Péter Pázmány

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Péter Pázmány

The Hungarian prelate Péter Pázmány (1570-1637), one of the great figures of the Counter Reformation, restored Roman Catholicism to Hungary. A superb stylist, he has been hailed as the father of modern Hungarian prose.

Péter Pázmány was born into a noble Protestant family at Nagyvárad on Oct. 4, 1570. Guided by his Roman Catholic stepmother, he became a convert at the age of 13. Pázmány attended the Jesuit college at Kolozsvár, entering the Jesuit novitiate at Cracow in 1587. He studied philosophy in Vienna and theology in Rome under Gabriel Vásquez and Robert Bellarmine. In 1598 Pázmány became professor of philosophy at the University of Graz. In 1601 he began a 2-year visit to Hungary, where he initiated his brilliant literary career with his Answer to Stephen Magyary, the first Catholic controversial work in the Hungarian language. Between 1603 and 1607 Pázmány again taught at Graz. There, continuing to write in Hungarian, he became known for the vigor and lucidity of his prose. In 1607, at the invitation of the archbishop of Esztergom and primate of Hungary, Ferenc Forgács, Pázmány returned to Hungary.

Pázmány then began a long period dedicated to reclaiming Catholic losses in Hungary. At first he concentrated on the Protestant aristocracy, traveling from castle to castle, debating and exhorting key families to return to the Roman Catholic Church. More than 30 of these families did so. In 1613 Pázmány produced the greatest of his controversial writings, A Guide to Divine Truth, a work that he modeled on the Controversies of Robert Bellarmine.

In 1616 Pázmány reached a major turning point in his life. In October 1615 Archbishop Forgács had died. The Emperor wanted Pázmány to succeed as primate of Hungary. Since the Jesuit Constitutions forbade the acceptance of positions of honor, Pope Paul V transferred Pázmány from the Society of Jesus to the Order of Somaschi, and in 1616 Pázmány was consecrated archbishop of Esztergom. As a promoter of ecclesiastical reform, he founded the Pázmáneum at the University of Vienna for the training of Hungarian priests, supported the Collegium Germanicum-Hungaricum in Rome, held frequent synods, carried out the decrees of the Council of Trent, introduced the Roman Missal and Breviary throughout Hungary, supported Jesuit schools, and founded the University of Nagyszombat (now the University of Budapest), which he entrusted to the Jesuits. In 1629 Pázmány was made a cardinal.

Despite his esteem for the Hapsburgs, Pázmány fought against Austrian encroachments on Hungarian identity. He failed in an important diplomatic venture in Rome. During the Thirty Years War Pázmány unsuccessfully urged Pope Urban VIII to condemn the Franco-Swedish alliance and to join a league of Catholic princes against Gustavus ll and the German Protestants. A disappointed man, Pázmány severely criticized the Pope and the Roman Curia. In 1635 he published his last great literary work, Sermons for Sundays and Holydays. Pázmány died at Pozsony on March 19, 1637.

Further Reading

Imre Lukinich, A History of Hungary in Biographical Sketches (trans. 1937), has a study of Pázmány. Pázmány's career is discussed briefly in Denis Sinor, History of Hungary (1959), and Carlile Aylmer Macartney, Hungary: A Short History (1962). □

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