The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 557-558
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Litterae missionariorum de Hungaria et Transilvania (1572-1717), Vol. I. Edited by István György Tóth. [Bibliotheca Academiae Hungariae, Roma, Fontes 4.] (Rome-Budapest: History Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. 2002. Pp. 756. 3000 Forint.)
This very thick first volume of a source collection contains the carefully edited letters, one ought to say reports, forwarded to the Congregatio de propaganda fide in Rome, by mainly Franciscan missionaries active in the regions of historic Hungary under the Turkish yoke, and of Transylvania ruled by Protestant princes in that time period. The originally researched and edited material is based upon written documents preserved in various archives in Rome. The first document printed in this first volume of a multi-volume set is the letter (report?) by Bonifacio di Ragusa, Bishop of Stagno, addressed to Pope Gregory XIII, dated in Ragusa on December 18, 1572. The last (n. 242) published document, the letter (report) by Archbishop Michele Magych of Antivar, sent from Nijemci (datum in Niemczi, diocesi Syrmiensi), and addressed to Cardinal Antonio Barberini, Prefect of the Congregatio de propoganda fide, is dated from July 14, 1636.
Professor Tóth's most conscientious editorial work is similar in approach to Epistolae et acta Jesuitarum (1575-88), and to Annuae litterae Soc. Jesu de rebus Transylvanicis temporibus principum Báthory (1579-1613), Vols. II and V of Fontes rerum Transylvanicarum series, edited by Andreas Veress (Budapest, 1913 and 1921, respectively). One has to bear in mind that, at this time, from the 1540's to the 1690's, historic Hungary was broken up into three parts: the mid-section, occupied by the Turks, belonged to the Ottoman empire; the western part including the north and northwest formed the Hungarian kingdom under Catholic Habsburg rule and was regarded as a part of the Habsburg world empire, while the east became the principality of Transylvania, though its princes frequently paid their dues to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul. Therefore, the reports—sometimes of personal nature—sent by mainly Franciscan missionaries, or by Jesuits dressed as secular clergymen, to the Sacred Congregation in Rome about their activities in regions under direct Turkish rule, or in areas of Protestant Transylvania, essentially provide original, frequently eyewitness and honest records that depict the spiritual well-being, religious and social status, everyday living, economic and cultural conditions among the sparse population under Turkish rule and in the principality; they report on various ethnic groups, their number, their colorful folk and religious customs, even their pagan superstitions.
Each of the letters (reports) written in Latin or in Italian, and published here in their entirety is provided with well edited, richly annotated material, and solid summaries in Hungarian. The Introduction by the editor, thoroughly documented (pp. 27-80), and accompanied by an English translation (though without the annotations, pp. 81-97), is informative and most useful. Tóth describes his ideas of editing and his editorial method, speaks of the circumstances of the establishment of the Congregatio de propaganda fide (under Pope Gregory XV in 1622), and does not ignore the difficulties the usually non-Magyar speaking, mainly Franciscan friars from Bosnia must have had among the slightly similar, [End Page 557] and yet different population that spoke other languages and observed perhaps less-known folk-customs. Tóth points out the sometimes utterly hapless situation of the famous Franciscan monastery of Csíksomlyó in eastern Transylvania, for centuries the bulwark of western Latin Christendom, and he cleverly inserts a detailed paragraph on the relationship the Congregatio de propaganda fide maintained with the missionaries in Turkish-occupied Hungary.
Tóth is due full recognition for the cleverly arranged multi-page tables of contents in Hungarian and in English, and most of all for the careful and conscientious work he has done with the material at his disposal. The volume is published in soft cover, with artistic good taste. The front cover appropriately carries the picture of a seventeenth-century Franciscan friar.