*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 16th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A happy St. Stephan’s day- or at least one of the St. Stephan’s days. This is the St. Stephen of Hungary- and on the day the church recognizes him, not the day the Hungarians recognize him (they do on the 20th of August).
Let’s go back in time. This time to the 900s and the Carpathian basin. Where, you ask? The Carpathian basin is formed by the Carpathian mountain range to the North East (in current day Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania) and the Alps and Dinaric Alps to the East and South East). Thus, the Carpathian Basin is a large plains area historically buffeted by the Russian Empire to the Northeast and the Balkans and Mediterranean to the southeast.
This very important region was historically tied to the Magyars- a nomadic people who are said to come from Magor, the brother of Hunor. Hunor is the mythic founder of the Huns and Magor of the Magyars. Ironically, the region is today called “Hungary” based on the Roman misconception that the land was filled with Huns. Nevertheless….
It would be a key location for the Byzantine empire- not only because of its rich land and agriculture but because it could help connect the region between the Balkans and the Baltic region. We know that Cyril and Methodius were sent eastward, but while they were successful in converting the Slavs, they could not make inroads with the Magyars of the Hungarian basin.
Another missionary, Gabriel, was sent from Constantinople to the Hungarian leaders called Bulscu and Gyula. The two would come to Constantinople in 948 and be baptized.
There were two problems- they brought Christianity back to the plains but continued in their brutal ways. It seems their conversions were for political allegiance more than salvation. And the second problem was this political allegiance was concerning to the Western Germanic Christians- namely the newly powerful Ottonian dynasty- the first pan-Germanic kings since Charlemagne.
The most powerful of the Hungarian Princes was Geza- he married the daughter of an Eastern Christian Hungarian but also allowed Western missionaries from the Germanic lands into his country to assuage the Ottonians (the formal split between East and West hadn’t happened yet- soon in 1054, but the “east v west” mindset was firmly in place).
Geza was baptized by a western German missionary and took the name, Stephen. But Geza is not St. Stephen. In fact, he would be anything but a saint, continuing his brutal ways- murdering his own family members and eliminating all who weren’t loyal to his branch of the Arpad dynasty.
He had a son, Vajk, who he married to Gisela- she was the daughter of a Bavarian Duke and the sister to a future Ottonian King- Henry II. While Vajk was no choirboy (to be a successful Magyar ruler seems to have required bloody hands), he took his baptism more seriously than his father. And Vajk took his father's baptismal name- Stephan, after the first Christian martyr. This would be the Stephen who would become known as St. Stephan, the founder of the Hungarian nation and still patron saint.
Upon his father's death, Stephen would turn back another claimant to the throne and then was crowned- according to tradition- on Christmas Day in 1000 with a lance from Otto III and a crown from Pope Sylvester II. This would connect him to the tradition of Charlemagne, who was famously crowned as Emperor by the Pope on Christmas Day in 800.
Stephen would found bishoprics and abbeys, set up a national tithe, build churches as ecclesiastical and diplomatic centers, and support a growing aristocracy with laws establishing private property.
A document attributed to Stephen but historically dubious linked the Hungarian crown and the Catholic faith. It posited something like a “divine right of kings” that made the link between a king and the church a cornerstone of Hungarian politics into the modern era. Since the 19th century St. Stephan has been a key figure in Hungarian nationalism- while this would survive the Communist era- with the emergence of the church after Soviet rule St. Stephen has taken his place as both national and religious hero for the Hungarians.
St. Stephen is recognized with a feast day on this the 16th of August.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 32:
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 16th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows that Hungary, today, is the size of his native Indiana and that Gulash there is not like the Gulash in Hungary (the good stuff does not look like Hamburger Helper) he is Christoper Gillespie
The show is written and read by a man who gives up—okay, autocorrect, you want to make “Ottonian” Ottoman every time? Get your empires straight… I’m Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.