{1-580.} The Religious Culture of Romanians in Medieval Transylvania

Although little is known about the education of Transylvania's Romanian clergy, it is likely that the monasteries at Priszlop and Körtvélyes had a part in it. No scholarly work can be attributed with any certainty to Priszlop, but if the monastery was indeed founded by Nicodim, the monks would have been inspired by that leading participant in the renewal of Greek Orthodox theology in the 14th century.

In the mid-1300s, the Greek Orthodox Church was engaged in a two-front struggle. It tried to counteract the rapprochement between the Byzantine emperors, who were being pressed by the Ottomans, and Rome, by combating Catholic efforts at conversion. It also fought the Bogumil heresy, which had regained strength in the 13th and 14th centuries and, in the guise of Catharism, had spread to Southern France. The Bogumil movement, a successor to ancient Manichaeism, emerged in the 10th century in Bulgaria. Its most distinctive tenet was a dualistic view, of an evenly-matched struggle between good (God) and evil (Satan), which was reflected in society by a struggle between the rich and the poor. However, since Bogumilism also involved mystic meditation and asceticism, it failed to become the ideology of social conflict and, in medieval Bulgaria, it even drew adherents from the higher social strata. Thus it remained primarily a doctrinal problem, and both the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches persecuted the Bogumils as heretics. The patriarchs of Constantinople and Tirnovo and the Pope urged the Byzantine emperor, the Bulgar czar, and Hungary's king to take up arms against the Bogumils, and occasionally, the monarchs would comply when it served their political interests. Crusades were launched against the Bogumils in the early 1200s and mid-1300s. Bogumilism reached the Romanians as well; there survive copies, produced in the Romanian voivodeship during the {1-581.} fifteenth century, of mystical apocryphal literature (The Visions of Isaiah the Prophet and of Abraham; The Evangel of Nicodemus; Afrodisian's Legend; Enokh's Secret Book) that must have been circulating for many years.

Byzantine monks spearheaded the fight against both Roman Catholicism and Bogumilism. In the mid-1300s, their greatest theologian, Gregorios Palamas, founded the so-called Hesiasta movement, which aimed to take the wind out of the sails of Bogumil mysticism by advocating ecstasy as a substitute for reason, the acceptance of life as suffering, and even the repudiation of life. Thus 'man must not rejoice, for his laughter will turn to tears', and 'a happy man is one who suppresses his will'.[29]29. A. Rosetti, ed., Istoria literaturii romîne I (Bucharest, 1964), p. 242. The similarity to Buddhism is not coincidental, for, in their campaign against Bogumilism, the Hesiastas propagated the Buddhist-inspired legend of Barlam and Josaphat along with other moralistic popular pamphlets. These works spread to the Romanian voivodeships and, from there, to Transylvania, where they may have been brought by Nicodim, who had professed these ideas in Wallachia. An investigation of the influence of Bogumilism and the Hesiastas, mediated by the clergy, on the Romanian popular culture would lead one into an obscure and uncertain territory; some see traces of it in the famous Miorica Ballad, where the shepherd anticipates death with resigned calm. In any event, Bogumils had made Romanian converts. In the early 13th century, they considered the famous Bulgaro-Romanian czar, Kalojan (also known as Ioniţă), to be one of them, and when he laid siege to Philippopolis, it was the Bogumils who surrendered to him that important Byzantine town. Perhaps it was the Bogumils' Kalojan-cult that introduced to Romanians north of the Danube a widespread magic ritual. At times of drought, people would bury a small clay figure in a wooden box on the river bank, chanting a funeral dirge to call for rain: 'Caloiene, iene / Caloiene, iene / go into the sky and ask / for the rains to fall.'[30]30. Ibid., p. 31.

{1-582.} Tracts bearing of the Bogumils' and Hesiastas' contrasting messages reached Romanian priests mainly by way of the Serbian and Bulgar monks who, in the later 1300s, headed northwards to escape the Turkish tide of conquest. Although the tracts may have had some influence of Transylvania's Romanian priests, the latter's celebrations were dominated by the traditional order of service and the recitation of set biblical texts. Nor did they necessarily stick to a few short formulas recited in Old Church Slavonic. The humble priest, noted earlier, in the village of Kerésztelek reported in 1470 that he had been robbed of all his possessions, valued at 100 forints; the first, and probably most valuable, items on his list were two books. The latter may have been similar in content to two books, of Moldavian origin, that had been donated to the monastery at Felek, and which were basic texts for religious service: one dealt with rites (1481) and the other with the four gospels (1488). The third essential text was the Psalter. This was translated into Romanian in the early 1500s at the monastery of Körtvélyes; this is evident from the Máramaros dialect found in the earliest Romanian-language sources — the Psalters of Şchei, Voroneţ, and Hurmuzaki.

It was not by chance that the first Romanian ecclesiastical works happened to be translated at Körtvélyes. When, in 1488–90, the Russian bishop of Munkács tried to impose his authority on this monastery, he met with protests from Romanian nobles in the Máramaros. They were rescued by the monastery's patron, Bertalan Drágffy, who was the voivode of Transylvania and came from a Magyarized family in the Máramaros that had converted to Catholicism. In 1494, Drágffy placed the monastery under the protection of the Catholic bishop of Transylvania. The remedy brought new difficulties. There was no formal declaration of union between the two churches, but Körtvélyes had to make concessions on the main, disputed theological issues; the so-called Şchei Psalter, translated at the monastery, follows the Catholic creed in affirming that the Holy Spirit arose not only from the Father but equally from the {1-583.} Son (Filioque). This did not prevent Körtvélyes and the priests who had studied there from preserving Greek Orthodox rites, but they were influenced by the Catholic Church's moves to introduce the vernacular and translate the Bible into Hungarian. It is probably against this background that ecclesiastical literature began to be produced in the Romanian language at Körtvélyes. Further development in this direction came only in the 16th century, under the impact of the Reformation.

The translations at Körtvélyes were nevertheless an important step in the emergence of Romanian vernacular culture, for, previously, the Transylvanian Romanians' religious and secular texts were all in Old Church Slavonic. Slavonic inscriptions can be found on the walls of cnezial churches dating from the early 1400s, and Slavonic notes, written in Cyrillic script, figure on the back of 15th-century letters of nobility granted to cnezial families. The earliest reference to the use of Slavonic language and Cyrillic script by Transylvania's Romanians dates from around 1280, in Simon Kézai's chronicle. He relates that, after the death of Attila, the Székelys sought refuge behind the mountains of Transylvania, where they lived alongside the Romanians and adopted the latter's alphabet. The obvious explanation lies in Kézai's assessment of the Romanians' Slavonic-Cyrillic texts and the Hungarians' runic writing; he was not able to read either of these, but by misconstruing the few Greek and Glagolitic characters that had appeared in the Székelys' Old Turkic runic script, he concluded that the two forms of writing were one and the same. Transylvania's Romanians had a long tradition of writing texts in Slavonic-Cyrillic, first in the monasteries, and then in the earliest known school for laymen. That school had been established by Balkan merchants at Şchei, on the outskirts of Brassó, an important centre for trade with the Levant. The earliest source to mention the school's teacher dates from 1480. The school's written language was Slavonic, but it was probably taught with some Romanian additions, for the first Romanian {1-584.} linguistic relic that can be dated accurately is a 1521 letter (in Cyrillic script) sent by a Wallachian boyar, Neacşu Lupu, from the frontier locality of Cîmpulung to people in Brassó.

Whatever its language, the Greek Orthodox culture of Transylvania displayed a spirit fundamentally different from that of Catholic Hungarians and Saxons. The Roman Catholic Church, dominant in Hungary, would occasionally accommodate papal urgings by attempting to convert the Romanians. It redoubled its efforts after 1204, when, as a consequence of the Fourth Crusade, the Patriarch of Constantinople formally acknowledged Papal authority; in this period, which lasted for over fifty years, the Orthodox rites were latinized. Whatever their success, the attempts at conversion were interrupted by the Mongol invasion, then renewed at the time of the Balkan conquests of Louis the Great. Then, as before, conversion efforts were driven by political considerations and aimed exclusively at the Romanian districts of Severin Province. When Miklós Lackfi, count of Zemplén and a zealous follower of the king, visited Rome in 1358, he obtained the Pope's permission to hold annual parish festivals for three churches which he had built for recently Catholicised (aliqui de novo) feudal tenants on his Romanian-inhabited estates (in medio olachorum); unfortunately, owing to distorted recording by the Papal Chancellery, the localities cannot be identified. The first reliably documented case of conversion, dating from 1366, concerns a certain Sorbán Acsvai, in the Világosvár district. Upon becoming a Catholic, he took the name István and was rewarded by the king with an additional estate (albeit one subject to the sheep tax).

That same year, Louis the Great issued a charter — the real purpose of which has been much disputed — acknowledging that cnezes whose property rights were confirmed by royal charters ranked with the nobility, and relegating 'common cnezes' (communis kenezus) to the status of village judges; there is no hint of compulsory conversion. The king evidently sought the support of the {1-585.} higher, military cnezes for his campaigns against Wallachia and Bulgaria. Soon thereafter, Louis instructed the counties of Keve and Krassó to deliver Slavic or schismatic priests (sclavos sive schismaticos sacerdotes) — without harm (absque omni dampno, lesione et deturpatione) — to the local count, Benedek Himfy, pending his decision on their fate. However, this measure was designed merely to forestall opposition to his war plans, and it had no long-term consequences. Romanian priests in the region carried on with their duties until the end of the Middle Ages. One of King Sigismund's charters, dating from 1428, attributes to Louis the Great a decree providing that in the Sebes district, 'only real Catholics, only those adhering to the Roman faith [...] may hold estates by noble or cnezial right'; however, only a modern copy survives, of questionable authenticity, and history shows that if either Louis the Great or Sigismund ever entertained such intentions, there were no tangible results.

King Louis's charter of 1366 also called for 'the liquidation of malefactors of all nationalities, especially the Vlach' (ad exterminandum et delendum de ipsa terra malefactores quarumlibet nationum, signanter olachorum). This gave rise to the widespread belief that the king aimed to annihilate the Romanian people, or at least compel them to convert to Catholicism, and this as a reprisal for some Romanian peasant rising. This is, to say the least, a naive theory, and the monograph that it inspired has since been dismissed by critics. In fact, Romanians as well as others were involved in various sorts of unlawful activity. Most of the trouble originated with landowners who would dispatch their feudal tenants, Hungarian or Romanian, to loot or occupy neighbouring villages, at times setting Romanians against other Romanians, and Hungarians against other Hungarians. There were also predatory gangs of robbers, Hungarians and Romanians alike. Finally, some Romanian cnezes, particularly in Hunyad county, were indeed 'deprived of their rights'; but the known cases are all successful possessory {1-586.} actions brought by cnezes holding royal charters against other cnezes who held property in customary law — thus, actions that involved only Romanians and had nothing to do with religion.

At the same time, it is a fact that a number of Franciscan friars, particularly in the Bosnian province, burned with proselytizing zeal. They had considerable influence at King Louis's court, and tried to obtain military backing for the forceful conversion of the 'schismatic' Orthodox. The Byzantine emperor, Johannes V Comnenus, came to Rome in 1369 to renew the union between the two churches. Thus encouraged, Urban V issued, in 1378, a papal bull — Dilectionis sinceritas — in which he called upon the temporal powers to help convert the 'schismatics'. The aging King Louis had become preoccupied with Italian affairs, and he was disheartened by the failure of the Balkan campaigns (ca. 1366). To rekindle his zeal, the Bosnian vicar Bartolomeo de Alverna sent him a memorandum some time after 1379, urging him to wage war on the 'schismatics'. Alverna argued that the obstinacy of the Orthodox Slavs and Romanians had to be combated 'with the sword more than with words, and in hard battle'; 'owing to their ignorance, these people have become bereft of religious rites and sacraments [...] and they cannot achieve salvation within their sect.' He quoted the warning issued by Johannes V Comnenus during a visit in 1366 to Hungary: 'The king would be well-advised to convert these Slavs, for they follow neither the Greek nor the Roman rite.' And he even quoted the monks of Mount Athos, who said that those who practised Slavic rites 'are not priests, they are dogs!' If they refused to convert, argued Alverna, they would have to be expelled from the country, and their flock would have to be forcibly Catholicized, for then at least the next generation would become good Catholics. Religious arguments were complemented by a timeless political reasoning: 'Those who adopt a deviant faith and are untrue to God will never be loyal to their lords.' However, such deplorable fanaticism did not sway Louis the Great, for he failed to launch a new {1-587.} campaign of conversion. Nor was it well received by Hungarian landowners, whose interest lay in the settlement of Romanians, and who therefore exercised religious tolerance by allowing the latter to have their own churches and priests. Aware of this hostility, Alverna had warned the king that 'some stupid and indifferent people disapprove and slander the recently-begun saintly works of His Majesty, the King of Hungary [...] i.e. the conversion and christening of the Slavs and Romanians in his lands.'[31]31. Quoted in Ş. Papacostea, 'La fondation de la Valachie et de la Moldavie et les Roumains de Transylvanie: une nouvelle source,' Revue Roumaine d'Histoire (1978), pp. 403-406.

The tolerance that marked Transylvania's Hungarian landowners sprang more from economic interest than from indifference to religion. In the 15th century, only the Hussites were subjected to religious persecution; they found refuge in Moldavia, where they translated the Bible into Hungarian. True, some of the ennobled Romanian cnezes turned Catholic, but they were motivated by social considerations, not fear: in those days, a different religion would have prevented them from marrying into Hungarian noble families, which, in the event, many of them did. The resulting gulf between ordinary Romanians and their elite was only deepened after Mohács by the institution of 'perpetual villeinage', which also gave the cleavage an ethnic complexion.