Those Were Really the Days

Christendom, Schristendom:

I recently described the tumultuous years 1675-1685, and how they shaped the future of Europe and North America. Here, I want to explore the implications for the politics of religion in this era, and for some of the stereotypes we might have. Everyone knows that religion played a vital role in the Early Modern era: according to customary stereotypes, Protestants fought Catholics, Catholics fought Protestants, and Christians struggled against Muslims. All those statements are correct as far as they go, but they stand in need of some nuance. (Orthodox Christians also had their conflicts, but I will leave those out here).

As they say in Hail Caesar: Would that it were so simple …. [mirthless chuckle].

To recap briefly, I described the Protestant-led Hungarian/Magyar revolt against the (Catholic) Holy Roman Empire in the late 1670s. That in turn led to the Muslim Ottomans intervening on the side of the Hungarian rebels. The resulting war led to the siege of Vienna in 1683, and the ensuing battle, which really marked the end of Islamic expansion into Europe. Most historians would agree that this really marked a turning point in European (and world) history.

Looking at the battle of Vienna, several thoughts come to mind. For one thing, it is odd to realize just how late that happened, and how in fact it coincides so closely with an event like the settlement of Pennsylvania or (almost) the Salem witch trials – or indeed, the height of the Royal Society in London. It’s also sobering to think through the “might have been” of an Ottoman victory in that war, which might theoretically have extended Islamic power deep into southern Germany, and who knows how much further? If that had occurred, then the immediate cause would have been tensions and persecutions between Protestants and Catholics within the Holy Roman Empire.

Further afield, an Ottoman victory would, oddly, have been good news for France’s Most Christian King, Louis XIV (1643-1715). Both Louis and the Emperor Leopold were zealous Catholics, who (as we have seen) actively persecuted Protestants within their own realms, and both wished to uproot those Protestant minorities completely. Even so, dating back to the sixteenth century, the Catholic French had a long-standing entente cordiale with the Ottomans, on the basis that both had a common enemy in the Habsburgs. In the 1540s, the French allowed the Ottoman fleet to winter at their port of Toulon, and built mosques to make the Turkish forces feel welcome.

Recall that the Empire included what we would today call Germany and Belgium as well as Austria (and several other countries). When Louis tried to push the French border eastward to the Rhine, he was encroaching on Imperial territory. He was the Empire’s aggressive neighbor on the West, as the Ottomans were on the East. Cooperation made great sense, regardless of faith.

Hence, the revival of the alliance in the 1670s. The (Catholic) French originally supported the (Protestant) Hungarian/Magyar revolt, and later:
In 1679 and 1680, Louis XIV through his envoy Guilleragues encouraged the Ottoman Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa to intervene in the Magyar Rebellion against the Habsburg, but without success. Louis XIV communicated to the Turks that he would never fight on the side of the Austrian Emperor Leopold I, and he instead massed troops at the eastern frontier of France.

That is what gave the Ottomans the confidence to launch the assault on Vienna, although at the last minute in this campaign, Louis shifted his support to the Habsburgs. So much for any sense of Christian political unity, or indeed of Christendom as such.

A few years afterwards, Ireland witnessed the pivotal Battle of the Boyne (1690). The Protestant William III defeated the Catholic James II in a victory that established Protestant supremacy in the island for two centuries afterwards. Not surprisingly, the battle lives on as a potent myth for both sides in Irish religious divisions. William was “of Orange,” and still today, Protestant Orangemen proclaim King Billy’s triumph each year when they march on the anniversary of the Boyne, on July 12. Patriotic Irish Catholics see the Boyne as a national calamity.

Yet neither Catholics nor Protestants ever like to confront the full context of the battle. When Calvinist William triumphed in 1690, his victory was celebrated joyously by his international Catholic allies, including the Emperor Leopold, and the Pope, Alexander VIII. Austrian (Catholic) cathedrals sang a Te Deum to hymn the victory. Why? Because James II was allied to Louis XIV, and any defeat of Louis must be excellent news, not to mention long-overdue payback. My enemy’s enemy is my friend, and arguably a great Christian warrior.

Religious politics in this era were distinctly messy.

Would a Christian emperor like Constantine have prevented this? An infallible pope certainly did not.

What about a Christian lord like Jesus who sits at the Father’s right hand? In which case, Christ’s rule may have a lot less to do with Europe, America, South Africa, or Scotland and a lot more to do with NAPARC.

Independence Day in Calvinist "Rome"

After a stimulating conference in Hungary on international Calvinism, yesterday conferees concluded their visit by taking a tour of Debrecen, the stronghold of the Hungarian Reformed Church, and the place where on April 14 (which was yesterday), 1849, the Hungarians declared independence at the city’s Great (not pretty good) Church. Here’s one account of what happened:

Hungary had been ruled successively by Turkish sultans and Austrian emperors for centuries when the 1848 upsurge of revolutionary nationalism in Europe struck Budapest, where liberty, equality and fraternity were rousingly declared, the single political prisoner left in gaol was freed (a tiresomely loquacious old soul he proved to be) and the Habsburg regime was forced to accept a Hungarian national government. The new, eighteen-year-old Emperor Franz Josef’s attempt to regain control was countered the following year by a declaration that ‘the perjured House of Habsburg-Lorraine’ had broken every tie of mutual obligation between itself and Hungary. ‘Therefore the House of Habsburg is for ever deposed from sovereignty over Hungary and declared to have forfeited the throne and to be excluded and banished in the name of the nation.’ Henceforth, Hungary was independent. ‘We inform all the peoples of the civilised world of this fact,’ the manifesto went on, ‘in the firm conviction that it will accept the Hungarian nation, as the youngest but not unworthy brother, into the ranks of independent nations.’

The proclamation’s author was a radical journalist and agitator of forty-six named Lajos Kossuth, an ardent Magyar chauvinist although himself, ironically, of mixed Slovak and German stock. The Magyars were now in the minority in Hungary, outnumbered by Serbs, Croats, Romanians and Germans, and this was one of the complicating factors in the situation. Kossuth’s political pamphleteering against Austrian rule had earned him several years in prison for subversion in the 1830s and the sentence made him a popular hero, though his opinions were too extreme for many of the progressive intellectuals of the day. Elected to the Hungarian parliament, or Diet, in 1847, and a brilliant and inspiring speaker, he demanded the removal of the dead hand of Austrian absolutism as the essential preliminary to political and social reform. Bold, magnetic, resourceful and high-handed, he was appointed minister of finance in the new national government.

When a Croat army invaded Hungary in September 1848 to restore Austrian control, the Diet appointed Kossuth to head the committee of national defence. He organised a surprisingly successful Hungarian army and inspired the mass demonstrations which propelled the remaining rump of the Diet into issuing its manifesto of independence on April 14th, 1849. The Diet now appointed him Governor of Hungary.

That act of independence hardly fixed things for Hungarians or Hungarian Calvinists in a very complicated part of Europe. But as folks at the conference learned, the Reformed churches of central Europe are alive and kicking. Even though they may not be up to the standards that Presbyterians and Reformed promote in the Land of the Free, it’s hard to blame a communion that has had to deal with the Habsburgs and the Communists. And comparisons of United States’ and Hungarian Calvinism may teach a lot about how important environments are for the fauna that bloom as Reformed Protestantism. They may even teach yet again how positive religious liberty really is even if it also means freedom for a lot of objectionable stuff. No one said it would be all good.

Muslims and Protestants Together?

Among the many juicy bits of history packed into Philip Benedict’s Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed comes the item about the Ottoman insurgence into the Holy Roman Empire. Turns out the influx of Muslims into formerly Roman Catholic territories was a boon to the Reformed faith, especially in Hungary which gave us the Magyar Reformed Church.

Not only was the church largely decapitated in the central portions of the kingdom (i.e., Hungary), much of the parish clergy fled before the Ottoman onslaught, leaving nearly four-fifths of the localities in Ottoman-controlled regions without parish priests. Finally, the new rulers of the portions of the kingdom had neither the liberty nor the inclination to pursue the campaign against heresy. Ferdinand (Roman Catholic and from the Habsburg dynasty) was so busy with his military campaigns that he had little time to concentrate on the problem of heresy within his lands. Furthermore, he depended heavily on Protestant support within the empire for tax revenue to help fight the Ottomans, which prompted him to favor negotiation over repression in dealing with the problem. The Ottoman authorities looked for religious leaders who might cooperate with them as they strove to organize their control over their recently conquered territories and stem the flight of the population from the region. They were thus prepared to give evangelical preachers a free hand to proselytize so long as they respected Ottoman authority.

. . . . In the Ottoman-controlled regions, wandering preachers had a free hand. Mihaly Sztairai (d. 1575), a Paduan-educated ex-Franciscan who was the chief evangelist of the western portion of Ottoman Hungary, reported to a Viennese correspondent in 1551 that he had been able to preaching throughout the region for the previous seven years. In the process, he claimed, he and his fellows had founded some 120 congregations. (pp. 274, 275)

Now that’s church growth.