Transylvanian Tolerance? Religious Accommodation on the Frontier of Christian Europe
In the wake of competing movements of religious reform during the sixteenth century, different churches asserted their conflicting claims to theological orthodoxy and to practise true religion. Monarchs and territorial authorities generally offered legal protection to only one church and persecuted any illegal religious minorities. Conflicts over truth and error were also played out among ordinary people during the sixteenth century, sometimes through violent action. The depth of popular commitment to defend different forms of Christian religion could be demonstrated in dramatic physical contests in which objects of false religion were ridiculed and destroyed, and in acts of murder which sought to expunge the polluting agency of heresy. Thus, religious division in sixteenth-century Europe could lead directly to civil conflict, disrupted the stability of states, and also was a factor in warfare between states.
Although violence at times seems an almost inevitable result of the breakdown of religious uniformity in sixteenth-century states, some regions provide exceptions to this pattern. The most significant example of peaceful accommodation of religious differences within a sixteenth-century state is offered by the principality of Transylvania. The principality’s rulers neither attempted to enforce one form of religion nor persecuted religious minorities and, by the late 1560s, five different religions had widespread support in Transylvania. While historians of most European states seek to understand the causes of violent efforts to maintain religious uniformity, the problem for historians of Transylvania is to understand why its rulers and ordinary people failed to combat heresy with any similarly destructive impulses. Should the absence of evidence of religious violence be taken as evidence of some absence of religious zeal among Transylvanians? Or, what other reasons lie behind the peaceful religious accommodation reached on the frontier of Christian Europe? This article will first consider the ways in which religious division could lead to political and social conflict, looking briefly at the French monarchy. While not seeking directly to compare the two states, this example provides a useful context for detailed consideration of the importance of the development and acceptance of laws that accommodated religious diversity in sixteenth-century Transylvania.
The violence which afflicted France during the latter half of the sixteenth century has been seen as a product of the breakdown of religious uniformity, Valois dynastic instability, and weakening central political authority in the face of powerful noble clans. After the failure of attempts by the crown and Catholic Church to prevent the spread of heresy, and the failure of the 1561 colloquy of Poissy to unify French Christians, nobles who had adopted Reformed religion were able to win rights of worship. However, these agreements were only reached after periods of armed conflict between the crown and the Reformed nobility. The crown only intended these settlements to be temporary concessions to those of the Reformed faith. Grants of legal rights to Calvinists to practise their faith indeed repeatedly proved to be short-lived, and were interrupted by periods of violence as both sides sought gains on the battlefield. Efforts to maintain peace were also derailed by pressure on the monarchy from different noble and religious factions, and by the poisonous impact on politics and society of civil and communal conflict.1
One particularly dark feature of these cycles of armed conflict in France was outbreaks of religious rioting between Catholics and Protestants. This popular violence has recently been seen less as an immediate reflection of party divisions within France’s aristocracy, and more as evidence of how much ordinary men and women in France cared about religious truth. They cared enough to destroy the objects of piety of their ancestors and, on occasion, enough to kill their neighbours. Alternative lines of explanation also have been advanced to explain religious riots in mid-sixteenth-century France; that break-downs of social order should be understood primarily as a response to economic hardship, or as a display of collective fervour that bordered on a primitive irrationality. However, the analysis provided by Natalie Zemon Davis of the reaction of French men and women to religious division in their communities has convinced most historians that crowd violence had ideological roots and was a performance which extended from religious ritual.2
Davis argued that the nature of popular violence employed during religious riots in France was neither random nor irrational. Both Catholics and Calvinists acted against clearly-defined targets: Catholics destroying the bodies of heretics with fire and water, and Calvinists desecrating objects of Catholic worship. This argument liberates such expressions of popular religious belief from being understood only under the cloak of social or economic concerns. Catholics did not murder heretics because they were wealthy, or because they lived in towns, or because there were high grain prices, but because they feared that divine punishment would follow should the pollution of heresy remain in their midst. Therefore, both Catholics and Protestants acted to cleanse their local environments of diabolic infection in violent rituals of purification.3 Davis suggested that church historians might find the behaviour of Christians in sixteenth-century France an embarrassment.4 However, her arguments about the nature of riots in France have proved an extremely influential model of early modern popular responses to religious division.5 Perhaps the most important difficulty with this model is, in fact, that it is so compelling. It so successfully explains the ideologically-inspired nature of religious riots that it is hard to understand why violence was not an even more prevalent feature of life in mixed religious communities in France or elsewhere on the Continent. How could such violent religious passions ever be peacefully contained between rival communities, and how could the narrow ground of social peace be achieved or restored?6
This question focuses attention on the important condition for the forms of behaviour exhibited during popular religious riots, which was the inability or unwillingness of local representatives of the monarch to maintain law and order. One of the key objectives of early modern governments was to achieve a monopoly on the use of violence for the state and its agents. The religious riots in France during the 1560s, therefore, represented in part a critical failure of central authority, as royal justice lost its force over local societies. This is unless mob action is seen as an orchestrated element of crown policy. Illegal acts in riots were certainly legitimated by the crowd’s belief that they were behaving as their rulers wanted them to behave, or, more abstractly, as they ought to have wanted them to behave. This view was often encouraged, as Davis pointed out, when clergy or members of local militia were present during disturbances. Rioters also mirrored official sanctions against offenders in their use of torture, desecration of corpses, and in the sites chosen for executions. Many Huguenots certainly suspected official support for Catholic violence, particularly after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacres in 1572. However, rather than see the St. Bartholomew’s season of violence as a success of Valois planning, the evidence rather points to vacillation and a series of contradictory instructions sent out to regional officials from the court in the wake of the Paris massacres.7
What happened in France, amid the polarising effects of civil warfare, and especially in areas with a delicately balanced religious demography, was therefore a disastrous failure of French law to direct local authorities to maintain orderly and peaceful behaviour, and to contain tensions between confessional groups. This failure was related to the inconsistent pursuit by the monarchy of a policy to extend religious rights to Huguenots. It was also, despite the best efforts of some crown officials, a product of ineffective attempts to enforce edicts that granted freedoms to Huguenots. Only once much blood had been shed was a determined effort to accommodate competing claims of religious rights successfully implemented. Those charged with enforcement of Henri IV’s 1598 edict learned lessons from the failures of their predecessors, and brought France at least some respite from armed conflict and communal riots.8
Turning eastward, in Transylvania religious uniformity began to breakdown from the 1540s. The Transylvanian diet passed a series of laws on religious life over the following decades, which resulted in a settlement that endured throughout the early modern period of Transylvania’s independence. During the 1560s, the diet offered rights that allowed three new religions to worship freely: the Lutheran, Reformed, and anti-Trinitarian Churches. While there were ongoing debates and disputes between the clergy of these Churches, there was only very rarely either state-sanctioned or popular violence of any kind over religious questions in the principality. Transylvania’s religious settlement will be discussed here in three parts: first, the reasons behind the grant of rights to a plurality of Churches; secondly, the content of the laws that offered freedoms to four Churches; and thirdly, the reaction of ordinary people to these laws.
Different reasons have been advanced for the peaceful extension of rights of worship to a number of Churches in Transylvania. One suggestion is that the peaceful accommodation of religious diversity reflected a particularly tolerant political and religious culture. The Transylvanian court had been subject to humanist influences from the middle decades of the century, which might help to explain how the political elite found a language of compromise over differences of religious belief.9 It also has been suggested that Transylvanian society, divided among communities speaking Hungarian, German, and Romanian, was also somehow able to call on communal traditions of co-existence to muster the cultural resources required to deal with the consequences of living with those of a different faith. Such arguments have proved extremely persuasive to many living in the region who strongly identify with the values of a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Transylvania, or who look back to the social peace of the principality’s “golden age” for proof that the region need not fall prey to the intolerant and exclusive rhetoric of modern nationalists.
Another suggestion to explain the approach taken by the diet is that the Transylvanian religious settlement was above all a political peace process. The principality’s accommodation of religious differences was part of an attempt to secure the future of a fledgling polity in the face of severe external pressure that threatened the survival of the state.10 In the wake of the collapse of the medieval Hungarian kingdom, Transylvania proper together with some eastern Hungarian counties had neither been brought under the control of the Habsburgs nor conquered by Ottoman armies. This eastern Hungarian kingdom narrowly survived a series of political crises during the mid-sixteenth century. In 1551, the Habsburgs gained agreement for the abdication of János Zsigmond Szapolyai in favour of Ferdinand I. Ferdinand’s attempt to secure power across all of Christian Hungary was blocked when Ottoman armies advanced further north into Hungary in 1552, and in 1556, János Zsigmond Szapolyai was again recognised by the eastern Hungarian diet as their elected king.
The autonomy of Transylvania as a state between the Ottoman Empire and Habsburg monarchy was still not definitively secured by the terms of the peace of Adrianople in 1568. In 1570, the Speyer treaty between Maximilian and János Zsigmond Szapolyai envisaged the reunification of Hungary on the death of the childless Szapolyai. Maximilian accepted János Zsigmond’s rule as prince over Transylvania, in return for Szapolyai’s renunciation of the Hungarian royal title. However, when János Zsigmond died in March 1571, the Transylvanian diet instead chose István Báthory, who styled himself as their elected voivode. When Báthory was elected as king of Poland in 1575, his relatives Kristóf Báthory and Zsigmond Báthory were in turn appointed as governors over Transylvania. On István Báthory's death in 1587, Zsigmond was elected by the diet to succeed him as prince.11 Thus, during the decades when Reformation ideas made swift progress across Transylvania, the long-term future of the state was uncertain, and the possibility of external invasion very real. In the face of the threat and reality of Ottoman and Habsburg advances into Transylvanian territory in the sixteenth century, it has been argued that the diet made a pragmatic calculation that to prevent the implosion of the principality it was imperative to sideline the issue of religious differences within the domestic elite.12
Certainly Transylvania’s position on the frontier of Christian Europe was influential in determining the laws on religion passed by the diet. In addition, the settlement reflected the internal political organisation of the principality. The Transylvanian state survived as a haven of the medieval Hungarian kingdom’s political culture, and Transylvania also had its own traditional power structures, which reflected the diversity of its elite. As a province of the Hungarian kingdom, Transylvania had its own unicameral diet of Hungarian nobles, German towns, and Szekler lords. The Transylvanian diet by the mid-sixteenth century was made up of representatives of these three “nations” and of nobles from eastern Hungarian counties of the so-called Partium.13 Members of the council, judges, court officials, and any number of “regalists” drawn from leading noble families also were invited by the ruling prince to attend diets. The business of the diet was structured so that propositions from princes had to be discussed before the estates could put forward their agreed petitions. However, the prince had to respond to the estates’ petitions before his proposals could be agreed. The diet had a variety of powers, including the right to elect Transylvania’s rulers, to decide questions about religion, pass laws, agree to taxation, consider matters about defense and the army, and determine the privileges of the estates.14
Political power in the diet was shared between the prince and the three “nations,” all of whose support was required for legislation to be passed. Thus, given the divisions over religion between and among the political nations by the late 1560s, the only available option was to legalise the practice of a number of them. The Lutheran challenge to Catholic orthodoxy in Transylvania was made first in German-speaking Saxon towns during the 1540s, and evangelical preaching also reached Hungarian-speakers before the end of the decade. While Transylvania’s Saxons remained attached to Lutheranism, Reformed religion had spread from the towns and noble estates of the eastern Hungarian plain to many Hungarian-speakers in Transylvania by 1560. This Calvinist advance was in turn challenged by anti-Trinitarian preachers in Hungarian towns and in some Szekler communities during the later 1560s. Meanwhile some Hungarian nobles, including the Báthory princes, and some Szekler communities remained loyal to the old religion. Although not included as a political nation in the diet, the Eastern Orthodox Romanian community also was affected by the religious changes of this period, and some joined new Protestant churches set up for Romanians.15
Amid this patchwork of beliefs, from where could the political and social support be found to prevent the breakdown of Catholic orthodoxy? Certainly not at the diet, divided by the late 1560s between followers of four different religions. Nor at the Szapolyai court, where one could also point to the role in forming the religious settlement of János Zsigmond Szapolyai, who probably died an anti-Trinitarian. Nor to the leadership of the Catholic Church, badly weakened by the appropriation of Church property, and which suffered disruptions to episcopal appointments. The international situation facing the Transylvanian state, the character of its elected rulers, the powers and structure of its diet, the social diversity of the ruling elite, and the spread of a range of different strands of Reformation thought all help to explain the reasons behind the response to the breakdown of religious uniformity. Transylvania’s peaceful religious settlement was based upon the laws passed by the diet, and the critical nature of these laws will be analysed in detail to consider how they structured a largely non-violent response to religious diversity.
During the 1540s, the diet had granted Transylvania’s Saxon towns the freedom to adopt an Evangelical ecclesiastical order. On the return of the Szapolyais to power over the eastern kingdom in 1556, Isabella, ruling as regent for her son János Zsigmond, accepted the diet’s offer to appropriate the property of the Catholic Church. It was agreed that the royal council was to decide on how to put all episcopal and monastic lands to best use for the good of the state. This distribution of Church property gave many nobles a vested interest to support the progress of reform, and later acted as a serious impediment to any substantial Catholic recovery.16 In the summer of 1557, the diet meeting at Torda (Turda) responded to widespread support for Evangelical ideas by announcing that a national synod was to be held to establish peace in the Church. The hope was expressed that this synod would be able to overcome dissension between those of different doctrinal opinions. The diet also decided that, meanwhile, “everyone could hold whichever faith they wanted,” either living by the old or the new ceremonies as long as they did not insult the religion of others.17 This breakthrough for Lutherans across the principality was confirmed by the diet held in the spring of 1558. The idea of reconciling the Evangelical party to the Catholic Church was no longer proposed as an option, and, with a noticeable change of language, the permitted religions were described as those of the Papists or Lutherans. These two confessions were the only ones to be given legal status, and the diet prohibited the worship of a sect they named as Sacramentarians.18
This initial division between Catholic and Lutheran Churches led to an obvious range of practical problems, for example, on the use of church buildings in towns with mixed populations. In 1563, the diet responded to problems that had arisen among the Szeklers on the use of churches, although no details were provided in the written records about what sort of local disputes had taken place. The diet resolved that services held by Catholics or Lutherans should not be disturbed or interrupted. One religious community was to wait until the other had finished using the church before beginning their own service. Any who disturbed the peace, the diet warned, would face punishment under the law.19 By January 1564, the diet came up with a different resolution on the use of church buildings, perhaps less likely to lead to problems as one congregation waited in the churchyard for their neighbours to finish their service. The Catholic and Lutheran priests in the town of Karánsebes (Caransebeş) in southwestern Transylvania appealed for a settlement of their conflicting rights to use the town’s church. The diet decided that they should hold their services on alternate Sundays, and both parties also were warned not to cause any offence to each other nor try to disturb sermons and services.20
The same diet of January 1564 noted that ministers in the churches of the Saxons and the Hungarians were in dispute over Communion theology. A Reformed theology of the sacraments had spread to Transylvania during the 1550s, and this emerging Church coalesced around the 1562 Confessio Catholica published in Debrecen by Péter Méliusz Juhász and Gergely Szegedi. The 1564 diet called for a debate to be held between those clergy who believed that the elements of Communion contained the real presence of Christ and those who believed that they provided only signs of Christ’s spiritual presence. The diet hoped that a clear judgement could be reached on the issue by clergy debating over the words of Scripture.21 However, at the next diet, held in June 1564, the estates recognised that there had been no resolution of the division between parties described as the Hungarian ministers of Kolozsvár (Cluj) and the Saxon ministers of Hermannstadt (Sibiu). Therefore, the diet decided “for the peace of the realm” to offer rights of worship to a church for the Evangelical Saxons and to a church for the Reformed Hungarians. However, Reformed ministers were only allowed to introduce their faith where local people accepted their preaching, and were specifically forbidden from forcing their views on any towns. Where Reformed preaching was accepted and a Lutheran minister was ousted from his post, the diet also warned that no mockery or offence against Lutherans was permitted.22
By 1564, some key principles of the emerging religious settlement in Transylvania had been established; any behaviour that insulted the religion of others or that could lead to public disorder was outlawed, church buildings normally belonged to the confessional group with majority support in each parish, churches were to be peaceably shared among different communities where necessary, and forced conversions were prohibited. Even landowners with rights to select parish ministers were not sanctioned to introduce a minister of a different religion to that of the local community. In practice, patterns of religious loyalty still tended to be heavily influenced by the social power and rights of patronage of the privileged elite, whether Hungarian nobles, Saxon burghers, or Szekler lords. The freedom of worship granted first to Lutherans and then to Calvinists reflected above all the growing number of Protestants among this elite. Equally, the collapse in the number of Catholics at the diet, as well as the influence of János Zsigmond Szapolyai’s court preacher, Ferenc Dávid, led to the decision in 1566 to expel from Transylvania any clergy who did not want to convert from “the Pope’s learning.” The diet’s resolution claimed that God had spread the light of the Gospel throughout Transylvania, and wanted the Church to be cleansed of all false learning and error.23 This decision was confirmed at the winter diet of 1566, which demanded that Transylvania’s nations support the preaching of the Gospel and act against idolatry. Idolaters, and those priests who did not want to learn from the Bible, were to be thrown out of the country. The diet added that it particularly wanted to have God’s word preached freely among Romanians. Romanian priests were described as blind and leading their people into danger, although to what degree Orthodox clergy were actually forced to leave Transylvania is unclear.24
This extension of the diet’s anti-Catholic rhetoric against the Orthodox Church was a reflection of Protestant efforts to promote reform among Romanian clergy. Lutheran catechisms were published in Romanian, and János Zsigmond Szapolyai appointed a Romanian bishop to lead reform. In 1568, the diet noted that many opposed this bishop and remained loyal to the old priests and their errors, and demanded that any who blocked the progress of the Gospel be punished. In 1569, Romanian priests “who truly preached the word of God” were given permission to collect financial support from their local community. In 1577 the diet claimed that the new Romanian bishop and his clergy had made some progress in bringing the word of God to Romanians in their own language. The diet gave its permission for “Romanian priests of the Christian religion” to elect a new bishop to lead their Church in 1579.25 However, by the 1580s, the limited impact of reform among the Romanian community had become apparent. The diet acknowledged the presence of Orthodox clergy in 1588, although bishops “of the Greek faith” were warned not to try to visit their congregations without receiving the prior permission of landowners.26
The balance of confessional forces in the diet shifted again during the late 1560s with the spread of anti-Trinitarianism among Hungarian-speakers. Although anti-Trinitarians were not specifically named by the diet, the resolution issued at Torda in 1568 in effect extended legal rights to anti-Trinitarian preachers. The Torda diet confirmed that, in the light of its previous decisions,
ministers should everywhere preach and proclaim the Gospel according to their understanding of it, and if their community is willing to accept this, good, if not however, no-one should be compelled by force if their spirit is not at peace, but a minister retained whose teaching is pleasing to the community. Therefore, no-one should harm any superintendent or minister, nor abuse anyone on account of their religion, in accordance with previous laws, and no-one is permitted to threaten to imprison or deprive anyone of their position because of their teaching, because faith is a gift from God which comes from listening, listening to the word of God.27
This resolution did not offer any rights to Catholic and Orthodox priests who were deemed not to preach the Gospel, but other ministers who listened to the word of God, and who were given faith by God according to their understanding of the Bible, were to receive the full protection of the law.28
By 1570, the diet had clarified the limits of this freedom for clergy to preach according to their conscience, anxiously requiring the punishment of any who promoted heresies that could bring divine wrath on the country.29 The emerging focus of this concern was a group of anti-Trinitarian ministers, who became known as Sabbatarians, who began to question Christ’s divinity. In January 1571, the diet again allowed that God’s word should be freely preached in the principality and that no one was to be harmed on account of their faith, but required that preachers who went to “criminal excess” were to be punished by their superintendents, deprived of their offices, and driven out of the principality.30 In 1572, under the new Catholic voivode, István Báthory, the diet confirmed that the laws passed on religion under János Zsigmond Szapolyai were to continue in force. Ongoing concern about the preaching of some ministers informed the passage of a strict law against doctrinal innovation among followers of the three legal religions. Diets in 1572 and 1573 agreed that church superintendents were to investigate any suspected innovations in matters of doctrine, and to excommunicate any who advanced “distinct and new things in their confession.”31 If superintendents failed to act, then the prince was given authority to punish any doctrinal “innovators” with imprisonment or death, and to punish any towns or nobles who supported such preachers.32
Anxiety about doctrinal innovation, and particularly about non-adorantist anti-Trinitarianism, persisted throughout the 1570s. In 1576, the anti-Trinitarian Church was given permission to appoint a new superintendent to replace Ferenc Dávid if need arose, but warned against using this as an opportunity to introduce any doctrinal changes.33 Some new restrictions were also imposed on the anti-Trinitarian Church. In May 1576, clergy “of Ferenc Dávid’s confession” were only allowed to hold synods in two named towns which were centres of anti-Trinitarianism, Torda and Kolozsvár. The next year the right of anti-Trinitarian senior clergy to visit parishes was limited, while the Reformed superintendent was permitted to instruct and warn ministers not only of his own Church but also of other Churches so long as he did not use force.34 The diet issued increasingly dire warnings about “blasphemous innovations” and “new heresies” in 1577, 1578, and 1579, and demanded action from Church leaders and the prince. The notable victim of this panic was the remarkable Ferenc Dávid, who had been in turn superintendent of the Lutheran, Reformed, and anti-Trinitarian Churches. He was charged with supporting non-adorantist anti-Trinitarianism, and thus of breaking the law on religious innovation, and died while in prison at Déva (Deva) castle in 1579.35
The last phase of the laws issued about religious freedoms in Transylvania was dominated by consideration of the position of the Catholic Church, with the largely Protestant estates often resisting efforts by the Báthory princes to aid Catholic recovery. In 1579, the diet agreed to the request from Governor Kristóf Báthory, supported by a letter from István Báthory, for Jesuits to be allowed to come to Transylvania to teach young Catholics in their faith. The diet only accepted this request, however, on the condition that the Jesuits did not engage in any other activities, and did not disrupt the work of other ministers.36 In 1581, the diet acknowledged the presence of Jesuits in agreed sites at the princely residence of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), in a former monastery and at a convent in Kolozsvár, and in a former abbey at nearby Kolozsmonostor (Mănăştur). However, the diet warned Báthory not to plant any other Jesuits on Transylvanian soil. The diet conceded that Catholic priests could be appointed where “the town or village wants a doctor of the Roman religion.” However, if only ten or twenty or so locals wanted a Catholic priest, the diet judged this as insufficient cause to disturb the religious practice of any community. This 1581 ruling established the principle of major pars in deciding the practice of religion in Transylvania’s parishes. The diet, in effect, offered local confessional majorities exclusive rights to use the church building and to hold services, without granting any rights of public worship to minority religious communities.37
In 1588, the presence of Jesuits in Transylvania led to a stand-off between the estates and Zsigmond Báthory, who had been elected prince to succeed István Báthory in 1587. Zsigmond Báthory had invited more Jesuits to come to the principality, but the estates challenged his actions. Concerns were expressed by nobles about the security of lands they had appropriated from the Catholic Church, and the estates were encouraged by the superintendents of the Reformed and anti-Trinitarian Churches to prevent Catholic priests from spreading idolatry across Transylvania. When the diet met in October 1588, the estates refused to pass any taxation measures until the Jesuits were expelled, but Báthory refused to comply. The diet convened again at Medgyes (Mediaş) in December 1588, and after lengthy debate decided to stick to their original position. A resolution was passed reminding their prince that monastic property had been confiscated in perpetuity in 1556, and that from 1566, the pope’s teachers and religious orders had been expelled from Transylvania. The diet claimed that the presence of any Jesuits would lead to a dangerous decline in the affairs of the principality. They therefore demanded that Báthory expel all Jesuits from Transylvania within the next twenty-five days and forbid them to return to his territory. The prince and any nobles who were Catholic were only sanctioned to retain one priest each, as long as they were “pious Hungarians.” The diet also restated the freedoms of the Lutheran, Reformed, and anti-Trinitarian Churches, which were described as Transylvania’s “received religions.”38
In 1591 the issue of Catholic priests was back on the diet’s agenda, since Zsigmond Báthory had brought several Jesuits back to the principality. In November 1591, the diet accepted that the prince could station Catholic priests to bring “calm to his conscience” at his court in Gyulafehérvár, and at Kolozsmonostor, which he often visited. However, the diet was insistent that Jesuits were only to be allowed in these two places and could not preach in neighbouring villages.39 This was, however, not the final word on the extent of Catholic rights in Transylvania. Further debates in the 1590s were affected by renewed conflict in the region, and by the possibility of a Habsburg take-over of the principality. Border skirmishes in the early 1590s led to serious conflict between the Ottomans and Habsburgs from 1593. Zsigmond Báthory pursued a pro-Habsburg policy during this Fifteen Years’ War, and agreed an alliance with Rudolf in January 1595. In April 1595, the diet ratified this agreement and gave permission for Jesuits to work in Kolozsvár, Kolozsmonostor, and Gyulafehérvár. The estates demanded that neither the Jesuits nor other Catholic priests nor any other ministers cause public quarrels or give offence to each other. The diet then proclaimed that as far as religion in Transylvania was concerned the “received religions, that is, the Catholic or Roman, Lutheran, Calvinist and Arian, can be kept everywhere freely.”40
Zsigmond Báthory’s reign was punctuated by resignations from office, as in December 1597, when he abdicated in favour of Rudolf. However, in August 1598, the diet elected Báthory as prince once again, but included among conditions for his return the removal of Jesuits from Gyulafehérvár. Jesuits also had been specifically excluded from entering Nagyvárad (Oradea) in 1595, but in 1598, the diet allowed a priest to enter a town if a Catholic resident was ill and requested a mass.41 The estates also asserted that Catholicism had been introduced by force on some congregations. To remedy such abuses of the major pars law, the diet ordered investigations of these cases to be led by a leading Catholic and “evangelical.” These commissioners were charged to find out which religion actually held majority support in the local community, and to restore the rightful minister to his post.42
Around the turn of the century, invading armies devastated many parts of Transylvania. The principality was ruled from late 1599 by Mihai “the brave,” the Orthodox voivode of Wallachia. At the end of his rule in the autumn of 1600, the diet produced a further statement of the principality’s law on religious rights. It confirmed the freedoms of the received religions, now named as the Catholic or Roman, Lutheran, Calvinist and Unitarian Churches. As far as the rights of Catholic priests were concerned, nobles could retain priests in the villages where they lived, but priests could not be appointed elsewhere without the agreement of the local congregation.43 The freedoms of Transylvania’s other three received religions were only secured after the success of the 1604 anti-Habsburg revolt led by István Bocskai. Bocskai, who had previously supported Zsigmond Báthory’s policies, led a challenge to Rudolf’s attempt to dominate all of Hungary and Transylvania and to impose Counter-Reformation Catholicism on the region. Bocskai received widespread support for his cause in eastern Hungary, and was elected as prince of Transylvania in September 1605. Peace treaties agreed in 1606 between Bocskai and Rudolf, and between the Habsburgs and Ottomans, secured Transylvania’s autonomy and the principality’s religious settlement.44
Transylvania’s laws on religion retained an anti-Catholic flavour into the seventeenth century, and the Jesuits were expelled from the principality in 1607, 1610, and 1653. Although in May 1597, Zsigmond Báthory had restored a Catholic bishop to Gyulafehérvár, this appointment only lasted until the bishop was expelled by the diet in January 1601. The Catholic Church thereafter lacked a bishop, although the Habsburgs appointed candidates to the post of vicarius to oversee the Transylvanian Church.45 The Reformed Church gained in power and influence during the seventeenth century, benefiting from the support of a series of Calvinist princes. However, all the princes elected to rule over Transylvania until 1691 agreed to uphold the constitutional status of all four received religions. The 1653 Approbatae Constitutiones, which provided a summary of customary Transylvanian laws, declared the freedoms of the four received religions, outlawed doctrinal innovation and, in particular, Judaising Sabbatarians, and recognised the Catholic vicarius and the superintendents of the Lutheran, Reformed, and anti-Trinitarian Churches. Although the Orthodox Church of Romanians was not granted the status of a received religion, it was offered legal recognition. The right of local majorities to decide the form of religion adopted in each locality was upheld, and nobles were warned not to try to force a minister of a different religion on unwilling parishioners.46
What then was the response of ordinary people in Transylvania to the existence of a number of faiths and to the presence of heresy, however defined, across the principality? There are severe difficulties for historians in trying to answer such questions because of the limitations of surviving evidence from the period. An accurate and full portrait of popular reactions to Transylvania’s mixed confessional environment would require extensive personal and local records which are not available. However, the evidence that does survive, particularly for larger towns, allows for some discussion of the emerging balance in Transylvanian society between confessional loyalty and religious accommodation.
Certainly Transylvanian society was profoundly influenced by the ideas of different confessional groups through preaching and printed material. Clergy held bitter public debates about the nature of the sacraments, and about the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. Clergy from all the churches devoted a good deal of effort to educate believers in the fundamentals of their faith, to discredit their rivals, and to develop distinct confessional identities.47 The waves of reform that affected Transylvania brought rapid and contested changes to the religious landscape, especially in towns. At Kolozsvár, the central church was controlled over a period of around twenty years in turn by Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and anti-Trinitarian clergy. Such changes could lead to the breakdown of law and order, even if by comparison with contemporary standards across the continent such incidents were very limited in the degree or extent of violence employed. There are records from the mid-1560s of popular iconoclasm inspired by Calvinist preaching at Kolozsvár, Gyulafehérvár, and in Nagyvárad, with the destruction of paintings, altars, statues, relics, church organs, and stained glass windows. It seems very likely that these were not isolated events, and that in smaller towns there may well have been similar episodes of popular enthusiasm to transform church buildings. However, in the countryside the process of removing objects of Catholic worship is likely to have been conducted more slowly and in an orderly fashion under the direction of noble patrons. There also are accounts of violence against Catholic clergy, with the murders of some priests at Nagyvárad in 1566, and evidence of clergy from different churches fleeing the lands of unsympathetic nobles. There also was considerable tension later over the troubled presence of Jesuits in Transylvania, particularly in the anti-Trinitarian stronghold of Kolozsvár.48
The laws passed by the Transylvanian diet in some ways encouraged popular religious intolerance, including the 1566 expulsion of Catholic and Orthodox clergy, the dark warnings issued about the results of idolatry, the fears expressed about the presence of Jesuits, and the repeated condemnations of religious “innovators” who went to “criminal excess.” However, the diet strictly reserved for church superintendents and princes the right to enforce official action against those who stood outside the framework of legal protection. The diet also recognised and tried to curb the violent potential of tension between rival confessional communities. A constant theme of the diet’s pronouncements on religion throughout this period was to stress that force could not be used to compel individuals to believe. The diet also prohibited any offensive behaviour that might lead to violence. These key principles were maintained in all the laws agreed by the diet throughout the period, although there were changes over which religions received legal sanction.
The growth in support within the diet for different strands of Reformation thought, as well as the confessional allegiances of princes, determined the shape of Transylvania’s religious settlement. The laws on religion were not, however, only structured as a working political settlement for the principality’s social elite, since they recognised the significance of the religious commitment of ordinary people. In theory, at least, popular majorities came to be decisive in shaping the confessional allegiance of each parish. Determining who could use church buildings was a key issue, with references in the diet’s proceedings to contests for control of churches and the need to prevent disturbances during sermons and services. In some towns with divided populations, the estates at first tried to encourage the shared use of churches, but later gave exclusive rights of worship to majorities in each parish. Once patterns of confessional commitment were broadly established, this law provided a degree of spatial separation between different religious communities, although there were few substantial geographic areas dominated by only one Church. The law of major pars was renewed in 1615, and to the extent that this rule was implemented by commissioners on the ground, it offered a role for popular opinion in shaping the religious environment of each community. The Protestant estates certainly were keen to support non-Catholic communities from having their ministers removed by Catholic nobles, and planned bi-partisan investigations of any parishes where controversial changes to the control of churches had taken place.
However, patterns of popular religious accommodation in Transylvania were based not only on granting rights of worship to just one church in each parish. There were exceptions to the rule, such as the town of Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc), where, remarkably, the church was shared between Calvinists and Catholics until 1612. In the far southeast of Transylvania, anti-Trinitarians and Calvinists also formed mixed congregations served by the same minister until the 1620s.49 Such situations might well be thought of as inherently unstable, but when the diet reached a decision on how to settle local disputes over the use of churches there is no indication that nobles, town councils, or ordinary people defied the authorities. Perhaps the relatively peaceful resolution of the practical issues raised by living among or near those of a different religion was assisted by the long-standing existence of not only Catholic but also Orthodox communities in many parts of the principality. This may have provided Transylvanian communities with an embedded social understanding of the existence of different religious rituals, festivals, customs, and forms of worship, which in some way prepared the various linguistic communities for the practical compromises that were needed to accommodate three more religions.
The durability of the laws that established religious freedoms in Transylvania also was crucial to their success, since over time the settlement of rights to four received religions gained a weight of political and social acceptance that became irreversible. Transylvania’s laws were drawn up primarily to promote the security and stability of the state, but over time the tone and nature of the settlement of religious rights seems to have allowed tolerant social behaviour to emerge between those of different religions. The consistent enforcement of the laws across the principality certainly prevented violence from becoming an expression of religious ritual and identity. One sign of how social attitudes could develop towards acceptance of religious diversity was that mixed marriages and families with divided religious loyalties became an accepted part of Transylvanian society. It is difficult to judge how widespread such marriages were, or to assess what problems arose between family members of different faiths. The early seventeenth-century anti-Trinitarian chronicler, Kozma Petrityvity, commented that mixed marriages had become sufficiently common as to pose a serious problem for the future of his anti-Trinitarian Church. It seemed to Petrityvity that while other Churches actively sought conversions within families, among anti-Trinitarians it was a common practice for sons of mixed marriages to follow the religion of their father while daughters attended the Church of their mother. As evidence to support his argument, Petrityvity gave details of his own family history, from his grandfather who had converted from anti-Trinitarianism to his wife’s Catholic religion. Petrityvity’s mother was raised in this Catholic family, although one of his uncles later converted to Calvinism, while a Catholic aunt became Calvinist on her second marriage. Petrityvity’s father was an anti-Trinitarian, but while he raised the chronicler and his brothers as anti-Trinitarians, his sisters continued to attend the Catholic Church with their mother. The degree of religious diversity within the Petrityvity family was certainly not typical, but it illustrates how Transylvania’s laws provided the structures for a social environment in which a family of Catholics and anti-Trinitarians could live together in peace.50
In examining the legal and social responses to religious diversity in early modern Europe, it is often assumed that painting a territory a single confessional colour was of benefit both to state power and social stability. In France, the monarchy proved unable to prevent the growth in support for Reformed religion, which contributed to the causes of civil conflict, or to prevent outbursts of popular violent action. The crown’s failure either to prevent such breakdowns of law and order or to eliminate Calvinism from France was both symptomatic of, and exacerbated by, the weakness of state institutions. Meanwhile, other monarchs offered legal monopolies in the practice of religion to official churches and worked to eliminate any sources of heresy. Such rulers gained authority from their close alliances with state Churches, benefited from the reverential support offered by grateful clergy, and were able to extend their dominance over ordinary people’s lives.51 However, in Transylvania the interests of the state in the face of immediate external threats from both Ottoman and Habsburg empires encouraged princes, nobles, and urban magistrates to attempt to accommodate religious divisions. This acceptance of religious diversity indeed came to bolster the power of Transylvania’s princes as elected defenders of the different faiths of the principality in competition with their religiously-monochrome Habsburg rivals. Transylvania’s legal settlement of religious rights for four Churches was certainly the product of complicated and contested political compromises rather than the product of any far-sighted promotion of toleration. However, both the substance and implementation of Transylvania’s laws on religion, which received consistent support among the social elite and were accepted by ordinary people of different faiths, were the critical element that advanced a peaceful balance between the loyalty of Transylvanians to their own Churches and widespread acceptance of the practical reality of religious diversity.
Philip Benedict describes this decade as “the golden age of the religious riot” in Rouen during the Wars of Religion (Cambridge, 1991), 240. For events in this period see the summary provided by R. J. Knecht, The French Wars of Religion (London, 1989).
Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Rites of Violence: Religious Riot in Sixteenth-century France,” Past and Present 59 (1973): 51-91, and in Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Cambridge, 1987), 152-87. See also Denis Crouzet, Les guerriers de Dieu: la violence au temps des troubles de religion (Seyssel, 1990).
Davis, “The Rites of Violence,” 53-54, for discussion of Janine Estèbe, Tocsin pour un massacre: la saison des Saint-Barthélemy (Paris, 1968).
Davis, “The Rites of Violence,” 53.
See a range of local studies of the period; Babara Diefendorf, Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-century Paris (New York, 1991). Penny Roberts, A City in Conflict: Troyes during the French Wars of Religion (Manchester, 1996). J. Davies, “Persecution and Protestantism: Toulouse, 1562-1572,” Historical Journal 22 (1979): 31-51. James Farr, “Popular Religious Solidarity in Sixteenth-century Dijon,” French Historical Studies 14 (1985): 192-214. David Nicholls, “Protestants, Catholics and Magistrates in Tours, 1562-1572: The Making of a Catholic City during the Religious Wars,” French History 8 (1994): 14-33.
In one French town, at least, it seems that “neighbours and acquaintances chose not to harrass and massacre one another ... in the interests of civic harmony and ideals of urban solidarity;” Mark Konnert, “Urban Values versus Religious Passion: Châlons-sur-Marne during the Wars of Religion,” Sixteenth Century Journal 20 (1989): 387-405, 390.
Davis, “The Rites of Violence,” 62-65. Philip Benedict, “The Saint Bartholomew’s Massacres in the Provinces,” Historical Journal 21 (1973): 205-25. After 1560, there were very few official executions of heretics; William Monter, Judging the Reformation: Heresy Trials by Sixteenth-century Parliaments (Cambridge, MA, 1999).
Mark Greengrass, “The Anatomy of a Religious Riot in Toulouse in May 1562,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 34 (1983): 367-91. See also Mark Greengrass, “The Psychology of Religious Violence,” French History 5 (1991): 467-74; idem, France in the Age of Henri IV: The Struggle for Stability, 2d ed. (London, 1995).
Transylvanian place-names will be given in the language used by their residents during the early modern period. Modern equivalents will also be given at first mention.
“I am of the opinion that both Catholic and Protestant secular authorities exercised some degree of tolerance regardless of their beliefs, and that such tolerance was generally dictated by political considerations;” Katalin Peter, “Tolerance and Intolerance in Sixteenth-century Hungary,” in Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation, ed. Ole Peter Grell, Robert Scribner (Cambridge, 1996), 249-61, 250.
On the wider politics of the period, see Robert J. W. Evans, The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation (Oxford, 1979). Márta Fata, Ungarn, das Reich, der Stephanskrone, im Zeitalter der Reformation und Konfessionalisierung: Multiethnizität, Land und Konfession 1500 bis 1700 (Münster, 2000).
For the range of opinions of Hungarian historians on this issue, see Lajos Rácz, “Vallási türelem erdély -- és magyarországon,” Protestáns Szemle (1934): 198-204; Ágnes Várkonyi, “Pro quite regni -- az ország nyugalmáért,” Protestáns Szemle (1993): 260-77; Gábor Barta, “A tolerancia társadalmi gyökerei -- Erdély a 16. században,” in Europa: Balcanica-Danubiana-Carpathica; Annales 2A, ed. Ambrus Miskolczy (Budapest, 1995), 102-11; Ludwig Binder, Grundlagen und Formen der Toleranz in Siebenbürgen bis zur Mitte des 1Z Jahrhunderts (Cologne-Vienna, 1976).
Transylvania’s rulers were styled as “Dei gratia Transylvaniae princeps, partium regni Hungariae dominus, Siculorum comes.”
Zsolt Trócsányi, Az erdélyi fejedelemség korának országgyűlései (Adalék az erdélyi rendiség történetéhez) (Budapest, 1976).
On the progress of reform see Mihály Bucsay, Der Protestantismus in Ungarn, 1521-1978: Ungarns Reformationskirchen in Geschichte und Gegenwart; 1. Im Zeitalter der Reformation, Gegenreformation und katholischen Reform (Vienna, 1977). Robert Evans, “Calvinism in East Central Europe: Hungary and Her Neighbours,” in International Calvinism, 1541-1715, ed. Menna Prestwich (Oxford, 1985), 167-97; Earl Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism in Transylvania, England and America (Cambridge, MA, 1952); Mihály Balázs, Az erdélyi antitrinitarizmus az 1560 -- as évek végén (Budapest, 1988).
Sándor Szilágyi, ed., Monumenta Comitialia Regni Transylvaniae. Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek. Magyar Történelmi Emlékek Harmadik osztály, 21 vols. (Budapest, 1875-1898), vol. 2 (1877), 64-65, referred to hereinafter, EOE. See also M. Zsilinszky, A magyar országgyűlések vallásügyi tárgyalásai a reformátiotól kezdve (Budapest, 1880).
“quisque teneret eam fidem quam vellet cum novis et antiquis ceremonijs ...;” EOE 2 (1877): 78.
“eam quam vellet, papisticam videlicet aut lutheranam religionem profteretur ...;” EOE 2 (1877): 93.
EOE 2 (1877): 218.
EOE 2 (1877): 224.
EOE 2 (1877): 226-27.
“pro quiete regnicolarum;” EOE 2 (1877): 231-32.
EOE 2 (1877): 302-03.
“az birodalomból minden nemzetség közűl efféle igéje szabadon hirdettessék kiváltképen pedig az oláhok között ...;” EOE 2 (1877): 326.
EOE 2 (1877): 341, 365. “az keresztyén religión való oláh papok ...;” EOE 3 (1877): 118, 144, 240.
EOE 3 (1877): 240. Krista Zach, Orthodoxe Kirche und rumänisches Volksbewusstsein im 15. bis 18. Jahrhundert (Wiesbaden, 1977).
“mindön helyökön az prédikátorok az evangéliomot prédikálják, hirdessék, kiki az ő értelme szerént, és az község ha venni akarja, jó, ha nem penig senki kénszerítéssel ne kénszerítse az ő lelke azon meg nem nyúgodván, de oly prédikátort tarthasson, az kinek tanítása ő nekic tetszik. Ezért penig senki az superintendensök közűl, se egyebek az prédikátorokat meg ne bánthassa, ne szidalmaztassék senki az religióért senkitől, az elébbi constitutiók szerént, és nem engedtetik ez senkinek, hogy senkit fogsággal, avagy helyéből való priválással fenyögessön az tanításért, mert az hit istennek ajándéka, ez hallásból lészön, mely hallás istennek igéje által vagyon;” EOE 2 (1877): 343.
EOE 2 (1877): 354.
EOE 2 (1877): 368.
“ha valamely minister criminalis excessusba találtatik azt a superintendens megitélhesse, minden functiojától priválhassa, az után ez országból ki özettessék;” EOE 2 (1877): 374.
“ha külömb és új dolognak vallásában találtatnak, ő nagysága excommunicáltassa ...;” EOE 2 (1877): 528.
EOE 2 (1877): 534, 541; FOE 3 (1877): 122.
EOE 2 (1877): 577.
EOE 3 (1877): 108, 122-23.
EOE 3 (1877): 122, 125, 142.
EOE 3 (1877): 143. Maria Crăciun, “Traditional Practices: Catholic Missionaries and Protestant Religious Practice,” in Religion and Superstition in Reformation Europe, ed. Helen Parish, William Naphy (Manchester, 2002), 75-93.
EOE 3 (1877): 157, 203, 213. These articles about the position of Catholic priests were reiterated in 1584 and 1585 under the new governor Zsigmond Báthory.
“senki per vim ne kényszerítse, hogy eképpen in recepta religione, az régi articulusok tartása szerént, religionis libertas megmaradjon;” EOE 3 (1877): 238-40.
EOE 3 (1877): 384-85.
“Az mi a religio dolgát nézi, végeztük országúl hogy az recepta religiok, tudniillik catholica sive romana, lutherana, calvinistica et ariana libere mindenütt megtrathassanak;” EOE 3 (1877), 472. David Daniel, “The Fifteen Years’ War and the Protestant Responses to Habsburg Absolutism in Hungary,” East Central Europe 8 (1981): 38-51.
This ban on Jesuits from Gyulafehérvár was overturned in 1599. EOE 4 (1878): 196, 268-9.
EOE 4 (1878): 197.
EOE 4 (1878): 551.
László Makkai, “István Bocskai’s Insurrectionary Army,” in From Hunyadi to Rákóczi: War and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Hungary, ed. János M. Bak, Béla Király (Brooklyn, NY, 1982), 275-97. Kálmán Benda, “Habsburg Absolutism and the Resistance of the Hungarian Estates in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” in Crown, Church and Estates: Central European Politics in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, ed. Robert J. W. Evans, Trevor V. Thomas (London, 1991), 123-28.
Vencel Biró, Bethlen Gábor és az erdélyi katholicizmus (Kolozsvár, 1929). A. Jakab, “Az erdélyi római katolikus püspöki szék betöltésének vitája a xvii. Században,” Erdélyi Múzeum 49 (1944): 5-20.
“Approbatae Constitutiones,” in Magyar Törvénytár: 1500-1848 évi erdélyi törvények, ed. Sándor Kolozsvári, Kelemen Óvári, Dezső Márkus (Budapest, 1900), “Pars prima.” Article 1/1/2 offered rights to the “négy recepta, úgymint: Evangelica reformata (vulgo Calviniana), Lutherana sive Augustana, Romano-Catholica, Unitaria vel Antitrinitaria ...,” while according to Article 1/1/3, “az oláh, vagy görögök sectáján lévőket, kik pro tempore szenvedtetnek, usque beneplacitum principum et regnicolarum.” János Barcza, “A vallási türelem elvi alapjai a xvii. század magyar protestáns teológiájában,” Theológiai Szemle 21 (1978): 282-91.
Confessional Identity in East-Central Europe, ed. Maria Crăciun, Ovidiu Ghitta, Graeme Murdock (Aldershot, 2002).
See József Pokoly, Az erdély református egyház története, 5 vols. (Budapest, 1904), I: 170-72; Jenő Zoványi, A reformáczió magyarországon 1565-ig (Budapest, 1921); Jenő Zoványi, A magyarországi protestántizmus 1565-től (Budapest, 1977).
Graeme Murdock, Calvinism on the Frontier, 1600-1660: International Calvinism and the Reformed Church in Hungary and Transylvania (Oxford, 2000), 119-20, 122.
“Petrityvity-Horváth Kozma Önéletirása, 1634-1660,” in Történelmi kalászok, 1603-1711, ed. G. Daniel (Pest, 1862), 5-7.
Wolfgang Reinhard, “Reformation, Counter-Reformation and the Early Modern State: A Reassessment,” Catholic Historical Review 75 (1989) 383-404; Heinz Schilling, “Die Konfessionalisierung im Reich: Religiöser under gesellschaftlicher Wandel in Deutschland zwischen 1555 und 1620,” Historische Zeitschrift 246 (1988): 1-45.