- In the Reformation era, Hungary was divided into three parts: the western region ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs, the central area ruled directly by the Ottoman Turks, and Transylvania, an autonomous region under Ottoman suzerainty.Transylvania was home to a large Saxon community. Under the influence of Johann Honter (1498-1549), Transylvania's German-speaking population became largely Protestant. After a Magyar translation of the New Testament appeared in 1541 and of Martin Luther's Small Catechism in 1550, some Hungarian-speaking people became Lutheran. The 1557 Edict of Torda in Transylvania granted religious tolerance to the various groups then active in the countryside.Reformed churches arose in the 1550s and eventually fared much better than the Lutherans. A third form of Protestantism appeared right after the Edict of Torda, Unitarianism, which by the end of the century had some 425 parishes.After the battle of Zenta in 1697, Hungary was absorbed into the Habsburg Empire, and the new government launched a campaign to return Hungary, including Transylvania, to the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the three Protestant churches survived until Emperor Joseph II took the Austrian throne. In 1781, Joseph issued his famous Edict of Toleration, which granted free practice of the Protestant faith in any community where at least 100 families professed it.In 1848, Hungary disestablished the Roman Catholic Church and declared the equality of all "legally recognized" denominations. At the time, there were only four, but others would be "recognized" at later dates. In 1895, three different levels of legal recognition were introduced. The Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Orthodox churches were placed in the highest category (received) along with Judaism. Smaller and newer churches and religious groups were also "recognized." A third category of "tolerated" churches included the Seventh-day Adventists, the Methodists, and the Mormons. After the Jehovah's Witnesses became active, a fourth category of "banned" groups was created, later to include the Pentecostals and the Church of the Nazarene.In the 19th century, the Baptist Church was established by three Hungarian workers who had briefly settled in Germany. Johann Gerhard Onchen (1800-84), the man most responsible for the spread of the Baptist Church across Europe, had met them there and sent them back to organize the first Baptist congregation, the seed for what would become the Baptist union of Hungary. Methodism spread initially among German-speaking residents. As the work grew in the first decade of the 20th century, it was incorporated into the Northern Germany Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (now the United Methodist Church).After World War I, Transylvania was ceded to Romania, along with its German-speaking Protestants. After World War II, the Marxist government drastically repressed religious life. The harsh conditions were only slightly relieved during the 1960s. Protestant churches survived partly underground, but experienced a rebirth after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The coming of religious freedom in the 1990s found the Reformed Church of Hungary claiming some 20 percent of the population; Lutherans have about 5 percent. The Free Church community has only 1 or 2 percent, but is experiencing significant growth.The older Protestant churches are members of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, which is in turn affiliated with the World Council of Churches. Some of the smaller and newer churches have formed the Magyar Evangeliumi Aliancz, affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance. The Unitarians, not aligned with either organization, have associated with the larger unitarian global fellowship.See also Romania.Further reading:■ Churches, Denominations and Congregations in Hungary (Budapest: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1991)■ J. Craig, History of the Protestant Church in Hungary: From the Beginning of the Reformation to 1850■ with Reference to Transylvania (London: James Nisbet, 1864)■ B. Dercsényi, Calvinist Churches in Hungary (Budapest: Hegyi, 1992)■ Hungarian Protestantism: Its Past and Present (Budapest: Ecumenical Council of Churches, 1956).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.