{1-731.} Society and Culture

As the focal point of Hungarian political life shifted to the principality, Transylvania became in the late 16th century the true center of the Hungarians' intellectual and material culture. The Reformation had spread across the Hungarian lands, but the coexistence of many denominations that marked Transylvania had no parallel in the Habsburg counties. Indeed, Transylvania was unique in Europe for the variety and legal equality of its religious denominations.

It is another question whether Transylvania's particularity had an impact on the rest of Europe. In the early phase of the Reformation, the mid-1500s, the eastern Hungarian Kingdom served essentially as a receptive environment for religious renewal. Thanks to Honterus and the early Hungarian reformers, Luther's fundamental theses — steadfast adherence to the Holy Writ, the belief that faith is the only way to salvation (sola fide), the rejection of priestly celibacy, confession, fasting, pilgrimage, and, last but not least, the use of the vernacular in church services — were transplanted to Transylvania with only the minor modifications necessary to accommodate local conditions.

Transylvania's leading proponent of Calvinism, Péter Melius Juhász, applied the founder's teachings — notably with regard to predestination and the significance of Holy Communion — with exemplary rigor. Indeed, this bishop of the region east of the Tisza became one of the most creative theologians of his time; although he followed the basic guidelines set by his forerunners, he did not shrink from engaging in doctrinal debates, and was particularly critical of Zwingli. The divisions among Europe's Calvinists were overcome thanks to the formula elaborated by the German reformer Heinrich Bullinger in The Second Helvetian Faith; accepted by Melius and endorsed by a synod at Debrecen in 1567, this became the Hungarian Calvinists' definitive doctrine.

{1-732.} The religious renewal rested on high-level contacts, for Hungary's and Transylvania's reformers kept in close touch with Wittenberg and Switzerland. A Saxon reformer, Martin Hentius, facilitated contact between Bullinger and Honterus, and the latter received the personal sanction of Luther, Melanchton, and Bugenhagen for his work Reformatio. It is noteworthy that in the Hungarian lands, Calvinism came to based principally on the teachings of Béza (Théodore de Bèze), Bullinger, and Musculus (Wolfgang Müslin); Calvin himself had no personal contacts in either Hungary or Transylvania.

Miguel Servet's unsettling notions were conveyed to Transylvania by his disciples. Jacobus Palaeologus evoked a universal religion that would make peace among monotheists, that is, between Jews, Christians, and Moslems. Johann Sommer proclaimed that the foundations of a faith had to be understandable, and therefore logical. However, it was a Transylvanian intellectual, Ferenc Dávid, who provided a theological elaboration and synthesis of Anti-Trinitarianism and drew believers into a single denomination; and thus Transylvania became the historic fountainhead of several denominations, including the Unitarians and the Baptists.

There was an element of spontaneity in the acceptance and development of Protestant doctrines in Transylvania. Especially in the early stages, one finds little evidence of state intervention. It came as an unpleasant surprise when, on 17 September 1571, Stephen Báthori introduced a form of press censorship by requiring that all written works be submitted for government approval prior to publication.

In fact, Transylvania's rulers exerted a significant influence over religious issues. The creation of an independent state, a perception of intellectual and moral crisis, and the struggle against the arch-Catholic Habsburgs at first induced a spontaneous interest in Protestantism, and then led (as in the case of Péter Petrovics) to a deliberately pro-Protestant policy. The patience of John Szapolyai {1-733.} may have been superseded by the aggressiveness of György Fráter, but even the latter stopped short of resorting to any religious persecution. Many felt Fráter's wrath, notably Orbán Batthyány, Mihály Csáky, the Barcsai family, Gáspár Drágffy's widow, and several city councillors, but seldom to the point of losing their lives. (One who did was a Nagyvárad clergyman, burned at the stake for having slapped a woman who was kneeling before a religious statue.) Nor did subsequent rulers adopt a markedly different approach; a case in point is Stephen Báthori's artful intervention to isolate Romanians from the Reformation.

The rulers' influence was manifested more through force of example, buttressed by their great moral authority. In the early stages of the Reformation, the support of a local notable was sufficient to sustain a particular denomination. But the Reformation's youngest offshoot, Anti-Trinitarianism, could find security only when John Sigismund himself gave it his endorsement — and this despite the fact that Ferenc Dávid was head of the Hungarian Protestant Church in Transylvania and pastor of the flourishing town of Kolozsvár.

On the other hand, it would be misleading to assert that the last great waves of religious reform in Transylvania were propelled by individual caprice. The spread of Anti-Trinitarianism doubtless owed much to John Sigismund's keen interest in theology, but the young prince, with his questing spirit, was a child of the times and of Transylvania. The tactical shifts of an impulsive and wilful mother scarcely served as a sound political education. To be sure, those sudden shifts mirrored the profound dilemmas facing Transylvania. Hungarian society dreamed of unity and lived the reality of fragmentation; it felt itself part of Western Christianity, yet was forcibly distanced from that world; and it was both embraced and deserted by the rest of Europe. An awareness of these circumstances accompanied Hungarian statesmen throughout the 16th century. John Sigismund was born to be a king, and from {1-734.} an early age he was taught that he would have to assume responsibility for his country. He had to suffer through the disintegration of Hungary and the destruction of traditional values. From his Polish-Italian mother, he had inherited the intellectual freedom of the Renaissance, and from his father, a Turcophile policy that facilitated the foundation of Transylvania. Arguably, all this predisposed him to accept the innovative theology of Blandrata: that colourful Italian physician applied the same analytical tools to resolve some basic contradictions of Christian belief and to transform the Moslems — despised as pagans, and regarded as an unavoidable evil — into a fraternal people. Nowhere else in Europe did the Anti-Trinitarians find such an eminent patron. Much as the prince's personality reflected the fledgling state's society, so did the systematized form of Anti-Trinitarianism mirror a distinctively Transylvanian mentality.

The divergence between individual will and social forces became more apparent during the reign of Stephen Báthori. In his election-oath, Báthori, although a fervent Catholic, had promised freedom of worship to all recognized Christian denominations (that is, Catholics, Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anti-Trinitarians). However, the restoration of calm in Transylvania was hampered by the ceaseless spiritual ferment, and particularly by the bolder reformers, Ferenc Dávid and his followers.

In 1578, that famous bishop took another major step on the path of doctrinal revision: he denied that Jesus should be worshipped. He thereby put himself at odds with Blandrata, who was deeply apprehensive about the princely court's hostility to Anti-Trinitarianism. The ruler now gave free rein to his more impatient and rigid relative, the voivode Kristóf Báthori, but even the latter shrank from unleashing a bloody wave of religious persecution in Transylvania. The voivode invited one of Europe's most prominent Anti-Trinitarians, Fausto Socino, to persuade Dávid by theological argument of the error of his ways. When Socino admitted defeat {1-735.} and left the country, Kristóf Báthori had the Anti-Trinitarian bishop arrested and incarcerated at Déva castle. Dávid died in captivity on 15 November 1579, before it became clear that he was not guilty of the principal charge brought against him: for in Socino's report, which had been used by Blandrata to incriminate Dávid, the theses of one of the latter's disciples, Mathias Vehe-Glirius, a refugee from Germany, had been substituted for those of the bishop.

The denomination itself could not be outlawed, if only because it already encompassed a large proportion of Transylvania's urban middle class. However, official pressure led to its fragmentation. The moderate wing, led by Blandrata, became the Unitarian Church, which drew strong support in Kolozsvár and other Hungarian towns, as well as among the Székelys. The 'noble wing' of the denomination was largely eliminated in political struggles that multiplied towards the end of the century. Gáspár Bekes, the Anti-Trinitarians' principal patron after the death of John Sigismund, was allowed by Stephen Báthori to live out his days in Poland; János Gerendy was exiled in 1594 by Zsigmond Báthori; and Farkas Kornis was murdered in 1601 on the orders of Michael the Brave. The third faction, led by András Eőssy and Simon Péchi, followed Glirius's lead in rejecting the New Testament, and founded the Sabbatarian sect.

Thus the Anti-Trinitarians were finally reduced to play a secondary role in Transylvania's religious culture. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, which had seemed fated to disappear, was saved through the efforts of Stephen Báthori. In 1579 — when there were no more than thirty Catholic priests in the whole country, and Kolozsvár was without one — Stephen instructed the diet to allow the Jesuits into Transylvania. The highly-educated Jesuits proceeded to establish a university-level college in Kolozsvár as well as lesser schools in Kolozsmonostor, Várad, and Gyulafehérvár. The first Jesuits in Transylvania all came from abroad, although there were among them Hungarians (notably István Szántó) who had {1-736.} studied in Rome; later, they were joined by local recruits. Prince Zsigmond's first father-confessor was the Hungarian Jesuit János Leleszi. By then, the majority of Transylvanians had converted to Protestantism, and they looked upon these elite troops of the Counter-Reformation with ill-concealed hatred. Apart from solid blocks in the Csík and Háromszék districts, the remaining Catholics lived in some dispersal. The prince realized that it would be senseless to provoke the hostility of the feudal estates. The Catholics retained the right to worship freely, but there was a delay until their Church hierarchy could be reestablished; the first new bishop, Demeter Napragi, was appointed by King Stephen's successor, Prince Zsigmond Báthori.

The Reformation reached ordinary people in a variety of ways. In so far as Transylvania had a feudal system, the political elite, acting on the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, should have imposed its choice of denomination on its subjects. However, the social structure of the principality had some uncommon aspects. The nobility, the Saxons, the Székelys, the non-German middle class in towns like Kolozsvár, and the peasant-citizens of the region east of the Tisza all enjoyed varying degrees of liberty. Thus the religious debates reached a rather wide circle of individuals and communities that had the right to independent choice. Although the small but growing number of literate people cannot be all attributed to these groups, the four hundred books that were published in Transylvania during the 16th century can provide some indication of their cultural interests.

It has been estimated that there were, in this period, between 50,000 and 100,000 books in the principality. Theological works accounted for 38 percent of this number, a rather high proportion compared to the European average, which was less than 30 percent. (It is indicative of the interest in religious reform that the most popular author was Philipp Melanchton.) Some 22 percent of the books were the works of classical authors, while those by contemporary {1-737.} humanists accounted for 24 percent. Classical literature was represented by Homer, Euripides, Titus Livius, Terence, and Virgil, philosophy by Aristotle, rhetoric by Cicero, and law by Justinian. (In Transylvania, unlike in the rest of Europe, the works of Aristotle were as popular as those of Plato.) Modernity was represented by Erasmus, Boccaccio, Ramus, and Justus Lipius. The religious debates and reforms coincided in time with the other great intellectual movement of the age, the Renaissance.

The early humanist circles at Várad and Gyulafehérvár had been but glimmers of light in the wholly medieval world of Transylvania, which, like the Partium, suffered from remoteness and backwardness. This situation was radically altered by the establishment of the principality. The royal court had been the main promoter of the Renaissance in Hungary; in the 16th century, this role was assumed principally by Gyulafehérvár. The other impetus to change came from the historic reverses suffered by Hungary. Political turmoil and social stress induced a growing interest in history; people wanted to understand how the Hungarian state could have collapsed, and to identify the factors that were responsible for their misfortune.

The beginnings of this historical quest mirrored the decades of slow and painful disintegration. The first three historians who were connected in some way to Transylvania all worked in a Habsburg environment. Miklós Oláh was in the Low Countries when he wrote his geography of Hungary. Antal Verancsics, who left behind an extensive but unfinished history of the events after Mohács, ended his days as Archbishop of Esztergom. György Szerémi was a 'senior' student at the University of Vienna when he worked on his famous Memoirs of Hungary's decline. Both Verancsics and Szerémi had served King John, the first as a diplomat, the latter as chaplain, and Oláh, as noted, was born in Transylvania.

In Habsburg Hungary, these historical investigations were carried forward by János Zsámboki (Sambucus) and reached a peak {1-738.} with Miklós Istvánffy. In Transylvania, the task was assumed by Ferenc Forgách, a prelate who had come from Habsburg Hungary to serve as chancellor; his monumental chronicle spans the period from 1540 to 1572. Forgách had once studied at Padua, as did his successor, Farkas Kovacsóczy, whose Párbeszéd Erdély közigazgatásáról (A Dialogue on the Administration of Transylvania) was the first Hungarian treatise in the field of political science.

Another alumnus of Padua at the chancellery, Pál Gyulay, chronicled Stephen Báthori's Russian campaign of 1580. István Szamosközy, who had a similar background, was a pioneer of analytical and objective historiography; his history of the period around the turn of the 17th century has lost none of its value.

Even Stephen Báthori dabbled in history-writing, and his memoir of the castle-wars in the 1560s remains an important source. It was he who invited the Italian Gian Michele Bruto (Brutus) to write a sequel to Bonfini's great historical treatise; the resulting work represented a quasi-official endorsement of the emerging cult of King Matthias. Also deserving of note is János Baranyai Decsi (Czimor), the chronicler of Zsigmond Báthori's early military campaigns.

In keeping with humanistic traditions, these court historiographers deliberately adopted Latin, the cultural lingua franca of the age. That might have seemed a retrograde choice at a time when the Reformation was inspiring a growing body of work in Hungarian, and particularly when Hungarian was being actively promoted at the expense of Latin as Transylvania's language of administration. The latter policy was inspired by the Hungarians' domination of political life, their numerical superiority in Transylvania, and the aforementioned linguistic revolution induced by the Reformation. Hungarian became the exclusive language of administration, official correspondence, judicial proceedings, and, in 1565, of codification. In this respect, too, the principality stole a march on Habsburg Hungary, where the sovereign's German-French-{1-739.} Spanish-Italian court was scarcely disposed to give official recognition to Hungarian, and where the Latin-rooted Catholic Church retained far greater influence.

The contrast between the radiant optimism of Renaissance art and the sombre pessimism — or, at best, sharply critical outlook — of Transylvania's historiographers was even more striking. In this case, the historians were in tune with the Protestant reformers, whose passionate tracts reflected a similar bitterness, sense of crisis, and quest for answers.

It took exceptional talent to reconcile the internal contradictions of intellectual and literary life. One who possessed it was Bálint Balassi, whose poetry encompassed both the joyful optimism of the Renaissance and desperate debates with God. Balassi belonged to Habsburg Hungary, and his stay in Transylvania was somewhat accidental: taken prisoner at the battle of Kerelőszentpál, he was saved from execution or imprisonment by the normally severe Báthori, who received him at his court.

Balassi was the first truly great poet to write in Hungarian. Others, more closely connected to Transylvania, contributed to the emergence of literary prose in that language. The work of Gáspár Heltai (Chronica, Fabulák, Bible translations) has already been noted in the account of Kolozsvár. Also worthy of note are Gábor Pesti, the translator of Aesop's works and the New Testament, and Gábor Mindszenti, a rather mysterious figure who wrote an account, in lyrical Hungarian, of the death of King John I.

The government actively helped to develop the network of schools. The old Catholic schools gradually disappeared, making way for Lutheran and Calvinist colleges that over time earned great renown. Such Protestant schools were founded at Debrecen in 1536, at Brassó in 1543 (the Studium Coronense, founded by Honterus on the site of the earlier Catholic school), and, during the reign of Isabella and John Sigismund, at Kolozsvár, Marosvásárhely, Gyulafehérvár, Nagyenyed, and Székelyudvarhely. {1-740.} In 1560, the school at Gyulafehérvár was upgraded to a college, and some time later the former Franciscans' school in Kolozsvár was converted by Anti-Trinitarians into their principal educational institution. Kolozsvár was also the site of Transylvania's first university, founded by Stephen Báthori; by 1583, this academy had a faculty headed by four full professors, 130 students, and a library of several thousand volumes.

With regard to changes in the lifestyle of the ruling elite and urban dwellers, mention has already been made of the building boom that materialized in the mid-1500s. New castles, manors, and other dwellings appeared all over the principality, with a profusion of interior furnishings designed for comfort and convenience. These trends reflected the popularization of Renaissance style.

The transformation had its origins in the time of John Szapolyai and György Fráter. An Italian fundator (engineer), Domenico da Bologna, restored Buda's fortifications in 1536 and went on to build a fortress at Szamosújvár. Fráter's castle at Alvinc was a fine example of 16th century Lombard architecture. Over a period of decades, the efforts of successive rulers turned the princely residence at Gyulafehérvár into a magnificent Renaissance palace that, alas, has not survived. (Kolozsvár's stonecarvers honed their skills on the project.)

The home of the Bethlen family at Keresd stood out among the great castle building operations at the mid-century with its stylistic excellence. The arcuated porticoes and the old tower are a harmonious blend of stone and wood, a combination that is typical of the Renaissance in Transylvania. The castle at Szentbenedek, constructed around 1593, displays a riotously rich ornamentation that betrays its Italian inspiration. Kolozsvár's Academy, destroyed in 1603, had been designed by King Stephen's Italian chief architect; a palace of classical elegance, its quadrangle was enclosed by late Renaissance arcades.

{1-741.} As in the case of earlier innovations, this mature, late Renaissance style appeared first in military constructions. Although circumstances required that Várad's new fortifications be built of earth, their design (by Ottavio Baldigara) accurately reflects the period's style of defensive architecture. The structure, laid out in the shape of a symmetrical pentagon, with 'Italianate bastions', would stand out as the strongest fortress of the principality. Some existing edifices of uneven shape were remodelled by Italian architects into symmetrical castles, pentagonal at Várad and Szatmár, and square-shaped at Fogaras.

The fine arts, in contrast, seemed to stagnate. The goldsmiths of Kolozsvár and the Szászföld maintained their high standards, but there is no evidence of outstanding paintings or sculptures (apart from the finely-carved decoration on Renaissance buildings). Many works of art were destroyed in the ensuing wars, but there is an additional reason for their paucity: the Reformation banned pictures and sculptures from places of worship. The period of civil war dampened interest in the arts, and the princely court could fill only part of the gap in demand. Transylvania's greatest cultural figure in the 16th century, the lutist-composer Bálint Bakfark (Valentin Greff?), spent only a short time at King John's court before heading west to find new patrons.

The implantation of the Italian Renaissance owed much to the influence of Gyulafehérvár. Influential Italians were always present at the courts of Isabella (herself half-Italian) and her successors; the most noteworthy were Doctor Blandrata-Biandrata, Gian Michele Bruto, and Antonio Possevino. The Báthori family, notably King Stephen, Prince Zsigmond, and Cardinal András held Italian art in high esteem. The celebration of Zsigmond's coming of age was conducted in Italian style, with music performed by Italians.

As noted, Stephen Báthori's cultural patronage extended to many areas, notably the foundation of a university, construction projects, and support for historiographers. Thanks to foreigners, his {1-742.} quintessentially Hungarian court was exposed to the wonders of the Renaissance. During the reign of Zsigmond Báthori, the style of the court became overwhelmingly Italian: Giambattista Mosto led an orchestra of twenty Italian musicians, the Tuscan Simone Genga was chief architect, and the monarch's favourite painter was Niccolò Greco. There were also Italian actors, jesters, cooks, gardeners, and fencing-masters. Zsigmond's successor, the Cardinal-Prince András, was equally enamoured of Italians and their art.

The court at Gyulafehérvár was held in high regard by cultured Europeans. The welcome extended to Anti-Trinitarians contributed greatly to its fame. In Venice, the composer Girolamo Diruta dedicated his work Il Transilvano to Zsigmond Báthori. And, as noted, Transylvanians who had studied in Padua held important positions in the government.

All this did not mean that Renaissance lifestyle and culture were widely disseminated in Transylvanian society. The new style was adopted by some of the wealthier burghers and more cosmopolitan nobles, but a far greater number of people felt drawn to the sober spirit of the Reformation. Many in the ruling elite were decidedly hostile to the influential Italians milling around the court, to their foreign tastes and comportment. This antagonism was not the least of the problems with which Stephen Báthori's successors would have to contend.

If aristocrats, nobles, and Saxons, had reservations about Renaissance culture, then the puritanical citizens of the market towns, the increasingly impoverished Székelys, and, above all, the villeins felt wholly estranged from the 'eccentricities' of the court. Thus popular culture did not undergo fundamental change in the course of the 16th century; in this respect, the Middle Ages in Transylvania lasted well into the 17th century.