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Historical survey

A Christian country

Hungary has emerged to statehood by its adoption of western Christianity at the end of the first millennium. The foundations of the structure of the Catholic Church were laid by Saint Steven (...)

Hungary has emerged to statehood by its adoption of western Christianity at the end of the first millennium. The foundations of the structure of the Catholic Church were laid by Saint Steven (997-1038), the first king of Hungary, who founded ten dioceses. The (claim of the) "patronate", that is the royal (state) care of spiritual issues remained firm throughout the late 20th century. Whereas Hungarian history is determined be the adherence to the Latin Church, Orthodox minorities have been present in Hungary throughout the country’s history. The Reformation reached the country when the central state power was weak and so it was highly successful in the 16th century. The Reformed (Calvinist-Presbyterian) Church became the birthplace of the national culture (Bible-translations, schools etc.). The Counter-reformation achieved success, but the country has preserved a high level of denominational pluralism. A generally tolerant approach in religious issues is deeply rooted in Hungarian society. The coexistence of Catholics and Protestants (mainly Calvinists who often regard themselves as the "Church of the nation") was not always free of conflicts but it proved to be a fertilizing tension enriching the national and everyday culture.

D 20 September 2012    ABalázs Schanda

Religious pluralism

After the Turkish wars (at the end of the 17th century) ethnic Hungarians became a minority in the Kingdom of Hungary. While Serbs in the south remained Orthodox, large numbers of Romanians in (...)

After the Turkish wars (at the end of the 17th century) ethnic Hungarians became a minority in the Kingdom of Hungary. While Serbs in the south remained Orthodox, large numbers of Romanians in Transylvania and Ruthenians in the Carpathians entered the Union with the Catholic Church, enhanced by the Hapsburgs. The Jewish population had risen to over 5% by the end of the 19th century. The liberal era of the late 19th century enhanced the rapid assimilation of Hungarian Jewry. This era produced law n° XLIII in 1895, which proclaimed religious freedom for all, restricting, however, the right of public worship to the communities that were acknowledged (incorporated or recognized). The law established a de facto two tier system of religious communities as it upheld the legal framework that had emerged during history concerning the status of the Catholic Church, the Reformed (Calvinist) and the Lutheran Churches, the Orthodox, the Unitarians and the Jews (the latter just having become an “incorporated” religion). The law opened up the possibility of setting up “recognized” denominations. The mainstream churches remained part of the establishment (not only in the legal, but also in the social sense – e.g. the Catholic Church remained the largest landowner until 1945 and 2/3 of the elementary schools were run by churches until 1948).

D 20 September 2012    ABalázs Schanda

Limits to religious freedom

After the trauma of the secession of Hungary (after World War I), national conservative forces dominated the political and the cultural landscape, cutting back some of the liberal legislation of (...)

After the trauma of the secession of Hungary (after World War I), national conservative forces dominated the political and the cultural landscape, cutting back some of the liberal legislation of the late 1800s. Hungary became a small country surrounded all around by countries that had formerly belonged to her – and large ethnic Hungarian minorities. The country got involved into World War II and came under German occupation on the 19th of March 1944. In the following few months the vast majority of Hungarian Jewry – enjoying relative security until then – was deported and killed (Hungary lost ¾ of its Jewish population).
After World War II, the communists came into power with Soviet assistance and eliminated the democratic structures, human rights as well as the rule of law. Communist authorities systematically harassed clergy and believers. Religious freedom was only on the dead paper of the Constitution. The "separation" imposed was nothing else but strict state control and persecution. As control over the churches became almost total, open persecution got somewhat milder ("goulash communism"), but the guiding principles did not change until 1989. In the 70s and 80s churches were relatively free to worship within church buildings but there was no space for any kind of social action (communication, charity, organizations, institutions, religious orders etc.).

D 20 September 2012    ABalázs Schanda

Religion in a modern society

Hungary played a notable role in the Ostpolitik of the Holy See as an experimental test case; the "détente" between church and state did have beneficial effects but meant painful compromises as (...)

Hungary played a notable role in the Ostpolitik of the Holy See as an experimental test case; the "détente" between church and state did have beneficial effects but meant painful compromises as well; the Holy See and the Peoples’ Republic of Hungary concluded a partial agreement in 1964. The first three decades of communist rule brought a massive and forceful secularization of Hungarian society. Communism has left Hungary as an atomized society and in a moral vacuum. Ironically, the churches – hit so hard by the regime – turned out to be the largest forces of civil society. The collapse of communism brought a new freedom and new challenges. Never before in Hungarian history have the churches enjoyed such independence from the state as in the present – free on the one hand from state control, on the other hand enjoying the same means as prior to World War II. Finding their new role in society is a difficult and complex process.

D 20 September 2012    ABalázs Schanda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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