FrancisDavid-What Has Endured of His Life and Work

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  • 8/8/2019 FrancisDavid-What Has Endured of His Life and Work



    What has endured of his life and work?

    by Bla Varga

    Translated by Rev. Vilma Szantho Harrington

    Budapest, 1981

    ISBN 963 00 0425 9

    Kiadja a Magyar Unitrius Egyhz H-1055 BUDAPEST V., Nagy Ignc u. 4.

    Felels kiad: DR. FERENCZ JZSEF

    Sajt al rendezte: SZENT-IVNYI ILONA


    The Hungarian Unitarian Church in 1979 marked the four hundredth year anniversary of the martyrdom of the founder of the Unitarian Church, FrancisDavid.

    In this same year the leadership of the church made a new effort to publish someworks relating to his life and work. Most of these were published in Hungarian.

    Today we are aware of an interest among the English speaking Unitarians,particularly, and among liberal religionists of our international community, inwhat Hungarian Unitarians have been saying since this religion was founded in

    the 16th century.

  • 8/8/2019 FrancisDavid-What Has Endured of His Life and Work


    To serve this interest we have chosen one of the essays of Dr. Bela Varga,Professor of Ethics and Philosophy at the Unitarian Theological Seminary atKolozsvar (now Napoca), and later Bishop. This study of Dr. Varga's on what is

    permanent in Francis David's ideas was written for the three hundred and fiftieth

    anniversary of his martyrdom. His conclusions are as meaningful to us today asfifty years ago. What is true is eternal, and what is eternal is everlasting. Weasked the Rev. Vilma Szantho Harrington to do the translation. She studiedunder Dr. Varga, and still considers herself a follower of that great mind andsoul. Rev, Vilma Szantho was married to the Rev. Donald Harrington in 1939 inBudapest, and returned to the U.S.A. Ever since then their ministry has been aclose link between our American and Hungarian churches. For generalinformation let me point out that Hungarian Unitarianism has since 1918 hadtwo branches. The larger branch is in Transylvania, Roumania, where 90% ofUnitarians live. The ministers preach in the Hungarian language. The smaller

    branch of 10% is in Hungary, mostly in Budapest. Several of our HungarianUnitarian ministers have studied abroad, in England and in the U.S A. Most ofthem are acquainted with the writings of their fellow Unitarians abroad.

    Humbly, and with love, we offer this essay to our worldwide liberal religiouscommunity, in the hope that it may provoke some dialogue between us. We lookforward to discussion, and are ready to answer questions.

    Let me quote from one of the sermons of Francis David, which he delivered in

    1569 at Gyulafehervr: "bread is to nourish and strengthen our body, likewisethe teaching of Jesus is bread to nourish our soul." May this publication also be

    bread to our liberal religious community across all boundaries.


    Dr. Joseph Ferencz, Bishop

    Church historians have still an important task before them, namely to put the lifeand work of Francis David into a proper perspective. Francis David was not only

    a Hungarian genius, but Humanism's spiritual enlightenment came to flower inhis work and person. He can be regarded as one of the outstanding figures of

  • 8/8/2019 FrancisDavid-What Has Endured of His Life and Work


    mankind. There are three reasons that the name of Francis David has not yetentered the Pantheon of intellectual and spiritual giants. First, because he wasHungarian, second, because he tried to stir up the thinking of people in an areawhich still lives today in a pre-Francis David time, and still stubbornly holds on

    to those ideas, fearing that one step forward would be the end; the third reason inthat church historians have done a very limited research on his behalf.

    To properly understand Francis David's place in the intellectual unfolding ofWestern culture, we have to glance at it dialectically. The first great Europeanthinker was Plato, who searched for the universal and eternal in this world in therealm of thoughts and ideas, ideas which are beyond the senses and beyond theexperiential world, that are not limited to space and time. He taught that theworld we live in and experience is a mere shadow, a faint reflection of the realmof Permanence and Truth. The realm of Truth and Permanence is calledTranscendent, meaning that it is beyond and above the boundaries of humanexperience. All that is eternal and of permanent value belong to thistranscendent realm. God Himself, the highest idea, the embodiement of good,who draws to himself the millions of created beings by the power of love whichHe radiates constantly, belongs to that transcendent realm. This was a great andnew utterance in so long ago as the 4th century B.C. When Plato presented thisidea of the transcendent to the European thinkers, the response to it was two-fold. Firstly, there was an effort to search out the particulars of theTranscendent.

    Secondly, the philosophers sought to discover how the transcendent reality isreflected in man's soul, and attempted to understand that transcendent reality

    better through man's intellect. This effort was indeed daring-to say that not onlythe transcendent, but also man himself is somehow the possessor of truth, andthat man is capable of expressing the truth. This point of view locating access totruth and the permanent in man himself is called the immanental view,emphasizing human potentiality and human creativity, as contrasting with thetranscendent, which emphasizes the other-worldly, beyond human experience.

    The main question of the immanental view is how the divine is reflected inman's soul, or in other words, what is divine in man?

    Ever since Plato outlined this challenging idea, ever since he developed theconcept of a transcendent and an enduring truth, humanity has been struggling tounderstand it, to draw closer to it, to unite with it. This struggle towards thetranscendent is the hallmark of the post-Platonian thinking in Western Europe.This desire for the experience of divine immanence is constant, it isinextinguishable in man; to stop it or to squelch it would be death itself. Inenlightened and more intellectually developed man, this desire for knowing thetruth of the transcendent becomes stronger and stronger. It is the divine spirit in

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    man which encourages him to struggle for the God within, or even against theGod without. But, even when he battles against God, even then he does it forGod, for the God-like within himself. The first step in this struggle was made byAristotle, and although he does not solve the problem, he introduces the

    concepts of evolution and organic unity, which are the main foundations of theimmanental school of thought. The appearance of Jesus was an important turn-ing point in this struggle. He brought the transcendent world quite close to thespirit of man. His method was not to philosophize, nor to deal solely withabstract thought, but rather he presented and portrayed the reality of God, as Heis, and as He is realizable in the Kingdom of God. In the teachings of Jesus theconcepts of the transcendent and the immanent find each other in acomplementary manner, in which the suffering, unhappy person can find hisown salvation in the capability to be re-born, and can recognize the values whichenable man to be perfect. He gives guidelines as to how a human being can

    become a true citizen of the Kingdom of God. He points to the fact that thepotentiality for it exists in the human spirit. "The Kingdom of God is withinyou." With this statement the idea of the divine immanence entered into theconsciousness of man, perhaps for the first time. According to Karl Bhm, it is amistake to say that Jesus did not apply his idea of the Kingdom to this earthlyexistence. He realized it within his own small circle, and made it theresponsibility of his disciples to bring it about in the larger community. Thedeath of Jesus and the fact that he did not return as expected, weakened theimmanental idea. Then came Apostle Paul, who took a giant step to make

    Christianity totally transcendent. It is undeniable that in the Gospel the tran-scendent idea dominates. Joseph Nagy says that the historian who writes in thevein of transcendent philosophy (theology) really writes of myths and legends.He writes not of every day happenings in the life of his hero, but infuses theevents with transcendent power. This is why in the Gospels the events of Jesus'life are often shrouded in supernatural power. Threads of the "other world" shinethrough the Gospel. In Pauline thinking, these threads are woven into a strongcloth of full theology. Thus, Christianity, the religion of the heart, of love wassoon transferred into a "faith." The next step was the founding of the Church;

    then dogma and later theology. These steps led Christianity a few hundred yearsafter Jesus' death almost wholly in a transcendent direction. Christianity in theMiddle Ages was absolutely under the rule of the Roman Church and herdogmas. Philosophy itself served the Church. To mention only one of thedogmas which deeply influenced the thinking of the Christian world, the deity ofJesus was promulgated at the Council of Nicaea. After that, Christianity wascentered on the transcendent. The first three centuries continued to struggleagainst it. It seems to us that men always had a great need of a transcendentconcept of "being." Thus, the Church was upholding and with her dogma

    safeguarding it. The Christian world waited a long time for the return of Jesus,waited for miracle, and when it did not happen, the Church created a miracle

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    herself, making Jesus Go