Guilty nation or unwilling ally? by József Varga Addenda to the history of Hungary and the Danubian basin Part I, 1918-1939

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8. The Catholic revitalization
A multi-faceted and lasting source of change was Catholicism. However, the awakening of Hungarian Catholics – especially Catholic intellectuals – began at the end of the 19th century. The beginning of the awareness was signalled by the formation of Catholic political parties, organizations and groups – numbering 1,444 in 1905. Due to different rate of industrialization, the social tensions that followed the Industrial Revolution did not arise in Hungary until the end of the 19th century. Cardinal János Simor, archbishop of Esztergom (1867-1891), raised the issue of the social problems of the working classes as early as 1880, and again in 1885 in the St. Stephen (István) Association. He stressed that action must be taken to solve these social problems. In awakening and activating the political consciousness of the Catholic camp, special mention must be made of counts Nándor Zichy, Albert Apponyi, Miklós Móric Esterházy and János Molnár, canon of Esztergom.
In 1895, the Catholic People’s Party was formed and in 1905, modelled on the Germany’s Catholic League, the Hungarian Catholic League, also. Both Hungarian political movements took to the field primarily for revisions to laws that contravened Church interests, championed Church autonomy and fought for religious schools, but also championed social justice. It had significant civil and welfare demands: assurance of a minimum standard for the working classes, creation of unions, advancement of credit to small farmers and small industries, and the legal regulation of relationship of employers and employees.
It was in the political schools of the People’s Party and People’s Alliance that the young generation was formed, who, for a period following WWI, assumed a significant role in the political life of the country. Sándor Ernszt, Miklós Griger, István Haller, Károly Huszár, József Vass and Károly Wolf must certainly be remembered, even if, in their political priorities and activities, defence of the national interests and values preceded addressing the social issues. After the two ‘revolutions’ and the events of Trianon, this behavior did not seem entirely unwarranted. In the field of religion, the outstanding personalities of the revitalization, among other, were: Ottokár Prohászka, Count Károly Gusztáv Majláth, Gyula Glattfelder, Béla Bangha, Ferenc Bíró, Tihamér Tóth, János Mészáros and Antal Schütz.
It is the undeniable credit of Sándor Giesswein, papal prelate, politician, writer and publicist, that Christian public opinion was focused on the problems of the working class. In 1898, he founded the Christian Workers League of Győr and Environs (in northwestern Hungary). On July 12, 1903, lawyer Jenő Herényi and People’s Party representative Károly Huszár founded the Christian Workers Social Association in Szombathely (in western Hungary). Both organizations based their aims on the fundamental beliefs of “Rerum Novarum” [Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical of 1891-ed.]. Furthermore, their goals were the nurturing of religious-ethical views, the spiritual and intellectual training of the working class, as well as improving their welfare. In May of 1904, Haller and Huszár started the newspaper of the Social-Democratic movement, the True Word (Igaz Szó). In October of the same year, the National Association of Christian Social Leagues was formed as an outcome of a decision made at the V. Catholic Grand Assembly. They asked Giesswein to head the Association. A year later, the detailed program of the social-democrats was published which contained major demands in the aim and realization of Christian welfare politics. November 10, 1907 was the founding meeting of the National Christian-Socialist Party.
1905 saw the creation of the first Christian labor union. After the end of the short-lived Communist takeover, the 34 Christian labor unions had a membership of 190,464.136 The results achieved by the Christian labor unions were not, however, long lived. In the elections of 1910, only Sándor Giesswein was fortunate enough to enter parliament to represent the Christian-Socialist Party’s agenda. Until his death in 1923, he was the sole representative of the party in the National Assembly, always stressing the need for Christian-Socialist unions to counterbalance the Marxist labor movement. It was not his failing that the early successes of the Christian labor movement proved short-lived, rather, it can be attributed to a shortage of funds and lack of training of the movement’s core operatives. “It [the labor movement-ed.] was only able to realize relatively little of its program due to opposition from the liberal government, and resistance from the wealthy and large landholding classes. … The efforts of Christian-Socialism were also frustrated by the lack of sufficient moral and financial support from the beneficiaries of the large clerical estates.” Also, a negative influence was the jealousy of the Catholic Peoples Party. (From the writings of Sándor Giesswein: Labor protection (Munkásvédelem), Cosmos and the World of the Soul (Világegyetem és a lélek világa), War and the Social Sciences (Háború és a társadalomtudomány), On the threshhold of New Eras (Új idők küszöbén), etc.)
The activities of Catholic associations contributed significantly to the rejuvenation process. The outstanding personalities of the Catholic elite came from its ranks. Their religious, civil and political actions exactly mirrored their relationship to the Church. The Catholic League had the highest membership; its goal being the creation of a Catholic social order and a more profound religious life. A significant segment of college students saw the Saint Emory Circle (Szent Imre Kör) as its spiritual home. The Saint Stephen Association (Szent István Társulat), founded in 1848, initially worked toward the propagation and dissemination of fine literature and scientific works that reflected a Catholic spirit. Beginning in 1869, the Association undertook to publish textbooks used in Catholic elementary schools – also in minority languages – and made them available for teacher and student use (free to needy students); the publishing of middle school textbooks was begun in 1882. Until 1948, the Association was the biggest editor and publisher of elementary, middle and trade school textbooks in Hungary. The Saint Stephen Academy sprang from the Association in 1915.
The Regnum Marianum [the old colloquial reference to Hungary as the Kingdom, or Country, of Mary, the Blessed Virgin-ed.] movement was commenced in 1903, with the aim of preparing Hungarian Catholic youth for a religious and moral way of life. The movement consisted of 12 congregations and, after the beginning of the scouting movement, several scout troops.
A number of smaller groups addressed specific problems. Adolf Szabóky, Piarist priest-teacher, began the first Catholic youth group in Budapest in 1856, modelled after Adolf Kolping’s Catholic Association of Journeymen in Germany. Kolping first learned to be a shoemaker, before turning to theology. As chaplain in Eberfeld, he took over the leadership of the local Catholic journeymen’s group. Under his guidance, the association grew into a movement in several countries. The aim of the Kolping groups was to provide advocacy for the journeymen and young trade masters who moved into the cities, to urge loyalty to the Church, and to raise competent artisans who also found a fit in society. The Industrial Revolution speeded up the breakdown of traditional communities. Kolping continued to see the assurance of society’s future in a harmonious family life. His teaching principles and practices made intrinsic connections between everyday life and religious experience. This made Kolping a pioneer in social Catholicism. The Kolping associations spread after 1856 in Hungary, also; in 1941, the 100 Kolping ‘families’ had several thousand members.
The Belgian priest of a working-class background, later rising to Cardinal, Joseph Cardijn began a new movement in the spirit of the sweeping social encyclicals called Young Christian Workers (Jeunesse Ouvriere Chrétien /JOC/). By the early 1860’s, membership in 88 countries rose to four million. The Catholic Young Workers movement (Katolikus Ifjúmunkások Országos Egyesülete /KIOE/), begun in Hungary in 1920, took the JOC as its model, even adopting its motto: Observe, appraise, act (Láss, ítélj, cselekedj)! The three part slogan defined the governing thread and initiative to action for the movement’s members. The movement’s primary aim was to improve the cultural and civil status of the young journeymen. The activities of the KIOE reached its zenith in the 1940’s; there were countless reports and assessments published of the successes and failures of the group. These reports give a reliable picture of the life and social situation of the working class, especially the younger ones. Their monthly magazine, Hungarian Young Worker (Magyar Munkásifjú), was first published on March 1, 1938, reaching a circulation of 12,000 in 1942. The first graduating class of the Young Worker’s Academy was awarded 72 diplomas in March of 1942. According to the general secretary’s 1942 report, the movement consisted of 111 groups, with a membership of over 4,000.
Catholic mass rallies were organized in Hungary – encouraged by responses in Germany – the first in 1894 in Székesfehérvár. After a gap of a few years, they became a permanent, several days-long events after 1900, numbering 12 up to the outbreak of WWI, 31 until 1943. They were looked at as a fundamental defining part of Catholic life in Hungary. The discussion topics revolved around the actual problems of Catholicism in Hungary, along with social questions. These periodic marshalling of the forces significantly bolstered the willingness of Catholics to take action in the political arena and similarly in church activities.
Religious lethargy, an uncaring attitude to religion caused by liberal views, was gradually overcome; Catholic men and women were being gathered under the standards of Catholicism. The Cross movement, organized around 1900, excercised an especially large influence in boosting the self-confidence and willingness to assume responsibility of Catholic intellectuals in Hungary. The representatives of the extreme views of the liberals, Liberals and Freemasons had targeted, in the second half of the 19th century, to undermine the Christian traditions in existence at the university founded by Péter Pázmány. One of their aims was to lessen the still existing Catholic character at the institution. The acme of the campaign revolved around the successful removal of the cross atop the representations of the Holy Crown of Hungary within the university (ornate replicas were displayed in the stairwells of the university). It was in reaction to this provocation that the Cross movement was born [hence the name-ed.], which successfully galvanized Catholic university students for years and compelled them on to various actions.
The Social Missionary Society, created by Ottokár Prohászka in 1908, was a purely Hungarian initiative without a foreign model. It set for itself the goal of facilitating in the resolution of social questions. Members of the society were involved in wide-ranging work social welfare, prison and hospital missions, and child protection. In 1923, a group splintered off from the Social Missionary Society, led by Margit (Margaret) Slachta, and started the Social Sisters Society. The new group continued to look after the interests – interrupted by the first world war – of women working in factories, in industry and commerce. The Society published Christian Woman (Keresztény Nő).
The roots of the Catholic Working Girls and Women Movement reach back to 1891, to the papal encyclical Rerum novarum. In December of 1933, eight founding groups joined forces and created the National Association of Catholic Working Women and Girls, which, at its zenith consisted of 250 associated groups with a membership of 10,000. The movement concentrated on the entire person, body and soul, work and family vocations. They provided guidance in setting up of homes, solutions to work related problems and health issues, accomodation issues and counseling in mental and spiritual questions. Up until 1943, 1,500 women took part in 20 one-week long courses offered, and a further 1,400 took part in 3-day courses. In 1939, the Association created the first Hungarian Catholic Working Woman’s resort, the Charlotte Lodge (Sarolta üdülő), on whose grounds the first Working Woman’s Academy was built in 1944. The Association published the Working Woman (Dolgozó Nő).
A further sign of the reawakened awareness of the Catholic intelligencia was the appearance and spread of news media products. The Constitution (Alkotmány) and New Paper (Új Lap) publicized the program of the Catholic League. The Magyar Culture (Magyar Kultúra), from 1913-1944, was the aggressive, political and cultural bi-weekly periodical of the Catholic camp. The Catholic Review (Katolikus Szemle), from 1887 to 1944, was the Catholic theological, historical and cultural organ. It has been published quarterly in Rome since 1949. A popular magazine high school boys was Our Standard (Zászlónk), 1920 to 1944, for high school girls, it was Our Lady (Nagyasszonyunk), for elementary students Li’l Pal (Kispajtás), 1906 to 1944. The Heart Journal (Szív Újság), 1915 to 1944, appeared in three languages (Hungarian, Slovak and German) and was one of the most popular and widely read of the Catholic papers.
Ottokár Prohászka was the pioneer of pastoral activities in Hungary. His sermons, spiritual retreats and books (e.g., Heaven and Earth (Föld és ég), Research into the common points of geology and theology (Kutatások a geológia és theológia érintkező pontjai körül), Christian-Socialism (Keresztény­szocializmus), God and the World (Isten és a világ), Victorious World View (Diadalmas világnézet), Culture and Terror (Kultúra és terror), Modern Catholicism (Modern Katolicizmus), More Peace (Több Békességet), War and Peace (Háború és béke), etc.), as well as his exemplary social model had a great impact on both his followers and enemies.
Count Gusztáv Károly (Gustave Charles) Majláth (1864-1934), bishop in Transylvania, was a true apostolic spirit. The power of his convincing spirituality led people to active Catholicism. The Jesuit Béla Bangha (1880-1940) founded the Central Media Company in 1919. With his supporters and coworkers, he started the two newspapers of the venture, the News of the Nation (Nemzeti Újság) and the New Generation (Új Nemzedék). The two dailies represented, up to the end of 1944, a Catholic view of the world and the undistorted national mentality. Beside his publishing activities, Bangha achieved significant results with his books (The problems of the Hungarian Catholic press (A magyar katolikus sajtó kérdései), The rebuilding of Hungary and Christianity (Magyaror­szág újjáépítése és a kereszténység), Catholicism and the Hebrews (Katolicizmus és a zsidóság), World conquering Christianity (Világhó­dító kereszténység), Church history (Egyháztörténet) and the four volume Catholic Encyclopedia (Katolikus Lexikon) co-written with Antal Ijjas, the tri-lingual publication of the Heart News (Szív Újság) of Ferenc Bíró SJ., the founding of the Korda Press and bookstore, the books and radio addresses of Tihamér Tóth, who first preached on radio on January 31, 1926, etc.). He was the most effective example of religious and literary educator of the young. The archbishop of Budapest, János Mészáros (1873-1939) also deserves undeniable credit for his work in the Catholic restoration of Budapest.137
Another outstanding personality of the Catholic renaissance was Gyula Glattfelder (1874-1943). He was a very young 37 when appointed as bishop of Csanád County. After a pastoral letter sternly rebuking the injustice of the Romanian government, he was evicted from Timişoara (Temesvár). It was he who founded the Saint Emory Colleges, with the stated intent – according to the founder’s vision – of molding the intellect of future Catholics, of teaching them political responsibility. However, since the majority of applicants to the colleges came from well-to-do families, the student had a substantially lower interest towards civil reforms than the Foederatio Emericana (Katolikus Magyar Egyetemi és Főiskolai Diákok Szövetsége). Glattfelder organized the bishopric of Szeged and organized the Actio Catholica (AC) in Hungary, whose executive president he remained until his death in 1943. This lay movement, approved by Pope Pius XI in 1922, existed at the parish level and was divided into groups by men, women, youths, girls and children. The AC began its activities in Hungary in 1933.
The scientific activities of Antal Schütz (1880-1953) had a tremendous impact on the theological and philosophical education of the Hungarian Catholic intellectuals. “Wide-ranging knowledge, simple explanations for sweeping concepts, clear and focused reasoning, and strict logic characterized this noted scientist.” He initially drew attention with his vastly successful high school religious textbook. His 1927 book, Elements of Philosophy (Bölcselet elemei), was not merely an excellent summary of Christian philosophy but also contained new insights. The book saw four editions. His lecture series, God in History, was even attended by non-Catholics and agnostics; the lectures also appeared in print form. For the non-believers in his audience, he reasoned that only those can speak of the irrationality of history who searched for the meaning of events within history. To those who view events from a metaphysical perspective, it is perfectly evident that all of history bears the mark of intelligence. His other significant works were: Dogmatism (Dogmatika), Elements of Philosophy according to St. Thomas (A bölcselet elemei Szent Tamás alapján), In the Service of the Scripture (Az Ige szolgálatában), Christ (Krisztus), Marriage (A házasság), Eternity (Az örökkévalóság), and editing the works of Ottokár Prohászka into 25 volumes.
It became progressively clear in Catholic intellectual circles that a coherent and lasting rejuvenation demands, above all, three ongoing activities: a well planned organization; necessary media organs, which can provide factual reports of the political and world view clashes; journals, appropriate to the interests and intellect of the Catholic intelligentsia, to provide it with continued education, and a forum for debate on a scientific plane. This realization contributed significantly to the strengthening of the Catholic renaissance in Hungary during the first third of the 20th century. The intellectual resources and currents brought into motion gave the people hope, a willingness and determination to act. The leaders of the various movements made use of modern communication techniques in the service of this religious revival. They created new institutions and showed the inherent vitality of Hungarian Catholicism. All these contributed to the creation and accomplishments of the promising reform movements of the 30’s. The 20’s, by contrast, were characterized in the minds and political goals of the majority of the European populace by a resistance to revolutionary movements and a struggle to supplant, as rapidly as possible, the hardships and losses suffered during and after WWI, with a prosperous and secure middle-class civic society – all the outcome of the terms of the Paris peace treaties drafted to try and ensure a new European order.
The wide-spread rationalization in many fields of the rapid technical changes post-WWI enabled the organization of the masses, their centralized control and influence through propaganda and advertising to a hitherto unknown degree. This reality hastened the spread of the power and influence both Fascist and Bolshevik style totalitarian regimes. The newly liberated reason (ratio) questioned the significance of traditions and looked on progress as the measure of significance, thus influencing, to a large degree, the lifestyle and life philosophy of the individual and society, as a whole. In the midst of these events, opposing courses and ideas collided, contributing in no small way to the intellectual, political and financial crises. Added to that, the increasing secularization process destroyed a number of traditional value systems and brought into question many moral and ethical strictures without replacing them with other, generally accepted, modes of behavior and values. The respect of the ratio, however, quickly eroded opening the way – first in the arts – to irrationalism, anarchism and hihilism. The signs of moral, intellectual and political crises were overwhelmed by the finacial crisis of the 30’s, followed by devastating famine, poverty and the emergence of potential revolutions. Taking these facts into consideration, it seemed reasonable to conclude that both the liberal-capitalist and the socialist-communist socio-economic orders were abject failures. It was a natural reaction to these symptoms that an increasing number again turned to religious values and norms. Religious revival received strong stimuli through a new understanding and appreciation being exhibited toward the Christian faith. Groups of mainly young Christians were formed in Hungary, who set as their goal the effectual support for the revival. Their models were mainly the Catholic French writers, such as Bernanos, Claudel, Huysman, Mauriac, Maritain, Péguy – some of whom were converts to Catholicism.
Zsolt Aradi, Borisz Balla and László Possonyi started a new journal in 1931, the Voice of our Age (Korunk Szava). The name was somewhat boastful. It was, however, factual in that it brought a new and fresh voice, announcing a new intellectual behavior and direction. “Intentionally and calculatedly, it broke out of the Catholic ghetto, providing a forum for all craved excellence, offering a hand to Protestant artists, as well as the working class …” Openly and without reservation, it stood for a solution to social problems and bringing about social justice. The column, In the Current of Time (Idők sodrában), it continued to introduce and talk about current political events, both at home and in the world, in a factual manner. A series of articles, for example, collected and published the facts surrounding the methods used, results obtained and shortcomings of the works of the parishes of Budapest. A new science of Catholic sociography – similar to the work of the village researchers – was born. Articles, such as: Is Unemployment Solvable?, The Bankruptcy of the Christian worker’s movement, The Lords of the Cartels (in their own words), Germany’s Unemployment, The Popes and Disarmament, Central Europe’s Crisis, etc., are self explanatory. In one of the 1932 spring issues, various public notables (István Milotay, Ignotus, Anna Kéthly and Tibor Eckhardt) presented their opinions on Hitlerism. Beginning with the third issue, the Voice of our Age presented critical sketches of writers. After portraits of the writers of the French Catholic literary renaissance, 14 Hungarian prose writers were introduced. They were, in order: Ferenc Herczeg, Ferenc Molnár, Zsigmond Móricz, Cecile Tormay, Dezső Szomory, Mihály Földi, János Komáromi, Mihály Babits, Miklós Surányi, Irén Gulácsy, Károly Kós, Sándor Makkai, Kálmán Csathó and Lajos Kassák. The writings of the featured writer was evaluated in a factual and critical manner, without regard to the writer’s popularity or social rank. As a coincidence, when the article treating Kassák appeared, he was embroiled in defending himself in a legal matter. Citing the article in the respected Catholic journal, he was able to have the court dismiss the case.138
After four years of toiling, Aradi, Balla and Possonyi left the editorial board of the Voice of our Age on the grounds that they could not continue to work with its publisher, Count György Széchényi. They opened a new paper called New Age (Új Kor), which, however, was short lived. Jenő Katona took over as editor of the Voice of our Age, a role he was eyeing for a long time. On behalf of the trio, Balla wrote an open letter in which he gave reasons for their leaving the editorial post. The significant parts of the letter were published in the April 24, 1935 issue of Hungarians (Magyarság), then edited by Lajos Zilahy. The reasons in the letter drew sharp criticism. Of great significance were the comments of Béla Bangha SJ and bishop of Veszprém, later archbishop of Eger, Gyula Czapik. Bangha took offense at the polite and less than objective treatment that the three editors extended towards Protestants. Czapik began with admitting that the younger generation had the right to see things differently, to propose different solution to problems, than the older generation. However, as one of the best trained member of the synod of Catholic bishops, he cautioned the reform minded young of committing errors of the past. He especially saw danger in the tendency to demand freedom, yet not grant freedom to others; the attitude to judge the ability to lead and wield power based on age; the point of view that breaking with the past is seen as the solution for today’s problems.139
The first issue of Vigil (Vigilia) saw the light of day in early 1935. Gellért Békés, editor of the Catholic Review (Katolikus Szemle), published in Rome since 1949, wrote in the first issue of 1985, among other things, the following salutation to the Vigil: “… I received the first issue of the Vigil here in Rome, at the Benedictine theological faculty, where I was studying at the time and where I now teach. … All of us, young noviciates and priests, felt, without exception: This is our magazine. We thirsted for the arrival of each new issue. Why? Because it spoke to us in exactly the same voice that we heard in Rome as the voice of Catholicism in the process of being revitalized.”
This voice was that whispered by the young French intellectuals who, once more, recognized the values of a Christian culture. The works of Bernanos, Claudel and Mauriac were widely read. Shortly, the six lectures given by Jacques Maritain in 1934 at the University of Santander became known. This series of lectures, published in the spring of 1936 as Humanisme Intégral exerted a decisive impact on young Christian intellectuals all over Europe because, in the name of modern Christian humanism, it openly defied the agnostic humanist culture inherited from previous centuries; it dared say aloud that Christian humanism is able to give a complete answer to the cultural and social questions of the day also, not only religious questions. Fundamental to this revival was theology’s return to its biblical and patristic [Patristic: the study of early Christian writers, known as the Church Fathers-ed.] sources, as well as rediscovering the spiritual values of the liturgy and mystic literature. On a social plane, the revival appeared in the social movements of Cardinal Cardijn who, as a charismatic leader – I still recall his lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University – who was able to move the young, whether of farming or working or intellectual background, in the spirit of Pope Leo XI’s encyclical, Quadragesimo anno.
The Vigil represented this Christian rejuvenation, primarily in the literary sphere, presenting writings assessing world views and spirituality, not only literary outpourings. The young – Zsolt Aradi, Borisz Balla, László Possonyi and the others –, having grown up in the spirit of Prohászka, were sensitive to the French influence and took the side of a personally experienced Christianity as opposed to the traditional civic Christianity. Sándor Sík, who resurrected the Vigil after the war, even if in completely different circumstances, still retained this spirit.140 “… It seems to me that – following the French distinctions – it still sees as its task the serving the substance of Christian religion, christianisme, through the exercise of Christian culture, chretienité: spreading that Christian way of thinking and philosophy of living which could influence the civil lifestyle and culture of the emerging man of today. I am thinking of Babits, who thought of himself a Catholic – not only in the Church interpretation but also in the universal human interpretation, too – because he believed in “a universal catholic truth for the entire world, bigger than mere nations.” I believe I can not wish for anything better for the 50th anniversary of the Vigil than this belief in a universal truth, as opposed to series of half-truths. We believe that there exists a personal and universal system of beliefs that encompasses everything of value: material and spiritual, technical innovation and civil progress, culture, morality and religion. We must confess – exactly on the side of humanity – that every value exists for Man, to enable a more laudable, more free life. Yet, in the final analysis, he exists not for himself, nor for some endless and undefinable progress but for God in Christ. This is the Catholic truth: the universal recognition and acknowledgement of man in God – this is the crux of Christian humanism, which the Vigil represented in the past and will continue to represent in the future. …” The ideals and aims of the journal were clearly demonstrated by the articles and essays in its columns, which, in turn, provided significant assistance in defining the ideals, aims and tasks to the Catholic reform movement of the day.
In the first issue of Vigil, February 2, 1935, Antal Schütz delved into the meaning behind the words: Vigilia et custodia, vigilate et custodite. “Vigil: the heart-beat of ancient Christianity; youth, life, meaning, creative power…” Standing guard and keeping vigil is the typical behavior of “the dawn-greeters and tomorrow’s builders.” To those destined for tomorrow, the spirit of “desire for universal conquest” is self-evident. Our task is to recall the great past and marry it to the present. “Approach the great secret of tomorrow and work toward it.” The flame kept by them must “shed light on every man born.” The ideals, expressed through symbolism in the Schütz article, were expanded and gained concrete form in the second, the Easter, issue in the writing of Sándor Sík, The problem of Catholic literature. Sík’s outlook typically reflected an openness and honesty, his reasoning defined by clarity and unequivocal definition of concepts.
The starting point of defining the heart of Catholic literature for Sándor Sík were the multitude of Catholic and non-Catholic prejudices and superstitions. “We can only call literature as Catholic literature, which is, at the same time, both Catholic and literary.” “The other defining characteristic of Catholicism, beside its universality, is its strict clarity in every aspect: the cult of the defined rituals, beliefs, love and compassion.”141 One of the most apparent display of that universality alluded to in the essay by Sík was the appearance, in the issues of the Vigil, of European (and American) literature of similar spirit. In the first year of publication, the works of Paul Claudel, Charles Péguy, Francois Mauriac, Julian Green, André Malraux, Miguel de Unamuno, Gertrud von Le Fort, Sigrid Undset, Eugene O'Neill, majd Francis Jammes, André Gide, Paul Valéry, Max Jakob, Jules SupervieIle, Valéry Larbaud, Georges Duhamel, Jules Romains, Jean Cocteau, Franz Werfel, Giovanni Papini, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Thornton Wilder and William Butler Yeats were presented and analyzed.
The theological, philosophical, esthetic and world literature essays published in the Vigil were from a mix of foreign and native writers. The journal’s editors searched the eastern European literature of the current and previous century for ideas that seemed to mirror and support their own ideas. They showcased the works of the Russian Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov, the Poles Henryk Sienkie­wicz and Julian Tuwim, the Romanians Vasile Alecsandri, Mihail Eminescu and Lucian Blaga, the Bulgarian Elin Pelin, the Croat Paula Preradovic and the Slovenian Ivan Cankar. The translations were undertaken by noted contributors; the first years saw translations done by Miklós Kállay, Henrik Hajdú, Antal Szerb, László Possonyi, Antal Ijjas, Jenő Dsida, László Gáldi, Iván Boldizsár and György Rónay. As a result of the wide horizon and objectivity of the editors, for an entire decade (until its shut-down after the German occupation), the Vigil was the most reliable and most recent native forum for the works and mood of number of significant European (and American) writers.142
The wide-ranging articles that appeared in the early years covered literary studies from codex writings (incunabula) through the Baroque, Romanticism, the poetry of late 19th century, all the way to reviews of the most recent historical novels, critiques of literary events and other diverse subjects. During discussions about the history of civilization, folk arts and art history, the realistic treatment of events characterized the young publication. In fact, opposition to the conservative point of view regarding historical incidents presented opportunities to refute damaging misconceptions and dangerous false doctrines. As an example, three critical studies assessed Turanism, that mythic theory regarding the origins of the Magyars, its naively unrealistic valuation of the country’s political possibilities and, at the same time, dangerously self-deluding nationalistic view. The Vigil also took up direct debate with the myth of Aryan racial theory. They published – translated by Iván Boldizsár – the Jesuit Anton Koch’s “Response to Rosenberg” which rebutted the theoretician of the German race theory’s attack on Christianity. The essay by István Sándor, The spiritual history of the Hungarian village (A magyar falu szellemtörténete) touched upon aspects of the history of civilization and folklore. In his opinion, the religious beliefs, church life, folk rituals and literary traditions of the hamlets all retained the Baroque traditions. The studies of Sándor Bálint, Catholicism and Magyar folk culture, The problems of Magyar religious ethnography (A katolicizmus és a magyar népiség, A magyar vallásos néprajz problémái), questioned the connections and borrowed elements between liturgy and folk customs, Gregorian chants and folk songs, church manuscripts and religious folk poetry, as well as drawing attention to a certain folklorization process among the people in the area of the practice of religion.143 Serious studies treated modern church art: Christ in modern Church art, The timeless directions of Church architecture, The new face of Church art, etc. (Krisz­tus a modern egyházművészetben, A katolikus templomépítészet örök irányai, A magyar egyházművészet új arca, stb.).
The newly begun Vigil also had a clear stand on the search for new musical direction. Its associates reviewed in its columns mainly the works of Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály.144 The Vigil gradually created a circle of contributors from among those composers and writers, whose humanism, universality and high creative standards attracted them to the journal. The early years saw the publication of poems by Mihály Babits, Lajos Harsányi, Sándor Sík, László Kocsis, Vilmos Rozványi, László Mécs, György Rónay and Pál Toldalagi, of works of prose by Sándor Dallos, László Possonyi, Borisz Balla, A. Károly Berczeli, Antal Ijjas, Béla Just, Zsolt Aradi, Rózsa Ignácz and Gábor Thurzó. Later, the circle of contributors to the Vigil was enlarged but in such a way as to leave its original public image unchanged, yet enriched with new colors and hues. Among the poets of the first decade (other than those already mentioned), we find the names of Ágoston Pável, Sándor Reményik, János Bartalis, Béla Várkonyi Nagy, József Fodor, Pál Gulyás, Ferenc Szemlér, Imre Horváth, Ferenc Jankovich, Ferenc Vaád, Béla Horváth, Tamás Tűz, György Végh, János Pilinszky, Miklós Vidor and György Rába; of the writers of prose: J. Jenő Tersánszky, Áron Tamási, István Sinka, János Kodolányi, Kata Molnár, Sándor Márai, László Passuth, Erzsébet Kádár, Béla Kézai, Géza Ottlik, István Örley, István Sőtér and Iván Mándy; of essayists and critics, we find Marcell Benedek, Zsolt Alszeghy, Grandpierre Emil Kolozsvári, Pius Zimándi, Gusztáv Makay, István Vas and László Bóka.145
The appearance of new Catholic journals was the logical consequence of intellectual need and proved that the need for creative ideas, modern forms and content were present in Hungarian Catholicism, too. The beginning was not easy for the representatives of the ‘new voice.’ First of all, they had to battle the competition from the already familiar and securely financed Catholic magazines (Hungarian Culture, Catholic Review, Pannonhalma Review, etc.). Further competition was present from the publications of the Franciscan, Dominican, Paulist et al orders. The toughest task, though, for the editors of the Voice of our Age and Vigil came from having to defend from, offset and neutralize the semi-feudal and Baroque-spirited suspicions of the Church hierarchy. The majority of the Hungarian synod of bishops looked with suspicion at the radical demands posted by the new publications as solutions to civil problems, the candid interest in ecumenicalism, the introduction of writers and their works from neighboring countries, the seeking of contacts with the Catholic groups in the former Hungarian territories (the Prohászka circles in Slovakia, the Majláth circles and Áron Márton public education initiatives in Transylvania).
To all these difficulties were added the political developments of Europe. The growing influence of Hitler’s Third Reich on Hungary could be felt more and more. In spite of it, for the 1935 Easter issue of the Vigil, the editors solicited an article from the archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Faulhaber. The German prelate wrote about the unity of the Church embracing all people, titled Let us stand vigil with Saint Peter. Two years later, the papal pastoral letter, With Grave Concern (Mit brennender Sorge), composed by Faulhaber in German and signed by Pius XI, condemned Hitler’s religious and Rosenberg’s new barbarity. The third issue printed an article by the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Innitzer, titled Vigil – Standing Watch in the Night. The ‘other’ Germany was represented in the journal’s columns by Gertrud von Le Fort. The Vigil also brought exerpts from ‘the enemy camp,’ France, from the works of Claudel, Valéry and Marcel Gabriel.
The January 1942 issue of the journal printed a poem by László Mécs, titled Prayers for the Great Lunatic (Imádság a nagy lunatikusért). The readers were well aware that the lunatic in the poem was none other than Adolf Hitler who “Leads the mesmerized millions, - as one dispensing unseen worldly goods”. A photocopy of the original Mécs poem can be found in German Foreign Ministry archives, under the title Pamphlet gegen den Führer, along with two completely different translations. A document, dated March 31, 1942 and addressed directly to Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, complained that Hungarian censors only banned the poem after it appeared in the Vigil.
In those days, the publication of every issue was akin to a high-wire balancing act, a compromise, on the one hand, between the journal’s goals and the consciences of the editorial staff and, on the other, the ideas still tolerated by the ruling political powers. This conscience-instilling, brave behavior gave encouragement to vastly greater numbers than the jounal’s circulation. The modernity, Christian humanism and impressively hopeful tone of the new Catholic organs posed a gentle challenge for the ‘conservative’ Catholic papers and journals, effecting favorable changes in their content and choice of topics.
The portents for the short term developments in Europe foretold of storms. Italy attacked Abyssinia in October of 1935. The event was the beginning of a rapprochement between Germany and Italy. The significance and role of the three nation agreement signed in Stresa in April of the same year effectively ceased. The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 in which every European power took part, directly or indirectly. In the Soviet Union, the ‘housecleanings’ of 1921 and 1929-30 were followed by a further six ‘cleansings’, followed by the great ‘show trials’ of 1936 to 1939.
In Germany, the National Socialist system stabilized politically and economically and began to gain acceptance in other aspects of daily life, as well. 1935 to 1936 brought further increases in Hitler’s prestige: the Saarland returned to Germany after a plebiscite, universal military draft was introduced, the Wermacht occupied the de-militarized Rhineland, the results of a national election resulted in 99% of the electorate supporting Hitler’s policies. The XI. Olimpiad, hosted by Germany, the success of the German athletes in winning 30 gold medals which put them in first place among 51 countries, greatly contributed to increased world prestige. 1936 also saw the creation of the Berlin-Rome axis, as well as the anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan, joined by Italy a year later on November 6, 1937. In 1937, Pope Pius XI felt himself forced into energetic condemnation of National Socialist policies. The clarity and focus of the already mentioned papal encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge, left nothing unsaid. That encyclical, analyzing and condemning National Socialism, was followed by another, Divini Redemptoris, condemning now Bolshevism. March of 1938 saw the annexation of Austria and now Hungary became an immediate neighbor of Germany; the future of Czechoslovakia, in reality all of East-Central Europe, was decided at a four power meeting in Munich in September of the same year. November of 1938 saw the beginning of anti-Jewish organized atrocities in Germany; synagogues were torched, their private property confiscated. It marked the beginning of the exclusion of Jews from financial affairs. Up until the fall of 1938, about 170,000 Jews – a third of the German total – emigrated. March of 1939 saw the Wermacht march into Czechoslovakia; Bohemia and Moravia became German protectorates, Slovakia became an ‘independent’ state, under German patronage; Sub-Carpathia was occupied by Hungarian forces. August of 1939, five months after the end of the Spanish Civil War, brought the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in Moscow – and a secret agreement governing the question of German and Soviet spheres of influence. Nine days later, world war two began.
Parallel to the growing power of Germany, German influence and National Socialist propaganda increased in East-Central Europe, especially among centuries old German-speaking minority of the region. Hungary, at this time, had a significant number of German-speaking minority, approximately 500 thousand. The series of events recounted contributed significantly to those political activities and groupings whos sympathized with the then-known aims of National Socialism and counted on a new European order materializing on the basis of National Socialist ideals. Their numbers, in these years, was significant – and not only in Hungary.
A significant proportion of the country’s leading strata, and of the middle class, saw the care and nurture of a national vision and national unity as a crucial issue. These forces were recognizably different from the National Socialists, based on their racial theories, but were unable to prevent the emergence of an extreme Right in Hungary. A large portion of this exterme Right took a stand beside German National Socialism, while the majority, interestingly, rejected unequivocally the racial theories and any prospect for German hegemony over Hungary. The boundary between the two groups was vague and blurred. It shifted with the strength, or weakness, of German influence, which was the direct outcome of Hitler’s political and military success, or failure. Up until the zenith of Hitler’s success, the summer of 1942, German influence seemed to increase without interruption. In circumstances such as these, for all those who sought and expected Catholic-based informational assistance for their patriotic efforts and Christian humanism, the appearance of media products such as Voice of our Age, Vigil and other transformed information sources was of great significance.
Religious organizations embraced wide social groups and large numbers since – as noted earlier – they were able to activate Catholic men and women, young and old, in social and cultural groups. It was especially the young priests, both those in and outside the orders, worked with great effort and achieved significant results. At the end of the 30’s and the beginning of the 40’s, the monastic orders had a period of renaissance in Hungary. In these years, the numbers in the orders of truncated, post-Trianon Hungary reached the former numbers in the former historical Hungary. Membership in the female religious orders also doubled. Priests, monks and nuns performed valuable service in the fields of science, education, teaching and welfare, as well as in the cultural arena, the media and civil organizations. Pilgrimages, especially those dedicated to the Virgin Mary (the patron saint of Hungary), enjoyed great popularity and expressed the living faith of the pilgrim masses, deep religious conviction and national pride. The annual parade of the Holy Relic in Budapest, the right hand of King Saint Stephen (ruled 1000 – 1038), each August 20, supported this impression. They all clearly showed that the influence of the Catholic Church extended to wide social layers. In these years, the Church wielded considerable influence, such as rarely before, and was able, at any time, to mobilize large masses in demonstrations of Catholic solidarity. The most convincing example was the XXXIV. World Eucharistic Congress, organized in Budapest at the end of May 1938.
Catholic intellectuals, educators, priests, teachers and functionaries of organizations, but even employees and workers, felt that traditional values and rules of behavior were, by themselves, not enough to solve the problems of the present, never mind the future. Hence, the enthusiastic reception of an intellectual initiative, a heartening spiritualism; new ideas, customs and content disseminated in easily understood language and means, through Catholic periodicals, books, sermons, various lectures and, not the least, exemplary deeds. All these contributed to the emergence of a modern, up to date Christian spirit, which was able to provide answers to the open questions of the age, whether to active intellectual resistance, for proof of true Christian humanism, or, especially, to give strength and courage to help the persecuted. Not the least, they combined in the creation of a type of active Catholic human, for whom actions and exemplary behavior was paramount.
The 30’s and early 40’s can rightly be called the ‘decade of change’ in the development of Catholicism in Hungary. The numbers of those demanding radical change, especially among the Catholic youth and intellectuals, raised in the spirit of István Széchenyi and Ottokár Prohászka, grew from year to year. Beside the noted new journals and the older publications supporting this process of renewal, informational pamphlets appeared, which added width and depth to the understanding, encouraged a sense of responsibility for others and prompted to action. Antal Leopold published the Quadragesimo anno in Hungarian translation; József Közi ­Horváth did the same for the encyclical Divini Redemptoris, under the title The Redemption of proletarians and the greatest peril of our time (Proletárok megváltása és korunk legnagyobb veszedelme). The Actio Catholica printed the two pamphlets in a million and a half copies and made them available to interested parties. The writings of Béla Bangha SJ, Elemér Csávossy SJ, László Varga SJ, Vid Mihelics, Béla Kovrig, Ferenc Mikos, Dénes Bikkal, István Lacza, et al served a similar purpose. József Migray, who erlier was one of the most talented Hungarian student of Lenin, wrote a book titled The Bankruptcy of Marxism (A marxizmus csődje). The work of the member associations of the National Hungarian Catholic College Students Association (Országos Magyar Katolikus Főiskolai Diákszövetség /OMKFDSZ/), among them the Mary congregations, the Settlement groups, the Piarist student’s union, the Pál Teleki working group, the Prohászka circles, the technical departments of the Actio Catholica and countless other organizations contributed to the sense of responsibility and willingness to make sacrifices that left their mark on the ‘decade of change’, the emergence and results of the Catholic reform movements of the 30’s.146

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