‘Calvinist Rome, Christian Respublica, Hungarian Geneva’ – Why Debrecen?
The exhibition initiating the visit to the College is looking for an answer to the question why exactly Debrecen became the most significant (and in certain ages the only) pillar of the Hungarian reformed people. The 16th century brought sudden development in the life of the township. After the adherence to the principles of Reformation, the formerly mere small market-town – insignificant compared to the royal free boroughs – grew into the centre of religion, trade and handicrafts of the Transtisza (Tiszántúl) region. The exclusively Hungarian populated “Christian Respublica”, the most populated city of its time in the land, enjoyed an independence almost like of a city-state. It was “united in body and soul” with its Reformed Church. The Helvetian Reformation was thoroughly and extensively shaping the society along the generations, even when activities of other Protestant centres were limited by central authorities and their own landlords of Roman Catholic faith. The Council based its activity on Old Testament laws and as such acted as a custodian of abstinent lifestyle, pure family life and strong morals. In the most dangerous and fraught times, it was Debrecen and its College that provided spiritual and intellectual leadership for 1200 Hungarian reformed congregations.
The historical role of Debrecen was often compared to that of the city of Calvin, and this is not a surprise. Due primarily to its printing house and school, the “Hungarian Geneva” became a great power of significant intellectual influence. While in the 16-17th century Hungary the rate of Hungarian printed books was about 30 percent, in Debrecen this figure exceeded 70 percent. When the founder of the printing house, Gál Huszár named Debrecen “the resplendent lantern of all Hungary and Transylvania”, he adapted Calvin’s saying about Geneva: “Geneva ought to be a resplendent lantern enlightening those still living far removed from the Gospel.”