Bishops in the Border Castle (1548–1596)

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István Bitskey

ISTVÁN BITSKEY, Püspökök a végvárban (1548–1596) [Bishops in the Border Castle (1548–1596)] (CST III/2) (ed. by Péter Tusor–Máté Gárdonyi), Budapest 2019. 41 p.

The diocese of Eger, which was founded by King Saint Stephen, was the largest episcopacy of the Carpathian Basin; during the medieval times, as an episcopal see, Eger was a significant centre of church administration and culture in the Kingdom of Hungary.However, from the mid-16th century, as a result of the Ottoman conquest, Eger became a border fortress; therefore, its military role came to the fore. Among the contemporaries, its fortress was considered to be as the gate of Upper Hungary. At the time, the episcopacy also had to face the spreading Reformation. This study analyses the remaining opportunities of the diocese to organize its Catholic church.

However, in the grave situation there were bishops of outstanding talent who headed the diocese: Miklós Oláh (1548–1553), Antal Verancsics (1557–1569), and then István Radéczy (1572–1586). All three had Humanist education. Due to the war, they mainly resided in Vienna, where they had state administrative duties; in the territories under Turkish rule, they performed their episcopal authority through their vicars. The Confession of Debrecen–Egervölgy (Confessio catholica, 1562) was a distinctive document of the period, in which by the help of Péter Melius Juhász, the Calvinist preacher of Debrecen the militaries of the fortification tried to prove that their confession was not heresy. Although, this document is eclectic, according to the secondary literature this is “the genesis of the Hungarian Calvinism”. Besides Calvinism, the representatives of the Lutherans and for a short while of the Unitarians also appeared in Eger; therefore, the religious pluralism gathered ground in the episcopal city. The castellans of the period became Protestants, and though the instructions of appointment issued by the monarch had ordered to ensure the rights of the episcopacy, in practice it was hardly realised. The episcopal court and the chapter was ousted from the castle, the Catholics found themselves in minority and instead of following the reform of faith according to Trent; they rather focused on the defence of their church administration. However, there were some Jesuit paters who endeavoured to advance the Catholic restoration in Eger: at first János Leleszi and then István Drenóczy went to the chapter’s aid, yet, they could not achieve much. In the diocese, mostly the system of the vicars assisted the continuance of the Catholic religious life. The institutions of the episcopacy and the members of the chapter had to escape to Kassa (Košice) after the fall of the fortress in 1596, and later they moved to Jászó (Jasov). They could return their original episcopal see only at the end of the 17th century after the expulsion of the Ottomans, where the opportunities of their re-organisation opened up.