pdfVolume 2 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Réka Kiss

“The women do not want to go to church.” Church Discipline and the Control of the Public Practice of Religion in the Calvinist Diocese of Küküllő in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

The Calvinist model of Church discipline introduced a considerably more intensive and elaborate system of enforcing moral rules and controlling social behavior than the one that had formerly prevailed. Its religious, cultural, and social role and the regional variants have remained subjects of debate to this day. In this essay, I examine a form of this institutional system that is unique from many perspectives, using as my sources the seventeenth and eighteenth-century visitation records and diocesan court documents from the Hungarian Reform Diocese of Küküllő (the name of which is taken from Küküllő River, in Romanian the Târnava River). In the first half of the essay I offer an overview of the peculiarities of the Transylvanian church organisation and the institutional system of church discipline, addressing in particular the question of the extent to which these institutions differed from or resembled Western European models. In the second half of the essay I survey the guiding role of the Church and the relationship between norms and actual practice as seen through the study of efforts to supervise and enforce religious conformity. By analyzing seventeenth and eighteenth- century documents pertaining to the control and sanction of participation in public Church rituals, I seek to provide a nuanced image of the religious practices of the era and further an understanding of how Church surveillance was asserted in the everyday lives of members of local communities.

keywords: Calvinist Church discipline, public Church rituals, marriage, local communities, Transylvanian Principality

One of the most significant innovations of the Protestant Reformation was a thorough transformation of the institution of Church discipline, the classic example of which one finds in Calvinist Geneva. The Calvinist model of Church discipline introduced a considerably more intensive and elaborate system of enforcing moral rules and controlling social behavior than the one that had formerly prevailed. The fundamental impact it had on society and mentality has been a focal point of social historical scholarship on the early modern era since Max Weber. Referring to the strictness of its principles, historians have until recently tended to see the Calvinist model of Church discipline as “the effective motor behind the establishment of the first Puritan society” and “an early example of an attempt at social engineering on a social scale.”1

While scholars seem to agree that the Calvinist model of Church discipline brought about profound changes, there is less agreement on the actual impact it had. Its religious, cultural, and social role, its effectiveness, and the regional variants have remained subjects of debate to this day.2

The question of Church discipline has become one of the cornerstones of confessionalization theories intended to model the construction of the early modern absolutist state and the development of confessional identities.3 In The Disciplinary Revolution. Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe (2003), the American historical sociologist Philip Gorski explicitly argues that the rapid rise of modern state power in the early modern era was due in part to the impact of the military and capitalist revolutions, but primarily to the disciplinary revolution, which was spread most strikingly by the Calvinist Reformation.4

In this essay, I examine a form of this institutional system that is unique from many perspectives. My sources are from Transylvania, seventeenth and eighteenth-century manuscript documents from over thirty parishes in the Küküllő Calvinist Diocese. Some are visitation records, others are protocols of the diocesan court body. Amounting to several thousand pages in all, the documents represent a unique collection. What makes them exceptional is that they are almost the only case within the Hungarian-speaking territory where local-level church disciplinary documents have survived from the first half of the seventeenth century (from 1638) and the fact that they are more or less continuous. Thus one finds very few case studies on local operation of Church discipline in the period in question based on Hungarian-language sources.

The great advantage of the registers from Küküllő is that they offer a deep glimpse into the actual everyday reality of Church discipline in different regions. While the Church laws and synodal decisions constitute fundamental sources that enable us to investigate the normative regulations of the era, the registers from Küküllő offer insights into questions from the perspective of actual social practice. A comparative analysis of the two source types can bring us closer to the complex issue of the relationship between norms and practice. We can obtain a more detailed picture of how church governance was asserted in reality in the everyday life of the local communities. This is of particular importance because we know that in early modern Europe people experienced religion for the most part in small rural communities. Thus the sources offer us a better grasp not only of the institutions, but also of the religious mentality and religious attitudes of ordinary people.

Equally significantly, with the help of the Küküllő sources we can examine a long period of time, embracing several generations. Thus on the one hand we can describe long-term trends, while on the other we can discern peculiarities arising from the personality of the church leaders, their ideas on church governance, as well as from the given historical periods.

Hungarian Calvinism is regarded as the easternmost contiguous group of international Calvinism but at the same time as a branch that has become separated from the western Protestant bloc. Many historians have noted its distinctive organizational, dogmatic, liturgical and cultural features.5 The systematic analysis of the Küküllő sources offers us an opportunity to investigate a relatively rarely studied topic in an international context. To what extent did the system of Church discipline in Transylvania differ from or resemble models in Western Europe?

The Institutional Framework of Church Governance and Church Discipline in the Transylvanian Calvinist Church

The novelty of Calvinist Church discipline derives in part from its theological roots, but it was also accompanied by radical renewal in church organization and governance. The model of Church discipline found in the Genevan Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541) which served as a model for western Calvinist Churches, contained two significant innovations. Firstly, it involved elected local lay office-bearers in the administration of church justice, alongside the pastors, and secondly it made great efforts to separate the spheres of church and secular power and to ensure the autonomy of the new Church bodies and their independence from the state authorities. However the Hungarian and Transylvanian Church governance structure differed significantly from the Western European models. During the time of the independent Principality of Transylvania (1541–1690) Calvinism not only came to be the dominant denomination but even developed a particularly close connection between state and church.

Furthermore, in the history of the Hungarian Reformation the Transylvanian Calvinist Church came closest to achieving the status of state church, though the formal, institutional relationship between the state and the Calvinist church always remained limited.6 This close relationship between Church and state can also be observed in Church governance and jurisdiction. The Calvinist Church preserved many elements of the medieval Catholic heritage, and adjusted to the social structure of the estate system on a large scale.7 As of the sixteenth century, the institution of the Calvinist bishopric (superintency) was gradually canonized, and consistories emerged only considerably later, with functions that differed in part from their original goals. From the late sixteenth century to the early and mid-eighteenth, the Calvinist Church in Transylvania was governed to a large extent by ministers and ministerial bodies. Of these, the most important unit of Church governance was the diocese, headed by the archdeacon. Like the organizational structure of the Church in Transylvania, the system of Church discipline also differed from the classic Calvinist model. In the period under discussion, the most relevant forums for Church discipline and Church administration of justice were the annual decanal visitations and the (so-called partial) synodic court of the diocese, which consisted of ministers and was led by the archdeacon.8 The visitation covered three essential aspects of the life of the parish. A significant part of the scope of its duties involved administrative and economic surveillance. In addition, it served as the tribunal of the clergy, and they monitored the religious and moral lives of the members of the congregation. The more serious disciplinary issues on which the visitation was not able to pass a sentence on the spot were discussed by the synodic court of the diocese. This was the forum for litigation involving Church officials (pastors, instructors), and it also functioned as a court of marriage where matrimonial cases were held.

To summarize, according to the original Calvinist model decisions pertaining to Church discipline were reached 1. at weekly meetings of the consistories, 2. at the congregational level, 3. “from below,” 4. by presbyters and lay office-bearers who were acquainted with the local circumstances and had personally and thoroughly inspected them in accordance with strict stipulations. In contrast, in Transylvania decisions were reached 1. in the course of the annual visitations or the slightly more frequently held partial synods, 2. not at the congregational level, 3. by a church superior working together with pastors 4. who were less familiar with local conditions and who therefore had to rely on what was said by the pastor and the congregation.

The traces of the close linkage between Church and state that developed over the course of the seventeenth century in Transylvania can be detected in another fundamental issue raised by the Protestant Reformation, namely questions pertaining to the alteration of the relationship between Church and state. Which sphere should be responsible for determining and enforcing the rules necessary in order to ensure social concord and disciplining the church members?9 According to the theoretical essentials of the Geneva model, bodies rigorously independent of the state exercised church discipline, but in Transylvania secular and ecclesiastical administration of justice were never entirely separate. Rather they functioned in a complementary fashion. The layered governmental, administrative, and jurisdictional structure of the society of estates was reflected in the parallelism in Church and secular judicial decisions. The degree of separation or interconnection depended on the historical period, the region, and the offences in question.

Over the course of the seventeenth century, with the consolidation of the absolutist state in Transylvania, civil magistrates gradually took over the Church’s role of supervising social conduct. Following the separation of powers, cases involving criminal offences came before the secular trial courts, while the Church dealt first and foremost with issues involving the private sphere (including handling strictly Church affairs). Its most important sphere of authority remained marital jurisdiction. In practice, however, at times the Church and secular institutions still often had contradictory regulations regarding transgressions with moral aspects (such as fornication, adultery, blasphemy, failure to attend church, and breaking of the Sabbath).

Thus the two forums differed from each other first and foremost in the nature of the punishments they imposed. The range of disciplinary measures available to the Church was not broad. The punishments were usually of a spiritual nature, though spiritual and “secular” sanctions were a bit intermixed in the Church’s administration of justice. Essentially the Church had three forms of punishment at its disposal: 1. various grades of oral admonition, 2. “secular” punishments, such as fines and corporal punishment, for instance the pillory or a caning, and 3. the most severe spiritual sanction, excommunication. The sources suggest that in practice this meant “excommunicatio minor,” in other words expulsion from the church and ban from communion. In addition, people who had committed more serious offences were turned over to the secular courts, and reconciliation could only be carried out after the sentence passed by the secular authorities had been implemented.

At the same time, because of the distinctive linkage between Church and state, in accordance with state law the archdeacon was accompanied on his visitation by a representative of the secular authorities who assisted in the execution of sentences and the collection of Church taxes. The presence of secular authorities essentially meant that the visitation was not simply an internal Church matter.10 The prestige of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction and the implementation of punishments imposed by the church bodies were ultimately assured by the state power.

Thus, the seventeenth-century Calvinist disciplinary registers were written within the framework of a stable church organizational structure supported by a strong state. After Transylvania lost its independent statehood in 1690, fundamental changes took place in the life of the Calvinist Church. The attempt to incorporate Transylvania into the Habsburg Empire was accompanied, over the course of the eighteenth century, by intensive efforts to re-Catholicize the region, efforts that were not always free of violent incident. For the Calvinist Church in Transylvania, this was a period of continuous attack and repression. Not only did it lose the support it had had from the state, it found itself confronted with the measures of an inimical government. Not surprisingly, this influenced the formal course of Church discipline proceedings as well. At the same time, however, following the period of wars, local administrative bodies could hardly disregard, in their efforts to maintain order, the role of the Church and its established practices as a stabilizing force. Thus the Church and the secular authorities continued to be bound by common interests, which is why the civil officials in general continued to participate in the enforcement of the disciplinary decisions of the Church.

Types of Disciplinary Cases in the Seventeenth Century

On first reading of the 850 pages of seventeenth-century Küküllő protocols, one is struck by the complete absence of church disciplinary cases involving lay persons, a fundamental difference compared to Western European case studies. The written sources that have survived pertaining to the work of the visitation and the Church court of highest instance in the seventeenth century essentially involve three spheres. The decisive majority of the visitation records concern administrative affairs and matters of finance. The Church courts functioned as little more than forums for marital disputes and the court of justice for Church officials (pastors, instructors).

In the fragmentary records that survived between 1638 and 1700 there are 219 matrimonial cases in other words breaking-off of engagement or divorce. They comprise 73 percent of all the cases. Comparing the disciplinary activity of the various denominations, R. Po-chia Hsia concluded that while the various rival Christian Churches developed similar structures of Church direction, there were significant differences between the denominations concerning the spheres of life in which they strengthened their control. While in the Catholic territories emphasis was placed on conformity in religious life, the protestant and, first and foremost, Calvinist Churches focused on the development of a new ethical system of norms, the regulation of sexual life, strengthening the institution of marriage, and maintaining family cohesion. These tendencies prevailed in the case of the practices of the Küküllő diocese as well.11

In the seventeenth-century Küküllő sources the majority of the remaining cases not related to marital law involved the conduct of local clergy and instances in which they had violated social standards. These cases, of which there were far fewer than the matrimonial matters, comprised some 12.4 percent of the total. Cases involving public scandal, drunkenness, disorderliness, quarrelling and slander were only entered into the visitation records or the partial (synodic) protocols if one or both of the persons involved was a clergyman or a member of his family.12 In other words, the sources that survived from the era concerning measures taken against persons offending against the standards of social behavior involve only clergymen. The most common kind of conflict involved disputes between preachers and rectors belonging to the same congregation or preachers and members of the local nobility.

Thus there is little written trace in the seventeenth-century Küküllő records of control of the personal behavior and public conduct of members of the laity. Thus is true in spite of the fact that lengthy church articles enumerated the spheres of the lives of the parishioners to which the Church was extending its authority. Almost every contemporary canonical collection and synodical decree dealt with Sabbath breaking, and worldly amusements, such as dancing or revelry, were strictly forbidden during days of feast. However, the seventeenth-century Küküllő sources contain hardly any data of affaires involving disciplinary measures taken against members of the laity for such offences. There are no notes regarding matters of blasphemy, swearing, drunkenness, quarrelling, failure to attend church, or profanation of feast days. There is no data concerning religious behavior regarded as unusual, and only sporadic mention of attempts in real church disciplinary practice to ban games, dances or folk customs considered contrary to Church teachings. The number of cases dealing with the behavior and beliefs of the laity is trifling despite the fact that all synodic decrees contained provisions for the punishment of such transgressions and the church visitation protocols of a contemporary, István Csulyák Miskolci, archdeacon of Zemplén also preserve many such records.13 In Küküllő, however, of the extremely sporadic cases almost all came up in the context of marital conflicts, sexual offences or disciplinary matters of the local clergy. These sources do however enable us to draw indirect conclusions regarding the customs of the larger community. In the course of the visitation in 1653, for instance, it came to light that on the second day of Easter youths danced in the granary of pastor Dániel Küküllővári from the village of Dányán (Daia, Romania) and the priest had his wheat reaped and a violinist invited on Sunday. Dániel Küküllővári faced no serious punishment for the transgressions, however. The archdeacon contented himself with a mere oral admonition. As far as the names of sinners are concerned or the punishments they were given, this information was not considered important enough to record in writing. It also turned out that the pastor of Gógánvárallja (Gogan Varolea, Romania) “freely allowed dance in the congregation” and did not enforce the punishment given to those who celebrated carnival. The names of the people who were dancing and taking part in the carnival games again were not noted, nor were the specific punishments.14

It is not easy to assess the available information and compare these data with other models of Calvinist Church discipline. The protocols suggest that carnival and dancing on feastdays were banned by Church decrees in Transylvania as well, and the archdeacon attempted to enforce this to some extent. But on the other hand, it is clear that there were pastors in rural congregations who, along with the local communities, didn’t adhere to these standards. One must also take into consideration that the protocols were drawn up in a society fundamentally based on orality, and no written records at congregational level survived from the period under investigation. Thus, compared to the Western European church examples that carried out extensive administrative activity and were organised at the congregational level, we are able to form a picture of only a slice of church discipline and the level of diocesan supervision in the Küküllő region in that period. All this raises serious problems of source criticism and also imposes limitations on comparability. However, the lack of sources at the congregational level can be partly counterbalanced by the fact that (due to the broad range of the archdeacon’s jurisdiction, in particular his right to impose excommunication) the more grievous disciplinary cases were settled not on the local level, but rather at diocesan forums. This means that the rulings in the most serious cases were made in a forum that has left us written records of its operation. This serves as a guide, even if they did not keep a regular register of persons condemned to excommunication or public penance.Thus we do not know precisely how the Church forums sanctioned the profanation of feast days or indulgence in banned customs, or how widely they extended these sanctions among the parishioners. Nonetheless, the lack of written documentation concerning matters of Church discipline involving members of the laity is striking. After all, in that period more important issues and escalated conflicts were recorded in writing, yet here we find no trace of mass bans or mass conflicts. The names of members of the laity who had committed transgressions were not even recorded. Like carnival and dancing, drunkenness and swearing were not mentioned in the registers as separate offences but rather as transgressions involving other violations of norms, as “aggravating circumstances,” for instance, and it is not clear on the basis of the sources whether they were sanctioned separately at all.

Thus one cannot conclude, on the basis of the absence of written records dealing specifically with the commission of such transgressions, that the Church forums of Küküllő did not handle such cases. But if a “coordinated purification campaign”15 resembling examples in Western Europe had been waged, it would certainly have left a trace in the protocols. The Küküllő disciplinary records that have survived from the seventeenth century indicate that the emphasis in Church discipline was not placed on the regulation of the behavior or religious lives of lay persons. We can also presume that in practice Church discipline was narrower in its range of motion than the sphere of transgressions designated by Church law as meriting sanction, and also narrowed in range than the practices characteristic of numerous Calvinist communities in Western Europe.16

Why is there little or no mention of failure to attend church, the profanation of feasts, or bans on folk customs in the seventeenth-century records of the Küküllő diocese? It seems unlikely that the communities of the valley of the Küküllő River were unusually devout in the practice of their religion. The causes in part arise from the nature of the sources. Many disciplinary cases were simply not recorded in writing. It is also probable that, because of the almost continuous military conflicts and the prevailing uncertainty, religion constituted a more powerful force for the communities, and perhaps they were more conscientious in their adherence to social norms and the expectations of the Church. However, one can also venture an explanation that is from a certain point of view contradictory, namely that in spite of the norms dictated by contemporary church and state laws, in reality the church expectations of the churchgoers did not cover a very broad spectrum and were largely adapted to local customs. Furthermore, given the prevailing instability and the recurring warfare, Church leadership only asserted its disciplinary authority in cases of severe transgressions. The fundamental question was the maintenance of basic social order, first and foremost strengthening the stability of the institution of marriage and the respect of norms by church office-bearers. And finally, there may have been significant regional differences in the matters of Church discipline. The predispositions of Church leaders and the customs regarding the maintenance of records both may well have determined the contents of the protocols and the types of cases that were regarded as important enough to merit written mention.

Changes That Took Place in the Eighteenth Century

Towards the end of the seventeenth century István Gönczi (1689–1712) arrived in the Küküllő diocese as archdeacon. The new archdeacon, who was unfamiliar with local conditions, became head of the diocese at an extremely challenging moment in the history of Transylvanian Calvinism, as the Habsburgs were endeavoring to assert their control and reassert the influence of the Catholic Church. As soon as he was able, Gönczi made a thorough assessment of the conditions. In consequence, he left historians with comparatively detailed written records. Records were drawn up regarding the relationship between the preacher and the congregation, and questions were raised concerning unsettled, sensitive issues in the interactions between the preachers, instructors, and churchgoers. As is eminently clear on the basis of the registers, one of the primary subjects of controversy between the Church and the members of the congregation was the issue of Church taxes. Notes regarding conflicts between the Aediles, who were responsible for overseeing the collection of Church taxes, and the members of the congregation (first and foremost the local nobility) became increasingly common, as did records regarding the imposition of fines for failure to assume the obligation of an office. In addition, in the course of the visitations increasing attention was paid to those who failed to attend church, and the names of individuals notorious for not going to church or not having taken the Lord’s Supper for a long time were registered. Also, parents were instructed to send their children to school. The last decade of Gönczi’s service as archdeacon was coincidental with the uprising against Habsburg dynasty led by Ferenc II Rákóczi. Regrettably very few written records survive from this period, a time of considerable devastation because of the constant military conflicts. The reorganization of diocesan government was undertaken by the next archdeacon, Simon György Bonyhai, who assumed the position as head of the diocese in 1712, under similarly difficult circumstances.

Bonyhai brought several innovations to the proceedings of visitations. For instance, he introduced the custom of a catalogue-type registering of church disciplinary matters in writing in the course of the annual visitations. In his first tour of inspection, between December 1712 and February 1713 he registered 183 more or less serious disciplinary affaires in the 36 congregations to which he paid visits. 13 of these concerned cases involving clergymen and their family, while the other 170 involved members of lay people. It was a relevant novelty compared to the previous visitation activity that a significant focus has been brought to the conduct of the laity besides the behavior of pastors and instructors.

The figures of disciplinary cases concerning lay people (Table 1) reveals that the new visitational practice of frequently and systematically registering various transgressions became an accepted custom in the diocese over the course of the eighteenth century. And as the changes in the items of the table indicate, after the first visitation (1712–1713) following the uprising led by Rákóczi the “most intensive decade of registering” was the period between 1721 and 1730. The number of disciplinary cases between 1731 and 1740 was barely more than two-thirds of the previous decade (69.9 percent). Between 1741 and 1750, this number dropped again to just over one-third (37.9 percent) and in the period between 1760 and 1770 it fell below one-third. Thus the figures suggest that the first third of the eighteenth century was the period of the most intense activity in the Küküllő diocese from the perspective of Church discipline conducted by the archdeacon.

In the context of individual settlements, while in the first third of the eighteenth century the visitation handled on average between two and four cases a year in an individual village or market-town, in the period between 1741 and 1750 this number dropped to an average of one or two. After 1750 it dropped again to one. These averages conceal significant differences, however. In extreme years seven or eight people were summoned by the visitation officials in a single settlement. There were also striking differences in the course of a single visitation. While in some villages there was not a single case of Church discipline, in others the number of the affairs discussed was extraordinarily high. In 1713, for instance, twelve people were convicted in Küküllővár (Cetatea-de-Balta, Romania), eleven in Kóródszentmárton (Coroisânmartin, Romania), nineteen in Marosbogát (Bogata, Romania), and twenty-one in Radnót (Iernut, Romania), all in the course of a single visitation.

Clearly these divergences are due in part to the size of the individual settlements and the differences in its confessional composition. Moreover, sometimes there were cases of local scandals that affected many of the members of the community and received considerable publicity, a detail not reflected in the mere numbers. But one of the most influential factors in the differences between the various congregations was the role of the pastor and noble patron and their attitudes towards Church discipline, not to mention the manner in which the local community adapted the institution of Church discipline into the prevailing system of customary law.

Controlling Public Religious Behavior

Considering the various categories of transgressions examined by the visitation in the period in question (Table 2), one notices that the second focal point of discipline of the period after efforts intended to ensure enforcement of sexual norms, was participation in Church rituals and communion. This was hardly incidental, since external signs of religious practice, and in particular participation in public services, were the most measurable and most easily verified indications of religious conformity. It is therefore not surprising that from the beginning of the eighteenth century almost all of the visitation protocols and Church court proceedings contained a wealth of information regarding observance of religious services by members of the local communities and the personal and public customs pertaining to church attendance. Below I examine disciplinary cases involving the offences against standards related to public religious conduct and the means with which the Church attempted to assert its authority and maintain control.

In that period violation of religious conformity, including the failure to attend Church services counted as a crime punishable not only under Church laws but also under state laws. Beginning with the first disciplinary Church rules in the sixteenth century, one of the recurring punishments for failure to attend church was exclusion from communion and the denial of funeral rites. The canon collection assembled by Superintendent István Geleji Katona in 1649, which served as the Church lawbook for Transylvania at the time, included this ruling.17 Contemporary state laws imposed typical secular punishments. According to the notable Act of 1619, however, which were points of reference in the secular jurisdiction in Transylvania, those who profaned feast days or broke the Sabbath were to pay fines. The Act of 1664 added the stipulation that peasants should be put in the stocks if they failed to attend church three times without justification.

In spite of the strict Church and state laws, one finds only a single case in the Küküllő disciplinary sources for the whole of the seventeenth century that can be tied to the public practice of religion and transgressions of religious standards and conduct. In 1668 a woman and her daughter were punished by the ecclesiastical court for disorderly conduct in the church. They were punished, however, with little more than a trifling fine (4 forint), half of which was dropped as they were able to provide bond.18 Apart from this case, there are no written records from the period before the end of the century regarding the control or supervision of the religious conformity and convictions of the members of the congregation, or for that matter their knowledge of religious dogma. The visitation registers began to deal with the religious conduct of the laity towards the end of the seventeenth century. It is worth noting that the first visitation records of that kind were still exclusively concerned with public praxis of religiosity and referred to the communities as a whole. But as of the 1720s, attention gradually shifted to the level of the individual. They began to enter the names of notorious absentees from church and of persons who failed to take communion for a long time.

While the first notes concerning the transgression of religious norms were made at the end of the seventeenth century, the maintenance of regular records of participation in public religious ceremonies can be regarded as one of the novelties of the eighteenth century. The complaint that members of the community were not attending church regularly arose in only three of the thirty-six congregations visited in 1713, and in addition twelve of the sinners were listed by name in the pages of the protocol. In contrast, over the course of the visitation in 1726 pastors in one out of every four (seven out of twenty-seven) parishes made the general complaint that “people do not [feel that they] need the church,” and the names of fifteen “negligents” living in the diocese were recorded. In 1731 some kind of critical remark was made regarding church attendance in every other parish, and the names of thirty-four persons were recorded in the documents regarding disciplinary measures. Of the thirty-one congregations visited by the archdeacon, he found only six in which not a single complaint was made regarding regular religious practices. In other words, in 80 percent of the congregations offenses against standards involving the public practice of religion were recorded. In 1734 the intensity of the supervision of religious regulations on the communal level dropped significantly, but the proportion of matters regarding individuals who failed to attend Church services did not change. While the general complaint that Church attendance was not satisfactory was made of only three of the twenty-seven communities, twenty-one people were summoned individually to appear before the archdeacon. One notices a similar though less pronounced tendency two years later. In 1736 complaints were made regarding two congregations and the names of sixteen people who had committed transgressions were recorded in the visitation protocols.

Thus as of the beginning of the eighteenth century the Church gradually devoted increasing attention to regular church attendance and taking of the Communion. In the 1720s, the number of entries regarding disciplinary measures taken against those who failed to attend services rose dramatically in the Küküllő diocese, reaching a peak in the 1730s. After this, although registers continued to be kept up until the end of the century regarding violations of religious norms, but as of the 1740s the number of written comments concerning participation in public ceremonies became sporadic. Although the number of individuals whose names were included in the records grew in the 1720s and the first years of the 1730s, the average number in the diocese still did not exceed one or two persons per congregation.

While in general the entries did not give details on the nature of the transgressions, a few references can serve as an indication of the causes of the absence and the nature of the religious behavior expected by the church. It becomes clear, for instance, that in some of the cases the entire congregation failed to attend weekday services. However, it is worth keeping in mind that at least in principle the Church decrees required quite frequent attendance at church. According to the Geleji canon, Church services were to be held four times a week. Sermons were supposed to be held twice every Sunday, morning and afternoon, and according to the Church statutes two services were to be held on weekdays as well. Furthermore, on days when there were no services, in principle the pastor held prayers twice a day and read passages of Scripture.19 In practice, however, these regulations were rarely met. For instance, according to the 1721 visitation notes, in the village of Bethlenszentmiklós (Sânmiclăus, Romania) no services were held on weekdays whatsoever.20 In many cases the religious zeal of the members of filial congregations in which there was no permanent pastor were found wanting. For instance, according to the records of the 1721 visitation, in Egrestő (Agrişteu, Romania), the “filial” village of Balavásár (Bălăuşeri, Romania), when the instructor rang the church bells, sometimes no one went to the service.21 Furthermore, failure to attend church was often more common in the summer, when members of the congregation saw to seasonal agricultural work instead of meeting the expectations of the Church.

In addition, the first signs appeared in the records referring not simply to the impious behavior of individuals, but to the irreligious, profane conduct of whole communities. Failure to attend church services began to be associated with profanation of a feast day, in other words the indulgence in secular forms of entertainment in sacred time. For instance, in 1722 the complaint was made that the parishioners of the community of Csávás (Ceuaş, Romania) failed to attend services and preferred instead to carouse. According to the 1728 visitation many of the members of the congregation of Erzsébetváros (Dumbrăveni, Romania), including many of the elderly, profaned the Sabbath by dancing and drinking.22 In certain cases the difficulties encountered in introducing the new religious regulations can be sensed; in a number of cases, for example, local resistance to schooling and the catechism of girls can be observed. In these cases, complaints regarding poor church attendance were made as part of the larger endeavor of the Church to promote new religious teachings and change the religious mentality.

The division of the complaints according to gender is also interesting. Complaints against men usually involved agricultural work or indulgence in worldly pleasures, such us spending time at the inn. More surprising, however, were the frequent complaints concerning the habits of women with regards to church attendance, such as the laments that “the women do not want to go to church,” “the women do not really go to church,” and “both the men and the women are admonished, but primarily the women, not to neglect to attend church.”23 The very brief entries in the protocols reveal little concerning possible explanations for what lay behind the phenomenon. One might venture the hypothesis that in this case there was tension between a traditional conception of religious representation and a new approach. The feudal world tended to think in terms of households, not individuals, and thus earlier it may well have been considered sufficient if only the head of the household attended services. The records from the early eighteenth century may well indicate that the Church had begun to call this custom into question and had aspired to insist that women also attend services. It hardly seems mere coincidence that these records appeared, if sporadically, precisely at the time that the Church increased its efforts to supervise the catechism of girls more closely.

Another important note pertaining to the religious conduct of women concerned a debate regarding Church seating order and the behavior of the congregation during the service. For instance, the women were admonished not to converse on the benches beside the church building during the service, but rather to sit in the pew that had been assigned to them and listen to the sermon. Seating order in the church mirrored the local social hierarchy. Matters in which someone failed to attend a service because of a debate concerning seating order reflected veiled communal conflicts and tensions in the local social hierarchy. The Church court dealt with these cases individually and accurately specified seats in the pews for the litigants according to their social positions, and these decisions were attentively recorded in writing by the visitation officials.

Many entries can be read from the period in question that drew distinctions between the sinners on the basis of their social status. However, these data lead to different conclusions. For instance, among the villagers of Bernád (Bernadea, Romania), particularly the peasants were accused of negligence about attending Church services, while in Csávás the local pastor complained about the habits of the well-to-do husbandmen. With regards to the people of Egrestő, the visitation noted that “the members of the nobility are particularly cold in their service of the Lord.”24

Thus in the early eighteenth century we see the appearance of a new dimension of disciplinary activity focusing on the intensity or laxity of public religious practice. Since data from Küküllő on the earlier periods of religious practice at local level enabling a comparison has not survived, it is difficult to assess the religious, social, or cultural factors that lay in the background. Have we really detected a shift in the models of communal religious behavior and a drop in participation in religious services? Do the sources suggest that a system of rules that more or less had prevailed was weakening? What lies in the background of this phenomenon? The slackening of communal norms as a consequence of armed conflicts? Unfavorable shifts in political circumstances in the wake of efforts by the Habsburg Court to reassert Catholicism? Or were there other factors? Or perhaps the attitude of the Church leadership changed, devoting greater attention than in the previous periods to the perception of transgressions of the law regarding church presence and recording them in writing. And of this was so, can this be interpreted in the larger framework of the endeavor to change the religious mentality of communities?

In order to offer a nuanced answer to this obviously complex question, one would need additional sources. But even in this stage, it is nonetheless worth considering a few possibilities on the basis of the available sources. Religious prescriptions for individuals and communities and actual religious practice coincide only in exceptional cases, to use Max Weber’s expression, only in the case of religious virtuosi. For this reason the tension between norm and practice can always emerge in conflicts, regardless of the historical era in question. As described above, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Church and secular laws often specified the punishments for transgressions involving the public practice of religion.

The familiar topos of the moral decline of the community that is turning away from God and the church and has become forgetful of divine punishment already figured prominently in the famous laws passed by Prince Gábor Bethlen in 1619. However, in actual church disciplinary practice, on the basis of the written sources in the Küküllő diocese, failure to attend church only began to be treated as a serious transgression in the eighteenth century. Although the brief, formalized language of the protocols offers few insights into the actual circumstances, it is nevertheless a fact that as they moved from one congregation to another they named various social groups and divergent circumstances in their catalogues of transgressions (women, men, smallholders, nobles, old people, young people, weekdays, Sundays, feast days, etc.), suggesting that what lay in the background was not simply the revival of the old stereotype of decline, but rather departures from religious norms at the level of concrete, individual realities. At the same time it is worth keeping another phenomenon in mind. The texts of a few of the judgements suggests that in addition to adopting increasingly strict expectations concerning religious conduct, the Church was striving to find a balance between the liturgical requirements and real life. This led to subtle compromises between communal customs and the church’s expectations. This can clearly be seen in the wording of a judgement made during the visitation in 1734, stating that the members of the congregation of Királyfalva (Crăieşti, Romania) were expected to attend church on weekdays too whenever they could. In 1736 a ruling was issued in Teremi (Teremia Mare, Romania) admonishing the members of the congregation to be more conscientious about attending church. Otherwise, those who failed to attend the services would be buried without a church ceremony.25 Thus the expectations of the Church were by no means absolutely categorical. Only those who did not attend the services with due frequency were threatened with spiritual punishment. In 1728 the visitation warned the pastor of Kóródszentmárton, instructing him, “when there are believers present [on Sunday], to deliver a sermon twice.”26 In this case, the preacher had neglected to hold the afternoon Sunday sermon. Some members of the congregation, however, presumably continued to call for the second Sunday ceremony. Notably, the visitation did not reprimand the members of the congregation who had failed to attend the second service, but rather, making allowances for local conditions, admonished the pastor. In any case, the surviving written records indicate slow changes in habits pertaining to church attendance and a gradual decline in participation in church services other than the Sunday morning sermon.

Matters revealing, the brevity of the sources notwithstanding, some kind of personal conflict constitute another important group of violations of religious conformity. In general one has the impression that when people’s names were included in the written records, this was because of some kind of personal motive. One of the reasons for failure to attend services may have been a personal conflict with a family member or a member of the larger community or an unresolved family dispute. A further reason may simply have been the desire to avoid the public penance and reconciliation before the assembled community. Failure to attend services in certain cases stretched over long periods of time, even years. However, most frequently the refusal to attend church could be traced back to a personal conflict with the minister. Indeed, in certain cases even the brief texts reveal that absence from church was interpreted as a public gesture of open opposition to the minister that was clearly understood as such by the community. The case of Mihály Nagy of Bernád offers a clear example of this. While the instructor was dictating the first hymn of the service, he remained in the church, but when the pastor began to preach, he left the building.27

The sources offer few insights into the conflicts. Some of the entries referring to the causes indicate a difference of views regarding church services. Frequently the disciplinary activity of the minister or the instructor was the cause of the anger. Other conflicts were due to economic considerations. People failed to attend services because of disputes arising over provision of the minister’s payment in the form of produce, or refusal to do the required work led to absence from religious services. In certain cases the minister’s behavior seems to have been the cause of the resistance. This seems to bee true in the case of the pastor of Kerelőszentpál (Sânpaul, Romania), who was accused of family quarrels, frequently neglecting to hold services, failing to announce Communion at the proper time and squabbling with members of the congregation. Given his conduct, people “didn’t even go to church.”

Thus when someone failed to take part in the religious life of the community, the most common reason was a personal conflict with the local clergyman. Failure to attend church, however, did not necessarily mean failure to participate in all religious rituals. The case of Mrs. István Szabó of Kutyfalva (Cuci, Romania) is one example of this. She was angry at the local pastor and so had her child baptized by the minister in another village. Her example indicates a phenomenon that has not yet been made the subject of thorough study. Because of her conflict with the local priest, she turned for assistance to the minister of another congregation to administer the sacrament. Historians have been familiar with this phenomenon, but most often with regards to weddings. In such cases, the bride and groom would turn to another pastor, often (Church and secular prohibitions notwithstanding) a pastor belonging to a different denomination, if in the course of the proceedings some obstacle were to arise, for instance if one of the two families happened to oppose the marriage or the prevailing Church laws for some reason prevented the two from marrying. In the case of Mrs. Szabó, however, her decision to have her child baptized by another pastor was due not to some external hindrance, but rather her personal conflict with the local priest. The records from Küküllő indicate that her case was by no means unique.

The 1738 visitation forbade the members of the congregation in general from taking Communion in another parish. This prohibition was made without mention of any specific individual case, suggesting that in fact the practice was widespread.28 In Búzásbesnyő (Valea Izvoarelor, Romania), the Church body that performed the visitation threatened the ex-churchwarden and another man, both of whom were embroiled in a conflict with the local pastor over the collection of taxes, with exclusion from the churches in the neighboring villages. It is an indication of the limits of church control that despite the general ban, the visitation was unable to take any effective action against the two men. In 1754, after a good ten years had passed, the two men, who regularly took Lord’s Supper in another congregation, were again admonished to attend services and take Communion in the church in their village.29 The sources thus indicate that there existed a pattern in the religious practice of the period that overstepped the local parochial order, and members of local congregations would attend services in other communities as a consequence of conflicts with local pastors.

While the citations above suggest that it was not unheard of for churchgoers to attend the Calvinist church of a neighboring village instead of the one in their own communities, references have survived in the Küküllő sources to examples of persons crossing denominational borders on occasion in areas with a mixed population. The people of Balavásár who attended services at the evangelical Saxon church and the people of Harangláb (Hărănglab, Romania) and Ádámos (Adămuş, Romania) who attended the Unitarian church raise another important question, namely the nature of the borders of individual and communal confessional consciousness and identity in the early modern era. The Church leadership made repeated efforts to strengthen confessional identity, reinforce the borders between different denominations, and forbid members of one congregation from participating in services held by other denominations. For instance, women who attended services at the Unitarian church were admonished: “Do not disgrace our sacred faith by attending the churches of other faiths. If you consider yourselves Calvinists, attend our church and provide the pastor and instructor with their pay.”30 The sources, however, reveal that some of the members of local communities overstepped these borders. In order to be able to assess the actual frequency of this phenomenon, however, we would need additional sources.

The sources yield further insights if the surviving remarks are considered from the perspective of the individuals involved. In many of these cases one can sense that the persons who were summoned to appear before the Church disciplinary bodies had violated the moral standards of both the village community and the Church with their conduct in a number of ways. In most cases the various conflicts and violations of individual and communal norms were intertwined, as for instance in the case of István Vas of Csávás. In the three decades between 1712 and 1744 Vas was summoned to appear before the visitation on ten different occasions. His transgressions included blasphemy, swearing, bearing false witness, mistreating his wife, and refusing to pay Church taxes. Furthermore, he was repeatedly admonished for having failed to attend church or take Communion. In addition to numerous oral admonitions and threats of excommunication, he was in fact excommunicated three times, twice for blasphemy and once for having born false witness. His case was by no means unique. If one examines the cases of individuals who were summoned to appear before the visitation more closely, one notes that many of the names recur frequently. In Bonyha and its filial church, Bernád, between 1721 and 1741, of the 74 people listed by name in the protocols 20 recur more than once (27 percent). In Kóródszentmárton 40 names were recorded once, but 30 were registered at least twice (43 percent), and it was not at all uncommon for one name to figure more than three times in the visitation records (there were twelve such cases). In the villages of Balavásár and Egrestő, over the course of the two decades in question 56 people were summoned to appear before the visitation. 24 of them (40 percent) were summoned at least twice. Nine people were summoned more than three times.

Refusal to Take the Lord’s Supper

One of the most powerful symbols of conflict, both for the community and for the Church superiors, was refusal to take Communion. According to Church teachings, as a ritual the sacrament of Communion bore the essence of all of the articles of Christian faith, reminding churchgoers of the crucifixion, forgiveness, and the promise of redemption and also enabling them to express their submission to the will of the Lord. The Lord’s Supper also served as a symbolic manifestation of the unity of the congregation. It made the group of churchgoers a sacred community of believers. Thus it was both sacrament and public ritual expressing communal cohesion. The refusal to take Communion thus represented rejection of the sacrament but also of the larger community.

Thus alongside participation in church services, the Lord’s Supper was the other emblematic element of the public, communal practice of religion. The regular taking of Communion has therefore been considered by scholars as a good measure of religious conformity.31 In many cases, however, refusal to take Communion was due to personal conflicts, as was the case with failure to attend church services. This was true in the case in a dispute between two men from Kóródszentmárton, both of whom were admonished by the visitation not to bear anger towards each other, which causes them not to partake in the sacrament of Lord’s Supper.32

In his study of the protocols of the visitation of the Württemberg Lutheran Church David Warren Sabean examines the conflicts that arose regarding Communion and the refusal to attend the Lord’s Supper. He contends that behind the cases of refusals among the peasantry to take part in the celebration of Communion in the sixteenth century one can detect internal communal conflicts and ritual expressions of dissension. According to the teachings of the Church and the local communal norms, the attending of Communion had to be preceded by a show of repentance of the sins and reconciliation. The Württemberg peasants who lived in a state of conflict, restlessness, and ultimately sin, were, according to their convictions, in a ritually endangered state. If they were to take Communion unworthily, they would face the Lord’s judgment and would endanger not only themselves, but the entire congregation.33 According to Sabean’s analysis, in contrast with the Church leaders, who sought to reconcile the parties to disputes and urged them to take Communion as quickly as possible, the villagers saw the conflict as a secular affair that the individual’s conscience and inner spiritual relief could not remedy. Such disputes, in their view, could only be dealt with by the secular juridical institutions, in a well-ordered, legal manner.

The judgements of the Küküllő diocese in the eighteenth century reveal signs of this conception as well. If a Church forum found someone guilty of a transgression, the person in question first had to settle the case in the secular court. The offender first had to suffer the penalty issued by the secular court and only then came the ritualized form of repentance, public penance. The religious community only then could re-integrate him or her into the fold, and only then could a penitent offender take Communion as part of the congregation. The conflict could be solved with the assistance of formal juridical institutions. One finds an example of the acceptance of this approach by the Church in the case of the elder Mrs. Beregi of Boldogfalva, who according to the visitation was embroiled in a conflict with Mrs. György Molnár and so did not take Communion. Her case was heard by the village court. She appealed the decision of the court, but she did not take the other necessary steps and she did not demonstrate to the visitation officials any willingness to make peace. Thus she did not move her case forward. She did not do everything to settle the conflict legally and restore peace. The visitation threatened her with excommunication if she did not resolve the case within two weeks.34 Thus the Church officials in Küküllő in the eighteenth century—in contrast with officials in Württemberg in the sixteenth century—accepted that litigation held before the secular tribunal excluded contestants from taking Communion. The litigants were obliged to resolve the legal situation, which meant temporary exclusion from the community of the faithful, as soon as possible in order to restore the peace. Since Mrs. Beregi was unwilling to do this, she herself was seen as culpable.

If, however, the Church did not find a reason to ban someone from taking Communion, neither a crime awaiting the punishment of the secular court nor a litigious matter, it required the believers to attend the Lord’s Supper. This attitude was reflected in the case of Mrs. Márton Székely. The Church warned her “not to neglect Communion just because of base household quarrels, but rather take the Lord’s Supper more often.”35 Mrs. Székely, demonstrating her lay interpretation of Communion, understood refusal to take Communion as a ritual expression of a tense situation that represented a direct physical and spiritual danger. The local church leaders, in contrast, did not consider the “base household quarrels” as a matter to be addressed by the criminal forums, nor did it see them as transgressions that would endanger the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. They interpreted the conduct of members of the congregations who failed to take Communion “without real reason” as a challenge to the orthodox ritual religious practices and a sign of resistance to Church authority, since refusal to take Communion constituted a withdrawal from the community of the faithful.

In an essay on the practice of attending Communion in the village communities of Wiltshire, Donald A. Spaeth examines another reason for refusal to participate in the fundamental ritual. He analyzes cases from the Anglican Church in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in which the parishioners were unwilling to take Holy Communion if they saw the minister as immoral. According to Spaeth, in their view a pastor who led an unholy life was not fit to administer the sacrament. To accept Holy Communion from such a pastor would be to violate the sacrament itself. This folk interpretation may explain a case noted by the Küküllő visitation in 1722, when members of the congregation in the town of Radnót indicated that they were unwilling to take Communion if the sacrament were administered by the local pastor.

These examples all suggest that, given the ambiguous popular attitude of lay people towards Communion, an attitude marked both by awe and respect, and their fear of the Lord’s wrath should they violate the ritual, one cannot interpret failure to take Communion simply as a sign of a lack of interest in the ritual or a decline in religious commitment or piety. Indeed in certain cases it may well indicate a more strict interpretation of and adherence to the spiritual importance of religious ritual. Thus (to echo Spaeth’s conclusion) failure to attend the Lord’s Supper cannot be seen as an index of piety or religious zeal.36


In the period under investigation violations of religious conformity, including failure to attend church services, were seen as crimes that were punished by Church and state alike. The sixteenth and seventeenth-century state laws sanctioned failure to attend church with characteristically secular penalties. However, the Church strove increasingly to enforce religious conformity by referring to the spiritual dangers that awaited offenders. Indeed in the 1720s and 1730s these kinds of transgressions were punished exclusively with spiritual sanctions.

As the visitation records reveal, however, the continuous admonitions notwithstanding, no one was ever actually excommunicated for having failed to attend sermons. In contrast, those who were found guilty of swearing or having broken oaths or committed sexual transgressions comprised the overwhelming majority of people sentenced to excommunication or reconciliation; persons who failed to attend church and lived without taking communion were ordered again and again to appear before the visitation, their names were recorded, they were admonished and threatened with the most severe spiritual sanctions, but in no case were they condemned to excommunication or public penance.


The period in which the greatest emphasis was placed on the enforcement of religious conformity coincided with the period when maintenance of written records regarding transgressions committed by members of the laity became far more widespread than previously.

The requirement of a more intensive presence arose from the same aspiration as the efforts to ensure control of schooling and catechism and efforts to spread Christian teachings more effectively. Moreover, this process began in a political context that had undergone a fundamental shift. The Principality of Transylvania lost its independence, becoming part of the Habsburg Empire. The Transylvanian Church, which had enjoyed the status of a quasi-state Church, found itself the target of the Habsburg’s recatholicization efforts.

Within a short while its most urgent problem became the struggle against the occupation of its churches, conversions and cuts in ministers’ benefits. In a hostile environment in which it was increasingly difficult to have sanctions against members of the community carried out by the secular authorities, increased emphasis must have been placed on the ritual strengthening of denominational community bonds. Church membership could be defined most clearly through participation in the rites, and for this reason the church leadership also interpreted church attendance and taking communion as a sign of belonging to the community.

However, the more extensive, comprehensive control did not at the same time mean that punishments became more intensive or severe. We cannot speak in this diocese of an all-embracing, strict disciplinary campaign, of a systematic, consistent endeavor to change religious mentality, in the words of the American sociologist Philip Gorski of a “disciplinary revolution” in the control of public religious practice. The expectations of the Church were not that high.There is no indication that the church strove to impose regular attendance on all members of the community. It did not really have the means to have done so. The list of recurring names of notorious offenders does suggest that there was a clearly identifiable stratum impervious to the efforts of the visitation, against whom the instruments of church discipline proved inadequate.

Archival sources

KükEhmLvt prot. I/1: A Küküllői Református Egyházmegye levéltára. Parciális zsinati jegyzőkönyv [Archive of the Küküllő Calvinist Church. Partial Synodic Protocols]. 1639–1673. OSZK Filmtári dsz: MF/1. 3713.

KükEhmLvt prot. II/1. Vizitációs jegyzőkönyv 1648–1658 [Visitation Protocols 1648–1658]. OSZK Filmtári dsz: MF/1. 3710.

KükEhmLvt prot. I/2. Vegyes vizitációs és parciális zsinati jegyzőkönyvek 1677–1713 [Visitation and Partial Synodic Protocols 1677–1713]. OSZK Filmtári dsz: MF/1. 3711.

KükEhmLvt prot. II/2. Vizitációs jegyzőkönyv 1713–1725 [Visitation Protocols 1713–1725]. OSZK Filmtári dsz. MF/1. 3712.

KükEhmLvt prot. II/3. Vizitációs jegyzőkönyv 1725–1761 [Visitation Protocols 1725–1761]. OSZK Filmtári dsz. MF/1. 3718.


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Burke, Peter. Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.

Buzogány, Dezső. “A kálvini etikára épített egyházközségi vagyongazdálkodás” [Parochial Management of Wealth Based on the Calvinist Ethic]. In Kálvin időszerűsége [Calvin’s Timeliness], edited by Sándor Fazakas, 291–337. Budapest: A Magyarországi Református Egyház Kálvin János Kiadója, 2009.

Buzogány, Dezső, Sándor Előd Ősz, and Levente Tóth, eds. A történelmi Küküllői Református Egyházmegye egyházközségeinek történeti katasztere 1648–1800 [The Historical Cadaster of the Parishes of the Reform Diocese of Historical Küküllő, 1648–1800]. Vols 4, Cluj: Koinónia, 2008–2011.

Chareyre, Philippe. “The Great Difficulties One Must Bear to Follow Jesus Christ’: Morality at Sixteenth-Century Nîmes.” In Sin and the Calvinists. Moral Control and the Consistory in the Reformed Traditio, edited by Raymond A. Mentzer, 63–96. Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994.

Dienes, Dénes. Zempléni vizitációk 1629–1671. Miskolci Csulyák István zempléni esperes és hivatali utódainak feljegyzései [The Written Notes of István Miskolci Csulyák, Archdeacon of Zemplén, and His Successors]. Sárospatak: Sárospataki Református Kollégium Tudományos Gyűjteményei, 2008.

Fazakas, Gergely Tamás. “From a Peripheral towards a Central Issue? English-Language Historiography of Early Modern Hungarian Calvinism – A Bibliographical Survey.” In Calvinism on the Peripheries. Religion and Civil Society on the Peripheries of Europe, edited by Ábrahám Kovács, 45–65. Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2009.

Gorski, Philip S. The Disciplinary Revolution. Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Graham, Michael F. The Uses of Reform. Godly Discipline’ and Popular Behavior in Scotland and Beyond, 1560–1610. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 58. Leiden–New York–Köln: E.J. Brill, 1996.

Illyés, Endre. Egyházfegyelem a magyar református egyházban a XVI–XIX. században [Church Discipline in the Hungarian Calvinist Church in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries]. Debrecen: Debreceni Városi Nyomda, 1941.

Illyés, Géza. Az Erdélyi Református Zsinatok végzései [The Decrees of the Transylvanian Calvinist Synods], Manuscript, Erdélyi Református Egyházkerület Levéltára, 1940–1942.

Kingdon, Robert M. Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

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1 The citations are taken from the work of Michael F. Graham, who offers a penetrating historiographical survey of the topic. Michael F. Graham, The Uses of Reform. Godly Discipline’ and Popular Behavior in Scotland and Beyond, 1560–1610, Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 58 (Leiden–New York–Köln: E.J: Brill, 1996), 1–8. To mention only a few of the many works of secondary literature dealing with discipline in the Calvinist Church: William Monter, “The Consistory of Geneva, 1559–1569,” Bibliothèque d’humanisme et renaissance 38 (1976): 467–84. Robert Kingdon, introduction to Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Calvin, vol. 1, 1542–1544, ed. Robert Kingdon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), XVII–XXXV; Scott, M. Manetsch, “Pastoral care east of Eden: the consistory of Geneva, 1568–82,” Church History 75 (2006): 274–313.

2 At the same time more recent scholarship has given increasing attention to the local relations of the consistories responsible for enforcing discipline, the pastoral dimensions of Church discipline, and the consequences that stem from its essentially theological foundations. For some of the most important analyses based on case studies see Raymond Mentzer, “Disciplina nervus ecclesiae: The Calvinist Reform of Morals at Nîmes,” Sixteenth Century Journal 18 (1987): 89–115; Raymond Mentzer, “Morals and Moral Regulation in Protestant France,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 31 (2000): 1–20; Heinz Schilling, “Reform and Supervision of Family Life in Germany and the Netherlands” in Sin and the Calvinists. Moral Control and the Consistory in the Reformed Tradition, ed. Raymond A. Mentzer (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994), 15–61; Heinrich Richard Schmidt, Dorf und Religion. Reformierte Sittenzucht in Berner Landgemeinden der frühen Neuzeit (Stuttgart–Jena–New York: G. Fischer, 1995); Graham, The Uses of Reform, Robert M. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995); Raymond A. Mentzer, ed., Sin and the Calvinists. Moral Control and the Consistory in the Reformed Tradition (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994); Graeme Murdock, Calvinism on the Frontier 1600–1660. International Calvinism and the Reformed Church in Hungary and Transylvania (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 198–228.

3 Of the various works in the increasingly expansive secondary literature, see Heinz Schilling, “‘History of Crime’ or ‘History of Sin’: Some Reflections on the Social History of Early Modern Church Discipline”, in Politics and Society in Reformation Europe, ed. E. I. Kouri and Tom Scott (London: Macmillan, 1987), 289–310. Also, with a wealth of bibliographical references, Ronald Po–Chia Hsia, Social Discipline in the Reformation: Central Europe, 1350–1750 (London: Routledge, 1989). Schilling’s thesis is disputed by Heinrich Richard Schmidt, Dorf und Religion.

4 Philip S. Gorski, The Disciplinary Revolution. Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

5 From the more recent secondary literature on the Hungarian Reformation, see Katalin Péter, “Hungary,” in The Reformation in National Context, ed. Bob Scribner et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 135–55; Graeme Murdock, Calvinism on the Frontier; István György Tóth “Old and New Faith in Hungary, Turkish Hungary, and Transylvania,” in A Companion to the Reformation World, ed. Ronnie Po–Chia Hsia (Oxford, Blackwell, 2004), 205–20; László Kósa, “Protestantism in Hungarian Culture,” in Hungarian Minorities and Central Europe: Regionalism, National and Religious Identity, ed. Ferenc Gereben (Piliscsaba: Pázmány Péter Catholic University, 2001), 178–93. For a thorough survey of the history of the scholarship, see Gergely Tamás Fazakas, “From a Peripheral towards a Central Issue? English-Language Historiography of Early Modern Hungarian Calvinism – A Bibliographical Survey,” in Calvinism on the Peripheries. Religion and Civil Society on the Peripheries of Europe, ed. Ábrahám Kovács (Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2009), 45–65.

6 Graeme Murdock, Calvinism on the Frontier, 243–49; Réka Kiss, Egyház és közösség a kora újkorban: a Küküllői Református Egyházmegye 17–18. századi iratainak tükrében [Church and Community in the Early Modern Era: the Calvinist Diocese of Küküllő as Reflected in its Records from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries] (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2011).

7 Géza Nagy, A református egyház története, 1608–1715 [The History of the Calvinist Church, (1608–1715)] vols 2, (Budapest: Attraktor, 2008); Dezső Buzogány, “A kálvini etikára épített egyházközségi vagyongazdálkodás” [Parochial Management of Wealth Based on the Calvinist Ethic], in Kálvin időszerűsége [Calvin’s Timeliness], ed. Sándor Fazakas (Budapest: A Magyarországi Református Egyház Kálvin János Kiadója, 2009), 291–337.

8 Dezső Buzogány et al. (eds), A történelmi Küküllői Református Egyházmegye egyházközségeinek történeti katasztere 1648–1800 [The Historical Cadaster of the Parishes of the Reform Diocese of Historical Küküllő, 1648–1800], vols 4 (Cluj: Koinónia, 2008–2011).

9 On the question regarding the functional differences between the secular and the Church administration of justice see Heinz Schilling, “History of Crime” or “History of Sin”?, 289–93.

10 Buzogány, A kálvini etikára épített, 301.

11 Hsia, Social Discipline, 7. One notices a similar practice in Church discipline in the Scottish Church, while for instance the number of cases of Church discipline involving sexual conduct in the Huguenot records books in rural France was insignificant (48 percent). Graham, The Uses of Reform, 326–48; Mentzer, Disciplina, 89–115.

12 Kiss, Egyház és közösség.

13 Dénes Dienes, Zempléni vizitációk 1629–1671. Miskolci Csulyák István zempléni esperes és hivatali utódainak feljegyzései [The Written Notes of István Miskolci Csulyák, Archdeacon of Zemplén, And His Successors] (Sárospatak: Sárospataki Református Kollégium Tudományos Gyűjteményei, 2008); Endre Illyés, Egyházfegyelem a magyar református egyházban a XVI–XIX. században [Church Discipline in the Hungarian Calvinist Church in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries] (Debrecen: Debreceni Városi Nyomda, 1941); Murdock, Calvinism on the Frontier, 198–228.

14 A Küküllői Református Egyházmegye levéltára [Archive of the Küküllő Calvinist Church] (Hereafter KükEhmLvt prot.) II/1, 1653. 46, 48.

15 See Burke’s influential theory on the long process described as the reform of popular culture and the efforts of the Church (and in particular the Protestant Church) to transform popular religions and the religious mentality and separate the sacred and the profane. Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York: Harper and Row, 1978).

16 In order to illustrate these differences: Church discipline among the Huguenots focused first and foremost on the reform of popular customs and religious conduct (as expressions of popular culture). For instance, in Nîmes the steps that were taken against the habit of dancing were seen as extremely significant. Between 1561 and 1614 some 1,085 such cases were heard (304 of them in the nine years between 1605 and 1614). In the same period the cases involving the prohibition of games were heard 366 times and cases involving carnival or charivari 396 times. In contrast, Emden for instance in the first half of the seventeenth century the majority of the cases involved violations of social conduct (37.5 percent). See Philippe Chareyre, “The Great Difficulties One Must Bear to Follow Jesus Christ”: Morality at Sixteenth-Century Nîmes,” in Sin and the Calvinists. Moral Control and the Consistory in the Reformed Tradition. ed. Raymond A. Mentzer (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994), 63–96.; Schilling, Reform and Supervision,” 15–61.

17 Áron Kiss, A tizenhatodik században tartott magyar református zsinatok végzései [Decrees of the Hungarian Calvinist Synods Held in the Sixteenth Century], Protestáns Theológiai Könyvtár 15 (Budapest: Magyarországi Protestánsegylet, 1881), 587, 730; Géza Illyés, Az Erdélyi Református Zsinatok végzései [The Decrees of the Transylvanian Calvinist Synods, 1606–1762] (manuscript, Erdélyi Református Egyházkerület Levéltára, 1940–1942); Péter Bod, Erdélyi református zsinatok végzései 1606–1762 [The Decrees of the Transylvanian Calvinist Synods, 1606–1762], ed. Dezső Buzogány and Gábor Sipos, Erdélyi Református Egyháztörténeti Füzetek 3 (Cluj: Erdélyi Református Egyházkerület, 1999); Áron Kiss, ed., Geleji Katona István Egyházi Kánonai és a Szatmári Reform [The Church Canons of István Geleji Katona and the Szatmár Reform] (Kecskemét: Szatmári Református Egyházmegye, 1875).

18 KükEhmLvt prot. I/1, 1669. 169/a.

19 Geleji, Egyházi kánonjai, XLII, XLVI.

20 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1721. 79.

21 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1726. 13–14.

22 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1727. 25, 1728. 77.

23 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1731. 132; 1735. 185, 187.

24 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1730. 169; 1742. 310; 1716. 48.

25 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1734. 177; 1736.

26 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1728. 59; 1730. 114.

27 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1726. 10.

28 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1738. 200.

29 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1754. 472.

30 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1728. 72–73.

31 Donald A. Spaeth’s essay on the customs of Anglican congregations pertaining to Holy Communion in the early modern era is revealing and also thought provoking from the perspective of methodology. Donald A. Spaeth, “Common Prayer? Popular Observance of the Anglican Liturgy in Restoration Wiltshire,” in Parish, Church and People: Local Studies in Lay Religion c.1350–1750., ed. Susan J. Wright (London: Hutchinson, 1988), 125–51.

32 KükEhmLvt prot. II/2, 1721. 95.

33 David Warren Sabean, “Communion and Community: The Refusal to Attend the Eucharist in Sixteenth-Century Protestant Württemberg,” in Sabean, Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 37–60.

34 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1742. 319.

35 KükEhmLvt prot. II/3, 1737. 221.

36 Spaeth, Common Prayer?, 132–45.

Table 1

The number of cases of Church discipline concerning members of the laity in the eighteenth century

Balavásár and its filia, Egrestő


Bonyha and its filia, Bernád

Búzás-besenyő and its filia, Kerelő



Gógán and its filia, Gógán-várallja



































(no infor-


























Violations of sexual norms and cases involving marriage













Profanity, slander, physical aggression













Failure to attend church or take Communion













Opposition to the Church, refusal to do public penance

(and resulting financial conflicts)



















Profanation of a holy day, banned folk customs, dance, carnival etc.







































Table 2

The distribution of disciplinary cases that came before the visitations in the first third of the eighteenth century