The Reformation in Lower Baranya
“The significance of the Reformation lies not only in that which it effected in the 16th century but more so in that it cleared the way to the possibility of perpetual reform. It revealed the direct path to the connection between iniquitous man and God through Christ without the mediation of clerical ranks, saints or other intermediaries. Instead of salvational accoutrements of practical character such as holy mass, sacraments, relics and kermis, the Reformation designated man’s most personal activity, that being faith, as the path to grace and salvation. Instead of separate clerical rank and priestly hierarchy, it declared the believers to have equal responsibility in the evolution of the Church. It endeavoured to ensure full personal participation for everyone in all spiritual activity and it placed before everyone’s sight as the eternal standard the Scriptures and the life and practice of the ancient Christian Church described therein.” (Mihály Bucsay)
Some five hundred years ago, Mihály Sztária was the first propagator of the new teaching in the southern reaches of the Kingdom of Hungary, in Baranya and Slavonia,. With his sermons and his distinctly beautiful hymns he was able to convert the people near and wide.
In the wake of Mihály Sztárai’s and Gergely Szentantali’s endeavours, there were close to one hundred twenty Reformed-faith congregations functioning in Lower Baranya and Slavonia by the 1540s. In one of his letters pertaining to this, Sztária writes the following in 1551: “Seven years have now passed that while under Turkish occupation, I began to preach, by the will of God, the Word of the Lord in the city of Laskó and from here to beyond the Danube and Dráva Rivers, with the help of the Holy Spirit and of several brothers who came to the Lord’s bountiful harvest of already over-ripened grain, I established one hundred twenty congregations. In each of these the Word of the Lord is being preached and accepted with one interpretation and with such great purity that many have declared as not having seen better organized congregations than these even among those where the Word of the Lord has been preached for close to thirty years. This is the work of the Lord and incredible in our sight.”
In the years when Illés Veresmarti was bishop, these congregations and those along the banks of the Danube in the counties of Tolna, Fejér and Pest held a general synod meeting in Hercegszőllős on 16-17 August 1576. It was here that a set of 46 articles to regulate Church administration was approved and is known today as the Canon of Hercegszőllős. Throughout the centuries this charter has been the institutional, organizational and operational basis for the adherents of the Reformed faith in Lower Baranya.
The very first translation into Hungarian of the entirety of the Scriptures was completed by the Reformed Church pastor of Gönc, Gáspár Károlyi, and his colleagues. The completed work was printed in Vizsoly in 1589-90 under the direction of printing-press master Bálint Mantskovits. A copy of the printing press used in Vizsoly can now be seen in the church of the Reformed Church congregation of Kopács, the centre of the Hungarian Reformed Christian Church of Croatia.