- Church and Society in Hungary and the Hungarian Diaspora by Na´ndor Dreisziger
The history of Christianity in Hungary defies comparison with stories of most other populations that have embraced the religion. The continuing debates regarding the origins of the Magyars, the presence of Christianity in the Danube Basin during the later centuries of Roman rule, the separation of millions of ethnic Hungarians from the modern state of Hungary, and the migration of Hungarians to all corners of the world, make the telling of the story of Hungarians and Christianity a daunting task that until now no English-language writer has been willing to shoulder. Naàndor Dreisziger has not shied away from this challenge; the result is a book that imparts a great deal of information, and succeeds overall in situating Hungarians and their connection to Christianity in a global context.
Dresziger begins with a tightly-composed survey of Hungarian history. Such an approach is needed since the vicissitudes of that history are not well known, even to many historians. Dreisziger acknowledges the intriguing theory that a significant number of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Hungary that emerged in the High Middle Ages were descended from [End Page 340] peoples already settled in the Danube Basin before the occupation of the region by Magyars that occurred at the end of the ninth century ce. His presentation of the rest of Hungarian history and the following section dealing specifically with the history of the Christian Church in Hungary are lucid if densely packed, and soon deliver the reader to the start of the twentieth century.
Following WWI Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and with it ethnic Hungarian populations numbering in the millions. The churches that served these populations entered a time of hardship and uncertainty further complicated by Hungary's involvement in WWII and the subsequent defeat and occupation of Hungary by the Soviet Union. Anti-clerical purges and a dominant culture promoting atheism took a great toll on indigenous churches and left deep scars still visible in Hungary's postcommunist society. Dreisziger pulls no punches in describing the damage done.
He then turns to the churches of the Hungarian diaspora in Canada and the United States. The majority of Hungarian immigrant communities assimilated into their new societies during the twentieth century and, despite an influx of refugees following the 1956 revolution, these populations continued to age as younger members moved out of traditionally Hungarian neighbourhoods. But Hungarians had also settled in rural areas. Dreisziger's account of Hungarians who reached the prairies of Saskatchewan before WWI makes especially fascinating reading.
Much of the written and oral history of these diasporas deals with and was preserved by clergy — a colourful bunch. Often strong-minded types, not infrequently with a political orientation, they could be a blessing or occasionally a bane to their flocks. Tensions between priests and lay organizations, and even rivalries between individual clergy were perhaps counterbalanced by the selfless devotion of many who served under difficult conditions for years or decades. The documentation that Dreisziger provides is a reminder that fractious and outspoken clerical personalities can leave more of a paper (or oral history) trail than their quieter brethren, something all church historians should remember.
Dreisziger concludes his survey with a sober assessment of the prospects of both Hungarian diaspora communities and the churches that serve them. Time, technology, and globalization are all working against them, while the relationship between Hungary and its neighbours does not bode well for the continued flourishing of ethnic Hungarian communities within these states. Within Hungary, the high level of respect that many churches enjoyed immediately after the collapse of communism has waned dramatically and unlike some other former Warsaw Pact nations, Hungary has emerged as a decidedly secular society. Despite the current government's [End Page 341] assertions that Hungary is a Christian country, the millennium-long connection between Christian churches and Hungary seems to be in trouble.
Dreisziger has painstakingly documented his narrative, drawing upon rare Hungarian language...