Short History of the Unitarian Church

The history of the Unitarian Church has it on record that the Unitarian Reformation began in the year 1565. It was on the 20th of January of that year that Ferenc Dávid gave his first sermon in Unitarian spirit at the present-day St. Michael's Church in Kolozsvár (present-day Cluj).

The year of the foundation of the Unitarian Church was 1568. The Diet of Torda, in session between the 6th and 15th of January of that year, made possible for the Unitarian Church to come into being by ensuring religious toleration and liberty of conscience.

In the first period of its existence, the Church itself was mentioned under various names. The name "Unitarian" originates from the Latin word "unus" and means "a believer in unity". In this year, when the second religious dispute had taken place in Gyulafehérvár, Prince John Sigismund of Transylvania and the writer and printer Gáspár Heltai, known as "the general factotum of the reformation" became supporters of the Unitarian Reformation. This started a process leading to the formulation of the articles of faith in their final form, to the development of the Church organization and to launching Unitarian propaganda.

In 1572, Prince István Báthori, succeeding to the throne after Prince John Sigismund's death, passed an act against the Unitarian Reformation. This act was directed against Ferenc Dávid in particular, who stressed in his doctrine Jesus Christ's human nature, and was thereby against worshipping him. The Diet of Gyulafehérvár, held on 1 and 2 June 1579, in pursuance of the Act against the Unitarian Reformation, sentenced Ferenc Dávid to life imprisonment in a fortress, at a show trial, with the aim of "setting an example to others". He was imprisoned in the castle of Déva, and ended his life there on 15 November 1579.

In 1638, the commision of the Diet in session at Dés forced a new dogma upon the Unitarian Church, accused of Sabbatarianism. The new dogma obliged the Unitarians to worship Jesus as God, their ministers had to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and their books on ecclesiastical matters had to be submitted to the office of the Prince's censor.

The Counter-Reformation, starting in 1691, intended to liquidate the Unitarian Church and, therefore, confiscated its schools and churches.

The 1781 Edict of Toleration allowed the Unitarian Church to continue its developmnet. Between the years 1780 and 1811 38 new churches and schools were built. A book of theology in Latin by Bishop Mihály Szentábrahámi, designed for religious instruction and entitled "A summary of Christian theology according to the Unitarians", was published and László Suki's legacy made possible the erection of a third building for the Academy in Kolozsvár.

In 1821 relations were established with the English Unitarian Church. This allowed for future ministers to continue their studies abroad.

In 1839, the first printed history of the Unitarian Church was published under the title "The beginnings of Unitarianism in Transylvania". The education of ministers on a regular basis was started. A new curriculum and educational system were developed. The building of a Unitarian denominational secondary school was completed in Székelykeresztúr. A theological journal was launched, under the title "Keresztény Magvető" (The Spreader of Christian Faith). The collection of folk songs by Bishop János Kriza, "Briar roses", the account of Balázs Orbán's travels in the Székely land, Domokos Simén's theological works contributed to the great progress towards the goal of joining the main stream of Hungarian literature.

In 1879, in the tercentennary year of Ferenc Dávid's death a commemoration was held. New Unitarian journals appeared in succesion, in 1888 the Unitárius Közlöny (Unitarian Gazette), in 1905 the Unitárius Egyház (Unitarian Church), in 1907 the Unitárius Szószék (Unitarian Tribune), in 1910 the Unitárius Keresztény Népnaptár (Unitarian Popular Christian Calendar), in 1911 the Egyháztársadalom (Society of the Church). In 1910 the Women's Association was founded and, ten years later, the Unitarian Literary Society began its activity.

In 1988, the bequest made in Mózes Berde's "princely" testament offered the unitarian Church the opportunity to build a College in Kolozsvár, which is still functioning.

Unfortunately, the development of the Unitarian Church was interrupted by the Treaty of Versailles, which dismembered Hungary. The Unitarian Church found itself on Romanian territory and was subjected to a Romanian ecclesiastical authority. The Unitarians who had decided to move into Hungarian territory had to develop organizational forms independent of their mother-church.

Miklós Kelemen


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First saved on: January 25, 2000.
Last updated on: February 11, 2000.

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