Intellectual Openness

It is scarcely surprising that Transylvania's intelligentsia was well-informed, for its members had visited Europe's temples of knowledge at a moment of cultural efflorescence. They could not fail to be touched by what they saw, and they brought home the latest scientific treatises as well as rediscovered old ones. Máté Csanaki shipped back trunkfuls of books, and he was probably instrumental in helping the Rákóczis to build up their extensive library collection of the era's philosophical and scientific works.

The family library of the Rákóczi princes is the best source for assessing the cultural shift in this period from natural philosophy to the natural sciences. However, information is sparse on the social impact of this shift. Little is known about libraries, and less about readership. It may be assumed that most of the readers belonged to the ecclesiastical intelligentsia. The drawback of this was that clergymen {2-224.} were not given to scientific speculation in ivory towers, a fact that explains why there were no innovative natural scientists in Transylvania. But there was also an advantage: the best-educated people were in close and constant contact with the wider population. And while some of them may have been opposed to new ideas, it is likely that all of them spoke up about scientific issues. What-ever their line of argument, they exposed listeners to the latest findings and the most interesting debates of the age.

The fact remains that religion continued to be the focus of intellectual activity, and scientific questions were generally addressed in this context. A conservative religiosity predominated in Transylvania until the 1640s. For philosophical support, both Catholics and Protestants looked to Aristotelianism. The reinvigoration of Roman Catholicism in royal Hungary was pursued with some success by Péter Pázmány and Mihály Veresmarti, two neophytes who had moved there from the principality and followed the teachings of the Neothomist theologian Roberto Bellarmino. The Catholic renewal that unfolded in Transylvania owed much to Gabriel Bethlen's tolerance; he recalled from exile Gergely Vásárhelyi, the translator of Kempis and Canisius, and sponsored György Káldi's translation of the Bible.

The ruling prince's support went mainly to the conservative, or 'orthodox' Protestants. It is in this period that the latter, thanks in part to the influence of the many Transylvanians who studied at Heidelberg, came to regard Calvin as their spiritual master. Albert Szenczi Molnár, who had worked in Debrecen before moving to Kolozsvár, played a leading role in this respect: his Hungarian translation of the Geneva psalm-book was published in 1607, and the translation, commissioned by Bethlen, of Calvin's Institutio, in 1624. The orthodox Calvinist publications consisted mainly of moralizing sermons contesting the views of Catholics and Unitarians; dry in content, they were couched in idiomatic Hungarian, and at times in the euphuistic language of the period. {2-225.} Most of the major authors, including István Geleji Katona, came from the Partium or the seven counties to serve as court chaplains or bishops in Transylvania.

This theological conservatism was linked in peculiar fashion to a mystical natural philosophy. Meanwhile, Transylvanian culture was also touched by English Puritanism, which was receptive to a more scientific observation of nature. This influence was manifest in János Apáczai Csere's Magyar encyclopaedia, in which, for the first time, the ideas of Copernicus, Descartes, Regius, Althusius, Ramus, and Amesius were presented in Hungarian and in a comparatively scientific fashion. The work had a decisive influence on Hungarian scientific culture, for it entrenched the preeminence of Cartesianism and laid the foundations of scientific vocabulary in the mother tongue.

To put their theories into practice, the Puritans developed the structure of a Presbyterian Church, initially at Sárospatak and Várad, in Upper Hungary and the Partium. Their ideas were introduced in Transylvania first by the relatively diplomatic Pál Medgyesi, then by the more aggressive Apáczai. Some of the Puritan proselytizers were dismissed by György Rákóczi I or György Rákóczi II because of their social radicalism, and a few were actually imprisoned, but their ideas continued to spread in the ranks of the intelligentsia. They published popular editions of the Bible as well as translations of English and Dutch religious tracts that were still in print in the 18th century. No such initiatives were taken by the Unitarians. Meanwhile, Transylvania's Saxon towns remained momentarily unaffected by German pietism and faithful to Lutheran orthodoxy.

There is at least one clear indication that the great religious ideas of the times reached well beyond the intelligentsia. Curiously, this evidence comes from a group, the Sabbatarians, that encompassed comparatively few activist intellectuals. In the 17th century, this religion, a peculiar manifestation of stoicism, spread beyond {2-226.} the intellectual and social elite to reach the uneducated, lower social strata. It is difficult to measure its diffusion with any precision, for many Sabbatarian records disappeared in the midst of official persecution, which reached its peak in 1638. However, the frequent reapplication of severe repressive measures testifies to the hardy roots struck by Sabbatarianism among the peasants, and in particular among Székelys. The attempts at repression evidently stimulated proud and stubborn resistance among them, a resistance that took the form of social and political opposition to the establishment.

It is also apparent that Sabbatarianism had served to fill a cultural vacuum. In the first half of the 17th century, public education was a leaderless cause: having consolidated their position, the recognized churches, including the Unitarian, lost interest in the lowest social strata. Once the religious affiliation of each village was set, efforts at conversion would threaten the social order; the churches therefore reduced their educational activity. Thus, after 1600, the dominant Calvinist Church would limit such activity to the Romanians. Indeed, Transylvania's official church deserves much credit for its vigorous promotion of the Romanians' mother tongue; but that scarcely compensated for the neglect of its traditional flock's cultural needs. {2-227.} The Sabbatarians preached a new religion and, in their effort to proselytize, readily adapted themselves to local needs. They championed the concerns of their parishioners and turned their church into a forum for public information and education. The Sabbatarians, like other denominations, couched much of their religious instruction in verse form, although it is hard to believe that even the old faithful were gripped by these interminable didactic stanzas.

All the more lively were the Sabbatarians' congregational hymns. They conveyed the message of the faith in an intimate and intelligible fashion and were notably free of the gloomy emphasis on sin and punishment found in the hymns of other denominations. The Sabbatarians taught that although man might be incapable of fully abiding by God's law, God would nevertheless grant him salvation. Judging from their hymns, the Sabbatarians had no doubt about the eventuality of salvation. Secure in this belief, they hailed the serenity of 'spiritual joy' and the physical pleasures connected with the Sabbath: 'Let us raise our spirits with filial joy, let us praise our heavenly master with good food and drink', sang the congregation at Sabbatarian services.[107]107. RMKT V (Budapest, 1970), p. 28. Another hymn affirmed that people should respect the Sabbath for their own rest and 'physical welfare'.[108]108. Ibid., p. 22.

With their human-centred outlook, the Sabbatarians were attuned to the secular world and its hierarchy, but they preached the Stoicists' warnings about the vanity of worldly success. Their manuscript hymnals often included a verse borrowed from the Anabaptists:

Könnyű ez szép állapat regulája,
Mert áll csak Úr mívének tudásába,
De embernek címerlevél adása
Forog búba, gondba, vérbe és kardba.[109]109. Ibid., p. 58.
[Easy is the law of this fine life,
For it is the work of God,
But if high rank is given to man
It brings sorrow, trouble, blood and the sword.]

Nevertheless, Sabbatarianism did not bring alienation and withdrawal rom the real world; it sought to unlock the secrets of nature and, in its serene and poetic pantheism, brought a message of reassurance. 'Every creature hews to its path, And no matter how great or small the bug, It can never alter its destiny, Wind, cloud, storm, ice, stone, thunderbolt, sleet, Spring, summer, fall, and winter, all have their appointed place.'[110]110. Ibid., pp. 92-3. In this secure world, there was no room even for God's sudden and unpredictable wrath. {2-228.} Sabbatarians affirmed a Ptolemaic outlook on the world and the power of a law concealed in nature; in the words of one of Simon Péchi's hymns, God 'suspended this Earth at the centre [of the universe]'; 'man is to blame if he is too blind to see' that the 'heavens' revolve around the Earth.[111]111. Ibid., p. 242. Although such views ran against the Copernican heliocentric theory, they were shared by more than one contemporary luminary.

For those who had little access to education, raising such questions was at least as important as offering answers. By dint of repetition, their interest was aroused. People take no pleasure in singing boring hymns and copying tedious texts. Yet there survive a great many manuscript hymnals replete with verses about the laws of nature and cosmological matters. To all appearances, society was ready and eager for the educational reforms that would give all access to modern scientific knowledge.