THE GOSPEL IN HUNGARY UNDER TURKISH RULE. 1545-1548.
ONE characteristic feature of this epoch is the fact that two religions, two powers, were then dominant in Hungary; — Rome and Constantinople, the Pope and Mohammed. The former persecuted the Gospel, and the latter granted to it reasonable liberty. Roman Catholicism recognized in evangelical Christianity its own principal doctrines, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the expiation of the cross and others besides; while Islamism was shocked at the idea of the Trinity, of the Godhead of the Savior, and of salvation by His expiation, and said haughtily, — God is God, and Mohammed is his prophet. In the nature of things Roman Catholicism would surely respect and protect evangelical Christians who were living under the dominion of the Crescent; and the successor of Mohammed would as naturally persecute those who, in his opinion, professed detestable doctrines, as his master had done before him, sword in hand.
The very reverse took place.
This, however, is easily explained. Rome, by her church system, had established herself apart from the Gospel. Of course something of the Christian religion remained in her doctrine; and this Christianity was and had always been dear to the seven thousand who, in the midst of the Catholics, had not bowed the knee to Baal. But this residuum was generally concealed, and what was apparent was something entirely different, it was the pope, his cardinals, his agents, worship paid to the Virgin, to the saints, to created beings, numberless rites, images, pilgrimages, indulgences, and everyone knows what besides. ‘The Catholicism of the pontiffs, not finding these superfluities and superstitions in evangelical Christianity, was stoutly opposed to it. It was all the more so because it saw instead the great principles of a living faith, of regeneration, and of the new birth, of which it knew not what to make.
It therefore waged on its opponents ‘a strange and long war in which violence attempted to suppress the truth. It committed frightful excesses against the word of Jesus Christ.’ Ultramontanism in the sixteenth century, as well as in later times, awoke every morning with sword drawn, in a kind of rage, like Saul, and wanted to overturn everything, as has been said of the writer who was in our own time its most energetic champion. It did as he boasted of doing, — fired in the teeth of the enemy.
The position of Islamism was different. In view of the two forms of Christianity, it despised both and was not at all inclined to place its sword, as the Catholic princes did, at the service of the pope. In the Roman churches the Mohammedan was chiefly struck by the images; and remembering better than the pope the commandment of God, — Thou shalt not make any graven image nor the likeness of anything, — he felt a higher esteem for Protestants who kept it. The judges appointed by the Sublime Porte often displayed a sense of justice; and they did not think it their duty to sacrifice good men to their enemies on the ground of their not acknowledging the high-priest of Rome. While therefore we meet in these years with instances of the respect shown by the Turks for the free worship of the Gospel, we constantly find examples and very numerous ones of Romish intolerance.
Ferdinand formed an exception. He perceived that the Reformation was making great progress in his kingdom; and, more enlightened than his brother had been, far from declaring open war on Protestantism, he was anxious of the two opposing parties to mould one single Church, and thought that in order to succeed in this he must make important concessions. He believed, in common with the Hungarian Diet, that a general council alone, which should take as the basis of its labors the Holy Scriptures, could bring about this important reconciliation. This council, which assembled at Trent in December 1545, Ferdinand called upon to unite the two parties by effecting a reform of faith and morals, particularly as regarded the pope and his court; by abolishing dispensations and simony, sources of so much disorder; by transforming the clergy, who ought for the future to give themselves to an honorable and chaste behavior, and to primitive simplicity and purity in their dress, their way of life. and their doctrine; by administration of the Supper in both kinds; by urging the pope to take as his model the humility of Jesus; by abolishing the celibacy of priests, occasion of so much scandal; and by suppressing apocryphal traditions. These demands for reform showed plainly enough what strength the Gospel had gained in Hungary, and the immense benefit which the Reformation would have conferred on the Church universal if Rome, instead of withstanding it, had submitted to its wholesome influence. Instead of all this, the council pronounced the anathema against the holiest doctrines of the Gospel and of the Reformation.
If Hungary did not succeed in exerting an influence upon the Council of Trent, the council nevertheless produced some effect on Hungary.
Evangelical Christians felt the necessity of drawing together, of concentration, of union. There were in the country, in the fifteenth century, some Hussite congregations, the organization of which was Presbyterian in form; and God had just raised up a great number of Christians who, by means of Devay aid others, had been brought into contact with the Swiss, and had attached themselves to the synodal system which was flourishing among the confederates. They desired to act in concert and to help each other under the direction of Christ, the King of the Church, at a time when the adherents of the pope were united under his law. The powerful and pious magnate Caspar Dragfy encouraged them with a promise of his protection. An assembly was held in the town of Erdoed, comitat of Szathmar, in the north of Transylvania. Twenty-nine pastors attached to the Helvetic confession met there; and anxious to set forth the faith which formed their bond of union, they conversed together of God, of the Redeemer, of the justification of the sinner, of faith, good works, the sacraments, the confession of sins, Christian liberty, the head of the Church, the Church, the order which must be established in it, and the lawful separation from Rome. They were all agreed; and having embodied in a formula their belief on these twelve points, they were desirous at the same time of expressing their close union with all Christians and particularly with the disciples of Luther. They therefore added in conclusion the following statement: — ’ In the other articles of the faith we agree with the true Church, as it is set forth in the confession presented at Augsburg to the emperor Charles the Fifth.’ This conclusion shows that on some points these churches did not agree with the Confession of Augsburg, and proves the adhesion of the Erdoed pastors to the Helvetic confession; an adhesion which is denied by some writers. f588 It was not long before the Lutherans on their side followed this example.
They were found chiefly in those parts of Hungary and Transylvania in which German was spoken; while the Helvetic confession had its most numerous adherents among the Magyars of Finnish origin. In 1546, five towns of Upper Hungary held an assembly at Eperies, in which sixteen articles of faith were settled. ‘We will continue faithful,’ said the delegates, ‘to the faith professed in confession of Augsburg and in Melanchthon’s book.’ This assembly laid down very rigorous regulations. A minister who should teach any other doctrine, after being warned, was to be deprived of his office; and the magistrate was to be exhorted not to allow serious offenses, in order that the ministers might not be compelled to reestablish excommunication. No one was to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper until he had been properly examined.
Notwithstanding the severity of these principles and the determined temper of the Hungarians, there were not, seen among them at this time those passionate conflicts which sometimes took place between opposing confessions. This may have been owing to the difference of nationalities.
For the two races inhabiting the country were separated by language and by customs. It. may also have been the case that there was a clearer apprehension in this noble country than elsewhere of the truth that when there exists a unity in the great doctrines of the faith contention ought not to be allowed on secondary points. f590 The evangelical doctors did not confine themselves to holding their regular meetings; but everywhere they preached the gospel to great multitudes. f591 About this time Szegedin was called from Czegled to Temeswar, an important town situated a little farther south than Szegedin, his native place, the name of which he bore. This call was sent to him by Count Peter Petrovich, one of the guardians of the young son of Zapolya, but a very different man from his colleague, the bishop. Petrovich was the avowed friend and the powerful protector of evangelical reform. Szegedin, in his new position, immediately put forth all his energies. He not only expounded and defended sound doctrine as a theologian, but he scattered abroad in men’s hearts the seeds of truth and of life. The count loved and admired him, and countenanced his labors. He protected him against his enemies, and took an interest in the smallest affairs of his life. For example, he gave him for winter wear a coat lined with fox-fur. The glad tidings of the love of God, which save him who believes, were spreading farther and wider in these lands, when after three years Szegedin had the pain of seeing the place of his protector, Count Petrovich, taken by a superior officer of the army, Stephen Losonczy. If the former concerned himself lovingly about the Gospel of peace, the latter made no account of anything but war, cared for nothing but the soldiery, and was devoted to the Romish party. Losonczy troubled himself very little about the army of Jesus Christ. He wanted to hear only of that army which he trained, and which at his command executed skillful maneuvers; and he was annoyed with those evangelists who troubled conscience and urged men to think of things above. In this he could see nothing but dangerous enthusiasm. He thought it was far more useful to mind things below. In his view the military art was not only the most beautiful and the most ingenious, but also the most essential. Men of truly Christian character have been sometimes found serving in armies, and even in the higher ranks.
But those who, like Losonczy, look upon religion as a troublesome superstition which must be suppressed have never been rare, even in religious epochs. The successor of Count Petrovich, therefore, did not hesitate to expel from the country those whom his predecessor had called thither; not Szegedin alone, but also the other ministers, his colleagues. No sooner had he done this than the Turks appeared, seized the fortress, and massacred all the Christians they met with, including the unhappy Losonczy himself. None escaped but the pastors whom the terrible general had placed in safety by banishing them, with the intent to ruin them. The merciless Losonczy had imagined that he should defend Temeswar all the more effectual by getting rid of these tiresome ministers, whom he looked upon as mere impedimenta, quite useless, and, moreover, very embarrassing. Yet these faithful heralds of the gospel, by interceding with God and by strengthening the hearts of men, might perhaps have saved the town and its inhabitants. They would at least have consoled them in their affliction. f593 If the Turks were raking their conquests, the Christians likewise were making theirs, even in the districts of Hungary, then subject to Mussulman authority. Emeric Eszeky (Czigerius), disciple of Luther and Melanchthon, having at this period returned to Hungary — Wittenberg was a fountain from which living water did not cease to flow, — made a stay at Tolna on the Danube, south of Buda. His heart was grieved to see the population of the town wholly given up to superstition and impiety.
Nevertheless, he was not disheartened; and he began to make known the gospel in private houses and everywhere. After fifteen days, three or four persons had received the knowledge of the Gospel. This was little, and yet it, was a great deal. But desirous of a more abundant harvest, he left the town and traveled about the surrounding country. Finding the common people absorbed in the concerns of mere material existence, he resolved to address chiefly the schoolmasters and the priests, expecting to find in them a good soil for the sowing of the word. He was not altogether mistaken; for if many bigoted priests dismissed him, some of the ecclesiastics and masters of schools nevertheless gave him welcome.
Arriving one day at the parish of Cascov, comitat of Baranya, he knocked at the door of the parson, Michael Szataray. He was kindly received, and they had a long conversation. The priest, a serious and sincere man, relished the good words of Eszeky, and with all his heart believed the good news of the Gospel, which hitherto he had but vaguely understood. He felt immediately impelled to communicate it to others, and courageously joined Eszeky. The two traveling ministers, filled with earnestness, succeeded in spreading abroad evangelical light in the whole of Lower Hungary. They led a life of hardship, and had frequently to meet with hatred and persecution. But their patience was perfect, and God kept them safe from all danger. f594 While Eszeky, accompanied by his fellow-laborer, was thus visiting the towns and country districts, the seed which he had scattered at Tolna, and which at first seemed to have sprung up only in two or three places, had germinated a little everywhere. The field which had seemed barren, had at length given proof of fertility. Those of the inhabitants who had embraced the Reformation had built a church at the extremity of the town; and, two years and nine months after the departure of the reformer, he received a call to preach the Gospel there again. He returned to Tolna, proclaimed Christ, and the church was filled with hearers. But great dangers awaited him there. There were two distinct parties in the place; and while some of the people attached themselves to the Savior, others continued to be thoroughly devoted to the pope. At the head of the latter party was the burgomaster, who, in the frequent interviews which he held with the priests, was pressed to rid the town of the heretics. Unfortunately for the clergy, the magistrate could do nothing of the sort without the consent of the Turks who occupied the country. The Ultramontanes thought that they could smooth away the difficulty by untying their purse-strings.
They therefore collected a considerable sum of money, and handed it to the burgomaster, who then set out for Buda, the place of residence of the pasha. Having obtained audience of the Mussulman, he stated to him the occasion of his coming, the disturbance which was created in the town by Protestantism, and presented his rich offering. Confident that this officer was what is called a true Turk, inexorable and pitiless, and knowing how offenders, even viziers themselves, are dispatched at Constantinople, he in plain terms requested the pasha to have Eszeky put to death, or at the very least to banish him. The Mohammedan governor did not think it his duty to proceed without observing judicial forms. He consulted his Cadis, who informed their chief that the man against whom the complaint was laid was an opponent of images and other Romish superstitions. The pasha consequently gave orders that ‘the preacher of the doctrine discovered by Luther (this was how they described the Gospel) should freely proclaim it to all who were willing to hear it.’
Eszeky and his companions were delighted to hear that the Turks gave them the liberty of which the Romanists wished to deprive them. The evangelical Christians could now without hindrance diffuse the knowledge of Christ either in the church or elsewhere. A school was established; and on August 3, 1549, Eszeky applied to his friend Matthias Flacius Illyricus for books and assistants. f595 The provinces which submitted to Ferdinand were no more forgotten than those which were under the rule of the Turks. The Reformation was now making great progress there. The priest Michael Szataray, who was converted by the ministry of Eszeky, went to Komorn. Anthony Platttner joined him; and both of them laboring zealously in this island formed by the confluence of the Danube and the Waag, they laid the foundation of a great community of the Helvetic confession. At Tyrnau also, to the north of Presburg, the former teaching of Grynaeus and Devay, and the evangelical writings which were eagerly read there, led the greater part of the population to embrace the evangelical doctrines. The five towns of the mountain region, which were held as allodial estates by Queen Mary, peacefully enjoyed under her government the blessings of the Gospel. But the princess having made a lease of them to her brother Ferdinand, the priests wanted immediately to take advantage of this for the oppression of these pious people. These attempts rekindled their zeal; and the churches forwarded to the king’s delegates, at Eperies, an evangelical confession full of faithfulness and of charity (Pentapolitana Confessio). Ferdinand commanded that they should be let alone. f596 The characteristic feature of this epoch, however, was — we say once more, — the progress which the Gospel was making under the rule of the Turks. Fresh instances of this were constantly appearing. Faithful ministers proclaimed the consolation and the peace of Jesus Christ to the distressed and impoverished Hungarians who had remained in Buda under the Mussulman yoke. The servants of Rome endeavored to gainsay them.’
A coarse papistical Satan,’ wrote some one from Hungary to a Breslau pastor,’ opposed with all his might this Christian ministry.’ f597 He brought the subject before the pasha. The latter, after hearing both sides, decided in favor of evangelical preaching, ‘because,’ he said, ‘it teaches that one God alone is to be worshipped, and because it condemns the abuse of images which we abominate.’ The pasha, addressing the accuser, added, — ’I am not placed here by my emperor to busy myself about these controversies, but in order to keep his empire as much at peace as possible.’ At Szegedin also he protected the Gospel and its ministers against the violence of the papists. ‘See,’ said the friends of the Gospel, ‘ how wonderful and how consoling is the counsel of God! We thought that the Turks would be cruel oppressors of the faith and of those who profess it; but God would have it otherwise. Is it not astonishing to see how the good news of the glory of God is spreading in the midst of all these wars and disturbances? f599 The whole of Transylvania has received the evangelical faith, in spite of the prohibition of the monk and bishop George (Martinuzzi). Wallachia, which is also subject to the Turks, professes the faith. The Gospel is spreading from place to place throughout Hungary. Assuredly, if these agitation’s of war had not broken out, the false bishops would have stirred up against us far graver ones.’