isengen, Erdoeil and numerous villages were reformed by their preaching. It was to no purpose that the bishops threatened this young and decided Christian; he cared nothing about it., but gave his protection to all those who were persecuted for the faith. Some women likewise promoted the extension of the Reformation. The widow of Peter Jarit, a venerated woman who had the most ardent love for the Gospel, maintained preachers on her vast estates, so that all the country which lay between the rivers Maros and Koeroes was brought through her influence to the profession of the faith. The palatine ,Thomas Nadasdy, Francis Revay, Bebek, the Podmanitzkys, Zobor, Balassa, Batory, Pongratz, Illeshazy, Eszterhazy, Zriny, Nyary, Batthyani, the counts of Salm and Hommona, with many other nobles and magnates, heard the Word of God as the sovereign voice of the Church. The townsmen did the same, and the greater number of the towns embraced the Reformation. f543 The report of all these conversions reached the courts of the two princes who were at this time disputing the crown. They thought they had better spare men of whose support they were ambitious. Persecution therefore slackened, and the transformation of the Church profited thereby. Liberty and truth made conspicuous progress. At Bartfeld, doctor Esaias preached against Romish traditions, called his hearers to Jesus Christ, and stirred the whole town. At Leutschau, two evangelists, Cyriaci and Bogner, returning from Wittenberg, proclaimed the word of salvation; and the ultramontane churches, in spite of their incense, their images, and their pompous ceremonial, were day by day being deserted. At Hermanstadt the inhabitants, regardless of the outcries against them raised by the priests and their adherents, quickly adopted measures for positively abolishing the Roman services.
The court of Rome, more and more perplexed, was intriguing at Vienna with a view to winning over Ferdinand. The pope wrote to the celebrated general Francisco Frangipani, who had been enrolled as a member of the order of St. Francis of Assisi, and was on this account under special obligation to obey the pontiff. He entreated him to support with all his might the Catholic religion now so gravely threatened. The monks of Hermanstadt, provoked at seeing that the cruel decree of Ferdinand remained unexecuted, strove to stir up the people against their adversaries; and there were frequent disturbances. The magistrate would have consented that everyone should be free to serve God according to his conscience; but persecution on the part of the monks appeared to be a rooted and incorrigible necessity. The council, despairing of enlightening them, ordered them (February 8, 1529) upon pain of death to leave the town within the space of eight days, unless they chose to live in conformity with the Gospel. This order was variously received by the monks. Some of them put off their cowls, dressed themselves like honest citizens, and began to earn their bread. Others left the town. Three days later there was not to be found in Hermanstadt a single Roman Catholic. Some people cried out that freedom was trampled under foot by the council of Hermanstadt; others remarked that by the course it had taken it suppressed culpable intrigues.
Liberty is a power which occasionally passes through very strange phases, and of which history presents some singular features. This was the case at this period in Hungary. The two rival kings, Ferdinand and Zapolya, were supported by two powerful emperors, the one eastern, the other western, Solyman and Charles the Fifth. This twofold movement at once endangered and favored religious liberty in Hungary. In 1529 Ferdinand went to Spire, where the emperor Charles the Fifth had convoked the Diet; and, submissive to the dictation of his august brother, annulled there the edict which he had published in 1526 in favor of religious liberty. f545 But while the Austrian king was thus confirmed in intolerance by the influence of Catholic Europe, the Hungarian king took a lesson of liberty from the Mussulman emperor. Solyman was once more marching into Hungary at the head of a hundred and fifty thousand men; and halting on the famous battle-field of Mohacz, he there received Zapolya, who had come to offer him homage. He took Buda on August 14, delivered the evangelical commander-in-chief, Nadasdy, whom his troops with infamous treachery had cast into a cave, and then marched on Gran, whose bishop, escorted by eight hundred nobles on horseback and as many on foot, came to meet him, and kissed his hand. Next, after presenting himself before Vienna, the Grand Sultan returned to Buda, and there confirmed Zapolya as king of Hungary. Although he was not a great admirer of freedom of conscience, he pronounced against the oppression of the Protestants, either because the Romish religion was that of the emperor his enemy, or because the worship of images, which was one of the most conspicuous parts of the Catholic religion, was impious in his eyes. The Gospel of Christ enjoyed greater freedom at Constantinople than at Rome.
In the great year 1530, the Hungarian reformation received a fresh impulse.
The faithfulness and joy with which the Protestant princes confessed the truth at Augsburg (June 25), in the presence of the emperor, of King Ferdinand, and of several Hungarian lords — Nicholas Duranz, Wolfgang Frangepertpan, Francis Ujlaky, and others — dispelled many prejudices.
These noblemen on their return gave favorable accounts of what they had seen and heard; and all who understood Latin or German — and these were very numerous in Hungary — could read the admirable Confession, which made many hearts beat high. From this time the disciples of Christ who were desirous of diffusing His light increased in number. The glorious instrument of Augsburg was like a bell, the tones of which, far resounding, brought to Wittenberg, and thus to the Gospel, a great number of students and even of learned men, who desired to become acquainted, in the very seat of the movements, with the great transformation which was taking place in Christendom, and to draw with their own hands at the fountain of living waters.
In the year which followed the Confession, in the spring of 1531, Devay returned to Hungary. He felt himself impelled to publish in his native land the great facts and the great doctrines of redemption, proclaimed at Augsburg by the princes and the free towns of Germany. He had attentively followed all the scenes of this great Christian drama; he attached himself at the same time with sympathy to the teaching of Melanchthon, whose mildness, prudence, and knowledge, and whose anxieties even, filled him with affection and admiration. It was not till later that the illustrious friend of Luther showed his leaning to a spiritual interpretation to the Lord’s Supper; but the germ was already there.
Devay and other Hungarians followed this tendency with hearty intereSt. Some reformers have perhaps been inconsistent; their doctrine has not been in all points in harmony with the principles which they professed.
Devay and others went the whole length; they walked straight along the road. Devay was a complete divine. He made progress. He did not stop at a few beautiful figures in the picture, at a few grand portions of the building; he saw the whole and embraced it. He recognized with Melanchthon the spirituality of the Supper, and with Luther the sovereignty of grace. Or, it would perhaps be more historical and more logical to say that with Calvin he believed both; a complete man par excellence , at least as far as man can be so. Further, he was not a mere recluse, complete only on his own account; he was a teacher. With a strong desire to know the truth, he combined a steadfast, determined character.
He feared nothing, he hoped nothing from men; his hope and his fear were in God. He thought, as Pascal afterwards did, that the fear of men was bad policy . There was no faltering in him, he did not waver as some did, but went on with an intrepid heart and a confident step. There are some divines who venture only to present the truth by degrees, and this the human understanding frequently requires. The very light of the sun goes on increasing from dawn to midday. But the Hungarian reformer proclaimed at the outset the whole evangelical truth, with a frank heart, completely and boldly. He demanded an entire transformation of the life, a complete reformation of the Church; and he extolled the greatness and the certainty of the salvation of which he was the herald. Distinguished for his theological attainments, he was equally so for his decision of character and his courage.
Devay, highly appreciated and recommended, was settled in the capital of Hungary. As pastor at Buda, which is united by a bridge to Pesth, so that the two cities are virtually but one, he put forth all his energy in diffusing there the principles of the Reformation by his discourses, his writings, and his deeds. As the saints played an important part in the religion of the country, he showed in one of his works the nothingness of their invocation. He composed fifty-two theses in which, after confuting his opponents, he set forth clearly the essence of a real Christian reformation, or, as he used to say, the rudiments of salvation . Unfortunately he had not at this time a printing-press at his service, Hungary being much behindhand in this respect. He therefore made numerous copies of his writings, as used to be done before Gutenberg’s invention. At the same time he preached with power. He appeared wherever he saw that any conquest was to be made. At his word many turned to the Gospel, and among them some eminent men.
Devay was not alone in his endeavors to spread Christian life in the Hungarian Church. Anthony Transylvanus was preaching the Gospel at Kaschau and in the surrounding districts, Basil Radan at Debreczin, Andrew Fischer and Bartholomew Bogner at Zipsen, Michael Siklosy and Stephen Kopacsy in the comitat of Zemplin. Leonard Stoeckel and Lawrence Quendel, who had studied at Wittenberg at the same time as Devay, soon propagated the evangelical faith in other places. The Reformation was thus quite peacefully, without great struggles or great show, making the conquest of Hungary. The Gospel was not spreading there with the roar of torrents, as it did in the places where Luther, Farel, and Knox spoke; but its waters flowed smoothly. They did not fall rushing and foaming from the mountains, but they came forth imperceptibly from the ground. It was a conquest without clash of cymbals and trumpets, made by brave scouts. Reform often began with men of the lower ranks. Some humble evangelist would proclaim in a small town the words of eternal life, and many hearts joyfully received them.
There were exceptions, however, to the calm of which we speak, and the life of the greatest reformer of these lands presents to us tragical situations such as abound in the history of the Reformation.
Devay did not remain long at Buda. He was called to Cassovia (Kaschau) in Upper Hungary, then under the rule of Ferdinand, from which place he was able to bear the heavenly doctrine to the banks of the Hernath and the Tchenerl, into the whole comitat of Abaujvar, to Eperies on the north, and to Ujhely on the east. Everywhere he labored zealously. Ere long the inhabitants attached themselves with all their heart not only to him, but to the Word of God. The nobles of one of the market towns of the comitat of Zemplin, impressed by his powerful discourses, left the Romish Church and received with faith the divine promises. The inhabitants of several villages of the neighborhood were gained over by this example. These numerous conversions excited the wrath of the Roman clergy, and on all sides the priests called for the removal of a man so dangerous as Devay.
Thomas Szalahazy, bishop of Eger (Erlau), denounced him to King Ferdinand. Agents of this prince made their way secretly to the places where the simple but powerful reformer might be found, and they seized and carried him off. A deed so daring could not be concealed. The report of it spread among the inhabitants of the town of Cassovia, and the people, who were warmly attached to the reformer, rose in revolt. But all was useless. The tools of the bishop dragged Devay into the mountains of the comitat of Liptau; but even there they did not think him safe enough.
They feared the mountains, the forests, the defiles; they could not dispense with prisons, keepers, and thick walls. They conducted Devay, therefore, to Presburg, and thence to Vienna; and here he was very rigorously treated. Put in chains, supplied with scanty nourishment, subjected to all kinds of privations, he suffered cruelly in body, and his soul was often overwhelmed with sorrow. He wondered whether he was ever to escape from those gloomy walls. He sought after God from the depth of his soul, knowing that He is the only deliverer. At a later time he frequently used to speak of all the bodily and mental sufferings which he had undergone in the prison of Vienna.
John Faber, bishop of the diocese, a learned man and of superior abilities, had at first taken much interest in Luther’s writings; but he found the diet a little too strong for the weak stomachs of the people. In 1521, being over head and ears in debt, and having nothing to pay, he betook himself to Rome to escape from his creditors and to claim help of the pope; and in order to make himself agreeable he composed a work against the great reformer. Rome transformed Faber, and, on his return to Germany, he began to contend against the Reformation, without, however, being entirely proof against the Christian words of Luther. In 1528 he tried to gain over Melanchthon, offering him as the price of apostasy a situation under King Ferdinand. The same year he contributed to the erection of the stake at which Hubmeyer was burnt. Faber had been provost of Buda, and in 1530 he was named bishop of Vienna. He cited Devay to appear before him. The bishop was surrounded by many ecclesiastics, and a secretary or notary seated before a table took down everything in writing.
The Hungarian reformer did not allow himself to be intimidated by his judges, nor weakened by a wish to put an end to his sufferings. He spoke not, only as a cultivated and learned man, but still more as a Christian full of decision and courage. He set forth unreservedly evangelical truth. ‘You are accused,’ said Faber, ‘of asserting that after the words have been uttered, — This is my body , this is my blood — the substance of the bread and the wine still exists.’ ‘I have explained in the clearest way,’ replied Devay, ‘the real nature of the sacraments, their character and their use.
They are signs of grace, and of the goodwill of God towards us; thus they console us in our trials; they confirm, establish, and make certain our faith in God’s promise. The office of the Word of God and of the sacraments is one and the same. The latter are not mere empty and barren signs; they truly and really procure the grace which they signify, but, nevertheless, are beneficial only to those who receive them in faith, spiritually and sacramentally.’ It is clear that the spiritual element predominated in the theology of Devay, and that he was already almost of the same opinion as the theologians of reformed Switzerland. He set forth his whole belief with piety so manifest that the court did not feel authorized to condemn him.
He was therefore set at liberty. f550 Devay now went to Buda, where he had first exercised his ministry, and which was now subject to John Zapolya, the rival of Ferdinand of Austria.
Zapolya, a capricious and despotic prince, was at this time in a very ill humor. He had a favorite horse, which the smith from unskilfulness had pricked to the quick while shoeing it. The king, in a fit of rage, had ordered the smith to be cast into prison, and had sworn that if the animal died of the injury, the man who had pricked it should die too. Hearing that the preacher who was branded by the priests as a great heretic had arrived in his capital, his splenetic humor immediately vented itself on him.
Theologian or shoeing-smith, it was all one to him, when once he was displeased. Devay was seized and confined in the same prison with the artisan. Thus the reformer escaped from a gulf only to be dashed against a rock; he fell from Charybdis upon Scylla. He was in expectation of death, but he had a good conscience; and, his zeal increasing in the prospect of eternity, he ardently desired to win some souls to God before appearing in His presence. He therefore entered into conversation with his unfortunate companion in captivity; and finding him melancholy and alarmed, he did what Paul had done in the prison at Philippi for the gaoler trembling at the earthquake, — he besought him to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior, assuring him that this alone sufficed to give him eternal life. The smith believed, and great peace took the place of the distress which overwhelmed him. This was a great joy for the faithful evangelist. The horse got well, and the king, appeased, gave orders for the release of his smith from prison. When the gaoler came to bring this news to the man, the latter, to the great surprise of his keeper, refused the favor which was offered him. ‘I am a partaker,’ said he, ‘in the faith for which my companion is to die. I will die with him.’ This noble speech was reported to Zapolya, who, although capricious, was still a feeling man: and he was so much affected that he commanded both the prisoners to be set at liberty. This second imprisonment of Devay lasted till 1534.
Devay went out of the prison weakened and broken down, but ever pious and anxious to consecrate his days to the service of Him who is the truth and the life. A Hungarian magnate, the Count Nadasdy, a rich and learned man, who openly and actively protected the Reformation, and who had at great expense founded a school with a view to promote the cultivation of literature, one of the Maecenases of the sixteenth century, thought that the reformer, after his trials and his two harsh imprisonments, stood in need of repose and quiet occupation, rather than a hand-to-hand fight with his adversaries. In his castle of Sarvar, Nadasdy had a very fine library. He invited Devay to take up his abode there, and to turn to account the studies in which he might engage for the propagation of evangelical knowledge. The reformer accepted this noble hospitality; and Sarvar became for him what the house of Du Tillet at Angouleme had been to Calvin, after his escape from the criminal lieutenant of Paris, and what the Wartburg had been to Luther. There was, however, this difference, that Devay had already endured several years of rigorous confinement, which was not the case with either Luther or Calvin. He set to work immediately, and studied and composed several polemical pieces. He had escaped from soldiers and gaolers only to contend with adversaries of another kind.
The whole life of an evangelist is one continual struggle; and what more glorious conflict is there than that of truth with error? A champion worthy of Rome appeared to reply to Devay. Gregory Szegedy, doctor of the Sorbonne, and provincial of the Franciscan order in Hungary, having become acquainted with the first manuscript works of Devay, had declared that he undertook to refute them. He kept his word, and published at Vienna a treatise in which he controverted the theses on the rudiments of salvation . This was the first work published by a Hungarian against the Reformation. Devay applied himself to the task of answering it, and his work was finished in the course of 1536.
During this period, towns, boroughs, entire parishes, and even some members of the higher clergy embraced the evangelical doctrine. But at the same time Szalahazy, bishop of Eger, caused Anthony, pastor of Eperies, and Bartholomew, chaplain to the chapter, to be thrown into prison; and King Ferdinand commanded the evangelical church of Bartfeld to abolish all innovations, upon pain of confiscation and of death. f554 Meanwhile Devay’s writings remained in manuscript, and he was considering where he should get them printed. Szegedy had published his at Vienna, but Devay had no inclination to return thither. He determined to go in search of a publisher into Saxony, and set out at the end of 1536. At Nurnberg he fell ill, and was there attended by Dietrich Veit, a former friend of his at Wittenberg, whom Melanchthon used to call suus summus amicus . After his recovery he arrived at Wittenberg, and there sojourned, as far as appears, in the house of Melanchthon, from the month of April to the month of October 1537. These two men became intimate friends; they were like brothers. ‘How pleasant his society is to me,’ said Luther’s friend when speaking of Devay; ‘how excellent is his faith, and how much prudence, knowledge, and piety he has!’ He was not the only Hungarian who was attached to Master Philip. As the majority of the Hungarians who came to Wittenberg were unacquainted with German, Melanchthon preached for them in Latin, which made them more familiar with the mode of thought of this divine. Moreover, even before the first return of Devay to Hungary, the doctrine of Zwinglius was known and embraced there. As early as 1530, Luther complained that this was the case with one of the pastors of Hermanstadt. Nevertheless, Devay was also on brotherly terms not only with Luther but with all evangelical men. He related to them the progress of the Reformation in Hungary; he sought after everything that might make him more competent to promote it; and he found by experience how much fellowship with those who believe strengthens the heart and enables a man to fight valiantly.
Devay did not print his manuscript at Wittenberg nor in any other town in Germany. Did he find any difficulty in doing so? We do not know.
When the time was come for him to depart, he begged his host to write to his patron Count Nadasdy. A letter from the teacher of Germany could not fail to be greatly valued by the Hungarian magnate. Melanchthon wrote a letter, and entreated the count to do all in his power that the churches might be taught with more purity; and, anxious to see teaching and literature protected by influential men, he said, — ‘In former times the Greeks associated Hercules with the Muses and called him their chief. f557 Everyone knows that you Pannonians (Hungarians) are the descendants of Hercules. On this ground the protection of such studies ought to be in the eyes of Your Highness a domestic and national virtue.’ The letter is of the 7th October, and is dated from Leipsic, to which place Melanchthon possibly accompanied his friend.
Devay did not go from Wittenberg direct into Hungary, although he was eagerly called for there. He went to Basel. He was attracted to this town of Switzerland partly by the desire to become acquainted with the theologians of the country, partly by the celebrated printers of the town, who published so many evangelical books, and partly also by the presence there of Grynaeus, with whom he had probably corresponded. The manuscripts which he took with him comprised three different work’s.
The first treated ‘of the principal articles of Christian doctrine’: the second, ‘of the state of the souls of the blessed after this life before the day of the last judgment’; and the third, ‘of the examination to which he had been subjected by Faber in the prison.’ The volume appeared in the autumn of 1537, with this inscription, — ‘Master, at thy word I will let down the net.’ ( Luke 5:5) After this publication Devay left Basel.
On arriving in Hungary, he betook himself immediately to the count, to whom he was to deliver the letter of the reformer. John Sylvestre, whom Melanchthon called a real scholar, was at the head of the school of Ujsziget, near Sarvar, founded by Nadasdy. This nobleman was a treasure for Hungary. A wealthy man, a pious Christian, he took pleasure in encouraging literature and the arts, and gave rewards and tokens of his esteem to those who cultivated them; but above all he had at heart the advancement of the kingdom of God. He perceived that Devay and Sylvestre were men of the choicest kind, and associated them with himself.
They were all three convinced that schools and good books were necessary for the education of the people, for the establishment of the Reformation in Hungary, and for refining the manners and ensuring the prosperity of the country. Devay asked the count for a printing-house, and this request was immediately granted. The building was set up by the side of the school, and was the first in Hungary. Devay at once began to compose an elementary book for the study of the Hungarian language (Orthographia ungarica ). He took pains to make it useful, not only as a grammar, but also as a means of Christian instruction. He taught in it, at the same time, the rudiments of the language and those of the Gospel, remembering the word of the Master, — Suffer the little children to come unto me . These three Christian men thought that it was essential to begin the work of man’s restoration in his childhood, not merely to assist nature but to transform it and to bring it into that new state of righteousness which is a conflict with the original nature, to the end that Christ may be formed in him. They believed, as M. de Saint-Marthe has said, that children have in them a natural gravity which draws them violently towards evil; that we must therefore be always on the watch lest the enemy enter into their heart as into a deserted place, and do just what he will there. It is also necessary that a faithful guardian should be careful to remove from before their eyes and their feet whatsoever may become to them an occasion of falling. Devay had added to his book some prayers in Hungarian intended for children, for which he had laid under contribution Luther’s smaller catechism. This volume was the first printed in the language of the country. It passed through many editions.
But Devay did not neglect active evangelization. The scene of his labors was especially the demesnes or Nadasdy, and the comitats of Eisenburg, Westprim and Raab, near the frontiers of Austria, between the right bank of the Danube and Lake Balaton (the Plattensee). This apostle used to be met in his journeys along the roads on the shores of Lake Balaton and on the banks of the nine rivers which flow into it. He preached the gospel in rural dwellings, in castles, and in the open air. He called all those who heard him to come to Christ, and declared that the Savior did not cast away anyone who so came. If he met with any who while they believed were still uneasy and disturbed, he did not hesitate to reassure them by announcing to them the election of grace. He told them that if they had come to God it was because He had chosen them, and that the Good Shepherd keeps in His fold to the end the sheep which He has brought there.
While Devay was laboring to the south of the Danube, Upper Hungary was not neglected. Stephen Szantai, an eminent man and an earnest Christian, was this time preaching there energetically. He was full of faith and a good dialectician, filled with devotion and enthusiasm in the cause of the Lord. The prelates who had formerly imprisoned Devay took in hand to do the same with Szantai. A clerical conspiracy was formed. The bishops George Frater, Statilius and Frangipani, supported by the heads of some of the monastic orders, besought Ferdinand to have the evangelist seized and put to death. Statilius, bishop of Stuhlweissenburg, near the vast forest of Bakonye, enjoyed the reputation of a master in the art of persecution. A little while before, he had ordered the arrest of an evangelical minister, had caused him to be beaten with rods, and, when the men charged with this service had presented the victim half-dead, the infamous prelate had thrown him to the dogs to dispatch him. Frangipani, formerly a military man, had indeed laid down the sword and put on the frock; but he had retained a soldier’s manners, and held it a maxim that business and men must be disposed of swiftly, and without delicate considerations. He governed his servants with pride and harshness, and, as it is said, gave his commands with a rod. This was the man who took upon himself to obtain from the king the death of Szantai. He had no doubt that the king would let himself be guided like his servants. But certain very remarkable changes had been wrought in Ferdinand’s mind. The Confession of Augsburg had given him a less unfavorable impression of Luther’s doctrine. His confessor, who was a Spaniard, when on his deathbed, had acknowledged to him that he had not led him in the right way, and that Luther had hitherto taught nothing but the truth. It appears that the children of Joanna of Castile all resembled their mother in having some regard for the truth, while they resembled their grandmother, the illustrious Isabella, in submission to priests. King Ferdinand was therefore now less hostile to the reformers. Nevertheless, he was far from decided, and Rome had not lost in his case the influence which she knew how to exercise over princes. He had nothing more than passing gleams of light, which the clergy called caprices; he sometimes wavered, but always returned to the pope’s side. He was looked upon sometimes as a friend to the Protestants, and sometimes as their enemy.
However this might be, Ferdinand did not yield this time to the demand of the priests; but he appointed (1538) a religious conference to be held at Schassburg between the priests and Szantai. The perplexity of the bishops equaled their astonishment. Not only did the king refuse to condemn Stephen without a hearing, but he commanded them to enter into discussion with him. Sensible of their incompetence, they were not at all concerned about it, and began to look for a good Roman Catholic who should be able to cope with the man they called the heretic . There was among the Franciscans a monk celebrated for his exploits in theological strife, one Father Gregory. He was now summoned to Schassburg, and went thither accompanied by other monks. For umpires Ferdinand selected Dr. Adrian, episcopal vicar of Stuhlweissenburg, and Martin de Kalmance, rector of the school of the same place. These men, in the king’s opinion, could not but be, considering their personal character, impartial judges; and he said to them, ‘I exhort you to conduct the whole affair in such a way that the truth may in no respect suffer.’ f558 The disputation began. Roman Catholics and Protestants had come together from all quarters. Stephen Szantai set forth the evangelical doctrine, and supported it with solid proofs. The clever Franciscan was unable to confute them; and the monks seeing this supplied by outcries and a great disturbance the place of the arguments which were lacking on the part of their colleague. A layman, John Rehenz, a learned doctor of medicine, indignant at this strange method of argument, sharply rebuked the monks and censured them for the uproar as a stratagem unbecoming a discussion so grave; and taking up the replies which Gregory had made, he showed their worthlessness. Szantai spoke again in his turn, and left on his hearers a deep impression that the cause which he was defending was that of the truth. The disputation lasted several days longer, during which the doctrine of the Reformation instead of losing gained ground.
The discussion being finished, Adrian and de Kalmance had to pronounce judgment. For this purpose they went to the king. They were seriously embarrassed, and without being undecided were in a great difficulty. ‘Sire,’. they said, ‘all that Szantai has maintained is founded on the Holy Scripture, and he has demonstrated the truth of it; but the monks have uttered only words without meaning. Nevertheless, if we publicly assert this, we shall be everywhere decried as enemies of religion, and then we are ruined. If on the other hand we should condemn Szantai, we should be acting against our own consciences, and we could not escape the judgment of God. For this reason we entreat Your Majesty to devise some plan which will furnish us a way of escape from this twofold danger.’ The king understood the difficulty of their position and promised to do all that he could for them.
This was in the morning. Ferdinand was almost as much embarrassed as the two judges. In vain he reflected on this difficult case, he found no solution. He acknowledged that the Protestants had a right to be protected in their religious liberty; and he felt that it was dangerous to exasperate so considerable a number of his subjects. But what would Rome and the clergy say if he granted an amnesty to Szantai?
About three o’clock in the afternoon, word was brought to him that several bishops, prelates, and monks desired to speak to him. Disquieted by their defeat, they wished to put pressure upon the mind of the prince. ‘Sire,’ said the bishop of Grosswardin, ‘we are the shepherds of the Church, and we are bound to take care of our flock. For this reason we have demanded that this heretic should be seized, and condemned, in order that those who are like him, alarmed by his example, may cease to speak and to write against the Roman doctrine. But Your Majesty has done the very reverse of that which we asked; you have granted a religious conference to this wretched man, who has thus had an opportunity of inducing many to take his poison. Assuredly the Holy Father will not be pleased with this. There is no need of a discussion. The Church has long since condemned these brigands of heretics, and their sentence is written on their foreheads.’
Ferdinand replied, — ‘Not one man shall perish, unless he be convicted of a crime worthy of death.’ ‘What’, ‘said bishop Statilius, ‘is it not enough that he gives the cup to laymen, while Christ instituted it only for priests, and that he calls the holy mass an invention of the devil? Assertions such as these deserve death.’ ‘Do you think, bishop,’ said the king, ‘that the Greek Church is a true church?’ ‘I do, sire.’ ‘Well then,’ replied Ferdinand, ‘the Greeks receive the supper in both kinds, as they were taught by the holy bishops Chrysostom, Cyril, and others. Why should we not do the same? They have not the mass, we therefore can dispense with it.’ The bishops held their peace. ‘I do not take the part of Szantai,’ added the prince, ‘but I wish the cause to be examined; a king must not punish an innocent man.’ ‘If Your Majesty does not support us,’ said the bishop of Grosswardin, ‘we will seek for some other means of getting rid of this vulture.’
The bishops withdrew, but Ferdinand had about him men as passionate as they were, who were bent on the destruction of the reformer. At nine o’clock in the evening of the same day, the king, in a state of distress and suspense, was conversing on these matters with two of his magnates, Francis Banfy and John Kassai, when the burgomaster of Kaschau requested an audience of him, and entered his presence followed by Szantai. The king immediately addressing the reformer said, — ‘What then do you preach?’ ‘Most gracious prince,’ replied the minister, ‘it is no new doctrine. It is that of the prophets, of the apostles, and of our Lord Jesus Christ; and whosoever desires the salvation of his soul ought to embrace it with joy.’ The king was silent for some seconds; and then, no longer able to refrain, he exclaimed, — ‘O, my dear Stephen, if we follow this doctrine, I am very much afraid that some great evil will befall both thee and me. Let us refer the cause to God; He will make it turn to good. But tarry not, my friend, in my states. The magnates would deliver thee to death, and if I attempted to defend thee, I should be myself exposed to many dangers. Go, sell what thou hast, and depart into Transylvania, where thou canst freely profess thy doctrine.’ The weak Ferdinand half yielded to the fanaticism of the priests. He saw what was good and durst not do it. He made a present to Szantai, towards the expenses of his journey; and then he said to the burgomaster of Kaschau and another evangelical Christian, Christopher Deswoes, who accompanied him, — ‘Take him away secretly by night, conduct him to his own people, and protect him from all danger.’ The three friends departed, and Ferdinand was left alone, disturbed and unstable in all his ways .