Nations and Denominations in Transylvania (13th – 16th Century)

Nations and Denominations in Transylvania (13th – 16th Century)

By Ioan-Aurel Pop

Tolerance and Intolerance in Historical Perspective, edited by Csaba Lévai and Vasile Vese (University of Pisa, 2003)

Introduction: As a voivodat of the Hungarian Kingdom, Transylvania followed the denominational and political rules of the state. Officially, Hungary was a Western Christian state, Marianic (under the protection of St. Mary), endowed with an apostolic mission, concretely aiming at converting “heathens, heretics and schismatics” within the state and in the neighboring territories. In any case the country was quite heterogeneous, ethnically and denominationally speaking. Besides Hungarians, a territory of over 300,000 square kilometers (as Hungary had around 1200) was also inhabited by Slovaks, Croats, Ruthenians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, Germans, Cumans, Jews, etc. Most of them were not western but eastern Christians (Romanians, Ruthenians, Bulgarians, Serbs) and some of them were not even Christians, but Jewish, Muslim, “heretics” or adepts of other persuasions. Many of these populations, faiths and denominations had cohabited quite peacefully until the Fourth Crusade (1204) and, in certain respects, even until the ascent to the throne of the Angevin dynasty (1308). During the reign of king Louis I of Anjou (1342-1382), the most substantial effort was made to bring (even by force) all the peoples and populations of other persuasions in Hungary and the neighboring countries to the unity of the Roman faith. At that time, the Western denomination actually imposed itself as “official religion” (religio recepta). Following the wide program of conversion, the Italian humanist chronicler Antonio Bonfini estimated that due to the joint effort of the king and the Church around 1380 more than a third of the kingdom “was part of the holy Church”. That is, almost half of Hungary’s inhabitants at that time were Catholic and this was the outcome of an unprecedented effort at proselytizing. The picture became even more complicated in the first half of the 15th century, when the “Hussite Revolution” brought about a religious reformation avant lettre. In spite of interdictions, the Czech population that followed Hus and chiefly Hussite ideas penetrated the territories of Hungary, Poland and Moldavia.

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