Principles for Survival of Unitarianism in György Enyedi’s Sermons.


Presentation of Dr. Imre Gellérd’s (1920-1980) work[1]

by Dr. Judit Gellérd

Enyedi György Conference, Kolozsvár, September 2-7, 1997


                 György Enyedi's life belongs to the sixteenth century and yet he differs in essential ways from that period.  The cause of that difference was a new historical situation by the end of that century.

                 Ferenc Dávid and his contemporaries had been in conflict with Protestant dogmatism.  A new adversary now arose:  Catholicism. Calvinism, albeit impatient and prejudiced, was nevertheless a Protestant trend itself and thus it recognized and allowed the spiritual rights of the individual to be expressed.   In contrast, the Counter-Reformation with its totalitarian approach, disallowed alternative spiritual expressions, and the means of power prevailed.  The task of the pulpit was no longer to search for truth by dialectical methods, but reduced to preservation [maintenance] and protection undergirded by a new attitude:   passive resistance.

                 The many wars and inward struggles during the reign of the Báthorys, and the incalculable destruction of Tartar and Turkish invasions, impoverished the country.  As a consequence, a moral deterioration ensued.  Ministers were faced with new tasks.  Theologizing was replaced by moralizing and that tendency was maintained in Unitarian sermonic literature until the nineteenth century.

                 Instead of a scholar, the minister became primarily a pastor who kept the flock together and a prophet who chastised it, similar to those of the Old Testament prophets:  ". . . the Lord visits them so often because of their many sins."  Repent so that God may put an end to our sufferings.

2.  His Sermons

                 During the ten years of his ministry, Enyedi wrote more than 300 sermons, but only one of them was allowed to be published--his sermon for the funeral of Demeter Hunyadi.  However, Enyedi's sermons were copied and circulated among his students.  Uzoni Fosztó and Kénosi Tözsér mention that Enyedi's sermons were widely disseminated throughout Transylvania.  The analyzed sermons are from the Sárospatak codex, transferred to Kolozsvár by Ferenc Kanyaró in 1898. The codex is incomplete, whole fascicles fell victim to religious intolerance.  After all, according to Elek Jakab, ". . . more than one hundred contemporaries wrote against Enyedi.” (Elek Jakab:  "The life of György Enyedi"--Keresztény Magvetö 25, 242).  We will analyze the remaining 66 sermons of this volume that Kanyaró reviewed.

                 One of the most important pieces in the codex is the ninety-forth sermon.  Starting from the text "Fear not, little flock . . ." (Luke 12:32) he concluded that the history of Transylvania was the story of the Old Testament repeated.


Therefore, the truth of a religion does not depend upon the multitudes . . .  The argument of those who attempt to demonstrate the falsity of our Unitarian faith simply because we are few is wrong . . .  Their argument is just as false as another accusation:  that our new faith was born yesterday.


Both charges came from the Catholics and Enyedi passionately fought against them.  Quantity was an argument neither for genuineness nor for value.


There is much of dust and of weeds, but there is little of gold . . . Therefore, one who is wise will trust neither the multitudes, nor abundance, but will retain one's appreciation for rarity.   There are many flakes of flint but few of diamond.


                At the end of the sixteenth century Enyedi was already fully aware that the Unitarian church could survive the coming storms of Transylvanian history only if it accepted quality as its life-principle.  With a prophetic vitality, Enyedi emphasized how important it was for each Unitarian to become conscious of that idea.  Until the nineteenth century no one perceived and highlighted the qualitative values of Unitarianism more clearly than Enyedi.  No one focused with such convincing power upon the central character of the Unitarian personality: Quality-centered self esteem.   This new awareness introduced by Enyedi was a protective shield for Francis David’s ideas during the centuries to come.

                The prophetic dimension of the sermon was made secure by the conditions under which Enyedi preached it, that is, at a time when the majority of Transylvania was Unitarian.  Although he could have reminded his people of their power of being a majority;  instead he admonished them to be prepared for the great fight of the tomorrows, because, though ". . . we are not as few as our enemies propagate . . . yet it is indispensable for us to be aware and to feel that on the larger scale of religious conviction we Unitarians represent quality."

                Enyedi’s concern for the future of the Unitarian ideas and that of Transylvania was intertwined.   His struggle to reinstitute genuine Christianity was not formal.  He placed idealism into a historic time-frame, into the hic et nunc.  Enyedi’s main concern was not how many God's there were, but what is going to happen to Transylvania and to Unitarianism.  He planted Jesus' religious ideals reintroduced by Ferenc Dávid, into the everyday life of Transylvania.  And because that life was harsh and depressing, the ardor of those ideas was moderated, subtle.  In fact, there was a compromise--a compromise of the ideal with the empirical reality.  Therefore, Enyedi's personality may be characterized as being an amalgamation of Ferenc Dávid and the empirical life of Transylvania.  The compromise of Enyedi became one of the basic conditions for the survival of Unitarianism.

                In the fourth volume of the collection of Kolozsvár there are tow sermons we use to illustrate another principle of Unitarianism that Enyedi emphasized:  religious tolerance.

               1.  The text of the two-hundredth sermon (centurae primae triacas septima)  is from Romans 14:1:  "As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions."   Those who were still immature in faith, were to be treated in a special way, Enyedi warns:


Receive them into your company and show them your love and benevolence and, even more important, don't bother and tire them with hard disputations. 


                Enyedi fought against the custom of religious conversions.  He denounced aristocrats who easily abandoned their faith because of material interests.


We have reached the point when we are being reproached for our small number and this is because of apostasy.  Day by day people convert to Calvinism or Catholicism just to get an office.  Therefore, no one should reproach our congregations for their small number in contrast to the multitude of others.  Truth often belongs to the few.  Anyone wanting to leave, let them go.  If one, two, ten, a hundred or a thousand apostatize, twelve will always remain.  But we should not be delude even by them.  Let people run to and fro in the door of the church.


                Enyedi was aware that those who confessed their faith had at all times been treated harshly.  That was why he lamented:  "Where, if anywhere, has persecution and derision of true knowledge and its teachers been greater than among us?   Yet this has been the fate of all who have carried the truth ever since the Lord Christ."  Enyedi intuitively experienced the virtue of martyrdom.  There was nothing more magnificent than accepting suffering, and enduring derision for the sake of true faith and honor.

                Enyedi was convinced that time was not the criterion of value. Values are independent of space, time and conscience:  "Not everything that is old is good, just as not everything that is new is false."   In order to form a realistic Unitarian historical conscience, it was indispensable to gain general acceptance for this really new idea.  At the turn of the century only those were able to remain in Unitarianism who deeply lived the two fundamental concepts formulated by Enyedi:


1.  Value is not privileged to the multitude.

        2.  Value is independent of temporal factors.


Ferenc Dávid posited the principles of Unitarianism, Enyedi determined the conditions for maintaining that faith.


3.  Characterization of György Enyedi's Activity as a Preacher

                Enyedi was the greatest Hungarian preacher at the end of the sixteenth century.  He was an original thinker and a deeply spiritual man.  His educational impact on the whole period is indisputable.  He was an extraordinary rhetorician and, in addition, his sermons were colorful, interesting and dynamic.  After a period characterized only by polemic and dogmatic preaching, Enyedi's sermons felt like a warm and fragrant spring following a rigorous winter.

                Enyedi was entirely a man of his age.  His sermons are an accurate mirror in which the history of the end of the sixteenth century is reflected.

                In subject matter, they can be categorized into four groups: social, moral, apologetic and occasional sermons.

                1.  The sermons with social character represent a decade of Transylvanian history, filtered through a living conscience.  Enyedi deeply and passionately lived the Transylvanian destiny.  There were times when he was in tears like Jeremiah and other times when he struck with Elijah's lightening.  Sometimes he admired that horribly beautiful Transylvanian life and other times he quarreled with the Lord.  In this group of sermons we can recognize the features of the Báthorys and the bloody marks of the Turkish-Tartar-Austrian triple peril.  The ardor of his patriotism was surpassed only by his affectionate, heroic Unitarian faith and his immense knowledge.  It offers a special experience to read the series of seven sermons which he wrote in the year of Transylvania's downfall.  Every sermon was a painful yet not disheartened cry.  Enyedi was interested in all the aspects of social life.  He was aware that there was a uniquely potent power which holds people together:  A pure morality and its source, a clear faith.  This very social character was what always kept his sermons timely.  And yet this constant timeliness never blurred the pure Christian idealism before his eyes.  He unsparingly scourged certain political and social innovations.

                2. In his moralizing sermons Enyedi dealt with the problems of humanity.  He was convinced that, by the law of a moral world order, the cause of all suffering was sin and moral corruption.  He opposed indifference, conceit, secularization, misery and the indolence which created poverty.  He also criticized war, egotism, the spirit of blind slavery and blindness in faith.  His moralizing sermons also had a prophetic dimension.  He prophesied even greater sufferings for the people of Transylvania who would not repent.

                Enyedi's main subject was humanity.  Humanity was not an abstract notion for him but an experiential reality taken from flesh and blood.  When he dealt with humanity, he was not attracted by theology; rather, he psychologized.  His favorite subject was the human character.  The difference between him and Ferenc Dávid was that while the great religious founder was absorbed by the ideal human, Enyedi presented the concrete human nature and everyday tasks of the people.  Dávid examined the human from above, Enyedi face to face.  If Dávid had discovered humanity, Enyedi put it into the flow of real life and beheld it as such.  He criticized humanity, and scourged it but not because he did not believe in humans.  Quite the contrary, he did so because his trust was so great.   "What a strange being the human is . . .," he exclaimed in the ninety-seventh sermon, ". . . in misery he grieves, complains, humiliates himself.  But as soon as luck smiles on him a little, he behaves as if horses have run away with him."  Enyedi was not only realistic in describing the people, he was often quite naturalistic, especially when he revealed people's moral faults with biting irony.  For example, this very naturalistic outburst:  "I do think that more people would come to listen to the sermon if good wines, roasted meat, and big dishes were served along with it."

                The important thing for Enyedi was not what one believed but what one accomplished.  "Not the creed is important but the deed."  Deeds not only meant charitable activities but also included the whole of the human attitude.  "Your outward behaviors are being judged both by God and people."  It was not, coincidentally, an usual phrase with him:  "It doesn't become you, my brother, to do that."             

                3.  His apologetic sermons were not polemics, but rather apologetics in the modern sense of the term.  He did not focus on discrediting an opponent but rather demonstrated the superiority of the Unitarian articles of faith. (The Szilvássi polemic is an exception).  His opponents had been Roman Catholics and he felt superior to them.  This seems natural because he was the preeminent theologian in Transylvania during his lifetime.  Gifted with apologetical sense, Enyedi did not dogmatize but he used the simple, practical contradictions occurring in society as illustrations.  His slogan was:  "Similar can be convinced with similar."  His apologetic sermons were saturated with inner tension.  Enyedi was deeply concerned about the contemporary problems of society and about the tribulations of his church.

                4.  From among the occasional sermons we have already dealt with funeral messages.  The collection also contains sermons for weddings.  For example, in the eighth sermon he condemns the wedding custom of drinking and excessive revelry.  These sermons were not quite liturgical, but rather toasts.  "Drinking, fault-finding, gossip, music, all these bring a curse upon the marriage rather than a blessing."  We learn from one of the sermons that during the blessing of the marriage the hands of the young couple were clasped.

                As an orator, Enyedi was imposing in the pulpit.  Máté Toroczkai wrote of him:  "Nobody was more beloved in the pulpit."  Uzoni Fosztó noted:  "Oh, you, faithful pastor who gives your soul for your flock!"  Elek Jakab's characterization was:  "Enyedi was all fire and life.  His whole life was a tempestuous struggle with ideas and deeds.  Brave ideas and strong passions met in him;  an eager desire for truth and light was his noble passion."   In another place Jakab's description:  "He was a priest to his church and a prophet to his homeland."

                In his style Enyedi surpassed his period and became the "master" of the next centuries.  His sermons opened a new age in the history of the sermonic literature of Unitarianism, from the viewpoints of both content and style.  The shining light of his outstanding spirit was deeply needed: the chronicler crying out about the time that would follow.





[1] Imre Gellérd was a Transylvanian Unitarian minister-scholar, a martyr of political persecution under the Romanian communist regime.  In his doctoral dissertaion: The Intellectual History of Four Centuries Transylvanian Unitarianism as reflected in the Sermonic Literature, Gellérd has conceived of a new discipline within Practical Theology, that of the history of sermonic literature. Because of political reason, Imre Gellérd received his posthumous doctorate with a 25 years delay, in 1996.  This presentation is an edited chapter of this work., translated by his daughter, Dr. Judit Gellérd.