A short history of Transylvania
and of the
Hungarian Reformed Church in Transylvania
By Dezsõ Buzogány
|Short political history||Church life after World War II.|
|Chuch history||Church under Communism|
|The structure of the church||Theological Seminary Kolozsvár|
|Two church distrcits|
Short political history
Romania today has 3 provinces: Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania. These territories had during centuries a different historical development. Moldavia and Wallachia were constituent parts of the Byzantine civilization and of cultural and everyday life, the political thinking had been formed by the Byzantine culture. The 3rd province, Transsylvania had been a part of the Hungarian kingdom for a long time. During the reign of king Stephan the 1st 1100 years ago the Hungarian civilization got an occidental orientation and step by step became its constituent part. The roman catholic church founded especially by Stephen the first real Christian Hungarian king at that early time linked as well Hungary as its principate Transylvania to the intellectual and cultural life of the Middle Ages Europe. Thus the Carpatian mountains served as a demarcation line of the western European and eastern Byzantine culture and church. So, the border of Europe up to the 19 century was not at the border of Hungary and Austria today draw after World War II rather then at the line of Carpatian Mountain.
At about the end of the 19th century Moldavia and Wallachia
became united. In 1918 Romanian policy managed to achieve first the dismembration
of Transylvania from Hungary and after the unification with the two other
principates. By this act were put together not only two different culture
but also two nations with very different historical, cultural and religious
background and heritage. This has been determinant for the life of Hungarian
minority in Transylvania as well as for the church-life of reformed people.
During the past eighty years Byzantine-styled cathedrals were built next
to the six-seven centuries old gothic churches. The Hungarian speaking
reformed church in Transylvania had to survive in their shadows.
The Hungarian speaking Reformed Church was founded in the 16th century as a result of the devoted work of many Hungarian reformers. The teachings of Luther and Melanchthon excited their strongest influence among the German burger colonies of Hungary, situated in larger numbers in the Northern and in the Transylvanian parts. In the ranks of the pure Hungarian population their influence was not so undisputed. Already the first really Hungarian reformers although followers of Luther, had nevertheless shown themselves partly susceptible to the teachings of the Swiss Reformation in the first period of Bullinger and finally of Calvin. The most prominent workers in calling the Reformed churches into being and organizing them were the following: Martin Sánta of Kálmáncseh a popular speaker of great originality follower of Zwingli, Gál Huszár an untiring traveling printer and preacher, Stephen Kis of Szeged a confessor of great courage and learned theologian of the first rank, the highly gifted church organizer controversialist, Peter Melius, minister of Debrecen and bishop. It was due especially to the exertions of the last named that from the sixties onward the Hungarian Reformed Church became a separate entity both in doctrine and in organization. As a standard of doctrine and norm of religious education the Second Helvetic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism came to be accepted. And it was mainly trough these documents that the spirit of the Swiss Reformation cast its spell over the Hungarian soul found its full development and sactification.
After theological disputes in the Reformation era had calmed down
a strengthening period benefical for the new established churches followed.
It was urged by the great Calvinist Princes of the 17. century. They have
founded many schools, supported lots of congregations, built churches and
renewed the old ones. Bethlen G'bor the greatest Prince of Transsylvania
founded a short-life university at Gyulafehervar, where foreign teachers
taught. Its status of academical foundation was suspended but it continued
to function as an establishment of superior instruction and education thou
it has been endangered of being closed by inward and outward factors during
the centuries. Because o the Tartar and Turkish invasions it had been moved
to Nagyenyed in 1662 and continued its activity for two and a half centuries.
It supplied the Church with the necessary replacement. Many pastors and
teachers were provided within its walls. It ensured a very good intellectual
basis for studies in foreign Universities (peregrinatio academica). The
number of those who attended foreign Universities is of thousands.
The structure of the church
In the 16th century the development of the Hungarian Reformed Church shows no closer connection with the characteristic ideals ad demands of Calvin and his fellowreformers. Thus, e. g. two of the most powerful formative factors of the Calvinistic Reformation, its form of worship and its form of government, were never transplanted by the Hungarian reformers into the soil of their Church, at least not their original and pure Genevan, respectively HuguenotScottishDitch type. For a considerable length of time, their form of worship retained certain elements characteristic of the Roman Catholic church (such as antiphons, passionsongs), although naturally by far not so much as in the form of worship of the Lutheran brethren. The form of government on the other hand took a development essentially on identical lines with the Lutheran Church, in spite of the complete separation in doctrine and organization: on the whole the consistorialsuperintendential system prevalent in Germany was copied, with the difference of the entire absence of the Summus Episcopatus of the rulers as established in the German churches. The local congregations were governed by the ministers together with the landlords in the villages and the magistrates in the towns. As superior authorities there were established Seniorates or Decanates with Seniors or Deans at their head, and out of groups of these, according to geographical coherence or on the basis of political units or former Roman Catholic dioceses, Superintendencies with Superintendents at their head, who were called also bishops from the earliest times.
It was only much later, in the 17th century that the institution of elders, presbyters after Geneva model began to win its way into this oldest system of Protestant church government in Hungary and Transylvania. And it was only in the 18. century that the participation of laymen in church government both in the lower and higher authorities, on an equal footing with the clergy, became universally established.
Both the seniorates and the superintendencies met at Synods of
their own, but no nationwide synod could be held in Reformed church. Only
in 1881 could a national synod and church come into being in Reformed church
and even then only for scarcely 40 years, Hungary being dismembered anew
by the peace treaty of the Trianon and the Reformed church being broken
up again into several parts.
Two church districts
The 20th century church life was marked by the above mentioned historical turn: Transylvania was joined to Romania in 1918 and it caused the separation of a Hungarian church District. Within the new circumstances a new church region has become out of the territory that was transferred to Romania with the center of Nagyvárad (Oradea) and Kolozsvár (Cluj). After these changes the activity of the Church has become fully dependent of the new state-power. One of the consequences of this situation was the fact that in 1921 the reformed bishop had to travel to Bucharest (the new capital) for making a profession of allegiance. He had to ensure the Romanian state that the Reformed Church would loyally integrate within the new state-order and that is would serve the Romanian state and nation.
The services aimed mainly cultural tasks. Since Reformation our
church has maintained many hundred of schools and ten middle-leveled institutions,
seven of which being in the Transylvanian Church District and tree in that
of Nagyvárad. Besides their work of strengthening our church, they
made serious effort to introduce up-to-date educational and instructive
methods into the whole educational system what's more they strove for making
the spirit of the church relevant in Hungarian literature and scientific
Church life after World War II
The difficult life for the church began with the passing of the
front line across Transsylvania. Bishop Vasarhelyi made an appeal to all
reformed pastors in the chaos and disorder asking that all of them should
stay with their congregations whatever might happen. He showed his personal
example in doing so by waiting the Russian army in his Residence. The Russian
army invaded Kolozsvar on the 10th of October 1944. Previously
the reformed pastors had a meeting at Kolozsvar on the 3rd of
September. The pastors decided not to leave the congregations. IN the same
time they made an agreement that they would not allow the treasure of the
church and archival material to be confiscated. In spite of this a lot
of valuable things were diminished. In many places the invading Russian
and Romanian soldiers made bonfire out of 16-17th century books.
Many people went away because of the insecurity of life conditions, but
after danger had passed within a few month they returned. Many pastors
who chose running away escaped from death in most of the cases. In some
part of Transsylvania evacuation was carried out by force. Almost all who
had chosen to stay were dislocated. Under these conditions Church started
to work again. This was communicated in the spring of 1945 by an official
letter came from the Board of Directors. It empowered the bishop to get
into contact with the Romanian Government led by Groza Peter in order t
ask permission for starting church activities. The Government acknowledged
officially the Board of Directors to be the supreme government of the Hungarian
Speaking Reformed Church in Transsylvania. Thus the basis of relationship
between state and church has been laid. Consequently the state claim the
right to control the church and could easily interfere in its work by the
territorial inspectors who forbade even for the bishop to take part at
some funeral services. If enibody deared to defend the freedom of church
he was discharged.
Church under Communism
During the first period of communist state and church (19451949) the church was allowed to work in a relative freedom. The church was still keeping several schools and they were functioning. But afterwards church has lost the freedom of doing its task. In 1948 a new law was issued that ordered to churches to set up a new board. The state kept contact with it. All agreements made by this central board and state were applied to the congregations as well. The members of this leading staff were legalized by the state. The 30th article of the law stated that control most be applied even to the budget of the church. If a congregation would have liked to build a new church building had not been able because of lack of money. All the church estates were taken by the state.
At about the end of forties communism began to strengthen. Governing shifted into the possession of the communist Party. Its ideology the atheistic Marxism has also been spread attacking the church with more and more violence. All the church schools were nationalized: the church District lost more than 400 primary schools and 16 Reformed Colleges and high schools. Charity institutions were also nationalized. Religious education was forbidden in state schools. It was allowed to do only by pastors on Saturday but for that time state school youth organization forced youngsters to take part on school activities. Theological education was compelled to work within the walls of the Theological Institute. The building had to be shared by two other Hungarian speaking Protestant churches: the Unitarian and Lutheran. Church got into a very difficult time struggling for its existence and survival.
At the beginning of the fifties the state was increasing its influence upon church. The state Security appealed to bishop Vasarhelyi for renouncing to the building of Theological Institute on their behalf. The bishop refused the appliance. The Hungarian revolution in 1956 offered new occasion for increasing the oppression. In Hungary people wanted to get rid of communism and they rose in arms but the communist party turned to the Soviet Union for help. The Russian army arrived to Hungary quelled the revolution and terror started: thousands of executions and trials to prison were made. The influence of the revolution was felt in Romania too. The communist diversion use the occasion to accuse the Hungarians in Romania of capital treason. They said the Hungarians want to rejoin Transsylvania to Hungary. The church was accused of organizing a plot against the Romanian state. Two waves of terror pushed into prison lots of pastors, theology students and professors.
After 1964 the oppression seemed to have decrease but a period
of silent and permanent oppression followed. Bibles were not allowed to
be taken into the country, the publication of hymn books were reduced in
number, no more church buildings were allowed to be built, the number of
theological students was regulated by the state. The period was characterized
by the enthusiastic spirit of duty among the pastors Everybody tried to
do his best in serving the church.
The Theological Seminary in Kolozsvár
The present day building of the Reformed Theological Seminary is one hundred years old. The institution of training pastors is much older than that. In 1622 Gabriel Bethlen, prince of Transylvania, founded the Reformed Collegium Academicum in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia, Romania). In 1662 was moved to Nagyenyed (Aiud). In the middle of the 19th century came the idea that the Academy should be moved to Kolozsvár (Cluj). After the reunion of Transylvania with the Hungarian kingdom (1848) there were plans for opening an own university that was open in 1871 in Kolozsvár without theological faculty. Two decades later the Reformed Church took the decision to build a center for it. It was here in 1895 that the Theological Faculty of the Evangelically Reformed Church started its activity. The old school in Nagyenyed lived on as church middle school.
In the first 20 years after its establishment the college experienced rapid development; it occupied an honorary position in the scientific life of our country. The change of empire in 1920 brought about caesura. Having been cut off from Hungarian culture a new start was needed. The internal mission of the Reformed Church in the 20's and 30's can be compared with the reformation, actually it was a new reformation after a long period of liberalism.
The importance of theological renewing of the Institute is shown by the fact that between 1918-1940 from the Transylvanian district came for studies more than 1900 students and from that of Nagyvárad more than 500, from Yugoslavia, Checkoslovakia and Hungary 113, from the German and Hungarian speaking Lutheran church in Transylvania 144.
After the Second World War communist rule exercised an even more penetrating influence on the life of the Seminary than had the change of empire. In 1949 the administrative fusion of the Reformed Theological Seminary with the Unitarian Theological Seminary and the thenfounded Theological College of the Transylvanian Saxons followed. Though the new Protestant Theological Institute supported ecumenism, it was introduced under the pressure of the state and since that time it was submitted to constant state control. After 1959 this control became more and more sever by the everyday presence of twofold oppression (atheistic and nationalistic) exercised by the representatives of the state organs. Since the changes in 1989, thank God, state influence has become less.