Saturday, November 15, 2014

Egy Az Isten

435 years ago, Ferenc Dávid died in the prison in Déva, Transylvania, convicted of the crime of "innovation."  The anniversary of his death is marked as a holy day within the Unitarian tradition in Transylvania. 

Dávid Ferenc  — or, as he is known in the west, Francis Dávid  — was born into a world of religious conflict. The 16th century was a time of great religious upheaval. The Protestant Reformation was shaking the very foundations of western civilization. Religion and politics were so heavily intermingled that theological disputes often had as much to do with temporal power as they did with transcendent realities. The unity of the Christian church was torn apart: now there were Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists. New sects sprang up everyday and with more or less vehemence defended new ideas; old traditions fought back.

The concept of a separation of church and state did not yet exist and, so, these different religious traditions were often also backed by the power of the state.  It was a dangerous time for religious seekers.  In 1531, when Dávid was in his early 20s, the Spanish theologian Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in Calvin’s Geneva with a copy of his book On the Errors of the Trinity tied to his leg (so that if he accidentally got to heaven there'd be no mistaking that he belonged in hell).

Dávid began life as a Catholic, eventually becoming a priest. As he encountered the ideas and ideals of the Reformation he embraced them converting, first, to the Lutheran movement, then, to the Swiss Reformed movement (which followed Calvin), and, finally, to Unitarianism. It tells you a lot about this man that he rose to the rank of bishop in each of these reformist traditions.

In 1568  the King of Transylvania, King John Sigismund, called together proponents of the major religions being practiced at that time in his kingdom -- Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Unitarians.  He gave each an opportunity to argue for the primacy of their tradition.  Dávid argued persuasively not only for the specific doctrine of Unitarianism, but for the freedom, reason, and acceptance which were the underlying principles of the movement. After this public debate, Dávid became the court preacher to King Sigismund, and had much to do with the king’s issuance of the Edict of Toleration which says, in part:
 “. . . in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel, each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well; if not, no one shall compel them, for their souls would not be satisfied . . . but they should be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall annoy or abuse the preachers on account of their religion . . . [nor] allow any to be imprisoned or punished by removal from his post on account of his teaching, for faith is the gift of God.”
Dávid was not the first to argue for Unitarian ideals, of course.  During the period of the "Christological Controversy," great church debates at the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople in 325 and 328 , the Unitarian, or Anti-Trinitarian, position was argued strongly, although it eventually lost out to the concept of the Trinity which became orthodox teaching. Yet this notion that “God is one” never completely went away, and throughout the centuries it resurfaced in various forms with such names as Ebionism, Sabellianism, Samosatenianism, Arianism, Photinianism, Socianism, and Unitarianism. Theologians such as Arius, Servitus, and Socinus argued its cause; communities like that founded in Raków, Poland in the mid-1500s sought to live by its principles. Yet it can be argued that it was in Transylvania that a Untarian church -- as an institution -- was born, and Dávid was its first bishop.

Dávid's theological understandings and teachings continued to evolve, and that's where he got into trouble.  After Sigismund's death, the tenor of Transylvania changed.  While there could be no rolling back of the religious freedom that had flourished there, Sigismund's successors declared that there could be no new teachings.  That things had to remain as they were.  Dávid -- Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Unitarian Dávid -- could not more limit himself to his understandings of yesterday as he could stop breathing and, so, he was eventually arrested, tried, and convicted for "innovation."

As Unitarian Universalists today, we are heirs to this man's legacy.  May we do it proud.

Egy as Isten ... God is one.

Paxt tecum,


Print this post


arthurrashap said...

How about one next step toward acknowledging and acting in the context that I, you, we, all are ONE?
Arthur R.

RevWik said...

Absolutely, Arthur. The "ten thousand things" are one.

Anonymous said...

"As he encountered the ideas and ideals of the Reformation he embraced them converting, first, to the Lutheran movement, then, to the Swiss Reformed movement (which followed Calvin), and, finally, to Universalism."

Here you say he became a Universalist whereas the rest of your post says he was a Unitarian. Which was he?

RevWik said...

Thanks "Anonymous" for that catch. David did become a Unitarian and not a Universalist ...