[K:NWTS 23/1 (May 2008) 4-25]

The Earliest Hungarian Protestant Confessions:
Nagyvárad (1544) and Erdőd (1545)

Introduction and Translation

James T. Dennison, Jr.

It was inevitable that the Protestant Reformation would trickle into Eastern Europe. Traveling initially via the minds, hearts and (often) smuggled pamphlets carried by German merchants to Prussian or Saxon enclaves in Danzig (Gdansk), Vilnius, Sopron, Buda and Kassa, the lues teutonica (“German plague”) was welcomed in the Roman Catholic strongholds bordering the Baltic Sea and in mining centers along the northern Tisza River. Change was in the wind in Hungary bred and fed by Wittenberg as early as 1518. But there was an even more ominous change lurking at the nation’s southern border—the Islamic Ottoman Empire was pressing hard by 1521.

It was in the year after Luther’s fateful posting of his Ninety-five Theses that they were being read in German-speaking towns in Hungary. Tamás/Thomas Preisner, priest in Lubica (in the region of Szepes/Spiš near Kežmarok, modern Slovakia), read them from his pulpit in 1520. Already in 1519, Transylvanian merchants returning home from the Leipzig Fair had brought Lutheran literature with them to Hermannstadt (Nagyszeben/Szeben, Sibiu in modern Rumania). In other Saxon or German-speaking settlements—Odenburg (Sopron), Kaschau (Kassa, Košice in modern Slovakia), Ofen (Buda, Budapest)—Luther’s reforming doctrines spread quickly. While many were embracing the evangelical teachings, others were condemning them. Archbishop Ladislau/László Szalkai (1475-1526) of Gran (Esztergom) ordered the Papal Bull of excommunication against Luther (Decet Romanum pontificem of Pope Leo X, January 3, 1521) to be read from every pulpit. Successor Hungarian Diets of 1523, 1524 and 1525 passed laws for the suppression of the “Lutheran contagion” including confiscation of property and even capital punishment (Lutherani comburantor, “Lutherans [may] be burned”). The latter does not appear to have been enforced, but some evangelicals were forced out of their homes and, in some locales, Luther’s books were consigned to the bonfire. The center of the early Reformation in Transylvania was the town of Szeben (Hermannstadt) where the town council endorsed the Lutheran spirit in 1522. In the same year, Hungarian students began drifting towards Wittenberg to study under the emerging antiestablishmentarians. Predictably these students originated in the German towns of Upper Hungary and Transylvania.

Aftereffects of Mohács

Hungary was partitioned three ways following the disaster at Mohács (on the Danube River in southwestern Hungary) on August 29, 1526. Western Hungary (the Burgenland) was claimed by the Habsburgs of Vienna and dubbed Royal Hungary. Eastern (Southeastern) Hungary, called Siebenbürgen (Erdély) by the Germans, became Transylvania. In between—central Hungary—were the Ottoman Turks. On that day of national disgrace (Mohács), the brilliant Suleiman the Magnificent (1499-1566), ruler of the surging, imperialistic, caliphate envisioning Ottoman Turks, took up positions opposite young Jagiellon monarch, King Louis II (1506-1526). Louis’s royal entourage included 28 magnates, the crčme de la crčme of the Roman Catholic Church (two Archbishops—László Szalkai of Esztergom and Pál Tomori of Kalocsa; five Bishops—of Győr [Raab], Pécs [Fünfkirchen], Csanád, Nagyvárad [Großwardein] and Bosnia; and numerous priests) and allegedly an army of 50,000 Hungarian troops and German mercenaries. But, having bowed to Mecca, Suleiman’s 200,000 janissaries routed the Christian army in a day of infamy for all Hungary. Suleiman’s triumph left the field scattered with the bodies of leaders of every echelon of Hungarian society—church, state, education, nobility.

The bodies of Roman Catholic priests and bishops strewn upon the field at Mohács vividly paraded the impotence of that ecclesia before the Magyar masses. If the god of the priests carried upon the crucifixes at the head of Christian battle columns was trampled and decimated by the scimitar of the Turk, was it not evident that such a god was indeed no god and such a system of religious hocus pocus was vanity.

Into the vacuum rushed the house of Habsburg Ferdinand I (1503-1564) claiming regency over Hungary through his sister Mary (1505-1558), now widow of King Louis.[1] Hungarian nobles annulled three grandiose Viennese moves by crowning Transylvanian voivode, John Zápolya/Zapolyai I (1487-1540), king in November 1526. For ten years, John and Ferdinand struggled to dominate Hungary. Only when Suleiman conquered Buda in 1541 did the nation settle into a relative state of stability. The Magnificent positioned Royal Hungary on his left flank and Transylvania on his right.

George of Brandenburg

The failure of the established Catholic Church at Mohács made the new learning blowing in from Lutheran universities and German merchants very attractive—even compelling. Creating a favorable climate for German Protestantism was George of Brandenburg-Ansbach (1484-1543) who possessed extensive estates in Bohemia, Silesia, Germany and Hungary—the latter via his marriage with Beatrix/Beatrice of Frangepán (ca. 1480-1510), widow of Johann/János Corvin (1473-1504).[2] George was nick-named “The Pious” (Fromme) and was Margrave of Brandenburg (House of Hohenzollern). When Martin Luther boldly declared “Here I stand” at Worms in 1521, George was stunned—not by Luther’s brashness, but by his fervor for sola Christi. When the Diet met at Nuremberg (Nürnberg) in 1522, he was further stirred by the evangelical preaching of the Lutheran pulpiteers at St. Lawrence and St. Sebald. George began to study Luther’s translation of the New Testament and inaugurated a personal correspondence with the translator himself. In 1524, he met Luther and was fully confirmed in his own conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism.

George was related (through his mother, Sophia/Zofia Jagiello [1464-1512]) to the royal house of Hungary. On account of his marriage to Beatrix (of Frangepán), he spent time at court in Buda. Given the lands of Upper Silesia and Franconia, he was also entrusted as tutor (morum formator, “fashioner of good morals”) to the young king, Louis/Ludwig II Jagiellon, who in 1522 had taken as his Queen Mary of Habsburg, herself sister of Charles V (1500-1558) and Ferdinand I (1503-1564) of Vienna. The Queen was herself favorably disposed to the Reformation and encouraged George in the evangelical guidance of her son. She also favored Protestant-leaning humanists at her court, including her favorite preacher, Conrad Cordatus (ca.1480-1546). In addition, Simon Grynaeus (1493-1541), later Reformed professor at the universities of Heidelberg (1524) and Basel (1529), was a teacher at Buda from 1521-1524. It was George who invited him to assume the chair after he was ejected from the University of Vienna on account of his sympathy for the Reformation. The papal ambassador to the court of Louis and Mary would report to the Vatican in 1524: “God forbid, the king and queen are Lutherans.” Luther would dedicate four Psalm translations (Vier tröstliche Psalmen an die Königin von Ungern) to the Queen in 1526 in consolation for the death of her husband at Mohács. At the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, Mary attempted to persuade her brother, Charles V, to treat the advocates of the Augsburg Confession (Augustana or, in the editio princeps, so-called Invariata version) with tolerance (“to soften his attitude towards us,” as Melanchthon expressed it). George of Brandenburg would himself be a charter signatory of the Augsburg Confession.

German influence in Hungary, whether religious or socio-political, was resented by ethnic Hungarians, the Magyars. As the Protestant Reformation was associated initially with German Lutheranism, tensions between German/Saxon and Hungarian elements increased. Fed by a systemic disillusionment and discontent, the new doctrine was polarizing church and state. Thus the history of Hungary in the 16th century would be one of divisions over religion: Roman Catholic, Islam, Protestant (and to a lesser extent Orthodox). Royal Hungary would remain essentially Catholic; central Hungary would be nominally Muslim; north-central and eastern Hungary (including Transylvania) would gravitate towards Protestantism. Ironically, Protestantism was tolerated in central Hungary because of the iconoclasm endorsed by Islam.

Matthias Biró

Mátyás Dévai Biró (Matthias Biró de Deva/Devai, ca.1500-1544/45) is nicknamed the ‘Hungarian Luther’ for good reason. Born in Transylvania, he enrolled as a student at the University of Kraków (Poland) in 1523 and emerged a Franciscan priest in 1526. On return to Hungary, he became chaplain in 1527 on the estate of nobleman and aristocrat Stephan Tomory (Istvan Tomori) where he gradually became exposed to Reformation doctrine from Germany. Some have suggested he was also influenced by Simon Grynaeus. Captivated by the Wittenberg don, Biró journeyed to that university city in 1529 in order to study under Luther, Melanchthon and others. Luther even invited him to room in his house. After three years of evangelical assimilation, Biró returned to Hungary in order to promote Protestant doctrine in northern and central Hungary. In the spring of 1531, he became pastor in Ofen-Buda (modern Budapest). It was here that he published his famous 52 Theses entitled Rudimenta salutis (“Rudiments of Salvation”; cf. the reply by Gregory Zegedi/Szegedy, Censurae Fratris Gregorii Zegedini ex ordine diui Francisci, in propositiones erroneas Matthiae Deuai, sed ut ille vocat, rudimenta salutis continentes [“Censures of Brother Gregory Zegedi of the order of the divine Francis, holding in check the erroneous propositions of Matthias Devai, but as he calls them, rudiments of salvation”] [Bécs, 1535]).

In this same year (1531), Biró went to Kaschau (Kassa, Košice) in order to preach there. However, he was arrested by the Bishop of Erlau (Eger), Thomas/Tamás Szalaházy, transported to and imprisoned in Vienna in a dungeon administered by Bishop Johann Fabri/Faber (1478-1541). He was released on November 6, 1533 through the influence of believers in Kaschau and returned (again) to Hungary in order to preach the gospel. He is next (1535) found on the estate of another patron of the Reformation, Tamás Nádasdy, in Sárvár. This is also the year of Gregory Szegedy’s (1511-1569) published counterattack on his doctrine.

The following year (1536), Biró was forced to flee once more to his German refuge—Wittenberg—and the hospitality of Luther and Melanchthon. His Disputatio de statu, in quo sint beatorum animae post hanc vitam, ante ultimi iudicij diem. Item de praecipuis articvlis Christianae doctrinae, per Matthiam Devay Hungarum. His addita est expositio examinis, quomodo a Fabro in carcere sit examinatus (“Disputation concerning the state in which the souls of the blessed will exist after this life, before the day of final judgment. Likewise concerning the principle articles of Christian doctrine, by Matthias Devay of Hungary. To these has been added an exposition of the examination, how he was examined by Faber in prison”) (1537) was published in Nürnberg and Basel, indicating brief sojourns in these Reformation cities during this phase of his exile from Hungary.[3]

On his return from Germany, he once again threw himself into the work of promoting the spread of the Reformation through preaching, establishing schools and Hungarian literature. His Orthographia Vngarica (published posthumously in Cracow in 1549) demonstrates the revolution he brought to Hungarian literary expression. This was a Hungarian grammar which Biró wrote in order to promote the reading and understanding of the Scriptures.

When the Turks finally succeeded in capturing Buda in 1541, Biró fled for his last visit to Wittenberg. But he also visited Swiss cities where he became convicted of the Helvetic Reformed theology of Ulrich Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger, as well as John Calvin. This induced a shift from the Lutheran doctrine of the corporeal presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper towards the Zwinglian/Calvinist/Helvetic concept of “to eat is to believe” (edere est credere). Modification of his earlier sympathy for the Lutheran doctrine is verified in two ways. First, Luther wrote a letter to the Protestant brothers in Prešov (Eperies/Eperjes) bemoaning the “sacramentarian” views of his former house guest and declaring that he had not learned it in Wittenberg. Second, and perhaps more decisively, is the statement of Article 22 of the Propositiones . . . adopted at Großwardein in 1544: “the bread and the wine

are not simply perishable signs, but truly [signs] of that [which is] signified, i.e., communications and dispensers of the spiritual body and blood of Christ” (see the full translation below). This statement is certainly formulated with Biró’s approval. He may, in fact, have been the author of it. Further support for his shift in opinion comes from the Catechism he wrote in 1538.[4]

When he returned to Hungary in 1543, he labored first at Miskolc until he was forced to flee to the Erdőd estate of Gáspár Drágffy in 1544 (Drágffy had been the first Transylvanian nobleman to adopt the Protestant Reformation). Biró would end his career in Debrecen where he died in 1544 or 1545.

Biró’s influence and cooperation with the other pioneers of the Reformation in Hungary—Imre Ozorai (author of the first Hungarian Lutheran book, De Christo, et eius ecclesia; item de Antichristo, eiusque ecclesia [“Concerning Christ, and his church; likewise, concerning Antichrist and his church”] [Krakow, 1535]); Lukacs Thuri; István Gálszécsi (author of the first songbook to use Hungarian language  notes with Gregorian hymns and German chorales in Hungarian); András Batizi (1510-1546/52); István Szegedi Kis (1505-1572); with many others—impacted Hungary and Transylvania so thoroughly that by mid-century Hungary possessed a Protestant majority. While the early years of Reformation were dominated by Lutheran theology, after the 1540s more and more students traveled to Swiss universities and more and more of the leadership of the Hungarian Protestant church was attracted to Calvinism, giving us the Hungarian Reformed Church beginning in the 1550s.


It was Großwardein (Nagyvárad, modern Oradea Mare in Rumania), diocese of the Latin rite, which would generate the initial confessional document of the Protestant Reformation in Hungary. Composed of the counties of Bihar, Szilágy and parts of Békés and Szatmár, the diocese included the city of Debrecen. Biró’s influence in this region was considerable. By 1544, there

were enough evangelical pastors in the area to summon a Protestant convention. At this gathering, July 20, 1544, the Nagyvárad Theses were proposed and adopted. This document appears to be the first recorded Confession of the Hungarian Reformation[5]. Though no author’s name survives, the propositions bear the indelible stamp of Matthias Dévay Biró[6].

Presiding over this diocese was Georg Utiessenovicz/Utjesenovićs-Martinuzzi (1482-1551). Martinuzzi was joined by the father superior of the Franciscans, Gergely/Georgius Szegedi, as defender of the Roman Catholic faith. (After writing in opposition to Biró, as noted above, Szegedi became a Protestant while attending Wittenberg University in 1556/57. He himself later became Reformed.) Martinuzzi was also the guardian of the young king, John Sigismund Szapolyai (1540-1571), son of Queen Isabella Jagiellon (1519-1559) and the late King John I (1487-1540). A clash between the old and the new faith was inevitable.

The match was lit by the Habsburg king, emperor Ferdinand I. On February 12, 1544, he directed a letter to the Chancellor of Hungary, Archbishop Paul/Pál Vardai (1483-1549) of Gran (Esztergom), demanding that the Archbishop together with András Báthory, his provincial prime minister, proceed against the “heretics”, Matthias Dévay Biró and Gáspár Drágffy—nec patiemur ut heresies hec [sic!] latus serpat (“nor can we bear that these heresies slither forth more widely”). At the Diet of John Szapolyai’s kingdom, meeting in Debrecen in June 1545, the nobles of his kingdom were ordered to suppress and arrest all Lutherans. Martinuzzi endorsed the threat, even asking King Ferdinand for authority to seize the widow of Gáspár Drágffy, powerful patron of Reform.


The threat from the Habsburg monarch and his papal lackey galvanized Peter Petrovics in reaction. As commander-in-chief of Temesvár (Temeschburg, Timişoara in modern Rumania) and friend of the Reformation, Petrovics supported the widow Drágffy in summoning the Protestant clergy from the counties of Szolnok, Szotmar, Bihar and parts of Ugocsa and Szabolcs to Erdőd (Ardud in modern Rumania). On September 20, 1545, twenty-nine evangelical pastors affixed their names to the second confession of the Protestant Reformation in Hungary. Among them were the noted Stephanus/István Kopácsi (†1562) and Andreas/András Batizi[7].

It is clear that the Confession of Erdőd is anchored in the Theses of Nagyvárad (Großwardein) of 1544. No doubt, the Augsburg Confession (Variata) of 1540 has influenced the formulations. And yet, since Biró had visited Switzerland and since he had modified some of his opinions in a Helvetic direction (especially his view of the Lord’s Supper), we may detect echoes of Reformed confessions of Switzerland and Germany in these articles.

Did the Nagyvárad Theses and its daughter, the Confession Erdőd, indicate the inception of the second wave of the Reformation in Hungary? The scholarly debate bandies back and forth on this point. Several studies have cited the letter of Leonhard Stöckel (1497-1560) to Ferenc Réwai/Révai dated February 2, 1544: Matthias videtur mediam quondam sententiam tueri (“Matthias [Dévay Biró] seems to maintain a kind of middle opinion,” i.e., on the Lord’s Supper) (cited in Bucsay and Csepregi, op cit., p. 432, n. 10). Note also Luther’s letter to the citizens in Prešov noted above. Later Lutheran critics of Dévay would accuse him of cryptocalvinismus (“crypto-Calvinism”) as well as errorem Zwingli (“the error of Zwingli”). Is this just so much smoke, or did his detractors see the (Helvetic) heat reducing the Wittenberg Eucharistic doctrine to ashes in Hungary?

The statements at Nagyvárad and Erdőd were the beginning of numerous Hungarian Synods. At Eperjes (Eperies, Prešov in modern Slovakia) in 1546,

a synod met to endorse the Augustana or Augsburg Confession and sixteen articles on liturgy and polity. In 1548, the Saxon cities of upper Hungary would adopt the Confessio Heptapolitana[8] (“Confession of the Seven Cities”, i.e., seven German mining towns of central upper Hungary—Banská Bystrica [Neusohl, Besztercebánya], Pukanec, Kremnica [Kremnitz, Körmöcbánya], Banská Štiavnica [Schemnitz, Selmecbánya in Slovakia], Nová Baňa, Lubietová, Banshá Belá). This would be followed by Leonhard Stöckel’s Confessio Pentapolitana (or Confessio fidei quinque liberarum regiarumque civitatem superioris Hungaricae [“Confession of the five free and royal cities of upper Hungary”]) of 1549—also adopted by royal free Saxon cities in Upper Hungary (Bardejov [Bartfeld, Bártfa], Prešov [Eperies/Eperjes, Preschau], Košice [Kaschau, Kassa in Slovakia], Sabinov [Szeben, Kisszeben in Slovakia], Levoča [Leutschau, Lőcsa in Slovakia]). Stöckel’s text of twenty articles was actually based on the Augsburg Confession. It is likely that these strongly Lutheran documents were contextually generated, i.e., the inroads of Helvetic Reformed theology were polarizing evangelicalism as early as 1544/1545.

By the late 1550s, there was no doubt about the paradigm shift poised to capture the Hungarian evangelical church. Looming on the horizon was the man who would effectually transplant the Reformed faith to Magyar soil. Peter Melius Juhasz (1536-1572) would be converted from Lutheran to Calvinistic or Helvetic Protestantism in 1558. His pulpit in Debrecen would become the auditorium from which the clarion of Reformed theology would spread throughout Hungary. The ‘Geneva of Hungary’ (Debrecen) and the ‘Calvin of Hungary’ (Melius) would provoke a further Reformation. Tragically, a third wave would also spin forth from this vigorous Protestantism—the tritheism, Arianism and Unitarianism of the Transylvanian anti-Trinitarian movement.


Propositions of those who Preach the Gospel of Christ which will be Disputed at Varad
on the Lord’s Day following after the Holy Days of the Division of the Apostles, 1544[9]

1.)    Only faith through Christ justifies before God the Father, and love before men, that is we are justified doubly: by faith before God, by works of love before men. (All men have two judges, God and man, therefore we must be justified in two ways, by faith before God, by love before men.)

2.)    The priesthood of Christ is eternal and perpetual. The priesthood of saints does not extend itself to another life. Chiefly Christ alone is now our priest, i.e., placater, reconciler, intercessor, before the Father for the whole church. Not dead saints.

3.)    The one sacrifice of this same eternal priest, Christ, suffices (Heb. 10:12[10]), as (Nicholas of) Lyra says[11], to blot out all sins which have been committed and will be committed, which Thomas (Aquinas) supports, Part 3, Question 3, Article 4, saying, “Christ not only came to blot out that sin, which has been handed down originally from our first parents to their posterity, but also to blot out all sins which have been added over and above it afterwards.”[12]

4.)  Moreover what Paul says, “I fill up what is lacking of the suffering of Christ in my flesh” (Col. 1:24), is to be understood according to the analogy of Scripture, as it is by that “one oblation he has perfected the saints forever” (Heb. 10:14); likewise “Paul has not been crucified for you?” (1 Cor. 1:13).

5.)   Our salvation, that is, remission of sins, the acceptance of our person, the gift of the Holy Spirit and life eternal, Scripture ties to no things except faith in Christ and the two symbols and signs: baptism and the Eucharist.

6.)  The word “church” is understood properly and improperly. Properly “church” is said (to be) the assembly of all Christians reborn in Christ believing and trusting in the gospel of Christ and rightly using the sacraments instituted by Christ, and this (church) is universal and particular.

7.)   But improperly the church is the assembly of all good and evil persons belonging to the external society holding the Word of God and rightly using the sacraments. Here also are contained hypocrites who even if they have not been reborn in Christ, nevertheless have not been defiled visibly by wickedness, nor have they been excommunicated. But those who persecute the gospel of Christ, are not even hypocritical members of the church, so far are they from the church.

8.)    For the true church ought both to hear the voice of her Shepherd, according to that (passage), “my sheep hear my voice” (Jn. 10:17), and to bear witness of the whole Scripture, even as it is written: “And you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Therefore whoever does not hear the voice of Christ, but on the contrary persecutes him, and deforms his doctrine by their traditions, are witnesses neither to the church nor to Scripture.

9.)   Moreover what is said, I would not have believed the gospel unless the authority of the church had influenced me, should be understood of the testimony of the true and pure church. For in the time of Augustine, the type of church, which is deformed by human traditions instituted for worship, merit and necessity, did not yet exist.

10.) But of human traditions, even if the church needs (them) for the preservation of the ministry, or that everything may be done in order in the church, nevertheless God is not worshipped by human traditions instituted for the worship of God, merit and necessity: “in vain do they worship me teaching the doctrines and commandments of men” (Mt. 15:9).

11.) Moreover the authority of the true church, which ought to be separated from the civil power which externally coerces criminals with bodily force, is great and consists in the power of order or ministry and jurisdiction, that is, in the power of excommunicating the openly shameful by the ministry of the Word of God, and not bodily force, and in the power of receiving again those who are penitent.

12.) Therefore whoever says the power of the church (is) not in the use of the keys entrusted to Peter in the place of the whole church, but in the ordinary succession of popes and in their authority, which is extended to the living and the dead, and this without the use of the powers of true ministry, is mistaken.

13.) Whatever is required by necessity for our salvation and for good actions, all this is contained clearly, simply and exactly in sacred Scripture. Therefore we have no need for so many traditions necessary for salvation, as some would have.

14.) Repentance has three parts. Contrition, faith and good works. Contrition is not hypocritical humiliation of oneself, but rightly and from the heart becoming thoroughly terrified from a sense of sin and of the wrath of God and trembling (at) God’s wrath against sin. This contrition does not so much alleviate or quiet the conscience, as it also truly drives (one) to desperation, unless he is saved by faith in the merit of the suffering of Christ. This faith exercises itself afterwards through good works of duty and mutual obedience, wherefore the division of repentance according to the papists is the repentance of Judas, not Peter.

15.) Confession is threefold: first of faith, second of love, third ecclesiastical. The confession of faith is that by which we mitigate and reconcile the wrath of God through the sacrifice of Christ. The confession of love is, that with living neighbors whom we offend either by example, or in esteem, affairs, (or) body, we should come back in grace and be reconciled to them. This twofold confession henceforth all the saints practiced from the beginning, apart from which no one at any time could be or will be saved, (and) has been commanded on both sides in sacred Scripture. Third ecclesiastical, which even if it has not been commanded in Scripture, but then for the sake of doctrine, counsel and consolation, should be received (and) retained by a pious and learned pastor, has been retained, without the scrupulous and impossible enumeration of sins.

16.) The worship of dead saints consists not in the adoration of dulia or hyperdulia or in invoking them, but in the imitation of their faith, love, duty, patience.

17.) Christian liberty has four forms. First is spiritual by which we are freed from the wrath of God, from sin, from the tyranny of Satan, from death and Hell by faith in Christ. Second, that we are consoled by the same Christ in the trials of this life. Third that we may be and may not be free from the three varieties of the Mosaic law. Fourth, that we may be and may not be free from human traditions.

18.) What should be known about true Christian fasting and the choice of foods; it can be added, namely that there should be much distinction between fasts of Christians according to those kinds commanded in Scripture and between the choice of foods not commanded in Scripture.

19.) Likewise monastic vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience, which are called “substantial vows”, can be censured here because things possible concerning matters of charity and nature, not impossibilities, should be vowed: furthermore celibacy is impossible to our powers without the grace of God, which although many have solemnly vowed in this matter, but whether they will abide by (it), they themselves will see.

20.) Wherefore it is wiser in similar conditions and states of men, who are not able to control themselves, that this impure vow of celibacy be repudiated, since it displeases God by a foolish and untrustworthy promise, (and) that they give themselves to marriage, lest they pay the penalties of their lust both here and in eternity, according to that (passage): the sexually immoral will not possess the kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5).

21.) There are two new sacraments instituted in the gospel, having the promise of the remission of sin, baptism and the Eucharist.

22.) Just as in baptism the water remains in its proper nature, through which, with the Word the Holy Spirit, is effectual for sanctification and blotting out all the guilt of the baptized, so in the Eucharist, with the bread and wine remaining in their substantial integrity, through them the Holy Spirit is effectual with the Word, so that the bread and wine are not simply bare signs, but truly (signs) of that which is signified, i.e., exhibits, communications and dispensers of the spiritual body and blood of Christ (spiritualis corporis et sanguinis Christi).

23.) But for the integrity of the sacrament three things are necessarily required: a promise instituted, the element and its action. And if one of these conditions is wanting, there is no sacrament. The promise should be preached in a loud and intelligible voice. Both kinds of elements (bread and wine) ought to be present, finally the action itself, as the minister in the person of Christ hands out to the partakers, (and) the partakers eat and drink. For to eat and to drink itself is the true use of the Lord’s Supper. According to that (passage): take, eat, take, drink (1 Cor. 11:24). Apart from this use when the bread and wine are secluded or when they are carried around, they should not be worshipped or be called a sacrament,  but we say simply and openly (that) outside the aforementioned true use (that) is idolatrous worship of idols and the false worship of God.

24.) The sacraments are not to be worshipped, since God does not want any visible form of things to be worshipped; although by bowing down we are not worshipping the elements, but showing reverence for the Word of God.

25.) Finally because anyone at all under the peril of his salvation and the bond of eternal damnation ought to bear witness and acknowledge his faith before God to angels and men, therefore whoever either dissembles the recognized truth or is silent on whatever pretext, these also Christ himself denies in his judgment before his Father and his angels (Mt. 10:33); moreover those whom he himself will deny, are subjected to the tyranny of the Devil and will be liable to eternal damnation.


The Articles of the Christian Confession of Erdőd drawn up in writing
by the Pastors of the Hungarian Churches, September 20, 1545[13]

God Most High willed that congresses of men be held in order that in their joining together he himself may be honored together with his only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit. Therefore since we have also assembled by the kindness of God, we desire, as much as is in us, to advance his glory before the eyes of the world.

Article I

God is triune in unity (Concerning the Holy Trinity). Therefore, first of all, we confess “one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity”[14] according to the judgment of the orthodox fathers. But we condemn all other opinions and especially those who say that we fashion three gods out of one God. And indeed we long to hold in check such persons in order that the glory of the holy Trinity may steadfastly abide.

Article II

Jesus (is) God, man, the one sole Mediator (Concerning the Son of God, the Sole Mediator). Likewise we confess the Lord Jesus to be true God and true man, true Priest and our sole Mediator between God the Father and us sinful men, and [we confess] him to be of a twofold nature. Therefore we condemn those who appoint as mediators saints departed from the flesh and transfer the glory of Christ the Mediator to the saints.

Article III

Gratuitous Justification (Concerning the Justification of Sinful Man before God). We confess that justification, that is, both the remission of sins joined together with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the acceptance to eternal life, to freely belong to men by faith embracing the mercy of God on account of the merit of Christ. In fact, we condemn the self-righteous (iustitiarios), who ascribe justification to their works, fasts, pilgrimages, religious fraternities.

Article IV

Faith Justifies (What and of what quality is justifying faith). We understand faith to be a gift of God, and since we declare a person to be justified by faith, we understand faith not so much as historical knowledge (notitiam), but also as trust (fiduciam), by which we embrace the mercy of God and rest on the Son of God. We condemn those who say faith is acquired by human strength and understand it to be only historical knowledge.

Article V

Good Works are Necessary (Concerning Three Reasons to what end and for what reason Good Works are to be done). Moreover although we do not ascribe justification, which is by faith alone, to good works, nevertheless we declare them to be necessary and required from the regenerated; for a good tree produces good fruits. In fact, good works are required for three reasons. First, by reason of the command and glory of God. Second, for the edification of our neighbor. Third, that we may bear witness to our faith by our good works, may keep busy and may make our calling sure. We condemn those who ascribe justification to good works, and hypocrites, who neither want to amend their life nor show their faith by good works, who only reckon themselves professors of Christ with regard to the name.

Article VI

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper takes away Sins (Two Sacred Rites: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and their Administration and Effect). In the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we follow the institution of Christ and the early church and we confess all our sins to be taken away through baptism and the grace of God to be offered and in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ to be truly exhibited beneath the bread and the wine. Moreover, we desire that the institution of Christ in both sacraments be celebrated and administered in the native language, in a manner which befits reverence, and in the same rite and form in all the churches. We condemn those who diminish original sin, and those who assert that infants are not to be baptized. Likewise we condemn the violators of the institution of Christ and the profaners of the Lord’s Supper, and those who withdraw the other element (speciem) from the laity and the lawful use of the Lord’s Supper, and turn it into the dreadful buyings and sellings and abominations of the Mass. Likewise we condemn all blasphemers, who call this institution of Christ, which exists in our churches, a diabolical mass. Peter therefore commands that this blasphemy be addressed and that such blasphemers are to be punished (2 Pet. 2:12).

Article VII

(Concerning the dead saints who are to be honored by the imitation of their good works, the duties of their calling and love, not by calling on them [invocationis]). We honor the saints departed from the flesh with the honor of imitation, that is, we do not put the confidence of our heart in them nor do we beseech their assistance; moreover we imitate their faith and the good works of their calling and love. We praise God in his saints and give thanks to him because he has set them forth as examples of mercy and faith. For we praise those saints, that they have dutifully employed the gifts of God for the edification of the church and have given forth light by their good works. We condemn those who transfer the trust owed to Christ to the saints and call on (invocant) them.

Article VIII

We confess four degrees of Christian liberty (Degrees of Christian Liberty). First, that we may be free from the wrath of God, from the condemnation of the law, from (the penalty) of sin and eternal death on account of Christ. Second, (that we may be free) in the perils of the world by the Holy Spirit given to us and be sustained in all our trials, lest being overcome by the magnitude of affliction we forsake the gospel. Third, as it pertains to justification, that we are set free from all the works of the law; but as it pertains to obedience, we are not set free from morals. Fourth, we are free from all the traditions of the world, rituals and constitutions of bishops which they require as burdens of consciences, as if it is necessary for worship. The rest of their customs which are directly required as necessary to worship may be observed in Christian piety for the sake of good order. We approve observing these in Christian liberty.

Article IX

(Concerning threefold Confession; and Why should Auricular Confession be retained in the Church? Regarding the three Reasons: [1] on account of Doctrine; [2] Consolation; [3] Absolution.) We assert a threefold confession, divine, fraternal and auricular. We say that the divine and fraternal are by divine right (iuris divini), not likewise the auricular. Moreover even if we do not require the enumeration of sins in auricular confession, partly because of the impossibility, partly because of the burden of consciences, nevertheless we think it is to be retained in the church on account of its threefold usefulness: doctrine, consolation and absolution, nor do we admit anyone to communion otherwise.

Article X

(Concerning the Head of the Church, who is Christ, and the Ordinary Succession of Bishops.) Our adversaries slander us that we are without a head, leader and order. Truly we confess, Christ is in truth the head of the church, whose members we believe ourselves to be. Likewise we honor the rulers and political magistrates and from the Word of God we affectionately regard their duties and (render them) obedience in those things which do not injure the glory of God. Nor are we without order. For there is a certain order of pastors, ministers and hearers according to that (passage): he gave some apostles, pastors and teachers, lest they be carried about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:11, 14). Moreover, even if we do not observe the same order everywhere in hymns and ecclesiastical songs, nevertheless in doctrine, by absolution and administration of the sacraments, we observe one order and the same rite. Nor do we differ much in celebrating festivals in this region; thus without reason are we condemned and slandered by our adversaries.

Article XI

(Why do we depart from the Ordinary Succession of Bishops? From the Command of God.) Our adversaries slander us (that we) depart from the ordinary succession of bishops. We do not do that without the command of God. For as often as the light of the gospel is extinguished in the ordinary succession, it is necessary to seek another doctrine, as it is said: “if anyone teaches another gospel, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:9). Therefore we testify to God that we gladly desire to listen to bishops and to show obedience to them, provided that they do not depart from the gospel. But since they have both corrupted pure doctrine and profaned the legitimate administration of the sacraments, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Thus we condemn those who bind the church to the ordinary succession of bishops, as if they themselves surpass by divine right (iure divino) other ministers of the gospel and as if the church were a human polity. Likewise we condemn those also who say that among those who have no ruling bishops by ordinary succession, ordination is null, the ministry is null, and public affairs are null, since the church has not been fixed to a certain place, or a certain succession of persons, just as Christ clearly says, when he declares: “behold here is Christ or there (he is), do not believe it” (Mt. 24:23). Likewise: “the kingdom of God does not come with observation” (Lk. 17:20), rather the church of God has been bound to the Word of God only.

Article XII

(Consensus on the Articles of the Augustana Confession.) In the remaining articles, we agree with the true church, as it stands in the confession of faith of Augustana, presented to the most invincible ever august Emperor, Charles V.[15]

Select List of Sources

Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (2002) 271-80.

Eberhard Busch et al, Reformierte Bekenntnisschriften. Bd. 1/2 1535-1549 (2006) 428-38 (Nagyvárad) and 439-48 (Erdőd).

David P. Daniel, “Hungary,” in The Early Reformation in Europe, ed. by Andrew Pettegree (1992) 49-69.

“Calvinism in Hungary: the theological and ecclesiastical transition to the Reformed faith,” in Calvinism in Europe, 1540-1620 (1994) 205-30.

Denes Dienes, “Reformation in Hungary before Mohacs,” in Not Omitting the Weightier Matters, ed. by Kent Matthews (2002) 174-91.

G. R. Elton, The New Cambridge Modern History: The Reformation (1958) 191-99.

R. J. W. Evans, “Calvinism in East Central Europe: Hungary and Her Neighbors,” in International Calvinism 1541-1715, ed. by Menne Prestwich (1985) 167-86.

Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation (1996), passim.

Peter Katalin, “Hungary,” in The Reformation in National Context, ed. by Bob Scribner et al (1994) 155-67.

Graeme Murdock, “International Calvinism and inter-confessional relations in Transylvania,” in Proceedings of the Commission Internationale d’Histoire Ecclesiastique Comparee. Part 3: Churches and Confession in East Central Europe in Modern Times (1999) 156-63.

“Calvinist catechizing and Hungarian Reformed identity,” in Confessional Identity in East-Central Europe, ed. by Maria Crăciun et al (2002) 81-98.

Calvinism on the Frontier 1600-1660: International Calvinism and the Reformed Church in Hungary and Transylvania (2000).

B. J. Spruyt, “‘En bruit d’estre bonne luteriene’: Mary of Hungary (1505-58) and Religious Reform.” English Historical Review  109 (1994): 275-307.

Istvávan György Tóth, “Old and New Faith in Hungary, Turkish Hungary, and Transylvania,” in A Companion to the Reformation World, ed. by R. Po-chia Hsia (2004) 205-20.

Kálmán D. Tóth, “The Helvetic Reformation in Hungary,” in John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World, ed. by W. Stanford Reid (1982) 139-69.

William Toth, “Trinitarianism versus Antitrinitarianism in the Hungarian Reformation.” Church History 13/4 (1944): 255-68.

“Highlights of the Hungarian Reformation.” Church History 9/2 (1940): 141-56.

Alexander S. Unghváry. The Hungarian Protestant Reformation in the Sixteenth Century under the Ottoman Impact (1989).

George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (3rd edition, 2000).

Krista Zach, “Protestant vernacular catechisms and religious reform in sixteenth-century east-central Europe,”  in Confessional Identity in East-Central Europe, ed. by Maria Crăciun et al (2002) 49-63.

[1] Ferdinand even had connections through his own wife, Anna (1503-1547), sister of Louis II.

[2] The young Corvin was the illegitimate son of Matthias/Mátyás Corvinus (1443-1490) and his liason, Barbara Edelpöck (†1495). Matthias married Beatrix/Beatrice of Aragón (Naples) (1457-1508) in 1476, but she gave him no children. On his death in 1490, she married Władysław Jagiello (1456-1516), King of Bohemia, but the match ended in divorce in 1499. For the complex history of this family, see Jörg K. Hoensch, Matthias Corvinus: Diplomat, Feldherr und Mäzen (1998) and Volker Honemann, “The Marriage of Matthias Corvinus to Beatrice of  Aragón (1476) in Urban and Court Historiography,” in Princes and Princely Culture 1450-1650, ed. by M. Gosman, A. MacDonald and A. Vanderjagt (2005) 2:213-26.

[3] The online database, Az Országos Széchényi Könyvtár adatbázisai, displays both the Basel and the Nürnberg imprints. The “Principle Articles of Christian Doctrine” should be compared with his 52 Theses (Rudimenta salutis).

[4] Bucsay and Csepregi list two editions, both published in Krakau (1538 and 1549); cf. Mihály Bucsay and Zoltán Csepregi, “Einleitung,” Thesen das Pfarrkonvents in Nagyvárad (Großwardein) 1544, in Busch, Reformierte Bekenntnisschriften, 1/2, 1535-1549 (2006), 431, n. 4. Unghváry suggests the title was Explanation of the Ten Commandments (p. 136).

[5] John Honter/Johann Honterus (1498-1549), so-called ‘Luther of Transylvania’, brought the Reformation to Siebenbürgen in the 1530s. He wrote a church order in 1542 entitled Formula reformationis Coronensis ac Barcensis totius provinciae (“Formula of Reformation for the whole Province of Corona [Kronstadt/Brassó, Brasov in modern Rumania] and Barcena [Barcaság in modern Rumania]”). The document was translated into German and published as Kirchenordnung aller Deutschen in Siebenbürgen (“Church Order for all Germans in Transylvania”) in 1547. This publication was a Lutheran church polity in 19 articles and became known as “the catechism” of the Saxons in Transylvania. NB: it was not a Confession of Faith, nor a Catechism strictly so-called.

[6] Cf. the full discussion in Mihály Bucsay and Zoltán Csepregi, “Einleitung,” Thesen das Pfarrkonvents in Nagyvárad (Großwardein) 1544, in Busch, Reformierte Bekenntnisschriften, 1/2, 1535-1549 (2006), 428-32, esp. 431f.

[7] The complete list is found in “Erdődi Első Zsinat,” by Áron Kiss, Magyar Református Zsinatok Végzései (1881) 15. This portion of Kiss’s volume also contains the text of the Erdőd Confession in Hungarian/Magyar (pp. 9-14).

[8]   Also known as Confessio Montana of 1558 when it was republished and adopted by a Synod at Kremnitz (Körmöcbánya, Kremnica in modern Slovakia) in 1559. It was the work of Ulrich Cubicularius in response to the implementation of the Canons of the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent (1545-1563) by Archbishop Nicholaus Oláh/Olahus (1493-1568) of Esztergom (Gran).

[9] The Latin text is printed in Busch, Reformierte Bekenntnisschriften, 1/2, 1535-1549 (2006), 435-38. See footnote 13 below for the parameters of my translation. My thanks to Dr. Frank Gumerlock for his helpful suggestions with the Latin translations.

[10] The citation provided in Busch’s text (footnote 2, p. 435) indicates Heb. 10:14. This is clearly incorrect as the following note demonstrates.

[11] The gloss (b) above Heb. 10:12 (hic autem unam pro peccatis offerens hostiam, “but he offering one sacrifice for sins”) reads: Christus cuius hostia sufficiens est (“Christ whose sacrifice is sufficient”). Nicholas adds a note (9) quae sufficit ad delendum omnem culpam commissam, & committendam (“which suffices for blotting out all sin committed and to be committed”); cf. Nicholas of Lyra, Biblia Sacra cum Glossa Ordinaria (1617) 6:908. The Latin text cited by Nagyvárad reads: ad delendam omnem culpam commissam et committendam.

[12] Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 3 a. I, 4 (Blackfriars, 1976) 22-23.

[13] The Latin text is printed in Busch, Reformierte Bekenntnisschriften, 1/2, 1535-1549 (2006), 443-48. This is the text which I have translated below. I have not incorporated the variant readings found in the footnotes of this edition (except to render the alternative summaries of the Articles in parentheses at the opening of each); rather I have provided an English version of the text which the editors have featured.

[14] The citation is from the Athanasian Creed; cf. lines 3 and 27 of the Symbolum Quicunque vult in J. N. D. Kelly, The Athanasian Creed (1964) 17, 19; also P. Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 2:66, 68.

[15] This is the Augsburg Confession of 1530 as the Hungarian text indicates; cf. Kiss, op. cit., 14.