The tragic developments in Hungary have involved a large and flourishing Protestant community there. Twenty-eight percent of the population is Protestant; of these, twenty percent are Reformed and six percent Lutheran. They have been suffering with their compatriots in the recent attempt to throw off Soviet domination and gain freedom.

Saga Of Suffering

Suffering is not a new experience for Hungarian Protestantism, however. Its history is a moving tale of glory and of woe. It is glorious because of the eagerness with which a large majority of the population at one time accepted the Reformation of the sixteenth century; because of the centers of learning which it founded and has maintained for centuries; because of its impact upon Magyar culture; and because of its loyalty to the faith through centuries of oppression and persecution. It is a tale of woe because of the almost incredible sufferings imposed upon its adherents by Turk and Romanist who expressed only contempt, in those centuries, for the Word of God and the re-forming people who sought to live by it.

The historian d’Aubigne writes that “it was by a kind of thunderclap that the Reformation began in Hungary.” Its spread was so rapid that within a few years, by 1525, the five royal, free cities in upper Hungary had already embraced the faith re-formed according to God’s Word. The following year, however, the first note was struck in a melancholy strain which threatened to develop into the funeral dirge of Hungarian Protestantism. For on the fateful twenty-ninth day of August, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Turkish Sultan who was to cause all Europe to tremble, killed the Hungarian King, the flower of the nobility, a long line of aristocrats, and annihilated the Hungarian army. The reverberations of the battle of Mohacs were heard in every hamlet and peasant home in the country and served as an ominous warning of difficulties ahead. For more than a century and a half the Turks dominated most of the country and the flower of Hungary’s youth and manhood sought to stem the Moslem advance and save Europe.

A more severe persecution, however, was experienced at the hands of Jesuit and Hapsburg representing respectively ecclesiastical and secular imperialism both of which were in the service of Rome. Whereas Turkish masters fought their battles for the glory of Allah, the other, more devastating, oppression was done in the name of Jesus and might well have destroyed the easternmost European rampart of Reformation Christianity had not the Prussian, English and Dutch governments intervened in its behalf. Cut off from the rest of Protestant Europe, with the help of God and occasional help from fellow Protestants, the Magyars maintained a virile evangelical witness.

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Ravages Of War

A reading of the history of the Magyar Reformed Church enables one to understand how it could survive during the past two decades of our era. Raped and looted by the vast armies of two powerful countries, Germany and Russia, during World War II, Hungary’s condition became tragic. The lurid details can be read in such reliable reports as those of the Swiss Legation in Budapest which state, in part, that, when the Soviet armies occupied the country in the spring of 1945, rape was “so general—from the age of ten up to seventy years—that few women in Hungary escaped this fate.” Almost every home, every shop, was entered and looted several times with almost everything of value taken. In that agricultural country there was hardly a domestic animal, a wagon, or a piece of farm machinery to be found. Factories were stripped but a $300,000,000 reparations debt was demanded of the prostrate country, the debt, according to John F. Montgomery, United States Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Hungary, actually amounting to $1,100,000,000 because the currency exchange rate was specified as that of 1938 and a five percent a month penalty for delay in delivery was imposed. During the war two complete harvests had been lost and the Central European drought of 1947 ruined most of that one. The one bright spot in this picture was the witness of the Church in Hungary. Throughout the struggle there had been faithful preaching of the Word of God. The Reformed community heeded the advice of its presiding superintendent who exhorted it, ringed about with apparently insuperable difficulties, to look “inward and upward.” In May, 1947, the Synod of the Reformed Church solemnly declared that, in view of the circumstances through which its members had passed, all who desired to retain church membership should re-affirm their faith with the following declaration:

I give thanks to God, my heavenly Father, for receiving me into His Holy Church, into the communion of the believers of Jesus Christ, through the sacrament of baptism. I remember also my profession and vow made at confirmation through which I gained admittance into the communicant fellowship of the congregation. And now, in order to become a full-fledged member of the Church and as a renewal of my confirmation vow, I declare before God and this congregation, that I desire to be a loyal, obedient, and self-sacrificing member of the Reformed Church. For this reason I promise and pledge that I shall attend regularly the services of worship and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; that I shall submit to ecclesiastical discipline; that I shall rear my children of the Reformed faith in that faith; and that I shall participate in the material support of my Church and in her benevolences according to my ability. In all these resolves I pray for the effective help of God’s Holy Spirit.
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This unprecedented action of the Synod was a potent factor in the strengthening of Hungary’s evangelical witness. Reporting on that witness, Dr. Stewart W. Herman, in an address to the Lutheran World Action conference, stated that Hungary was “experiencing the greatest religious revival to be found in all Europe.” The effort to put the Church back on its feet in the thick of the struggle, the speaker said, is “the hope of Europe.”

Protestant Valor

The tragedy of that struggle has deepened in these last days and Hungarian Protestantism lies in agony with the rest of the country. The complete story we do not yet know. But we do know that much of the leadership of the Small-landholders Party, overthrown in the revolution of 1948, hated by the victorious Communists, and active in the most recent revolt, came from the Protestant Church.

In 1848, an even century before the Communist coup, there was another great war for independence with a finale similar to that which we have just witnessed. Led by a Protestant, Louis Kossuth, Hungary’s greatest patriot, that effort to achieve freedom from foreign domination seemed assured of success until crushed by the might of Russia which, then as now, feared the popular demands for freedom by suppressed peoples. Again it has been Russia the Communist rulers of which, by their own admission, have liquidated millions of their own countrymen to consolidate their power which has steam-rollered the heroic, and pathetic, Hungarian quest for freedom.

In a moving address delivered a decade ago, Dr. Charles Vincze, leading Hungarian-American pastor now deceased, closed with these words:

The Magyars of the past stormy centuries, while defending their own way of life and that of the Western World, against the onrushing hordes of Mohammed, used the Savior’s name for a battle cry. ‘Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!’ they shouted, while facing the onslaught and laying down their lives for a West that never really knew or appreciated them or even cared to do so. In spite of all the unfavorable experiences of the past, all the Magyars that are really Magyars turn once more toward the West and in the name of Jesus ask for the kind of life which they so self-sacrificingly helped to preserve for the West.
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That request has become a cry. It is a cry from a Hungary which today is in the throes of death. The free world has heard it. May God give us the courage and strength to respond.

M. Eugene Osterhaven, Th.D., is Professor of Systematic Theology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Mich.

We Quote:


President of the United States

… Our minds and hearts turn to Almighty God, in grateful acknowledgment of His mercies throughout the year.… It is also fitting at this season that we should consider God’s providence to us throughout our entire history.… Humbly aware that we are a people greatly blessed, both materially and spiritually, let us pray this year not only in the spirit of thanksgiving but also as suppliants for God’s guidance, to the end that we may follow the course of righteousness and be worthy of His favor.… Let all of us, of whatever creed, foregather in our respective places of worship to give thanks to God and prayerful contemplation to those eternal truths and universal principles of Holy Scripture which have inspired such treasures of true greatness as this Nation has achieved.—From President Eisenhower’s 1956 Thanksgiving proclamation.

Douglas Macarthur

Commander, Occupational Forces in Japan, 1945–51

I called upon America for Bibles. An offer of a hundred thousand was raised by me to ten million with an ultimate figure of three times that number.… Although I am of Caesar, I did try to render unto God that which was his. And I even dare to hope that through this resurgence of religion, Japan will in the struggle that lies ahead be indissolubly confirmed against any whose doctrines embrace the deadly poison of atheism. It might prove more potent than bullets or bayonets or bombs—or even bread.—In an address, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Jan. 26, 1955.

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