Interview with Cardinal Pázmány Péter

Cardinal Pázmány Péter (1570-1637)

A brief introduction of Pázmány Péter

Cardinal Pázmány Péter, Archbishop of Esztergom, preacher of the Counter-Reformation, and founder of the University of Nagyszombat (Trnava) died on 19 March 1637. Pázmány was born in Nagyvárad (Oradea), in the territory of the Principality of Transylvania, in a Protestant noble family. He became a Roman Catholic at the age of thirteen, entered the Jesuit order, studied in Kolozsvár (Klausenburg, Cluj), Vienna, and Rome, and taught theology at the University of Graz.
Nagyszombat (Trnava)
From 1607 he worked with the Primate of Esztergom, Forgách Ferenc, and was one of the most famous preachers of the Counter-Reformation, achieving surprising results in the struggle to re-Catholize noble families.
Pázmány’s success lay in his recognition that the mother tongue could bring the Catholic religion much closer to the people, and he published his religious writings in Hungarian.
Cardinal Forgách Ferenc (1560-1615)
His most important work, The Guide to Truth, was published in 1613. He succeeded Archbishop Forgách as Primate in 1616, and his conversion successes were rewarded with a cardinal’s hat by Pope Urban VIII in 1629.
As a politician, Pázmány tried to promote peace and cooperation between Transylvania and the Kingdom of Hungary as a mediator, and maintained a good friendship with Rákóczi I György (r. 1630-1648), repeatedly deterring the Transylvanian prince from attacking Hungary during the Thirty Years’ War.
Photo: Kocsis Kadosa
Pázmány’s most outstanding achievements were in the development of education and the cultivation of the Hungarian language. He founded seminary schools in Nagyszombat (Trnava) and Vienna (1623 – Pazmaneum), which he financed from his own archbishop’s income.
Pázmány founded the University of Nagyszombat in 1635, which was the ancestor of many of today’s higher education institutions (e.g. ELTE, SOTE, Pázmány Péter Catholic University) and it was the most important Hungarian higher education institution for centuries.
He supported the local Slovaks as well, Pázmány himself was instrumental in promoting the usage of Slovak instead of Czech and had his work “Isteni igazságra vezető kalauz” (Guide to the Truth of God) and several of his sermons translated into Slovak.
Photo: Lubos Repta
Pázmány was the most important figure in 17th-century Hungarian culture, and in the difficult times of the Turkish era, not only the Catholic Church but also our universal national culture owed much to him.
Cardinal Pázmány used to say about Hungary’s situation, referring to the position of the Kingdom of Hungary between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans:
“We are the fingers that got stuck between the door and the frame of the door…”
He, the Hungarian priest “who was born in a Protestant country and died in a Catholic one” wrote the following in his collected speeches in 1636:
“The great thieves often hang the small thieves: those who steal much, often wear gold necklaces while those who steal just a little, are hanging on a hemp rope.”

The Interview with Pázmány Péter

The place of the interview: Nagyszombat (Trnava, Tyrnau), 1634 

Cardinal Pázmány received our Interviewer from Timetravel Media & Company, Utazó Gergely, in the orchard of his university at Nagyszombat (1634). There he was found dressed in a leather apron and wearing a straw hat happily cutting and grafting branches of young fruit trees. The full text of the interview is as follows:

„(Interviewer) Good morning, errr…your Eminence…my lord Cardinal…

(Cardinal) My son, just call me Father Péter, only these small trees and these tame cranes around us can hear us. Good morning to you, too. God has brought you here.

(Interviewer) Yes, thank you, Father Peter, my name is Utazó Gergely and I have brought this small device called a “dictaphone” on which to record our conversation. In this way, I can introduce Father Peter to my audience at my distant University.

(Cardinal) Splendid! What a nice device. I was anticipating this moment with utmost zeal. You are most welcome here. I hope you were given decent lodgings and were taken care of.

(Interviewer) Father Lippay, your secretary, took good care of me and provided me with everything, thank you very much. Now, if you please, Father Peter, I have already pressed this tiny button, like this, and the device is now recording your voice. We are all very interested in learning your opinions about many-many things.

(Cardinal) My son, you may ask questions that might be interesting to your friends. Let us take a seat on this bench under my favorite peach tree. I swell with sinful pride about my peach trees, so far they have been rare in Europe, but recently I sent some saplings to Olmütz, to my friend, Archbishop Franz Dietrichstein.

(Interviewer) Father, you said it was your peach tree. Didn’t your servants toil with tending it as they would work for a feudal lord?

(Cardinal) No, my son. You may be surprised to learn that all of these young trees have been selected and planted by me. I would not let them be touched by anyone else. I am proud that all of the toils were mine and my peaches are praised even by the gardeners of the king. I take delight in caressing them, it is the best way, besides the meditations of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, to empty my brain and refresh myself. Look, these gentle apricot trees give me the best ideas, and those fragile peach trees teach me to make plans that can be fulfilled. Can you see that gorgeous plum tree? My friend, the late Prince Bethlen Gábor sent it to me from his Fairy Garden in Transylvania in 1628 because I was promoting the western journey of his nephew, Bethlen Péter. Look, that pink almond tree next to it, my friend, Count Zrínyi György organized a small military campaign to steal it from the garden of the Pasha of Pécs City on the southern boundaries of Hungary. The southern slopes of the Mecsek mountains have been famous for these trees ever since the time of Janos Pannonius, the most educated high priest of King Matthias. When I tend their roots and branches, I think of that renaissance court of our greatest king who conquered half of Austria and Bohemia to establish a strong kingdom against the growing Turkish peril. Can you see that noble cherry tree next to it? Once I had a poor Turkish prisoner of war who wept that nobody would send ransom for him. I pitied him and set him free, he was a Saracen, a black man from the City of Szarvas. He sent me this tree from there to express his gratitude. Trees can talk if one humbles himself to tend them lovingly.

(Interviewer) Father Peter, you mentioned Count Zrínyi György one of the most famous and greatest aristocrats and captains of the southern Borderland of Hungary and Croatia. Wasn’t he the late father of young Zrínyi Miklós who is now under your tutelage?

(Cardinal) Alas, my son, the noble Zrínyi György was poisoned just like King Matthias. It was the proud General Wallenstein who committed this crime out of jealousy in 1626.

(Interviewer) Is it safe that you have established your university this close to the Borderland?

(Cardinal) Fear not, son, the walls of Nagyszombat are formidable and the garrison is strong and faithful to me. After all, they are not foreign mercenaries but the Hajdu soldiers of the Zrínyis’ land. They know that I pay them well from the coffers of the church.

(Interviewer) Would not King Ferdinand III defend you in a case of an attack?

(Cardinal) I don’t know for sure. His late father, Ferdinand II would have rushed to my aid at once.

(Interviewer) Did the late king like you that well, Father Peter?

(Cardinal) I happened to have been in his majesty’s high esteem. After all, it was I who had anointed him a king and placed the Holy Crown of Hungary on his head. Also, it was my initiative on the Diet of Sopron that his son should become king of Hungary despite his young age. And yes, it was also I who crowned Habsburg Ferdinand III a king, just like his father.

(Interviewer) Despite all of that, I heard you had debates with King Ferdinand II.

(Cardinal) His Majesty sometimes had to be reminded to keep himself to the Constitution of Hungary, based on the Golden Bull of 1222. It somewhat . . . errr . . . restricts the power of kings just like the Magna Charta did in England.

(Interviewer) Restricting the rights of a monarch is among the basic principles of the Magna Carta, indeed. Did you have other debates with the late ruler?

(Cardinal) Oh, yes, we did. Like in 1616 when His Majesty had wanted to place Drugeth György of Homonna on the throne of Transylvania which I opposed with all my might.

(Interviewer) May I know why?

(Cardinal) Pro uno, I didn’t want more war. Pro secundo, Bethlen Gábor was a better candidate for the throne, regardless of being supported by Muslim swords. Pro trecio, I didn’t esteem the character of Drugeth György so highly. Neither did I think much of his son, Drugeth Janos, who is presently the chief boot-licker of the new king.

(Interviewer) What is the reason for your dislike?

(Cardinal) Look, son, I have worked rigorously all of my life, not for my personal advancement nor for earthly spoils, but for the betterment of my poor country and for the people’s eternal souls. Have I not met upstarts and turn-cloaks who would gladly sell their homeland for success in court? But yes, I have. And I can recognize one if I see one, you can trust me on that.

(Interviewer) Is this the reason that King Ferdinand III does not need your services lately?

(Cardinal) I would not be surprised at all. Lord Eszterházy Miklós, the Palatine of Hungary, is also jealous of me because he thinks himself higher than me. Let him think whatever he wants to. He became especially angry at me when he was shamefully beaten by the new Transylvanian prince in 1630. He, and that villain Csáky Pál, the lover of Catherine of Brandenburg, thought together they could seize the throne of Transylvania. The young Catherine wanted to keep on ruling as a queen because she was Prince Bethlen’s widow. She granted lands to Csáky, who in turn invited Palatine Eszterházy Miklós to the throne. In this way, King Ferdinand II could have gained Transylvania easily. But the Hajdu soldiers of Prince Rákóczi György gave them a good thrashing at the battle of Rakamaz.

(Interviewer) Hearsay says that it was you, who had warned Rákóczi György of Palatine Eszterházy’s plans.

(Cardinal) Why, it is not a secret that I wouldn’t have welcomed the adulterer Csáky near the throne of Transylvania nor the greedy Eszterházy on it either. What would the Turks have done to them? Eaten them up alive? Son, my informers from the Sublime Porte let me know that the Sultan’s anger would have smitten them at once. We need an independent Transylvania to keep the balance of forces.

(Interviewer) Even if it means that you are supporting a Protestant prince against your Catholic Emperor? You, the Cardinal of the kingdom, the prince of the church?

(Cardinal) You see, I have never believed that the Catholic faith can be spread effectively by sheer force. I am said to have been successful in converting many stray lambs of the church back into the pen of the Catholic faith, my son because I addressed the people gently and I was reasoning with words, and not by swords. I opened many elementary and secondary schools before starting the University of Nagyszombat because I firmly believed in the strength of education. And yes, I will always rather support a Protestant ruler in Transylvania who is honest enough to keep himself to the points of the Patent of Religious Tolerance, declared at Torda in 1568, than support an aggressive Catholic upstart who would ruin with his tyrannic ways everything that I have achieved with my books so far. Look, son, nobody despises the Anabaptist heretics more than I do. They say that taking up arms and fighting on the battlefield is against the will of God. If our countrymen were Anabaptists, the Turks would have walked to the Burg of Vienna unmolested a long time ago. And is there a worse and more extremist Anabaptist than Péchi Simon, the former chancellor of Prince Bethlen? Despite this, was I not keeping nice contact with him just for the sake of my country? He is a friend and has just sent me four Turkish stallions from Transylvania.

(Interviewer) Were the Transylvanians grateful for the help? Weren’t you accused of treason by the Emperor for supporting the Sultan`s vassal state?

(Cardinal) It was not the first time that I negotiated for the sake of peace. Hungary is the finger that got caught between the door and the frame…We have to balance between mighty powers. Look, I just passed on information to Prince Rákóczi that I had received from my agents in Amsterdam. . .Namely, that the Dutch Protestants would welcome a new war between Vienna and Transylvania and that they had instigated the Turks to attack Rákóczi. My letter was sent to him by the fastest envoys so the prince would have time to prepare. Thus, we will be able to avoid a large-scale war between the Ottoman and the Holy Roman Empire.

(Interviewer) It is impressive how well informed you are, your Eminence, I mean, Father Peter. . .

(Cardinal) My late friend, Prince Bethlen taught me that we cannot afford to be uninformed „between the two pagans”, meaning by the Western and Eastern powers. Indeed, it is rather due to his network which is still working and impressive. I happened to take his network over in 1629, after his death. I liked him. He made Transylvania a Fairy Garden. How could I have allowed Csáky Pál, the deceiver of his young wife, to help anybody take over his throne? As for Transylvania, try to understand and tell your masters to realize, too, what I say. It is an illusion to make politics against the Ottoman Empire from Transylvania just as it would be to make politics against Vienna from here, from the western third of Hungary. I told the Transylvanians that it would be a condemned man’s advice to instigate them to break up with the Turks and keep kicking around against them until God would not have mercy on Christendom in a different way. My Transylvanian brothers dwell in the throat of the Muslims so they had better pay the taxes due to them for this reason. They should also keep up good relations with the western part of our nation which is ruled by a Christian monarch, namely the Holy Roman Emperor. We do not need taxes from Transylvania, let them fill the Turks’ coffers with it just to have peace. Why do I tell them? My dear son, we, in Royal Hungary, will have our respect and sufficient attention and credit before our merciful Emperor and before the German nation only if a sovereign Hungarian prince is running Transylvania. Without this, we would be immediately condemned and the Germans would spit under our collars, whether we be priests, monks, or anybody else.

(Interviewer) Despite that, you wanted to make the Pope launch a Crusade against the Ottoman Empire in 1632. Was not this the goal of your visit to Rome?

(Cardinal) His Holiness, Pope Urban turned my plans down, saying that the liberation of Hungary was not yet timely. King Ferdinand II didn’t welcome the idea of the Crusade, either. The monarchs of the West think that killing each other on behalf of Jesus Christ is a more timely idea than removing the Muslims from Europe.

(Interviewer) The newspapers of Rome were filled with your visit in April 1632, Father Peter. They wrote that you had been accompanied by sixty wagons of the cardinals which were each drawn by six noble Hungarian stallions. You were surrounded by a small army of richly dressed hussars whose blue and red uniforms were covered by light purple cloaks and they were scattering silver coins into the crowd from the Porta del Popolo to the palace of the Vatican. The local folks thought your riders were noblemen from their broadcloth uniforms and finery. The Swiss bodyguard of the Pope lined up at Saint Pietro Square to receive you and they shot into the sky while the cannons of the Angel Castle were roaring to welcome you. Yet, you say His Holiness was not impressed enough.

(Cardinal) It cost me 40 thousand gold Forints altogether. Cardinal Richelieu crossed my plans and dissuaded the Pope, most sadly. At least, I was able to make King Ferdinand compensate me and pay me back the money, which he did. He must have felt bad for refusing the crusade for which I had been pestering him relentlessly for long years. I added 60 thousand gold Forints more to the sum and it became the seed money for turning the high school of Nagyszombat into this university. Both the Emperor and the Pope ceded me the highest rights with a deep sigh, telling me to act as I would wish. As for them, I guess I could teach even Satanism here to Saracens just to get out of their hair with my plans for liberating Hungary.

(Interviewer) Do you feel bad for having been. . . errr . . . marginalized by King Ferdinand III?

(Cardinal) No, my son, not the least! I decided to step out of high politics until high politics would not require my role. Now I can concentrate on the finest thing in life, which is education.

(Interviewer) I think Father Péter, that education is creating new ideas. But how can a high priest like you comprehend the novelties, let alone embrace them?

(Cardinal) I had realized long before that swimming along with the tide is better than drowning in it. Besides liberating Hungary from the yoke of the Ottomans, my goal was to regain souls from the Protestant denominations. But I couldn’t have achieved any success without changing my attitude. Look, I began to spread the Gospel in the Hungarian language because it was the innovation of my adversaries. I opened schools and publishing houses where I could print books in the Hungarian language. Also, I cast away violence. Instead of swords, I used the power of words and so did all of my subordinates. I answered the vulgar accusations of my enemies with logic and reasoning. I studied the principles and doctrines of my antagonists because there is no greater falseness than hating what you don’t understand. The iron is shinier because of the honing stone and similarly, the lye is making the tablecloth whiter, so the opposers and protesters make our morale cleaner and finer. I believe in the power of words and logic.

(Interviewer) Still, the Reverend Alvinczi Péter, the chief pastor of the city of Kassa, is your greatest adversary? The one who had put your Jesuit friends to death in 1619?

(Cardinal) . . . the very same one, sadly. My friends Márk, István, and Menyhért were tortured and tossed alive into a cesspit to die slowly. I initiated their canonization process in 1628 and I firmly believe that one day they will be called the Martyrs of Kassa and will have a holiday on the Catholic Calendar.

(Interviewer) Didn’t you give Alvinczy a good reason to hate you, Father Peter?

(Cardinal) Are reasons good enough to kill? Listen, my son. That protestant pastor was unable to provide a logical answer to my thesis which I had written in my book called “Five Nice Letters”. First, he published an answer in which all he could do was curse me as rapidly as a hailstorm would be rattling on the roof of a pigsty. He called me a troublemaker, hypocrite, a donkey who is full of demonic jealousy and who learned his trade from the devil. He wrote that I was evading the truth like a blind dog would avoid the ditch or a rabid dog which would get around the bear. He described me as a paid and cunning wretch, similar to the auspicious devil. One who had sat on his own face, a direct descendant and kinsman of the Pharisees, a cheeky lier who is shaking the truth as a swine would shake the velvet. According to him, I look like a well-dressed Pilate or a hedgehog, being kin to foxes, monkeys, and asses. He remarked upon my vanity that it can be compared to the waves of the sea.

(Interviewer) And, are you just smiling on this, Father Peter?

(Cardinal) His insolence entertains me. Although Pastor Alvinczy soon ran out of adjectives and later threatened me with military actions for my little book. Sadly, violence is just a step closer to ignorance.

(Interviewer) How did you answer him?

(Cardinal) Totus es vox. That was all I wrote him.

(Interviewer) Which means “you are just a word”. How could you briefly describe what you feel about the Protestants?

(Cardinal) Of course, I love them dearly and would like to turn them gently back to the true Catholic faith. I admit that sometimes I heat up my ink and sharpen the end of my pen when I am writing to these new teachers. Yet, I never used violence or bad language against them. I just flatly call a lie a lie, a falseness a falseness, a spade a spade, having studied their doctrines thoroughly and applying logic all the time. Reasons are better than partial and biased statements.

(Interviewer) Could you please tell me an example of your reasoning?

(Cardinal) Well, why not? It was Archduke Matthew of Habsburg who asked the opinion of five theologic doctors in 1608 whether it would be proper for a Catholic monarch to tolerate the religious practices of the Protestants in his realm. I was granted the favor to be one of these theologians. Let me tell you, my son, four of them said a “nay” outright. I tried to group logically my reasons and I said yes. First, I listed eleven reasons why the king should not and twenty-one reasons why he should permit it. I concluded that the Hungarians would rather join the Turks and the Tatars instead of letting their religious liberties go up in smoke. Finally, the Archduke listened to my advice and gave in to the rebelling Protestants. Also, the military success of the Protestant Prince Bocskay was another great reason to grant them religious liberties, I admit.

(Interviewer) Is that true that your new school has its own judicial system?

(Cardinal) We have our own court of justice which has been given the privilege to carry out even death sentences if needed.

(Interviewer) Are you not afraid of the new ideas which would eventually wipe away the privileges of the nobility?

(Cardinal) Much water will flow down the Danube River until that happens. I think a society can be described the best when we take a look at its diversity which is organized nicely by divine order. The nobles are privileged because their forefathers had distinguished themselves with a remarkable deed which was recognized by the ruler who rewarded them with noble status. This way, the members of the country must obey the monarch, and likely, the monarch must bow his head before the laws made by his noblemen. Whoever would disobey this, would deny God. Yes, not all nobles are worthy of their ranks. The great thieves often hang the small thieves and those who steal much, often wear gold necklaces while those who steal just a little, are hanging on hemp ropes. The power of the wealthy people should be limited because if they try to milk the cows too hard, they would produce blood and anger. Look, being rich is not a sin but wealth can also be used easily for evil deeds. If you lay a thorn on your open palm, it won’t sting you unless you tighten your fist.

(Interviewer) Thank you very much for this deep conversation, Father Peter. If you could ask for anything from my far-away University, what would you ask for?

(Cardinal) My son, there is but one small thing. Look at that pear tree and how nice it is. Do they have similar saplings? Nothing would make me happier than a young fruit tree from there. I wonder what new tastes could the Hungarian soil add to its fruit.”

Cardinal Pázmány who re-catholized almost the entire Kingdom of Hungary

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