The Lutheran Church in Hungary
Yesterday, we stopped in Budapest, Hungary, to visit the Lutheran Church in Hungary. The origins of the Lutheran Church in Hungary dates back to the Reformation with many pastors studying in Wittenberg in the 1520s and 1530s. Several of the Hungarian pastors who studied with Phillip Melanchthon started the first Lutheran school for children in 1559 (about the same time the Old Latin School in Wittenberg was built).
We met at the headquarters of the North Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary. Rev. Tony Booker, LCMS Missionary to Prague; DCE David Fiala, LCMS Project Coordinator for Central Europe; Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMD Director of Church Relations, met with Dr. Tamás Fabiny, Bishop of the North Diocese; Dr. Virgil László, Counselor to the Bishop; and Dr. Klára Tarr Cselovszky, Director of Ecumenical and Foreign Relations.
The Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary has about 300,000 members, representing 3% of the population in Hungary. This makes the Lutheran Church the third largest church in Hungary, after the Reformed (20% of the population) and the Roman Catholics (60% of the population). Ethnically, the
Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary historically was composed of Germans, Slovakians, and Hungarians. After World War I, two-thirds of Hungary’s territory was reallocated to other nations, significantly reducing the Lutheran population in Hungary.
The Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary has about 300 congregations in three Districts (Northern, Southern, and Western). The church has other institutions including 37 schools with 7,000 students and 1,000 teachers. In 1971, the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary introduced the ordination of women as pastors. The stated reason for this was the shortage of male pastors. Although there are theological differences between the Missouri Synod and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary, there is a desire to work together particularly in the common social issues churches in the West face such as the disintegration of the family and the changing attitudes and acceptance of homosexuality as a normal lifestyle. Another desire is to have LCMS provide theological education and continuing education in Hungary. Despite the differences, it is good for the LCMS to be in conversation with Lutheran churches that are socially and generally theologically conservative.
At lunch we were joined by Dr. Tibor Fabiny, whose expertise is hermeneutics. Over lunch Dr. Tibor Fabiny spoke fondly of the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel whom he and his father first met in London, England, when Dr. Nagel served there as a parish pastor. He also spoke fondly of a meeting with Dr. Nagel at a Luther Congress in 1993.
Below is an article on the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary from the 1950s, published in Concordia Theological Monthly.
- Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.
A NOTE ON THE HISTORY OF THE LITURGY IN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN HUNGARY
(Lajos Jánossy, “A NOTE ON THE HISTORY OF THE LITURGY IN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN HUNGARY,” Concordia Theological Monthly, March 1954: 231-235.)
(NOTB: The Rev. Prof. Dr. La jos Jánossy, Sopron, Hungary, is one of the outstanding Lutheran liturgiologists in Central Europe. Recently the under-signed had occasion to request information from Professor Jánossy concerning the use of vestments in the Church of the Augsburg Confession in Hungary. Professor Jánossy replied with the paragraphs here reproduced. We share them in translated form with our readers in view of the extensive information which they furnish concerning a development in Lutheranism on which little infor-mation is available in English. — ARTHUR CARL PIEPKORN.)
The pure Gospel recovered by the Lutheran Reformation rapidly made a triumphant conquest throughout Hungary. In all three parts
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of the Hungarian Empire — in the so-called Kingdom of Hungary; in the areas occupied by the Turks; as well as in Erdély-Transylvania in the Eastern part of the country, which was just gradually developing into an independent Hungarian principality — the Lutheran Reforma-tion brought about a renovation of the Church in the Apostolic Gospel. In line with her conservative attitude and nature, the rich liturgical life of the Hungarian Church, thus renewed according to the standards of the Wittenberg Reformation, continued with new power, purity, and an ever more extensive use of the vernacular. On the basis of the sources one must emphasize as strongly as possible that an overwhelm-ing proportion — approximately eighty per cent — of the Hungarian, that is, Magyar, population of the Hungarian empire had adopted the Lutheran Reformation as enthusiastically as had the minority groups that had settled among us: the Germans, the Slovaks, the Croatians, and so forth. In the cities and towns where the whole population became Lutheran the Church buildings were left for the most part unchanged. Even the retention of several altars was not infrequent. On Sundays and other holy days — a total of eighty-five were observed annually—the purified Evangelical Lutheran Mass was celebrated in the morning at the high altar. It was preceeded in the early morning by matins or lauds, and vespers were sung in the late afternoon. Morn-ing and evening services were likewise conducted on nonfestival week-days. Candles, paraments, the colorful Mass vestments at the Holy Eucharist, the surplice, with stole [when appropriate], at non-Eucharistic offices, and sometimes even incense, continued in use. In the 60’s and 70’s of the sixteenth century 80 to 85 per cent of the entire population of the Hungarian Empire were Evangelical Lutheran! Before the renovated Church in Hungary could achieve a constitu-tionally recognized status and an independent organization, the papal hierarchy, assisted and re-enforced by the new Hapsburg dynasty, began a programmatic persecution. Simultaneously the so-called “Helvetic orientation” forced its way into Hungary during the decades referred to and began to infect the Hungarian Church, on one hand as Zwinglianism, on the other as Melanchthonianism, then as crypto-Calvinism, still later as a mild form of open Calvinism, and finally as Calvinistic Puritanism. Thus from the middle of the sixteenth century the Evangelical Lutheran Church had to defend herself on a number of fronts. Our forebears, who constituted a predominant majority in the Hungarian Diet as early as 1548, were still hoping that King Miksa I [Maximilian} would bring about a comprehensive
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reformation without breaching the unity of the ecclesiastical organism. The result was that they neglected the splendid chance of securing the freedom and the independence of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on a constitutional basis under King Miksa. The regional synods of the sixteenth century occupied themselves with establishing for smaller or larger territories of the country the pure doctrine and with the ordering of congregational life. Under these circumstances it was possible for the papal archbishop of Esztergom in the single year 1559 to drive out more than 300 Evangelical Lutheran rectors of parishes in the western and northern parts of the empire, that is, the Kingdom of Hungary, and to deprive the Evangelical Lutheran Church of a like number of church buildings. Nevertheless, in the more than 2,000 parishes in which we were able to keep possession of the parish churches, the liturgical life of the Evangelical Lutheran Church continued in full vigor. Even in the purely Magyar parishes our priests wore the full liturgical vesture at the Holy Eucharist — amice, [girdled] alb, maniple, stole, and chas-uble— and at non-Eucharistic offices and services the surplice, with or without the stole [according to circumstances]. This is amply demonstrated by visitation records from the latter decades of the six-teenth century, as well as by the Articles of Murány of 1596, the Articles of the Synods of Rozsnyó of 1592 and 1604, the Articles of the Magyar Congregational Order of Sopron of 1669, and the Con-gregational Order of Sárvár of 1576. Of particular interest in this connection is the letter of vocation which the council of the royal free city of Kassa in Upper Hungary issued in 1559 to the new Hungarian preacher and chaplain, the Reverend János Petho. Under the terms of this letter he was to cele-brate High Mass every other Sunday in the parish church of St. Eliza-beth in Hungarian in full Mass vestments “according to the colors of the season,” that is, according to the church year, and on the inter-vening Sunday he was likewise to conduct High Mass in Hungarian, again in full liturgical vestments, in St. Michaers Chapel, since on these Sundays Mass was celebrated in German in the parish church. In some parts of the country the population was divided between adherents of the Roman Catholic religion and adherents of the Lu-theran religion. Where in such communities the parish church was not available for use by the Lutherans and our Evangelical Lutheran services had to be held in an emergency chapel or privately in the homes of individual members, or where we were robbed of our Evan-
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gelical Lutheran churches, the Magyar Lutheran clergymen wore only albs or surplices, both of which could still be obtained quite easily. In 1610 at the synod of Zsolna [Silein] three Evangelical Lutheran dioceses were erected in northwestern Hungary. Canon VI of this synod dispenses the Magyar priests “for certain and evident reasons” from wearing the alb. We must remember that at this period the “Helvetic orientation” was creeping in from the strictly Magyar ter-ritories into these ten counties of Upper Hungary, especially in the Danube district. The Calviniste were propagandizing energetically against liturgical vestments, particularly against Mass vestments, and our clergy in these congregations were often slandered as being Papists. Where the Magyar parishes were able to escape such dan-gers, for instance, in Western Hungary, in the counties of Sopron, Gyor, Vas, and Zala, notably under the patronage of the Counts of the Nádasdy line, our Evangelical Lutheran Church retained and used at her services in hundreds of purely Magyar parishes the magnificent “festal vesture” of historic Christianity — amice, [girdled] alb, man-iple, stole, and chasuble at Mass, and surplice, with stole [when appro-priate], at other services. With reference to vestments, the Evangelical Lutheran episcopal visitation records from the years 1631 to 1642 show that there were still more than three hundred Hungarian Lu-theran parishes in which our clegry were wearing Mass vestments according to the old prescription. With the apostasy of Count Thomas Nádasdy in 1643 we lost more than two hundred parishes and parish churches, and more than forty thousand Hungarian Lutheran rural families were coerced at sword’s point into accepting the Roman Mass and the Papacy. Nor was that the only case. In that most tragic decade from 1671 to 1681, in the western part of the Empire (that is, in the so-called Kingdom of Hungary) alone, almost nine hundred Evangelical Lutheran church buildings were forcibly taken away from us. The liturgical life in these areas naturally broke down, and the clergy had to content themselves here and there, in some forest or mountain fastness or in some private home, with preaching a ser-mon and with administering the Blessed Sacrament as quickly and as simply as possible in the dead of night.
In the eighteenth century the persecution of the Evangelical Lu-theran Church was continued, particularly in the areas that had been liberated from the Turks. As late as the period of King Karel III and Maria Theresa more than three hundred additional parish churches were stolen from us. When at the end of the eighteenth century our Church gradually
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recovered her constitutional liberty, she had unfortunately become an interiorly weak Church that suffered under Reformed, Rationalist, Puritan, and Pietist influences and had no positive relationship to authentic Evangelical Lutheran Church life. Thus it happened that there was no recovery of liturgical life; that is, no renewal took place. Here and there in a few parishes — chiefly Upper Hungarian urban congregations with mixed Magyar, Slavic, and German constituencies — the wearing of the surplice, at least at the Holy Eucharist, survived. After the dismemberment of the Hungarian Empire in 1920 the use of the surplice within the present boundaries of Hungary was limited to a few places, such as the large Magyar-Slovak congrega-tion in Nyiregyháza and in the large Slovak-Magyar parish in Béké-scsaba, but in all these instances the use of the surplice was limited to celebrations of Holy Communion. Naturally, no liturgical revival followed World War II.
Sopron, Hungary LAJOS JANOSSY
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