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Brethren In Christ
6. "EGY AZ ISTEN" -- The Word In
Romania And Hungary
The north-western part of Romania, a beautiful land of forested hills and fertile valleys about the size of Tasmania, is known as Transylvania ('the land beyond the forests'). In the 16th century it was a semi-independent state. It had been conquered by the Turks who ruled it through puppet monarchs.
It was a remarkable country. Its population was a mixture of races, languages and religions. Turkish was of course, the language of the Muslim overlords, but they were only a tiny minority. The Romanian-speaking Vlachs were peasants and serfs, officially professing eastern Orthodox Christianity. There were Szekelers (pronounced 'Sekklers'), also mainly countryfolk, who were Magyar in race, speaking a dialect of Hungarian. Though mainly Roman Catholic, at the Reformation many became Calvinist. Finally, the main towns had a large Saxon population, descended from Germans who had migrated to the area in the Middle Ages. After the Reformation, these became mainly Lutheran.
In this milieu, a certain degree of tolerance was essential for daily life to go on at all, and somewhat surprizingly this was fostered by the Turkish overlords. In the 1550's the Brethren in Christ all over Europe began to look to Muslim controlled Transylvania as perhaps the last refuge on the continent where they could practice their faith in peace.
In 1556 the Turks installed Queen Isabella as ruler of Transylvania. It was around 1557 that the Brethren were there in significant numbers to be noticed. At that time Biandrata was somewhere in Switzerland trying to evade the Inquisition.
In 1559 Isabella died, to be succeeded by Jan Sigismund. There is no question that this man, though only a puppet king at Turkish behest, was one of the most sincere and enlightened rulers of his age. In 1563 Biandrata arrived in Jan Sigismund's capital Alba-lulia, and was promptly taken on, or rather re-employed, as court physician and, it would appear, personal confidant. 54 Whatever personal intimacies passed between king and doctor are unknown, but their effects soon became evident. Jan Sigismund -- alone in all Europe -- campaigned, against tremendous pressures from Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist churches, to have the Brethren in Christ, "re-baptizers" or "believers in One God" accepted, or at least tolerated as a "fourth confession".
The very next year, 1564, a conference of the Brethren was held at Enyedi and by 1566 ecclesias had been established at several centres, with Biandrata himself acting as leader of a sizeable one in Turda, a Catholic cathedral city forty miles from Alba-lulia.
In that year a notable convert to the Brethren was made in the person of Ferenc David, tutor at the state academy in Cluj, the largest city of Transylvania. David was an eloquent, impassioned speaker and a brilliant debater, besides being a deeply sincere, devout and godly man (see INSET Ferenc David). In an age when duplicity was commonplace, everyone knew David as a person of single-minded integrity and conscience, utterly incapable of meanness.
Biandrata and David emerged as the natural leaders of the Brethren in Transylvania. On the sixth of January, 1568 a special session of the Diet (Parliament) of Transylvania was held in Turda cathedral, which still stands almost unaltered in the market square, closely flanked by the offices of the Romanian Communist Party (Plate 16). David, Biandrata and probably some other Brethren were invited to attend on the Prince and the Assembly, and David was granted the opportunity to make an eloquent plea on behalf of his fellow- believers (Plate 17). When the city of Turda celebrated its millennium the artist Aladar Korosfoi-Kriesch was commissioned to portray what was considered the most important event in the city's history -- David's compelling plea for freedom to follow the Word of God according to the dictates of conscience. This fine room-long painting is still kept in immaculate condition, at the top of the staircase in an old mansion close to the cathedral.
The Brethren were elated at the result of this Diet: their freedom appeared to be assured. And they "went everywhere, preaching the Word". Ferenc David himself returned to Cluj, and in the great square of the city jumped up on a large round stone to address the huge throng which welcomed him home. His topic was Egy az Isten ("The Lord Is One"). The exciting events of that day were remembered for a very long time, and in fact have been told and retold for generations in the towns and villages of Transylvania. In fact, the very stone itself has acquired an inscription and is preserved in the vestibule of the present Unitarian church in Lenin Street. For a time -- until the Catholics called the army -- even the cathedral itself in Cluj was used for meetings of the Brethren. A great surge of preaching activity began as a result of which congregations were established in
many parts of the country, especially in the Szekeler areas. Many of the miners in the hills where gold had been won from the rock since Roman times -- little Magyar-speaking 'dwarfs' originally from the Harz mountains in central Europe -- eagerly accepted the faith. By the time Transylvania lost its independence in the 17th century there were over four hundred ecclesias and eleven high schools run by the Brethren.
Freedom to preach also meant freedom to publish. In 1569, the year after the Turda Diet, Giorgio Biandrata produced in Alba-lulia a handsomely printed volume On the Reign of Christ. It was prefaced by an address to the King of Hungary. One copy examined by the present author has the following note written in pencil on the flyleaf:
PLATE 16: The "Mother church" (Catholic cathedral) in Turda, Romania. The Transylvanian met (Parliament) of 6th January, 1568 in the presence of Prince Sigismund took place in this church, including the scene pictured in Plate 17. On the building at right, the roof slogan reads "God bless the Communist Party of Romania"!
PAGE 76 Inset: FERENC DAVID 1510-1579
Actually the term 'unitarian' was not used by the Brethren, and does not appear in documents until a century after Biandrata (see GIORGIO BIANDRATA ON JESUS CHRIST)
David continued to work in Cluj, teaching and writing on scriptural topics. The modern Romanian historian Gyorgy Boros has stated that "the basis of Ferenc David's theology is the Holy Scripture and the confessions of faith of the apostles"." The work Of The Reign Of Antichrist has been attributed to him. It shows that the prophets, the Lord Jesus and the apostles predicted "the system of papal imposture" and its ultimate ruin." This work undoubtedly influenced many generations of prophetic expositors. The present author was told
PLATE 17: Ferenc David speaking at the Diet (Parliament) of Turda in 1568. At David's left is Gaspard Heltai, turning the pages of a Bible in Hungarian which he himself had translated. Standing worried at right are a Catholic priest and a Calvinist divine, while leaping up enthusiastically at lower right is Gaspard Bekes, one of the supporters of David.
by friends in Romania that David had made the common mistake of proposing a date for the Lord's second coming, but of the depth of his confidence in the promised Millennium they had no doubt.
The brotherhood in Transylvania was, sadly, torn apart by division. If Wilbur is to be believed, this was, as so often, "an affair of a few quarrelsome individuals".285 But, this being so or not, dispute centred on the question of praying to or through Christ our mediator, and so they were divided into 'adorers' and 'non-adorers'. Biandrata was on one side and David on the other. There was later another division over some who were seen as Judaizers.
The freedom obtained in 1568 was, however, short-lived -- at least as far as David was concerned. In 1579 Prince Bathory, less worthy successor to Jan Sigismund, gave orders for the old, saintly man to be arrested, David's own son- in-law, Trauzner, happened to be the town clerk of Cluj at the time, and through him, David was granted one last Sunday's freedom to exhort his brethren and sisters. Reluctantly, he rose from his sickbed to deliver his last address. One ringing sentence from it has been remembered to this day: "Whatever the world may say now, the Day will come when all men will know that there is One God". The townsfolk of Cluj sent a delegation to the Prince, some even offered themselves as surety in his place. He was not merely respected, he was loved. But it was all to no avail. He was charged with blasphemy. It was in the prison in Alba-lulia that he prepared the text of his final defence (see FERENC DAVID'S DEFENCE AT ALBA-IULIA 1579).
The jury took two hours to deliberate. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Placed in solitary confinement at the lonely castle of Deva, he wrote some lines of poetry in Latin on the walls of his cell before he died six months later, November 15th, 1579:
"Do you want to know the crime my country hates so?
The wide plains of Hungary were a battleground for many centuries between the peoples of Europe and the Turks and Tartars invading from Asia. Following one of the great battles of history, the crushing defeat of the Hungarians by the Turks at Mohacs in 1526, most of Hungary was part of the Ottoman Empire for almost two hundred years.
One effect of the Turkish occupation was to curtail for a time the power of the Papacy in Hungary. Ironically, there was more freedom for the preaching of Bible Christianity under the Turks than under their own rulers. By 1576, ninety percent of Hungary had gone over to Protestantism in some form and the Heltai translation of the Bible was being read throughout the country.
There is no doubt that until the mid-17th Century, the witness of the Brethren in Hungarian was vigorous (see THE ONE AND ONLY
PAGE 79 Inset: GIORGIO BIANDRATA ON JESUS CHRIST
CHRIST). But the Brethren suffered from the constant wars as well as the popular identification of Catholicism with Hungarian nationalism. We get a few glimpses of their experiences from diaries left behind by members whose names for the most part are forgotten:
PLATE:18: Tombstone of Andrzej Lachowski in Cluj, Romania. It describes him as "a man of faith and clear understanding, an exile on account of the Truth". It was this same Lachowski who took down the shorthand notes of Wiszowaty's great debate at Roznow in 1660. He had to flee Poland after trying to organize 'underground' ecclesias there.
PLATE 19: Title page of an anonymously published book on the nature of the Godhead and against the doctrine of the Trinity. Printed in Alba-Iulia, Romania in 1567, it is usually considered the work of Georgio Hiandrata." However, some Romanian scholars ascribe it to David. 75
The Austrian Habsburg rulers worked with the fanatical Peter Pazmany, archbishop of Esztergom in Hungary to restore the fortunes of both Pope and Emperor (Plate 8). This combined counter-attack was successful and the Turk was driven from the Hungarian plain.
The Brethren in Hungary were linked by language only to the Szekeler congregations in Transylvania. They were thus somewhat isolated, and most of their written records are not available in translation. As a community they were suppressed during the Catholic revival under Pazmany, and many of them also seceded from the Transylvanian ecclesias over doctrinal issues. The Unitarius Egyhaz, or unitarian church, as in Romania but much smaller, survives today as a descendant of the Hungarian Brethren.
PAGES 83-85 Inset: THE ONE AND ONLY CHRIST
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