Pressburg:  The Lutheran Citadel in Slovakia 

  This article is based on the monograph, “The 350 Year Old Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pressburg (Bratislava) by Dr. Roland Steinacker.  To a great extent this is my translation of the German text. 


  When we speak of the 350 year old Evangelical Lutheran congregation of the Augsburg Confession in Pressburg, it really begs the question as to why its beginnings are some ninety years after the beginning of the Reformation, when in fact, Pressburg was one of the leading Evangelical Lutheran communities in Europe in the 16th Century.  Anyone who is familiar with the church history of Eastern Europe knows that the good news of the Gospel was joyfully received from Reval and Kronstadt on the Baltic deep down into the mountains of Transylvania both among the German and non-German populations.  In fact during the 16th Century, the vast majority of the Hungarian population had turned to  Protestantism and the Germans and Slovaks had adopted Lutheranism.  After 1550 the Hungarians were overwhelmingly Calvinists.  It was only in Western Hungary that continued to be part of the Habsburg holdings that a portion of Hungarian population remained Lutheran while in Transylvania some became Unitarians.


  All of the cities and towns in Upper Hungary (Slovakia) and Western Hungary were Lutheran as well as both the higher and lesser nobility.  Despite the fact that the Roman Catholic Church reigned supreme in all of the Habsburg domains it was unable to prevent the wholesale defection of the population to Lutheranism.  Only where the power of the Emperor was overwhelming was it possible to hinder the development of Lutheran congregations.  That was precisely the case in the Royal Free City of Pressburg, which was the capital of Hungary from 1526-1848 and the city magistrates were unable to oppose the royal will.  The townspeople and citizens of Pressburg were totally committed to the Gospel as preached and expounded by Martin Luther.  There was never a lack of preachers who preached this Gospel without hesitation.  One of them, a monk, the son of a miller from Ulm preached against the Roman mass in the Church of Franciscans in 1528.  When he left the precincts of the city he was taken captive on the Danube by troops of the local Count and imprisoned in a nearby fortress.  He was stripped naked and forced into a barrel that was pierced with nails and burned publically so that the smoke would be a warning to others.  Both the pastor and teacher in nearby Vagsellye were thrown into prison in Pressburg by Archbishop Nicholas Oláh.  The pastor yielded but the teacher, young Peter Somogyi refused to recant and after a long and severe imprisonment was set free through the intervention of King Maximilian in response to petitions from the magistrates of the city and one citizen in particular:  Armpruster.


  One can see that power and might were in the hands of the Roman Church but the citizens of the city were Evangelical Lutherans in their convictions.  The concessions they were forced to make were only bearable because during the reign of Ferdinand I he had requested that the Council of Trent allow for clerical marriage and restore the chalice to the laity in communion.  Even more so-called “compromises” were expounded by his successor Maximilian (1564-1576).  As a result on September 2, 1564 the King allowed the citizens of Pressburg to receive Holy Communion in both kinds (both the bread and wine).  Under such circumstances the people of Pressburg were able to practice some aspects of their faith with little interference even though the Habsburgs allowed the Roman Church to have the upper hand in religious matters throughout their domains.


  That would change under Rudolph II (1576-1608) who was raised in Spain and was a bigoted Catholic but he was weak and unstable as a ruler and did not have the courage to carry out a full scale persecution of the Protestants.  The ban his father had placed on the Protestants in 1564 was reinstituted by him in 1584.  The result was that the Lutherans in Pressburg went to worship and participated in Holy Communion in some neighbouring villages where Lutheran teaching had found a home for some time completely unhindered by the Roman Church.  The spiritual head of the Magnates and nobles, Siegfried Kollonics of Ratzersdorf, had given permission to Andreas Reuss (who had been ordained in Wittenberg in 1579 and was a citizen of Saxony) to hold services in a curial house that stood outside the city walls along the Danube to which the Lutherans in the city flocked each Sunday and Feast day.  The clergy in the city sought to prevent and hinder this worship and complained and protested to the His Royal Majesty in Vienna, who did not comply with their request.


  When the clergy later besieged the King to take stronger measures and institute and support the Counter Reformation, Rudolph II had to desist from doing so in the face of the decisions of the Landtag that had been made at the assembly in 1604.  In addition to the twenty-one Articles that had been passed a twenty second had been passed calling for the open suppression and persecution of the Protestants which led to an uprising that was raging throughout Hungary.  At the head of the revolt was the Transylvanian Count, Stephen Bocskay, and in a very short time all of Upper Hungary was well in his hands.  The city magistrates of Pressburg were in charge of the royal forces stationed there but they did not join the rebellion.  The fear of the loss of all of Hungary caused Rudolph II to waiver in carrying out the Counter Reformation.  He was able to arrive at an agreement with Stephen Bocskay, the so-called, Peace of Vienna, which was signed on June 23, 1606 which promised freedom of religion throughout the country.


  It was finally possible to inaugurate Lutheran church life in Pressburg.  Even before the peace treaty had even been signed or put into effect the City Council approved the appointment of a Lutheran preacher to serve the inner city.  The Habsburg officials withheld their consent but following the signing of the treaty they requested that Count Kollonics assign Andreas Reuss to the position on July 16th which Kollonics formally carried out on August 7th.  At the Landtag he also promised to give the Lutherans one of the city churches.  In the meanwhile, the magistrates of the city sent a request to Lauingen and asked the Lutheran Count of Neuburg in the Pfalz to provide a rector for a proposed Lutheran school of higher learning and an assistant pastor to work with Reuss.  The reason for approaching the Lauingen gymnasium (junior college) in the Pfalz, which was in the Lutheran heartland was because of the school’s academic reputation and its renowned “Heilbronner” leadership.  An affirmative answer was received by Pressburg  on September 19th and the magistrates proceeded with the induction of Reuss into his office.  On October 8th he held his first service in a private house in close proximity to the town hall.  On December 2nd his future colleagues arrived from Lauingen, Adam Tettelbach his assistant and David Kilger the rector of the proposed school.  The Evangelical Lutheran congregation of Pressburg was formally organized and the long desired wish of the Lutheran population was finally fulfilled.


  No sooner was the Evangelical Lutheran congregation established than the clergy, that is, the city priests, the Dean of the cathedral and the Archbishop of Gran (Estergom) and the Chancellor at the Royal Court did everything they could to set in motion a plan to destroy the congregation.  In the capital of Vienna and the residence and seat of the Archbishop of Hungary, there was the united point of view that there should not be a heretical “coven” in Pressburg nor could its presence be tolerated and a decree was issued to that effect.  Archduke Matthias, the brother of the king, declared the legality of the election of the Lutheran pastors but it was in vain.  The city also joined him in their opposition to the decree and they sent a delegation to Vienna to plead their cause.  Meeting with the Viennese officials in November of 1607, Reuss was charged with preaching against the King and being opposed to the Crown.  He was given twenty-four hours to leave Pressburg and no one was to take it upon himself to hold Lutheran services within the confines of the city.


  In a very passionate defence of himself before his opponents, Reuss proclaimed his innocence of the charges brought against him but to avoid even worse allegations he was prepared to leave his pastorate.  He went to St. Georgen where he ministered unhindered in fulfilling his calling to the time of his death in 1629.  Kilger and Tettelbach both remained in Pressburg and quietly served the congregation.  Soon a new threat appeared.  The congregation feared a “brother struggle” in the House of Habsburg was about to break out.  With the sole exception of Bohemia, Rudolph II was forced to cede his lands to his brother Matthias who was then crowned King of Hungary in the cathedral in Pressburg.  One of his first actions was to affirm the First Article of the previous Landtag.  This article guaranteed the Protestants the freedom to practice their faith and prevented attacks upon their congregations by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and clergy.  Unfortunately it would only be in effect for a decade.


  The Pressburg congregation called Simon Heuchelin of Lauingen to be their pastor to replace Reuss.  At the Synod of Sill called by Georg Thurzo the Viceroy of Hungary in 1610 to formally organize the Lutheran Church throughout the country, Heuchelin was elected the co-adjudicator of the German congregations in the Pressburg Church District which included the Counties of Pressburg, Neutra and Bars.  He also became the first Senior (dean) of the Pressburg Seniorat (Church District) but died in 1621, a victim of the plague.  He was also the author of the response to the accusations levelled by Archbishop Forgács who had made allegations against the Synod of Sill and had written against the Landtag’s article on religious freedom.  He wrote a protest against his unjust charges and false accusations.


  The following decade was the “blooming” period in the life of the congregation.  Of the thirty pastors who served the congregation from 1606-1711 all but one were called from Germany.  That is how close the relationship of the congregation was with the Motherland of the Reformation.  The only exception during this time frame was Christian Pihringer who was a native of Pressburg and served from 1666-1672.  We cannot go into detail about each man’s ministry.  They were all earnest in their Evangelical Lutheran faith and in their Lutheran confession as theologians who were able to communicate the Gospel worthily to the congregation.  The most famous were the two Heuchelins, Simon 1608-1621 and Johann Georg 1639-1654.  Joshua Wegelein 1635-1640 was the author of the hymn, “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt Allein”.  Daniel Schmidt 1635-1660) came from Augsburg as a refugee from the Thirty Years War.  Johann Jentsch 1616-1635 and Anton Reiser 1659-1672.  The parish was served by three German pastors and the citizenry were almost entirely German.  In light of the fact that the Landtag was held in Pressburg on most occasions the magistrates also called a Slovak and Hungarian-speaking pastor to meet the needs of the nobles who were in attendance for long periods.  This was also meant to serve the growing Slovak population in the neighbouring villages.  There were no quarrels over language rights because it was understood that the people needed to be ministered to in their mother tongue.  The pastors called from Germany obviously knew no Slovak or Hungarian.  For that reason another pastorate to serve the Slovaks and Hungarians had to be established.


  A major concern of the congregation was the erection of a church.  Soon the Armpruster house next to the town hall proved unsatisfactory.  For a brief time, from December 7, 1619 until May 1621 services were held in the cathedral.  The Landtag had decreed that since the Lutherans were the vast majority in the city the cathedral should be given to them.  This was after Gabriel Bethlen, the Prince of Transylvania had taken over all of Habsburg Hungary at the beginning of the Thirty Years War.  When Pressburg was retaken by the Imperial Army the cathedral was returned to the Roman Catholics.  The idea of giving the Lutherans one of the other churches in the city was anathema to Vienna and the local Roman Catholic clergy.  The building of a church of their own was also met with opposition.  It would take the combined foresight and ingenuity of the magistrates and the intervention of the Lutheran nobles and Viceroy to withstand the opposition to construct a church.  It would take three years to complete and work was often halted by the Roman Catholic clergy but finally in 1638 the building was completed.  The total cost was 22,925 Thaler most of which was contributed by the citizens of Pressburg.  The church was named “Trinity” because it was dedicated on the Feast of the Holy Trinity.  It had no bell or tower.  In 1658 a smaller church was built for the Slovaks and Hungarians which is now the Ursuline Church and has both a tower and bell despite all of the laws against it and protests from the Roman Catholic clergy and the Crown.  That it was even built is due to the ingenuity and cleverness of the mayor, Andreas von Szegner.


  The time of the blossoming forth of the Lutheran congregation was short lived.  In 1645, the Prince of Transylvania, Georg Rakoczy, had succeeded in securing freedom of religion for the Protestants of Hungary once again in the Peace of Linz.  Archbishop Pázmany had to a great extent  won the magnates and nobles back to the Roman Church  and now unleashed the Counter Reformation in Hungary.  The peasants on the estates of magnates and nobles who converted to Roman Catholicism were forced to attend mass and their pastors and teachers were driven into exile.  Simultaneously the King asserted his claims to absolutism which made many of the Hungarian nobles hesitate in accepting.  The magnates and higher nobility swore allegiance to the Emperor and joined in a common front to destroy Protestantism.  There were others:  Zrinyi, Nádasdy, Wesselenyi and Frangepan who allied themselves with the Turks and Transylvanian parts of Hungary and conspired to free themselves from Habsburg absolutist rule.  They counted on the support of the persecuted Protestants which failed to materialize because they did not trust them and saw them as turncoats in converting to Roman Catholicism.  In 1670 the plot was uncovered and the rebellion was put down, Franz Nádasdy, Peter Zrinyi and Franz Frangepan were condemned to death.  The Hungarian Constitution was set aside and Archbishop Georg Szelepcsenyi became the State Chancellor.  Throughout the country, including the area around Pressburg, all of the churches were taken away from the Lutherans and Calvinists and their pastors were banished.  They were falsely accused of participating in the conspiracy when in fact only a few of the lesser Protestant nobles had done so.


  Pressburg could not prove its innocence in the matter to satisfy Szelepcsenyi.  The city had always remained loyal to the Emperor even in the campaigns launched by the Princes of Transylvania.  The Archbishop threatened to confiscate the church and school from the Lutherans.  On February 1, 1672 the lay leader of the Lutherans, the city council member Bürgler, was thrown into prison.  On February 3rd, Archbishop Georg Szelepcsenyi, in his role as State Chancellor, ordered the magistrates of Pressburg to hand over the keys to the churches and schools.  The city councillors declared that the Lutheran citizens had the keys and they were not in their possession.  As a result the Archbishop ordered that the Lutheran pastors and teachers appear before him immediately.  Reiser, speaking on their behalf refused to say where the keys were kept.  The entire city council was ordered to assemble at the town hall and they were asked for the keys to the churches.  The entirely Lutheran city council refused to comply.


  Four leading Lutheran citizens were sent to Vienna in an attempt to plead for their churches and schools.  They presented their petition but were sent home without an answer.  In the meanwhile the citizens stood guard around their churches and schools both day and night.  The Lutheran women also took their turn zealously protecting their churches and schools.  A new town council personally appointed by the Archbishop made up entirely of Roman Catholics replaced the elected council on March 18th and they were ordered to take over the Lutheran schools in the name of the King but the women that were guarding both of them sent them into full retreat.  In order to break the opposition of the citizenry, Szelepcsenyi had to call upon the military for help.  On April 10th while the Lutherans were at worship, Szelepcsenyi had the town gates opened and six companies of troops entered the city.  Even this failed to break the will of the Lutherans to maintain ownership of their churches and schools.


  Changing his strategy Szelepcsenyi invited 320 Lutheran and Roman Catholic citizens to a neutral court being held at Tyrnau.  The Roman Catholics who were present and five of the Lutherans declared they were prepared to turn over the churches to the King’s representatives and were allowed to return to Pressburg.  One of the Lutherans was actually a Roman Catholic.  All of the others refused to assent.  After countless attempts to get the Lutherans from Pressburg to acquiesce to the demands of the court the judge declared the judgement of the court on June 13th.  He ordered the confiscation of all of the property of the Lutheran community.  The precedent sited by the judge for this action was the pretext that since the church built in 1635 it had been done so without official permission by the King and without government sanction and it was therefore forfeit.  Naturally the pastors were also not spared by the court.  Pastor Titius was tossed into a stinking cell in Tyrnau on June 13th and was released on September 12th and returned to his Silesian homeland without being able to return to Pressburg on his way home.  The same happened to the other pastors.  Anton Reiser became the chief pastor of Hamburg in 1678; while Sutorius and Pihringer (who had been born in Pressburg) had been put in irons by Kollonics.  On August 4th they had to leave everything behind and were expelled from the city.  But even now the Lutherans still stood united in their opposition and would not freely give up their churches.  Kollonics had no other alternative but to use force to accomplish the takeover of the Lutheran churches.  This finally occurred on July 17th and on the 18th Kollonics “consecrated” them as Roman Catholic churches.  Later the larger church was given to the Jesuits and the smaller one to the Ursuline Order.  The struggles and courage of the Pressburg Lutherans would not be forgotten by their descendants nor blown out of proportion.  The actions of Szelepcsenyi and Kollonics created a stir among the Lutherans in Germany so that the Lutheran representatives at Regensburg demanded that Vienna redress the wrongs done to the Lutherans in Pressburg but without any success.


  For the next ten years all public Lutheran preaching disappeared entirely in all of Upper and Western Hungary or at least as much as it was possible for the Habsburgs and the Roman hierarchy were able to maintain.  It was only in Ödenburg were there were open public services held in the house and courtyard of a Habsburg princess.  The city of Pressburg became the showcase for the greatest triumph of the Counter Reformation to its lasting shame.  All Lutheran and Calvinist pastors were subject to courts and tribunals  set up in Tyrnau.  In 1678 thirty-two pastors, mostly from the Zips, were condemned for the charges brought against them for having supported the Wesselenyi conspiracy.  Their innocence was obvious but of no effect.  The accused were ordered to sign a declaration that they were prepared to give up their pastoral office or go into exile.  Only one of them weakened and converted to Roman Catholicism.  His name was Juhajda and his brothers in the ministry used a play on words and he became “Ah Judas”.  The others gave up their pastorates and left their homeland.  In 1674 an additional 730 pastors and teachers were ordered to appear before the court in Pressburg but only 346 of them appeared.  The same trumped charges were also brought against them.  After a long series of hearings a declaration was presented to them for them to sign.  No one would sign it.


  They were all condemned to death and thrown into prison.  Exhausted in body and soul the majority ended up signing the declaration and thereby consented to give up their office in the Lutheran Church or go into exile.  There were 92 of them who stood resolute refusing to sign the declaration.  Chained to one another they were dragged from one prison to another.  In addition they were gruesomely tortured and abused by their Jesuit inquisitor:  Kellio.  Their life was very much like that of 20th Century concentration camp inmates.  Eventually, forty-one of the condemned men were sold as galley slaves in Naples in 1675.  After a long and painful journey on foot first to Vienna and then Trieste the thirty of them that survived arrived in Naples.  Some had managed to escape.  The others had died along the way.  At Naples they were sold as galley slaves for 50 pieces of gold each.  They were chained to criminals on the rowing benches.  Twenty pastors were dragged off to Buccari and only five of them were ever to see the light of freedom again.


  Eventually the suffering of the galley slaves became known throughout western Europe.  In Venice a doctor, Nicholas Zaffi, born in Nürnberg and two rich brothers in Naples named Philipp and Georg Weltz took over the care of the prisoners.  Zaffi distributed reports on the conditions in which the galley slaves lived and issued a plea to assist them to obtain their freedom for they were all innocent of the charges brought against them.  He spearheaded his campaign in the Protestant countries of Europe.  The Weltz brothers tried another approach offering to pay double the purchase price of the slaves.  That too was to no avail.  Only after more than a year of slavery did the hour of freedom arrive.  Through the intervention of his country, the Dutch Admiral Ruyter, brought about their release.  The twenty-four pastors who survived left the galleys in the harbour of Naples singing Psalms 46, 114 and 125.  The way back home was closed to them forever.  They found refuge in Holland and Germany and many of them had to find a new station in life because of the language problem.


  The Lutheran Church in Hungary appeared to be totally destroyed as was also true in most of the Habsburg lands in the 17th Century and this also marked the end of the life of the Lutheran congregation in Pressburg.  But the Habsburgs were not to be successful after all.  Despite their absolute power and the co-operation of the Roman Church they were not able to fully accomplish their aims.  As the result of another uprising of the Hungarian nobles under the leadership of Emmerich Thӧkӧly in 1678 in league with the Turks, Leopold I was forced to relinquish some of the restrictions against the Protestants as he needed the support of the Protestant princes of Europe against the mounting Turkish threat.  At the Landtag in Ödenburg in 1681 some minor concessions were granted to the Protestants.  They could build two churches in each County and these churches were called Artikular (based on the special Article 25 that was passed at the assembly).  Later they were called Mother Churches which allowed them to have filial congregations in the vicinity.  In addition many of the Royal Free Cities were given the right to build Lutheran churches, including Pressburg.  The Pressburg Lutherans immediately proceeded to build another church at their own cost.


  The city itself acted as the Patron of the Lutheran congregation and looked after its affairs until 1672 and then undertook the task of reorganizing congregational life.  This was finally begun in 1682.  On May 24th, a special assembly in the house of  a leading patrician in the city, Ernst Aver, action was taken for the congregation to support a school.  It was opened on July 7th in the house of Johann Timpfes.  Much more difficult for the congregation was the building of a church.  The first Lutheran worship services took place in the house of Kaspar Kegl where a room was set up with an altar, pulpit and benches.  The first service was held on July 27th but could only be held there until September 27th.  The royal authorities refused to give their consent to the building of a Lutheran church in the inner city.


  In response, the Lutherans lodged a protest to the authorities but eventually were forced to withdraw it and accept a compromise to build a church outside of the city proper at the place where the later Hungarian-Slovak church would be erected.  The land for the church was donated by two Austrian noblewomen.  During the 17th Century many Austrian Lutherans had sought refuge in Pressburg and were able to practice their faith.  The two noblewomen were Judith von Kufstein and Salome von Eibeswald (born the Countess of Starhemberg) who gave their houses and lands as a gift to the congregation.  This would also later become the site of the future parsonage.  The old St. Michael’s cemetery was also turned over to the Evangelical Lutheran congregation.  The church that was erected was larger than the later Hungarian-Slovak church built in 1777.  The new church was of wooden construction and only the foundation was of stone.  The small organ used in household worship was now installed in the church.  The building could seat twelve hundred worshippers.  The number of Lutherans in the city at that time was over three thousand. Lutherans living in nearby districts and villages where Lutheran public worship was forbidden like Zuckermandl, Audorf, Ratzersdorf Theben and even the villages in the entire Heideboden could be found worshipping at the services in Pressburg and the church proved to be far too small.  This church building would become the citadel of Lutheranism in the entire region for the next century and the congregation had to be content with its limitations.  At least they enjoyed the privilege of being able to hold public worship services.  Their new school was also recently erected.


  The first pastor the congregation called in 1682 was Johannes Vibeg, from Silesia, who had been the pastor at Lutzmannsdorf from 1659-1674 and then had lived privately in Ödenburg when he was forced to give up his ministry there by the Roman Catholic authorities.  The second and third pastors were Johannes Weissbach and Andreas Christoph Wider called in 1683 along with Josef Hoeczky to serve the Hungarian-Slovak congregation.  During the period of time when the Pressburg Lutheran church served as an Artikular church from 1682-1776 were stormy and unruly.  The threats and pressures exerted by the Roman Church and its allies the nobles and the Habsburgs continued to be more than considerable.  Even within the municipal town council the Lutherans had to battle for their rights until they were recognized as equal partners in the governance of the city and the two religious confession had to be accepted on a parity basis.  In addition there were quarrels and dissention within the congregation.  Because of the dissension, the Church Inspector, Wolfgang Rӧszler, who opposed their much loved pastor, Christian Krumbholtz, asked Cardinal Kollonics to exile him from the city and deport him from the country.  The pastor refused to be driven out by these “secular lords” as he put it and sought to punish the sinners by naming them from the pulpit.  This was the first shot in a unending war.  It was a struggle against the Kyriarche, that is, the placement of the church into the hands of secular princes and nobles within the church, which would later play the major role in the life of the church in Hungary.  It would hamper and disparage the spiritual influence of the clergy in the life of the church especially by the nobles’ control of the church at its highest levels and jurisdiction.


  The most influential pastor during this period was Matthias Bél, the champion of Pietism and also the man who opened the door to rationalism.  He studied at the University of Halle (1704-1707) where he was the tutor of Francke’s children who was the leading Pietist in Germany.  In 1714 the congregation in Pressburg called him while he was serving in Neusohl to head their Lyzeum (junior college) which was in a state of disarray.  Through his efforts using the pedagogical methods of Pietism the school was brought back to its former prominence and excellence as a learning institution.  In 1719 he was elected the chief pastor of the German speaking-clergy.  Although he remained an ardent Pietist all of his life many of his pupils and several literary figures turned to rationalism.  His grandson became a church historian in Wittenberg; his son was a professor of philosophy in Leipzig.    Of himself, Bél said, “By language I am Slovak, by nationality Hungarian, by education I am a German.  At the same time I am Slovak, Hungarian and German.”  Without a doubt he was the most important pastor to ever serve in Pressburg, the first Slovak to be called to a “German pulpit” later followed by Crudy (1782-1815) and then  Geduly (1857-1890) who were both also Church Superintendents (bishops).


  Slowly but surly the dark spectre of the Counter Reformation came face to face with the spirit of tolerance and the acceptance of differences that had been set abroad throughout western Europe and finally began to penetrate Hungary.  The Enlightenment had arrived and was here to stay.  The Empress Maria Theresia was a very devout Catholic and throughout the Habsburg crown lands the underground Lutherans were no longer burned at the stake but whenever they were apprehended were transported to Transylvania where Protestantism was tolerated.  But even during her reign what would later be called the Josephinian approach to religion of her son the future Emperor was gradually coming into its own.  She had no alternative but to ban the Jesuit Order, the shock troops of the Counter Reformation in 1773 and with deep sorrow she had accepted the fact that her son and heir, Joseph, who became her co-Regent in 1765 was a devoted follower of the Enlightenment.  One of his first acts on assuming the throne was issuing the Edict of Toleration on October 5, 1781 which allowed new freedoms to the Protestants even though it stopped short of granting them full religious freedom or the equality of privilege accorded to the Roman Church.  As a result of the promulgation of the Edict countless new Lutheran and Calvinist congregations emerged and were officially recognized throughout all of Hungary and then Austria  and later Bohemia followed.


  These congregations could not build churches but instead were allowed to construct “prayer houses.”  Later towers and bells would be added as the religious climate changed.  From the outset they were called Tolerance churches.  The first two Tolerance churches built in Pressburg were in accord with these limitations imposed by the King.  But through the King’s personal intervention they were replaced by stone churches in 1774 and dedicated in 1776 and the larger of the two is still known as the “old German church.”  This was all a result of the King’s visit to the city.  Following a second visit he permitted the construction of a new church for the Hungarian-Slovak Lutheran congregation as well in 1777.


  It was as if a new day had dawned for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary no longer having to face the constant threats and machinations of the Roman Catholic clergy.  The outer expansion of the church accelerated throughout the country after 1781 as new congregations came to birth as the underground congregations came out of the shadows but did not necessarily guarantee their future.  The old steadfastness of faith that had its foundation in the scriptures and the Lutheran confessions were soon to be undermined by theologians and intellectuals enamoured with unbelief and the scepticism of Voltaire and Frederick the Great of Prussia.  Even theology was infected with this spirit and abandoned the biblical roots of faith for another alternative:  reason.  The 18th Century brought a turning point in German spirituality and church life.  First through Pietism and then followed by the Enlightenment and Pressburg was also caught up in it.  This demonstrated itself in the worship life of the congregation.


  Up until then the life of the congregation had been ordered by the spirit of the Lutheran confessions up to the beginning of the 18th Century.  The congregation had the old German liturgical orders incorporated in their worship and also maintained a rich heritage in church music.  Among the organists and cantors were many famous church musicians.  Yet the congregational singing was rhythmic with no musical accompaniment and always bright and fresh.  The congregation had a “Pressburg Hymnal” published in 1669 that contained the hymns they sang and loved.  In a second edition in 1683 some hymns were improved or added and all of Luther’s hymns were included.  The altar furnishings were well crafted.  The pastors wore “Krӧsehemde”…an alba.  Private confession was well observed.  During the era of Pietism, repentance and personal holiness took centre stage at the cost of Word and Sacraments just as the “pure doctrine” of the Orthodox Lutherans supplanted the living of the Christian life.  Both emphases wrought havoc to old forms and usages.  The new Pietist hymnal of 1716 contained 420 hymns, of which 210 were new and were often in need of revision and correction.  It was the Enlightenment which brought the use of the old forms to an end which was best expressed in the new hymnal of 1788.  It contained only hymns suitable for the enlightened mind and one of the hymns that was therefore omitted was Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  The second rationalistic hymnal of 1845 was somewhat better but still unsuitable for a church that claimed it was confessional.  Finally in 1895 the congregation was given a hymnal that once again contained hymns from the 16th and 17th Centuries which were again improved in an edition in 1936.  


  Of course the rationalism that was all the rage in Germany found a willing audience in the Pressburg congregation.  As a result the faith renewal movement that was emerging in Germany at the beginning of the 19th Century and the Lutheran Confessional Movement that impacted upon congregational life did not find a home in the Hungarian Lutheran Church or in Pressburg with the notable exception of the Slovaks.  Rationalism and its bed-mate liberal theology attained leadership and control of the Hungarian Church to the end of the 19th Century except for pockets of resistance nurtured by Maria Dorothea the wife of the Habsburg Viceroy of Hungary.  This led to a drop in the number of regular worshippers although at the same time their identity as Lutherans did not waiver.  The church owed this to the local school which each congregation freely maintained which was true above all in Pressburg.


  Eventually the church renewal movement made its impact on the congregation in Pressburg.  The man chiefly responsible for it was Pastor Carl Eugene Schmidt.  He was born in Pressburg in 1865, studied there and then in Heidelberg and Berlin and in 1889 he was the vicar of Pastor Freytag in Pressburg and after his death in 1890 he was elected the pastor of the congregation.  He had found his way into confessional Lutheranism through the writings of Lӧhe, Vilmar and Rocholl.  He was able to win over the vast majority of the younger German pastors to confessional Lutheranism and thereby laid down the foundation for a real renewal of German Lutheranism in Hungary and most certainly within his own congregation.  He served in Pressburg for fifty years.  At first with pastor Johannes Fürst (1878-1905) and Gustav Ebner (1890-1910) and then with D. Heinrich Prӧhle (1905-1947) and Wilhelm Ratz (1910-1952).  He retired in 1941.


  His successor was the pastor in Bӧssing, Senior Johannes Scherer who became administrative bishop in 1938 and in 1942 he became the first bishop of the German Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Republic of Slovakia.  Pastor Schmidt died in 1948 in the Deaconess House in Pressburg.  He was a renowned preacher who did not flatter his listeners nor falsify the Gospel.  He was a conscientious liturgist who made the old Lutheran liturgy come alive as it had been in the early life of the congregation.   He began a youth group, a men’s brotherhood and published a church paper, “Friedesboten” (Tidings of Peace).  He was the author of the article, “Biographies of the Pastors” in the history of the congregation that was published in 1906 as well as an essay on the worship life of the congregation.  He was honoured with a doctorate from the Evangelical Theological Faculty at the University of Vienna for his literary work.  He also served as a senator in parliament in Prague in 1920-1925 representing the German population of Slovakia.  After the First World War he worked to establish a Church District for the German-speaking congregations in Slovakia.  He was only successful in doing so in terms of the congregations in the vicinity of Pressburg and was elected the first Senior.  These pastors and those in the Zips Seniorat formed a German pastor’s league under his leadership until 1936.  When the new church came into being in 1939 he became the bishop even though he was already approaching retirement.


  A personal joy for him was that the Pressburg’s daughter church in Oberufer became a Mother Church and were able to build their own church.  This congregation became world renowned for its use and development of drama in worship and in the life of the congregation.  He also shared the inheritance of his family’s musical background and was able to consecrate a new organ in the church in 1923.  He made certain that the organists enhanced worship and also provided concerts to the public.  The church choir was also renowned and the works of Bach and Handel were used regularly.  The music in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pressburg was admired and respected by the whole city.


  Regardless of all of these involvements he gave his best efforts to the work of the Inner Mission and the Deaconess Motherhouse.  Although the diaconate first established in Germany by Pastor Fliedner fifty years before its type of ministry was totally unknown in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary.  It was through the efforts of Pastor Gustav Ebner that some leading men of the congregation were won over to the cause of diaconal ministry so that at a congregational meeting held on October 5, 1890 the congregation made the decision to establish a deaconess station and outpost in the city.  Pastor Ebner made contacts with the Motherhouse in Gallneukirchen in Upper Austria.  By the spring of 1891, two Sisters and later a Directing Sister, Elisabeth Obermeier were transferred to the Pressburg ministry.  When the diaconal station was opened on August 2nd, three probationary Sisters were accepted for preparation to become deaconesses.  On June 5, 1895 the first five Sisters were consecrated, one of whom, Sister Marie Lehnhardt would remain until the Deaconess House was closed by the Communist State.


  The House Order at Gallneukirchen was modelled on the Motherhouse in Stuttgart so that the vast majority of the Sisters at Pressburg pursued training as nurses.  The Mother house also took over the care of the sick.  A small “institution for the sick” had been established by the congregation in 1807 (with two beds).  In 1830 a new “hospital” with ten beds and later (1872) enlarged to accommodate twenty patients.  As well as a ministry to the sick, one deaconess took over the care of orphaned girls and the Motherhouse cared for the orphaned boys.  In 1899, a deacon, Michael Kowarik, who had received his training and preparation at Neuendettelsau in Bavaria was appointed to take over the work with the orphaned boys and later on also took over the publishing work of the Inner Mission.  His successor in the orphan home was Brother Emil Schissler who was trained at the Diaconcal Institute in Moritzburg in Saxony at his home congregation’s expense.  The facilities made up of a Deaconess Motherhouse, hospital and orphanage were rather overcrowded.


  It took time before separate buildings were erected for each purpose as well as a section for the growing publication house.  The new facilities were dedicated in 1914.  The preacher on that occasion was Hermann Bezzel, the president of the Lutheran Church in Bavaria and former rector of the Deaconess Motherhouse in Neuendettelsau.  He was followed by Senior Schmidt who had been chosento be the Directing Pastor of the Motherhouse in Pressburg in 1895.  Close contact was always maintained with Neuendettelsau and on this occasion it was announced that the institution in Bavaria would provide a second Directing Sister to Pressburg, Oberin Mathilde Billnitzer who was a native of the Zips.  Well into old age, Senior Schmidt worked along with the staff in the new house until 1941 when he turned over the work to younger hands.  This fifty year labour of love was done alongside of his full time ministry in the congregation and his role as the Senior of the Church District.


  The Pressburg deaconess Sisterhood set up outposts and diaconal stations throughout all of Hungary.  The first in Ödenburg in 1895 and the largest in Leutschau in 1903 as well as in Bonyhád in Tolna County.  A daughter institution was the Hungarian Motherhouse in Raab (Gyӧr).  In 1945, as the Red Army approached Pressburg, the Directing Pastor Desider Alexy evacuated and accompanied the older and most of the younger  deaconesses to Gallneukirchen in Upper Austria.  The Motherhouse and hospital were given to the Slovak Lutheran Church but a few years later they were confiscated by the Communist State and were nationalized.


  For the Lutherans of Hungary, Pressburg was the model and example of what the Lutheran church-school-system and educational programme could be and achieve.  In addition to its German education and publishing facilities the Pressburg school system also provided an excellent Slovak and Hungarian education.  Serbian students also attended the schools of Pressburg which were renowned throughout south eastern Europe.


  The period in which the school blossomed was during the rectorship of Matthias Bél from 1714-1719.  At that time the Roman Catholics attempted to proscribe all forms of higher education in the hands of the Lutherans and close their schools.  All of their efforts were futile because of the intervention of the Lutheran nobleman, Paul Jeszenák.  In 1882 the Lyceum included departments in theology, philosophy and law.  Later the Lutheran Church in Hungary established a theological academy in Pressburg for which the congregation also provided financial and other support.


  After World War I because Pressburg was ceded to the new state of Czechoslovakia, the Gymnasium (senior college) was turned over to the State because the congregation was no longer able to support it and the State ran it as a German high school.  In the agreement with the State in turning over the school there was the guarantee that a Lutheran professor of religion would be on the staff.  The pastor of Limbach, Hans Mollner was called to fill this position.  The filial congregations of Pressburg, Oberufen and Engerau both had schools of their own.


  Through a steady stream of immigration the number of Slovak Lutherans in Pressburg increased greatly so that it became necessary to respond to the situation.  It resulted in the division of the three language Church Districts in Pressburg County into two in 1923.  One was Hungarian-Slovak and the other German.  The German District consisted of the German congregations around and in Pressburg to form a united German Seniorat.  It is quite understandable that the Slovaks in the capital of Slovakia wanted to be in their “own” Seniorat rather than the German one.  As a result a entirely Slovak congregation was established in the city.  The Hungarian Lutherans in Pressburg unlike the Hungarian congregations in the area opted to belong to the German Seniorat by becoming part of the German congregation.  Since its inception the German congregation had always provided pastoral care to their Slovak and Hungarian brothers in the faith.  The Slovaks had three pastors now serving them and at times it looked like they would eventually swallow up both the Germans and the Hungarians.


  The end of the Second World War also ushered in the demise of the German Lutheran congregations in Pressburg and throughout Slovakia.  Even before the Russians entered the city at Easter 1945 many of the German population had begun to evacuate as early as the fall of 1944.  The school children had been evacuated to Germany first.  The Germans who remained were inmates in internment camps and most of them were later deported.  Only a few were allowed to remain.  It was forbidden to speak German on the streets.  The large German church where it had been difficult to hold services in the previous weeks due to air raids was immediately taken over by the Slovak Church officials.  The Motherhouse and hospital had already been handed over to the Slovak Lutherans when the Sisters had left for Gallneukirchen.  Although the Directing Sister, Mathilde Billnitzer had remained behind she had nothing to say in the running of the Motherhouse she was still able to minister to some of the people in the house.  Since almost all of the German pastors and their congregations in Slovakia were evacuated to the Sudetenland their bishop, Johann Scherer went with them and they were forced to leave from there for Germany.  Pastor Heinrich Prӧhle refused to accept what was happening and Pastor Wilhelm Ratz did not want to leave him behind alone.  It was a bitter time in which to live and the congregation had nowhere to turn.  For those who chose to remain it proved to be a blessing that they had their pastors with them.  Their church had been taken away from them but the two pastors were soon able to hold German and Hungarian services at the “small church” once used by the Hungarian-Slovak congregation.  As one of those who remained behind wrote to his deported sister a few years later:  “Home is now only to be found in the church and the cemetery.”


  Pastor Prӧhle, who had gone blind, had to move into the deaconess house and died there in 1950 shortly after his 80th birthday.  Pastor Ratz remained alone until his wife who had fled to Gallneukirchen returned home.  Both of them could have gone to Germany up to 1949 but remained with the remnant congregation as a source of comfort and hope and provided strength to those in severe need.  German and Hungarian services were held for only a short time after 1948.  After the death of Pastor Ratz in 1952, Pastor Holcik who was born in Pressburg conducted the German services.  How many German Lutherans still live in Pressburg now is unknown.  According to Pastor Ratz’s reports in 1947 there had been 3 German and 6 Hungarian baptisms; 6 German marriages and 3 Hungarian; 29 German funerals and 7 Hungarian; 11 German confirmations and 6 Hungarian.  In addition there were 4,000 guests at the Lord’s Table.  There were 100-200 worshippers at the services of whom some were Germans from the neighbouring villages.  Prior to the war’s end there had been some 5,000-6,000 German Lutherans living in the city.  Today, perhaps a tenth of that number still reside there.  There is no hope of an independent self-sustaining German congregation any longer.  But the preaching of the Gospel goes on.  The Slovak congregations continues despite great difficulty under constant pressure from the Communist State.  Their future is in the hands of the Soviet powers which can liquidate them at will.  To date that has not occurred although all kinds of restrictions on church life are now in effect.



  This monograph was written in the early 1960s and is reflective of the situation in Bratislava at that time.  On my second visit to Bratislava in the late 1980s I was travelling alone and not with a tour group.  In planning my personal itinerary I made certain I would be in Pressburg on a Sunday morning.  I made my way into the inner city whose cobblestone streets, baroque architecture and German cornerstone markings on the older buildings are a reminder of the ancient city’s heritage.  I visited St. Michael’s cathedral within whose walls somewhere lie the remains of Daniel Kermann, a Slovak pastor and the last Evangelical Lutheran bishop in Hungary at the height of the Counter Reformation who died as a martyr and  victim of his Jesuit  Inquisitors.


  I then made way towards the tall, statuesque, golden baroque Jesuit church several blocks away that was originally Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and stopped there to pray.  Then I  made my way to a side street past some houses and businesses to a small gate that led into a courtyard and small garden where there was a large non-descript building before me that hid the fact that it was a church. I stepped inside and heard the rich tones of the organ pealing the first hymn as hundreds of voices inside began to sing an old German chorale that I recognized was “Was Gott Tut Das Ist Wohlgetan”…”What E’re Our God Ordains Is Right”.  I joined in singing the hymn in English as I made my way down one of the aisles until I found room in one of the pews.  The congregation sang in Slovak but deep within I could hear the voices of the faithful resolute German, Slovak and Hungarian worshippers of the past along with some of my Heidebauern ancestors who made the pilgrimage here from the far flung Heideboden because they were faithful to the Gospel for which they hungered.  Gazing out over the gathered congregation on all sides of me I watched as the pastor mounted the pulpit.  As he began to preach, although I did not understand a word of what he said, I could tell from the rapt attention of the congregation that hung on his every word that the Gospel was being proclaimed because I saw hope written all over their upturned faces…

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